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Mike Lopresti | | September 16, 2022

11 games that serve as 'prove it' opportunities in Week 3 of the college football season

College football rankings: A new No. 1 and lots more changes in Week 3 AP poll

In lining up the Moments of Truth games for this college football weekend, it was tempting to make this simple:
Anybody playing a team from the Sun Belt.

SHOCKERS: How the Sun Belt Conference landed 3 huge upsets — and what comes next

Or as that gaggle of upstarts could have been called last week, the League of Doom. The Sun Belters will be out in force again Saturday, aiming to produce more chaos and long faces for bright light bunch. UCLA, for instance, better be ready when South Alabama shows up in the Rose Bowl, where about 30,000 seats are usually filled for Bruins games, meaning 60,000 are empty. UCLA has not played a Sun Belt team this century, but if the Bruins want an idea of what that’s been like lately, all they need do is note Scott Frost’s empty parking space at Nebraska.
Across the continent, Virginia should be on full alert when Old Dominion shows up in Charlottesville, looking for its third victory over a Power Five conference opponent ever — but second this month. The first was Virginia Tech two weeks ago. Complete the Hokies-Cavaliers sweep and the Monarchs could change the name of their school to Our Dominion.
Plenty of other MOTs on tap for Saturday as well . . .

No. 6 Oklahoma at Nebraska
Here’s more debris from the train wreck formerly known as Nebraska football: There was a time when the Cornhuskers had only two head coaches — Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne — in 36 years. Mickey Joseph, taking over this week for the dismissed Frost, will be their fifth in the past 16 seasons. The Nebraska faithful yearn for the good old days, when the Blackshirts on defense were not  giving up 642 yards to Georgia Southern, and the Cornhuskers weren’t losing 20 consecutive games against ranked opponents.
They’ll be eager for any hint of progress Saturday when the Sooners come to town. This rivalry once made the ground shake in all of college football — the two have combined for 96 conference titles, and at least one has been ranked by the Associated Press in 46 of their past 47 meetings. Now the Sooners use this as a stepping stone to their Big 12 schedule, but will have to be wary about facing an opponent who will be playing with a circle-the-wagons mentality. The Oklahoma offense does things in a hurry with the football. The Sooners have scored 45 and 33 points in starting 2-0 despite being next-to-last in the nation in time of possession at 22:34 a game. As for Nebraska, the Cornhuskers are at least No. 1 in the nation in something. Their 26 college graduates on the roster are the most in the FBS.
Cincinnati at Miami (Ohio)
These two have been playing since 1888, making it the oldest non-conference rivalry in the nation. How even has it been? This even: After 125 meetings, the series is tied 59-59-7. Cincinnati needs a victory if it wants to get back into the rankings after the tough loss at Arkansas, while Miami has its own reason to feel the urgency. The RedHawks have dropped 15 in a row to the Bearcats, and another defeat Saturday means Cincinnati will be ahead in the series for the first time since 1915.
It’s technically a Miami home game, but that might not help the RedHawks much. They’re playing at the NFL Bengals’ stadium, which is 41 miles from the Miami campus — and three miles from the Cincinnati campus.

California at Notre Dame
It has been a long week for the beleaguered Irish since the Marshall loss, and one operative word Saturday is zero. They have forced zero turnovers this season. Drew Pyne, taking over the quarterback spot for the injured Tyler Buchner, has had zero previous career starts. And after three games as Notre Dame coach going back to the Fiesta Bowl, Marcus Freeman has zero wins. He’s the first Notre Dame coach in history to start 0-3. If the Irish lose to California — it’s their first meeting in 55 years — they’ll be only the third Notre Dame team ever to open a season 0-3. That’s not the echoes they want to wake up in South Bend. They’ll be wearing green uniforms Saturday, maybe that’ll help.

LATEST AP POLL: Georgia takes No. 1 in latest AP rankings
No. 12 BYU at No. 25 Oregon
BYU went 5-0 against the Pac-12 last season and loved every minute of it, so the Cougars are not real popular around that league. If they win in Eugene — where Oregon has beaten 29 non-conference visitors in a row — they’ll send a loud message about their intentions of being a top-10 team. They have the quarterback to do it; Jaren Hall is 7-1 against Power Five conference opponents and 3-0 against ranked teams. Oregon managed one lonely field goal and lost by 46 points at Georgia, then scored 70 with 40 first downs against Eastern Washington. So what to make of the Ducks? Saturday will say a lot.
Nevada at Iowa
Well, if nothing else, the Hawkeyes have certainly been balanced on offense. Out of 131 teams, they’re No. 127 in the nation in rushing and No. 127 in passing. That translates to one touchdown in two weeks — and 16 punts. The defense has been a wonder, but scoring seven points a game won’t get this team very far. Iowans are as concerned about the Hawkeyes’ offense as they are about the corn crop.
UTSA at No. 21 Texas
It has to gnaw at the Longhorns, how Alabama slipped away. But no time to reflect on that against a UTSA team that has had as raucous a season as anyone so far — losing in three overtimes to ranked Houston and beating Army in overtime, with Frank Harris passing for nearly 700 yards and six touchdowns in the two games. Texas doesn’t want to take a hangover into Saturday and lose that Alabama game twice.
The Longhorns have health issues at quarterback with starter Quinn Ewers out and backup Hudson Card hobbled, and coach Steve Sarkisian refusing to say who’ll start. They also face an in-system school that would love to catch a big fish. The last reported UTSA athletic budget was $35 million. For Texas, it was $187 million.

MORE: Alabama escapes upset, defeats Texas 20-19
No. 13 Miami at No. 24 Texas A&M
So here’s Miami, 2-0 and largely untested. A victory against a ranked SEC team on its field would have the new Mario Cristobal coaching era going from 0 to 60 in about 10 seconds. The Hurricanes are 0-4 against the SEC since 2013.
Meanwhile, it’s condition red in College Station after the loss to Appalachian State. Among the concerns is an offense that could produce but 14 points and nine first downs against an App State defense that coughed up 63 points to North Carolina. The Aggies were also steamrolled in time of possession, 41:29-18:17. Something has to change in a hurry against Miami.
Jimbo Fisher is 35-15 at Texas A&M, but there has been a lot of restless noise around him because this is the SEC, and it’s all about what have you done for us lately. A loss Saturday — with Arkansas and Alabama coming soon — could have the season slipping away from the Aggies in a hurry.
No. 22 Penn State at Auburn
This is the year Bryan Harsin could really use a way to turn down the microwave heat on his seat at Auburn. Struggling to beat San Jose State last week was not it. But beating the Nittany Lions might help. The Tigers are slight underdogs, and you don’t see that every day for an SEC team playing at home against a non-conference visitor. Penn State is off to a rollicking start, getting by Purdue at the end and having 17 different players catch passes in a rout of Ohio.
The Nittany Lions beat Auburn last season in Happy Valley, when Sean Clifford threw 32 passes and completed 28. That suggested some deficiencies in the Auburn pass defense, and those questions still linger. But then Penn State is trying to shush some of its own skeptics after an 11-11 record the past two seasons. Statements can be made Saturday, by both sides.
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Texas Tech at No. 16 North Carolina State
North Carolina State’s No. 12 was its highest preseason ranking in 47 years. A narrow win over East Carolina had them slipping a bit but they can reestablish their bona fides Saturday. Texas Tech has its own history to make after beating No. 25 Houston in two overtimes. The Red Raiders have never beaten multiple ranked non-conference opponents in the same regular season. Ever. It should be lively. The two quarterbacks — Texas Tech’s Donovan Smith and North Carolina State’s Devin Leary — already have thrown 11 touchdown passes between them.

Kansas at Houston
Is Kansas for real? No, we’re talking football. That question hasn’t been asked often, but here the Jayhawks are, 2-0 and leading the country by averaging 55.5 points a game.  The last time they were 2-0 was 2011, but the good times were fleeting. They lost the last 10 games of that year, then went 18-99 the next 10 seasons.
The overtime win over West Virginia last weekend was exhilarating enough, but to follow that up with a victory at formerly ranked Houston would further suggest this is a new day in Kansas football. The Cougars have been America’s busiest team, beating UTSA in three overtimes and losing to Texas Tech in two.
Missouri State at No. 10 Arkansas
At first glance, this is your garden variety early-season game of a big name welcoming in a smaller fry for a tune-up. Except  . . . the Missouri State coach is Bobby Petrino, who was on a successful run as Arkansas coach 10 years ago when he had a motorcycle accident and fibbed that he was alone, but actually had a passenger; an athletic department staffer with whom he was having an affair. Things got pretty messy from there and he was soon fired. He’s revived his career since and Missouri State has a dangerous passing attack that is moving along at more than 280 yards and three touchdowns a game. But that probably won’t be the main topic of conversation Saturday night in Fayetteville.

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