Friday, September 16, 2016

Spread Offense: College Football Week 3: A Storm On The Horizon

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

While week 2 provided us with some stunning games and dramatic finishes, it lacked the overall "star power" as there were no games featuring teams in which both were ranked. Week 3 makes up for that though, as we are treated to not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 games that involve both teams being ranked, one of them being an early season conference game.

This week will start to shape the playoff contenders to the playoff pretenders as we head into a full schedule of conference games in the weeks to come. The storm is definitely coming and it will provide some great games.


We kick off Saturday's noon slate of games with the game that ESPN's College Gameday will be tailgating for. #2 Florida State at #10 Louisville, in a game where both offenses will be on full display.

Florida State overcame early game woes against Ole Miss to make a big comeback and pull out a win against the Rebels. Redshirt freshman QB Deandre Francois seems to be getting very comfortable in the pocket and Heisman hopeful RB Dalvin Cook is helping by taking a ton of pressure off of him. When they are running on all cylinders, they've shown how unstoppable they can be, and may in fact be the best team in the ACC (Clemson was the preseason landslide favorite in the conference.)

Speaking of what a team is capable of when running on all cylinders, the Louisville Cardinals have turned plenty of heads this season already with their high powered offense. Led by QB Lamar Jackson, who accounts for 13 TD's, the Cardinals have put up 132 points in 2 games. The detractors will say that it was against Charlotte and Syracuse, but Louisville will have home field and a big time chance to prove that they are for real in this game against the Seminoles.

In the 3:30 games, we will see the #22 ranked Oregon Ducks travel to Lincoln to face the unranked(for now) Nebraska Cornhuskers. Oregon always seems to have a lightning quick, score at will offense, and this year seems no different as they have put up 53 and 44 points in their 2 games. Their defense seems to be the question though as they gave up 28 points to UC Davis and 26 points to Virginia. On the other hand, Nebraska has not only been scoring a lot of points but their defense is not giving up many. The Cornhuskers look to make a big statement here by welcoming in the Ducks, if they can slow down that Oregon offense  then this game is very winnable for them.

But the big game at 3:30 that most will be watching intently, will be the #1 team in the country playing their Achilles heel. The Alabama Crimson Tide have only lost 3 games in the past 2 seasons, 2 of those losses have been to the Ole Miss Rebels. The #19 team in the country needs this game big time, as they have already lost 1 game this season and any chance of playoffs will fade away with another loss. In order for Ole Miss to win this one, it will be in the hands of QB Chad Kelly and his offensive line. If Kelly has time then we can see him make some plays happen out there and have Ole Miss in position for an upset bid. The Crimson Tide, looking to exercise their Ole Miss demons, will be keeping pressure on Kelly while getting their offense rolling the way it did against USC. All signs point to the Tide here, but Ole Miss has had their number in the past.

Then we head to 7:30, where we will see non-conference rivals face off as #12 Michigan State heads to South Bend to take on the #17 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Spartans had a less than stellar performance in their season opener against Furman, where their defense looked every bit as good as we've come to know from them but their offense looked rather lackluster. Thanks to an oddly timed bye in week 2, MSU has had an extra week to prepare for Notre Dame and work out the kinks with their offense. The Fighting Irish are fighting for their playoff lives in this game, as they have already lost once this season. The 2 QB controversy seems to be past them now as Deshone Kizer has taken the ranks and the offense has flourished under him. Notre Dame will need him to perform at his peak against this defense in order for them to win, a big win in front of their home crowd would put them right on track as a potential playoff team.

In the other 7:30 game, a big clash in Norman will happen with the #14 Oklahoma Sooners welcoming the #3 Ohio State Buckeyes to town. Oklahoma is 1-1 with a loss to the Houston Cougars while Ohio State is 2-0 with wins over Bowling Green and Tulsa. The biggest test for Ohio State is how their young team of first time starters handles the hostile environment that they'll be walking into. Also, early season struggles on the offensive line could be the place that Oklahoma exploits in order to slow down J.T. Barrett and the OSU offense. The Sooners will need to establish the running game, which they are capable of doing, and also get QB Baker Mayfield back into Heisman form in order to put up the necessary points to win this game. Oklahoma is in a "do or die" situation when  it comes to the playoffs as one more loss seals their fate, while Ohio State looks to remain unblemished and staying on course to the playoffs.

While the 1st quarter is finishing up in those 7:30 games, our 8pm game will be set for kickoff. The ABC prime time game features a conference game which has budded into a nice little rivalry as of late. The USC Trojans will be taking on the#7 Stanford Cardinal, an early season Pac-12 game that has the writing on the wall of being a very good showdown. The Trojans are looking to jump back into the rankings after being demolished 52-6 by the Alabama Crimson Tide in week 1. They have the playmakers, but it looks to be another year of preseason hype followed by in-season let down. They could reclaim some of that hype though and play spoiler here, as the Stanford Cardinal are the favorites to win the Pac-12 again and make a strong case for the playoffs. Stanford seems to center around one guy, Christian McCaffrey, as he is that 5 tool player that just does it all for Stanford. They may have also found a solid QB in Ryan Burns to help the offense out even more, making Stanford an even tougher task to defeat. If USC is going to pull off the upset, they'll need to fully utilize their playmakers and get some turnovers on defense, otherwise this Cardinal team looks to be too much for the Trojans to handle.

And finally, if you are a night owl or have some insomnia, there's a pretty good game that kicks off at 10:30 this week. The #11 Texas Longhorns head out on the road to play the Cal Golden Bears. While this Texas team made a big statement by defeating Notre Dame in week 1, many still think the jury is still out on them. They've played well before and have won big games in the past, but have also had many lapses and lost games that they should have won(including last season's game against Cal.) The Golden Bears are still looking for that big leader now that Jared Goff is in the NFL, and new QB Davis Webb could be that guy. So far, Davis has looked the part and has filled the shoes of Goff rather nicely, but Cal's defense has been a big problem for them, giving up 45 points in a loss to San Diego State last week. Cal will need the defense to step up big time, especially against the run, and will look to Davis to lead the offense down for numerous scores. Texas will continue to use their 2 QB system, Shane Buechele as the starter with Tyrone Swoopes coming in for designed run plays. That back and forth system has shown a bunch of positive results so they will keep going with that until it gets stopped (if it does.) Texas will also have to keep an eye on Cal WR Chad Hansen, who has developed into a go-to playmaker and could be the big factor in this game. If Texas continues to do what they've been doing on offense then it looks as though Cal will have no answer for them. A big night crowd in Berkeley combined with Texas' road woes(1-4 last season) could play a role in this late night affair.

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