After a less-than-stellar week 2, the college football docket is loaded with great games in week 3, including four matchups between top 25 teams.
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Here’s a list of thoughts, observations, and stats to pay attention to this weekend:
- Florida State – Louisville will be the best game of the weekend. The quarterback duel between Deondre Francois (69% completion percentage, 340.5 passing yards per game, 5 TDs) versus Lamar Jackson (507.5 yards of total offense per game, 13 total TDs) will be one of the best that we’ll see all season long.
- Both quarterbacks have played well against ranked opponents in their careers. Francois completed 33 of 52 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns, while leading Florida State to the largest comeback in school history in his only start versus a top 25 foe. Jackson has completed 60.3% of his passes in three starts against ranked opponents.
- Another interesting matchup to watch is the Florida State running game versus the Louisville front seven. The Cardinal run defense is one of the best of the country, ranking 11th in the tackles for a loss, while allowing just 2.38 yards per carry. It’ll be interesting to see how it fares against Dalvin Cook, who averaged 136.67 yards against ranked opponents last season.
- On the other side of the ball, I’m interested to see what the Seminoles do defensively now that Derwin James – arguably the best defensive player in the country – will miss 5-7 weeks with a knee injury. That’s not the defender you want to lose against someone like Lamar Jackson, who ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game, ninth in passing yards per game, and averages 10.17 yards every time he touches the ball.
- The key to a Louisville victory is avoiding turnovers. The Cardinals led the Seminoles 14-13 in the third quarter last year before two turnovers swung the game in Florida State’s favor. Offense wasn’t a problem for UL in that contest, as the team racked up 406 yards and an average of 6.25 yards per play – the highest total that the Seminoles allowed last season.
- One of the biggest burning questions throughout the offseason was whether Alabama would beat Ole Miss this season after dropping the last two contests in the series. That’s still a tough question to answer. Sure, the Crimson Tide throttled USC in the season opener. Yet, Chad Kelly threw for 313 yards against a very solid Florida State defense in week 1, which means this contest could be much closer than many experts expect.
- Nick Saban has never lost to a team three times in a row as an SEC head coach. In the only two instances when he lost back-to-back games to an SEC foe, Saban’s teams responded by posting lopsided victories in the third meeting, throttling Florida 36-7 in 2002, and LSU 22-0 in the 2012 BCS Championship game.
- Yet, if a team is going to defeat the Tide three years in a row, Ole Miss seems like the most likely candidate. Rebel QB Chad Kelly has played extremely well against ranked opponents during his career at Ole Miss, averaging 299 yards per game with an impressive 14/5 TD-to-INT ratio. That total includes a 341-yard, 3 TD performance against the Tide last year.
- Of course, this year’s Tide passing defense looks much better than it was a year ago, allowing opponents to complete just 49.3% of their passes and holding them to a pedestrian 4.6 yards per pass attempt. Please note that this total represents includes a game with Western Kentucky, which has ranked in the top four nationally in passing in each of the past two seasons.
- How will Lane Kiffin attack the Ole Miss defense? Although Alabama has gained most of its yardage through the air this season, it might want to take advantage of the Rebel run defense, which is allowing an average of 197 yards per game (103rd nationally).
- Then again, Ole Miss only allowed 3.79 yards per carry against ranked opponents last season, and 3.93 yards per carry versus Florida State.
- Oklahoma can vault itself back into the College Football Playoff race with a victory over Ohio State this weekend. Although most of the media has dismissed the Big 12 conference’s chances of qualifying for the field, there’s no way that the Sooners don’t make it if they win out.
- In addition to the CFP race, Saturday’s contest could also have a huge impact on the Heisman Trophy race. Sure, Baker Mayfield’s team already has a loss, and J.T. Barrett doesn’t have the astronomical stats that some of the other top contenders do. However, the voters do look at how players perform in big games. Should both of these guys put up some big numbers, they’ll certainly move towards the top of the list.
- This is especially true for Mayfield. Despite breaking in a bunch of new starters, Ohio State’s defense is one of the best in the nation this season, ranking fifth nationally in total defense and fourth in yards per play. While some people will dismiss that number by saying that Buckeyes haven’t played anyone yet, it’s worth noting that they limited Tulsa’s Dane Evans to 15 of 32 passing for 127 yards, while intercepting him four times. That’s the same guy who threw for 427 yards against Oklahoma and 326 yards against Houston last year.
- If the contest is as close as expected, Mayfield will be the difference for the Sooners. In games where Oklahoma was within 7 points either way last season, he completed 126 of 184 passes for 1,826 yards with an outstanding 21/2 TD-to-INT ratio.
- The most intriguing matchup in this contest is the Ohio State offensive line versus the Sooner front seven. Oklahoma’s defense hasn’t allowed anyone – even Houston – to run the ball well this season, limiting opponents to 83.5 yard per game and a paltry 2.42 yards per carry. It’ll be interesting to see if the Buckeyes’ big uglies – which have helped the running backs run for 6.09 yards per carry – will get the job done against a Sooner D that ranks 11th nationally in tackles for a loss.
- Interesting historical factoid that will have no impact on this season’s contest: the home team has never won in this series. The Buckeyes beat Oklahoma 24-14 in Norman back in 1983, while the Sooners beat Ohio State 29-28 in 1977.
- Notre Dame – Michigan State could end up being the best matchup between ranked teams this weekend. Although the other contests might receive more attention, the showdown between the Irish offense and the Spartan defense will be one of the best individual battles of the weekend.
- However, the converse of the matchup will likely decide who wins this contest. It’ll be interesting to see if the Michigan State offense – which only produced 361 yards against Furman – will keep the sticks moving against a Notre Dame defense that ranks 91st nationally in yards per game.
- This week’s upset special is not Appalachian State over Miami. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if the Mountaineers win the contest, I don’t think it will happen because the Hurricane defense is too good. Despite starting three freshmen at linebacker, the UM D leads the nation in both sacks (10) and tackles for a loss (28).
- However, I am calling for a bigger Cinderella story this weekend. For the upset special, I’ll go with North Dakota State over Iowa. Sure, the Bison have had a few close calls the past two weeks, needing overtime to defeat Charleston Southern and Eastern Washington. Yet, they match up very well with Iowa because they play the same physical style of football that Michigan State and Stanford do. Look for North Dakota State to come up with a couple of big plays to pull the upset.