After several surprises unfolded in Week 2, the dust is starting to settle a little and we’re getting a glimpse of the big picture in the college football landscape. Earlier this week, our Danny Vasta separated the pretenders from the contenders.
While there was no article for my Week 2 game predictions, I announced my picks for the Top 10 games via Twitter.
And the results weren’t pretty. I finished the weekend with a 4-6 record in my predictions. While I was right on the money with USC-Syracuse, South Florida-Nevada and Purdue-Notre Dame, I just missed the mark with Vanderbilt-Northwestern, Florida-Texas A&M and Nebraska-UCLA and was way off with Miami (FL)-Kansas State, Oklahoma State-Arizona and Auburn-Mississippi State.
And while I correctly went with Georgia over Missouri, the score was much closer to my projection before the Bulldogs pulled away in the final quarter. With that said, I had a pretty solid showing in the season opener with a 7-3 record, so I’m optimistic for a bounce back type of performance with my predictions for the Top 10 games of Week 3.
The top two ranked teams in the country — Alabama and USC — both face capable conference foes on the road.
The Tide will try to tackle the high-powered and angered Arkansas Razorbacks, a team that likely saw its national title aspirations completely shatter after falling to Louisiana Monroe 34-31 in OT last week.
It was a shocking upset, as the Warhawks were 30-point underdogs. First-team All-SEC star signal-caller Tyler Wilson also suffered a head injury after taking several huge hits in the first half. He didn’t play in the second half and won’t play this week, either.
Meanwhile, Matt Barkley and USC will head up the California coast to battle No. 21 Stanford (according to AP Top 25).
There are plenty of other marquee matchups on tap. Here’s the Week 3 picks for the 10 best games (in no particular order).
BYU (2-0) at Utah (1-1)
Utah leads BYU 51-31-4 in the all-time series. The Utes have also won the last two meetings, both in gut-wrenching fashion. Brigham Young got beat 17-16 in 2010 when the team missed a game-winning field goal attempt as time expired. And after trailing 10-7 late in the second quarter last year, Utah scored 47 unanswered points and achieved its most lopsided victory over BYU (54-10) in 89 years.
Utah comes off a disappointing defeat against in-state rival Utah State, 27-20 and also just lost its four-year starting signal-caller Jordan Wynn, who just called it quits this week after suffering his fourth shoulder injury in four years. Tempo will be extremely important for the team this week, but that will be tough to maintain against BYU.
The Cougars have been stout on defense and put up big numbers on offense in their first two games, though Washington State and Weber State weren’t much of a challenge. BYU’s two biggest tests in this contest will be in the trenches facing potential first-round defensive tackle Star Lotuleilei and the Utes’ powerful defensive front, as well as the time of kickoff.
In recent years, the BYU Cougars have come out flat against Utah, especially in night games. The team must find a way to save its focus and energy for game time, which is 8:15 p.m. MDT in Salt Lake City.
Prediction: BYU 34, Utah 14
USC (2-0) at Stanford (2-0)
These two teams are similar at nearly every position. Both programs possess powerful offensive lines with a proven runner in the backfield—Stepfan Taylor for Stanford and Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal for the Trojans.
With USC yielding only 2.6 yards per rush and the Cardinal giving up just 2.2 yards per rushing attempt, both of these teams have been outstanding against the run and are equipped with an excellent front seven on defense. In addition, each team’s weakness on defense is in the secondary.
Moreover, Stanford and USC have each played well in one game—as the Trojans defeated Hawaii 49-10 in its opener while Stanford defeated Duke 50-13 last week—and each team has played rather poorly in another—as Stanford struggled in its season opener to beat San Jose State 20-17 and the Trojans topped Syracuse 42-29 last Saturday.
However, these two teams are very different at two key positions—quarterback and wide receiver. Stanford wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Drew Terrell have illustrated improvement and promise, but USC’s pair of standout wide outs Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are two of the top players at the position and the country and have utilized their advantage in athleticism to overwhelm Stanford’s secondary in the past. Then there’s of course the quarterback position.
Matt Barkley is unquestionably the best pro prospect at the position and quite possibly the best quarterback in the nation. His Heisman hopes and the team’s dream of a national championship could come to an end if Stanford pulls off the upset.
This would also mean Barkley would finish his entire college career without beating the Cardinal.
Lat year’s epic affair ended with Curtis McNeal losing a fumble at the end of the third overtime in a 56-48 loss to Stanford. The get-together in 2010 was just as wild when Nate Whitaker kicked the game-winning 30-yard field goal to beat the Trojans 37-35 on the final play of the game.
And that followed the memorable meeting in 2009 when Stanford steamrolled the Trojans 55-21 during USC’s homecoming and even went for a two-point conversion late in the game, prompting then-USC coach Pete Carroll to ask then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh “What’s your deal?”
Stanford signal-caller Josh Nunes will make his third career college start, and though he has been very solid in his first two games, passing for 400 yards with one interception in 56 attempts so far, he will get put to the test in this contest.
The Cardinal’s only apparent advantage is the location, as the team has won 25 of its last 28 games at home dating back to 2007. Look for USC to try to obtain an early lead to quite the crowd and take control of the game.
Cal (1-1) at Ohio State (2-0)
California quarterback Zach Maynard has been solid in his first two tests, completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 474 yards and three touchdowns with one pick. He also ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with a 154.2 QB rating, but hasn’t quite met expectations for this season. The team faces its first road test and ranked opponent on the year in Columbus, OH.
Ohio State starting signal-caller Braxton Miller may be forced to move more on his feet after the depth at running back has blown up for the Buckeyes, with three bodies down after just two games into the season. Even though the Golden Bears are stronger against the run and Braxton Miller has been solid through the air, Cal’s defense will want to force Miller to throw to take advantage of more opportunities at turnovers and preventing the Buckeyes offense from methodically marching down the field all game long.
Look for Maynard and California to make things interesting, but the Buckeyes roll to victory.
Arizona State (2-0) at Missouri (1-1)
Missouri comes off a deflating defeat against Georgia by three touchdowns (41-20) after a second-half collapse in its first conference clash as a member of the SEC last week. The Tigers are also looking for redemption from last season after falling to Arizona State after overcoming a 14-point deficit in their 37-30 OT loss in Tempe.
The Sun Devils, meanwhile, are hoping to stake their claim as a Top 25 team with a big win on the road.
Trying to slow down the Tigers’ starting signal-caller James Franklin looks to be a tough task, as Arizona State’s defense didn’t exactly have to handle a hot hand from the opposing offense in the first two games. Northern Arizona’s starting QB was knocked out of the game in the first half and Nathan Scheelhaase, the starting quarterback for Illinois, didn’t play last week.
Franklin chalked up 319 passing yards and 84 yards on the ground in last year’s loss against Arizona State. He’ll put up big numbers again, but this time, his team will also come up with the win. Home-field advantage is also a major factor.
Notre Dame (2-0) at Michigan State (2-0)
Notre Dame leads the series over the Spartans, 46-28-1 and won last year’s get-together by the score of 31-13.
This will be the first true test for the Irish after beating Navy 50-10 and winning a close contest last weekend, 20-17 over Purdue. The Fighting Irish look to give Michigan State starting QB Andrew Maxwell trouble, as the team has totaled seven sacks this season and has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher.
However, Sparty also ranks in the Top 10 in total defense and has allowed just 54.5 yards per game on the ground.
Michigan State is opening its season with back-to-back home night games for the first time in school history, and on Saturday, the Spartans will host their 13th night game at Spartan Stadium. The team is currently 8-4 under the lights in its own venue.
Michigan State has won the past two meetings at home against Notre Dame, though the Irish are 18-15-1 at Spartan Stadium, with wins in 18 of the last 20 meetings in East Lansing.
Nine of the past 12 meetings have been decided by one score or less and the last get-together at Spartan Stadium ended on the now famous “Little Giants” play when the Spartans won on a fake field goal in overtime.
Each team has high expectations for the 2012 season and approaches this evening’s game with the notion that a win here could become the springboard to a terrific year. The Spartans must continue to dominate on defense, though through two games, Michigan State has made just one sack. The Spartans will have to put together consistent pressure on Notre Dame’s first-year starting signal-caller Everette Golson and the Irish will need to find a way to slow the Spartans’ great ground game.
We’re about to find out if the Irish is for real and whether Michigan State belongs in the Top 10.
Navy (0-1) at Penn State (0-2)
Coming off back-to-back deeply disappointing defeats, Penn State prepares for Navy’s triple-option offense. The Midshipmen and Nittany Lions both seek to erase the bad taste of their early season struggles and seek their first win of the year.
Navy needs to have quarterback Trey Miller and company need to get things going on offense or its going to be a second straight long season at Annapolis. As for Penn State, the defense must stay disciplined, and on offense, the team needs to establish enough of the run to maintain more balance and senior quarterback Matt McGloin must continue to take care of the football.
Virginia (2-0) at Georgia Tech (1-1)
The Cavaliers lead the series between these two teams, 17-16-1 and won last year’s get-together by the final score of 24-21. After entering that contest with a 6-0 record and ranked 12th in the nation, the Yellow Jackets surrendered 272 yards on the ground and suffered a downward spiral.
Georgia Tech’s improving defense held Virginia Tech to 302 yards and 17 points in the season opener. The Jackets will see a better balanced Virginia offense this time around, as QB Michael Rocco passed for 258 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over Penn State.
Controlling the clock with the ground game is a must for Georgia Tech, as the team tries to avoid a home loss, which would drop the Yellow Jackets to 0-2 for the first time since 2007. For Virginia Tech, the team must get running back Perry Jones going early and often, as the ground game didn’t do much last weekend and the Cavaliers are at their best when Jones is catching passes, throwing them, returning kicks or running the ball out of the backfield. This should come right down to the end of the wire.
Louisville (2-0) at North Carolina (1-1)
North Carolina won last season’s meeting against the Cardinals, 14-7, but the series between these two teams is tied, 3-3. Two of the nation’s best young quarterbacks go toe-to-toe in one of the most marquee matchups of the week.
Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater is off to a stellar start, completing 49 of 60 passes and spreading the football to 10 different receivers in the first two games of the season. Adapting well to the spread offense of new coach Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels’ QB Bryn Renner led the ACC in completion percentage last season.
Some suggest the Cardinals could run the table in the regular season and this could be the team’s toughest test. Since 2008, North Carolina has won 16 out of 20 games against non-conference opponents and only lost one game to a team not from the ACC last year, and that was against Missouri in the Independence Bowl.
The Tar Heels have lost a lot of their luster on the defensive side of the ball over the last few years to the draft, but there’s still a ton of talent, especially up front that could give the Cardinals’ offense fits. On the other side of the football, North Carolina features a no-huddle, up-tempo offense
The Tar Heels have lost a lot of their luster on the defensive side of the ball over the last few years to the NFL Draft. Nevertheless, North Carolina has a ton of talent, especially up front, and on offense, the team features a plethora of weapons at every position and a non-huddle offense. There’s little to work with as far as weapons in the passing game, but Louisville’s defense can’t allow Renner to get on a roll, so some pressure in the pocket would help prevent this game from turning into a shootout.
Some solid running from Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry, along with continued accuracy from Bridgewater could give the Cardinals their first 3-0 start since 2006.
Alabama (2-0) at Arkansas (1-1)
This was expected to be the most marquee matchup of the week. This SEC West division collision was supposed to feature two teams ranked in the Top 10. Nevertheless, while the razorbacks might be reeling from last weekend’s embarrassing upset at the hands of Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas is still a tremendously talented team and has an instant chance to redeem itself with home-field advantage.
Alabama leads the series against Arkansas, 12-8 and won last year, 38-14. With QB Tyler Wilson out of the lineup, look for the Tide to roll on the road.
Florida (2-0) at Tennessee (2-0)
Tyler Bray leads the SEC with 643 passing yards and is tied for first with Georgia QB Aaron Murray with six passing TDs.
For the second straight week, Florida faces a tough test on the road in SEC play. Tennessee hosts its third consecutive contest to start the season and holds a 47-9 record in games played at Neyland Stadium in the month of September since 1990.
Seven of those defeats came at the hands of the Gators, which have also won seven straight games in the series. The Volunteers look to snap the seven-game losing streak and advance to tie Georgia and South Carolina for the lead in the SEC East.
Florida’s front seven might create concerns for the Vols, but Tennessee’s terrific aerial attack against the Gator’s banged-up secondary will be the difference in this close game.
Verse of This Piece: “My son, keep your father’s commands, and don’t forget your mother’s teaching. Keep their words in mind forever as though you had them tied around your neck.”—Proverbs 6:20-21
Michael Gartman is a College Football and NFL Senior Writer, the AFC South and NFC West Lead Writer and the Founder, CEO of GridironGrit.com. He also writes for RantPolitical.com, where he reports on topics across all sides of the political spectrum and analyzes important issues in the liberty movement. Follow @_MichaelGartman, @RantPolitical and @GridironGrit on Twitter!