Our picks for the biggest Week 3 games
No. 15 Ole Miss at No. 2 Alabama
Line: Alabama -7.0
Ole Miss has provided the SEC with another formidable opponent and QB Chad Kelly has led the way by targeting deep receivers on 22.5 percent of his throws, connecting on 6-of-9, for 267 yards, and four TDs. Averaging 634.5 total yards and 74.5 points per game is a lightning-fast way to gain attention and the Rebels find themselves within a TD of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
The Crimson Tide are still in the process of evaluating their options at quarterback, but RB Derrick Henry has emerged as a legitimate Heisman-candidate, and the leader of the offense. Surprisingly, the ‘Bama defense has been, relative to recent years, soft to opposing passing attacks. Wisconsin QB Joel Stave found decent success in Week 1 and they are not equipped with the receiving threats possessed by the Rebels (Laquan Treadwell, Cody Core, and Quincy Adeboyejo).
Prediction: Despite the arrows pointing up for Ole Miss, the Tide will be a difficult opponent within Bryant-Denny Stadium, and candidates to cover the modest spread … Alabama 32, Ole Miss 24.
No. 19 BYU at No. 10 UCLA
Line: UCLA -17.0
These two teams are on a roll to begin the 2015 season. BYU lost QB Taysom Hill to injury for the third time in four years and, his replacement, Tanner Mangum has reached cult-status after amazing come-from-behind victories over Nebraska and Boise State.
UCLA has purchased stock in their own version of a breakout quarterback, fielding true freshman Josh Rosen, and taking victories over Virginia and UNLV.
Prediction: While the numbers spell out a decisive victory for UCLA, BYU has already proven the ability to step into a hostile environment, and come away victorious. The growing pains for the Bruins young quarterback will present the Cougars with an opportunity to take a significant upset over the home team and continue its magical season … BYU 30, UCLA 27.
No. 18 Auburn at No. 13 LSU
Line: LSU -7.0
Auburn can look to their record of 2-0 in one of two ways: as a successful beginning to the season, or as borderline victories over an FCS school (Jacksonville State) and one searching for an identity (Louisville). Easily the most glaring hole for Auburn has been the inability of QB Jeremy Johnson to fill the shoes of Nick Marshall. After two games, Johnson will only need to throw two more interceptions to match the number allowed by Marshall all of last season (seven).
LSU QB Brandon Harris posted modest totals in last week’s victory over Mississippi State, but those numbers are skewed by penalties. One such penalty negated a 91-yard TD pass to Travin Dural and the sheer dominance of the Bulldogs by RB Leonard Fournette (28 carries, 159 yards, three TDs) provided all the offense the Tigers required. Going deeper into Harris’ metrics, he completed 75.0 percent of passes under pressure and showcased a quick release (2.67 time-to-throw average).
Prediction: The Auburn defense has allowed an average of 219.5 rushing yards per game, playing into the hands of LSU’s strength, and the home team only surrendered 43 rushing yards to Mississippi State. Playing out as a game that will require Johnson to attack the LSU defense in Death Valley, the spread should easily be covered … LSU 32, Auburn 20.
No. 14 Georgia Tech at No. 8 Notre Dame
Line: Georgia Tech -2.5
The Georgia Tech flexbone triple-option offense has been in high-gear in the early going, averaging 562.0 total yards per game in blowouts of Alcorn State and Tulane to begin 2015. QB Justin Thomas has been nearly flawless, completing 10-of-13 passing attempts on an 11.62 yards per attempt average. Opponents have yet to test the Yellow Jackets defense and that is exactly what will happen when they step foot into Notre Dame Stadium.
The Fighting Irish have had both sides of the ball tested during the first two weeks, holding the distinction of the only school with a claim on securing victories over two Power 5 conference teams (Texas and Virginia). The schedule has come at a price, however, after losing a list of starters to injury that includes QB Malik Zaire, RB Tarean Folston, TE Durham Smythe, and DT Jarron Jones. New QB DeShone Kizer was able to secure the last-second victory over the Cavaliers and WR-to-RB convert C.J. Prosise generated 75.5 percent of his 155 yards vs. Virginia on 15-plus yard runs.
Prediction: Seriously, how can we expect a “green” quarterback to step in and lead a historic franchise against a worthy opponent on a week’s notice? Sound familiar? It should, as Ohio State’s Cardale Jones taught college football a valuable lesson last season and Kizer has the chance to do the same. While Georgia Tech’s offense will provide plenty of fireworks, HC Brian Kelly has done a masterful job recruiting a deep Irish squad in recent years. DE Sheldon Day and company will provide the difference with a late stop … Notre Dame 30, Georgia Tech 27.
No. 9 Florida State at Boston College
Line: Florida State -7.5
FSU QB Everett Golson has performed as well as could be expected during easy wins over Texas State and South Florida. Zero turnovers and five interceptions, yet the big story out of Tallahassee is the seemingly unstoppable running of RB Dalvin Cook. Sitting at second in the nation with 422 rushing yards (8.9 yards per attempt), the production out of Cook should have been expected after utilizing 31.7 snaps/game during his true freshman season to produce the nations 9th-best breakaway percentage (51.0 percent), and 17th-best elusive rating (75.6) among backs with at least 169 attempts.
Boston College, on the other hand, has made the Seminole matchups resemble historic achievements, outscoring Maine and Howard a combined 100-3. Permitting the overmatched opponents 1.15 yards/play, the expectations for the Eagles are relatively unknown. Before you dismiss BCs 15th-best rushing offense this season, consider that they finished with the 16th-best attack in 2014. One thing is for certain, the Eagles will come into this matchup with maximum confidence, and provide Florida State with its toughest opponent to date.
Prediction: Generating average results (56.7 completion percentage and 6.2 yards per passing attempt) against FCS opponents, BC QB Darius Wade may concede time to backups. If that backup is Jeff Smith (17.8 rushing yards per attempt and three TDs), FSU could be presented with pressure upon its subpar run defense (currently 62nd in the nation). If Boston College can maintain its hold as this seasons top run defense and last seasons third-best, we could be in for a better-than-anticipated matchup, and one likely to beat the spread … Florida State 24, Boston College 21.
No. 23 Northwestern at Duke
Line: Duke -3.5
Despite the mediocrity of opposing defenses thus far, Duke QB Thomas Sirk has established himself as a significant threat to all on their upcoming schedule. His emergence has coincided with the breakout of WR Johnell Barnes and the ankle-breaking ability of RB Shaun Wilson. The Blue Devils will bring the seventh-rated total defense into their matchup with the Wildcats and Duke’s 1.58 yards per rushing attempt allowed will be put to the test.
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson may not have recorded monster numbers facing Stanford in Week 1 (28 carries for 134 yards), but what he was able to do was extend the chains against the 12th-ranked rushing defense from 2014. QB Clayton Thorson played an error-free game against the Cardinal, but he has yet to have an opportunity to prove an ability to demand defensive respect with his arm and the game in the balance.
Prediction: While Northwestern should have the advantage in the backfield, the quarterback position leans heavily in favor of Duke. Northwestern’s defense, led by DE Ifeadi Odenigbo and MLB Anthony Walker, will be a difficult challenge for the Blue Devils, but the home team should emerge victorious … Duke 29, Northwestern 24.
California at Texas
Line: California -7.0
After losing to Notre Dame 38-3 in Week 1 while managing a miniscule 163 total yards, the Longhorns turned to redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, and he led the team to a 42-28 victory over Rice. Heard’s ability to tack on rushing mileage kept the chains moving for Texas and gave the team a much-needed boost. California has emerged as a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 and the Jared Goff-led Bear Raid offense simply dismantled the San Diego State secondary in Week 2 by continually attacking its vertical zones.
Prediction: The usually stout Texas passing defense will be tested by California and they will need to display far better form after allowing 9.0 yards per passing attempt during the first two weeks of the season. Until the Longhorns can offer a glimpse of passing defense, confidence will remain low … California 38, Texas 30.
Texas Tech at Arkansas
Line: Arkansas -11.5
Another SEC team currently struggling to meet expectations, Arkansas’ powerful pro-style running attack provided QB Brandon Allen the opportunities to post an elite-level 61.9 yards-in-the-air percentage in 2014, but at the heart of that success, the offense utilized a 34.5 play action usage percentage. Losing RB Jonathan Williams in fall practices has, thus far, prevented the attack from properly tapping into the misdirection. The end result highlights Allen as a game manager-type and the recent loss of WR Keon Hatcher only deepens the level of difficulty.
The Razorbacks will face a Texas Tech offense that has paced the country in performance, sans the dynamic Baylor attack. QB Patrick Mahomes III has been as advertised and more, generating 642.5 yards/game, and posting an elite 76.9 accuracy percentage over his 53 passing attempts. While the opponents (Sam Houston State and UTEP) are not on Arkansas’ level, the offense is firing on all-cylinders, and should prove extremely difficult to contain.
Prediction: Arkansas fell to Toledo last week behind the ineffectiveness of the offense to generate points. Arkansas will likely reach the endzone with much greater frequency against the Red Raiders porous defense, but the Razorbacks will be hard-pressed to contain the game breaking offense of the Mahomes-led attack. Considering the Razorbacks impact offensive losses to injury of seemingly irreplaceable skill players, the matchup, even on the road, should favor the Red Raiders … Texas Tech 39, Arkansas 35.
Follow Wes on Twitter: @PFF_Wes