Top storylines heading into college football Week 3

By Jesse Reed

Premier matchups between highly ranked teams aren’t prevalent in college football Week 3. Especially after watching so many huge games go down last weekend, it’s kind of a let down. That doesn’t mean there is nothing meaningful to keep an eye on, however. In fact, there are big stories aplenty for us to discuss as we look ahead to the action.

Could an upset be brewing when a couple SEC West teams clash? A couple of the nation’s top quarterbacks could put up jaw-dropping stats as their respective teams play relatively easy opponents. One of the nation’s biggest programs has a coach on the hot seat who will likely be coaching for his job the rest of the season.

Oh, and there are a couple of huge games on the schedule, too.

We’ll look at those angles and plenty more examining the top storylines heading into college football Week 3.

Can South Florida finally live up to the hype?

Charlie Strong’s Bulls haven’t exactly lived up to the hype thus far. They have come out flat against a couple of teams that should have posed no problems whatsoever. Quarterback Quinton Flowers has been part of the problem. He’s completed just 55.6 percent of his passes, 7.37 yards per attempt, is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry on the ground and has scored five times. It’s hardly the explosive offense he was supposed to engineer this year. South Florida is favored to win by well over two touchdowns Friday night at home against Illinois. Another stale performance by the offense will mean that’s what we should expect going forward, and that the Bulls were overrated to begin with.

Will Wilton Speight continue to be a liability for Michigan?

The Wolverines have a championship-caliber defense and can pound the rock when needed. Those two elements are key to playing at the highest level against other top teams. But an element that is also needed is not currently present on Michigan’s offense. The most important element of all — a competent quarterback. Last season as a junior, Wilton Speight was barely competent. The Wolverines lost three of their final four games, and the only win came in the game Speight didn’t play. This year he’s already made some horrible decisions and has turned the ball over three times in two games. Speight needs to show some dramatic improvements against Air Force this weekend. If he continues to prove himself to be a mediocre passer then Michigan’s season will once again end in disappointment.

Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys finally get a minor test

Oklahoma State’s offense was a buzz saw in its first two games against Tulsa and South Alabama, which is not surprising whatsoever. Mason Rudolph has a trio of amazing receivers, and the Cowboys are averaging 6.7 yards per carry. The offense is truly potent, and Rudolph is proving himself to be one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. We don’t expect this offense to be tripped up on the road in Week 3 against Pittsburgh. But the Panthers did do a nice job against the Penn State offense in Happy Valley for much of their Week 2 contest. If anything, Pitt will be the first minor test for the Cowboys in 2017. We fully expect them to pass with flying colors.

More magic in store for Josh Rosen and the Bruins?

How’s this for hot? In his last five quarters of play, Josh Rosen has completed 51-of-61 passes for 621 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Okay, okay, so four of those quarters came against Hawaii, a program nobody would accuse of being a defensive powerhouse. Still, what Rosen has done since coming back from being 34 points behind Texas A&M is nothing short of spectacular. Now he and the Bruins are hitting the road to play in Memphis for an early start, which is tough on west-coast teams traditionally. The Tigers haven’t been great on the defensive side of the ball, so if Rosen is sharp again he could have a field day.

Keeping track of Kevin Sumlin’s job security — Week 3 edition

For a little while last Saturday, it looked like Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin might be on his way out. The Aggies were at home against a Nicholls team they were favored to beat by 38 points and found themselves all tied up in the fourth quarter. Thankfully the home team summoned a late surge and saved Sumlin from a second humiliating loss. But there isn’t a hotter seat in America than the one Sumlin is currently sitting on. He was called out by his athletic director before the season ever began and has failed to inspire any confidence to this point. Texas A&M is at home again in Week 3 hosting Louisiana. Sumlin’s team should win big and is favored by more than three touchdowns. Hold onto your butts, Aggies fans. It could be wild.

First road test for Alex Hornibrook and the Badgers

Wisconsin has cruised to a 2-0 record, beating Utah State and Florida Atlantic at home by a combined total of 66 points. Now the Badgers hit the road to face a BYU team that should realistically give them no trouble at all. The Cougars have given up 144 more yards than they’ve gained in their first two games thanks to a 27-0 drubbing issued by LSU last weekend. Wisconsin’s offense is similar to that of LSU’s in that the passing game isn’t the primary option. We’re expecting Jonathan Taylor and Chris James to run rampant Saturday in Provo, Utah. And don’t be surprised if talented tight end Troy Fumagalli has a monster game for the third week in a row.

Time for Josh Jackson to get Hokies’ offense rolling

Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson

The Hokies are 2-0 to start the season and managed to successfully take down West Virginia in their opener. Still, their offense has yet to establish a consistent rhythm. Freshman quarterback Josh Jackson (who has Tom Brady as a mentor) has shown tremendous poise and is obviously gifted. But he’s still struggling to move the ball consistently. This was seen big time last week against Delaware when the offense gained just 303 yards and scored only twice. East Carolina will host Virginia Tech this weekend. This game should provide Jackson with the perfect opportunity to get the kinks worked out against a defense that has yielded 1,233 yards in its first two games.

Just how good is TCU’s defense, really?

The Horned Frogs have ceded just 166 yards on average the first two games of the season. They shut out Jackson State in Week 1 before hitting the road last weekend and keeping Arkansas to just seven points, which came due to one long play. Aside from that one lapse, TCU’s defense has been nearly perfect. But Jackson State and Arkansas don’t feature explosive offenses. SMU, on the other hand, can rack up yardage and points. The Mustangs have averaged 56 points and 479 yards per game. We’re not expecting them to win in Fort Worth this weekend. But there’s a chance the Horned Frogs will finally face an offense that can make things interesting.

Time for Jarrett Stidham to start looking the part

Through two games, Jarrett Stidham sure hasn’t looked like the long-sought answer at quarterback for Auburn’s offense. He’s completed just 56.3 percent of his passes for a mere 263 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Granted, Clemson’s defense was a waking nightmare last weekend, sacking the former Baylor quarterback 11 times and holding Auburn’s offense to just 117 total yards. But Stidham didn’t impress in Week 1 against Georgia Southern, either. Auburn will host Mercer this weekend, and there’s absolutely no excuse for a poor game this time around.

How will Buckeyes respond to being blown out at home?

Coming off a blowout loss at home in prime time last weekend, Ohio State has a lot to prove to itself. The team’s vaunted defense was picked apart by Baker Mayfield, and the offense generated just one touchdown. In particular, J.T. Barrett played poorly, averaging just 5.2 yards per attempt while throwing a costly interception. The Buckeyes are hosting Army on Saturday, and they should win big. However, the Black Knights do a great job defending against the run and can run the ball. If Barrett isn’t sharp and the Ohio State defense has trouble getting off the field, it could be a stressful afternoon in Columbus.

Luke Falk gets a second chance after being benched

We predicted Boise State could get the better of Luke Falk after it had harassed him in 2016. That certainly happened. Falk ended up getting benched last Saturday after turning the ball over twice. He went back in later but got knocked out of the game with an injury, though he’s well enough to get the start in Week 3. He finished with just 193 yards on 24-of-34 passing and failed to throw a touchdown. Falk has been one of the best quarterbacks in the nation for a few years now, however. We don’t expect him to struggle again this week. He should bounce back nicely against Oregon State on Saturday at home.

What will Baker Mayfield do for an encore?

Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield in college football Week 2

It’s hard to believe just how good Mayfield has been through two weeks of action. He was almost perfect in limited action for the Sooners in their season opener against UTEP. In 20 attempts, only one pass did not get completed, and he finished with 329 yards and three touchdowns. UTEP is no Ohio State, however. What he did last weekend was so much more impressive, going for 386 yards on 27-of-35 passing to help take down the Buckeyes in their own house. Needless to say, Tulane is in deep trouble. It’s unlikely Mayfield will play more than one half in this one, as Oklahoma should steamroll the Green Wave.

Just another tuneup for the Crimson Tide

Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide followed up their opening-week blowout win over Florida State with a methodical 41-10 drubbing over Fresno State last weekend. Jalen Hurts, and Co. nearly doubled up the Bulldogs in terms of yardage. We’re likely in for more of the same when Colorado State visits Tuscaloosa Saturday evening. At this point, Alabama appears to be in full cruise-control mode as it tunes up for some bigger games towards the end of the season.

Upset special brewing in Starkville?

LSU will have its hands full on the road in Week 3. Mississippi State has feasted on lesser opponents early this year and comes into the game with some confidence. The Bulldogs have been running rampant, averaging over 300 yards on the ground per game. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has been sharp, throwing five touchdowns and just one pick. LSU’s defense will have to be disciplined and win at the line of scrimmage. Of course, Derrius Guice and Co. will have something to say about the outcome as well. It’s going to be fascinating to see this game unfold. Mississippi State should pull off an upset in front of its home crowd, as LSU is ripe for the picking.

Can Josh Allen, Cowboys keep up with potent Oregon offense?

In case you hadn’t heard, Oregon is back. Back in a big way. Running back Royce Freeman is (once again) one of the most underrated running backs in the nation. Sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert is the real deal as the trigger man of the passing offense. Oregon’s defense isn’t elite, but teams have to score a ton to keep up with them. On Saturday, Josh Allen and the Wyoming Cowboys are hosting the Ducks, and fans of NFL-caliber offensive players should tune in. Allen bounced back from a poor opening weekend to have a nice game in Week 2. He’s a guy who’s been talked about as a potential first-round pick, and he’ll need to play like it to give the Cowboys a chance to stave off the Ducks.

Cupcakes for James Franklin and Co., but will Saquon Barkley get chance to eat?

As we pointed out last week, the Nittany Lions are not utilizing the best running back in the nation like they should. Let’s talk about this for a second. Through two games, quarterback Trace McSorley has attempted 53 passes, completing 33 of those attempts for 444 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Saquon Barkley has gotten just 28 rushing attempts, which he’s turned into 260 yards and three touchdowns. He’s averaging a ridiculous 9.3 yards per attempt and is the most explosive playmaker in the Big Ten.

James Franklin might just be trying to save Barkley for the second half of the season. But let’s be honest, the running game is the team’s bread and butter. It’s a weapon that should be getting honed to a fine point right now. Hopefully Barkley will get his touches in Week 3 when Penn State hosts cupcake opponent Georgia State, which has allowed 238 yards on the ground per game.

First test of the season for Kansas State

Kansas State Wildcats fullback Winston Dimel

The Wildcats have absolutely lived up to the hype of being a ranked team this year, even if they’ve beat up on the likes of Central Arkansas and Charlotte. Now it’s time to see if they’re really for real. A road trip to face Vanderbilt will tell us a lot about Kansas State. The Commodores feature a defense that has been stifling, allowing just 159 yards and three points per game. The Wildcats are favored to win, but not by much. It’s going to be fascinating to see what they can do against a team that can bite back.

Tom Herman and the Longhorns staring 1-2 in the face

After blowing their home opener to Maryland, the Longhorns did a fantastic job righting the ship in Week 2. However, now it’s time for a real test the likes they have yet to encounter in 2017. Texas is on the road in Week 3 for a date with the mighty USC Trojans, who just wiped the floor with a darn good Stanford team. In particular, the Longhorns will live and die based on their ability to shut down freshman Stephen Carr and Ronald Jones II — one of the best running back duos in the nation. USC is favored to win by more than two touchdowns, and for good reason. It’s going to take nothing less than their best for the Longhorns to avoid falling to 1-2.

Huge SEC East battle at The Swamp

This is a big one. In addition to the fact that these two teams are going to be battling each other for supremacy in the SEC East, Florida and its fans will be fired up for reasons that have nothing to do with football. Hurricane Irma ripped through the state and impacted millions of lives. The decision has been made to play Saturday after the situation in Gainsville was assessed, and it’s likely emotions will be running high. Tennessee brings a high-powered offense into this game, while the Gators will be attempting to rebound from a rough opening week loss to Michigan. Whichever team can control the line of scrimmage and wins the turnover battle will walk away with the win.

Can Lamar Jackson keep up Heisman pace against mighty Clemson D?

This weekend’s premier game takes place in Louisville when the Cardinals host the Tigers.¬†Clemson’s defense bared its teeth in a major way last weekend at home against Auburn. Gus Malzahn’s offense was defenseless after the first quarter. Can last year’s Heisman winner (and current front-runner once again) Lamar Jackson somehow find a way to overcome? Last year he did a darn good job, totaling 457 yards and three touchdowns in the 42-36 loss. Deshaun Watson and Co. were just a little too potent offensively, and Kelly Bryant has done a great job this year manning the quarterback position for the Tigers. Because Louisville’s defense has been so bad thus far, the outcome of this game will likely have everything to do with whether Jackson can play a flawless game or gets swallowed up by Clemson’s front seven like Stidham did a week ago.