2016 Week 3 NCAAF Weekend Preview

September 16, 2016

Here’s a testament to how unpredictable the college football season can be on a week to week basis.

Last week, despite no games between two ranked opponents, I went 2-3 in the head-t0-head prediction game. @BigRedTweeter, who did slightly better, was able to tie things up overall for the guests but it was close to being a horrible weekend for both sides. Penn State nearly came back on Pittsburgh after looking downright awful in the first half, and the same thing can be said of Washington State in its game against Boise State.

Early season matchups are as difficult to choose as the bowl games, in my opinion. Now, the overall records for the prediction game is as follows:

K. Becks: 6-4

Guests: 6-4

This week, my old roommate Zach will join the blog to make picks for his birthday week. I’ll show no mercy to him despite his advanced age (quarter century mark, for those wondering), but he’s beaten me at least a couple of times in the prediction game so in reality I won’t have to.

Matchups between two ranked squads are back in full force this weekend, with four of them on the slate.

Here is a look at five games you should pay attention to this weekend, as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#2 Florida State at #10 Louisville (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The Seminoles already have a victory over a ranked opponent this season and did it at a neutral site. However, Florida State struggled mightily in the first half of its game against Ole Miss and needed an impressive second half comeback to do so. Louisville at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium won’t be any easier than the Rebels, but perhaps tougher. The ACC Atlantic Division will be molded quite significantly by the outcome of this game.

Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Florida State’s Deondre Francois have emerged as early candidates for POY honors in the ACC, and only one of those names is a surprise. Francois is only a redshirt freshman and grew up before our eyes in the season opener against Ole Miss, playing tough in the pocket and making some good throws. Jackson has been on a tear through the first two games, averaging nearly 350 yards per game through the air and 159 yards on the ground. He’s the only player in the country to rank in the top 10 in both categories. And while each will be tested against by a solid defense, it’s the offensive lines that could make the most difference in this one. Both the Seminoles and Cardinals are aggressively defensively, but thus far Florida State has had more trouble keeping their quarterback off the ground (nine sacks allowed compared with one for Louisville).

As good as both offenses have been thanks to their quarterbacks, don’t expect either team to keep the scoring pace they’ve set through the first two games. Defense will set the tone and dictate which of the budding stars will have more success through the air, not the other way around. Lamar Jackson may be a Heisman candidate currently, but I think he’s more interested in keeping the Cardinals undefeated. Assuming that the offensive line allows him time to find holes in Florida State’s defense, Louisville is good enough to pull off the upset.

My Pick: 31-27 Louisville

Zach’s Take: In my opinion, this one isn’t really that great of a matchup. Florida State has the offense to run away with this one and Dalvin Cook could have a breakout performance. Louisville’s ability to put up big numbers against lackluster teams like Syracuse does not impress me. I really don’t see this one even being close. FSU-45 Louisville-21

#22 Oregon at Nebraska (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The Pac-12 hasn’t shown itself to be particularly strong as a whole this season, but Oregon will look to change that perception this weekend by going on the road to face a Nebraska team that has looked pretty good thus far. Both teams have scored a lot of points and don’t appear to have the best of defenses, so if you’re looking for a barn burner this could be the game of the weekend for you.

One thing that Mike Riley has managed to do in his 1+ year as head coach at Nebraska is get back to being a hard-nosed defense that is difficult to run on. The Cornhuskers are giving up just 81 yards per game on the ground this season, following up a 2015 campaign in which the unit was second in the Big Ten in rush defense. That being said, Oregon will need more than just Royce Freeman on offense to score the kind of points it has been scoring through the first two games. So far Dakota Prukop has been terrific for the Ducks, throwing six touchdowns to zero interceptions and average over 300 yards per contest, but Nebraska is a far stiffer test than Virginia and UC-Davis. Additionally, this is Prukop’s first start on the road.

It will be interesting to see how Prukop plays in an atmosphere where nearly the entirety of an 86,000-plus crowd is not on his side. Obviously Freeman will play a roll in this one, but if Oregon is to win this game then Prukop will need to play as well or better than Tommy Armstrong Jr. plays for the Cornhuskers. Assuming that Armstrong fares well enough against Oregon’s suspect pass defense, Prukop will be expected to step up in this one. Based on the way the Pac-12 has looked this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mike Riley’s team stay undefeated.

My Pick: 35-28 Nebraska

Zach’s Take: Tommy Freakin’ Armstrong and Devine Ozigbo. No, I didn’t make those names up and yes, they are actually pretty decent. Yes, they’ve played some garbage talent so far. Yes, it’s common era Nebraska. Yes, they’re playing Oregon. The Ducks have historically struggled against good offenses and against the Huskers (albeit those 4 straight loses came in the 80’s making this completely irrelevant). I’m picking an upset in this one. Nebraska-27 Oregon-24

#1 Alabama at #19 Mississippi (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The Crimson Tide has looked as dominant as any team in the country this season, but one team that will not be afraid of them is the Ole Miss Rebels. Two seasons ago the Rebels shocked Alabama in Oxford when the Crimson Tide were the No. 3 team in the nation. This one would arguably be even bigger, especially since Ole Miss is now on the ropes as far as its College Football Playoff chances are concerned.

When the Rebels beat Alabama two seasons ago, the Crimson Tide was unusually vulnerable against the pass. Gunslinger Bo Wallace took advantage, torching Nick Saban’s defense for 251 yards through the air and three passing touchdowns. It isn’t going to be easy for Jim Kelly’s nephew, Chad, to hit those numbers this year. Alabama is much better against the pass in 2016, allowing an average of 173 yards and just one passing touchdown against Southern Cal and Western Kentucky, two pass happy offenses. Ole Miss likely won’t get much help from the rushing attack, either. The Rebels average the fewest rushing attempts per game in the SEC and the Crimson Tide defensive front is like a brick wall.

In retrospect, the 2014 edition of this rivalry was only shocking on paper. Ole Miss was set up nicely to take advantage of Alabama’s weaknesses that season. But this year, it’s difficult to see where the Crimson Tide’s weaknesses are at this point and the strengths of the Rebels don’t match up well with Alabama’s. Unless Chad Kelly plays lights out and the defense is able to force at least a couple of turnovers and turn them into points, the Rebels will have trouble in this one.

My Pick: 31-16 Alabama

Zach’s Take: Really Kyle? I know they are both ranked but this isn’t going to be a game. Chad Kelly might be talented, but he’s going to be on his back the whole game.Alabama is as good as they’ve ever been and they don’t just have a “game manager” at the QB position now. Jalen Hurts has been impressive and this will be a good game to become a household name for him. Bama-34 Ole Miss-22

#12 Michigan State at #18 Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

The classic early season battle between the Spartans and Fighting Irish is once again a duel featuring two ranked teams. This game would be considered even bigger if not for Notre Dame’s season opening loss to Texas, but this one will still garner plenty of national interest. This is Michigan State’s first game against an FBS team this season and the Spartans looked shaky against FCS opponent Furman in its opener two weeks ago.

For as helpless as Notre Dame’s defense looked against Texas’s two quarterback system, there are two things to take away from that game that can be seen as positives for Fighting Irish fans. One is that Brian Kelly’s team isn’t the only one that will struggle with Shane Buechele and Tyrone Swoopes. The second is that Notre Dame’s offense, which was always thought to be the stronger of the two units heading into the season, has played very well so far. DeShone Kizer has been the real deal as the starter through two games and will be a handful for Mark Dantonio’s defense this weekend. He has completed over 71 percent of his passes this season and is already on pace to post far better numbers than in 2015.

Michigan State better hope that it can find an answer for Kizer, otherwise this could be a long game for the Spartans. I was thoroughly unimpressed with the offense post-Connor Cook era after game one, although slow starts to the season have been somewhat commonplace in East Lansing under Dantonio. The result against Furman may be a cause for concern, however. If the defense doesn’t prove to be one of the best in the Big Ten, Michigan State will lost more than just this game moving forward.

My Pick: 28-23 Notre Dame

Zach’s Take: This matchup will be good only because both teams have been unimpressive. The Texas-ND game was the most entertaining game that I’ve seen this year. That being said, Texas was not ranked and the Irish had much higher expectations this season (as usual). State was embarrassing Week 1 vs. Furman and this is just their second game of the year. Notre Dame has been impressive on offense, but I haven’t seen enough out of their defense. I honestly think the difference in this one might be the status of Torii Hunter Jr. He expects to play, but if he isn’t 100% they will have trouble. He’s a stud WR and a captain; a team like the Irish needs players like that to succeed. All of these arguments are against ND, and that’s how I’m picking it. State-20 ND-17

#3 Ohio State at #14 Oklahoma (Saturday, 7 30 PM ET)

This one has been pegged as one of the biggest matchups of the year long before the season began, but not many people predicted that it would be the Buckeyes sitting at No. 3 in the polls when the game kicked off. Oklahoma is holding on for dear life regarding its College Football Playoff chances after dropping the season opener against Houston, and Ohio State won’t be any easier. The Buckeyes haven’t gone on the road for a matchup this tough since 2009 and that one didn’t end pretty. This is a different team with a different coach, however, so it will be interesting to see how Urban Meyer prepares his team for Norman.

Oklahoma backup (yes, backup) quarterback Austin Kendall went on record a few days ago, calling the Buckeyes defense “basic” and saying that starter Baker Mayfield would “light them up” on Saturday evening. Well, so much for staying under the radar. Unfortunately for Kendall, it will be easier said than done for an Oklahoma offense that was held to fewer than 400 total yards against Houston. It’s difficult to tell what Ohio State truly has at this point – Bowling Green has a watered-down version of the offense we saw the previous two seasons and Tulsa was stymied as much by the rain as the Buckeyes – but thus far there isn’t anything to suggest Coach Meyer’s defense is as basic as Kendall suggests.

Perhaps more importantly is whether the Sooners can stop an Ohio State offense that is averaging nearly 600 yards per contest and an astounding 62.5 points per game. There are so many weapons on the offense for Meyer and they will be a grade above most of the guys that sliced and diced Oklahoma’s defense two weekends ago. Kendall should know that Houston is essentially Ohio State lite. That being said, I don’t think the Sooners will be lighting up anyone in this game.

My Pick: 38-28 Ohio State

Zach’s Take: I think Kyle gave me this one, because he knows how I’m going to pick…Baker Mayfield is as overhyped as every OU team to step on the field these past few years. tOSU was not offensively impressive in the 1st half against Tulsa. That’s it. That’s all the bad I have to say about tOSU. Anything else and I would be digging. I’m not sure what that scrub meant by “they have a basic defense” but either way, that’s an extremely stupid thing to say from someone that won’t even see the field. This game might be close, but I have no faith in any Big 12 defense that has ever existed. tOSU-35 OU-17

5 Games to Flip To

#25 Miami at Appalachian State (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

If the Mountaineers can give Tennessee a game in Knoxville, they can give Miami all it can handle playing at home. Don’t be surprised if Appalachian State gets the upset victory it narrowly missed out on two weeks ago.

San Diego State at Northern Illinois (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

A matchup between two solid Group of Five conference teams won’t get nearly the attention of some of the other 3:30 game options, which is disappointing because San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey is one of the best backs in the country.

#17 Texas A&M at Auburn (Saturday, 7 PM ET)

The Aggies could appear to dress two totally different squads this season – one that plays at home and one that plays on the road. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand which one will typically play better.

Southern Cal at #7 Stanford (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

If not for the drubbing that the Trojans took in Week 1, this game would likely be more hyped. But it’s anyone’s guess as to where Southern Cal will pick up the defensive tools necessary to stop Stanford’s offense in this one.

#11 Texas at California (Saturday, 10:30 PM ET)

The jury is still out on Texas as a top college football team this season, but facing Cal on the road isn’t going to convince any of the doubters. It would definitely confirm their suspicions if the Longhorns were to lose, however.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Zach did this week, please let me know in one of the following ways: email me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, send me a message on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, post a comment under this article or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. Opportunities to become a guest prognosticator will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Thanks everyone.

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