Leave it to college football to do the unthinkable.
With news of the Big Ten returning in mid-October and the Pac-12 possibly following suit, we might end up with all Power 5 conferences competing this fall. Just a few weeks ago, that seemed unthinkable.
Until then, there are still plenty of interesting storylines to follow for the teams that are currently competing. Here’s what to watch for in Week 3:
What’s the pecking order in the ACC behind Clemson and Notre Dame?
This weekend slate is the final appetizer before the main course arrives when the SEC returns. Until then, we can savor the first ranked-vs.-ranked matchup of the season: No. 17 Miami at No. 18 Louisville.
It’s an intriguing quarterback battle, with Louisville’s Micale Cunningham and Miami’s D’Eriq King among the most dynamic athletes in the country. Cunningham has blossomed under coach Scott Satterfield, throwing for 343 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening win over Western Kentucky. King, the former Houston star, averaged just 6 yards per pass attempt in a victory over UAB, but he showed his rushing ability with 83 yards on the ground, including a 12-yard touchdown run.
It’s early, but Manny Diaz’s Miami squad ranks 12th in ESPN’s SP+ efficiency rankings, while Louisville was one of the biggest risers in Week 2, moving from 28th to 18th. Saturday night’s prime-time game will show which team is more prepared to make a leap under their second-year coaches.
Here’s what else to keep an eye on in the ACC:
No. 25 Pittsburgh and No. 12 North Carolina should be able to take care of business at home against Syracuse and Charlotte, respectively, but they’ll both be looking for more from their starting quarterbacks. Kenny Pickett shook off some rust against FCS opponent Austin Peay last week, and he gets a chance to build on what could be a special senior season against a defense led by star safety Andre Cisco. For the Tar Heels, standout sophomore Sam Howell seeks more consistency after an up-and-down performance in a win over the Orange. Both quarterbacks are capable of leading their teams to a surprise run to the ACC championship game, and this week is a good opportunity to get up to speed.
The top of the conference remains unchanged. There won’t be much to learn from Notre Dame and Clemson this weekend, with the Irish hosting South Florida under first-year coach Jeff Scott and the Tigers facing The Citadel. The backups should be in early for Clemson, which means we might get another look at DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson’s prized recruit and quarterback of the future. For Notre Dame, quarterback Ian Book and the offense need to wake up after a subpar performance against Duke. Book’s average depth of target was just 5.1 yards, his lowest in his college career, according to Pro Football Focus. The running game looked solid behind Kyren Williams, but a receiver or two needs to step up if the Irish are going to contend for a title.
How will Georgia Tech build on its season-opening upset of Florida State? The Yellow Jackets defense held the Seminoles to less than 4 yards per play and forced three turnovers, but the offense showed growing pains behind freshman starter Jeff Sims. Second-year coach Geoff Collins' team gets another stiff test from Central Florida, which is gunning for an undefeated season and an American Athletic Conference title behind star quarterback Dillon Gabriel.
The Sun Belt is making the most of its time in the, well, sun.
The Sun Belt went 3-0 against the Big 12 last weekend, with Louisiana knocking off No. 23 Iowa State, Arkansas State taking down Kansas State and Coastal Carolina cruising past Kansas. South Alabama nearly beat Tulane. It was a huge day for a conference that had beaten just four Power 5 schools all of last season.
No. 19 Louisiana and No. 23 Appalachian State have jumped into the Associated Press Top 25, though it might be short-lived with the SEC returning next weekend and the Big Ten coming back Oct. 23.
No matter. Each of the conference’s games will appear on television this weekend, with Appalachian State’s kickoff at Marshall on Saturday getting the 3:30 p.m. window on CBS normally reserved for the marquee SEC matchup. Coastal Carolina’s game against Campbell will get prime-time treatment on Friday night on ESPN. That’s the kind of exposure an up-and-coming conference needs to make waves in recruiting and sell players on the type of competitive football it can offer. They don’t call it the #FunBelt for nothing.
A new era begins at Baylor.
Matt Rhule worked wonders at Baylor, taking a team that went 1-11 in his first season in 2017 to 11-3, a spot in the Big 12 championship game and a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2019. He was rewarded with a seven-year, $62 million deal to become the Carolina Panthers coach, and the Bears hired LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda as his replacement.
Aranda is one of the best defensive minds in the sport, having built successful units most recently at Wisconsin and LSU. He inherits a roster that isn’t short on talent, with a projected top-15 offense led by quarterback Charlie Brewer and a defense that should benefit from Aranda’s tutelage. Will that be enough to keep Baylor in the Big 12 race with Texas and Oklahoma?
Saturday’s game against Houston will be an interesting test. Coach Dana Holgorsena and his Air Raid offense will stress the Bears defense, but the Houston defense is unlikely to offer much resistance. The Vegas over/under is set at 63 points, one of the highest of the weekend, and Baylor is only favored by 4 1/4 u00bd points. It could be a shootout that comes down to the wire.
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