- Joe Burrow, Dwayne Haskins, Tua Tagovailoa and JT Daniels all face high-profile tests away from home in Week 3. Will they all emerge unscathed?
Some of the nation’s most talked-about new starting quarterbacks hit the road in Week 3, and while it won’t mark the first true pressurized test for all of them (Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow have already shined in neutral site situations, for instance), Saturday should offer more clues about which signal-callers have the staying power to lead their teams into October and November. Tagovailoa and Alabama head to Oxford, site of multiple thrilling upsets at the Crimson Tide’s expense; Burrow leads LSU into Auburn for an early SEC West heavyweight fight; Kyler Murray and Oklahoma take on the only Big 12 team that beat the Sooners last year; Dwayne Haskins and Ohio State meet the first of many ranked opponents on their schedule against TCU in Arlington; and JT Daniels and USC look to bounce back from a loss at Stanford against a desperate Texas squad.
Our eight college football writers and editors make their picks for Week 3’s 11 most interesting games below, taking turns defendng their answers.
Scooby Axson: 18–6 (75%)
Andy Staples: 17–7 (70.8%)
Laken Litman: 15–9 (62.5%)
Ross Dellenger: 14–10 (58.3%)
Molly Geary: 14–10 (58.3%)
Eric Single: 14–10 (58.3%)
Joan Niesen: 13–11 (54.2%)
Max Meyer: 13–11 (54.2%)
Florida State at Syracuse (Noon ET, ESPN)
Eric Single picks Syracuse: We kept waiting around for Florida State to get it together last year, watching them lose game after game until it was too late. There’s a new coach, a new system and a new starting QB in Tallahassee from this time last year, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the proclivity for confounding funks didn’t vanish from this program with the departure of Jimbo Fisher. A trip to the Carrier Dome and a high-powered offense led by healthy (at last) dual-threat terror Eric Dungey is going to challenge Willie Taggart’s offense to score quickly enough to match it. You just don’t go from running out of answers against Samford to cruising in a road ACC game over a span of seven days.
Oklahoma at Iowa State (Noon ET, ABC)
Molly Geary picks Oklahoma: The Sooners were delivered a serious blow this week when it was announced that star running back Rodney Anderson will miss the rest of the season, but Kyler Murray and Oklahoma have plenty of offensive weapons to pick up the slack against the Cyclones, who mustered just three points in a Week 2 loss to Iowa. As the Sooners’ backfield adjusts to life without Anderson, look for another potential big game for receiver CeeDee Lamb, who put up 146 yards and a touchdown against UCLA.
Vanderbilt at Notre Dame (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Laken Litman picks Notre Dame: After an emotional and much-needed victory over Michigan in Week 1, Notre Dame lacked energy in a narrow 24–16 win over Ball State. Questions about quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s effectiveness running the offense resurfaced following his three interceptions, no touchdowns and minus-7 rushing yards. Brian Kelly took some blame, telling reporters they have to “coach better.” Wimbush, however, knows a few more average performances will land him on the bench in favor of backup Ian Book, so he can’t afford to slip up against a Vanderbilt defense that’s currently ranks No. 20 in the country in yards allowed per game.
Boise State at Oklahoma State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Scooby Axson picks Boise State: Boise State has rolled over its opponents so far, pounding Sun Belt contender Troy and hapless UConn into submission. The biggest test of the season comes in the form of Oklahoma State, which leads the nation in total offense but also hasn’t been tested so far. Look for Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien to test the Cowboys’ new 4-2-5 defense early and often, getting the Broncos one step closer to a New Year’s Six bowl.
LSU at Auburn (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Ross Dellenger picks Auburn: Something crazy always happens when LSU and Auburn meet—a touchdown eliciting a roar that registered on a seismograph, a quarterback throwing five fourth-quarter interceptions, a 20-point comeback, you name it. Auburn is out to avenge the last of those scenarios, which lead to a surprising loss in Baton Rouge after LSU had just been upset by Troy. LSU’s offense still has so many questions, and Auburn’s defense is just too good.
Houston at Texas Tech (4:15 p.m. ET, FOX)
Scooby Axson picks Houston: The heat is on Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury to show improvement after getting blown out by Ole Miss in Week 1, and a loss here could signal beginning of the end, considering the Red Raiders’ upcoming schedule. Houston is coming off an impressive thumping of Arizona, and the Texas Tech defense looks to be back to its old bad habits.
Alabama at Ole Miss (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Laken Litman picks Alabama: Southern Illinois quarterback Sam Straub put up 382 passing yards and four touchdowns on 29-of-47 passing against Ole Miss last week. He also threw two interceptions, but that was after the Rebels regained control of the game and ran away with a 76–41 win in the fourth quarter. But if a quarterback from the FCS is able to do this to Ole Miss’s defense, imagine what Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, who has completed 71.4% of his passes and sits second in the nation with an average of 13.0 yards per attempt (better than West Virginia’s Will Grier) might do?
Ohio State vs. TCU (Arlington, Texas, 8 p.m. ET, ABC)
Joan Niesen picks Ohio State: TCU will be the Buckeyes’ first challenge of 2018 (and vice versa), but I’ve seen nothing so far from Ohio State on either side of the ball to suggest it can be taken down by anything other than a top-10 team—which the Horned Frogs haven’t yet proven themselves to be, although their offense has shown a ton of promise. This game will be a great bellwether for the Big Ten and Big 12 races.
USC at Texas (8 p.m. ET, FOX)
Max Meyer picks Texas: Under Clay Helton, USC has had an awful record when it has been an underdog (the Trojans are currently +3.5), falling to 1–9 after last weekend’s 17–3 loss to Stanford. The Trojans have allowed 5.88 yards per play on defense, which ranks 95th in the country, and that includes a whopping 6.49 yards per carry (123rd). The offense hasn’t been that great either, averaging 5.71 yards per play on offense (79th). The Longhorns’ offense has struggled, but facing a Trojans defense that has been susceptible to giving up explosive plays (102nd in the country after allowing 12 plays of 20-plus yards in its first two games) will help Texas get back on track in a revenge spot after last season’s double-overtime defeat at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Washington at Utah (10 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Max Meyer picks Washington: Statistically speaking, Utah has one of the top defenses in the country, but that seems like a mirage after facing Weber State and Northern Illinois in its first two contests. Washington’s offense has actually had Utah’s number of late, scoring at least 30 points in four of their last five matchups. I trust the veteran duo of quarterback Jake Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin to get it done once again, especially since a second defeat before October rolls around would essentially doom the Huskies’ playoff chances.
Arizona State at San Diego State (10:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN)
Eric Single picks Arizona State: The Aztecs won in Tempe last year, but they’re catching Arizona State at the wrong time—riding high off an upset win over Michigan State in Week 2—and they’ll be without quarterback Christian Chapman, who injured his knee in a way-too-close win over Sacramento State last weekend. Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins is playing too well right now for Herm Edwards’s charges to drop a winnable game.