College News & Analysis

College Football Week 3 Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the biggest games

• Previewing the biggest Week 3 games in college football: BYUOregon, Penn StateAuburn, Mississippi StateLSU and Miami (FL.)Texas A&M

• No. 24 Texas A&M looks to avoid its second straight loss as it goes up against No. 13 Miami.

• No. 12 BYU is looking for its second straight win against a top-25 opponent as it travels to Eugene to take on No. 25 Oregon.

College football Week 2 featured four ranked teams losing to unranked schools. Two of those teams, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, were ranked in the top 10.

In Week 3, there are two games between ranked teams and two big matchups in SEC country. Here are the storylines to know, matchups to watch and predictions for the four biggest games in Week 3. 

#12 BYU Cougars @ #25 Oregon Ducks

Storyline to know: The Cougars are looking to make a statement, while the Ducks are looking for a bounce-back

BYU secured a massive victory last week over then-No. 9 Baylor, defeating the Bears, 26-20, in double overtime. Making the victory even more impressive was the fact that BYU was without its two best receivers in Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney. Redshirt freshman Chase Roberts shined in their absence with eight catches for 122 yards and a touchdown on his way to an 80.2 receiving grade. The now-No. 12 Cougars are in the driver’s seat for a New Year’s Six bowl game, as they’re the only non-Power Five school in the top 25. 

Meanwhile, No. 25 Oregon is looking to prove itself after getting boat raced by then-No. 3 Georgia, 49-3 two weeks ago. The Ducks were ranked 11th at the time and are now coming off a 70-14 victory over Eastern Washington, an FCS school. Beating BYU would go a long way in showing voters that Oregon belongs back in the top 15. 

Matchup to watch: BYU’s passing game vs. Oregon’s secondary

Oregon’s defense has been the most disappointing part of the team's season so far, as it currently has the second-worst defensive grade and EPA per play allowed figure among Power Five teams. While the Ducks' run defense hasn’t been pretty, it’s the coverage unit that sparks the most concern. 

The Ducks have a 44.7 grade in coverage, second-lowest among Power Five schools. While that grade mostly had to do with Oregon’s game against Georgia, the Ducks still only posted a 64.3 coverage grade against Eastern Washington, which ranked 76th among FBS teams last week.

BYU’s passing game could give Oregon a lot of issues, especially if Nacua and/or Romney return. Nacua has only eight snaps under his belt this year after spraining his ankle, but he averaged 3.44 yards per route run last year, sixth among FBS receivers. Romney hasn’t played yet this season with an undisclosed injury but averaged 3.03 yards per route run last year, 16th among FBS receivers.

Prediction: BYU 31, Oregon 28

BYU’s offensive line will give quarterback Jaren Hall enough time to exploit Oregon’s vulnerable secondary. BYU continues its run to a New Year’s Six bowl game with its second top-25 win in as many weeks.

#22 Penn State Nittany Lions @ Auburn Tigers

Storyline to know: Will James Franklin give the kid a shot?

It’s no secret that Penn State’s offense has been held back by quarterback Sean Clifford over the past four years. Since Clifford took over as a starter in 2019, his highest passing grade in a season was 69.3 three years ago. This year, it sits at just 57.7, one of the 15 lowest marks among Power Five quarterbacks. The Nittany Lions have some really intriguing weapons on offense in Parker Washington, Mitchell Tinsley and Nicholas Singleton, but Clifford’s struggles cap their ceiling as a whole.

Enter, Drew Allar. The true freshman was a five-star recruit entering Happy Valley, and he’s done nothing but live up to the hype so far. On just 12 passes, Allar has three big-time throws. For comparison, Clifford has only two big-time throws on 69 attempts. Allar’s 25% big-time throw rate is the highest among FBS quarterbacks with at least 15 dropbacks.

Penn State already messed up once by sitting a potential first-round pick in Will Levis in favor of Clifford. If the Nittany Lions want to see the true potential of the offense, they need to start Allar as soon as possible.

Matchup to watch: Two stud running backs look to carry their offenses

Allar isn’t the only five-star true freshman who’s flashed for Penn State. Nicholas Singleton was the highest-rated running back recruit out of high school and has made the most of his touches. He’s averaged 10.5 yards per carry and 9.3 yards after contact per attempt, both of which are the highest marks among FBS running backs.

Auburn’s Tank Bigsby has also dominated, posting a top-ranked 88.6 rushing grade among FBS running backs. This isn’t new for Bigsby, either. His 92.7 rushing grade since his freshman year in 2019 is tied for third among active FBS players at the position.

Prediction: Penn State 24, Auburn 21

Unless Franklin starts Allar, this game will be a ground-and-pound affair. However, Penn State should make enough plays through the air to pull out the win. 

Mississippi State Bulldogs @ LSU Tigers

Storyline to know: Mississippi State is the most underrated team in the country

Nine of the top 10 schools in PFF’s power rankings are also ranked in the top 10 in the AP poll. The lone discrepancy is Mississippi State, which ranks 10th in PFF’s rankings but is outside of the top 25 in the Associated Press.

So far, Mississippi State has beaten Memphis and Arizona by a combined 48 points. While both of those schools are below average, it’s still impressive to see the Bulldogs win both with ease. They’re led by quarterback Will Rogers, whose 82.2 passing grade this season is a top-15 mark among Power Five quarterbacks.

Matchup to watch: Mississippi State’s passing game vs. LSU’s secondary

Under Mike Leach, Mississippi State has the most pass-heavy offense in the country. The Bulldogs threw the ball on 73.7% of their plays last season, over five percentage points more than any other FBS team. Accuracy is paramount in that offense, and Rogers is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the country. Over the past two seasons, he has the second-lowest uncatchable pass rate among Power Five quarterbacks.

LSU’s team coverage grade is one of the 15 lowest in the Power Five this season, but the Tigers do have some talent in their secondary. Both Jarrick Bernard-Converse and Mekhi Garner were ranked among PFF’s top 20 cornerbacks entering the season. They’ll need to step up in order to slow down Mississippi State’s high-volume attack.

Prediction: Mississippi State 28, LSU 27

It’ll be close, but Will Rogers will lead the Bulldogs to a victory that should all but ensure Mississippi State’s place in the next AP top-25 poll. 

#13 Miami (FL) Hurricanes @ #24 Texas A&M Aggies

Storyline to know: Will the Aggies continue their free fall?

It hasn’t been pretty for Texas A&M to start the season. Last week, the then-No. 6 Aggies lost 17-14 at home to unranked Appalachian State. That defeat caused Texas A&M to tumble 18 spots down to No. 24 in the latest AP poll.

To get back on track, the Aggies will need to take down No. 13 Miami. The Hurricanes haven’t really been tested so far, as their two wins came against an FCS school in Bethune-Cookman and Southern Mississippi, one of the 20 worst teams in the country, according to PFF’s power rankings. Still, Miami won by a convincing 80 combined points across those two contests.

If Texas A&M doesn’t improve quickly, it’ll have its first 1-2 start to the season since 2008. 

Matchup to watch: Texas A&M’s passing game vs Miami’s defense

The strength of Miami is its defense. Five Hurricane defenders made the top 25 of PFF’s preseason positional rankings. The Hurricanes have an 84% pass-rush win rate this season, the second-highest mark in the Power Five. They’ve also forced an incompletion on 18.9% of their coverage snaps, the third-highest rate in the Power Five.

The biggest issue for the Aggies has been their passing game. Head coach Jimbo Fisher’s offense has become predictable, and making matters worse is quarterback Haynes King’s performance. His 50.6 passing grade is the fifth-lowest among Power Five quarterbacks this season.

Fisher should have King on a short leash against Miami and can turn to either Max Johnson or five-star freshman Conner Weigman if King continues to struggle.

Prediction: Texas A&M 24, Miami 21

The Aggies could struggle to throw the ball, but the run game and defense should keep them in it. This is an absolute must-win game for Texas A&M, and Jimbo Fisher knows it. Expect him to pull out all the stops against Miami and secure the victory.

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