Let’s be honest, while Week 1 of the college football season was awesome, Week 2 was what makes this sport so great. On Saturday night, as I furiously flipped between four marquee games all going right down to the wire at once, I couldn’t help but think: Man, this sport is awesome. And thank God it’s back.
Week 3 isn’t quite as action-packed as Week 2, but while many have said there aren’t many “marquee” games this weekend, well, to quote the president: Wrong! The SEC opens league play with a couple of key matchups while other games could have implications that will shape the national championship picture later on in the season. Plus, of course, there is some rematch that is 11 years in the making at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
So what are the games you need to watch, and who’s going to come out on top? Here are our picks for the five biggest games of the weekend:
No. 14 Louisville at No. 3 Clemson (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)
While most of America spent Saturday gushing over another brilliant Lamar Jackson performance (note: He’s still REALLY good), what got lost in the ACC landscape is that Clemson might not have fallen as far as anyone expected. The Tigers offense is still a work in progress, but Clemson’s defense threw poor Jarrett Stidham around like a rag doll. On the night, Clemson coordinator Brent Venables’ defense recorded 10 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, holding Auburn to just 119 yards of total offense.
And that defensive line is the same reason that we’re going to take Clemson here. As great as Jackson is — and again, he’s brilliant — don’t forget that Louisville’s offensive linemen gave up roughly 327 sacks the last time they played a real D-line in last year’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against LSU, and things could get just as ugly Saturday night at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Clemson’s offense probably won’t allow this game to turn into a blowout, but its defense should keep the Tigers from getting upset. It will be a fun one, down to the wire in Louisville.
The pick: Clemson 27, Louisville 21
Texas at No. 4 USC (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
It’s the matchup most of America has wanted for more than a decade. USC and Texas are getting together for the first time since their classic Rose Bowl matchup in 2006, one that is still considered to be one of the best college football games ever played. Vince Young and Reggie Bush might not be walking through this door, but this should still be a fun one.
And if I’m being honest, I think this one will be much closer than the 17-point spread Vegas has for this game. On one side, people are probably overhyping the Trojans a little too much after last week’s win over Stanford. Let’s also not forget that Texas’ Tom Herman has proven to be a bit of a big-game coach throughout his career. He went 6-0 against ranked opponents at Houston (including wins over Florida State and Oklahoma) and this offense looked much improved with freshman Sam Ehlinger at quarterback last week.
The Longhorns aren’t going to win this game. But they will make it respectable.
The pick: USC 37, Texas 27
No. 23 Tennessee at No. 24 Florida (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS)
I’m starting to believe in Butch Jones and Tennessee, and I can’t lie: That makes me feel about as good as handing over my life savings to Bernie Madoff. The Vols are the quintessential team that as soon as they take one step forward, they immediately take two steps back, then inadvertently fall into a ditch and end up in the hospital in a full-body cast. So, yeah, I’m dubious about Jones and UT.
So why am I going with the Vols (not very confidently, I might add)? Honestly, most of it has to do with their opponent on Saturday. The truth is Florida isn’t very good. This defense (the Gators’ strength through the first two years of the Jim McElwain era) lost a bunch of guys to the NFL and the offense looked as bad as ever in a loss to Michigan in Week 1. Also remember that the same nine players who were suspended for the Gators opener (including top receiver Antonio Callaway and top running back Jordan Scarlett) will sit out this one, too. I also wonder if having another week because of Hurricane Irma could have hurt this team last week; heck, the Gators got nine months to prepare for Michigan and fell flat on their faces. How could more time off help here?
Point being, everything is lining up perfectly for a UT win. Like Tennessee always does, expect it to fall behind early (that’s just the Butch Jones way) before roaring back and finding a way to win.
The pick: Tennessee 24, Florida 17
No. 12 LSU at Mississippi State (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
As the old saying goes “What happens in StarkVegas stays in StarkVegas” except on Saturday, where the most intriguing game no one is talking about will take center stage. There, everyone wants to know: Is LSU’s new-look offense for real in its first road test of the season?
For starters, the answer is yes, the offense is real. LSU obliterated BYU in Week 1, but the problem was that because that game was played at the same time as Alabama-Florida State, few people watched it. In that game, LSU rolled up 479 yards of total offense.
Really, though, this game will be decided on the other side of the ball. Mississippi State has become one-dimensional offensively, with quarterback Nick Fitzgerald picking up big chunks of yards on the ground (the Bulldogs rank 12th nationally in rushing yardage) but not many through the air, ranking 89th nationally in pass offense. That’s bad news for coach Dan Mullen’s club, which is going up against the top-ranked rush defense in college football, one that gave up minus-5 yards rushing against BYU. Yes, LSU gave up fewer than zero yards rushing in Week 1.
Teams can’t be predictable against LSU, but that’s exactly what Mississippi State will be Saturday. Ed Orgeron’s club should win somewhat convincingly because of it.
The pick: LSU 20, Mississippi State 7
No. 9 Oklahoma State at Pitt (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN)
Heinz Field will be rocking on Saturday — and by “rocking” I mean “slightly above half-capacity, with a noise level that could be confused for a church service.” Sorry, that’s just the reality of Pitt football right now. But while that’s the bad news, the good news is I think this one will be close.
Oklahoma State is awesome but had a manageable first two games (against Tulsa and at South Alabama) and Pitt’s defense is sneaky good. Remember, even though the Panthers lost to Penn State last Saturday, they held the Nittany Lions to just 164 yards through the air.
This is the Pokes’ second straight road game, and it comes a week before an important Big 12 opener against TCU next Saturday. It has “trap” written all over it, and the Cowboys will be lucky to escape with a close win.
The pick: Oklahoma State 31, Pitt 28