16 most important college football players in Week 3

With only two matchups between ranked teams, Week 3 of the 2017 college football season is an ideal time for underdogs to make a statement.

Highlighted by Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, many players mentioned in this edition are looking to carry the program to an unanticipated victory. So, in a week the favorites should control, it’s best to identify the players most capable of shaking up the predictions.

The list is organized chronologically based on kickoff time.

Riley Ferguson, quarterback, Memphis

The season opener against Louisiana-Monroe was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Ferguson and the Memphis offense. He completed only 10-of-25 passes for 97 yards, tossing an interception while managing one touchdown run in a 37-29 win.

After a week off due to a cancelled game, the senior must try to bounce back against UCLA. Given the combination of Josh Rosen’s torrid streak and Memphis’ likely defensive struggles, though, Ferguson may be chasing the Bruins on the scoreboard. He better be ready to forget Week 1 and make this a high-scoring contest.

Qadree Ollison, running back, Pitt

Pitt cannot keep up with Oklahoma State’s high-powered offense. Slowing down the game is the only chance the Panthers have at an upset, and that responsibility mostly falls on Qadree Ollison. The powerful running back has picked up 90-plus yards in both games so far. But the Cowboys, one season after being slightly below average defending the run, have surrendered just 2.5 yards per carry during the first three quarters of games this season. Pitt needs to establish the ground game, but it’ll be a challenge to accomplish.

Zach Smith, quarterback, Baylor

After falling to Liberty and UTSA to begin the campaign, Baylor is replacing Anu Solomon and turning to Zach Smith. Last year as a freshman, he entered the lineup during the last four-plus games and tossed 12 touchdowns to seven interceptions. So, there is a familiarity with Smith behind center.

Does that mean the Bears can upend Duke on the road? Considering the Blue Devils recently rocked Northwestern 41-17, Baylor is meeting the ACC program at the wrong time. The anticipated improvement in the passing game with Smith must surpass what the offense loses in Solomon’s mobility.

Tanner Mangum, quarterback, BYU

Tanner Mangum’s return to the starting role has not proceeded as hoped. He mustered 194 yards against Portland State, 102 yards in a shutout loss to LSU and tossed three interceptions during the Holy War loss opposite rival Utah. The road is not getting any easier, however, since Wisconsin is coming to town.

The Badgers have ceded just 6.0 yards per attempt, notched six sacks and intercepted three passes through their first two games. Even worse for Mangum and BYU, Wisconsin’s pass defense is weaker than its run defense. The Cougars may have immense trouble moving the ball Saturday afternoon unless Mangum is efficient through the air.

Quinten Dormady, quarterback, Tennessee

Even though Tennessee stole an overtime win over Georgia Tech, it wasn’t a great showing from Quinten Dormady and the passing game. Last week’s painless triumph against Indiana State was simply a tune-up for the showdown with Florida, though. The Gators held Michigan to a 46.2 completion percentage and returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

If Dormady makes a mistake, Florida will almost certainly capitalize on the gift. And in a matchup expected to be a one-possession finish, a single mistake is all it takes to squander a win.

Josh Adams, running back, Notre Dame

Temple couldn’t do anything to stop Josh Adams and the Notre Dame rushing attack in Week 1. The Fighting Irish gathered 422 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 9.6 yards per attempt. But then, Georgia locked up Notre Dame and allowed a mere 55 yards. Adams will try to bounce back against Boston College, but Steve Addazio’s team has a strong run-stopping unit yet again. Though the offensively challenged Eagles won’t score many points, the defense could help them stick around. Adams can ensure BC doesn’t even have the chance.

Josh Allen, quarterback, Wyoming

Josh Allen threw two interceptions while registering a meager 4.4 yards per attempt in an ugly showing at Iowa. The junior recovered nicely with 328 yards and two touchdowns opposite an outmatched Gardner-Webb team, but now Wyoming is set to host Oregon.

This is a high-pressure moment for Allen, since NFL scouts are watching closely. The Ducks don’t have a great defense overall, but the secondary has snatched five of the team’s six interceptions. Wyoming won’t be anywhere close unless Allen thrives — and if he performs poorly against another power-conference foe, does his draft stock plummet?

Nick Fitzgerald, quarterback, Mississippi State

Running on LSU has been borderline impossible so far. BYU and UT-Chattanooga combined to tally 63 yards on 41 attempts and collected a grand total of four first downs via the ground game. Just two carries out of those 41 covered more than 10 yards.

Meanwhile, dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald helped Mississippi State shred Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech to the tune of 608 total rushing yards and six touchdowns. Fitzgerald posted 152 yards and three scores. But he was a non-factor with 13 yards in the three-point loss to LSU last season. Change that, and the Bulldogs might spring the upset.

Mike White, quarterback, Western Kentucky

Week 2 was a low moment for Mike White. In a 20-7 loss to Illinois, he averaged 5.5 yards per attempt — the lowest mark of his Western Kentucky career. And the offense, quite simply, was bad. The ‘Toppers converted just two of their 12 third-down attempts, and the only scoring drive happened after the defense provided excellent field position.

White cannot let that ineffectiveness linger into a contest with Louisiana Tech. He threw for 421 yards and three scores when the programs met in the C-USA Championship Game last year.

Ralph Webb, running back, Vanderbilt

Games against Central Arkansas and Charlotte shouldn’t provide a ton of insights for Kansas State’s ability in 2017, but the run defense is a concern. The pair of opponents tallied 5.2 yards per carry combined during the first half, despite the Wildcats blowing out both teams.

Vanderbilt figures to defend Jesse Ertz and Co. more effectively, so Ralph Webb’s production level is an intriguing question. The senior has stumbled a bit early this season, but the Commodores can take control of this matchup at home if Webb shows his 2016 form.

Jake Bentley, quarterback, South Carolina

South Carolina has a terrific chance to make things interesting in the SEC East. After toppling Missouri last week, the Gamecocks could improve to 2-0 in conference play with a victory over Kentucky. However, that potential may only be realized if Jake Bentley starts to take advantage of the open throws he’s been misfiring a little too often.

His season numbers could look considerably more impressive than 402 yards and four touchdowns. And a Kentucky defense that has ceded 565 passing yards in two games might unintentionally provide the spark Bentley needs.

Nic Shimonek, quarterback, Texas Tech

Do you like defense? Well, Arizona State’s trip to Texas Tech is not for you. But if a battle between high-scoring offenses is your thing, keep a second (or third!) screen locked onto this non-conference tilt.

Nic Shimonek, who has the unenviable task of replacing Patrick Mahomes II, was terrific in his first start. He completed 26-of-30 attempts for 384 yards and three touchdowns in a 56-10 blowout of Eastern Washington. Arizona State — and most Big 12 teams, for that matter — will likely hang 30-plus points on the Red Raiders, so Shimonek must efficiently direct the offense in a high-scoring affair.

Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Louisville

Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson

Auburn could not handle the constant pressure from Clemson’s defensive line and gave up 14 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks. It’s a good thing Louisville has Lamar Jackson behind center, because the offensive line may struggle in a similar manner.

A key to the ACC showdown is whether the Cardinals can stop Clemson’s running game, but that won’t matter if Jackson is unable to keep the offense balanced. While he absolutely has improved as a passer, the Tigers would much rather defend Jackson’s throwing arm than his dynamic feet.

The Texas quarterback

Shane Buechele is the likely starter, but true freshman Sam Ehlinger and quarterback-turned-receiver Jerrod Heard could contribute for the Longhorns if the shoulder injury hampers Buechele. That sentence is usually fine for non-conference play. However, it’s an unfortunate note heading into a meeting with No. 4 USC. Given the likelihood Texas fails to contain Ronald Jones II, Stephen Carr and the ground game, the team will be relying on the quarterback to pick up the slack. Will it be Buechele, or Ehlinger and Heard?

Rashaad Penny, running back, San Diego State

Replacing an NCAA legend isn’t supposed to be painless, but Rashaad Penny is doing that anyway. After piling up 1,000 rushing yards as a backup, he’s off to a scorching start with 413 yards and three touchdowns in two games. And that’s only part of his contributions.

Penny has also already scored as a receiver and kick returner. It’s safe to assume San Diego State will be feeding him touches against Stanford, especially since the Cardinal looked vulnerable on the ground in a loss to USC. Penny’s level of success will determine whether the Aztecs have a real chance to pull off an impressive victory.

Ross Bowers, quarterback, Cal

Frankly, it would be stunning if Shea Patterson doesn’t obliterate Cal’s defense. The Ole Miss quarterback amassed 918 yards and nine touchdowns during the first two weeks, and the Golden Bears surrendered 652 aerial yards. So, can Ross Bowers and Cal match Patterson’s pace?

The first-year starter posted 363 yards and four scores in a road triumph at North Carolina but also tossed a pair of interceptions. In a defense-optional contest, mistakes on offense can doom a team. Bowers simply must capitalize on every touchdown opportunity; otherwise, Patterson and the Rebels will run away on the scoreboard.