The Week 3 college football slate didn’t appear all that promising at the start of the season. But it has shaped up to be quite intriguing indeed, with three top-25 matchups and several other non-conference clashes with the potential to shake up the perceived order.
In all, we submit seven contests for your viewing consideration Saturday. They include the big-name programs from Alabama heading into hostile territory, a couple of independents hoping to protect their home turf, and the renewal of a long-standing regional rivalry that once had conference championship implications. No, not that one. Read on.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 9 Florida
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Why watch: The Crimson Tide begin SEC play with this trip to Gainesville. It’s a rematch of last year’s league title game, though Alabama and the Gators have undergone a slew of personnel changes. The Alabama offense, however, hasn’t looked much different with QB Bryce Young at the controls. The constant big-play potential is still there, this time with WRs Jameson Williams and John Metchie III. The Florida attack has been retooled a bit with QB Emory Jones adding more mobility to the position, though he also has ample deep threats led by WR Jacob Copeland.
Why it could disappoint: When Jones does throw he’s been pick-prone, however, with four already through two games. That is a recipe for disaster against the Crimson Tide. Freshman Anthony Richardson also has impressed at QB for the Gators, but he tweaked a hamstring and might not be at full speed. The Alabama defense might also be shorthanded with LB Will Anderson questionable with a leg injury, but the Gators might still have a hard time keeping up if the Tide offense gets rolling.
No. 20 Auburn at No. 12 Penn State
7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: The Brian Harsin era at Auburn began as expected with the Tigers rolling to two easy victories against overmatched opponents. We’ll get more of an idea of their potential to challenge in the SEC this week as they face the hostile environs of a white-out night in Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions rebounded from last season’s disastrous start with two solid wins to start 2021 and appear ready to contend in the Big Ten East once again. Penn State QB Sean Clifford has been steady, benefitting from the presence of a healthy RB Noah Cain as well as big-play WR Jahan Dotson. Auburn QB Bo Nix has been error-free thus far, but it remains to be seen if he can overcome the inconsistencies he displayed in his first two seasons under center. RBs Jarquez Hunter and Tank Bigsby could help.
Why it could disappoint: But the Nittany Lions kept Wisconsin’s running game in check in an impressive Week 1 victory on the road. If they can do the same against Auburn and make Nix beat them through the air, that could mean trouble for the Tigers if he can’t deliver.
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No. 21 Arizona State at No. 23 Brigham Young
10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why watch: The Cougars continue their opening stretch against the Pac-12 hoping to go three-for-three. The Sun Devils, who have emerged as early South Division favorites along with UCLA, will try to get a quality non-conference victory on the road. BYU QB Jaren Hall has thrown for 347 yards and run for another 128 through his first two starts. His opposite number will be veteran ASU QB Jayden Daniels, also a dangerous dual threat with 307 yards by air and 165 by land thus far.
Why it could disappoint: BYU has faced stiffer competition early on, and the Cougars will have to refill their collective tank quickly on the heels of last week’s emotional victory against archrival Utah. On the flip side, ASU has committed 20 penalties through its first two outings, and the Sun Devils’ defense struggled early against UNLV last week. That could prove problematic if it happens again in Provo.
No. 8 Cincinnati at Indiana
Noon ET, ESPN
Why watch: This is the first of two key non-conference games for Cincinnati in the state of Indiana (at Notre Dame in Week 5) that the Bearcats must win to optimize their long-shot bid to crack the College Football Playoff from outside the Power Five. Unfortunately for UC, the Hoosiers haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain as they dropped their season opener at Iowa and now need this win just as much to regain their top-25 spot. IU did get into the win column in Week 2 against Idaho as QB Michael Penix shook off the rust from his first game back from injury. UC QB Desmond Ridder and RB Jerome Ford were a little slow out of the gate in last week’s tune-up against Murray State but figure to be ready to go.
Why it could disappoint: Penix needs to show he’s ready to challenge a quality defense, and the Bearcats definitely have one with an experienced secondary. UC has been somewhat careless with the ball with four turnovers, a possible sign of trouble if the problem persists.
Purdue at No. 10 Notre Dame
2:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Why watch: Whether or not the Fighting Irish are worthy of their lofty ranking, there’s no disputing their games have made for compelling viewing this season, prevailing in overtime at Florida State then getting past Toledo with a late score. Next up is traditional in-state rival Purdue, with the Shillelagh Trophy on the line. The Boilermakers handled their home opener against Oregon State before tuning up last week with a romp past hapless Connecticut. Purdue QB Jack Plummer has six scoring throws without a pick through his first two outings but now faces the much more accomplished Notre Dame secondary. The Fighting Irish might continue to mix in freshman QB Tyler Buchner to jump start their running game as a change of pace to starter Jack Coan.
Why it could disappoint: It’s hard to know what to expect from Purdue based on its early results. The Fighting Irish might indeed possess superior talent across the board and take charge quickly. Then again, Notre Dame hasn’t exactly shown the ability to put opponents away.
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No. 15 Virginia Tech at West Virginia
Noon ET, FS1
Why watch: There’s another renewal of acquaintances between former conference rivals in the same timeslot, but we think this one will be more interesting than Oklahoma-Nebraska. It’s a trophy game as well, though the Black Diamond Trophy has only been on the line once since 2005. Furthermore, it’s a game that will tell us a lot about some other teams in addition to the participants. The Hokies, who began the campaign with a takedown of preseason ACC Coastal favorite North Carolina, hit the road for the first time. The Mountaineers’ season start was not nearly as successful in an error-filled loss to Maryland, and with a trip to Oklahoma up next they need a strong showing here. Tech’s early success has been keyed by an improved defense, spearheaded by DE Amare Barno. Mountaineers’ QB Jarret Doege must steer clear of him and hope RB Leddie Brown can contribute.
Why it could disappoint: The Hokies’ offense hasn’t been a model of consistency, and QB Braxton Burmeister will have to solve the Mountaineers’ back-loaded defense that can be confusing at first. But if he can do it and give Tech an early cushion, the WVU offense could struggle in catch-up mode. That course of events would neutralize the Mountaineers’ home-field advantage quickly.
Fresno State at No. 13 UCLA
10:45 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Why watch: We apologize for pointing you to a game on a channel that might be hard to find, but, like the previous entry on this list, this late-night special could also provide some context to some earlier results. Recall that Fresno State gave Oregon all it could handle the week before the Ducks took down Ohio State. If the Bulldogs give the Bruins a similar battle – and possibly pull off the upset – they’ll confirm their place as contenders in the Mountain West. UCLA, meanwhile, is now established as a major player in the Pac-12 South and could use another quality non-conference victory to add to its Week 1 triumph over LSU. And oh yeah, the Bulldogs have won the last three meetings with the Bruins. The triggerman for Fresno State is QB Jake Haener, off to a tremendous start in 2021 with eight TD throws and no picks through three games. The Bulldogs also have a strong defensive front, anchored by veteran DT Kevin Atkins, that could keep Bruins QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson off balance.
Why it could disappoint: RB Zach Charbonnet’s impressive start has given the UCLA attack a power dimension to complement the aerial game. The Bulldogs’ aren’t likely to get blown out thanks to their offensive fire power, but they won’t want to be playing from behind from the outset.
Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus