What a wild week in college football Week 3 was. Three Top 25 teams knocked off by unranked squads (#18 Kansas State, #19 Stanford and #25 UCLA), and a USC-Texas double overtime game that featured plenty of drama. Oh, and a converted Hail Mary that broke the hearts of Tennessee fans everywhere.
(Sorry ‘Vols fans)
Heading into Week 4, the schedule may not look as enticing as it did last week, but there’s still potential for some fun on Saturday afternoon/evening. With that in mind, these are the five top games to keep an eye on this Saturday.
#1 Alabama @ Vanderbilt- 3:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS (CBSSports.com)
Normally, Alabama vs. Vanderbilt wouldn’t get the national spotlight. The Commodores haven’t beaten the Tide since 1984 and in the last two meetings, the Tide have outscored Vandy 58-10. Granted, these two don’t meet often. The last match-up came in 2011, when James Franklin was still the Vanderbilt head coach. Prior to that, it was 2007, Nick Saban’s first year as the Tide head coach.
You know the deal with Alabama. They’re led by Jalen Hurts and the punishing running back trio of Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, and Najee Harris. The defense is your typical Alabama group, stingy (13.3 PPG) and tough to run against (85.0 ypg).
As for Vanderbilt, head coach/defensive coordinator Derek Mason has the ‘Dores playing inspired defense, having allowed just 13 points through three games. They passed their biggest test so far when they held an explosive Kansas State offense (55 PPG entering the contest) to just seven points. The running game with Ralph Webb hasn’t really gotten going (149 yards on 58 carries 2.6 YPC) so far, but QB Kyle Shurmur is completing 70 percent of his passes and he has eight touchdowns with no interceptions. The Tide are still immensely more talented, as evidenced by the 18.5-point spread, but this is more interesting than we though it would be preseason.
#16 TCU @ #6 Oklahoma State- 3:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
This is the first of multiple big match-ups to come in the Big 12 over the course of the fall. The Cowboys offense has been virtually unstoppable so far, averaging 54 points per game. That number could be even higher, but they’ve relaxed in the second half of most games due to their big leads. TCU has also racked up the points so far, checking in just a couple of spots behind OK State at 49 points per game.
While the offenses will be the story heading into the game, both defenses have performed fairly well so far this year. They’re separated by just a couple of points per game allowed on that side of the ball as well as the Horned Frogs are allowing opponents just 14.3 PPG and the Cowboys allow 17.3.
This is Mike Gundy’s first real test of the season (sorry Pitt fans, you know it’s true), while Gary Patterson’s group shut down Arkansas in Week 2. Still, the Cowboys are getting 11 points at home. If you like offensive fireworks, this game is for you. Also, you get a look at one of the leaders in the Heisman race, Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph.
#17 Mississippi State @ #11 Georgia- 7:00 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
A battle of the Bulldogs in Athens. As usual, Dan Mullen has his team playing well above the media’s expectations and they dominated LSU last week in Starkville. Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs survived a close call in South Bend with their freshman QB and then dominated FCS Samford last week.
Both of these teams rely on efficient, punishing running games and physical defenses. Both rank in the Top 30 in rushing offense and defense. Georgia’s defense actually ranks in the Top 5 in the nation in run defense, while Mississippi State checks in at 27th. It’s the inverse on offense. Mississippi State’s running game checks in at 11th averaging 297 yards per game while Georgia is 29th at 230 YPG.
The biggest edge that Dan Mullen has is at QB, where junior Nick Fitzgerald has begun to emerge as a potential Heisman candidate racking up 783 total yards and 12 total touchdowns. He wrecked LSU last week with 268 yards and four total touchdowns in their 37-7 romp. Georgia’s true freshman Jake Fromm has been solid, but he hasn’t been asked to win a game for the ‘Dawgs yet. The odds-makers have UGA as the 4.5-point favorites entering the game, and this could be a very close game.
#4 Penn State @ Iowa- 7:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC
This is the first game of the season where we’ll see Penn State on the same field with an opponent capable of beating them (again, sorry Pitt fans). James Franklin’s group has dominated their soft early schedule as you would expect them to, but now they open conference play with the typically physical Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes haven’t faced world-beating squads so far either. They demolished Wyoming in their opener, barely escaped Iowa State on the road, and then took apart North Texas last week. Their star on offense is running back Akrum Wadley who has proven to be a threat in the running, passing and return game so far this year similar to Nittany Lions star Saquon Barkley. That’s not to say Wadley is on the same level as Barkley, but he provides a similar sort of versatility out of the backfield for the Hawkeyes.
The real question comes defensively for the Hawkeyes in how they try to stop/limit a Penn State offense that can explode at any time. Between Barkley, QB Trace McSorely, WR DaeSean Hamilton and TE Mike Gesicki, the Lions have a multitude of weapons that can break a big play at any time. Finding a way to limit those explosive plays and forcing Penn State to grind out possessions will be the key for the Hawkeyes pulling the upset. That said, they’re 12.5-point underdogs at home.
#7 Washington @ Colorado- 10:00 p.m. Saturday, FS1
Finally, we head to the West Coast for a rematch of the Pac-12 title game. Chris Petersen’s Huskies have picked up right where they left off last season. So too, has Mike MacIntyre’s group. Both enter the game at 3-0 and, like some of the match-ups above, this is the first real test of the season for these teams.
The names for the Huskies are largely the same as last year on offense with QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin and WR Dante Pettis leading the way. The defense had some key contributors move on with Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, and Kevin King all departed to the NFL from the secondary. While Colorado lost program passing leader Sefo Liufau, Steve Montez has stepped in and looked good so far, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 858 yards and six touchdowns. In the Pac-12 title game, the Huskies were able to force Liufau into three interceptions that really changed the game. Montez will have to avoid those backbreaking turnovers if the Buffs are going to exact revenge at home in Boulder. They enter the game as 11-point home underdogs.