2023 NCAAF: Week 3 Preview

September 15, 2023

One didn’t have to look hard for great college football matchups in Week 2. The same can’t be said for Week 3.

There are a total of zero games between ranked programs this weekend, which helps explain why the major media outlets are scraping the barrel for topics to talk about outside of what is going on in Boulder, Colorado.

That being said, this week could serve as an opportunity to evaluate teams one week prior to a big game. How will Colorado, Ohio State and Oregon State look ahead of big road matchups? Could someone slip up in a major way?

It took a bit of digging, but we’ve highlighted the best of Week 3 below.

Before we get to the games, let’s briefly rewind to Week 2.

3 Things We Learned in Week 2

Texas is Back (for real)

Yes, it can be said in a way other than in jest now. After last Saturday’s convincing road victory over Alabama, Texas and its fan base has earned the right to call itself a serious national title contender for the 2023-2024 season. A lot of doubters have been proven incorrect, in particular about Quinn Ewers, who looked every bit the part as a big-time college quarterback. The redshirt sophomore has stepped up as the unquestioned leader of a dangerous offense with a number of weapons.

We’re far from the end of the road, but the Longhorns have already passed what appeared to be the toughest test on their schedule before the season began.

Luke Fickell needs more time to turn things around in Madison

Around The Corn’s preseason prognostication for Wisconsin may have been slightly ambitious, as the Badgers proved incapable of handling a decent but nowhere near great Pac-12 opponent on the road this past Saturday evening. Oddly enough, it was the running game that didn’t show up in Pullman, managing just 90 yards on 29 attempts following an outburst of over 300 yards the weekend prior.

We’ll stand by the assertion that the pieces are there for this Wisconsin team to be quite dangerous in the Big Ten, but clearly there is work to be done to ensure cohesiveness amongst the offense. The turnovers in particular will need to be eliminated – through two games, the Badgers are already at -5 and do not have a single takeaway on defense.

Notre Dame will hang with the best this season

The Fighting Irish continue to assert that the offense is capable of hanging with anyone in the country, eclipsing the 40-point mark in all three of its games this season. Sam Hartman isn’t flashy enough to win the Heisman, but he’s good enough to lead the team to victory over the toughest opponents on the schedule.

Against North Carolina State, Notre Dame slammed the door on a potential fourth quarter comeback, methodically driving down the field and converting possessions to points after big stops (one of which was in the red zone) en route to a comfortable victory. The poise and maturity is a reflection of Hartman and his leadership, something that Marcus Freeman’s team lacked in 2022.

5 Games You Need to Watch This Weekend

#14 LSU at Mississippi State (Saturday, 12 PM ET – ESPN)

The Tigers cleansed their pallet against FCS Grambling State last weekend, effectively rendering all of their offensive statistical averages through two games meaningless in terms of evaluating this matchup. What we do know about LSU is that Jayden Daniels has the capacity to be electric but wasn’t in the second half of the Florida State game. Mississippi State has struggled to find its footing in the secondary through two games and the unit looks vulnerable against the pass.

Going on the road is never an easy task in the SEC, but LSU appeared motivated last weekend and has the offensive firepower to overwhelm the Bulldogs. If the Tigers take care of the football and keep Mississippi State’s run game from dictating the pace and time of possession, Brian Kelly’s team will emerge from Starkville victorious.

My Pick: 34-20 LSU (covers -9.5 spread)

South Carolina at #1 Georgia (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – CBS)

Through two weeks it seems clear that the hype surrounding the Gamecocks before the season began was just that – hype. South Carolina has been poor defensively and, while Spencer Rattler has carried last season’s momentum into the current one, the offense as a whole looks one-dimensional. Rattler couldn’t carry the team to victory against North Carolina and the prospect of that happening against Georgia looks even more unlikely.

The Bulldogs could be the first defense to make Rattler look pedestrian this season, and Georgia’s offense shouldn’t have much problem slicing up a porous secondary. Unless South Carolina is hiding a secret weapon to provide a spark in the run game, its offensive attack is as predictable as the outcome of this contest.

My Pick: 44-14 Georgia (covers -27 spread)

#8 Washington at Michigan State (Saturday, 4 PM ET – Peacock)

The Mel Tucker story unfolding has been unusual and unfortunate to say the least, but things do not get any easier on the field for the Michigan State players this weekend. Led by interim head coach Harlon Barnett, Sparty welcomes a high-powered Washington offense to East Lansing, a place where Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is quite comfortable (he led Indiana to a 24-0 victory on the road in 2020).

Michigan State has not faced an offense like Washington’s this season, which is No. 8 nationally in scoring. While the Huskies have shown the capability to score in bunches, it hasn’t needed to do so in order to win games this season. Even with Tucker on the sideline the Spartans would have been outmatched in this one – there simply doesn’t appear to be enough offensive firepower from Michigan State to hang with Kalen DeBoer’s squad. Barnett is a defensive guy as well and would be wise to cede offensive decision making to his staff to have any shot of keeping this one close.

My Pick: 40-21 Washington (covers -16.5 spread)

#11 Tennessee at Florida (Saturday, 7 PM ET – ESPN)

The Gators welcome Tennessee to The Swamp, a venue that the Volunteers have won at in 20 years. This year presents the best opportunity to do so in some time, with the Gators seemingly still searching for answers offensively. While Graham Mertz did throw for over 330 yards two weeks ago against Utah, the Gators have been unable to convert on third down (they are currently last in the SEC with a 31.5 percent conversion rate).

The jury is still out on Joe Milton, but if Tennessee has its way it’ll be at least another week before the country can make a decision about him. The Volunteers will look to establish dominance on the offensive line and allow the run game to dictate the pace of the game and provide a bulk of the offensive production. As a result, the scoreboard may suggest a closer game than what actually occurs on the field.

My Pick: 30-23 Tennessee (covers -5.5 spread)

Pittsburgh at West Virginia (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – ABC)

Neither one of these teams is expected to seriously compete for a national or even conference title, but the Backyard Brawl is one of the best rivalries in college football and it’s great to have it back for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2010-2011. Despite a rough 2022 campaign, West Virginia was competitive against the Panthers last season and will look to turn the tables as the venue shifts to Morgantown.

The Panthers have a capable quarterback in Phil Jurkovec, but the senior hasn’t been too accurate this season (49 percent completion rate). Some of that is due to Cincinnati’s stifling defense, and West Virginia’s secondary should be somewhat easier to navigate. However, Pittsburgh hasn’t been known for offensive fireworks under Pat Narduzzi and this game should resemble smashmouth football above all else. Expect a late drive from either side to decide it.

My Pick: 31-28 West Virginia (covers -2.5 spread)  

5 Games to Keep an Eye On This Weekend

Minnesota at #20 North Carolina (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET – ESPN)

For the second year in a row, the Tar Heels slipped by Appalachian State to remain unbeaten but required 40 points to do it. Minnesota, currently boasting a top ten scoring defense nationally, will try to slow down Drake Maye & Co.

Western Kentucky at #6 Ohio State (Saturday, 4 PM ET – FOX)

The Buckeyes have finally decided on a starting quarterback and will look to stabilize a somewhat shaky offense one week before heading to South Bend. Some potency offensively may be required simply to beat the Hilltoppers, which unlike Ohio State’s previous two opponents are quite adept at finding the endzone.

BYU at Arkansas (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – ESPN2)

There is obvious reason for concern when an FBS squad gives up over 260 yards to an FCS opponent as BYU did to Southern Utah last week, but the Cougars will be facing an Arkansas offense which failed to eclipse 150 passing yards against Kent State. The play of Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson will seemingly have a massive impact on the result of this one.

Syracuse at Purdue (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET – NBC)

The Boilermakers are a bit of an enigma this season, but with a victory over unbeaten Syracuse can salvage a non-conference slate that appeared spoiled with a loss to Fresno State to kick off the campaign. Expect a good battle between two capable quarterbacks.

Colorado State at #18 Colorado (Saturday, 10 PM ET – ESPN)

Rams head coach Jay Norvell did his team no favors with his remarks earlier in the week, clearly targeted at Deion Sanders. It is possible that this one gets out of hand, but you’d suffer from FOMO ignoring it completely.

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