Bleacher Report's College Football Ultimate Guide to Week 3

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2016

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 19:  Chad Kelly #10 of the Mississippi Rebels reacts after passing for a touchdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Week 3 of the 2016 college football season has a lot to live up to.

The first two weeks have set the bar high, featuring close calls, wild finishes and record performances. It hasn't just felt great because we needed a fix of football; it's felt great because it's been great.

Fortunately, on paper, Week 3 has the goods to keep up. One game features a pair of Top 10 teams, another features a pair of Top 15 teams and another features a pair of Top 20 teams—and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

So what are we waiting for? Let's get into it.

Welcome to Week 3 of college football.


Games of the Week

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 30:  Dalvin Cook #4 of the Florida State Seminoles scores a 40 yard touchdown in the third quarter against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 30, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (P
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

No. 2 Florida State at No. 10 Louisville | Saturday, Noon ET, ABC

Cardinals head coach Bobby Petrino finally has his offense.

Louisville averaged 9.47 yards per play against Charlotte in Week 1 and 10.43 yards per play against Syracuse in Week 2—the two best performances in the country against FBS defenses so far this season. Quarterback Lamar Jackson has been the catalyst, accounting for 13 touchdowns in his first 60 minutes of game time.

"You get mad because they couldn’t catch the guy," Syracuse head coach Dino Babers said of Jackson. "He's the fastest guy on the football field, on both teams.

"I saw him outrun contain, where three guys were exactly where they were supposed to be and we should have tackled for a two‐yard loss, and he runs all the way to the other side for an eight-yard gain."

This week, Jackson and Louisville face their first major test. Florida State is different monster than Charlotte and Syracuse, having risen to No. 2 in the the national rankings. The 'Noles have their own stellar second-year quarterback, redshirt freshman Deondre Francois, and have more blue-chip talent on their third string than Charlotte and Syracuse have on their whole rosters combined.

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 10: Safety Derwin James #3 of the Florida State Seminoles is carted off the field after hurting his knee during the game against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers at Doak Campbell Stadium on Bobby Bowden Field on September 10,
Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The FSU defense struggled, however, in Week 1 against Ole Miss. It will also be without star safety Derwin James—whom Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer called the best defender in the country—after the sophomore suffered a knee injury against Charleston Southern.

Expect this to be a shootout where both teams struggle to consistently find stops. They have a noon ET kickoff, when games tend to look a little sloppier, so it might come down to which team makes fewer mistakes.

Florida State, after all, needed 25.1 points of turnover luck to come back and beat Ole Miss. Without so many balls bouncing in its favor, it likely would have lost that game by a lot.

That's typically an unsustainable formula.


No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 Ole Miss | Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Is Ole Miss really Alabama's kryptonite? Or have the past two seasons been unsustainable flukes?

We'll find out in Week 3—the same week they met in Tuscaloosa last season. Ole Miss won that meeting 43-37, but prevailing opinion dictates it got lucky by catching the Crimson Tide so early, before they peaked and blossomed into national champions.

It got lucky in some other ways too…

This year's game will be a battle of strength vs. strength (Ole Miss' offense vs. Alabama's defense) and weakness vs. weakness (vice versa).

The Rebels averaged 5.94 yards per play against Florida State; the Tide held USC to a 25 percent success rate.

The Rebels allowed 45 points against Florida State; the Tide earned their offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, an "ass-chewing" from head coach Nick Saban.

Can Ole Miss expect to hold Alabama below 30? If not, does it have a realistic chance of scoring 30? Neither task inspires much confidence, but if any coach and quarterback can do it, history suggests it's Hugh Freeze and Chad Kelly.


No. 3 Ohio State at No. 14 Oklahoma | Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox

According to Brady Vardeman of the Dallas Morning News, Oklahoma hasn't been a home underdog since 2000, when No. 1 Nebraska, led by quarterback Eric Crouch, came to Norman.

This week, however, Odds Shark listed Ohio State as a two-point favorite. And it's not hard to see why.

The Buckeyes have dusted their first two opponents, Bowling Green and Tulsa, holding a pair of capable offenses to 13 combined points while claiming 125 for themselves. Oklahoma routed Louisiana-Monroe in similar fashion, 59-17, but before that, Houston humbled them in a 33-23 loss.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the Houston game might prove beneficial.

You learn a lot by playing a strong opponent, and Oklahoma, despite the loss, is better today than it would have been had Houston not whooped its butt. The first step to fixing a problem is finding out that you have a problem in the first place.

Ohio State hasn't learned that lesson, which means its flaws, if it has any, might be lurking beneath the surface. Its offense took awhile to get going against Tulsa, which also raises minor red flags.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett has thrived in these scenarios—his performance at Michigan State in 2014 remains one of the best road games I've ever seen a quarterback play—but a rebuilt offensive line and cast of skill players will face the brightest lights of their careers.    


No. 12 Michigan State at No. 18 Notre Dame | Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Michigan State looked jaded in its opener, going half-speed through the motions in a 28-13 win over Furman.

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 02:  Tyler O'Connor #7 of the Michigan State Spartans drops back to pass during a game against the Furman Paladins at Spartan Stadium on September 2, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan.  Michigan State won the game 28-13.  (Photo
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The new-look Spartans offense was efficient, posting a success rate of 50 percent, and it averaged 6.22 yards per play.

They showed signs of a conservative passing offense, which makes sense for a team that lost its three-year starting quarterback, Connor Cook, as well as Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr., last season's top two receivers. But considering how Notre Dame lost to Texas in its opener, that's a bad plan for the upcoming week.

The Longhorns challenged Notre Dame deep for four quarters in their 50-47 victory, and despite their true freshman quarterback, Shane Buechele, they found success. Since then, Notre Dame has lost starting cornerback Shaun Crawford to a torn ACL.

If Michigan State wants to win, it needs to prove it can attack the deep third. Freshman wide receiver Donnie Corley and seniors R.J. Shelton and Monty Madaris will need to challenge the depleted Irish secondary, and quarterback Tyler O'Connor will need to prove he's more than a checkdown robot.

Even against head coach Mark Dantonio's defense, DeShone Kizer and Notre Dame's offense will put points up. The question is whether and to what extent MSU can match them.

Regardless, it's good to have this series back in our lives.


USC at No. 7 Stanford | Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

One week after a suffering its worst loss in 50 years, USC picked up the pieces against Utah State.

A 45-7 win was as well as it could have responded—but beating mid-majors isn't how head coach Clay Helton's team will redeem itself.

Beating Stanford, though? That's more like it.

The Cardinal looked vulnerable in a Week 1 win at Kansas State, their only game so far this season. Running back Christian McCaffrey picked up right where he left off in 2015, but the rest of the offense left something to be desired.

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 02:  Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal runs in for a touchdown against the Kansas State Wildcats at Stanford Stadium on September 2, 2016 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

"We've just set the bar for where we are, and now in two weeks it's got to be higher," head coach David Shaw told reporters after the game. "I don't know how high we can get it, but it's got to be higher than it was today."

USC, it should be noted, did show something against Alabama. Its defense held the Crimson Tide to a 10 percent success rate in the first quarter, a 29 percent success rate in the second quarter and a 41 percent success rate for the game. Until its sloppy offense opened the floodgates, it looked phenomenal.

It's now up to Helton to channel that for 60 minutes. If he can, it's not too late to save this season.


Also Worth Watching

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 10: Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. #4 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers avoids the tackle of linebacker D.J. May #7 of the Wyoming Cowboys to score at Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Bransco
Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

No. 22 Oregon at Nebraska | Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

My model's pick to be this year's out-of-nowhere College Football Playoff contender, Nebraska has opened strong. In blowing out Fresno State and Wyoming, it has strung together two performances better than either of Oregon's victories.

This game will be big for Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop, the FCS transfer who replaced another FCS transfer in Vernon Adams Jr. But a bigger key to the contest will be Huskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who has the talent and experience to pick apart a suspect defense but also the fickle decision-making that occasionally throws his team out of a game.

Let's see if Nebraska can continue the Big Ten's strong start.


No. 17 Texas A&M at Auburn | Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

Auburn's close call in Week 1 looks slightly worse after Troy hung with Clemson. 

But head coach Gus Malzahn's team made progress in its own right, beating perennial Sun Belt front-runner—and Malzahn's former school—Arkansas State, 51-14. Quarterback Sean White looked much more confident than he did against Clemson, and skill players Kerryon Johnson and Kyle Davis looked like budding stars.

Still, that all came against a Sun Belt team. Can the Tigers keep it up against Texas A&M's stingy defense?

That sounds like an oxymoron, but for the first time under head coach Kevin Sumlin, the Aggies have something to crow about on that side of the ball. Defensive end Myles Garrett is a future top-three draft pick, the supporting cast is quietly deep and experienced and coordinator John Chavis is one of the best in the business.

COLLEGE STATION, TX - SEPTEMBER 03: Claude George #31 of the Texas A&M Aggies gets the crowd pumped up against the UCLA Bruins on September 3, 2016 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

After holding UCLA without a touchdown for the first 50 minutes in Week 1, this unit is understandably brimming with confidence. Between that and the steady performance of quarterback Trevor Knight, there are reasons to dream big in Aggieland.

One of these teams will leave Saturday feeling great about itself—something neither could have imagined during dark moments last season.

This outcome will prove key in the SEC West.


No. 11 Texas at California | Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Last year when these teams met, Texas earned a moral victory.

Sure, it lost at home in Austin to a team that missed a bowl the prior three seasons, but its offense showed a pulse behind what appeared to be the next great Longhorn quarterback, Jerrod Heard.

Flash forward 12 long months. Texas is ranked No. 11 in the country and laying eight points in Berkley, per Odds Shark. Heard is now a valuable slot receiver, and the next "next great Longhorn quarterback" is true freshman Shane Buechele.

Seriously—how dang pretty is his deep ball?

Don't sleep on Cal's offense hanging close, though. Davis Webb is a talented quarterback in his own right, and he's a Texas kid who will want to beat UT. He's a big-armed NFL prospect who plays in a system that highlights his strengths.

Can Texas repeat what it did against Notre Dame and win another shootout?

If so, this team has turned a corner.


Frisky Underdogs

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 03:  Greg Ward Jr. #1 of the Houston Cougars takes the field for warmups with his teammates prior to the start of their game against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Advocare Texas Kickoff on September 3, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (P
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

No. 6 Houston at Cincinnati | Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

It's tempting to pencil Houston in for 10 straight wins before Louisville, but don't sleep on Cincinnati as a spoiler. The Bearcats were once the powerhouse of the AAC, and head coach Tommy Tuberville—if nothing else—has always been always an agent of chaos. In last year's game, Cincinnati had the ball with a chance to tie or win with 1:24 to play. It couldn't pull off the upset, but coming so close should boost its confidence in the rematch.


No. 25 Miami at Appalachian State | Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN

Sep 1, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Appalachian State Mountaineers running back Marcus Cox (14) runs the ball during the first half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee won 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

We all saw what Appalachian State (almost) did to Tennessee—and that was in Knoxville! This time, it has tempted a name-brand opponent to come play in Boone, North Carolina. The Mountaineers are no fluke and went toe-to-toe with Tennessee in the trenches, and the Hurricanes won't have more luck trying to push them around. Winning will require a big day from quarterback Brad Kaaya and a smart game from head coach Mark Richt.


Colorado at No. 4 Michigan | Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN

Shhh—don't look now, but Colorado might be decent. The Buffaloes have stormed through their first two opponents, beating Colorado State and Idaho State by a combined score of 100-14 and looking like a Top 40 team. That might not be enough to beat Michigan, but it's enough to keep things close with enough breaks and bounces…especially in the uniforms from "The Miracle at Michigan."


Players to Watch

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 01: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs the ball during the game against the Charlotte 49ers at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 1, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville defeated Charlotte 70-14. (Photo
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

QB: Lamar Jackson, Louisville

This is where the rubber meets the road. After padding his stats against cupcakes, Jackson finally gets to play a real opponent. Showing well against a defense loaded with 4- and 5-star prospects would legitimize his hype from the first two weeks. If Louisville pulls off the upset against Florida State, it would also vault Jackson out of dark-horse territory and into the hunt of Heisman Trophy front-runner.


RB: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

McCaffrey played well against Kansas State, but it wasn't the show we all hoped for. He's set the bar so high last season that even 210 all-purpose yards in a hostile environment against a quality opponent feels like a letdown. Saturday against USC will be his biggest stage since the Rose Bowl, when he torched Iowa's defense into ash. If he's even half as good as he was in that one, the Trojans are in trouble.


WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC

The presumed best receiver in college football, JuJu Smith-Schuster needs to revamp his stock. Alabama made him look invisible en route to one catch for nine yards, and even his block porn against Utah State won't make people forget that. Fortunately, Stanford's defense commands a ton of national respect, making Saturday a prime opportunity. One big game is all he needs to mend his reputation.


OL: Brian Allen, Michigan State; Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

Keep an eye on the trenches in South Bend, Indiana. Brian Allen is the lone force of stability for Michigan State, which will need to establish the run—just like Texas did—in order to take off the top. Meanwhile, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, one of the best interior linemen in college football, will have his hands full with MSU tackle Malik McDowell, whom Bleacher Report's Michael Felder called the best defender in the country. Riveting stuff for fans of line play.


Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

DL: Jonathan Allen, Alabama

Alabama's defense dominates by committee—especially along the front seven. It might have nine or 10 early-round draft picks, but Jonathan Allen is its closest thing to a star. So we're putting him here by proxy against an Ole Miss line that needs a lot of work. Florida State knocked the Rebels off schedule with five sacks (three on standard downs), and Alabama's front seven, led by Allen, is even better.


LB: Malik Jefferson, Texas

Even against Notre Dame, when it allowed 47 points, the Texas defense played pretty well on passing downs. Linebacker Malik Jefferson was at the heart of that and will continue to be against Cal. He's fluid playing coverage in the "Dirty Dime" and even better attacking the quarterback off the edge. But last year against the Golden Bears, he failed to record a sack or a hurry. Let's see how far he and the Longhorns defense have come since allowing 45 points in that meeting.


DB: Malik Hooker, Ohio State

Malik Hooker has been all over the place. After earning rave reviews through the offseason, he has opened with eight tackles and three interceptions in two games. It's too soon to call him an upgrade on Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell, but he hasn't been a downgrade. Saturday is his first chance to introduce himself in prime time, and Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield is the perfect high-profile opponent. 


Parting Shot

How Soon Is Too Soon for Silly Season?

Sep 10, 2016; Gainesville, FL, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops looks on against the Florida Gators during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida Gators defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 45-7. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODA
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky football has been a topic of conversation this week—which doesn't typically happen for good reasons.

After losing to Southern Miss in Week 1, allowing fired offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson's crew to score 34 unanswered points, it lost its 30th consecutive game to Florida, 45-7.

Head coach Mark Stoops entered the season on the hot seat, and things have gone about as poorly as possible. At this point, Kentucky changing coaches seems as inevitable as it losing to the Gators.

How soon is too soon to make the move?

Sep 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Cougars head coach Tom Herman coaches against the Oklahoma Sooners at NRG Stadium. Houston Cougars won 33 to 23. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

We confront this issue every season, but now it feels especially important. The first Power Five conference program to fire its coach will unofficially kick off silly season, and with Houston head coach Tom Herman in the water, swimming as one of the biggest fishes in history, it could also set off a national domino effect.

Even if Kentucky stands no chance of hiring Herman, something as small as an "anonymous source" or a message-board rumor is enough to make other schools tug at their collars. No one wants to fall behind and get caught with their pants down in December.

Enjoy the last weeks before silly season while you can.


Note: Unless otherwise cited, all advanced stats via Bill Connelly of SB Nation. Recruiting info courtesy of 247Sports.