Outside of that crazy Central Michigan–Oklahoma State finish and Nick Saban verbally berating Lane Kiffin despite his team’s 28-point lead, Week 2 was boring. Let’s waste no time and instead get to the matchup rankings of a positively loaded Week 3.
North Dakota State at No. 13 Iowa (Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN2): Let’s just remember North Dakota State’s surgical drive against Kansas State in 2013. There’s a reminder that, no matter the year, the Bison are a threat to take out the FBS team they schedule that season. Carson Wentz may be gone, but the Bison pride themselves on reloading no matter who they lose. Iowa’s 42–3 rout of Iowa State in this year’s Cy-Hawk rivalry is another encouraging sign for Kirk Ferentz, but this is a tricky non-conference matchup for the Hawkeyes.
Colorado at No. 4 Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Michigan has obliterated its first two opponents—one traveled a little under 20,000 miles in the span of 10 days before playing the Wolverines, the other finished last season winless—and finally gets a game that might be competitive. Colorado hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2007 and has been the worst program in the Pac-12 since it entered the conference in 2011, but the Buffaloes have defeated Colorado State and Idaho State by a combined score of 110–14. Quarterback Sefo Liufau has a 74% completion percentage and looks greatly matured in his senior season. Michigan probably coasts once the second half arrives, but Colorado is the first moderate test that Michigan will receive this season.
Western Michigan at Illinois (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network): This game may not be terribly interesting, but if the Broncos win, then head coach P.J. Fleck will be 2–0 against the Big Ten this season and will become one of the most popular coaching candidates in the Midwest.
No. 22 Oregon at Nebraska (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): Nebraska’s days as an elite program might be gone forever, but head coach Mike Riley can win himself plenty of support if the Huskers upset Oregon. Riley’s familiarity with Oregon’s offense from his time at Oregon State should help matters, and the Ducks have had two lackluster wins to start the season. Royce Freeman looks like the running back the world thought he’d be (294 rushing yards and four touchdowns in two games), but the defense remains an enormous liability (see the 53–28 final score against U.C. Davis, a team that finished 2015 with a 2–9 record). Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong has a chance to change the minds of plenty of skeptics and establish the Huskers as a formidable Big Ten opponent.
Pitt at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Pitt got the marquee win it had been seeking under second-year head coach Pat Narduzzi while Oklahoma State lost a game on a hail mary pass. It’s a game that will likely fall by the wayside because of the huge slate of games, but it’ll be a good primer on two dark horses who could compete for a conference title. Running back James Conner is the focal point of the Pitt offense, but the Panthers may want to entrust Nathan Peterman to challenge an Oklahoma State secondary that surrendered 368 passing yards last week. The Cowboys, conversely, need to try and run the ball after picking up a sluggish 50 yards on 26 carries last week.
Mississippi State at No. 20 LSU (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2): It appears that the LSU offense will be turned over to quarterback Danny Etling, who succeeded in relief of Brandon Harris last Saturday against Jackson State. His primary job will be to get the ball to Leonard Fournette, but if Etling can keep up his strong play, it should open up the offense for Fournette to put up the numbers expected of him.
No. 17 Texas A&M at Auburn (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN): As Brian Hamilton wrote this week, Texas A&M knows about good starts to the season. But the Aggies have struggled once they hit any kind of adversity. If Kevin Sumlin and co. can win at Auburn this weekend, then Sumlin can further secure his future and the Aggies should be taken seriously as an SEC West contender. Auburn’s confusing quarterback carousel from Week 1 stopped last week as Sean White was the lone signal-caller to play in the Tigers’ 51–14 win over Arkansas State. Don’t be surprised if coach Gus Malzahn ends up using the more mobile John Franklin at some point to try and mitigate the impact of star Texas A&M defensive lineman Myles Garrett.
No. 11 Texas at Cal (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Somehow, Cal has already allowed one player (San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey) to rush for over 280 (!?!) yards in a game. This week, Shane Buechele will likely throw for over 400. Cal quarterback Davis Webb has looked sharp in his first two performances, and there’s a good chance this game ends with both teams scoring at least 40 points. This will end well after dark, and it will be drunk.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 Ole Miss (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): Ole Miss has an opportunity to beat Alabama a third consecutive time. The last time an opponent beat a Nick Saban-coached team three years in a row? Purdue! (When Saban was at Michigan State.) How times change. The matchup to watch is Rebels defensive lineman Marquis Haynes, who looked unblockable against Florida State, against a shaky Crimson Tide offensive line. The quarterback battle between Jalen Hurts and Chad Kelly may be the best QB duel that the SEC has to offer.
No. 2 Florida State at No. 10 Louisville (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC): Without safety Derwin James, who will miss most of the season with torn cartilage in his knee, Louisville has an opportunity to knock off the playoff favorite and head to the forefront of the ACC. Quarterback Lamar Jackson has been electric in his first two starts of the season, accounting for 13 total touchdowns. The Cardinals had their struggles with Syracuse’s offense last week, so Deondre Francois and Dalvin Cook are likely to put up big numbers. The question is whether Jackson and an impressive corps of receivers can keep pace with the Seminoles. With two of the game’s finest offensive architects in Bobby Petrino and Jimbo Fisher, this might be the most exciting game of a loaded day.
No. 12 Michigan State at No. 18 Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC): DeShone Kizer looked like one of the nation’s most promising quarterbacks against a porous Texas secondary. Kizer’s first significant test comes Saturday against the vaunted Spartans defense. The lone film on Michigan State is its lackluster 28–13 win over Furman, so most of the pressure will be on starting quarterback Tyler O’Connor, who had a limited but effective debut to 2015 with 190 passing yards and three touchdowns. Notre Dame’s young secondary isn’t to be trusted yet, and the middle of its defense looked vulnerable during its shootout loss to Texas.
No. 3 Ohio State at No. 14 Oklahoma (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX): Let’s celebrate this matchup, because it’s a major non-conference game taking place inside of a college stadium. More and more programs are selling out to their corporate overlords by playing big games in pro stadiums for a check. In turn, the atmosphere is diluted. Not this time. Norman should be a sight to behold as the Buckeyes come to town in the most anticipated non-conference game of the year. J.T. Barrett, Baker Mayfield, Samaje Perine. Take your pick. The talent is everywhere and it should be a fantastic game.
USC at No. 7 Stanford (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC): Christian McCaffrey had a combined 312 yards of offense and two touchdowns the last time these two teams played. Who wouldn’t want to see that again? USC picked up a nice 45–7 win over Utah State last weekend, but if the Trojans are routed again after losing by 46 points to Alabama in Week 1, there will be talk of firing Clay Helton after just one season.