"Action" Jackson here, and with another week of college football games coming up, I wanted to preview the match-ups that I think will be the most intriguing or have the most impact on the realm of college football. Do you like top 25 battles, revenge games, and good old fashioned slugfests? If so, you're in luck. Welcome to Week 3 of NCAA Football.
#2 Florida St. at #10 Louisville
The Florida St. Seminoles have looked like a resurgent team these past couple weeks; after that ugly first half against Ole Miss to start the season, the Noles have been a team possessed. Maybe it was the speech by FSU Heisman winner Jameis Winston, but they woke up after the half and have been on fire since then. Their offense, guided by running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Deondre Francois, has been rolling, their defense has been able to slow other teams down despite the loss of All-American safety Derwin James, and Jimbo Fisher has this team ready to roll in their first ACC match-up for the season: the Louisville Cardinals.
Louisville presents an interesting issue for Florida St., and that issue has a name: Lamar Jackson. The human highlight reel is the starting quarterback for Louisville, and he is one of the best athletes in college football, able to destroy a defense with both the pass and the run. Finding a way to contain him and keep him from ripping long runs would be a great way for this team to prepare for ACC rival Clemson and their own dual-threat quarterback, Deshaun Watson.
If Louisville can beat Florida St. at home, they will continue their season-long quest for respect in the ACC and college football in general. This is a hungry team, and head coach Bobby Petrino has them ready to compete nationally. For FSU, this is a big test on the road against a team that knows how to win and win by large amounts of points. If Louisville builds a lead, it's going to be hard to beat them in a shootout. If FSU can keep the game close, it's a different kind of ballgame, one their grind it out defense and Heisman candidate running back are custom built to win. The real wild card here will be the absence of previously mentioned star safety Derwin James, who is out with a torn meniscus for 5-7 weeks. This game will have major implications on the race for the ACC crown and a spot down the road in the College Football Playoffs.
#1 Alabama at #19 Ole Miss
The SEC meat grinder is warming up, and this one is going to be a doozy. Ole Miss and Alabama has been a premier match-up the past two seasons, with the Rebels beating the Crimson Tide at home and on the road, only to lose games late in the season due to injury and being Ole Miss. They already lost to Florida St. in a historic collapse, and the Crimson Tide look like a well-tuned machine, especially on defense, ready to win another national title. This game will be back in Oxford this season, and the defense that has nicknamed themselves the "Landsharks" will look to make it three straight years of upsetting the Crimson Tide.
Ole Miss looked somewhat vulnerable after their loss to Florida St., but they got their act together this past week with a victory against Wofford. They have the best quarterback in the SEC in Chad Kelly, nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, and he makes this team competitive no matter the opponent. Against this vaunted Alabama defense, Kelly will face a 4 man pass rush almost every play, and they can generate constant pressure without blitzing. He'll have to pass against 5 star corners and safeties that could walk into an NFL stadium and start on Sundays. This may be the best defense Kelly will ever play, and he's not even a pro yet.
On the other side, Saban will have to exorcise his demon, and no, it's not Lane Kiffen. His demon is named Hugh Freeze, head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels, who has had Saban's number for the past two years. Freeze knows just how to get under Saban's skin, beating the Tide's normally strong run game with a stout defense, and confusing the quarterback with different kinds of blitzes and coverages. Alabama starts a freshman quarterback this time, and there's a lot of factors stacked against him. He'll be on the road in a hostile environment against the Landsharks with an angry Nick Saban breathing down his neck. That's the very definition of pressure. I'm not one for cursing people, but this may be too big a stage for the freshman phenom. This game will have a major impact on the SEC West race and the College Football Playoffs. If Ole Miss pulls off the upset for the 3rd straight year, Hugh Freeze may discover that he is Nick Saban's Kryptonite.
#12 Michigan St. at #18 Notre Dame
Hard hitting defense, meet hard hitting defense. Spread offense, meet blue collar, old man football. These two teams are oddly similar to one another, but still very, very different. Notre Dame is a powerhouse, consistently threatening to succeed on the national level, while Michigan St. has only recently tasted success on such a large scale. The Spartans are going on the road to battle the Fighting Irish, and this is the kind of test Michigan St. is going to have to pass in order to compete with divisional rivals Michigan and Ohio St., both of whom are top 5 teams in the latest Associated Press polls.
Notre Dame is so weird. They are in the ACC in every sport except football, yet they play ACC schools all the time in football and remain unaffiliated. Being affiliated can only help them financially and competitively; by joining a conference, they can make the case of making the College Football Playoff by showing how competitive they are in a conference rather than a jumbled schedule. This game against Michigan St. represents a random match-up that can help Notre Dame's resume when it comes time to pick playoff teams. If they upset the Spartans, then Notre Dame has a case to make the final four later in the season. If they lose like they did to Texas a couple weeks ago, they may be eliminated from contention.
Michigan St. is fun to watch. They play tough, smash mouth football like any good Big Ten school, and they win consistently by playing good defense. Notre Dame will provide a measuring stick for them in the post-Connor Cook era, and let head coach Mark Dantonio know where his team stacks up against a centuries old football factory like the Fighting Irish. Michigan St. football has only improved under Dantonio, and if they can survive the trip to South Bend, they may be a late season consideration for the playoffs.
#3 Ohio St. at #14 Oklahoma
This is a Heisman match-up; this is an NFL scout's dream; this is college football showing us all that it loves us and wants only the best for us. This game could potentially be a shoot-out or a curb-stomp depending on which Ohio St. team shows up to play in Norman on Saturday night. Baker Mayfield and the Sooners are still stinging from that ass-kicking Houston put on them (who else called that? I DID.), and they're hungry to prove themselves against a high ranked opponent at home. The Buckeyes know they can't afford to mess up so early in the season, but with a roster this young, it's going to be a tough one for them.
Ohio St. is currently ranked #3 in the nation because the Associated Press loves Urban Meyer even though they've only played Bowling Green and Tulsa, neither of whom are good enough teams to justify that ranking. Their offense has either been amazing or just eh, and their defense has played against nobody schools that no one expected to ever have a chance anyway. Urban Meyer is one of the best coaches in the game today, so there is no way you can ever count out this team. They're young, they're inexperienced, but they're mostly 4 and 5 star recruits, meaning they could go to Alabama and start. Yeah, they're that good. Junior quarterback J.T. Barrett is in charge of this offense, and the Buckeyes will need him to play his best game if they're going to get out of the Sooners' backyard with a win. This young roster is going to have to grow up fast.
Bob Stoopes, Oklahoma's head coach, knows it's his mission in life to ruin the chances for another team to be successful just like he does for his own team every season. The Sooners are almost always "on the verge" or "ready to break through", and Stoopes inevitably will mess that up and lose in the funniest way possible. He will be looking for redemption for the rest of this season, or his job may be on the line. Beating the Buckeyes could go a long way to making sure he stays around for a long time, and he's got the team for it. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is a young gunslinger and a Heisman contender when he feels like it, and the running backs and receivers are all capable of beating the Ohio St. defense. This game will be a tough one, and if Oklahoma can get out ahead, they can run away with this game. They are experienced, they are at home, and they know they need to win in order to stay in contention for a playoff spot.
These are the games I'll be watching, let me know what you think will have the biggest impact on college football! Continue the conversation with me on Twitter: @mrjackson__
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