by Ian Boyd
College football's Week 2 had just a few splashy outcomes, but one of them was the late-night victory that Herm Edwards' Arizona State team put on Michigan State. The Spartans' "run it into the line and then make something happen on third down" style came to nothing against the Sun Devils' 3-3-5 defense, as they went 4-of-12 on third downs and lost a defensive struggle by a late field goal.
In other games, Stanford continued to make their case as the real contender from the Pac-12, pounding USC 17-3 behind the classic formula of tough defense and their run game. Mississippi State and Penn State both had statement wins on the road against mid-tier teams Kansas State and Pittsburgh, while Clemson at Texas A&M proved the real game of the week. The Aggies came within either a fumble that went through the end zone for a touchback or a failed two-point conversion from beating the No. 2 Tigers at home. Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond had a huge day throwing for 430 yards on a rebuilt Clemson defensive backfield, while the vaunted Clemson defensive line was in his face all night (even sacking him four times).
Week 3 has more marquee games as we get a mix of the final few prime-time nonconference matchups such as TCU vs. Ohio State or USC vs. Texas, combined with a heavier dose of conference games including Auburn hosting LSU.
All times are listed as Eastern.
LSU at Auburn (-10) -- 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
|Overall||LSU||Auburn||F/+||14||9||When LSU has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||62||20||2017 S&P+||42||5||2017 IsoPPP+||18||2||2017 Rushing S&P+||7||5||2017 Passing S&P+||16||1||When Auburn has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||8||36||2017 S&P+||18||34||2017 IsoPPP+||20||37||2017 Rushing S&P+||24||16||2017 Passing S&P+||20||12|
Both Auburn and LSU look relatively similar to their 2017 squads, with only a few differences between the two. Auburn still has a fantastic defense geared around fielding great athletes who play smart, sound schemes, and the Tigers bring a lot of speed and physicality to the mix. They had to replace a few key defenders from a year ago, but you can barely tell as each position is still manned by someone comparable to the guy playing it a year ago.
On offense they're missing star running back Kerryon Johnson, who was a very physical between-the-tackles runner who could pile up tough yards for them against the tough defensive fronts in the SEC West. His replacement, Kam Martin, seems more comfortable running on the perimeter, and they didn't have the downhill run game going against Washington in Week 1. Their passing game is probably even better though, with quarterback Jarrett Stidham a year more comfortable in the offense and flex tight end Sal Cannella getting more involved as a big, athletic target in the seams. It's bizarre watching Auburn play as more of a spread passing team, but that's where they're at their best right now.
LSU has a better secondary than in 2017, thanks in large part to the leap made by now-sophomore safety Grant Delpit and a highly disruptive defensive line. They lost emerging star outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson for the year, but this is a unit with a lot of premier athletes and more experience than a year ago. The LSU offense is pretty different from 2017, but not terribly different from the units they put on the field in previous years. They'll mix a variety of under-center and shotgun concepts while ultimately leaning on a physical run game and the occasional third-down snag by a wideout to keep the chains moving.
This will probably be a low-scoring affair since both defenses are well staffed personnel-wise to handle each other's strengths. LSU's run game isn't going to find easy room against the Auburn defensive tackles, while Auburn's passing attack will have to navigate NFL-caliber defensive backs playing man coverage on their receivers. In a game like that, the team with the playmakers to exert their will in key moments probably comes out on top. Since neither team has that many established playmakers yet, that makes this game pretty intriguing.
- Can Auburn's wide receivers win contested balls down the field on the LSU secondary?
- How will LSU move the ball against Auburn's defensive front and overall athleticism?
- Crucial turnovers that gift-wrap points for struggling offenses and determine the outcome.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Auburn
Boise State at Oklahoma State (-2.5) -- 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Boise State||Oklahoma State||F/+||12||15||When Boise State has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||6||12||2017 S&P+||40||70||2017 IsoPPP+||28||56||2017 Rushing S&P+||38||36||2017 Passing S&P+||22||41||When Oklahoma State has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||28||28||2017 S&P+||30||3||2017 IsoPPP+||13||13||2017 Rushing S&P+||14||30||2017 Passing S&P+||73||15|
SBNation's Steven Godfrey recently proclaimed the return of the "Murder Smurfs" when Boise State nearly erased the UConn Huskies from existence in Week 2 with a 62-7 victory in which they outgained their opponents 818 to 193. Now they travel to Stillwater to take on the untested Oklahoma State Cowboys, who have been mostly sharp while breaking in a redshirt senior, former walk-on at quarterback and a new defensive scheme.
Like most every year, Oklahoma State has some of the best wide receivers in the country. Tyron Johnson was a former five-star recruit who transferred from LSU to play in a better offense, and Tylan Wallace was a big-time recruit who has taken his turn opposite and off the Cowboys' bevy of dangerous slot receivers. Their walk-on quarterback Taylor Cornelius has been iffy so far, even throwing two interceptions against South Alabama in Week 2, but they also have a potent run game led by lead back Justice Hill. This is an explosive offense with a lot to keep track of. However, Boise State has been strong thus far on defense with a unit that returns 10 starters from a year ago, replacing "only" Leighton Vander Esch after the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the first round. They're good at mixing looks and confusing quarterbacks about where the help will be against the receivers or the run. They're also good at bringing pressure with six sacks through two games.
On the other side, things appear more lopsided. Down the stretch of 2017, Boise State managed to get their run game going while feeding running back Alexander Mattison, who finished with just over 1,000 rushing yards. Now he's back with a mostly intact offensive line and fourth-year starting quarterback Brett Rypien. The Boise State senior quarterback is clearly very comfortable in the offense in Year 4 and has put three different receivers over 100 receiving yards in only two games so far this season. Boise State will be their normal, methodical selves, setting up the Pokes defense with a variety of runs and passes before mixing in trick plays designed to land knockout punches.
This may be one of the most high-profile Boise State games we will see this year from what might be their best team since Chris Petersen left.
- How well will OSU quarterback Taylor Cornelius diagnose and attack Boise State's veteran defense?
- Oklahoma State in a new, pressuring defensive scheme against a crafty offense loaded with veterans.
- Skill talent galore -- each team has several exciting receivers and runners taking the field.
- How much of a statement to the playoff committee could Boise State make with a blowout win?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Boise State
Alabama (-21) at Ole Miss -- 7 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Alabama||Ole Miss||F/+||1||33||When Alabama has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||5||115||2017 S&P+||23||113||2017 IsoPPP+||8||92||2017 Rushing S&P+||12||76||2017 Passing S&P+||3||70||When Ole Miss has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||7||1||2017 S&P+||1||9||2017 IsoPPP+||3||7||2017 Rushing S&P+||1||42||2017 Passing S&P+||5||14|
Ole Miss was sneaky good on offense in 2017, finishing seventh in offensive S&P+ and winning six games against any and every team on the schedule that wasn't one of their SEC West rival powers. Their defense was atrocious, hit particularly hard by the NCAA sanctions as well as Ole Miss' own up-tempo style of play that often leaves them on the field for extended periods. They weren't able to do anything against Alabama in 2017, and 2018 will obviously be another big challenge.
The Rebels have been highly explosive thus far in 2018 with quarterback Jordan Ta'amu averaging 12 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions while lead running back Scottie Phillips has been picking up 10 yards a carry with four touchdowns. That should come to a major halt against Alabama, but with the Tide rebuilding so much of their own defense, there's some question over whether they'll be able to shut down Ole Miss. After all, Ole Miss has given the Alabama defense trouble in the past.
A difference with the 2018 Tide is that they are probably just as capable as winning this game via a shootout as they are doing it with defense. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is averaging 13 yards per passing attempt through two weeks, and both of Alabama's two main running backs are both already over 100 rushing yards on the year, while top receivers DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy have 176 and 151 receiving yards apiece. This Alabama offense is absolutely loaded with talent that should completely roll away the feeble Ole Miss defense. The fireworks in this game come if Ta'amu and the Ole Miss offense can get going early and create the chance of the Rebels taking the Tide deep into the game with a shootout.
- How will Alabama's rebuilt secondary handle Ole Miss' spread passing attack?
- Will we see Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts play or shut down and transfer?
- Alabama's offense may be one of the very finest in the nation going up against a totally overmatched opponent.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Alabama
Ohio State (-13.5) vs TCU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington -- 8 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Ohio State||TCU||F/+||2||20||When Ohio State has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||28||24||2017 S&P+||7||16||2017 IsoPPP+||4||13||2017 Rushing S&P+||2||3||2017 Passing S&P+||4||15||When TCU has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||12||39||2017 S&P+||8||39||2017 IsoPPP+||6||51||2017 Rushing S&P+||2||23||2017 Passing S&P+||12||67|
This is a game that Gary Patterson and his TCU Horned Frogs have wanted for a while, a chance to prove their quality against a blue blood program on a national stage in prime time. Since the Frogs have joined the Big 12 they've yet to win the conference title, and their best season (2014) included wins over lackluster Texas and Oklahoma teams and then a 61-58 road loss to Baylor. A win like this would put them on the map as a program on the rise and on par with the top powers in the game.
Meanwhile, Ohio State is trying to avoid any pitfalls before welcoming head coach Urban Meyer back from suspension in hopes that this team is strong enough to make the playoff and win another national championship. So there's plenty of drama and storylines around this contest.
The game is likely to center around how well Ohio State's new hotshot quarterback Dwayne Haskins throws against TCU's secondary and then whether the Horned Frogs can run the ball on Ohio State's defensive front. It's a given that Gary Patterson will swarm the box with extra defenders against Ohio State in order to limit the damage of their run game and to try and force passing downs. The challenge is whether the TCU secondary can hold up when Ohio State wide receivers like Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, K.J. Hill, or Terry McLaurin are running down the field. Haskins has a big arm and can hit throws with accuracy outside of the hashmarks and down the field, and this wide receiver corps is arguably the best that Meyer has ever had at Ohio State. If TCU has to start dropping their safeties deep on first-and-10, their smaller defensive front won't be able to hold up against the Buckeyes' run game.
Ohio State may be vulnerable themselves to a good passing attack, but that's not what TCU will bring into this game. Sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson has struggled with their Air Raid passing system and is most comfortable running the option with a solid young offensive line and then proven running backs Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua. Ohio State will pack the box like the Frogs, but they'll do it with big, fast linebackers and make TCU prove they can block them either in the run game or the pass. TCU has some track star athletes on their team and a versatile and well-prepared defense, but if they can't hold up in the secondary or up front this won't be a classic underdog story.
- Can TCU make Ohio State's big defenders chase their speed in the open field with the passing game?
- Will this be Dwayne Haskins' breakout performance throwing deep on man coverage?
- Size vs, speed all over the field -- the Buckeyes aren't slow but the Frogs are small and quick at almost every position.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Ohio State
USC at Texas (-3.5) -- 8 p.m. (FOX)
|Overall||USC||Texas||F/+||27||29||When USC has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||84||43||2017 S&P+||16||21||2017 IsoPPP+||14||9||2017 Rushing S&P+||41||10||2017 Passing S&P+||14||16||When Texas has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||26||45||2017 S&P+||55||99||2017 IsoPPP+||27||124||2017 Rushing S&P+||47||86||2017 Passing S&P+||9||98|
Texas and USC started this series last year in what was one of the more fun if largely inconsequential games of 2017. The Longhorns sent out freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger in his second ever start on the road in the Coliseum and took the Trojans to overtime before a coverage bust and then Ehlinger's goal-line fumble cost Texas the victory. From there, the Trojans rebounded to have a solid year with quarterback Sam Darnold that ended with him getting drafted in the first round, Texas struggled throughout the year and lost several more games with late-game mistakes by the secondary or Ehlinger.
This year Ehlinger returns as a sophomore with a much more expansive command of the offense and a rebuilt offensive line that has plugged in Rice grad transfer Calvin Anderson and redshirt freshman Sam Cosmi at the left and right tackle positions that plagued the Longhorns in 2017. The Longhorns have been much better on offense, although they haven't had the scoreboard totals to prove it yet, while their defense has still struggled to recapture the 2017 magic, particularly without impact nose tackle Poona Ford.
USC has a lot more in place than a year ago with their skill talent a year better and deeper at most positions and the offensive line healthier and more experienced, but they're plugging in their own freshman quarterback now in J.T. Daniels. The Californian freshman has a cannon arm that will draw the attention of NFL scouts, but he was lost against Stanford's blitzes in Week 2 and turned the ball over three times while USC scored only three points. USC's defense has been plenty good thus far and as long as outside linebacker Porter Gustin remains healthy (he had to leave the game a year ago after dominating early) they'll probably be fairly solid.
This has the makings of a hard-fought game that reaches the 20s in the fourth quarter. The edge should go to Texas this time due to the Longhorns having the more battle-tested quarterback playing at home.
- Can USC's freshman quarterback J.T. Daniels handle Texas' exotic pressure package?
- Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger will have to carry his team with star running back Keaontay Ingram out -- he threw 40 passes and ran the ball 19 times a year ago.
- Can Texas' new look offensive line hold their own against a talented USC defensive line?
- Texas wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey is a rising star and a hybrid playmaker at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds playing in the slot.
S&P+ Outright Pick: Texas
Washington (-6.5) at Utah -- 10 p.m. (ESPN)
|Overall||Washington||Utah||F/+||6||25||When Washington has the ball||Offense||Defense||S&P+||48||1||2017 S&P+||18||34||2017 IsoPPP+||17||16||2017 Rushing S&P+||45||32||2017 Passing S&P+||9||14||When Utah has the ball||Defense||Offense||S&P+||5||102||2017 S&P+||6||55||2017 IsoPPP+||7||52||2017 Rushing S&P+||11||35||2017 Passing S&P+||26||44|
Utah always plays tough defense, but their own offense has yet to really make their mark on the season. They will be another tough test for a Washington offense that struggled to find its footing against Auburn's athletic defense in Week 1 and then threw a few interceptions to North Dakota in Week 2.
The Huskies had hopes of being a playoff team this season, and now they need to take every opportunity to prove that they are a team of that caliber. Fortunately the Pac-12 seems to have several teams on their schedule that should end the year with some repute nationally, including the Utah Utes who will host the Huskies in this game, as well as Stanford and perhaps Arizona State. The stakes of this game go beyond the Pac-12 title race but also Washington's hopes of representing the conference in the final playoff rankings.
The matchup is one that gave Washington some trouble a year ago when Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley got 20 carries in an all-out effort by the Utes to win a game that ended with Washington on top 33-30. Their zone read-heavy offense has worked well thus far in the year to free up running back Zack Moss, and the Utes haven't even had to ask Huntley to do much with his legs yet. Their ability to overstress the structure of the Huskies defense with option plays will be critical to pulling out a win in this game.
Washington has relied on their defense so far this year and really seemed to be knocked down a peg when they lost starting left tackle Trey Adams for the year. Auburn sacked quarterback Jake Browning five times and Browning was off at times against North Dakota the following week. This unit needs to establish a rhythm on offense, but this is a tough week to try and find it. The Utes have six sacks this season and always combine aggressive pressure with shifting coverage on the back end. They shifted safety Chase Hansen to linebacker and he has been wreaking havoc with his speed in the box and causing problems for opponents.
- How well does the retooling Washington offensive line handle Utah's defensive front and blitzes?
- Utah to pull out all the stops and run athletic quarterback Tyler Huntley early and often to try and put them over the top.
- Can Washington match Utah's physicality in the trenches on the road?
S&P+ Outright Pick: Washington
S&P+ PICKS: WEEK 3
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||S&P+ Pick|| S&P+ pick
against the spread
| Ian's pick
against the spread
|Oklahoma State||2.5||Boise State||Boise State||Boise State||Boise State|
|Ohio State||13||TCU||Ohio State||Ohio State||Ohio State|
S&P+ Picks against the spread last week: 4-2
S&P+ Picks against the spread this year: 8-4
Ian's Picks against the spread last week: 4-2
Ian's Picks against the spread this year: 7-5