Week 3 is the last of this college football that falls before…well, fall. Autumn equinox is next Friday, which means we’re just about fully settled into football season.
The beginning of autumn coincides with the start of conference play, and for many teams around the nation, Week 3 is either the final or penultimate weekend of non-conference action.
Many of the marquee non-conference dates fell in either Week 1 or Week 2, but this coming Saturday offers some intriguing contests that might otherwise fall under the radar. Two Pac-12 teams, for example, play road games against quality Group of Five opponents.
Kansas State’s trip to Vanderbilt could be a hidden gem, as well. And, to make room for those *exciting* non-conference games at the end of the season, the SEC ramps up conference play.
LAST WEEK: 3-3 (3-3 ATS)
SEASON: 13-10 (11-9)
SATURDAY’S SIX-PACK: SIERRA NEVADA OKTOBERFEST
Oktoberfest 2017 kicks off this weekend in Munich — why has no visionary conference commissioner thought to schedule an international non-conference game there? Although American customs differ, as you’ll presumably trade Bundesliga for college football, you can still salute the occasion with Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest; the most authentic Oktoberfest beer brewed in California.
It can be called authentic because Sierra Nevada collaborated with Brauhaus Miltenberger to produce a malty marzen.
No. 25 UCLA at MEMPHIS
Kickoff: 12 noon ET/9 a.m. PT
Line: UCLA -3; O/U 73
The beginning of Memphis’ recent surge to relevance in college football came in Week 2 2014, when the Tigers went into the Rose Bowl and nearly stunned a Top 15-ranked UCLA bunch. Both teams went onto 10 wins that season; with nine and eight wins in the two seasons since, Memphis has actually been better than the Bruins in the two campaigns since.
The Tigers return to action after last week’s American Athletic Conference opener against UCF was postponed, so the layoff could play a factor. Memphis will be fresh, but the Tigers have had no opportunity to work on in-game execution since giving up a fourth-quarter rally to ULM.
Speaking of rallies, UCLA continued the momentum from its comeback over Texas A&M into a rout of Hawaii. Josh Rosen’s nine touchdown passes over the past five quarters has him tied with Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson for most in the nation. The Tigers’ defense of the pass — and similarly, UCLA’s defense of Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller — should dictate this early Week 3 outcome.
UCLA’s diverse corps of pass-catchers should make hay against a Memphis defense that ranked 89th in the nation against the pass a season ago, even if the Bruins still struggle to establish the run. But the UCLA defense is going to have its hands full against a balanced run-pass attack — particularly with injuries mounting on that side of the ball.
The possible absences of Kenny Young, Adarius Pickett and Josh Wood for a half all loom large.
PREDICTION: MEMPHIS 41, UCLA 38
No. 23 TENNESSEE at No. 24 FLORIDA
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
Line: Florida -4.5; O/U 49.5
Snapping its losing streak to rival Florida looked like a bleak prospect last year for Tennessee, which trailed the Gators at halftime. However, a monster second half brought the Vols roaring back for the first win in the series since 2004.
Is Tennessee ready to make it back-to-back victories over Florida since 2003 and 2004? Well…
The Vols thumped FCS opponent Indiana State after winning a double-overtime decision against Georgia Tech, despite being almost completely outplayed. The Yellow Jackets’ inability to slam the door in the fourth quarter — coupled with porous defense on John Kelly — allowed Tennessee to come back.
If the Vols are to win this week, a similar effort out of Kelly is a must. That’s how Michigan overcame two touchdowns returned for interceptions against the Gators; hammered Florida with running back Ty Isaac.
Florida’s still dealing with a swath of suspensions, as well as uncertainty at quarterback. Neither freshman Feleipe Franks nor Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire looked particularly sharp against Michigan, and the Gator run game was nonexistent. Defense must once again keep Florida in it — and it should, given Tennessee’s own issues at quarterback.
Quinten Dormady threw two touchdowns in each of the first two weeks, but his improved output against Indiana State doesn’t necessarily address the issues evident against Georgia Tech. Expect Florida to stack the box and force Tennessee to beat it with the pass, which sets up the possibility for a late-game turnover to seal a close win and end the Vols’ streak at one.
PREDICTION: FLORIDA 28, TENNESSEE 20
No. 12 LSU at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT
Line: LSU -8; O/U 56
LSU and Mississippi State have played some barnburners the last couple years, with every decision of the last three coming down to a single possession. I expect nothing different Saturday night in Stark Vegas.
Two players getting some moderate Heisman love in this season’s early phases headline the two SEC West competitors: LSU running back Derrius Guice, and Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.
Guice’s production through two weeks hasn’t quite lived up to the eye-popping levels he produced stepping in for Leonard Fournette a season ago, but a 112-yard per game average with four rushing touchdowns is a brisk pace if he can continue it into SEC play.
The Bulldogs saw Fournette, not Guice, in last September’s meeting in Baton Rouge. He ripped of 147 yards with two touchdowns, and Danny Etling managed a decent game, while Fitzgerald struggled against the fast, aggressive, LSU defense.
That’s precisely the formula LSU needs to replicate this time around.
Fitzgerald isn’t the most accurate passer, but his play-making ability out of the pocket more than compensates. With Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill, Mississippi State has a diverse enough rushing attack to get opportunities. The key is parlaying yards into points, a challenge against a defense featuring play-makers like Corey Thompson, Greg Gilmore and K’Lavon Chaisson.
Put perennially overachieving Dan Mullen head-to-head against Ed Orgeron, who is a dismal 0-12 in SEC road games as a full-time head coach, when the two have comparable talent, and I’m taking Mullen 11 out of 10 times. In this instance, LSU’s talent gap may be slightly too much for the Bulldogs to overcome.
PREDICTION: LSU 24, MISSISSIPPI STATE 21
No. 18 KANSAS STATE at VANDERBILT
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT
Line: Kansas State -3.5; O/U 50
Like lots of points? Yes? Then you may want to find a different game.
Bill Snyder, who surely waits 30 minutes after eating before dipping his toes in the pool, has overseen a perfectly methodical approach in his second tour of duty as K-State head coach. The Wildcats run-game predicated offense has ranked in the Top 25 for time-of-possession four of the past five seasons, and the only reason the 2017 squad’s shown any signs of slowing do…er, speeding up is that Central Arkansas and Charlotte were wildly outclassed.
Conversely, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is all about stifling opposing offenses. The architect of Stanford’s Pac-12 championship defense earlier this decade brought the same principles to Vandy, and started to see the seeds bear fruit a season ago with the nation’s No. 35 and 38 rankings for points allowed and turnover margin.
Vanderbilt’s defense looked impressive Week 1 against the uptempo, pass-happy Middle Tennessee offense, holding the Blue Raiders to six points and just 166 yards through the air.
Stopping K-State is less about limiting the pass — the Wildcats have attempted just 39 through two games — and more handling a multifaceted rushing attack. K-State had four ball-carriers with more than 400 yards a season ago, and are motoring along at the same pace in 2017. Vanderbilt linebackers Charles Wright and Emmanuel Smith should be kept busy.
PREDICTION: KANSAS STATE 27, VANDERBILT 17
No. 14 LOUISVILLE at No. 3 CLEMSON
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT
Line: Clemson -3; O/U 58.5
While his record-setting Friday night game against Syracuse began Lamar Jackson’s march to the 2016 Heisman Trophy, and the dazzling performance with College Gameday on campus for Florida State propelled him to the front of the line, LJ8’s gutsy showing in a nail-biting loss at Clemson probably sealed the Louisville quarterback’s place in history.
Gameday emanates from Louisville once again, and Jackson leads the Cardinals into a prime-time showdown with the defending national champion Tigers. He gets a shot at repeating history, albeit with a different outcome; like Rocky II, just with a less terrible script.
Clemson’s defense against Auburn was among the most impressive performances anywhere in college football through the first two weeks. Kendall Joseph pursuing Lamar Jackson could provide highlight-reel material; one way or another.
While that matchup surely garners much of the attention, each team’s most significant question mark — offense for Clemson sans Deshaun Watson, defense for Louisville under coordinator Peter Sirmon — may determine the final score.
Louisville looked lost at times against North Carolina. Deon Cain may be primed for a game-breaking performance — and if not him, look for tight end Milan Richard to steal the spotlight.
PREDICTION: CLEMSON 30, LOUISVILLE 24
No. 19 STANFORD at SAN DIEGO STATE
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT
TV: CBS Sports Network
Line: Stanford -9.5
In what is one of the biggest games in San Diego State football history, running back Rashaad Penny — the nation’s leading ball-carrier through two weeks — has a unique opportunity to push himself into the early Heisman conversation.
Penny’s coming off a Week 2 performance in which he ran through, around and over Arizona State, scoring the Aztecs their second victory over the Pac-12 in as many tries. They look to make it three in a row against a Stanford bunch sure to be surly when it gets to Qualcomm Stadium.
After giving up more than 300 yards rushing in a 42-24 loss to USC, slowing Penny should be especially motivating for defensive coordinator Lance Anderson’s side. In light of Justin Reid’s vow following last Saturday’s loss, I do anticipate the Cardinal to come out particularly aggressive on that side of the ball.
Stanford counters a stout San Diego State defense with a potential Heisman candidate of its own, Bryce Love. Love’s the nation’s fourth-leading rusher, though he struggled to continue gobbling up yards after going 75 for a touchdown early against USC.
Keller Chryst establishing a credible passing threat against San Diego State’s standout secondary will determine Stanford’s fate. The Cardinal’s size advantage should factor in, eventually translating to opportunities for Love.
STANFORD 31, SAN DIEGO STATE 21