Things started to fall into place for the College Football Playoff picture in Week 2. Clemson showed their defense hadn't missed a beat, Baker Mayfield staked (HA!) his claim for the Heisman, Notre Dame continued to flounder, and USC finally overcame a dreaded rival in Stanford.
What will we have in store for Week 3? The defending champs have a stronger test, Michigan faces a painfully complex offense, and numerous top 25 teams have major road games. Here are the five to watch for this Saturday, September 16th, 2017.
No. 25 UCLA Bruins (2-0) @ Memphis Tigers (1-0)
- Noon ET on ABC
- Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium | Memphis, TN
THE TEAMS: Memphis again hosts a matchup at home against a beatable Top-25 opponent. Years ago, the Tigers were able to upend Ole Miss at home in an incredible game that was Paxton Lynch's national breakout game. Memphis' program has been able to play up against quality opponents ever since Justin Fuente helmed the Tigers. This matchup will feature one of the strongest running attacks in the entire country in Memphis. The Tigers, so far, are ranked 9th in the nation in rushing with 319 yards per game. Tandem running backs Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. will cause chaos for a Bruins defense that gave up 382 and 281 rushing yards in their first two games against Texas A&M and Hawaii, respectively. The Tigers will run as much as humanly possible with Henderson and Taylor Jr. much like the Aggies and Warriors were able to do.
UCLA will rely yet again on the able ability of Josh Rosen for a difficult victory. The Bruins defense has done him no favors; ranking 112th nationally in total defense, 49th in passing defense, and a putrid 126th ranking in rushing defense. UCLA is giving up an average of 331.5 rushing yards per game and this will not bode well against a program used to rushing the ball particularly effectively. Rosen will be in yet another offensive shootout if his defense performs anywhere close to how they have in their first two games. In a hostile environment and against a program trained in the art of giant-killing, there will be a substantial amount of pressure on Rosen again.
THE MATCHUP: Everything in this game revolves around how the Bruins defense can hold off the rushing assault of Memphis. Numbers allude to this battle turning futile very quickly but Jim Mora Jr. has to get something out of his defense if he wants to keep Josh Rosen out of trouble and again having to pull the Bruins out of peril for a victory. Memphis have done this song and dance before with victories over Ole Miss and Houston when both teams were ranked. UCLA has battled Memphis in the past and this matchup appears to be a perfect pick for an upset special with the sorry state of the Bruins defense.
PREDICTION: MEM, 45-28
SMU Mustangs (2-0) @ No. 20 TCU Horned Frogs (2-0)
- 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU
- Amon G. Carter Stadium | Fort Worth, TX
THE TEAMS: Cross-town rivals face off in Fort Worth with an undefeated season on the line. Both SMU and TCU come into this game trying to solidify 2017 campaigns that look to improve on less-than-stellar 2016 campaigns; 5-7 for SMU, 6-7 for TCU. The home squad hopes to see continued improvement from QB Kenny Hill. Hill avoided a major letdown yet again against the Arkansas Razorbacks but didn't impress in the way many in Fort Worth hoped he would after transferring from Texas A&M. The Horned Frogs have been extremely convincing in their victories thus far but consistency from Hill will be the most important factor in whether they are able to reach closer to 2013 than 2016.
SMU bring an absurdly proficient offense into the rivalry matchup. The Mustangs have scored over 50 points in both of their games in 2017; averaging 308 passing and 171 rushing yards so far. QB Ben Hicks has already thrown six passing touchdowns with over 400 yards passing as well. Receiver Courtland Sutton has already proven himself to be one of the best receiving threats in the nation with 5 TD grabs and 185 receiving yards. The connection between Sutton and Hicks will cause a lot of headaches for the Horned Frogs.
THE MATCHUP: Can Kenny Hill overcome a deficit that he hasn't seen yet this season? The Mustangs will come out firing on all cylinders, especially in the passing game with Sutton. Last season, Hill panicked in pressure situations and SMU's offensive attack will almost assuredly force these type of scenarios again. Gary Patterson is a fantastic head coach and his coaching prowess will be tested against the cross-town rival Mustangs.
PREDICTION: SMU, 48-45
Purdue Boilermakers (1-1) @ Missouri Tigers (1-1)
- 4:00 p.m. ET on SECN
- Memorial Stadium | Columbia, MO
THE TEAMS: Surprising matchup amongst these others isn't it? Maybe it's merely personal intrigue, but the battle between the Boilermakers and Tigers will surely have a lot of fireworks. Missouri's defense struggles to hold opposing offenses under 30 points and Purdue showed glimpses of offensive firepower under new head coach Jeff Brohm.
Starting with the Tigers, when it is mentioned that Mizzou can't defend, the numbers aren't kidding. The Tiger defense ranks 89th nationally in total defense, 92nd in passing yards allowed per game at 270, and tied for 114th in points allowed per game at 37. Missouri's offense had quite a game in their first matchup against Montana State but then all but disappeared against South Carolina.
While Purdue's defense doesn't rank that much better than the Tigers, their offense has shown substantially more promise. Everyone in the Big Ten is aware of the surprising fight that the Boilermakers put up against Lamar Jackson and Louisville in Indianapolis. Unlike in previous years, Brohm clearly has brought his experience into West Lafayette and instilled some backbone into the Boilers. Big games don't seem to intimidate them; if it had, Jackson would've eviscerated the Boilers and they wouldn't have fought back. QB David Blough has been at the very least consistent in the backfield and he will have a field day against a subpar Tigers secondary.
THE MATCHUP: Was the matchup against Louisville emotion or a precursor for how Purdue will play big opponents in 2017? It would appear it wasn't a fluke but this game will be proof of how far removed Purdue is from the Darrell Hazel era. Missouri couldn't stop a turtle from scoring on them and the Boilermakers look primed to exploit a secondary that is giving up 270 yards in the air so far. A high-scoring affair is in order, but don't expect SEC level speed to be on Missouri's side in this matchup.
PREDICTION: PUR, 34-21
No. 3 Clemson Tigers (2-0) @ No. 14 Louisville Cardinals (2-0)
- 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC
- Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium | Louisville, KY
THE TEAMS: Action Jackson is ready for another national upset, and ESPN is primed and ready for it. This is the game that College GameDay, unfortunately, chose to attend (more on that later), and this time Kirk Herbstreit won't have to sprint up to the press box due to the matchup being at night. This will be the first major night game in recent memory hosted by the Cardinals. Jackson looks like he has picked up where he left off in mid-October right before he met the buzzsaw that was the Clemson Tigers defense. After that fateful matchup last year in Death Valley, Jackson hadn't been the same. Will the Tigers do the same thing they did last year, or has Jackson finally improved enough for that defensive front not to bother him the same? There are far more questions in this matchup than there was even last year but everything in the ‘Ville revolves around the potential Heisman repeat-winner.
Clemson is the closest thing nationally that we have to Alabama. Despite substantial losses to their national title winning team, the fighting Dabos have continued to show dominance against quality opponents. The Tigers defense stifled the efforts of both Kent State and Auburn. Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham looked lost, much to the chagrin of this page's prediction for that game, and that was all thanks to the defensive front led by Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, and Dorian O'Daniel. That defense put up 11 sacks against a SEC offensive line and the efforts of the Tigers to win in Louisville all are rooted in that side of the ball.
THE MATCHUP: Lamar Jackson vs. the defensive front of Clemson. Has Lamar Jackson finally learned his lessons from the backend of the 2016 season? Clemson is extremely well coached and athletically sound. Any mistakes that Jackson will make will be exploited tenfold with the best defensive talent he will see all year. This is a make or break game for the star from the ‘Ville and the defensive front of Clemson must be both aggressive and disciplined much like they were in Death Valley last year.
PREDICTION: LOU, 28-21
Texas Longhorns (1-1) @ No. 4 USC Trojans (2-0) *Star Game
- 8:30 p.m. ET on FOX
- Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum | Los Angeles, CA
THE TEAMS: This game is by far the most anticipated for The College Five this year thus far. The first matchup between these two schools since the best game ever played in College Football will be electric and filled with passion the Coliseum hasn't seen in years.
College Gameday missed the opportunity of a lifetime in covering this game in favor of one their network was holding (that is obviously the only reason for that choice). All of the storylines of the fall of Texas since that game, the fall and rise of USC in the 10+ years since Vince Young gutted the Trojan faithful, will all come to a head Saturday night. Unlike other matchups in this list, the emotion and pride of both programs will play a major role in the outcome of this game.
USC overcame a major obstacle that has tortured their program since the 2006 Rose Bowl in Stanford. Sam Darnold and company were able to fend off their worst demons in emphatic fashion after a subpar opening season effort. The Trojans were able to physically impose their will against the Cardinal and that is a fantastic sign moving forward for this team. Darnold will showcase all of his talents under the lights and it should be expected that he torches a susceptible Texas Longhorns secondary.
Tom Herman is fighting a perception battle currently in Austin. Their opening weekend loss to Maryland and all 5000 QBs they played left a sour, same-old-same-old Longhorns taste in fan's mouths. The first game since the Rose Bowl game against USC will play a major part in this image battle that Herman is fighting. If the Longhorns continue to lie down and show no fight, especially against USC, the deck will swiftly stack against Herman much like it did Charlie Strong. However, if Texas is able to overcome the substantial gap in talent and skill that they have against USC, it will go a long way in solidifying the change in culture that Herman so desperately seeks.
THE MATCHUP: Everything comes down to the pride of Herman and the Longhorns. Can they overcome the demons that continue to plague their program and finally show a quality, winning effort against a major opponent? If the Trojans handle business as usual, this game will not be close. However, with all of the emotion and hype surrounding this game, I wouldn't doubt that Darnold and his crew fall back into old habits and make this matchup closer than the experts think. Regardless of the score, it will be a fun night to relive the memory of the greatest football game that was ever played.
PREDICTION: USC, 34-24
Biggest Winner: Utah Utes (-26.5) vs. San Jose State Spartans
Upset Special: Central Michigan Chippewas (+9.5) @ Syracuse Orangemen
Team to Watch: Oregon Ducks (@ Wyoming Cowboys)
Player to Watch: Derrius Guice, RB LSU (@ Mississippi State Bulldogs)