Marquee Matchups, Week 3

5 Houston (2-0) at Cincinnati (2-0) – Thursday 6:30pm (CST)

Houston and red hot coach Tom Herman look to continue their pursuit of a spot in the college football playoff. Realistically, they are the only non-Power 5 team that has a legitimate chance to get into final 4 at the end of the season. Next up for the Cougars is a conference tilt at Cincinnati.  The Bearcats have looked good thus far but the schedule hasn’t exactly been difficult, to say the least.  Last week they knocked off a Big Ten bottom dweller in Purdue, but clearly Houston presents a much tougher test.  Cinci are more than a touchdown underdog Thursday night at home, and the Cougars will more than likely have too much speed and athleticism for them to contend with.

In week 1 Houston stymied Oklahoma and surprised many with the way they controlled the game, considering the Sooners were expected to make a deep run.  If Houston does happen to go undefeated, it might be hard to keep them out over several of the one and two loss teams.  It will be interesting to see if they continue their dominance, or if perhaps they slip up at some point by playing down to their competition in the American Athletic Conference.  One loss would spell disaster and likely be the end of their playoff dreams.

2 Florida State (2-0) at 8 Louisville (2-0) – Saturday 11:00am

One of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend and the only contest featuring top-10 teams, this one figures to be a high scoring shootout.  FSU looked outclassed early in the opener vs Ole Miss, only to come storming back in the second half and putting a beat down on the Rebels.  Freshman Quarterback Deondre Francois looked like a man possessed after halftime, finishing with 33 completions and over 400 yards passing. After a lackluster two weeks from in conference foe Clemson, the Seminoles currently look like the beat to beat in the ACC.  For FSU, this is an important matchup in terms of their remaining schedule.  If they can get past this dangerous Cardinals team on the road, it bodes well for them because two of their three toughest conferences games (UNC and Clemson) are at home this season.

On the opposite sideline, Louisville comes calling.  They’ve managed to put up a staggering 132 points through their first two games and seemingly have pushed Quarterback Lamar Jackson into the early Heisman conversation.  Amazingly, his odds to win the award have gone from 100-to-1, to now 8-to-1.  Jackson has wowed fans of college football while putting up eye popping numbers and 13 total touchdowns thus far.  It remains to be seen if they can matchup with Florida States size and athleticism on both sides of the ball for 4 quarters, but there’s a reason the point spread is equivalent to that of a field goal.  I think this one comes down to the wire in a tough battle of high powered offenses.  Possibly it falls into the category of whoever maintains the last possession, wins?

Louisville also has Clemson on the schedule, and a late-season non-con clash with Houston.

21 Oregon (2-0) at Nebraska (2-0) – Saturday 2:30pm

A B1G vs Pac-12 showdown in Lincoln, this is an interesting game. Nebraska has come out a bit lethargic so far, struggling through nearly three quarters in both of their first two games, but then pulling away for easy victories. Mike Riley will face off against an old in-state rival, when he spent several years at Oregon State (in two stints), and had some epic battle versus the Ducks.  It looks as though his new regime finally has Nebraska steadily improving after multiple seasons of average play.  He’s recruiting at a better level and seemingly has them on an upswing on the field as well.  Veteran signal caller Tommy Armstrong looks to show some strong poise and leadership , and come out on top in a very important non conference game for both undefeated squads.

Oregon and Coach Mark Helfrich continue to pickup where they’ve left off in recent years, even after an exodus of players and talent.  They are still high flying at the skills positions and can put up video game like numbers.  Running back Royce Freeman is a fringe heisman candidate and one of the best backs in the Pac-12.  This will be a true road test going into the tough environment of Memorial stadium.  They are coming off a convincing win against Virginia and new head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

1 Alabama (2-0)  at #20 Ole Miss (1-1) – Saturday 2:30pm

In both teams opening game in SEC play, it’s another bitter rivalry that pits two top-20 teams, and there is plenty of bad blood to go around.  Can Ole Miss beat Alabama for the 3rd straight season?  Last season was a 47-43 win in Tuscaloosa, and in 2014 a 23-17 victory, the last time they meet in Oxford, Mississippi. It will certainly be a tall task, but it can be done with execution and strong play on defense.  Freshman QB Jalen Hurts will be playing in his first true road game, and a few turnovers could swing this in the Rebels favor.  However, the defensive line will need to disrupt things and force him into some mistakes.  If Alabama controls the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, it could be a long day for Ole Miss.  Bama will want to exact revenge from the last two seasons, in which Ole Miss humbled them during the regular season.   Last week head coach Nick Saban was none too happy with a turnover and giving up a late score to Western Kentucky, they also committed 12 penalties.  He let offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin have it on the sidelines and ripped into him in what he called “an ass chewing.”

Ole Miss on the other hand, will need to come to play.  Quarterback Chad Kelly will need a clean game and to not give the Tide any extra possessions.  To have a legitimate shot, they will look to produce more positive numbers on the ground after having only 67-rushing yards in the opener against Florida State.  Another interesting statistic is that since 1993, Ole Miss is 0-5 vs #1 ranked teams.  History is not on their side, but I feel they keep this one competitive at home.

11 Michigan State (1-0) at 18 Notre Dame (1-1) – Saturday 6:30pm

Notre Dame has won 4 of it’s last 5 games vs AP top 25 teams.  This season started off with a thriller and double overtime loss to a resurgent Texas team that is trying to get back on track under Charlie Strong.  Notre Dame needed a miracle to get to overtime by blocking a kick and running it back for two points to tie the game late, but their efforts still came up short and Texas got a much needed win for the program.  If Brian Kelly and the Irish want to make the playoffs, this is basically a must win game.  Two losses this early in the season would shatter their aspirations to play for a national championship.  The rivalry has taken a break since 2013, but amps back up with both teams ranked and trying to carve out a path for what goals they’ll reach this season.   The quarterback competition of Deshone Kizer and Malik Zaire looks like it has taken a back seat with Kizer taking the reigns and winning the job.  It doesn’t look like at this point that Kelly will continue to use the two man rotation and the offense has been effective gaining nearly 450 yards in both contests.  Notre Dames defense will need to sharpen up however, after giving up 50 points and more than 500 yards to Texas.

Michigan State comes off odd bye in just the 2nd week of the season, so they should be rested and ready to go after an uninspired win versus Furman.  It remains to be seen, how effective first year starter Tyler O’connor will be throughout the season, but he will need to be on point saturday.  We don’t have much too go on so far with Sparty except the fact that they had 10 penalties and 2 turnovers in their opener.  Running back LJ Scott (Hubbard, Ohio) looks like he’ll be a good one for Sparty, however, he’s averaging a mere 46.2 rushing yards in 5 career game vs AP Top 25 teams.  Ultimately, I will lean toward Notre Dame in this one, I believe Deshone Kizer is coming into his own as a great player and will lead them to a victor in South Bend.  

16 Georgia (2-0) at Missouri (1-1) – Saturday 6:30pm

First year head coaches in Barry Odom and Kirby Smart square off in the showdown in Columbia.  Mizzou looked improved last weekend after a devastating loss at West Virginia.  They rebounded in a 61-21 blowout against Eastern Michigan and Drew Lock seems to be steadily improving after a tumultous year of starting as a freshman after being thrust into that role following the Maty Mauk debacle.  Lock nearly set the Missouri all-time passing record with 450 through the air. The team put up an astounding 647 total yards on offense, something they will look to continue in their opening SEC game of the season.  Mizzou has also been mixing in Wildcat QB Marvin Sanders, who completed all three of his pass attempts for 27 yards.  New offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has implemented a new fast paced offense and the team seems to be coming along and getting used to the uptempo.  They will need to execute and move the ball if they have any chance to beat a talented georgia team.  Sustaining drives and controlling the clock while keeping the Bulldogs rushing attack off the field will be important for a potential victory. 

Georgia, who has not looked very impressive this year, is trying to break in two QB’s while figuring out what direction to go in. They have struggled to find an identity at the position. Running back Nick Chubb did have over 200 yards rushing against North Carolina in the opener, but they followed that up with nearly losing to one of the worst FCS teams in the country in a 26-24 victory versus Nichols state. Being 2-0 yet subsequently dropping several spots is certainly not a good look. Week 1 they went with veteran Grayson Lambert, then decided to make the chance game 2 and gave the nod to freshman Jacob Eason.  That didn’t work out to well and they pulled in and brought the veteran back in later in the game.  Whoever gets the start will need to show consistency or coach Smart will have a nightmare on his hands going back and forth all season long trying to find not only a fixture under center, but a leader in locker room.  This game is extremely important to both teams as they enter league play.  If Missouri can someone contain Chubb on the ground and move the chains on offense, they have a shot.  They could potentially be in the east race with a victory on saturday, but how they respond in a big game remains to be seen.

4 Ohio State at 10 Oklahoma – Saturday 7:30pm (EST)

A matchup of pure blue-blood programs, this game figures to be possibly the biggest showdown of the weekend.  It would be even bigger if Oklahoma hadn’t lost to Houston, but the game is still as important as ever to both teams.  Oklahoma will be hungry for a win and they need it badly, as another loss would be crushing to what they intend to accomplish and make a return trip to the final 4 and spot in the College Football Playoffs.  OU is backed into a corner and will more than likely come out with some aggression and attitude.  This is the 3rd all-time meetings between these powerhouse programs, and they have a split record at 1-1 in series history.  If Baker Mayfield can manage to stay upright, and make some plays with his feet and throwing on the run like he does so well, OU will be a tough out.  The offense looked horrific at times against Houston and if Bob Stoops, an Ohio native, wants a win, thats the first thing that needs to be corrected.  They blasted Louisiana-Monroe 59-17 last weekend, but the level of the competition makes that not even worth paying attention to.  Saturday is their true test.

Ohio State will look to veteran leader JT Barrett.  The texas native was actually recruited by OU out of high school, but the Sooners felt comfortable with who they already had at the position.  Barrett and OSU have dismantled the first two opponents in Bowling Green and Tulsa.  The offense had a slow start against Tulsa, but two pick-six’s before halftime loosened up the team and they dominated in the 2nd half.  The Buckeyes still have not given up an offensive touchdown yet this season.  I’m very interested in seeing how their D matches up with an OU team that has explosive tendencies.  The buckeyes biggest weakness is probably the interior of the DL, so it’s imperative that they get a push up front and get after Mayfield in some capacity.  If they can disrupt things in the backfield and shut down the running game making the Sooners one dimensional, the Buckeyes win.  If OU controls the game from an Offensive standpoint, then I believe it’s a toss up and a high scoring shootout. Either way, I don’t see Oklahoma’s newly tested defense stopping Jt Barrett and the Bucks.  They just have too many weapons and speed at the skill positions.

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