College Football Week 3: Key Players in Crucial Top 25 Matchups
The insatiable taste for college football is about to be quenched, as Week 3 finally kicks off with a cavalcade of great games on Saturday.
On tap for this week is the renewal of storied rivalries, as well as some matchups that are just too good to miss.
As always is the case in these games, there are some key players that stand out above the rest. These players' performances will be the key difference between heading home victorious or facing the agony of defeat.
With that in mind, here's a look at the key players in all of Saturday's crucial Top 25 matchups.
Michael Campanaro (WR, Wake Forest)
Matchup: Away vs. Florida State Seminoles
With close victories against Liberty and North Carolina spurring their momentum, the Demon Deacons would like nothing more than to end the Seminoles' national-championship hopes on Saturday.
If the season's first two games are any indication, Wake Forest will need a huge game from Michael Campanaro to pull it off.
Relatively unknown before the season, the 5'11" junior has been the breakout receiver of 2012 thus far. Campanaro leads the nation with 22 receptions and sits fifth with 260 yards.
Acting as a security blanket for quarterback Tanner Price, Campanaro is the only Wake Forest wideout with more than five catches this year.
For the Demon Deacons to have any shot at winning on Saturday, they will need to keep up with the vaunted Florida State offense. Getting the ball into Campanaro's hands early and often just might be the catalyst to pulling off a shocking road win.
Knile Davis (RB, Arkansas)
Matchup: Home vs. Alabama Crimson Tide
With starting quarterback Tyler Wilson reportedly sitting out Saturday's game (via ESPN's Chris Low), the onus on the Razorbacks' running back will be huge.
Likely QB replacement Brandon Allen struggled mightily against Louisiana-Monroe last week, going 6-of-20 for 85 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The redshirt freshman (understandably) looked every bit the part, buckling under pressure, as Arkansas saw its No. 8 ranking go down the drain.
That uncertainty is probably why the team has been working Brandon Mitchell, Wilson's backup last season who moved to wide receiver in 2012, at the quarterback position this week. Mitchell is a big, quick runner who should be a threat in the read option—which is exactly where Knile Davis' importance comes in.
The Razorbacks will need huge plays to pull off an upset, and those aren't possible without the junior running back. If Mitchell and Davis are able to run the read option enough to open things up for some downfield throws, this game could be closer than expected.
If not, the 20-point spread (via Vegas Insider) might be underestimated.
Tyler Bray (QB, Tennessee)
Matchup: Home vs. Florida Gators
Perhaps the most unappreciated player in the 2012 college-football season thus far has been the Volunteers' junior quarterback.
Tyler Bray has led the team to victory in both of Tennessee's games this season, including a stunning performance against Georgia State last week. The Vols' signal-caller was a bastion of efficiency, completing 18-of-20 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns.
And with running back Rajion Neal struggling to find a rhythm so far this season, another brilliant performance from Bray on Saturday will be necessary.
Though young, the Gators' secondary should present the toughest test of 2012 for the Tennessee offense. Led by defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Florida has swallowed up opposing quarterbacks with ease, having not allowed a touchdown pass in eight quarters of play.
For the Vols to come away with a banner home victory, they will need Bray to buck that trend and find the end zone more than once on Saturday.
Le'Veon Bell (RB, Michigan State)
Matchup: Home vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
After a breakout 210-yard performance in Week 1 against Boise State, the sleeper Heisman candidate's momentum slowed down last week. Le'Veon Bell rushed for just 70 yards on 18 carries against a weak Central Michigan squad and will need a huge performance against the Irish to recapture his early-season hype.
Don't expect it to be easy. The bruising back will come up against one of the best front sevens in all of college football on Saturday, as the Irish have been great against the run all season.
Notre Dame deactivated Navy's explosive triple option in Week 1, and followed that up by allowing just 37 yards to Purdue running back Akeem Shavers last week.
Michigan State will need a far better performance from Bell on Saturday—especially with questions still looming about quarterback Andrew Maxwell's ability to handle the big moment.
Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Matchup: Away vs. Stanford Cardinal
A closer-than-expected 42-29 victory over Syracuse last week has people talking upset, as the Trojans make the trip to Stanford on Saturday night.
For USC to avoid another road letdown in Pac-12 play, Matt Barkley will need to have a huge game.
The Cardinal defense has been fabulous against the run so far in 2012, including a staunch effort last week when it gave up just 27 yards on 23 carries against Duke. That should help mitigate the effect of USC's two-headed backfield, led by Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal.
For Barkley, this could be the first nationally televised moment on his way to a Heisman Trophy. The senior signal-caller came into the season as a prohibitive favorite and leads the nation with 10 touchdown throws through two weeks.
So all eyes will be on his performance when the Trojans try to come away with victory in their first test of the season.
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