College Football Playoff games of impact for Week 3 of the season
The Week 3 slate in college football has been truncated somewhat as Hurricane Florence threatens to wash over much of the southeast. There will still be a number of meaningful games, though some of them might be played in soggy conditions.
Here are the five most impactful contests this weekend in the race for the College Football Playoff.
No. 13 LSU at No. 7 Auburn
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The battle for supremacy in the hyper-competitive SEC West begins with this all-Tiger affair. A loss isn’t a playoff killer, but clearly the winner will be in a much better position to challenge odds-on favorite Alabama down the road.
Like some past meetings in this series, this year’s version has the makings of a classic defensive struggle that could turn on a single big play. After a low-scoring escape against Washington, Auburn was able to work out some offensive kinks against Alabama State last week. Even so, QB Jarrett Stidham isn’t likely to get much ground support against LB Devin White and the stout LSU front.
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The Bayou Bengals haven’t needed to use much of their offensive playbook thus far, but QB Joe Burrow will have to take more chances this week. Protecting him has been an issue, even against FCS member Southeastern Louisiana, and Auburn DT Dontavius Russell is more than capable of collapsing the pocket.
No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 14 TCU
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
As far as the playoff picture is concerned, the Big 12 right now looks like a one-Sooner pony. That perception will change in a heartbeat if the Horned Frogs can pull off a stunner in their own backyard. The Buckeyes, however, remember how last season’s bid was in part derailed by a loss to a Big 12 opponent. They’ll be determined not to let that bit of history repeat itself.
This de facto road game in Arlington, Texas, loomed as the most significant of the three contests for which Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer would be suspended. But other than a few late points surrendered to Oregon State with the outcome long since determined, it’s hard to see how Ohio State’s first two outings without him on the sideline could have gone much better. The Horned Frogs haven’t looked quite as polished in their warmup games, and they’ll have to be nearly flawless here. Similar to Alabama, the added dimension of a deep passing game brought by QB Dwayne Haskins has made an already strong Ohio State squad even more dangerous. TCU will have to hope its swarming defense, featuring senior LBs Arico Evans and Alec Dunham, can limit big plays. Horned Frogs QB Shawn Robinson will need all his mobility to stay clear of Buckeyes DE Nick Bosa. Senior WR KaVontae Turpin is TCU’s most dangerous breakaway threat who can also do damage in the return game, but the Buckeyes haven’t punted often.
No. 12 Washington at Utah
Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Huskies must hope their Week 1 setback against Auburn was indeed not an insurmountable obstacle to their playoff pursuit. With the margin for error gone, they now begin their quest for the Pac-12 crown with what figures to be a challenging cross-divisional tilt. The Utes for their part hope to be in the mix in the South.
Utah hasn’t been flashy during its 2-0 start, but the defense has allowed a total of 16 points. LB Chase Hansen and Co. probably won’t quite maintain that level of stinginess against Washington’s veteran backfield duo of QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin, so the Utes are going to need QB Tyler Huntley to provide some fireworks in the downfield game. Huskies DT Shane Bowman will lead the effort to prevent him from doing so.
Vanderbilt at No. 8 Notre Dame
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Following their triumph over Michigan in Week 1, this would appear to be the type of game the Fighting Irish should handle with relative ease if they are in fact a top 10 team. But is it? The Commodores aren’t expected to contend for the SEC title, but they handled a pair of overmatched opponents with little drama to build some momentum.
Though Notre Dame struggled to put away Ball State last week, its defense, paced by LB Te’von Coney and S Alohi Gilman, will still pose the biggest test Vandy senior QB Kyle Shurmur has faced this season. TE Jared Pinkney could figure prominently in the Commodores ball-control plan. The Vandy defense, anchored by LB Josh Smith, has been stout as well, and Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush has a troubling ratio of one TD pass to four picks through two games. He’s going to need some long gainers from RB Jafar Armstrong.
No. 17 Boise State at No. 19 Oklahoma State
Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Round’em up for an entertaining rodeo as the Cowboys and Broncos try to lasso a quality victory. On the surface, this is the first true measuring-stick game for a pair of top 20 teams. But there’s a bit more to it. Oklahoma State will have more opportunities for meaningful wins on its Big 12 schedule, but this contest will show the young Cowboys if they’re ready for those future tests. For the Broncos, the Mountain West favorites who are competing with every other Group of Five league contender for a spot in the big-money bowl rotation, this is their one and only shot at a power-five opponent.
Thus far against overmatched opposition, both offensive units have done as they’ve pleased. The only cause for concern for Cowboys QB Taylor Cornelius might be his three interceptions. Broncos DE Durrant Miles will lead the effort to bother him, but RB Justice Hill will be there to help. Veteran Boise State signal caller Brett Rypien has been pick-free in his two outings this season, and he’ll need all his game experience in the hostile environs in Stillwater. His main targets are WRs Sean Modster and John Hightower, but he’ll have to avoid Cowboys DE Jordan Brailford.
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