Heading into the third week of the season, there are some major surprises across the college football landscape, beginning with an upcoming game between winless Notre Dame and Michigan, records that seemed impossible heading into the season. On the flip side, an interesting battle is set up for Saturday night, when USC heads to Lincoln, Nebraska, with the Huskers looking for revenge after last season’s win by Southern Cal. A few key conference battles are also slated for this Saturday, with two interesting games in the SEC, led by Tennessee visiting Florida in addition to Arkansas heading to Alabama. Meanwhile in the ACC, Boston College makes the trip south to battle Georgia Tech. Time to break down the critical matchups that dot the landscape for this weekend.
GAME OF THE WEEK
USC at Nebraska
The best matchup on Saturday is a huge inter-conference battle as Southern Cal heads to Nebraska on Saturday evening. This is a re-match of last year’s game in which USC dominated the Huskers, winning 28-10 and holding Nebraska to only 211 total yards of offense. In that contest Nebraska employed an extremely conservative game plan, and the USC defenders had little trouble shutting down the scaled back Husker attack. Take note how Nebraska comes out early on offense in this one, especially with this game on their home turf in Lincoln. The Trojans will enter this weekend’s game off a bye week after their sluggish opening day 38-10 win over Idaho, while Nebraska needed a late interception to finally secure a 20-17 win at Wake Forest, moving their record to 2-0 on the young season.
USC will look to unleash a more potent offensive game plan on Saturday, after basically running through the motions in the opener. Quarterback John David Booty will have an additional weapon to work with as wide receiver Patrick Turner is expected back after missing the opener due to injury. The running game remains unsettled, with C.J. Gable expected to start after an 8 carry, 68 yard effort in the opener, but there are numerous weapons in the Trojan backfield looking for game time, including Stafon Johnson and rising star Joe McKnight. The Husker defense has shut down both the Nevada and Wake Forest passing games in their initial two games, but has been susceptible to the ground game, giving up 156.5 yards per contest. Expect to see USC pound away with their stable of talented backs early, in the hopes of opening up the down field game, led by receivers Turner and David Ausberry.
The story of USC this season looks to be written about a defense laden with All-American potential, led by one of the best defensive lines and linebacking corps in the nation. The tremendous Trojan front seven makes for an interesting matchup as Nebraska will look to grind out yardage behind the nation’s 5th leading rusher Marlon Lucky, who is averaging 161.5 yards per game in the early going. Lucky looks to have finally been able to establish himself after arriving in Lincoln with huge expectations, as he is now the main focus of the Husker offensive game plan. If NU is unable to get Lucky on track, the offense will rely on the arm of Sam Keller, who has been erratic so far this season, only tossing 2 touchdowns versus 3 interceptions. For Nebraska to have a chance at pulling off the upset, Marlon Lucky and the ground game must be successful, otherwise the USC defense will chew up Keller.
Just like almost every single game over the past few seasons, USC enters this game as the favorite, but this Husker bunch is dangerous. Expect this game to open up on the ground, in the hopes of slowing down the aggressive defenses. USC has a much more potent passing attack, providing them with an edge on the offensive side, while the Trojan defense is the most talented in the nation. Nebraska is looking forward to their chance to avenge last season’s defeat, but the Huskers will need a monumental effort to secure an upset over the nation’s top-ranked team.
OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS
Tennessee at Florida
The annual third Saturday in September battle between these SEC Eastern divisional rivals is always one of the best matchups in the early going. So far this season, Florida has demolished two Sun Belt programs in Troy and Western Kentucky, putting up 54 points a game behind Tim Tebow and his 9 total touchdowns. This game is a huge step up for the Gators and will provide a measuring stick on this rebuilt teams chances to defend their national title. In their last game, Tennessee rebounded from their opening day loss to California by rallying in the second half to overcome Southern Miss and win going away 39-19. In the 2nd half of the game, the Vols offense came alive with Erik Ainge hitting all his receivers and Arian Foster taking over the game on the ground. Look for Tennessee to showcase Foster early on again this Saturday and then have Ainge go to work with his top receiver in Austin Rogers. Playing this game in the “Swamp” may not be great news for Gator fans as the home team is only 2-5 in this series, with the winner heading to the front of the division chase with South Carolina.
Boston College at Georgia Tech
Boston College is off to a great start to their season, winning 2 ACC games over Wake Forest and NC State. Eagle quarterback Matt Ryan has played well in the initial two games and combined with running back Andre Callender has provided BC with a nice one-two punch. Unfortunately for BC, they have not seen a defense as talented as Georgia Tech yet this season, as the Jackets rank 8th in the nation in total defense, with the majority of their yardage given up late in a blow-out win over Samford. It could be a long afternoon for Callender against the stout Tech defensive front, forcing Matt Ryan to the air for BC to have a chance at the win. Expect a huge dose of Tech back Tashard Choice in this one, as he has rumbled for 153 yards per game behind one of the nation’s best offensive lines. At this point in the season, Tech looks to be the favorite in the Coastal Division, while BC has already moved to the forefront of the Atlantic Division with their two early wins.
Arkansas at Alabama
This one is a huge early test in the SEC Western division as the challengers line up to take on the beast of the division in LSU. Expect Alabama to pound away at Arkansas with running back Terry Grant, who is off to a good start this season, especially with a recent 173 yard and 2 touchdown game against Vanderbilt. The Hogs gave up some big plays on the ground to Troy in their opener and will need a better effort from their defense to keep Grant in check. The story with Arkansas continues to be its lethal running back combination of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. These two pounded away for 280 yards on the ground in the opener, in addition to Jones' 100 yard kick-off return and McFadden’s 42 yard touchdown pass. No doubt Alabama will focus all of their defensive resources on the running back duo and try to force Casey Dick to throw the ball downfield, an area that he has not excelled at to this point in his career. That being said, many teams have tried the same game plan in the past to shut down the Hogs, and McFadden and Jones still earn their yardage.
Louisville at Kentucky
If you enjoy seeing talented offenses go back and forth down the field, this is the game for you. Louisville is the top-ranked offense in the nation as the Cardinals have rolled up 692 yards and 65.5 points in their first two games, while Kentucky ranks eighth in the nation in total offense, churning out 526 yards per game. Combine the two potent offenses with average defenses and there should be plenty of fireworks on display at Commonwealth Stadium. Louisville will run a balanced offense directed by Heisman candidate Brian Brohm and a corps of talented receivers combined with running back Anthony Allen. On the other side, Kentucky also has one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in Andre Woodson, who if given the time will pick Louisville apart and find his number one target in Keenan Burton. The winner of this one gets state bragging rights and Kentucky is looking to end a 4 game losing streak in the series and avenge last season’s 59-28 shellacking at Louisville.
Ohio State at Washington
The fans in Seattle are coming alive as the UW program looks to be getting itself back on track as the Huskies are off to a 2-0 start and enter this contest off an impressive 24-10 win over Boise State. Ohio State has been sluggish on offense in the early going as they rely heavily on the nation’s top-ranked defense until the offense is able to get rolling. Look for Husky quarterback Jake Locker, a rising star, to challenge the Bucks front with his arm and his leg and to combine with running back Louis Rankin to see if UW can dent the stout OSU front line. Ohio State will need to perform better than their game against Akron when they turned the ball over five times, including quarterback Todd Boeckman’s two interceptions. If Washington can get this win at home, the Huskies will have officially announced to the country that they are back and will be a contender in the Pac-10 title chase, while a win by OSU sets them up nicely for their Big 10 opener the following week.
GAMES OF INTEREST
West Virginia at Maryland - Thursday 6:45 PM CDT
West Virginia struggled early against Marshall, but once their offense got on track, there was nothing the Herd could do to slow down the combination of Slaton and White. Maryland has played well on defense so far, but the story is not the same on offense, and the Terps will need to be humming to keep up with the Mountaineer attack.
Notre Dame at Michigan - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
A few weeks ago, no one would have predicted this matchup to be between two winless and reeling teams looking for answers to disastrous starts to the season. This game becomes huge for both programs, as whoever wins still has hopes to achieve a successful season, while the loser can start thinking ahead to the 2008 campaign.
Florida State at Colorado - Saturday 9:00 PM CDT
The Seminoles have not been impressive so far this season, losing at Clemson and struggling for a comeback win over an outmanned UAB team. The Buffaloes are still in a rebuilding mode and can take a huge step forward if they can earn a win at home over FSU.
Fresno State at Oregon - Saturday 5:30 PM CDT
Oregon needs to be careful here after their huge blow-out win at Michigan. Fresno State had Texas A&M on the ropes last Saturday, and the Bulldogs seem to be getting their program back on track after last year’s 4-8 record.
Wyoming at Boise State - 7:00 PM CDT
Boise State had their 15-game winning streak snapped at Washington as the Bronco offense could not overcome 3 interceptions by Taylor Tharp. Wyoming is playing great defense early in the season, ranking 10th in nation in yardage allowed and the Cowboys look to be ready for the blue turf at Boise.
Texas at Central Florida - Saturday 2:30 PM CDT
Texas has gotten off to slow starts in both their games so far, but their 2nd half performance this past weekend in their 34-13 win over TCU was quite impressive. Central Florida had two weeks to prepare for this matchup and the hungry Knights are opening a new on-campus stadium that should be rocking for this one.
Texas Christian at Air Force - Thursday 7:00 PM CDT
Air Force returns home after earning a huge conference win over Utah, led by a strong defensive effort. TCU has been unable to generate any consistent offense so far and the Frogs need to find an answer quickly as they head into Mountain West play.
Pittsburgh at Michigan State - Saturday 11:00 AM CDT
This looks to be an interesting matchup between two teams looking to return to the post-season after struggling for the past few seasons. The Spartans won 38-23 at Pittsburgh last season, and the winner of this one takes a big step towards achieving their post-season goal.
Southern Miss at East Carolina - Saturday 5:00 PM CDT
The Pirates of ECU are off to a strong start, battling Virginia Tech in a tight game and rallying late to knock off North Carolina. Southern Miss comes in looking to get back on track after a blowout loss to Tennessee, with the winner of this one claiming the early lead in the CUSA East division.