College Football: B/R Experts Answer Biggest Questions for Week 3
If you thought we'd be easing into the 2022 season, well, college football had a different story in mind. The second full weekend brought a welcome deluge of upsets and close finishes.
Good luck following that Saturday of action, Week 3.
Nevertheless, we move forward. B/R's expert team—Max Escarpio, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—is looking ahead to this mid-September slate, covering key topics of the weekend and offering some predictions.
Will Texas A&M recover from its loss to Appalachian State and topple visiting Miami? Can BYU snag a second successive marquee win? What should we expect from Nebraska after firing Scott Frost? That and more coming your way.
Which Top 25 Team Is on the Highest Upset Alert?
The Auburn Tigers aren’t the powerhouse threat that they used to be, but they’re currently 2-0 with wins over Mercer and San Jose State with victories coming in front of their rowdy home crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Now, they're set to welcome their biggest test yet as 22nd-ranked Penn State—a team that's had trouble finding its offensive rhythm in recent years—comes to town on Saturday.
Yes, the Nittany Lions have played some great football in the first two weeks of the season, and much of that success has to do with running back Nick Singleton. Auburn's offense hasn't found its stroke, but the defense has played phenomenally against the run, albeit against lower-level opposition.
It'll take an exceptional showing from the Tigers defense to put Auburn in a position to win, but it's possible. Penn State deserves to be the favorite heading into this game, but the environment it's walking into is never easy for the visiting team.
There are a number of intriguing options to choose from this week, but I am going to have to go with No. 16 North Carolina State here. The Wolfpack should have lost to East Carolina in Week 1, but the Pirates missed a game-tying extra point that allowed NC State escape with the victory.
NC State now plays a 2-0 Texas Tech team that knocked off a ranked team last week, defeating then-No. 25 Houston in double overtime. New Red Raiders head coach Joey McGuire made history with the win, becoming just the second Tech head coach to beat an AP Top 25 team in his first game against a ranked opponent.
I like the way Red Raiders quarterback Donovan Smith has been playing through two weeks. He's thrown for 571 yards and six touchdowns, though he did toss three picks against Houston last week. Still, NC State's defense currently ranks 43rd nationally in passing defense, giving up 190.5 yards in the air per game. Tech, meanwhile, currently boasts the top-ranked passing offense in the country, averaging 411.5 yards per game.
It's tough to play on the road, but I like the way this Texas Tech team has looked to begin the season.
What's the Best Matchup Outside the Top 25?
The funniest matchup (unless you're a Fighting Irish fan) is certainly 0-2 Notre Dame vs. 2-0 California.
But as far as best matchup is concerned, am I out of my mind to say Kansas at Houston?
The Jayhawks are leading the nation in scoring, which doesn't even sound right for basketball, let alone football. But for the first time in a long time, they've found someone that works at quarterback: Jalon Daniels.
The dual-threat QB took over as the starter late last season, pacing the Jayhawks to 37.7 points over their final three games. Everyone took notice of Kansas for a moment when it upset Texas, but not many realized how competent the Jayhawks' offense had become. And, so far, it looks like that has more than carried over through the offseason.
Listen, I'm not trying to anoint Kansas as a Big 12 title contender or even as a serious threat to reach a bowl game for what would be the first time since 2008. But if it can win at Houston—one of the best Group of Five teams even with last week's loss at Texas Tech—I might be willing to change my tune on the bowl-eligibility front.
Don't let me down again, Maryland.
Two weeks ago, I expected a whole bunch of points when the Terrapins hosted Buffalo. They managed a 31-10 victory, but the offensive explosion waited until last weekend in a 56-21 win at Charlotte.
Saturday night, Maryland hosts SMU for—*crosses fingers*—what should be a high-scoring affair. SMU averaged 38.4 points last season and has racked up 93 points in the first two games of 2022. Senior quarterback Tanner Mordecai has tallied 644 yards and seven touchdowns so far.
It's not the highest-profile game, but I'll have a complementary screen tuned into this nonconference matchup.
Another off-the-radar clash is Tulane's trip to Kansas State. Both teams hold a 2-0 record. Tulane QB Michael Pratt will probably draw NFL attention, and K-State has All-American running back Deuce Vaughn. Sneaky-fun game in the mid-afternoon window.
Which Unranked Team Has the Best Prove-It Opportunity?
The Florida State Seminoles haven't been ranked since 2018. The Noles have been on a downward spiral since releasing Jimbo Fisher, but it feels like they're climbing their way back into relevance. Head coach Mike Norvell seems to have found a roster he's comfortable with, and the team is coming off a notable one-point win over LSU.
FSU started the season with a 2-0 record for the first time since 2016, and it's now headed into conference play for a primetime matchup against Louisville on Friday. A win at Cardinal Stadium should propel the Noles into the Top 25.
This is an extremely important matchup for Norvell and his team to show fans, recruits and boosters that Florida State is on its way up. They'll need to focus on defending the run against quarterback Malik Cunningham, and if they can keep him in the pocket they should head back to Tallahassee with their unbeaten record intact.
I could pick Texas Tech again here, but I'm going to go with unranked Washington this week. The Huskies play No. 11 Michigan State at home and are three-point favorites. If Washington can follow through with a win, the Pac-12 could have another team enter the playoff conversation alongside USC.
Dating back to 2000, Washington is 11-4 against Big Ten opponents. This game may come down to which quarterback has the better outing. For now, it looks like Washington's Michael Penix, who transferred to UW from Indiana in the offseason, might have the edge over MSU's Payton Thorne.
Penix previously had two solid games against MSU, and he's already thrown for 682 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception through his first two games. His leading receiver, Jalen McMillian, has 214 receiving yards and three touchdowns through two weeks.
Thorne, meanwhile, looks like he has taken a step back from last season. He's already thrown three interceptions, and his line has allowed two sacks so far.
I think new Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer gets the first big victory of his UW career in Seattle on Saturday night.
Scale of 1-10: Where is Notre Dame on the Panic Meter?
It's far too early to talk about hot seats with Marcus Freeman, but the stark reality is he's the first-ever 0-3 coach in this proud program’s history. While Notre Dame's season is far from over, the hope certainly seems dented—if not completely totaled.
Following a 26-21 shocker of a loss to Marshall, any feelings of "hey, we're going to be pretty good regardless of that season-opening loss to Ohio State" are out the window.
Starting quarterback Tyler Buchner is injured for the year, giving way to Drew Pyne. Neither side of the line of scrimmage performed well against the Thundering Herd, and the Irish lack proven skill-position talent, too. But they have to bounce back against Cal this weekend.
Maybe we have not yet approached 8 or 9 on the worry meter yet, but they're at least at a solid 7 in South Bend. It's bad, and it could get worse quickly.
I am nowhere close to abandoning ship on Marcus Freeman and his long-term forecast at Notre Dame. The immediate outlook, though, is clearly concerning.
For most of the day, Marshall controlled the line of scrimmage. Physically speaking, it's not like Marshall was at a major disadvantage. But for the Fighting Irish, especially at home, to get outworked up front is simply unacceptable.
Although the injury to Buchner is a huge problem, the larger issue is the lack of playmakers so far. Buchner was the leading rusher at 62 yards. Chris Tyree, the expected lead back, only has 12 offensive touches right now. Tight end Michael Mayer is a star, but Lorenzo Styles is the only other target who's grabbed more than three receptions.
Yes, the Irish should beat Cal this weekend. But the rest-of-season panic meter, given that North Carolina, BYU, Clemson and USC all await, is soundly at an 8. Notre Dame is a second bad loss from entering "will it make a bowl?" territory.
How Will Nebraska Fare After Firing Scott Frost?
In college football, this scenario is familiar. Heck, Ed Orgeron launched a career with the work he did as an interim head coach at two schools. The reality, however, is that teams respond differently in moments such as these.
For Nebraska, the biggest concern isn't new leadership. I'd instead worry about allowing Georgia Southern to account for 642 yards of offense, including 409 passing yards.
That doesn't bode well with quarterback Dillon Gabriel coming to town. The UCF transfer has looked good in Oklahoma's new offense, and there's every reason to believe that will continue.
The good news? Nebraska's offense has been solid. Casey Thompson has played well at QB, as has running back Anthony Grant. The issue this week is that the opposing defense will likely be much better.
Oh, and the departure of Frost is still fresh.
I don't think this game will be as lopsided as many expect. Nebraska is playing at home, and that has to be worth something. Then again, it wasn't last Saturday,
Oklahoma wins, but the Cornhuskers show some heart.
You know it's bad when you fire a coach only three weeks from being able to save $7.5 million worth of buyout money. But that's exactly the situation in Lincoln, where the Cornhuskers parted ways with once-favorite son Scott Frost following last weekend's loss to Georgia Southern.
Now, Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts gets to line things up and pool his resources to get the head coach he wants so they can focus on recruiting and essentially be in place immediately once the season ends. Unfortunately for Nebraska, there's a lot of season left to play, and it starts at home against former rival Oklahoma.
With Frost out of the way, perhaps the team rallies around interim coach Mickey Joseph. I expect them to play inspired football against the Sooners with a crowd that is excited about the future. But the bottom line is Nebraska is atrocious on defense, it isn't good enough on the offensive line to sustain drives for four quarters and OU is simply more talented.
This is going to be a close game for three quarters, but Oklahoma is going to win by more than a score as the Sooners overpower the Huskers in the fourth.
Will No. 12 BYU Land Another Key Win at No. 25 Oregon?
The answer is no, although I'll be more than happy to be wrong.
BYU is fun, talented and clearly legit. The win over Baylor was a complete effort, and it was amazing to see a team outside of a major conference—at least for the time being—push back.
But this matchup will be a challenge, and it starts with the environment. Oregon is a much better team at home. The Ducks are also a much better team than the one we saw in a Week 1 loss against Georgia.
Sometimes, Georgia happens. It happened to the Ducks, and it will probably happen to 10 more teams before the season is over.
What we saw in Week 2, however, was a much more comfortable version of Bo Nix. He has to protect the football in this game, which he didn’t do in the opener. If he can do that, I believe Oregon delivers a massive win against one of the hottest teams in the sport.
I'd love to plead the fifth here until we get an injury update on BYU's Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney, but deadlines are deadlines, right?
Even with both of those key receivers missing, the Cougars were able to pull off an impressive double-overtime victory over then-No. 9 Baylor with freshman Chase Roberts stepping up in a huge way and the defense causing major problems for the Bears. And it's that defense that leads me to believe they can win at Oregon, with or without Nacua and Romney.
If I've learned anything over the past three-plus seasons, it's that Bo Nix is not to be trusted against above-average defenses. Oh, sure, he'll light up the occasional Akron, Eastern Washington or championship-hangover-year LSU. But I've watched him wilt in big games a few too many times to trust him in this one.
Also, Oregon's defense was just plain awful in that Week 1 loss to Georgia. We're talking "didn't get a single third-down stop until the fourth quarter" awful.
It should be a great game, though. Give me BYU 34-27.
I included BYU on my list of potential dark-horse playoff teams in March. Through two weeks of the season, it looks like the Cougars could indeed make a run at the playoff, especially since fellow independent Notre Dame already has two losses on the year.
The Cougars jumped up to 12th in the nation after knocking off Baylor with a fourth-down stand in overtime last week.
I think BYU's defense should have no problems against Nix and this Ducks offense in Eugene. Yes, Nix rebounded from his two-interception performance against Georgia and tossed five touchdowns against Eastern Washington last week, but BYU's defense is a veteran group that ranks 21st nationally with just 154.5 passing yards allowed per game.
I like BYU to notch another Top 25 win to further push the Cougs into the early playoff conversation.
No. 13 Miami at No. 24 Texas A&M: Who You Got?
The Aggies suffered an embarrassing loss to Appalachian State last week, so I expect them to feel vengeful in search of a win at home. They have one of the best atmospheres in college football, and they'll need all the help they can get from their "12th Man" since they're in dire need of getting back in the win column.
Texas A&M is deeply invested in a coaching staff that's gone 35-15 since the start of the 2018 season. This may sound like a solid record for some teams, but not for one of the highest-paying programs in the nation. Jimbo Fisher is under contract in College Station into 2031, but as we know in College Football, nothing is guaranteed. So a healthy relationship between him and the fans will need to consist of winning and getting closer to the CFB Playoff. A win against a ranked Miami win this week would help.
Miami hasn't played a viable opponent this season, so the 'Canes might be unprepared against a ranked team. They're more than capable of leaving Texas with an undefeated record, but it seems like they're too inexperienced. Texas A&M should, and must, win this matchup in order to keep fighting for a meaningful bowl appearance.
Things couldn't be more embarrassing in College Station. Not only was a top-10 team embarrassed by Appalachian State at home last week, but the video of the Yell Leader’s Friday night rip-job of the Mountaineers has made its waves around social media, too.
Fisher’s program needs to turn the page in a big way. The problem, though, is the Hurricanes aren't the team to "right the ship" against.
Mario Cristobal’s team has dispatched Bethune-Cookman and Southern Miss in its first two games—not exactly a gauntlet. But they have some explosiveness in the offense, and while A&M has waves of elite talent, most of it is young.
This game is going to be close and could go either way. While the Aggies are much more talented, there are just too many playmakers in key positions for the 'Canes, and they're going to find a way to get it done on the road and give Cristobal an early big-time win to recruit around.
Near the end of Manny Diaz's tenure, blown assignments were a staple of Miami's defense. Inside a rowdy Kyle Field, the environment could easily become a distraction and create that exact problem. Will the 'Canes actually avoid that issue in a marquee game?
The other variable is whether Texas A&M turns to Max Johnson at quarterback. Based on his 2,800-yard, 27-touchdown output at LSU last season, I was surprised when the Aggies didn't pick Johnson as the starter. But I have a not-unique suspicion that we'll be seeing the left-hander on Saturday. In that case, advantage A&M.
Miami desperately needs to emerge for quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, too. Top receiver Xavier Restrepo (foot) is out, so the 'Canes have to get more production from tight end Will Mallory and one of Brashard Smith, Key'Shawn Smith, Michael Redding III or Frank Ladson. That's a tough ask against a strong Aggies secondary.
The talent is there, and the coaching should be, too. But the 'Canes have to prove they can execute in a marquee road game. A&M in a close one.