The competition is getting a little tougher around the college football landscape, and programs are expecting their stars to truly shine in Week 3.
Unfortunately, not every key player will perform up to his ability. That might not mean his team loses, but the margin could be much closer than a comfortable outcome.
However, highlighted by Alabama’s standout quarterback, a few Heisman Trophy and top award contenders — both on offense and defense — are primed for massive weekends. Their opponents present a highly favorable matchup.
We’re breaking down the upcoming slate and identifying the big-name players most likely to thrive or struggle this weekend.
Stud: Kyler Murray, quarterback, Oklahoma
Lincoln Riley worked hard to resist accepting the hype around Kyler Murray during the offseason. However, the future Oakland A’s outfielder and dual-threat quarterback has played as exactly as predicted. In two blowout victories, he’s collected 515 yards and seven touchdowns through the air. Murray has also scampered for 92 yards — including a dazzling scramble against Florida Atlantic — and two scores. Iowa State will likely try to limit big plays and drop seven in coverage, so Murray’s mobility will be a game-changing weapon Saturday.
Dud: D’Andre Swift, running back, Georgia
Although his efficiency should be decent, D’Andre Swift simply might not have enough opportunities to really stand out. Middle Tennessee’s run defense is tolerable, but the Blue Raiders have struggled to stop the passing game. Vanderbilt averaged 10 yards per attempt, and UT-Martin racked up 358 yards with four touchdowns. This is a matchup built for Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm to play a leading role. And once the score is safely out of reach for the Bulldogs, there’s no sense in pounding the ball with Swift over a younger player who needs reps anyway.
Stud: Trace McSorley, quarterback, Penn State
Trace McSorley has yet to dominate a game. Appalachian State took Penn State to overtime in Week 1, and the senior completed only 46.7 percent of his passes in a rain-affected blowout of Pitt. But things are looking up. Kent State struggled to defend Illinois dual-threat A.J. Bush, who threw for 190 yards and added 139 on the ground against the MAC school. McSorley and drop-plagued wideout Juwan Johnson should finally assemble their first big performance of the year. Factor in McSorley’s running contributions in the red zone, and he’s ready for a breakout.
Dud: TaQuon Marshall, quarterback, Georgia Tech
Last season, Georgia Tech ran all over Pitt. The offense’s 436 yards and five touchdowns both represented the second-highest output all year. But the 2018 matchup has a slightly different feel. TaQuon Marshall temporarily exited the Week 2 loss with a toe injury, and the triple-option overseer has acknowledged he needs to “modify” his style Saturday. Combine that with the season-ending injury to KirVonte Benson, and the Yellow Jackets may be throwing more often than normal this weekend. And that’s usually not a winning strategy for Tech.
Stud: K.J. Costello, quarterback, Stanford
No Bryce Love this week? No problem. Stanford can lean on sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello to carry the offense. During victories over San Diego State and USC, he connected on 63.8 percent of his passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. Costello has showed he’s capable of being a leading performer — not just a complementary piece. UC Davis isn’t a typical cupcake opponent, though. Jake Maier has thrown for 748 yards in the Aggies’ two games. The Cardinal can’t expect to cruise past UC Davis without a great showing from Costello.
Dud: Brandon Wimbush, quarterback, Notre Dame
Thanks to their defense, the Irish should be competitive in every matchup. But the offense is a a growing problem right now despite a 2-0 record. Notre Dame has surrendered 17 tackles for loss and six sacks, and Brandon Wimbush has tossed four interceptions. Vanderbilt is not an ideal opponent for those struggles. The Commodores have tallied 16 stops in the backfield, eight sacks and six takeaways, and they’ve surrendered a paltry 2.5 yards per carry. Notre Dame might win anyway, but it’d be stunning for that to be a product of Wimbush’s day.
Stud: T.J. Edwards, linebacker, Wisconsin
After a season-opening win over Arizona that included 98 yards and three touchdowns from Squally Canada, BYU’s running game disappeared against Cal. Even excluding sacks, the Cougars mustered 105 yards on 31 carries. Does anyone really expect that to change opposite an elite defense? Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards will be a pivotal piece of Wisconsin shutting down the rushing attack, and he’s also terrific in coverage. BYU will eventually be forced to focus on passing, but Edwards won’t allow that to happen successfully, either.
Dud: Joe Burrow, quarterback, LSU
On the bright side, LSU is 2-0. Beyond one brilliant quarter against Miami, however, the Tigers haven’t looked all that impressive. The most glaring flaw appeared in Week 2 against FCS program Southeastern Louisiana. LSU struggled to handle the pass rush and needed to use a tight end as an extra blocker. How do the Tigers expect to keep Auburn and its physical front away from Burrow? His ability to feel pressure and leave the pocket should be helpful, but an entire afternoon under pressure may expose what remains a flawed LSU offense.
Stud: Justice Hill, running back, Oklahoma State
There is no excuse for Justice Hill to not be fresh. Oklahoma State has rolled to 58-17 and 55-13 victories in the first two games of the campaign, relying on Hill for only 21 total touches. Easy work for the junior. But it’ll be a much different story Saturday when Boise State travels to Stillwater. Not only should Hill handle 20-plus carries, he’s a reliable pass-catching target. While the Broncos are generally solid defending the run, Hill is shifty enough to create his own lanes. Preventing him from getting into space all day will be an enormous challenge.
Dud: Devwah Whaley, running back, Arkansas
Devwah Whaley recovered from a 28-yard season debut with 165 yards at Colorado State. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, it wasn’t enough to edge the Rams. Week 3’s matchup doesn’t get any friendlier. North Texas has a competent run defense, though it’s not necessarily strong enough to shut Whaley down. The bigger problem for Arkansas is a porous pass defense that has allowed 619 yards and five touchdowns in two games. North Texas quarterback Mason Fine is the nation’s leading passer. When the Razorbacks are playing catch-up, Whaley won’t be getting carries.
Stud: Ed Oliver, defensive tackle, Houston
There is no opponent Ed Oliver cannot handle. The NFL-bound defensive tackle has already accumulated 18 total stops with four takedowns for loss and six quarterback hurries this season. Now, the superstar gets a matchup with Texas Tech and its penetrable offensive line. The Red Raiders have ceded 11 tackles in the backfield, eight of which happened against Ole Miss. Oliver will spent much of the afternoon wreaking havoc on the running game. Texas Tech might topple Houston, but it won’t be without 60 minutes of annoyance from Oliver.
Dud: Scottie Phillips, running back, Ole Miss
Scottie Phillips has taken full advantage of two favorable outlooks. He shredded Texas Tech for 204 yards and two touchdowns, then diced Southern Illinois for 107 yards and two scores. Good luck repeating that opposite Alabama. Every year, the Crimson Tide sport one of the stingiest run defenses. Arkansas State actually managed 5.6 per carry last week — the highest clip allowed since Alabama lost to Ohio State in the national championship — but a majority of that damage happened after it was 40-0. Don’t expect Phillips to find running room.
Stud: Justin Herbert, quarterback, Oregon
Oregon is doing exactly what it should be opposite a weak nonconference slate. The players aren’t at fault for a laughable schedule; their only responsibility is winning. Justin Herbert has impressed in two victories, particularly during Week 2. The prized NFL draft prospect torched Portland State for 250 yards and four touchdowns on 20-of-26 through the air. He didn’t throw an interception, either. San Jose State has surrendered 866 passing yards in two ugly losses. Basically, the only obstacle between Herbert and a gaudy stat line is how quickly he gets pulled in a blowout.
Dud: Elijah Sindelar, quarterback, Purdue
Perhaps better stated, this is “Purdue’s starting quarterback.” Elijah Sindelar is nursing an undisclosed injury and uncertain for the clash with Missouri, but David Blough hasn’t earned trust, either. In two close losses, Sindelar and Blough have combined for just 5.8 yards per attempt on 70 throws with two touchdowns and three picks. Since Purdue’s secondary has been suspect, Drew Lock and Missouri should have another enormous afternoon. A high-scoring affair will demand excellence from Purdue’s passers, and we simply haven’t seen that.
Stud: Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Alabama
At this point, there is no quarterback controversy. As long as he’s healthy, Tua Tagovailoa deserves to start for Alabama. Entering Week 3, the southpaw boasts a 71.4 completion percentage with 455 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. Tagovailoa’s 13.0 yards per attempt ranks second among qualifying quarterbacks. Under his guidance, Alabama has crossed the 50-point barrier in both games. Ole Miss’ high-powered offense might force the Crimson Tide to keep scoring, and the Rebels are a complete disaster on the other side of the ball.
Dud: Shawn Robinson, quarterback, TCU
Hidden in a 42-12 triumph over SMU was a subpar outing by Shawn Robinson and the TCU scoring attack. The defense and special teams combined for three touchdowns, and only one of the offense’s three scoring drives started on TCU’s side of midfield. Robinson finished the contest 16-of-29 for 154 yards, adding 67 yards on the ground. Barring something unforeseen, Ohio State won’t provide Robinson with room for error. The Horned Frogs need a fast start opposite the Buckeyes, but one offensive touchdown in the first half against SMU suggests it won’t happen.
Stud: Nick Fitzgerald, quarterback, Mississippi State
His season debut wasn’t perfect, but it was about as good as Mississippi State could ask for. Following a one-game suspension, Nick Fitzgerald returned and collected 313 yards of total offense with two touchdowns. His Week 3 opponent, Louisiana, had the seventh-worst defense in the country last season and retooled its defensive line. The Ragin’ Cajuns probably need more time before seeing major improvement. Fitzgerald, meanwhile, is the focal point of Mississippi State’s attack. As long as UL Lafayette is within striking distance, he’ll be putting up big numbers.
Dud: Zack Moss, running back, Utah
Zack Moss scampered for 1,173 yards last season, yet he managed only 55 on 17 carries against Washington. The story should be similar in 2018. After gathering 216 yards in his first two games this year, Moss is set to face an elite defense that allowed 3.3 yards per carry to Auburn. Plus, the Huskies played a relatively poor game in a victory over North Dakota, so it’s fair to expect their best performance in Week 3. Utah’s defense has a chance to frustrate a recently turnover-prone Jake Browning and keep upset hopes alive, but Moss will have difficulty finding space to run.
Stud: Khalil Tate, quarterback, Arizona
The much-anticipated explosive game for Khalil Tate should be coming. It’s also imperative Arizona’s offense gets on the right track prior to conference play. The Wildcats host Southern Utah in Week 3 before closing September with Oregon State and USC. Tate’s mobility hasn’t been utilized in Arizona’s play-calling, so he’s registered only 22 yards on 15 attempts. If there’s ever an ideal moment for that to change, it’s against an average FCS defense. Tate needs a confidence-building day to keep the Wildcats as a real threat in the Pac-12 race.
Dud: Juwan Washington, running back, San Diego State
In the last 95 games, San Diego State has enjoyed 83 showings of 100-plus rushing yards. To even consider Juwan Washington a potential dud seems like blasphemy. However, the Aztecs are turning to a backup quarterback, and Arizona State’s run defense has been spectacular so far. The Sun Devils can — and should — sell out to stop Washington, who’s topped the 150-yard mark twice already this season. They limited UTSA to two yards and Michigan State to 63 yards on 27 attempts. ASU needs to shift the pressure of carrying the offense onto SDSU’s Ryan Agnew.