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College Football 2012 – Week Three Preview

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

We’ve had our first round of big upsets, with Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin all falling out of the Top 25. And with some big games on tap next Saturday (Clemson vs. Florida State, Kansas State vs. Oklahoma, Michigan vs. Notre Dame), a bunch of big names better not get caught looking ahead this week.

Here is what to watch for in college football this weekend.

#1 Alabama (2-0) at Arkansas (1-1)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 3:30 PM ET on CBS]

A week ago, this looked like it would be one of the season’s most anticipated games between two Top Ten teams. But that was before Arkansas suffered one of the more stunning upsets in college football history and dropped from #8 to unranked, the second-largest drop ever in the AP Poll. Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson suffered a head injury (Arkansas hasn’t called it a concussion, but won’t clarify) in the ULM loss and the Razorbacks blew a 21-point lead in his absence before finally falling in overtime. Wilson’s status for this weekend’s game is unknown. If he can’t go, coach John L. Smith has not said whether freshman Brandon Allen or converted receiver Brandon Mitchell will get the start. Whoever is under center could be in for a long day against a swarming Alabama defense that is fifth in the nation in scoring, shut down Denard Robinson and has already forced seven turnovers this season. Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron threw for a career-high four touchdown passes last week and will now be facing a decimated Arkansas secondary that gave up 412 passing yards last week and will be without injured cornerback Tevin Mitchel. Stranger things have happened, but on paper it certainly doesn’t look like Alabama will need the fourth-quarter rally they did the last time they played in Fayetteville.

#2 Southern Cal (2-0) at #21 Stanford (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 7:30 PM ET on Fox]

Last year, it took a Heisman finalist and three overtimes for Stanford to knock off Southern Cal. But this year, it is the Trojans bringing the Heisman frontrunner into the game. Matt Barkley has already thrown for 10 touchdowns this season while completing 68% of his passes. The potent aerial attack of Barkley and receivers Marquise Lee and Robert Woods has already accounted for 398 yards and eight scores. Penn State transfer running back Silas Redd has paid immediate dividends, leading the team in rushing with 163 yards and a touchdown. For Stanford, quarterback Josh Nunes threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns against Duke after struggling in Week One. But Stanford hopes to put this game in the hands of its stifling defense, which held Duke to just 29 rushing yards and forced four turnovers last week, and running back Stepfan Taylor, who is averaging over 4.6 yards per carry and has amassed 214 total yards and two touchdowns this season. Stanford has won three straight in this series, and four of the last five. But, in the 107-year history of this rivalry, the Cardinal has never won four straight.

Idaho (0-2) at #3 Louisiana State (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN Gameplan]

After winning its first two games by a combined 82-17, it’s unlikely that LSU will have much trouble with an Idaho squad averaging just eight points a game. The Vandals currently rank 122nd nationally in scoring and 106th in total offense. And that was against Eastern Washington and Bowling Green. Now they’ll be facing a Tigers defense that ranks eighth in the country in scoring and has given up just 122 rushing yards in two games. Barring an Arkansas-sized meltdown by the Tigers, this one should be over early.

Tennessee Tech (2-0) at #4 Oregon (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 3:00 PM ET on PAC-12 Network]

Critics can point to the fact that Oregon has been outscored 43-14 after halftime this season, but that stat really shows just how dominant the Ducks have been as their starters generally sit out the second half. Oregon is averaging 49.5 points and 568.5 yards per game this season, both top ten in the country. They have scored 30 points in 15 straight games, the second-longest such streak in the nation. Running back Kenjon Barner is coming off a career-high 201 yards last week, and the running back duo of Barner and De’Anthony Thomas has already contributed 433 yards and eight scores this season. The only bright spot for Tennessee Tech is that they play a fast, no-huddle offense similar to Oregon. So the Tech defense should at least be somewhat prepared for the Ducks’ offensive pace. But they are 0-27 all-time against FBS teams.

Wake Forest (2-0) at #5 Florida State (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Florida State is currently second in the nation in both scoring offense and scoring defense, although those lofty rankings were gained against overmatched FCS opponents. Despite playing in just over three quarters this season, Seminoles quarterback EJ Manuel ranks sixth nationally in passing efficiency. Wake Forest is led by quarterback Tanner Price, who was named ACC Player of the Week after last week’s win over North Carolina and who threw for three touchdowns in last year’s win over the Seminoles.  However, while Wake may be better competition than Savannah State or Murray State, they’re not exactly world-beaters either—the Demon Deacons’ two wins (against Liberty and North Carolina) have been by a combined four points. Wake Forest has won four of the past six in this series, including two of the previous three in Tallahassee. However, after losing to Wake last season, the Seminoles have won nine of their ten games since.

#5 Oklahoma BYE

The Sooners have a week off to prepare for their first conference game and first real test of the season against #15 Kansas State.

Florida Atlantic (1-1) at #7 Georgia (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 7:30 PM ET on Comcast Sports Mid-Atlantic/ESPN Gameplan]

The good news for FAU and new coach Carl Pelini is that they won their season opener against Wagner, matching their win total for all of 2011. The bad news is that they lost last week to Middle Tennessee and now have back-to-back games at Georgia and Alabama. For their part, the Bulldogs are coming off a big win against new SEC foe Missouri, moving them to 2-0 for the first time since 2008. With linebacker Chase Vasser and cornerback Sanders Commings back after serving a suspension, the Georgia defense should be even more potent against an Owls offense averaging just 12 points per game.  The Owls are 0-9 all-time against ranked teams.

Alabama-Birmingham (0-1) at #8 South Carolina (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 7:00 PM ET on Fox Sports South]

South Carolina didn’t miss a beat without injured quarterback Connor Shaw, as backup Dylan Thompson threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns against East Carolina. As of press time, coach Steve Spurrier has not yet made an announcement about Shaw’s status or who will start for the Gamecocks on Saturday. Thompson completed passes to 11 differeny receivers and, somewhat surprisingly, South Carolina leaned heavily on the passing game instead of all-star running back Marcus Lattimore. The Gamecocks young secondary should get a decent test this week from UAB quarterback Jonathan Perry, who threw for 317 yards and two scores in the Blazers season-opening loss to Troy. Spurrier, who is seeking his 200th career win, is 45-0 against non-BCS conference teams.

James Madison (2-0) vs. #9 West Virginia (1-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 4:30 PM ET on Root Sports Pittsburgh; game played at FedEx Field in Landover, MD]

West Virginia has had a week off to rest from its 69 point explosion in Week One, the highest scoring season-opener in school history. Senior quarterback Geno Smith threw for 323 yard and four touchdowns and running back Shawne Alston added a career-high 123 yards and two touchdowns as the Mountaineers rolled over Marshall. They’ll be facing one of the better FCS teams out there (JMU has outscored its opponents this season 97-10), but could be without its star player. Running back Dae’Quan Scott was named Colonial Athletic Association offensive player of the week after recording 270 total yards and five touchdowns in last week’s win over Alcorn State. However, the junior suffered an ankle injury late in the game and, as of press time, his status is unknown. JMU upset Virginia Tech in 2010, a fact of which West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has certainly reminded his players this week.

#20 Notre Dame (2-0) at #10 Michigan State

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC]

After disastrous losses by Nebraska and Wisconsin, Michigan State is carrying the banner as the Big Ten’s best team. The Spartans defense, which led them to the Big Ten Championship game last year, remains strong. They rank eighth in the nation in total defense and have yet to give up an offensive touchdown this season. Notre Dame, however, may have two quarterbacks to try to change that. Sophomore Everett Golson will start the game for the Fighting Irish, but he was pulled late in the game against Purdue in favor of former starter Tommy Rees, who led the Irish on a 12-play, 55-yard drive to set up the game-winning field goal. Notre Dame will also have top running back Cierre Wood in the huddle for the first time this season. Wood was the team’s leading rusher last year, but was suspended the first two games this season for violating team rules. The matchup to watch here could be the Fighting Irish defense against bruising Michigan State tailback Le’Veon Bell. Bell has rushed for 280 yards and four touchdowns this year, but was held to just 27 yards on seven carries in last year’s matchup. Notre Dame’s last road win against a ranked opponent was October 1, 2005—a streak of six straight losses—while Michigan State has won four straight home games against ranked opponents, including this year’s season opener against Boise State. The last time the two teams met in East Lansing, the Spartans won on a fake field goal that went for a touchdown in overtime.

Furman (0-2) at #11 Clemson (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 3:00 PM ET on Fox Sports Net]

Clemson’s biggest obstacle this week may be not looking ahead to next week’s big conference matchup against #5 Florida State. The FCS Furman Paladins have lost 29 straight in this series and have given up over 35 points per game this year to Samford and Coastal Carolina. So they could be in for a long day against an already potent Clemson offense (39 points per game) that is welcoming back All-American receiver Sammy Watkins from a two-game suspension.

California (1-1) at #12 Ohio State (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 12:00 PM ET on ABC]

California’s defense has struggled, giving up 31 points in each of its first two games against Nevada and Southern Utah. Now, they must travel across three time zones and face Braxton Miller, who is the early leader for Big Ten offensive player of the year. The sophomore quarterback has already accounted for 664 yards and seven touchdowns through two games as the triggerman in coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense. The junior will likely once again carry the load for the Buckeyes as top running back Carlos Hyde is expected to miss the game with an MCL sprain. After going 0-3 against PAC-12 teams last week, the Big Ten is hoping Urban Meyer’s squad can provide a little redemption.

#13 Virginia Tech (2-0) at Pittsburgh (0-2)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 12:00 PM ET on ESPNU]

After season-opening losses to Youngstown State and Cincinnati, things don’t get any easier for the Panthers with Virginia Tech coming to town. After struggling in a Week One overtime win against Georgia Tech, the Hokies had strong showings in all three phases of the game last week against an admittedly overmatched Austin Peay. Virginia Tech’s offense has yet to click on all cylinders, but could be potent if and when quarterback Logan Thomas—the school record holder for total offense—finds his rhythm. Pitt currently ranks 111th in the nation in scoring and must face a Hokies defense that is giving up less than 255 yards per game (17th best in the nation). Beginning next year, this will be an annual conference rivalry as the Panthers join Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal Division. The Hokies are currently riding an ACC-record 13-game road winning streak.

#14 Texas (2-0) at Mississippi (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 9:15 PM ET on ESPN]

After easy wins over Wyoming and New Mexico, the Longhorns face their first real test of the season as they make a rare non-conference visit to SEC country against the surprising Rebels. After going 6-18 in the previous two years, new coach Hugh Freeze appears to have Ole Miss heading in the right direction with the school aiming for its first 3-0 start since 1989. The Rebels lead the SEC in offense (551.5 yards per game; 10th nationally). It will be an interesting matchup to see if a Texas defense that ranks eighth in scoring but gave up 206 rushing yards last weekend can slow Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott, who rushed for 111 yards on 12 carries in his only game action this season. Texas quarterback David Ash has completed over 73% of his passes this season and will be going against an Ole Miss secondary depleted by the loss of freshman defensive back Trae Elston, who was suspended by the SEC for a flagrant foul during last week’s game.

North Texas (1-1) at #15 Kansas State (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 7:00 PM ET on Fox Sports Net]

After blowing out Miami, 52-13, the Wildcats will try to avoid a letdown as they look ahead to next week’s big matchup with #5 Oklahoma. Quarterback Collin Klein has been a one-man wrecking crew this year, already accounting for 504 yards and six touchdowns for a Kansas State offense that ranks ninth in the nation in scoring and sixth in rushing.  After struggling in Week One, the Wildcat defense returned to form last week, registering five sacks, forcing three turnovers and holding Miami out of the end zone until there were less than four minutes left in the game. This week, they’ll face a different challenge from a North Texas squad that rushed for 352 yards last week.

#16 Texas Christian (1-0) at Kansas (1-1)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 12:00 PM ET on FX]

The Horned Frogs season opener was about as perfect as you can get—the defense kept Grambling off the scoreboard while TCU quarterbacks Casey Paschall and Trevone Boykin combined to go 17-for-17, an FBS record for most passes in a game without an incompletion. TCU outgained the Tigers 531 to 70. However, this week TCU gets its first taste of Big 12 play when it heads to Lawrence to face the Jayhawks and first-year coach Charlie Weis. Kansas gave up 403 yards of total offense in their Week Two loss to Rice, and could have problems containing the potent TCU passing attack. Since transferring Notre Dame, Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist has struggled in Weis’ offense, completing just 51.6% of his passes for 313 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. The Jayhawks have lost six straight games—by an average of 31.5 points per game—to ranked opponents.

Massachusetts (0-2) at #17 Michigan (1-1)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 3:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network]

This may be the strangest stat you’ll see all season: in last week’s game, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson had more total yards (426) than the Michigan offense had as a team (422). Yes, you read that right—the rest of the Wolverines had a collective minus-four yards of offense while Robinson carried the team to victory over Air Force. So look for the Wolverines to intentionally try to implement a more balanced offense this week as they tune up for Big Ten play. In its first season in the FBS, UMass has been outscored 82-6 by Connecticut and Indiana. So don’t expect them to put up much of a fight in this one.

#18 Florida (2-0) at #23 Tennessee (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 6:00 PM ET on ESPN]

Remember when this game used to have huge SEC and national title implications? The two programs have fallen from their once-lofty heights, but that doesn’t mean this rivalry has diminished much. And with both teams 2-0 and hopeful for the future, this game could have long-term ramifications. Tennessee is ranked for the first time since the 2008 preseason poll after outscoring their first two opponents 86-34. After struggling in recent years to find a consistent offense or quarterback play, the Volunteers currently rank 10th nationally in passing offense and 20th in scoring. Quarterback Tyler Bray leads the SEC in passing yards and total offense  This game could hinge on the matchup of the Tennessee defense against Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel. The Gators rank 104th in the nation in passing offense and Driskel was sacked eight times last week by Texas A&M. But if Driskel can make some plays and keep the defense on its heels for running back Mike Gillislee (231 yards and four touchdowns this year), the Gators could pull off the road upset. Tennessee has not beaten Florida since 2004. The Vols have lost 11 straight games to Top 25 opponents, while Florida has lost nine consecutive games to ranked teams.

North Carolina (1-1) at #19 Louisville (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 3:30 PM ET on ABC/ESPN2]

After two big wins over Kentucky and Missouri State, the Cardinals will face their first real test against an improving North Carolina squad and new coach Larry Fedora.  Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has starred for the Cardinals, completing almost 82 percent of his passes for 576 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions this season. And he has a nice complement in the running back tandem of Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright, who have combined for 328 yards and five touchdowns on the ground this year. They will be facing the task of outscoring a Tarheels offense that ranks 15th in the nation in scoring (44.5 points per game). However, the Tarheels offensive success could be determined partly by the status of running back Giovani Bernard (93 yards and a touchdown I Week One), who missed last week’s loss to Wake Forest with a knee injury.  Bernard is still listed as questionable, but has been able to practice this week and is expected to play. Louisville is seeking i’ts first 3-0 start since 2006, a year that ended with the schools only BCS win over Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl.

Houston (0-2) at #22 UCLA (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 10:30 PM ET on PAC-12 Network]

After rolling up 653 yards of total offense against Nebraska (the second-most ever against the Cornhuskers), the resurgent UCLA Bruins find themselves in the unfamiliar spot of being in the Top 25 for the first time since 2008. At the opposite end of the spectrum, after going 13-1 just a season ago, Houston finds itself in the unenviable position of trying to avoid going 0-3 for the first time since 2001 (when they finished 0-11). Redshirt freshman quarterback Bret Hundley has been a star for the Bruins, throwing for 305 yards and four touchdowns against Nebraska. With him under center, UCLA’s offense now ranks third nationally in total offense, second in rushing, 23rd in passing and 19th in scoring. Houston beat UCLA 38-34 last year, but had lost three straight to the Bruins prior to that.

South Carolina State (1-1) at #24 Arizona (2-0)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 10:30 PM ET on PAC-12 Network]

After upsetting Oklahoma State last week, the Arizona Wildcats now have a week to regroup against an FCS opponent before next week’s shoot out at #4 Oregon. Senior quarterback Matt Scott leads the nation in total offense, completing two-thirds of his passes for 707 yards, four touchdowns and one interception while also rushing for 129 yards and a score. He’s also helped by the emergence of running back Ka’Deem Carey, who has rushed for 273 yards and four touchdowns.

#25 Brigham Young (2-0) at Utah (1-1)

[Saturday, Sep. 15 at 10:00 PM ET on ESPN2]

Considered by many a dark horse to challenge USC and Oregon for PAC-12 dominance, Utah now finds itself reeling after a 27-20 overtime loss to Utah State and a career-ending injury to quarterback Jordan Wynn. And it won’t get any easier this week against a BYU squad seeking its first 3-0 start since 2009. Coach Kyle Wittingham has not yet announced wither longtime backup senior Jon Hays or true freshman Travis Wilson will be under center for the Utes. Regardless of who is at quarterback, expect a healthy dose of running back John White, who has rushed for 215 yards and a score this year (he ran for 174 yards and a career-high three touchdowns against BYU last season). But he’ll have to run against a stingy BYU defense that ranks 10th in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense and is holding opponents to just 55 rushing yards per game. BYU has lost four of the last five at Utah and would love to avenge last season’s 54-10 home loss to the Utes. Utah faces ranked teams (#25 BYU, #2 USC and #22 UCLA) in three of the next four weeks.

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