After two full weeks of college football action we’re beginning to see a clearer picture of which teams will be in contention for the playoffs and which teams will be pushing for bowl games. Entering Week 3, we’ve got many teams squeezing in that one last tune-up game before conference season begins in earnest, but there are still a few notable games to keep an eye on this weekend.
#23 Tennessee @ #24 Florida (-5) Saturday, 3:30 p.m. CBS, CBSSports.com
The Volunteers finally ended the Gators 11-game winning streak in this rivalry game last year with a comeback from down 21-0 to win 38-28. This year, the Vols offense looks completely different with the departures of Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. In their place is junior QB Quinten Dormandy, junior RB John Kelly and sophomore WR Marquez Callaway. The Vols pulled off a double-OT win over Georgia Tech in Week 1 despite being outgained 655-329 before dominating FCS Indiana State last week.
For the Gators, their marquee opener against Michigan did not go well. They mustered just 17 points and 12 of those came via interceptions returned for touchdowns. Continuing a trend we’ve seen for the last several years at Florida, the QB situation is up in the air. Neither Malik Zaire nor Feleipe Franks really established themselves as a front-runner for the job with their performance against the Wolverines. On top of that, there’s no update as of yet on whether suspended RB Jordan Scarlett and WR Antonio Callaway will return this week. The Gators are probably the better team, and they will be playing at home, but they’re going to need to show a vastly improved offense and they missed a week of practices/games due to Hurricane Irma.
#3 Clemson @ #14 Louisville (+3) Saturday, 8 p.m. ABC
This is, by far, the marquee game of the weekend as it features a pair of playoff contenders from the same conference. Clemson’s defense looked dominant in its first test of the season last week against Auburn, sacking Jarret Stidham 11 times and holding their fellow Tigers to just six points. While the offense didn’t look nearly as good (just 14 points scored, 281 yards), Kelly Bryant has shown himself to be a significant threat as a runner and passer.
The Cardinals of course, have the ultimate dual-threat QB in Lamar Jackson who has just casually racked up 771 passing yards, 239 rushing and eight total touchdowns in the team’s first two games. He’ll be a problem once again for Brent Venables and the Tigers as he put up 457 totals yards, three touchdowns and a pick last year in leading the Cardinals to 36 points in the loss. The biggest problem I see for Louisville is their defense. They’ve allowed 28 and 35 points to Purdue and North Carolina respectively in their first two games. That doesn’t bode well for you when facing Clemson, even with a new QB and RB on offense.
Texas @ #4 USC (-15.5) 8 p.m. FOX
This one is listed largely because it’s another opportunity to watch Sam Darnold for those of you who are fans of NFL teams that need a QB (looking at you Jets and 49ers fans). But, there’s also the fun trolling that’s been going on from the Trojans this week.
In case you need a little back story, USC had all of their wins from the 2005 season vacated due to NCAA sanctions for “improper benefits” given to Reggie Bush. Now, the Trojans have tried to flip that by saying the entire season was vacated, so their epic Rose Bowl loss to Vince Young and Texas “doesn’t count”.
Now, this year’s Trojans are much, much better than this year’s Longhorns team. Tom Herman’s group fell to Maryland in their opener 51-41 before beating up on a hapless San Jose State team last week 56-0. There’s questions about who will play QB as true freshman Sam Ehlinger stepped in for injured sophomore Shane Buechele last week and we don’t yet know if Buechele will be back. The Longhorns defense will definitely need to prove they’re better than that Maryland showing if they want to stay in this game.
The Trojans took apart Stanford 42-24, particularly on the ground with Ronald Jones III and, I’m not sure Texas is going to find a way to stop that potent running attack and Sam Darnold. Again, this one could be a blowout, so it’s more of a game to watch for the individual players than anything else.
#19 Stanford @ San Diego State (+9.5) 10:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network
This late night game catches my attention because of what happened to the Cardinal last week against the Trojans running game. The Cardinal gave up 307 yards rushing to the Trojans last week, which is startling for anyone familiar with Stanford’s style of play over the years. They are usually the more physical, dominating team in every match-up they play, but they got pushed around by USC. Their running game has been fine, as Bryce Love already has 340 yards and two touchdowns.
I mention the Cardinal run defense because the one thing San Diego State always does really well under Rocky Long is run the football. Rashaad Penny is second in the country in rushing with 413 yards and the Aztecs average 277.5 yards per game on the ground which is 15th in the country. Penny isn’t the only threat as Juwan Washington has 122 yards on 31 carries this year. The Aztecs haven’t exactly played world-beating run defenses so far (UC-Davis and Arizona State), so it will be interesting to see how Stanford’s run defense responds and whether the Aztecs can be just as good on the ground here. If they are, this could get interesting.