Every Friday, NCAA.com will run ‘Third and Long,’ a look at three different questions facing the college football world. This week, our three respondents are Anthony Chiusano, Janie Harris and Jack Freifelder.
1. Last week there was a bit of a lull in terms of high-profile matchups. This week, there are four top 25 showdowns and many more competitive games. Which game are you most looking forward to and which one is most likely to end in an upset?
Anthony Chiusano: There’s a lot of good choices out there this week but I’ve got my eye particularly on No. 2 Florida State at No. 13 Louisville.
Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson has been the talk of college football through the first two weeks, and for good reason as he’s already posted 13 touchdowns in only six quarters of action.
Meanwhile, Florida State jumped Clemson to take over the No. 2 spot after two impressive wins. Deondre Francois has surpassed all expectations as a first-year starter and the Seminoles’ defense has been as good as advertised.
It’s hard to believe Jackson will continue to put up the record numbers he did in Weeks 1 and 2, but with his play-making ability, it’s not out of the question that one or two big plays may be enough to pull off an upset at home.
Either way, these two offenses should be a lot of fun to watch go head-to-head.
The Crimson Tide seem unstoppable right now. With huge-margin wins in the first two weeks and a stable position atop the AP poll, why wouldn’t Alabama crush Ole Miss, who lost to FSU in Week 1? Well, the Rebels surprised football fans everywhere for the past two years when they defeated Alabama both at home and away.
Yes, Nick Saban has never allowed an opposing team to beat his team three years in a row at Alabama. However, there is a first time for everything, and a Crimson Tide loss in Week 3 could add an extra layer of uncertainty and excitement for this season as a whole as well as the College Football Playoff race.
Jack Freifelder: There's plenty of action in Week 3 that looks pretty darn good on paper, but diehard fans should have an eye on two games in particular.
First off, five-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State is traveling to visit No. 13 Iowa.
Most Iowa faithful are likely to be unaware that this is a legitimate threat to their team’s hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff.
In the last five years the Bison have played five different FBS teams on the road, winning each matchup, so fans shouldn’t be surprised if this is a ballgame well into the second half. Pressure will be on Iowa quarterback CJ Beathard to control the tempo and guide the team in what could be one the weekend’s most competitive games.
It’s also worth watching No. 25 Miami’s trip to Appalachian State. The added pressure of a road trip could make things interesting, and given the Mountaineers performance in Week 1 at Tennessee, there’s reason to believe there might be some upset potential brewing. Much like Iowa’s quarterback Beathard, Miami’s Brad Kaaya has little margin for error.
2. Week 2 was a pretty slow week for many Heisman candidates, either due to injury or underperformance. Which star is primed for the biggest bounce back this weekend?
As much as I would like to say LSU’s Leonard Fournette, his ankle situation is iffy, and while Mississippi State lost to South Alabama in Week 1, their strength is in stopping a run game. With a team looking to stop Leonard Fournette, I imagine his statistics won’t be quite as Heisman worthy as LSU fans hope.
Clemson, however, faces 0-2 FCS opponent South Carolina State, who lost 38-0 to UCF and 53-24 to Louisiana Tech so far this season. Yes, the Bulldogs are hungry for a win, especially against the No. 5 team in the nation, but even with Clemson’s struggles against unranked opponents like Auburn, the Bulldogs have trouble stopping offensive movement.
So far this season, Watson has posted only a 4:3 touchdown to interception ratio and has seen his completion percentage drop 15 points from last year.
RELATED: Bad wins lead to changes in AP Poll
But Watson remains the master of moving Clemson’s offense down the field, and he is likely to do that over and over again on Saturday. I expect this week his statistics will soar, and his Heisman hopes will have a chance to grow.
JF: Georgia running back Nick Chubb should be called on early and often as the Bulldogs face an upstart Missouri squad. It remains to be seen who will be playing quarterback and handing the rock off to Chubb, but expect a heavy dose of the Georgia native.
Chubb raced to 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Bulldogs' season opener against North Carolina but was limited to just 80 yards in Georgia's narrow win over upset-minded Nicholls last week.
On the other side, Missouri is led by sophomore quarterback Drew Lock, who tallied 450 yards and five touchdowns a week ago in a 61-21 win against Eastern Michigan. Lock is the fifth-leading passer by yardage through a pair of games (730 yards), while Nick Chubb is the fifth-leading rusher (302 yards).
Guess that means it will be a battle of opposing styles when these two squads link up on Saturday.
AC: LSU’s Leonard Fournette has yet to have the Heisman performance everyone came to expect from the junior running back.
In Week 1, the then-No.5 Tigers were shocked by Wisconsin as Fournette was kept out of the end zone – although he still posted over 170 yards of offense. Then in Week 2, Fournette was held out against FCS opponent Jacksonville State, perhaps for precautionary reasons, due to an ankle injury he suffered late against the Badgers.
But Fournette should be full-go this week against Mississippi State and is primed for a breakout performance.
Last year against the Bulldogs on the road, Fournette rushed for a then-career-high 159 yards and three touchdowns (this was before Fournette went on an extraordinary run of 200-yard performances). This week at home against a subpar Mississippi State team and with a week of rest, don’t be surprised to see Fournette run wild again.
3. Through the first two weeks, which team has been the biggest surprise so far, whether surpassing or falling below expectations? What should we expect from them for the rest of the year?
JF: This honor should be bestowed collectively among three teams that will duke it out in the ACC Coastal division.
Louisville has really taken flight behind the leadership of Lamar Jackson, but there’s a ton to learn this weekend with an impending bout with Florida State. Clemson has looked fairly pedestrian despite keeping a clean streak through the first two weeks of the season, but is far from ready to run away with the ACC title. The ACC will be a war that drags out until the end of the season, but the first battle is set for Saturday with the Seminoles and the Cardinals. Expect a lot of fireworks.
But I’d like to throw Texas’ name in the ring as a top surprise.
The Longhorns had been reeling ever since Colt McCoy graduated in 2009. Once the class of the Big 12, they took a backseat the past few years with strings of close defeats and the failure to solidify their offense.
But this year has been different. Texas stunned No. 10 Notre Dame with a season-opening win in overtime and have skyrocketed up to the No. 11 ranking. Freshman Shane Buechele appears to be the answer at quarterback and Tyrone Swoopes has proven to be an effective situational weapon under center on important downs.
Everyone expected Oklahoma to rule the Big 12 for the second straight year. But the Sooners lost its opener against a very good Houston team. Then darkhorse TCU fell in overtime last week. Don’t look now, but Texas is the highest-ranked team out of the conference.
It’s hard to imagine Texas staying atop this pedestal all season, but the Longhorns’ rapid development has been a great surprise.
JH: Wow. There are so many storylines I was not expecting this season.
I thought LSU would perform better than it has. Many had doubts about Brandon Harris’ ability at quarterback, and so far the critics are right. His backup Danny Etling, however, seemed to totally change the game in Week 2. So LSU’s talent-filled offense, under Etling’s leadership, may start to execute plays the way most fans expected it to at the beginning of the season.
Also, I am a bit disappointed in how Oklahoma has been playing. The high-margin win last week definitely looked a little bit more like the Sooners everyone expected, but their offense has still not played at a top level. Oklahoma has a ridiculous amount of talent—Baker Mayfield, Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook—but these offensive weapons aren’t quite doing what I think many thought they would do. They'll be further challenged this week when they meet No. 3 Ohio State.
However, I am impressed with Houston and Louisville. These are two teams that were never exactly on my radar as elite football programs but with the leadership from dynamic quarterbacks Greg Ward Jr. and Lamar Jackson, these two programs have begun to climb their way up the rankings, and I’m excited to see what the rest of the season holds for them.