Every Friday, NCAA.com will run ‘Third and Long,’ a look at three questions facing the college football world. This week, our three respondents are Tyler Greenawalt, Courtney Martinez and Austin R. Vaughn.
1. Last week was a rough one for the SEC. Is the conference’s place as best in the country in any sort of danger?
Greenawalt: I don’t think so. The SEC stumbled in Week 2 after a great opening weekend, but there isn’t any cause for concern for arguably the top conference in the country. While five SEC teams lost last weekend, only two of those teams, Arkansas and Tennessee, lost to a non-SEC team. A few teams did eek out close wins against lesser opponents (I’m looking at you, Missouri and Florida), but they still managed to earn the W and are poised for bounce-back efforts in Week 3. While the SEC took a hit, that should only add fuel to the fire for teams looking for a statement victory early in the season.
Martinez: Look, the SEC did have a rough outing in Week 2. Auburn was clearly overhyped and yes, Tennessee completely blew it in the second half against Oklahoma. But just like Pac-12 fans shouldn’t have panicked after Week 1, the same should go for SEC fans this week. It’s still early in the season and teams are still trying to get into the groove of things. Plus, the reason the SEC has claimed to be the best in the country is because of how brutal the in-conference schedule is. The games in Tuscaloosa and Death Valley on Saturday this week prove it. So don’t give up hope yet, SEC fans. There’s still a long way to go.
Vaughn: For a conference with fans as passionate, haughty and slightly insane as the SEC, perhaps it felt that the sky was falling last Saturday. However, despite Arkansas’ fall to Toledo, Auburn’s embarrassing win over Jacksonville State and Tennessee’s historic blown lead against Oklahoma, all of which are serious concerns for those teams, the rest of the conference is still loaded. Seven SEC teams are in the Top 25. Alabama is still Alabama. And, two of this week’s marquee games are SEC contests. No. 15 Ole Miss at No. 2 Alabama and No. 18 Auburn at No. 13 LSU give the conference the national spotlight and can show that the SEC still has power players. If both of those games showcase classic, hard-nosed football, the nation will have to take notice and admit that the SEC can still play ball.
Martinez: This week I would have to put Florida State on upset alert at Boston College. The Eagles always seem to be a play or two away from beating the Seminoles. Last year, FSU kicked a game-winning field goal with three seconds left. In 2013, BC put up the most points FSU allowed all season. So far this season, Boston College has the top-ranked defense in the country and still hasn’t allowed a touchdown. The Seminoles weren’t convincing against South Florida and struggled early last week before Dalvin Cook opened up the scoring. Steve Addazio is familiar with the Seminoles' program from his time at Florida, but he has yet to beat them while coaching at BC. But I think this is the year he finally earns that sought-after win and the Eagles propel themselves into the ACC talks.
Vaughn: Bama. Yeah, they’re at home in Bryant-Denny. Yeah, they’re one of a few teams to have actually been battle tested, and they showed out in that test against Wisconsin in Week 1. But, Hugh Freeze seemed to have Saban’s number last year, and that was with a less-than-elite quarterback. This year, the Rebels offense, albeit untested, is unreal with Chad Kelly under center. Kelly has a 72.5 completion percentage and averages almost 14 yards per play, the Rebels have four running backs averaging 10 plus yards per carry and they’ve scored 70 in both contests this season. If there’s an offense explosive enough to break through Alabama’s stout defense, it’s Ole Miss.
Greenawalt: Boise State plays another Mangum brother this week when Idaho State visits the Broncos, and we all know what happened the last time a Mangum played Boise ... But in all seriousness, No. 8 Notre Dame should be on upset alert this week when No. 14 Georgia Tech comes to town, and not even because of season-ending injuries at quarterback, running back and tight end. While the Fighting Irish offense is already depleted, the biggest problem for Notre Dame will be its defense, which looked sluggish against Virginia in Week 2. The defense struggled in the final three quarters of the game against the Cavaliers, something the Fighting Irish can’t afford against one of the most volatile schemes in Georgia Tech’s triple option offense.
Vaughn: I’m gonna answer this with another prolific offense. But, a less traditional one. Georgia Tech has been putting up video game numbers on opponents who have been likened to pastries. The Yellow Jackets also have four running backs with 10 plus yards per carry, however, that’s probably more common with Paul Johnson’s triple option offense. The run game isn’t all the Jackets have going for them, however, quarterback Justin Thomas is staying in the pocket more this season and is 10 for 13 with three TDs. Thomas slayed on the ground last season, leading Tech to a big Orange Bowl victory over Mississippi State, and, adding a consistent, successful passing threat can only serve to make the Rambling Wreck’s offense even more dangerous. With the hard-to-prepare-for option offense, big-pass ability from Thomas and the mind of Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech is poised to keep scoring big, gaining momentum and, most importantly, winning.
Greenawalt: Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss offense look unstoppable, albeit against non-SEC opponents. In just two games this year, the Rebels have scored 149 points and Kelly has thrown for 557 yards and six touchdowns, including a 347-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 73-21 blowout of Fresno State. If Kelly and the Rebels can replicate those performances against No. 2 Alabama this weekend, there’s no reason why Ole Miss shouldn’t be in the playoff discussion.
Martinez: Call me crazy, but I am a believer of the Mangum Magic. BYU has really impressed me the first two weeks. Sure, both of their wins have come down to last-minute touchdowns. But I appreciate how resilient the Cougars are, which is something I really look for in a playoff team. The one thing that will stop BYU though is the rest of their schedule. I mean, they probably have one of the toughest remaining road schedules: at UCLA, at Michigan, Missouri [“neutral site” in Kansas City] and at Utah State. But if they can pick up wins over all those teams, BYU might be hard to overlook, especially if they go undefeated. Plus, the playoff committee needs a dark horse contender now that Boise’s chances are pretty much done, thanks to the Cougars.