Expert Predictions for Week 3 in College Football

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2017

Expert Predictions for Week 3 in College Football

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    Fresh off a victory over Auburn, will Clemson win on the road against Louisville?
    Fresh off a victory over Auburn, will Clemson win on the road against Louisville?Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Bleacher Report's college football experts were unable to agree on whether Louisville or Clemson will win the best game of Week 3, but all six did agree in this batch of predictions that Baylor is definitely falling to 0-3.

    On paper, Week 3 isn't anywhere near as intriguing as Week 2 was. Beyond Louisville hosting Clemson, it's looking like a sad state of affairs. Per OddsShark, the only game of the week with a spread of three points or fewer is Coastal Carolina against UAB, and that's probably only because no one in Vegas knows what to do with those new FBS programs.

    However, aren't these the weeks where college football does its thing and seven ranked teams lose to unranked opponents? Believe it or not, the only ranked vs. unranked upset thus far this season was Maryland over No. 23 Texas in Week 1, so we are long overdue for some complete and utter chaos.

    With that in mind, our college football experts—Matt Hayes, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Brad Shepard and Greg Wallace—offered up predictions on eight of the hottest burning questions of the week:

    • Will the unstoppable force (Lamar Jackson) or the immovable object (Clemson's front seven) decide the outcome of the best game of the weekend?
    • What about Tennessee vs. Florida in the other game between ranked teams?
    • Is LSU on upset watch against Mississippi State?
    • Can #Pac12AfterDark outdo itself again this week?

    Our experts are on the case to let you know.

No. 14 Louisville vs. No. 3 Clemson Is the Game of the Week: Who You Got?

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    Lamar Jackson
    Lamar JacksonGerry Broome/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes — Follow @MattHayesCFB

    Two things stood way out last week: Clemson's ferocious front four (or eight, including backups) on defense, and Lamar Jackson 2.0. If you didn't think Jackson could get better, going from shotgun-based to under center 50 percent of the time has given defenses more fitsand has improved his accuracy by throwing more off play action. But I can't see how the Clemson front four won't take advantage of Louisville's biggest weakness on offense: the line. The Cardinals are soft in the middle three, and Clemson's All-American DTsChristian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrencewill dominate. Clemson, 27-16.

               

    David Kenyon  Follow @Kenyon19_BR

    Lamar Jackson is making me quadruple-guess this pick, but I'll take Clemson. The defensive line was nothing short of sensational against Auburn, and Louisville's blocking unit is comparable—which is to say, not great. Jackson is going to make plays. He will score a couple touchdowns. But when Clemson needs a timely stop defensively, it'll get one.

               

    Adam Kramer — Follow @KegsnEggs

    I'll take Louisville in what would be a mild upset. As superb as Clemson's defense has been, especially the front seven, this will present a much different test. I'm fascinated to see how Bobby Petrino uses Lamar Jackson knowing the middle of the field will likely be occupied by future NFL defensive linemen. But even more significant here is the home field. For many of the players on Clemson's offense, this will be their first taste of a ravenous road environment. I think it makes an enormous difference here.

               

    Kerry Miller — Follow @kerrancejames

    I'm sure plenty of people are going to point to Clemson's 11 sacks against Auburn and say that Louisville is in a world of trouble, but the Tigers sacked Lamar Jackson five times last season and he still had 457 total yards in a 42-36 gem. And the Cardinals O-line appears to be a bit more competent this year. However, their defense is atrocious, and that will be the difference. Clemson wins, 35-27.

               

    Brad Shepard — Follow @Brad_Shepard

    I can't wait to see Lamar Jackson against Clemson's superb front seven. It won't be a repeat of last week's 11-sack dominance against Auburn for Dabo Swinney's Tigers, but I still don't think the Cardinals' supporting cast is good enough to keep the Cardinals flying high. Jackson is an incredible talent, and he'll do things, at times, that make you shake your head. That won't change this week. But, in the end, CU defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have too many tricks up his sleeve. I'm not picking against the Tigers again until they give me a reason to.

               

    Greg Wallace  Follow @gc_wallace

    While Clemson-Florida State is the ACC's best rivalry, Clemson-Louisville has had plenty of drama in its short history. The Tigers have won the last three years, all by six points or fewer, with Louisville coming up just short on multiple chances to tie or win games in the final seconds. Saturday night's showdown in Louisville should be intense. The Tigers offense struggled, but their defense was untouchable in a 14-6 win over Auburn. Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson has again been the nation's most electric player and looks ready to defend his Heisman Trophy. The Cardinals defense isn't at Auburn's level, though, so expect Kelly Bryant to find a few more holes in the pass defense, which will be enough to overcome another standout Jackson performance.

Who Wins the Big SEC East Showdown: No. 23 Tennessee or No. 24 Florida?

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    John Kelly
    John KellyMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    Matt Hayes

    Let's see. One team has major issues on the offensive line, is playing a freshman quarterback (Feleipe Franks) who was pulled in his first start, and still is without suspended stars TB Jordan Scarlett and WR Antonio Callaway. Other than that, all good in Gainesville. The other team has the two best unknown skill players in the SEC (TB John Kelly and WR Marquez Callaway) and a quarterback (Quinten Dormady) who protects the ball. I'll take the Vols and the points, thank you.

               

    David Kenyon

    Florida's defense is good enough to carry the team as long as Jim McElwain doesn't start shuffling quarterbacks. Let Feleipe Franks run the offense without looking over his shoulder and wondering if Malik Zaire is taking the next drive. It probably won't be pretty, but that's nothing new for the defense-led Gators.

               

    Adam Kramer

    I can't say I feel particularly great about either answer, which is an indictment perhaps of both programs in the year 2017. But I still believe in Florida, at least defensively, and the offense cannot possibly be worse than it was. I also believe this will be a celebratory, unbelievable scene in Florida given the strain on the state over the last week or so. The game will be ugly, but the Gators will win.

               

    Kerry Miller

    It really depends on the status of Florida's 2016 leading rusher Jordan Scarlett and 2016 leading receiver Antonio Callaway. Both were suspended against Michigan, and the Gators were downright terrible on offense without them. Even if they play, though, I like the Volunteers by a slim margin. They've scored 11 offensive TDs on their last 20 drives and should put up points in this one.

               

    Brad Shepard

    Both of these teams have major question marks, and neither of them look like they're as good as Georgia, at least not now. But the psychological advantage the Gators once had over the Vols is now over after last year. Tennessee has some serious defensive speed issues, but where are Florida's offensive playmakers? The Vols' strengths so far this season are running back John Kelly and the offensive line. So, look for UT to make enough plays to win in a one-possession game.

               

    Greg Wallace

    What was once one of the nation's marquee rivalries has fallen hard, becoming a battle to stay in the Top 25. Florida looked ugly against Michigan and sat last week due to Hurricane Irma, but it's still missing key offensive pieces due to a credit-card scandal. Tennessee found just enough to put Georgia Tech's upset bid in the trash, and the Vols have more talent across the board, especially now. They'll take a step toward an SEC East championship to pair with Butch Jones' "life championship" of 2016.

Which AP Top 25 Team Is Most Likely to Lose to an Unranked Foe?

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    Could LSU be in some trouble at Mississippi State?
    Could LSU be in some trouble at Mississippi State?Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Matt Hayes

    LSU. The cowbells will be clanging louder than ever in Starkville, and this is Nick Fitzgerald's hello to college football weekend. If you don't know him by now, take some time to watch the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback this side of Lamar Jackson. We'll see if the Mississippi State defense can stop LSU TB Derrius Guice, though, and keep things close in the fourth quarter for Fitzgerald to pull off some magic.

               

    David Kenyon

    This should be a generally tame weekend for ranked teams, but Kansas State has a challenging trip to Vanderbilt. If Kyle Shurmur's excellent start to 2017 is not simply due to lesser competition, Vandy can steal one. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    The game I'll have a close eye on early on is UCLA, newly ranked, taking on Memphis. As good as Josh Rosen has been—and he really is a special player—UCLA has the No. 128 rushing defense in the country. Memphis, which didn't play last weekend due to the hurricane, ran for 319 yards in Week 1 and averaged 8.2 yards per carry. My other Memphis ammo? Start time. This will kick off at noon, which is sub-optimal for a west coast team flying east.

               

    Kerry Miller

    If Illinois and No. 22 South Florida actually play Friday night, that's the obvious pick for me. Illinois hasn't been great by any means, but it's better than the teams USF has been struggling with thus far. If that game doesn't happen, though, give me Vanderbilt at home against No. 18 Kansas State. Vandy's defense is better than at any other point in recent memory, and QB Kyle Shurmur is making one heck of an early case for the unofficial title of Most Improved Player in the Country.

               

    Brad Shepard

    UCLA at Memphis, Stanford at San Diego State, Kansas State at Vanderbilt and USC against Texas all bear watching. But I'm going to go with LSU traveling to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have gone through the early season without much fanfare, but dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is the best SEC player who most fans don't know much about. He's going to be hard to handle, even for a defensive coordinator as good as Dave Aranda. I like MSU to pull a cowbell-clanging upset in "Starkvegas."

               

    Greg Wallace

    No. 18 Kansas State is 2-0 with wins over overmatched foes Central Arkansas and Charlotte. The Wildcats haven't been tested, winning by a total of 110-26. They'll get a significant test at Vanderbilt. The Commodores are 2-0 and have outscored their foes 70-6. Kyle Shurmur has been very good, averaging 249 passing yards per game with seven touchdowns, and Ralph Webb is an underrated back. I've got the 'Dores to upset K-State and send Derek Mason's stock soaring higher.

Which 0-2 Power 5 Team Finally Gets a Win: Baylor, North Carolina or Rutgers?

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    Will Baylor win a game this season?
    Will Baylor win a game this season?Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Matt Hayes

    Considering Rutgers (Morgan State) and North Carolina (Old Dominion) are playing rent-a-victims (see: easy wins), I prefer to focus on Baylor. The Bears aren't winning at Duke, and that means there has to be a win somewhere in the deep and improved Big 12 or the Bears will have their first winless season since 1969 (third overall).

               

    David Kenyon

    Rutgers has been a joke lately, yes, but this defense is truly solid. There's no reason the Scarlet Knights should have trouble with Morgan State. North Carolina ought to handle Old Dominion, too. Can't say the same for Baylor's trip to Duke, however. If the Bears lose in Durham, they could be staring 0-8 in the face. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    If Rutgers can't beat 0-2 Morgan State, which has yet to score a point this year while playing Towson and Albany, the Big Ten should politely ask Rutgers to leave. North Carolina plays Old Dominion, which is not nearly as large of a mismatch—the Monarchs can play a bit—although a win there seems extremely likely. Baylor, however, will have to wait a week. The Bears play 2-0 Duke coming off a dismantling of Northwestern one week ago. And looking at the Baylor schedule, it's hard to know when that first win might come if it doesn't happen here. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    I mean, Rutgers has to be able to win a home game against Morgan State, right? That's it, though. Baylor will almost certainly drop to 0-3. If the Bears couldn't beat Liberty or UTSA at home, they aren't winning at Duke. And I think Old Dominion can knock off North Carolina. On defense, the Tar Heels have been a screen door trying to hold back wind, and their offensive line will have some issues with an Old Dominion defense that leads the nation in sacks.

               

    Brad Shepard

    Rutgers and North Carolina both will get a victory this weekend. Baylor? Not so much while traveling to a Duke team that will be ranked soon enough. The Scarlet Knights play a Morgan State team that is also 0-2 and was just shut out by a team called the Albany Great Danes. Great Scott! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) The Tar Heels play a much better opponent in Old Dominion, but the Monarchs won't be able to hang with Larry Fedora's team. As the iconic Meatloaf once said, two outta three ain't bad. 

               

    Greg Wallace

    I expected Baylor to slip, but not this quickly, with losses to FCS foe Liberty and Texas-San Antonio. The Bears are a bad, bad team right now. North Carolina at 0-2 is somewhat surprising, as the Heels have sagged on D following Gene Chizik's departure. They have a sneaky tough road game at Old Dominion, but I think they will survive. Rutgers has losses to Washington and Eastern Michigan, but a visit from FCS team Morgan State can cure the Scarlet Knights' ills. UNC and Rutgers get off the schneid this week.

Will We See Any Noticeable Flaws Emerge for Alabama This Week?

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    Jalen Hurts
    Jalen HurtsBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    Against Colorado State? Uh, no. Flaws will emerge when Alabama plays a team that can cover in man on the outside and stop the run, and force QB Jalen Hurts to make accurate throws in tight windows. That won't happen until November (LSU and Auburn), and again in the CFP.

               

    David Kenyon

    Colorado State will test whether the Tide can defend tunnel screens and the deep ball, especially after play action. Michael Gallup is dangerous after the catch and Olabisi Johnson is usually the downfield target for Nick Stevens. Alabama will likely pass the challenges, but I'll be watching the secondary.

               

    Adam Kramer

    The offense will likely remain a work in progress for some time, but this is something that should evolve rather than regress. Colorado State is not a bad team by any means. This is a reasonable next step for quarterback Jalen Hurts and his abundance of other weapons. It's another opportunity for the nation's best defense to stay as such. But other than that, this game is about staying healthy, figuring depth at linebacker and adding more explosive plays through the air. The real test starts next week, at Vanderbilt, as strange as that may seem. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    I don't know that it's a flaw, per se, but it's a little concerning that Alabama has not yet found a second fiddle to Calvin Ridley. One of its top targets from the last two seasons, Ridley has 12 catches for 127 yards. No other member of the Crimson Tide has more than three or 28, respectively. If someone else doesn't show up against Colorado State, it's officially a concern moving forward. 

               

    Brad Shepard

    It's going to be hard to see anything against Colorado State. The Rams are a big step up from Fresno State, but they still aren't a good measuring stick for a team as powerful as Alabama. But Nick Stevens and some strong receivers are the strength of Mike Bobo's team, and the Tide had issues with teams that could go vertical a year ago. This may give us our first true vision of whether that aspect of UA's defense has improved dramatically or not. If CSU racks up the passing yards, other teams may follow the blueprint. 

               

    Greg Wallace

    Alabama has looked every bit like the nation's No. 1 team, overpowering Florida State and whipping Fresno State. It's hard to imagine the Tide showing any cracks against Colorado State, although the Rams did put up 58 on Oregon State in their opener. Prolific receiver Michael Gallup (26 catches, 304 yards) could provide some challenges for the secondary, but it's full steam ahead into the SEC slate for the Crimson Tide. 

Will Texas Put Up a Fight Against No. 4 USC?

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    Sam Darnold
    Sam DarnoldJae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    Depends on your definition of fight. If fight means the Longhorns won't get blown out, that's a little hazy. As good as freshman QB Sam Ehlinger looked last week, there's a big jump from San Jose State in Austin to USC at the Coliseum. Even if starting QB Shane Buechele (throwing shoulder) is healthy and keeps the job, Texas still has a handful of issues (tackling, receivers winning on the outside, pass rush) that could contribute to an ugly game.

               

    David Kenyon

    If Shane Buechele plays, sure. The Longhorns have enough talent at the skill positions to compete, and Tom Herman's Houston teams had a habit of excelling as the underdog. But that run defense is a problem. I'm expecting USC to control the clock with Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr. 

               

    Adam Kramer

    This will be a fight for a while. Although Texas remains a bit of a mystery at quarterback, I think the Longhorns will find running lanes behind a solid offensive line and put up points. The problem, as it was with Stanford, will be slowing down Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones for 60 full minutes. Ultimately, that will probably be Texas' undoing. That said, this is still a talented roster with explosive players. This could be far closer than a rather large point spread would indicate. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    While Texas did look much better this past week in a 56-0 rout of San Jose State, the time to catch USC napping may have come and gone. Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones II, Stephen Carr and Deontay Burnett all looked fantastic against Stanford, and the defense buckled down over the final 47 minutes. This one might get ugly. 

               

    Brad Shepard

    Yes, the Longhorns will. They won't be able to win the game, and it still may wind up being two scores, but I don't think Tom Herman's team is as awful as it was against Maryland. It's hard to envision Sam Darnold not having a big game, and he'll ultimately be the difference. But the Longhorns are going to put up some points. I could see this one winding up something like 40-27 but close for three quarters. Moral victories still stink, though. 

               

    Greg Wallace

    This looked like a potential marquee game until Texas showed how far it has to go to national relevance, stubbing its toe against Maryland in the opener. The atmosphere in the L.A. Coliseum will be lively for the Longhorns' visit, but whipping San Jose State gives me no confidence that Tom Herman and Co. can hang with Sam Darnold and the Trojans. If a pair of unheralded Maryland quarterbacks can hang 51 on the 'Horns, imagine what Darnold can do.

Could the Late Ole Miss vs. Cal Game Be as Wild as Boise St. vs. Washington St.?

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    Shea Patterson
    Shea PattersonButch Dill/Getty Images

    Matt Hayes

    When your head coach and two assistants miss two days during the week (Monday, an "off" day for players; Tuesday, the biggest practice day of the week) because you're at an NCAA hearing defending the fate of your program, that doesn't bode well for what happens four days later in a 10:30 p.m. start. Rebels QB Shea Patterson is uber-talented and fun to watch, but that's a long trip against a Cal team that is playing with confidence under first-year coach Justin Wilcox. 

               

    David Kenyon

    Last week's #Pac12AfterDark weirdness was a special kind of weirdness, given the injury to Brett Rypien, Luke Falk's getting pulled after setting a career record for passing yards, intercepted shovel passes and three overtimes. So in that regard, no. As high-scoring, though? Absolutely. Give me Shea Patterson and the Rebels in a scoreboard-breaker.

               

    Adam Kramer

    Having watched football for 13 straight hours, that was a perfect, endless nightcap to a rather brilliant day. It was perfect because the football and decisions made were anything but. Using that as a baseline, Cal and Ole Miss have the ingredients for an encore: explosive offenses (at times) and defenses that feel destined to allow copious amounts of open space. Will it be as bad/good? That will take a lot, but I refuse to say no.

               

    Kerry Miller

    The moment you start putting limits on the power of #Pac12AfterDark is the moment you should give up on prognosticating altogether. Last week's three-OT game with all sorts of bone-headed miscues was wild, but Shea Patterson could well throw for 600 yards in a game that should have the highest over/under line of the week, if not the season. The craziest thing would be if this game doesn't go off the rails. 

               

    Brad Shepard

    This is one I cannot wait to watch. There's nothing quite like Pac-12 After Dark, where points are as plentiful as ever. With Ole Miss not able to play in a bowl game this year, it's almost like the Rebels have just said, "Screw it, we're gonna let Shea Patterson throw the ball 50 times and see what happens." Cal also hasn't adopted Justin Wilcox's defensive frame of mind with all that Sonny Dykes offensive firepower left behind. The total may reach 100 in this one. 

               

    Greg Wallace

    Boise State-Washington State was perhaps the wildest game of the young season, with Wazzu rallying from three touchdowns down with 10 minutes to play to force overtime and eventually win 47-44with a backup quarterback, no less. Ole Miss-Cal has potential to be the next great #Pac12AfterDark game. Shea Patterson has gone bonkers against subpar foes, averaging an insane 459 passing yards per game. Meanwhile, Cal allows 326 passing yards per game, No. 120 nationally. Cal freshman Ross Bowers isn't too bad, either, averaging 281.5 passing yards per game with four scores. This could be a lot of empty-calorie, late-night fun in Berkeley.

Who Will Put Up Week 3's Most Ridiculous Stat Line?

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    Pac-12 quarterbacks (and terrible defense) feature prominently in the top projected stat lines.
    Pac-12 quarterbacks (and terrible defense) feature prominently in the top projected stat lines.Young Kwak/Associated Press

    Matt Hayes

    QB Will Grier, West Virginia. He already has had strong games against one of the best defenses he'll face this fall (Virginia Tech) and the second-worst (ECU). Now comes the worst: Delaware State. Grier may only play a couple of quarters, but the numbers will be impressive.

               

    David Kenyon

    Speaking of the Ole Miss-California nightcap, the Golden Bears just surrendered 431 passing yards to Weber State. If that's not an open invitation for Patterson—who, according to my colleague Kerry Miller, has notched two of the program's only three 425-yard performances in this millennium, during the last two games—to demolish a defense, what is? 

               

    Adam Kramer

    Nic Shimonek. Who is Nic Shimonek, you ask? He is the quarterback going up against Arizona State this weekend, which seems like a good place to begin. More specifically, he is Texas Tech's starting QB, playing in a game that will feature many, many points, going up against a defense that seems likely to allow many, many points. 

               

    Kerry Miller

    When in doubt, pick a running back facing one of the worst rushing defenses in the country. Texas A&M hosts Louisiana, which has given up 767 rushing yards through two games. The Aggies do have a three-pronged rushing attack, but look for Trayveon Williams to put on a show against the Ragin' Cajuns. 

               

    Brad Shepard

    Josh Rosen against Memphis. The Tigers are 95th nationally in pass defense, and Louisiana Monroe (their only opponent) doesn't have anything resembling Rosen, who is putting up Heisman-worthy numbers in the first couple of weeks. With Riley Ferguson and Co. on the other side, there are going to be a lot of points scored, and that plays to the strengths of Rosen. With UCLA figuring to get a lot of possessions, that means big stats will follow. 

               

    Greg Wallace

    Luke Falk has put up some huge numbers in his Washington State career, but he missed the Cougars' huge comeback over Boise State after suffering a second-half injury. Falk is good to go for the league opener against Oregon State, and he gets a Beavers team which has treated defense as a suggestion, allowing 46 points per game, No. 127 nationally. With backup Tyler Hilinski nipping at his heels, Falk will be motivated for a 400-plus-yard, five-score effort against OSU.