The temptation is to trot out some tired, worn label that conveniently summarizes Week 3.
Like … Shakeout Saturday. Or … Showdown Saturday.
The friggin’ Catalina Wine Mixer of Saturdays.
Let’s ignore the sponsored-by hype and cut to the obvious. We’re going to know a hell of a lot more about the 2016 season after Saturday.
Sorry if that doesn’t fit on a TV graphic. It shouldn’t. You’ll need multiple screens, tablets and phones to catch four games all involving top-20 teams.
That’s leaving out a rematch of the Pac-12 title game (USC-Stanford) and the defending Big Ten champions ( Michigan State Spartans ) going to Notre Dame Fighting Irish . That’s breezing by the fact six other top 25 teams will have gone on the road ( Houston Cougars , Baylor Bears , Miami, Oregon Ducks , Texas A&M, Georgia Bulldogs ).
That’s ignoring — please! — the raging controversy over Jim Harbaugh’s sideline eating habits.
Let’s get to this week’s storylines …
1. The circus comes to Norman: Oklahoma Sooners hasn’t been a home underdog since its last national championship (2000). Urban Meyer hasn’t lost much of anything — only four games in four-plus seasons at Ohio State Buckeyes .
When the No. 14 Sooners defend their turf against the No. 3 Buckeyes, there will be some finality to it. The Big 12/Oklahoma can’t afford another loss. That would be two in the first three games for a projected College Football Playoff team. Unless you believe West Virginia Mountaineers , Texas or Baylor — all 2-0 — are playoff worthy (we don’t), then the Sooners’ only hope would be winning out and hoping there is a CFP opening for a two-loss Big 12 champion.
That’s getting ahead of things. Ohio State has already proved it can lose this early and still win it all (see: Virginia Tech Hokies , 2014). Meyer leaned on his old offensive coordinator (Houston’s Tom Herman) this week for tips on how to beat OU. He was probably told how Oklahoma’s green secondary had better grow up quickly. (Only five Power Five programs are worse against the pass.) The Buckeyes are already fully formed despite the loss of 16 starters. Their last loss in a true road game was 2011.
This is a matchup of steel wills and steel mills. Both coaches are from football-crazy Ohio — Stoops (Youngstown) and Meyer (Ashtabula). They’ve got four national championships between them. This feels like a playoff game with all the accompanying hype. Donald Trump will be in town Saturday for a private reception. There is chatter he may even take in the game. If swing state Ohio voters happen to notice, well, there’s a reason for everything in Saturday’s biggest game.
2. Buttoned-down Oxford: Hugh Freeze has cracked the Alabama Crimson Tide code. Hugh Freeze has the SEC’s best quarterback. Hugh Freeze and his underrated Rebels are at home. Meanwhile, Alabama’s emerging true freshman quarterback isn’t.
Why can’t Ole Miss Rebels make it three in a row over Nick Saban? That’s a question that hasn’t been considered deeply this week. All the pieces are in place for an … upset (?). There are two active coaches walking the Earth who have beaten Saban twice in a row. One of them is Les Miles, under fire because his last win over Bama was five years ago. The other is Freeze, the Alabama code-breaker.
Ole Miss’ coach outfoxed Saban coming from back from down 14-3 in 2014. He then unleashed Chad Kelly (341 yards, three touchdowns) in a shootout win last year in T-town. There is no pattern there, which is probably just the way Freeze wants it. Once again, Alabama is searching deep into the season for a starter at quarterback. It is assumed true freshman Jalen Hurts may make a second straight start.
Still, you have to believe a three-peat is more than possible. The guy with access to the launch codes against Alabama certainly does. “We’ve closed the gap considerably,” Freeze said this week. “We proved it on the field.”
3. Action Jackson: Lamar Jackson didn’t exactly sneak up on us. As a true freshman, Louisville Cardinals ‘s quarterback accounted for 23 touchdowns during an eight-win season. That was the young, raw Action Jackson. Three games into his second season, Jackson goes into the Florida State Seminoles game — perhaps the biggest regular-season game in Louisville history — as the best player in the country.
Jackson’s 13 total touchdowns in 2016 are more than 115 teams have scored. His 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame makes him look like a leaner (and better) Cardale Jones . He’ll be working against a Florida State secondary without its top star, safety Derwin James , who is out with a knee. Junior Trey Marshall is the body that will be replacing James.
But defensive coordinator Charles Kelly will have plenty of options. All of Florida State’s defensive backs “cross train” at every position. “It’s not really a big challenge, though [James] is one of the best in the country,” Marshall told reporters. “We’ve been working all camp and everybody’s been playing a lot of positions so I feel like whoever’s up next will step up.”
4. Yet more history in South Bend: It’s escaped most of us that this season marks 50 years since Michigan State-Notre Dame played the original Game of the Century. Some are suggesting this is the biggest meeting since that 1966 game, which resulted in a tie and eventually a Notre Dame national championship. This is only the fourth time in 32 meetings since 1966 that both teams have been ranked in the top 20. It’s only the third time the No. 12 Spartans have been ranked higher with both teams in the top 20.
No. 18 Notre Dame (1-1) has to win to keep its national championship hopes alive. In case you haven’t noticed, that’s what the Irish play for as the nation’s preeminent independent. Michigan State best advantage this week is a couch. The Spartans are coming off a bye week. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is still trying to figure out its identity. Brian Kelly was smart enough to install DesSone Kizer as the starter. Take the Irish to survive since, this time, there won’t be any ties.
5. Elsewhere in the SEC West: After some positive signs at both schools early on, it’s clear the losing coach in Texas A&M-Auburn is (back) on the hot seat. The SEC opener for both has that kind of impact.
The good Trevor Knight has shown up for the Aggies, which have scored 74 consecutive points in the last two games. Seven different players have recorded a sack. Auburn Tigers has lost six straight home games to Power Five schools and eight of its last 10 in the SEC West.
Sean White and Gus Malzahn have something to prove offensively against a quality opponent. Otherwise, the Tigers will start 1-2 for only the second time since 2008.
6. Hang a left at Charlotte: At some point on Friday, Miami will fly into Hickory, North Carolina, climb aboard busses and make the hour trip north to Boone. This is not the beginning of an obscure wine-tasting tour in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Miami is taking perhaps the most unique road trip in its history.
The Canes are traveling to Appalachian State Mountaineers because Miami couldn’t find anyone else. Athletic director Blake James told CBS Sports a last-minute cancellation by an opponent for a home game forced him to sign a late home-and-home series with Appalachian State. The Mountaineers go to South Florida Bulls next year. For now, Miami will play in a sold out 25,000-seat stadium against a program that is in its third season in FBS. From campus, you can see those mountains students ski on in the winter. North Carolina? Skiiing? Miami? Told you the trip was unique.
The word “ambush” has been tossed around more than once. Miami is the first Power Five program to visit Hickory. Appalachian State famously upset Michigan in 2007 and should have beaten Tennessee Volunteers this season on opening night. The ACC is 16-7 the last five years playing a true road game at a Group of Five school.
7. Upset alert for Iowa Hawkeyes and its balance sheet: FCS power North Dakota State has won five in a row against FBS schools — all on the road. It has left town pocketing a total of $1.675 million in guarantee money. Iowa is paying NDSU $500,000 for its visit on Saturday, a small price to pay if the No. 13 Hawkeyes can escape the upset bug. If not, Iowa will get in line with Kansas Jayhawks , Minnesota Golden Gophers , Colorado State Rams , Kansas State Wildcats and Iowa State Cyclones — all Bison victims since 2010.
8. Stop @CMcCaffrey5 first: Stanford Cardinal ‘s ultra weapon has posted an incredible 710 all-purpose yards in the last two meetings with Southern California Trojans — both performances within the last year. We know Stanford is (supposed to be) the class of the Pac-12. We’ll find out USC’s compete level in this one. The Trojans have given up 41 in each of the last two meetings. It’s time for USC to start showing it has superior athletes at running back, wide receiver and defensive back.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / College football Week 3 storylines: Buckeyes, Sooners put seasons on the line