Early snapshots of a few intriguing Week 3 college football matchups:
Washington State at UNLV
9 p.m. ET, ESPN
WASHINGTON STATE: The Cougars got their first win of the season, 24-20, over FCS Eastern Washington last week but the pyrotechnics expected of Mike Leach’s offense haven’t been there just yet. Still, there’s joy in Pullman, especially when compared to the feeling of the season-opening 30-6 loss to BYU nine days earlier. But after selling out a home opener for the first time since 1952, the Cougars take their first trip to UNLV since 1991.
UNLV: UNLV which must try to quickly move on from a devastating home loss to Northern Arizona. The Rebels will make a rare appearance on ESPN on Friday night — great timing — against Washington State at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Cougars (1-1) dodged their own FCS bullet last week in head coach Mike Leach’s home debut on Saturday. The big question around Glitter Gulch: will there be more Cougar points or Rebel fans at the game?
Alabama at Arkansas
3:30 p.m. ET
ALABAMA: Alabama’s defense is playing at a championship level again, shutting out Western Kentucky last week after manhandling Michigan on Sept. 1 in Dallas. That’s worrisome news for Arkansas. The greater concern, however, is how effective quarterback AJ McCarron has been. On Sept. 24, 2011, the Crimson Tide smashed to a 38-14 win over the Hogs behind Trent Richardson. Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson had a tough day, and there’s no telling what coach Nick Saban might have in store for a redshirt freshman fill-in passer.
ARKANSAS: How will the Razorbacks respond and with whom under center? Quarterback Tyler Wilson was injured in last week’s lost to Louisiana-Monroe and fell out of the Top 25. The season could go southward at mach speeds if they don’t make a statement against the top-ranked Crimson Tide. The mantra this week will be: Win and we’re in, as coach John L. Smith reminds the team’s goal of an SEC title is very much alive. “That is still attainable,” junior running back Knile Davis said after the 34-31 loss, referring to the Hogs’ goal of winning an SEC championship. “We haven’t played those games yet.” Redshirt freshman Brandon Allen is Wilson’s backup.
USC at Stanford
7:30 p.m. ET
SOUTHERN CAL: The preliminaries are over. USC jumps into Pac-12 play with a potentially difficult game at Stanford. The Trojans’ defensive line, thought to be the team’s weakness before the season, will face an offense that leans on the power game more than anyone in the league. These teams have had some epic battles in recent years, but that was when the Cardinal had Andrew Luck at quarterback, so the Trojans might be able to hide struggles at the cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey.
STANFORD: The improvement Stanford showed in its second game of the season bodes well for the Cardinal in its big game against USC. Stanford plays the third of its three home games to start the season in its Sept. 15 game against USC, which is both teams’ Pac-12 opener. The Trojans are by far the best team Stanford will have faced so far. Stanford has beaten USC three times in a row and four times in the past five seasons, but the last two came down the game’s final play. Stanford won in 2010 with a field goal as time ran out to win by two, and the Cardinal won last year in overtime when Curtis McNeal fumbled into the end zone..
Notre Dame at Michigan State
8 p.m. ET
NOTRE DAME: Quarterback Tommy Rees returned to the Notre Dame lineup in impressive fashion last Saturday when he led a two-minute drill downfield that set up a game-winning Kyle Brindza field goal with seven seconds in a 20-17 victory over Purdue. Rees, a 12-game starter in 2011 who was suspended after an off-campus altercation last spring, relieved sophomore Everett Golson for the stretch drive with 2 minutes 12 seconds to play. Golson remains the starter, coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. The Irish, ranked No. 22 in the latest Associated Press poll, hit the road for a a Saturday night game at No. 10 Michigan State. The Irish are 231-124-16 against Big Ten teams.
MICHIGAN STATE: Michigan State continues its rivalry with Notre Dame in another primetime game at Spartan Stadium. The teams began playing in 1897 and in the past 10-plus meetings have had some memorable moments, none more than the last game at Michigan State when the Spartans won on a fake field goal in overtime. MSU looks to avenge an ugly loss at Notre Dame last season. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell gave a glimpse at what the Spartans offense can do with a balanced attack. After throwing three interceptions against Boise State on Aug. 31, Maxwell was very efficient in a 41-7 victory over Central Michigan, going 20-for-31 for 275 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over.
Florida at Tennessee
6 p.m. ET
FLORIDA: Florida is starting to craft its new identity under second-year coach Will Muschamp. It won’t gain many style points, but Muschamp is more interested in conference wins. Florida will look to maintain its positive momentum in its second straight road game at Tennessee. UF’s secondary will be in for another test facing a Vols passing attack led by junior quarterback Tyler Bray. Offensively, Florida will continue to rely on a run-first offense led by senior tailback Mike Gillislee. “We’re going to grind it out, we’re going to win,” Muschamp said. “That’s what our mentality is as a football team as we continue to grow and mature throughout the year.”
TENNESSEE: The profile of the Tennessee football team is rising. The Vols achieved a pair of noteworthy firsts coming out of the second week of the season. Tennessee is back in the national rankings, at the No. 23 spot. The Vols hadn’t been in the top 25 since the preseason poll in 2008 – what turned out to be Phillip Fulmer’s final season as coach. And, ESPN’s College Gameday is coming to Knoxville for the first time in eight years as Tennessee prepares to host Florida in prime time. The matchup at Neyland Stadium will have a boatload of pregame hype and hubbub surrounding it. It also pits good buddies, UT coach Derek Dooley and Florida coach Will Muschamp, against each other head to head for the second time.
BYU at Utah
10 p.m. ET
BYU: BYU prides itself on a consistent run game. Utah loves to stop the run, built around defensive lineman Star Lotulelei, who could be a top-5 NFL draft pick next year if you believe some pundits. The Cougars have won 14 consecutive games, and 28 of 31, when rushing for 150 yards. BYU is 39-4 under Mendenhall in such circumstances. A wild atmosphere is expected at Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, even after the Utes lost to Utah State on Sept. 7. Of particular heckling interest will be former BYU quarterback Max Hall, who didn’t make any friends in 2009 when he said how much he “hated” everything about the campus about 45 miles north of BYU. Hall, who played a couple of years in the NFL, is serving as a volunteer assistant coach as he finishes up a degree.
UTAH: Utah (1-1) lost for the first time in 13 games to Utah State, but faces a larger mystery as they look forward to next weekend’s meeting against Brigham Young: quarterback Jordan Wynn’s status. The junior’s left arm was in a sling after suffering his fourth shoulder injury in four years – the third to the left shoulder and the one that knocked him out in game four of the 2011 season – in the second quarter. X-rays on Wynn’s shoulder were negative after the game, but Whittingham said Utah’s problems extend past its quarterback situation – including 164 rushing yards allowed.
California at Ohio State
CAL: Cal got its first win with a 50-31 victory over Southern Utah on Sept. 8, the Golden Bears will have to play significantly better than they have in their first two games to have a chance in either of their next two games against Ohio State and USC, both of which are on the road. Cal’s defense could not handle dual-threat Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo in the Wolf Pack’s 31-24 victory over the Bears in the opener, and the Buckeyes’ present a better dual-threat quarterback in Braxton Miller, who completed 18 of 24 passes against Central Florida and rushed for 141 yards after rushing for 161 yards in the opener against Miami-Ohio.
OHIO STATE: Ohio State is wielding the ultimate double-edged sword as the Buckeyes get the Urban Meyer era started and ease into the operation of his spread offense. Braxton Miller has been spectacular as he has led the Buckeyes to a big win over Miami of Ohio in the opener, and then to a more hard-fought victory against Central Florida. He has 44 carries this season, including 27 last week, and Meyer feels that’s far too many if Miller wants to survive this season. The Buckeyes have the meeting with Cal and a home date with UAB before starting the Big Ten schedule.
Texas at Ole Miss
9:15 p.m. ET
TEXAS: How meaningful was the Longhorns’ 2-0 start? They’ll know soon enough. The competition ratchets up a notch at Texas travels to Ole Miss for a night game this week, and the Rebels offer an entirely different challenge than the New Mexico triple option offense. “Each week we are going to do our thing, so it doesn’t really matter what the offense does,” cornerback Adrian Phillips said. “They [Ole Miss] are really just a mix of the last two teams, Wyoming and New Mexico, and we’ve heard that they have some playmakers out there.” Texas likely cannot afford another slow start. The ‘Horns had a miniscule 10-0 advantage until the final minutes of the second quarter.
MISSISSIPPI: The Rebels are 2-0 for the first time since 2009 after beating UTEP 28-10 on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, and optimism is at a high with No. 12 Texas (14th AP) coming to town. Ole Miss is 2-0 but has yet to put together a true four quarters of football. Texas has thrived thanks to a talented, deep defense. Ole Miss’ offense is executing a level not seen in some time in Oxford. The 77 points scored through two games are the most for a new coach since Billy Kinard in 1971. The points and total yards are the most in back-to-back games since 2009. And after being at the bottom of the SEC in most offensive categories last season, Ole Miss is at the top of most of those same categories so far in 2012.