B/R Experts Answer Biggest College Football Questions for Week 3
Even by college football standards, the start of the 2021 season has been surprisingly chaotic.
Clemson and Ohio State opened the season among the favorites to reach the College Football Playoff, but they have each already suffered a loss. Six AP Top 25 teams have lost to unranked teams, four of which were ranked No. 16 or better at the time of the upset. There have been eight FCS-over-FBS victories. And for the first time in many moons, both Arkansas and UCLA look like serious threats to win their respective conferences.
It's an "expect the unexpected" sort of year, but it's still our job to help you figure out what to expect.
In preparation for Week 3 action, Bleacher Report's college football experts—David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—joined forces to offer up predictions on the hottest burning questions, such as:
- Will No. 1 Alabama or No. 11 Florida win the colossal SEC showdown?
- What happens in the other two matchups between ranked teams?
- Where are unranked-over-ranked upsets most likely to happen?
- Which top Heisman candidate wins the day?
- And will the Mountain West capitalize on its many opportunities against the Power Five?
Our experts are on the case.
No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide at No. 11 Florida Gators: Who You Got?
Never has there been so much hand-wringing over a backup quarterback, but nearly every Florida Gators fan wishes Anthony Richardson was the starter instead of Emory Jones. While his status after a Week 2 hamstring injury remains up in the air, Florida head coach Dan Mullen said Wednesday that Richardson should be able to play.
He's certainly an X-factor for the Gators, and they're going to need it.
While Alabama looked unbeatable in its season-opening win over Miami, it's unclear how good the Hurricanes actually are, especially after they were nearly upset by Appalachian State last Saturday. The Tide also looked uncharacteristically lackadaisical in their lopsided win over Mercer. Now, they are stepping into a hostile environment in the Swamp.
This is a rematch of last year's SEC championship game, where UF hung closer than expected. Though this is a different Gators team, they will present a whole other array of challenges, especially when Richardson is on the field.
This game should be closer than many think, but Alabama will be just too powerful in the end. The Crimson Tide will pull away with a tack-on score late, 38-28. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young will make just enough plays to win the game.
Florida is a solid team with a potent offense, particularly when Richardson is on the field. The first two opponents the Gators have faced (Florida Atlantic and South Florida) are a far cry from SEC-caliber, but it's incredible that they're third in the nation in total yards per game considering how much talent they lost from last season.
Playing in front of a raucous crowd in the Swamp, they'll at least give Alabama a run for its money. But the Crimson Tide are on a different level.
The final scores don't do justice to how effortlessly Alabama destroyed Miami and Mercer. The Tide were up 41-3 against Miami only 38 minutes into the game. Against the Bears, they were up 38-0 after 35 minutes. Prior to stepping off the gas, Alabama was well on pace to eclipse 60 points while allowing next to nothing on defense in each game.
To win this game, Florida will need to be just about perfect. The Gators have allowed only one sack thus far this season, which is a promising start. But Jones has already thrown four interceptions, which could be a disaster against an Alabama team that has 21 touchdowns on defense or special teams since the start of the 2018 season.
I made my projection for this game before the Vegas lines came out, but I'm pretty much in exact agreement with the sportsbooks, anticipating a 35-20 Alabama victory.
Will No. 22 Auburn Be Able to Win in Front of a Beaver Stadium White Out?
The White Out is one of the coolest things in college football, so having this under the lights in a primetime matchup will be dope.
Auburn found its way into the Top 25 after dropping at least 60 points on both Akron and Alabama State. Meanwhile, Penn State is a Top 10 team thanks to its big 16-10 win on the road over Wisconsin in Week 1.
The biggest question for Auburn is how quarterback Bo Nix will fare. In the Tigers' opener, he went 20-of-22 for 275 yards and three touchdowns. But in Week 2 against Akron, he finished only 9-of-17 for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
Nix also has a far better career record at home than on the road. He's 12-2 with a 20-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home, while he's 5-7 with a 13-to-12 ratio on the road.
Penn State's defense has allowed 205.5 passing yards per game, which is 55th in the country. But the Nittany Lions defense has only given up 11.5 points per game, which is tied for 15th nationwide.
Auburn running backs Jarquez Hunter and Tank Bigsby have combined for 498 rushing yards and four touchdowns in their first two games. Penn State is allowing an average of 124.5 yards on the ground, so this one will likely come down to what Nix can do with his arm.
Going on the road with a new head coach to face the No. 10 team in the country is a tall order. It's hard to gauge how good the Tigers are since they've only faced Alabama State and Akron, so I like the Nittany Lions this week in a close one.
I'm likewise excited to find out if Auburn is actually good. The Tigers currently have an average scoring margin of plus-56.0 points per game, but those games were against one of the worst FBS teams (Akron) and an FCS team that hasn't had a winning season since 2015 (Alabama State).
Meanwhile, Penn State played great defense in a road win over then-No. 12 Wisconsin and then blew out a Ball State squad that was riding an eight-game winning streak. The Nittany Lions' wins have been as impressive in terms of scoring margin, but they have been drastically more impressive as far as quality of opponent is concerned.
Against Auburn, Penn State will have the all-important home-field advantage for a game that didn't seem like it would be this nationally relevant two weeks ago.
Without those fans, Penn State went just 2-3 at home in 2020. However, the Nittany Lions went 7-0 at Beaver Stadium the year before that, and they won at least one home game against a ranked opponent in each season from 2016 through 2019.
I expect that crowd noise to rattle Nix into at least one major mistake, resulting in a 27-20 victory for Penn State.
Does No. 23 BYU Beat No. 19 Arizona State to Improve to 3-0 vs. Pac-12?
Yes, although the level of difficulty will once again increase.
BYU did not look particularly sharp against Arizona, though it was able to muster up enough offense in Week 1. Week 2 was a different story entirely, as the Cougars dominated Utah on both sides of the ball.
While I thought it would be hard for BYU to replace quarterback Zach Wilson, Jaren Hall has been thrilling thus far. He isn't Wilson, nor would you expect him to be, but Utah had no answer for him. I expect his style to continue causing problems for other defenses.
Arizona State is favored in this game, so it's plenty capable of beating BYU. Jayden Daniels is also a fabulous quarterback, and he'll certainly be up for this game.
But playing on the road in an environment that has already upended one Pac-12 hopeful is meaningful. While it won't be as easy as it was against Utah, look for BYU to find a way.
In their first two games against Arizona and Utah, the Cougars were hardly unstoppable on offense. They had 380 total yards and 26 points against the Utes, which was a slight improvement from the 368 and 24 they mustered against the Wildcats, respectively.
That's quite the step down from the team that averaged 538.8 yards and 47.6 points while scoring at least two rushing and two passing touchdowns in each of its first nine games last season. That was to be expected after the Cougars lost Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
Against an Arizona State team with a pretty good defense and a much more potent offense than that of Arizona or Utah, I think BYU will be unable to keep up the scoring pace necessary to win this one.
That isn't to say I'm projecting the Sun Devils for 45 points or anything. BYU's defense—which has now held 14 consecutive opponents and 22 of its last 23 foes below 30 points—is too good to let that happen. But Arizona State will establish the run early and often in a 31-23 victory.
Over/Under 5.5 Losses by AP Top 25 Teams in Week 3?
Starting with the trio of Top 25 matchups, I'm taking Alabama over Florida, Penn State over Auburn and Arizona State over BYU.
Florida and Auburn will both struggle against strong defenses. And while ASU is facing a considerable test on the road against BYU, Jayden Daniels and the passing game will be the difference in a Sun Devils win.
I'll stick with the under on this one, though give me West Virginia at home against No. 15 Virginia Tech to at least bring us to four ranked losses.
The most likely upsets that would take this over 5.5 are Virginia's trip to No. 21 North Carolina and Fresno State at No. 13 UCLA. Virginia has obliterated two lesser teams, so UNC should expect a strong challenge from the Cavaliers. And I'll always view Fresno State's offense as a serious threat. Plus, the Bulldogs had a fourth-quarter lead at Oregon in Week 1.
Over. I have Florida, Auburn and BYU losing the head-to-head battles, so there's three. And this week's schedule has more than enough potential unranked-over-ranked upsets to find three more.
I'm expecting West Virginia to beat No. 15 Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers have been unbeatable in Morgantown since the start of last season, and I haven't seen anywhere near enough good from the Hokies' offense to trust them on the road.
I also like Purdue to pull off the upset of No. 12 Notre Dame. I have been thoroughly unenthused about the Fighting Irish defense through two weeks, and the Boilermakers have been in a seemingly constant state of having two really good playmakers at wide receiver over the past few years.
And then between No. 8 Cincinnati at Indiana, No. 24 Miami vs. Michigan State, No. 21 North Carolina vs. Virginia and No. 13 UCLA vs. Fresno State, I've seen enough chaos already this season to assume things will go sideways in at least one of those games.
Which Matchup Between Unranked Teams Will Be Most Entertaining?
To be clear, "entertaining" doesn't necessarily mean "best." That is an important disclaimer before I begin explaining why I love this 2-0 Mississippi State at 2-0 Memphis clash.
For starters, it is an unusual matchup between two teams we're trying to figure out. After a sluggish Week 1, Mississippi State rallied nicely to beat North Carolina State in Week 2. Memphis was victorious this past Saturday as well, winning a 55-50 thriller over Arkansas State.
There's a good chance this game will be a) close and b) stockpiled with touchdowns, which is a good thing for those who prefer scoreboard eruptions.
Another reason to watch this game is Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan. The true freshman dazzled against Arkansas State, and he'll now get his first crack at the SEC.
Whichever team wins this game will have a decent case to be ranked in the Top 25. With the slate of games we have on deck, this one warrants a spot in your screen-time rotation.
I definitely agree with Adam on Mississippi State at Memphis shaping up to be a touchdown bonanza. However, I also suspect that game will get a bit lost in the mid-afternoon shuffle with most eyes on Alabama-Florida, Purdue-Notre Dame and both Clemson and Ohio State kicking off during that window.
Meanwhile, I think UCF at Louisville on Friday night is going to be all sorts of entertaining.
This AAC/ACC clash could wind up producing at least as many points as Miss St-Memphis. UCF is on pace for a fifth consecutive season among the top eight nationwide in points per game, and though the early returns are promising, the Knights defense hasn't been anything special in recent years. (Translation: Cardinals dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham could have a field day.)
The national implications here are significant, too. UCF (currently 26th in the AP Top 25 vote tally) figures to either jump into the rankings with a W or essentially drop out of the New Year's Six bowl conversation with an L.
Which Top-3 Heisman Candidate Has the Best Week 3 Performance?
Note: The top three Heisman candidates are Alabama's Bryce Young, Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler and Ole Miss' Matt Corral
Alabama's Bryce Young is facing the toughest task of his young career: a road trip to face the No. 11 Florida Gators in the Swamp. Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler gets Nebraska at home, and Ole Miss' Matt Corral faces off against another high-flying offense (Tulane) in Oxford on Saturday.
While Young has looked poised in his first two starts, throwing for 571 yards and seven touchdowns, this will be his first true road game. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium tends to get the loudest at 3:30 p.m. when it feels like 110 degrees on the field. It bears watching how Young performs in such a hostile environment.
Rattler has been equally impressive, having thrown for 547 yards and six touchdowns in his first two games. This week, he faces a Nebraska defense that's allowing only 13.3 points and 182.0 passing yards per game. I don't expect Rattler to struggle too much against the Cornhuskers, especially at home, but this will likely be the best defense he's seen this season so far.
Corral and the Ole Miss Rebels are tied for sixth in the nation in points (48.5) and rank 15th in passing yards (337.5) per game. Corral threw for 381 yards and a touchdown in the season opener against Louisville, and he followed that up with 281 passing yards and five touchdowns against Austin Peay. Tulane's defense ranks 100th in points allowed (30.0), and it's giving up 249 passing yards per game.
Considering the opponent Corral is facing and the fact that he has yet to slow down this season, I'm going with him to have the biggest day. We'll see if Rattler or Young can prove me wrong.
If "best" means "biggest numbers," the choice is clearly Corral.
The Rebels QB has thrown for at least 340 yards and/or three touchdowns in each of his last seven games. He also runs the ball enough to pad his stats in that regard, Tulane can score enough to keep Corral on the field for the full four quarters, and Tulane doesn't have a great defense. (The Green Wave allowed at least 250 passing yards and multiple passing touchdowns in nine out of 12 games last season).
But if "best" means "most impressive in the eyes of the Heisman voters," the choice is clearly Bryce Young.
Beating up on Tulane isn't going to raise eyebrows in Corral's favor, nor is anyone going to be blown away if Spencer Rattler racks up 300 yards and four touchdowns in a blowout of Nebraska. But if Young comes anywhere close to matching his season averages of 285.5 passing yards and 3.5 passing touchdowns in a win over No. 11 Florida, that's going to be massive.
And I think he will. Neither Florida Atlantic nor South Florida fared all that well passing against Florida, but those teams can hardly be considered a proper litmus test for what Young and the Crimson Tide can do.
Which Game Will Feature the Most Total Points?
As long as Ole Miss doesn't have an idle weekend, I'll always check that matchup first. This offense can hang 40-plus on anyone, and just about anyone can hang 40-plus on the Rebels defense. Considering Tulane only lost 40-35 at Oklahoma, there's obvious scoring potential here.
However, I'll take SMU and Louisiana Tech.
SMU has scored 56 and 35 points in two wins, and Louisiana Tech's average final score thus far is 39.5-38.5. I'm expecting SMU to push for 45 points and leave with the W, but Louisiana Tech should be able to score 35-plus with Oklahoma/West Virginia transfer Austin Kendall leading the offense.
Well, David, at least you mentioned the correct game. However, you ultimately pivoted to the wrong one.
Ole Miss vs. Tulane is going to be one of the highest-scoring games of the entire season, and yes, I'm aware Memphis and Arkansas State just combined for 105 points a few days ago. This one might quite eclipse that score, but I have the Rebels winning 56-45.
Both the Rebels and the Green Wave can score at will and can get smoked on defense on occasion. Tulane is averaging 52.0 points through two games, while Ole Miss is sitting at 48.5. Tulane already gave up 40 points to Oklahoma this season; Ole Miss allowed more than 50 points on three occasions last fall.
That should be the perfect formula for many, many points.
How Many Victories by Mountain West Teams Facing Power Five Foes?
This is "Mountain West Takes on the World" week. If the conference has a terrific showing against the Power Five in a six-game showdown, the college football world will take notice.
New Mexico probably doesn't have what it takes to beat Texas A&M, and UNLV is going to get stomped by Iowa State. However, every other game is winnable.
It's hard to predict Fresno State to win at UCLA, even if the Bulldogs are back to being a mid-major power. Chip Kelly won't let the goodwill he's building go down the drain, especially after an idle week to prepare. That's going to be some late-night fun, but the Bruins will pull out a close one.
So, I'll go with three wins, even if that's still bold. Nevada plays Kansas State in what should be a great game. The Wolf Pack have quarterback Carson Strong, and they've already beaten California this year. Upending the Wildcats will be another bold, early-season statement.
After getting drubbed by BYU last week, Kyle Whittingham's Utah Utes have tons of questions. The Aztecs' step up in competition is going to be significant, but they're going for their second consecutive game against a Pac-12 opponent after whipping Arizona last week. I like SDSU to win a close one.
Finally, Boise State hosts Oklahoma State in a game that should feature a raucous environment. The Cowboys have a fringe "name" program, and this is exactly the type of win that can jump-start the Andy Avalos era as head coach. The Broncos will win at home, 34-28.
New Mexico at Texas A&M is a definite no-go to start the day. The Aggies just had a rough game against Colorado and now need to make a more long-term adjustment to quarterback Zach Calzada with Haynes King out indefinitely, but that defense and that run game will overpower the Lobos.
UNLV vs. Iowa State is also not happening. Once again, the Power Five team enters the game with the furthest thing from positive momentum, but UNLV hasn't even been competitive against an FBS team since 2019. Iowa State will cruise to an easy victory.
Each of the other four games could be a win for the Mountain West, though.
Nevada has a passing game plenty good enough to win at Kansas State. Ditto Fresno State at UCLA, although the Bruins have a much better offense than KSU has, making it more difficult to envision that upset happening. And then Boise State hosting Oklahoma State and San Diego State at home against Utah both feel like toss-ups.
I'm not bold enough to pick Fresno State to win, but I'll take the other three for a 3-3 week for the Mountain West against the Power Five.