The Week 3 schedule didn’t look overwhelming at first glance. But as they always seem to do, fantastic games emerged from unlikely places.
The answers to these questions may well decide who wins in Week 4:
*Was Vanderbilt’s win over Kansas State a fluke, or is this a legitimate turnaround? (Alabama at Vanderbilt, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Vanderbilt scored one of the most low-key impressive victories of Week 3, holding Kansas State to seven points in a 14-7 win. K-State was rolling coming into the game, scoring 110 points in starting 2-0. Then quarterback Jesse Ertz, who was nearly perfect in the two wins, went 10-of-28 for 76 yards and threw two picks against the Commodore D.
Vandy has allowed 13 points in 12 quarters. That said, Kansas State, Charlotte and Middle Tennessee certainly aren’t Alabama.
Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts has proven he can throw against middling defenses and run on anyone. But he hasn't shown the ability to throw against good defenses. His combined air stats against Fresno State and Colorado State were 26-of-35 for 376 yards and three touchdowns. His combined stats against Florida State and Clemson (in last year’s title game): 23-of-49 for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Vanderbilt isn’t Florida State or Clemson, but it’s far more like them than it is Fresno State or Colorado State.
It’s hard to see the Dores pulling this one out, regardless. They’ve been an SEC bottom-feeder for a long time, while Alabama is the class of college football. Still, this game could be closer than we expected heading into the season. Vandy’s arrow is pointing up.
Score prediction: Alabama 30, Vanderbilt 17
*TCU won’t stop Oklahoma State, but can it do anything to slow the Cowboys down? (TCU at Oklahoma State, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The Oklahoma State-Pittsburgh game was over within minutes. The Cowboys piled up 49 first-half points. Their attack is so lethal because they have talent and continuity. Mason Rudolph and James Washington clearly have tons of ability, and they’ve been at this together for four years. In a sport where turnover is so frequent, that’s a massive advantage.The reason OSU couldn’t get over the hump in 2015 was because of its lackluster running game. Justice Hill popped last year in spurts, but he’s just now stepping in as the featured back. He’s looked like the missing piece, averaging seven yards per carry. The Pokes have scored 162 points in three games. They don’t have an offensive weakness.
To his credit, TCU's Gary Patterson is a defensive-minded coach and his team has looked solid on that side of the ball. The Frogs allowed a combined seven points in their first two games before slipping up against Southern Methodist, surrendering 36. Fortunately, the offense bailed them out. Kenny “Mr. September” Hill threw for 365 yards and four scores.
But to go on the road and beat an Oklahoma State team this experienced and talented is a tough ask. The Cowboys are legit.
Score prediction: Oklahoma State 45, TCU 28
*Can USC’s offense finally get in sync? (USC at California, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
California is 3-0 with wins over North Carolina and Ole Miss. The Golden Bears are no powerhouse, but they’re solid. In other words, they're just the kind of team that’s given USC trouble. Cal, which has struggled on defense in recent years, has improved every week on that side of the ball. The Bears allowed only 16 points against Ole Miss.
We say this every week, but the Trojans are loaded with offensive talent. Sam Darnold is one of the best QBs in the nation. At times, he looks like the best QB in the land. At other times, he looks pedestrian. The Trojans’ receivers need to help him out, though. Not enough separation, too many drops.
USC has been able to pile up yardage. In what was considered a bad showing, the Trojans still racked up 468 yards of offense in their win against Texas last week. But they needed two overtimes to score 27 points.
It’s not about moving the ball. It’s about executing in the red zone and avoiding turnovers. Look for USC to get back on track against a team that is no cupcake.
Score prediction: USC 34, California 27
*Can Georgia get its running game going against a stout Mississippi State front? (Mississippi State at Georgia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The Mississippi State defense is real. The Bulldogs held star LSU tailback Derrius Guice to 76 rushing yards, well below his season average, in their 37-7 throttling of the Tigers.Georgia’s defense is legit, too, but the jury is still out on its offense. The Bulldogs’ biggest win came at Notre Dame, but the defense carried them there. Freshman QB Jake Fromm threw for only 141 yards on 4.9 yards per attempt in South Bend. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were able to move the chains, but in total, they scored just 20 points. That was enough to beat the Irish, but it might not be enough to beat Mississippi State. Fromm needs to be able to keep the defense honest. If he does, Chubb and Michel can run wild. If not, MSU can turn all of its attention to the backfield.
Mississippi State was incredibly impressive on their turf vs. LSU, but we haven’t seen Nick Fitzgerald and company win a big game on the road. They’ll get their opportunity in Athens.
This is a toss-up, but it’s hard to ignore the beatdown Mississippi State just gave an uber-talented LSU squad.
Score prediction: Mississippi State 24, Georgia 23
*Will Brandon Wimbush do enough to keep the Michigan State defense honest? (Notre Dame at Michigan State, 8 p.m. ET, FOX)
We don’t question Wimbush’s running ability. Against Temple, he ran for 106 yards and a score. Against Boston College, he ran for 207 and four scores.
Unfortunately, the Notre Dame quarterback simply hasn’t had the same success throwing the ball. Against BC, Wimbush completed less than half of his pass attempts and was held to under 100 passing yards. Same story in the loss to Georgia, when he needed 39 attempts to reach 211 yards. Generally, Notre Dame quarterbacks are throwers first, runners second.
Notre Dame has a better defense and running game than Michigan State. Running back Josh Adams ran for 229 yards last week against BC when the Irish piled up more than 500 as a team. But this one may come down to Wimbush, who needs to throw more like he did against Temple in a 49-16 opening-week win than he did against Georgia or Boston College.
Michigan State (2-0), despite winning only three games last season, beat Notre Dame in South Bend. And this year, Sparty has looked good early, albeit against non-Power 5 schools.
At home against an opponent still figuring out its identity, it’s tough to pick against the Spartans.
Score prediction: Michigan State 28, Notre Dame 24
Florida State 28, North Carolina State 10 (North Carolina State at Florida State, Noon ET, ABC)
Texas A&M 27, Arkansas 24 (Texas A&M at Arkansas, Noon ET, ESPN)
Michigan 28, Purdue 17 (Michigan at Purdue, 4 p.m. ET)
Penn State 35, Iowa 20 (Penn State at Iowa, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Stanford 40, UCLA 31 (UCLA at Stanford, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)