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Stan Becton | | September 14, 2021

The college football fan's guide to Week 3 games

AP football poll breakdown: Oregon, Iowa break into top 5 after big wins

Week 3 of college football is full of exciting games across the board. This one could be a season-defining week for several teams as we may look back at some of these games as a turning point in the season.

Three matchups feature two ranked teams this week: No. 1 Alabama at No. 11 Florida, No. 22 Auburn at No. 10 Penn State and No. 19 Arizona State at No. 23 BYU.

Week 3 preview: Top games to watch 

No. 8 Cincinnati at Indiana | 12 p.m. | ESPN

Cincinnati continues its quest to be the first Group of 5 team to make the College Football Playoff in Bloomington, Indiana. The Bearcats will face a Power 5 school for the first time since last year's Peach Bowl loss to Georgia. They'll have to contend with an Indiana team still looking to rebound after suffering one ranked loss on the season. Keep an eye out for how Hoosier tandem QB Michael Penix Jr. and WR Ty Fryfogle attack an elite Bearcat secondary that includes cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant.

Players to watch: QB Michael Penix Jr. (IU), WR Ty Fryfogle (IU), LB Micah McFadden (IU), CB Tiawan Mullen (IU), QB Desmond Ridder (CIN), RB Jerome Ford (CIN), DE Myjai Sanders (CIN), CB Ahmad Gardner (CIN), CB Coby Bryant (CIN)

RANKINGS: All major college football polls

Purdue at No. 12 Notre Dame | 2:30 p.m. | NBC

Notre Dame might be overdue for a loss. After squeaking out two wins over Florida State and Toledo, the Fighting Irish are playing with fire. Speaking of fire, Purdue's offense showed they have the ability to compete with anyone after throwing for six touchdowns last week. WR Davis Bell is next in a pipeline of NFL-caliber Boilermaker wide receivers and Notre Dame's defense will be tasked with shutting him down. This may be another tight game for the Fighting Irish.

Players to watch: QB Jack Plummer (PUR), WR Davis Bell (PUR), DE George Karlaftis (PUR), CB Cory Trice (PUR), QB Jack Coan (ND), WR Michael Mayer (ND), S Kyle Hamilton (ND)

No. 1 Alabama at No. 11 Florida | 3:30 p.m. | CBS

An SEC rivalry will be renewed when the Crimson Tide visit the Gators this weekend. Alabama has already defeated one team from the state of Florida this season, opening the season with a blowout of Miami (FL). QB Bryce Young has firmly placed himself in the Heisman conversation after just two games and the Alabama defense looks dominant once again. Florida enters the game with a quarterback competition on their hands as Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson have each displayed abilities to run the offense. This is the first SEC game for each team and could have implications down the road. More on that later.

Players to watch: QB Bryce Young (ALA), WR John Metchie (ALA), LB Christian Harris (ALA) LB Will Anderson (ALA), QB Emory Jones (FLA), QB Anthony Richardson (FLA), WR Jacob Copeland (FLA), DE Zachary Carter (FLA), CB Kaiir Elam (FLA)

No. 22 Auburn at No. 10 Penn State | 7:30 p.m. | ABC

The "Whiteout Game" returns as Penn State hosts Auburn in an SEC/Big Ten clash. Auburn's rushing attack has powered them to two easy wins to open the season; Tigers RB Tank Bigsby might be the best in the country. Penn State opened the season with a tough conference win over then-No. 12 Wisconsin. The Nittany Lion defense has flown around the ball this season. It'll be up to the Penn State offense to provide scoring support in this big-time matchup.

Players to watch: QB Bo Nix (AUB), RB Tank Bigsby (AUB), LB Zakoby McClain (AUB), LB Owen Pappoe (AUB), QB Sean Clifford (PSU), WR Jahan Dotson (PSU), LB Ellis Brooks (PSU), S Jaquan Brisker (PSU)

No. 19 Arizona State at No. 23 BYU | 10:15 p.m. | ESPN

BYU makes the games to watch list in consecutive weeks after defeating then-No. 21 Utah to get their first victory against the Utes since 2009. BYU now gets to face another ranked team in Arizona State. The Sun Devils have yet to see a challenge this season, so far crushing overmatched competition. QB Jayden Daniels, who leads Arizona State in passing and rushing yards, will have a chance to put his name in the conversation with the country's best quarterbacks if he can perform well.

Players to watch: QB Jayden Daniels (ASU), RB Rachaad White (ASU), LB Darien Butler (ASU), CB Chase Lucas (ASU), QB Jaren Hall (BYU), RB Tyler Allgeier (BYU), C James Empey (BYU), LB Payton Wilgar (BYU)

SCHEDULE: Full FBS TV schedule and times

Big Week 3 questions

Who are the contenders and pretenders?

We'll find out if three teams from this week's games to watch are contenders or pretenders after Week 3. Cincinnati, Florida and Auburn can keep their national title hopes alive with a win this week.

Cincinnati plays the first of its two major out-of-conference games against Indiana. While the Hoosiers no longer have their preseason ranking, they are still a legitimate Power 5 opponent. The Bearcats must win this game if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. A loss will turn Cincinnati from being a playoff contender to just a really good Group of 5 team.

Florida views itself as a playoff contender already. There's no better way to prove it than a home contest against the number one team in the country, Alabama. Luckily, the Gators don't have to win this game to prove they are a contender. Since Florida plays in the SEC — and in the East to Alabama's West division — their playoff hopes are still alive with a close loss. However, a blowout loss could firmly establish the Gators as pretenders in 2021.

Every few years, Auburn re-establishes itself as a contender. If this is one of those years, they'll need to prove it by beating a Penn State team that is always one of the best in the country. A major out-of-conference win will see the Tigers leap in the rankings and put the rest of the SEC on notice. An Auburn loss keeps the Tigers as pretenders until otherwise shown.

What's next for Southern California?

After a 42-28 loss to unranked Stanford, Southern California has moved on from head coach Clay Helton. The Trojans entered the season as favorites in the Pac-12 South and had expectations to win the conference. One loss doesn't prevent them from achieving this goal, but there is some uncertainty. There's still plenty of talent on Southern California's roster, including potential first-round picks QB Kedon Slovis and WR Drake London. Interim head coach Donte Williams will have to right the ship as USC tries to respond from a hectic couple of days.

RECAP: 5 things to know from Week 2 of the college football season

AP Poll Ranking Coaches Poll
Alabama 1 Alabama
Georgia 2 Georgia
Oklahoma 3 Oklahoma
Oregon 4 Oregon
Iowa 5 Texas A&M
Clemson 6 Clemson
Texas A&M 7 Iowa
Cincinnati 8 Cincinnati
Ohio State 9 Florida
Penn State 10 Notre Dame
Florida 11 Ohio State
Notre Dame 12 Penn State
Iowa State 14 Iowa State
Virginia Tech 15 Virginia Tech
Coastal Carolina 16 Ole Miss
Ole Miss 17 Wisconsin
Wisconsin 18 Coastal Carolina
Arizona State 19 North Carolina
Arkansas 20 Auburn
North Carolina 21 Arizona State
Auburn 22 Oklahoma State
Miami 24 Arkansas
Michigan 25 Michigan

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