Like we’ve done in years past, every Friday throughout the season we’ll be highlighting the best games of the coming weekend. We’ll be doing it a little differently this year, however. We’ll rank the top five games we’re most intrigued by while also providing some insight on other games that will be worth your time.
The first two weekends of college football were stellar. Week 3 should be… less stellar. After the Miami-Florida State game was rescheduled because of Hurricane Irma, only two games featuring two ranked teams were left. Still, there a bunch of games worth your attention.
Starting with the five best games, we broke the slate down for you:
5. No. 12 LSU at Mississippi State (7 p.m., ESPN): This game should give us a pretty good indication of what this LSU offense is all about. Through two weeks, the Tigers have handled inferior opponents with Derrius Guice and the running game while Danny Etling has thrown the ball just 31 times. Guice should get a heavy load again but this could be the game we see some new wrinkles from OC Matt Canada.
With blowout wins over Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State hasn’t been tested either as Nick Fitzgerald continues to cruise under the radar among the better quarterbacks in the country. He could have the chance for some big plays with LSU playing so many underclassmen on defense in what will be in their first tough road environment.
4. No. 18 Kansas State at Vanderbilt (7:30 p.m., ESPNU): We’ll learn a lot more about Vanderbilt and its chances in the SEC East after this one. The Commodores have a really solid defense and Kyle Shurmur and Ralph Webb, one of the more underrated QB-RB duos in the country. Vandy had a nice win over Middle Tennessee to open the year, but Kansas State is a different level of competition.
Wildcats quarterback Jesse Ertz relied heavily on his legs last year while nursing a shoulder injury. Now fully healed, Ertz has looked good in the passing game while continuing to pose a big threat in the ground game. Ertz and the KSU offense will be a big challenge for Vanderbilt in what should be a really physical game.
3. No. 19 Stanford at San Diego State (10:30 p.m., CBSSN): Learn the name Rashaad Penny. With 413 yards in two games (No. 2 in FBS), Penny has stepped in seamlessly for the Aztecs with NCAA all-time rushing leader Donnel Pumphrey now in the NFL. In SDSU’s win at Arizona State, Penny rushed for 216 yards on 18 carries (including a 95-yard TD run), had a 99-yard kickoff return TD and a 33-yard TD catch. Stanford, seething after being gashed on the ground in a 42-24 loss to USC, will be a much tougher test.
Stanford has a stellar running back of its own in Bryce Love. Love is fifth in the country through two games with 340 rushing yards. Like Penny, Love reeled off a long touchdown run — 75 yards — last week and is a threat to break off a big one any time he touches the ball. With so much attention on the running backs, the team that can throw it effectively will likely come out on top. Stanford should have a leg up there.
2. No. 23 Tennessee at No. 24 Florida (3:30 p.m., CBS): Florida was terrible offensively against Michigan before Hurricane Irma cancelled the Week 2 tuneup that probably would have gotten the offense going a little bit. Tennessee gave up 655 yards in its 2OT win over Georgia Tech, so the Gators should have some room to make some plays though they will be without the nine players who were suspended for the UM game, including RB Jordan Scarlett and WR Antonio Callaway. If Florida is going to win this, it will need to limit Vols RB John Kelly and force QB Quinten Dormady to throw.
There are some obvious early-season SEC East implications to this one. Tennessee snapped an 11-game UF winning streak in this series last year. A win in the Swamp would be a nice start in the Vols’ quest to finally capture a division crown under Butch Jones. Florida has won the East the last two years, but UF fans aren’t exactly enthralled with the way the program has looked under Jim McElwain. It’ll likely be a low-scoring affair with the winning side easing some tensions on campus.
1. No. 3 Clemson at No. 14 Louisville (8 p.m., ABC): Lamar Jackson against the Clemson defense is must-see TV. Jackson has combined for more than 1,000 yards individually through two weeks, but Clemson is an entirely different beast. Auburn could only muster 117 yards of offense against Clemson, which sacked Jarrett Stidham 11 times. Louisville’s offensive line seems somewhat improved, but it’s hard not to think Jackson will be running for his life all night.
Still, Jackson is too good not to put some points on the board. He had a huge game against Clemson in Death Valley last year and has looked like a more polished passer this season. Clemson’s offense, with Kelly Bryant at quarterback, is not what it was a year ago. The Tigers are deep at receiver but haven’t established a clear pecking order at running back, but when your defense is this good you don’t need to score 40 or 50 points to win the game.
Whoever does win the game emerges as the clear favorite in the ACC.
Keep an eye on…
No. 9 Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh (Noon, ESPN): This feels like one of those games that will be close early before the better team pulls away emphatically. Pitt held its own in the trenches in a loss to Penn State, dominating the time of possession and running the ball effectively. With an early start time at home, the Panthers should be able to do the same against Oklahoma State — for a while. In the end, the Cowboys have way too much firepower on offense.
Oregon at Wyoming (7 p.m., ESPN): Touted Wyoming QB Josh Allen has started two games in his career against Power Five teams. His stats look like this: 39-of-72 for 363 yards, one touchdown and seven interceptions. Oregon’s defense isn’t exactly a juggernaut, so we’ll see if Allen can fare better against the Ducks, who look much-improved under Willie Taggart, especially on offense with stud QB Justin Herbert.
Kentucky at South Carolina (7:30 p.m., ESPN): With Jake Bentley and Deebo Samuel, South Carolina has a really fun combination on offense while the defense looked solid in wins over Mizzou and NC State. Folks are talking about the Gamecocks as a dark horse contender in the SEC East. Let’s see what they can do against a Kentucky team that almost lost to Eastern Kentucky last weekend but is better than that performance showed.
Texas at No. 4 USC (8:30 p.m., FOX): Texas is either going to send out true freshman Sam Ehlinger or a banged-up Shane Buechele at quarterback on the road against the Trojans. Good luck. Tom Herman’s Longhorns couldn’t handle Maryland at home, so it’s hard to expect them to pull an upset of high-powered USC. We’re expecting this one to be competitive for the first half, but UT won’t be able to handle the Trojans offense for four quarters.
No. 25 UCLA at Memphis (+3.5) (Noon, ABC): This is a classic body clock game. UCLA traveled across the country on Thursday to get acclimated to the time difference, but a noon kick in Memphis could result in a sleepy start for the Bruins. Memphis, an expected contender in the AAC, hasn’t played since Aug. 31 and is going to be fresh. This should be a close one.
SMU (+19.5) at No. 20 TCU (3:30 p.m., ESPNU): Chad Morris is making legitimate progress at SMU and has a star at receiver in Courtland Sutton. TCU had no trouble going on the road handling Arkansas last week, but this has the feeling of a bit of a letdown game for the Horned Frogs. Look for the Mustangs to cover.
Purdue (+7.5) at Missouri (4 p.m., SECN): It’s hard not to be really impressed with Purdue so far in its first season under Jeff Brohm. The Boilermakers took Louisville down to the wire in Week 1 and easily dispatched Ohio at home last week. Missouri already fired its defensive coordinator and is coming off a rough 31-13 home loss to South Carolina last weekend.
Ole Miss at Cal (+3.5) (10:30 p.m., ESPN): We’re expecting a classic #Pac12AfterDark shootout in Berkeley with some SEC flavor. Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson has thrown for more than 900 yards through two weeks and is going against a Cal defense that allowed 571 yards to Weber State last weekend. Still, Cal has the offense to pull off a home upset.
Channel surf through…
No. 10 Wisconsin at BYU (3:30 p.m., ABC): BYU’s offense has been miserable so far this year and Wisconsin isn’t the defense the Cougars will turn things around against.
Middle Tennessee at Minnesota (3:30 p.m., BTN): Minnesota ran the ball on 58 of its 66 snaps last week in a 48-14 win at Oregon State. This one should be a lot more competitive provided Middle Tennessee has QB Brent Stockstill (shoulder) ready to play.
Tulsa at Toledo (7 p.m., ESPN3): Group of Five offensive goodness.
Arizona State at Texas Tech (8 p.m., FSN): Power Five defensive badness.
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