After last week’s blitz of ranked action, Week 3 is a bit less obvious in its goodness. Only two Top 25 teams square off this weekend—No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 24 South Carolina—but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some great college football action on national television.
The best time slot on Saturday is the mid-afternoon, 3:30pm ET offering. That said, at least one of the primetime games ought to be entertaining, even though they don’t garner “blockbuster” or “must see” status.
This is just the kind of under-the-radar week that’s capable of pumping out several thrillers, finding them will require deft remote-control skills on your part.
Thursday, Sept. 11
9:00PM ET, ESPN: HOUSTON (1-1) at No. 25 BYU (2-0): These two hooked up last season—their first-ever meeting—for a 1,164-yard, 93-point explosion that finally ended when BYU took the lead for good with one minute on the clock, securing a 47-46 win. After averaging 280 yards of passing per game last season, Houston has only managed an average of 218 through two games this year. It didn’t help that it turned the ball over six times (four interceptions) in its opening loss to Texas-San Antonio. After travelling to UConn (a 35-10 win) and Texas (a 41-7 win), this is BYUs home opener, ranked for the first time since Week 3 of the 2012 season. The big question is whether BYU will be able to avoid a “hangover” performance after destroying the Longhorns last week.
Friday, Sept. 12
7:00PM ET, ESPNU: TOLEDO (1-1) at CINCINNATI (0-0): It’s Week 3 but it’s also Cincinnati’s first game of the 2014 season. The Bearcats had back-to-back byes in Weeks 1 and 2 while Toledo took care of FCS New Hampshire in its opener and then hosted Missouri last week, losing 49-24. The two Ohio schools have only met four times in history, all since 1990. Toledo has won three straight, most recently in 2012. The Rockets have been torched through the air this season, giving up 338 passing yards in their opener and 325 last week. This sets up well for a Cincinnati attack that returns four of its top five receivers from the No. 18-ranked passing attack from last season. Watch out for the debut of former 5-star prospect Gunner Kiel, set to start at quarterback for the Bearcats. Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely is out for the season with a torn ACL, look out for his replacement sophomore Logan Woodside.
8:00PM ET, ESPN: No. 8 BAYLOR (2-0) at BUFFALO (1-1): Another opportunity to watch Baylor’s offense and defense feast on an overmatched, non-conference foe—this is a rematch of last season’s clash in Waco, the Bears won 70-13. Even though Baylor didn’t experience any offensive jetlag with quarterback Seth Russell filling in for the injured starter Bryce Petty in Week 2 (the Bears rung up 720 yards on FCS Northwestern State), Petty is expected to be back in action vs. Buffalo. Don’t forget that the Bulls have a stud of their own under center, Joe Licata, who has already thrown for 694 yards and eight TDs this season. If Baylor wins this game it will mark the first time in history it’s started four consecutive seasons at 3-0. Another first for this game, this one guaranteed: It’s the first time in history that a Bulls’ home game is featured on ESPN.
Saturday, Sept. 13
12:00PM ET, ESPN: EAST CAROLINA (1-1) at No. 17 VIRGINIA TECH (2-0): The best of the three ABC/ESPN options at noon, its East Carolina’s No. 15-ranked passing offense against Virginia Tech’s No. 32-ranked passing defense for an important non-conference win. The Hokies beat the Pirates 15-10 in Greenville, N.C. last year, holding an offense that averaged 468 yards per game to a season-low 204 total yards. The Pirates haven’t won in Blacksburg since 1991, losing five straight since then. If you don’t think ECU can pull off an upset, remember that it racked up 453 yards on South Carolina’s defense last week and were down only 20-16 to the Gamecocks at half before losing 33-23.
12:00PM ET, ABC/ESPN2 (RM): KENT STATE (0-2) at No. 22 OHIO STATE (1-1): This ought to be a great game for the Buckeyes to rebound after losing 35-21 to unranked Virginia Tech last week. Ohio State’s young starting quarterback J.T. Barrett has thrown 44 passes in his first two games, four have been intercepted—this equals a pick in every 11 throws. Luckily, Kent State ranked No. 92 last season in interceptions and hasn’t recorded a single pick this season. The Buckeyes haven’t dropped a game to a MAC team since 1894 when it lost to Akron (then Buchtel College), led by John Heisman.
12:00PM ET, ABC/ESPN2 (RM): BOISE STATE (1-1) at CONNECTICUT (1-1): First-ever meeting between the two, UConn has never beaten a current Mountain West team, losing its only such game to Utah State in 2001. Tune in to watch Boise State running back Jay Ajayi—who rushed for 219 yards and two scores in last week’s win over Colorado State—take on a Huskie defense that gave up 205 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the opening loss to BYU.
12:00PM ET, FOX SPORTS 1: PITT (2-0) at FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (1-1): Switch away from ESPN’s family of channels to see Pitt running back James Conner, who hung up 153 yards and four scores on FCS Delaware in Week 1 and 214 yards and another touchdown in last week’s win over Boston College, take on a FIU defense that finished last season ranked No. 100 vs. the run. Conner is the No. 2 rusher in the FBS in total yards and is tied for No. 1 in rushing touchdowns. FIU has never beaten a power-five team at home in Miami.
12:00PM ET, ESPNews: SYRACUSE (1-0) at CENTRAL MICHIGAN (2-0): We’ve only seen Syracuse once this season, when it beat FCS Villanova 27-26 in double overtime in Week 1. After edging FCS Chattanooga in the opener and upsetting Purdue 38-17 on the road last week, the Chippewa are off to its best start since 2002. Keep an eye on Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt, who was ejected from the opener after throwing a punch. Though the ejection is the storyline you’ll hear about most, keep your eyes on the field where Hunt—who threw 10 touchdowns vs. eight interceptions last season—will take on a CMU defense that leads the FBS in interceptions with six.
3:30PM ET, CBS: No. 6 GEORGIA (1-0) at No. 24 SOUTH CAROLINA (1-1): Despite the debut of the SEC Network this season, in Week 3 it’s back to a Saturday afternoon date with Gary Danielson and Verne Lundquist for some big- time SEC football on CBS. Even though Georgia—after whipping Clemson 45-21 in the opener—has been dubbed a College Football Playoff team, don’t forget we’ve only seen the Bulldogs once, leaving plenty of questions about their new-look offense and improved defense. South Carolina, on the other hand, is struggling epically on defense, ranked No. 113 in scoring and No. 125 against the pass, both all-time lows for the Steve Spurrier era. That said, the Gamecocks ought to play angry and have lots to gain in the SEC East by rebounding and winning this game. If they can shut down Todd Gurley and the rest of Georgia’s ground attack, look for this one to get interesting.
3:30PM ET, ABC: ARKANSAS (1-1) at TEXAS TECH (2-0): One of two solid options to remote switch with the Georgia-South Carolina blockbuster, Arkansas is Texas Tech’s first power-five, non-conference opponent since 2003 when it beat Ole Miss in Oxford. The Razorbacks haven’t won a non-conference road game since 2003 when they traveled to Austin and beat No. 6 Texas 38-28. The two teams haven’t met since 1991, Arkansas’ final year in the Southwest Conference, a game the Red Raiders won 38-21. This game sets up to be the tale of two struggling defenses taking on prolific offenses specializing in their opponent’s weakest area. On one hand, its Arkansas’ No. 12 ranked rushing attack taking on a Red Raider defense that ranks No. 108 vs. the run. On the other, you’ve got Tech’s No. 9 ranked passing offense squaring off the Razorback’s No. 91-ranked pass D.
3:30PM ET, ESPN: IOWA STATE (0-2) at IOWA (2-0): The Hawkeyes captured the Cy-Hawk trophy last season in Ames, but it’s the Cyclones who came out winners the last time the two teams met in Iowa City. On paper, Iowa’s defense ought to shut Iowa State’s impotent offense down and win the day with its decent passing attack. But, don’t forget that where the Hawkeyes needed 14 fourth-quarter points to ice Ball State 17-13 last week, the Cyclones almost held off No. 20 Kansas State, falling in an ever-so-close 32-28 decision. Above all, this is a rivalry game where the last three games have been decided by a total of 10 points. This may turn out to be the best of the 3:30pm games, don’t forget to switch over to the ESPN/ABC channel that covers it in your area.
3:30PM ET, BIG TEN NETWORK: MIAMI (OH) (0-2) at MICHIGAN (1-1): Will Michigan take out its frustration from being blanked 31-0 by Notre Dame last weekend by pounding poor little Miami (Ohio), or instead, will it come into the game hung-over from the devastating loss? There is nothing statistically to make you believe that the talented Wolverines will do anything but destroy the overmatched Redhawks, but stranger things have happened. Last year Michigan beat No. 14 Notre Dame 41-30 and turned around the next week and nearly lost (28-24) to Akron. The Wolverines are 33-1 against the MAC but that one loss didn’t come 100-years ago, it came as recently as 2008, at home, against Toledo. Keep in mind that Miami’s new coach is Chuck Martin, the OC at Notre Dame from 2012-13 and a two-time national champion at the helm of D-II Grand Valley State from 2004-09.
4:00PM ET, FOX: ILLINOIS (2-0) at WASHINGTON (2-0): The last time Illinois beat Washington was in the 1964 Rose Bowl, since then they’ve dropped three straight to the Huskies, including a 34-24 loss last season in Chicago. Both these teams are out to a 2-0 start but neither has been seriously tested. Illinois beat FCS Youngstown State 28-17 in the opener and needed 21 fourth-quarter points to down Western Kentucky last week. Washington edged Hawaii 17-16 in its opener and needed 15 fourth-quarter points of its own to overcome FCS Eastern Washington 59-52 last week. The Huskies pass defense, which gave up 475 yards through the air to EWU in Week 2, might have its hands full with Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt, who has already thrown for 741 yards and seven scores. Keep an eye on Washington’s stud defensive lineman Danny Shelton, who’s already racked up 24 tackles (14 solo), seven-and-a-half tackles for a loss and six sacks this season.
6:00PM ET, ESPN2: SOUTHERN MISS (1-1) at No. 3 ALABAMA (2-0): This is a game between one of the best teams from the last two seasons and one of the worst, on national television. It proves Alabama’s attractiveness to network advertisers. The last time the Crimson Tide lost to a non-conference team at home was the 2007 ULM shocker. Southern Miss hasn’t beaten a power-five team since downing Virginia in 2011 and has only won two games since 2012. The Golden Eagles gave up 550 yards of offense in its 49-0 loss to Mississippi State in the opener and coughed up 393 more in its 26-20 win over FCS Alcorn State last week.
7:00PM ET, ESPNU: ULM (2-0) at No. 10 LSU (2-0): LSU has outscored ULM 100-7 in its two previous meetings, but don’t forget that this is same Warhawk team that upset Wake Forest 17-10 in Week 1. ULM held Wake Forest to 94 yards of offense (negative-three yards rushing) in the win. LSU’s athletic superiority means that this shouldn’t even be close, but it is worthy of “score checker” status, meaning you should watch the tally as the Top 25 scores run across your screen and only flip over if it gets interesting.
7:30PM ET, SEC NETWORK: KENTUCKY (2-0) at FLORIDA (1-0): Kentucky hasn’t beaten Florida since 1986 and hasn’t won a game in Gainesville since 1979. The closest the Wildcats have come to upsetting the Gators was in 2003 when they fell 24-21 in Lexington. Though Florida destroyed Eastern Michigan 65-0 last week, the blowout did little to answer questions about how far they’ve come from the depths of a 4-8 finish last season. Remember, Florida’s offense finished 2013 ranked No. 113 in scoring. Kentucky, on the other hand is 2-0 after two harmless games (FSC Tennessee Martin and Ohio) but has managed to hold opponents to an average of 8.5 points, a magnificent improvement from the 31.2 it gave up last season. With South Carolina’s defense struggling, this game becomes a big deal in the SEC East race.
7:30PM ET, NBC: PURDUE (1-1) vs. No. 11 NOTRE DAME (2-0) (Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.): Purdue has only won seven games over the last two seasons but has played well against Notre Dame, suffering a 20-17 decision to the No. 22 Irish in 2012 and a 31-24 loss to the No. 21 team last season. To say that the Boilermakers are struggling this year would be a huge understatement. After giving up 456 yards of offense in a near-miss loss to Western Michigan in Week 1, Purdue fell to Central Michigan for the first time in history last week. The Irish should have no problem with the Boilermakers, but remember that Notre Dame is young and this game looks tantalizingly easy on the surface, especially after the confidence gained by blowing out Michigan last Saturday. The Irish cannot afford to overlook Purdue, a task which should be easier given that they’re off next week before playing Syracuse in New Jersey in Week 5.
8:00PM ET, ABC: TENNESSEE (2-0) at No. 4 OKLAHOMA (2-0): The first-ever regular-season game between these two big time programs, the Sooners and Volunteers last met 46-years ago in the 1968 Orange Bowl, a game Oklahoma won 26-24. Tennessee is a young team in 2014, returning only 10 starters from last year and only one to a defensive front seven that ranked No. 101 against the run. This gives the Sooners young running back corps—sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross along with freshman Samaje Perine—an opening to make a statement. What’s dangerous about Tennessee is how well it’s managed to recruit despite its struggle to post a winning record since 2009. The Vols have signed recruiting classes—according to Rivals—ranked No. 13, No. 18, No. 20 and No. 5 respectively from 2011-14, earning it an average ranking of No. 14. Not only is this the 13th best average in the entire FBS, it’s only a whisper away from Oklahoma’s average ranking of No. 13.5.
8:00PM ET, ESPN: No. 9 USC (2-0) at BOSTON COLLEGE (1-1): The Trojans are 4-0 all-time against the Eagles and last travelled to Boston in 1988. USC’s most-recent, regular-season road trip to the East Coast was in 2012 when it beat Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J. Boston College’s last win over a ranked team came in 2008 when it upended No. 20 Florida State 27-17 in Tallahassee. There is not a lot to like about this one on paper, but USC’s big win over Stanford in Week 2 does put it on alert for a potential “hangover” disaster.
8:00PM ET, FOX: No. 12 UCLA (2-0) at TEXAS (1-1): Don’t forget about this game over on FOX, which looked far more interesting before Texas got dumped 41-7 by BYU last week. Despite the ugliness of the Longhorns’ Week 2 debacle and UCLA’s lackluster performance against Virginia in Week 1 and Memphis last Saturday, this ought to be a very good game. Texas is still a talented, well-coached football team that should come out angry, and perhaps with the hunger it’s lacked in recent years. UCLA still needs to prove that it’s worth its top billing and ready to cash in on its wicked combination of recent success and returning experience. It’s a turning-point game for both squads. Plus, it’s another huge road trip for the Bruins, traveling coast-to-coast in Week 1 and then 1,377 miles to Austin this weekend.
8:00PM ET, BIG TEN NETWORK: PENN STATE (2-0) at RUTGERS (2-0): Rutgers first-ever Big Ten game. These two old-guard programs have met 24 times previously, Penn State holds a 22-2 all-time advantage with Rutgers’ only wins coming 70-years apart in 1918 and 1988. Both squads have strong passing attacks paired with defenses that have struggled to stop the pass. Rutgers, led by quarterback Gary Nova, is averaging 284 yards through the air but has given up 350 per game, earning it a No. 119 ranking in pass defense. Penn State’s attack, led by Christian Hackenberg, is averaging a slick 386 yards per game, but has given up an average of 215 yards through the air. Though the Nittany Lions have the clear statistical advantage, remember that their numbers came vs. a very young UCF offense and Akron. Rutgers, on the other hand, played pass-happy Washington State and FCS Howard.
9:00PM ET, ESPN2: RICE (0-1) at No. 7 TEXAS A&M (2-0): The other Southwest Conference reunion game in Week 3, Rice hasn’t beaten Texas A&M since 1980. The Owls haven’t dropped a ranked team since 1997 when they downed No. 20 BYU 27-14. All logic points to a huge Aggie victory in this one, but don’t forget that Rice went 10-4 last season and won a Conference USA title. Rice’s only other action this season came at Notre Dame, a game they lost 48-17 to the then No. 17 Irish.
10:00PM ET, ESPNU: No. 16 ARIZONA STATE (2-0) at COLORADO (1-1): The late game on Saturday night, not only has Arizona State never lost to Colorado, it’s beaten the Buffs by at least 18 points in each of their five previous meetings. What’s scary about this game is Colorado’s No. 98-ranked rushing defense, a unit that gave up 266 yards on the ground in the opening loss to Colorado State, squaring off with Arizona State’s No. 7-ranked rushing attack. Look out for D.J. Foster, the Sun Devils’ leading rusher this season, who hung up 147 yards and three scores on FCS Weber State in the opener and tacked on 216 yards more and another touchdown last weekend at New Mexico. Colorado is 2-16 in Pac-12 play since 2012 and last beat a fellow South division team in 2011.