Let’s face it, Week 2 of the 2016 college football season was something of a snooze, at least for everyone except the diehard fans who get riled up every Saturday no matter who their favorite team is playing. None of the Top 25 teams played each other, and the weekend’s signature moment—Central Michigan’s winning Hail Mary heave against Oklahoma State—never should have happened.
But fear not, college football fans looking for an adrenaline kick, as the marquee matchups are back in a big way in Week 3.
The most notable game of the week is the first matchup between Associated Press Top 10 teams this season, as No. 10 Louisville plays host to No. 2 Florida State. Louisville boasts way-too-early Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson, a 19-year-old quarterback who is to college defenses what Michael Vick was to Madden 2004 (seemingly unstoppable) so far this year.
Jackson will be hard-pressed to put up video game numbers against the Seminoles, let alone win the game, but Ole Miss did manage a tidy 34 points in a Week 1 loss. An upset is well within the realm of possibility.
Other matchups between Top 25 teams include No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 Ole Miss, No. 3 Ohio State at No. 14 Oklahoma and No. 12 Michigan State at No. 18 Notre Dame.
No. 6 Houston and No. 21 Baylor already have wins this week at the expense of Cincinnati and Rice, respectively.
The “Other” Big Game Of the Week: Ole Miss Hoping to Upset Alabama (Again)
The Ole Miss Rebels will be looking to make it three victories in a row against Alabama on Saturday, a feat that, should they pull it off, might make Nick Saban‘s head explode.
The Rebels pulled off the upset over their rival at home in Oxford in 2014 and then again away at Tuscaloosa in 2015. They’re home again in 2016, but this year’s task could be the toughest yet, as this version of Alabama appears to be an even more destructive force of nature than usual.
After trouncing USC 52-6 in its opener, the Crimson Tide practically sleepwalked through a game against Western Kentucky and still won 38-10. The defense is typically potent, the offensive line massive and the rushing attack a weapon (though not quite as dynamic as in years past).
What makes Alabama potentially different this year is not just those components of the team firing at the same time, but the poise and accuracy of true-freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Through two games, Hurts has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 405 yards, four touchdowns and one pick. He’s also added a pair of rushing touchdowns. Hurts has the arm strength to make defenses respect the deep ball while also threatening to take it himself and pick up a few tough yards on the ground.
Already proving to be wise beyond his years, Hurts’ early success might be due in large part to his upbringing as a football coach’s son. Deer Park High School coach Chris Massey, whose teams played against Hurts, believed this to be the case, per ESPN.com’s Sam Khan Jr.
“Being a coach’s kid, I think his learning curve is different,” Massey said. “He’s talked football all his life with his dad, at home, weekends. There’s a lot to be said for having a coach’s kid as a quarterback. … He’s not like a normal freshman college quarterback, he’s been around it all his life.”
Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has had Hurts throwing plenty of short passes to start the season, but the more comfortable he gets, the more dynamic and creative Kiffin can get with his play-calling.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley is a quarterback’s dream out on the flank. After a slow start against USC, he had a massive game against the Hilltoppers, reeling in nine catches for 129 yards and one touchdown.
Should Hurts have understandable jitters and struggles in this marquee game, it will be up to the run game to rescue the team. Led by sophomore back Damien Harris, the Crimson Tide rushing attack has been adequate, but not as good as it could be. Bleacher Report’s Christopher Walsh notes they have a chance to improve against Ole Miss:
Ole Miss likes to go with a 4-2-5 formation that’s smaller beyond the line and on the edges. Alabama hasn’t done much running behind left tackle Cam Robinson yet, so that’s something to keep an eye on. Even though the Crimson Tide attempted 59 passes in last year’s game, the offense tallied 215 rushing yards, up from 168 in 2014.
Hurts will be looking to keep pace with a fine Ole Miss signal-caller in Chad Kelly, who threw for 341 yards, three TDs and no picks in the Rebels’ 43-37 win over the Crimson Tide last season.
Kelly is off to a quick but far from perfect start this season, with seven touchdowns and three picks in two games. He threw four TDs in the first half of the season opener against Florida State, but crumbled in the second half and tossed three interceptions.
He’ll have to fare much better on Saturday in the face of Alabama’s mighty pass rush, but he’s ready for the challenge.
“They play a lot of man coverage and I feel confident in our wide receivers that they can beat man coverage,” Kelly said, per ESPN.com’s Alex Scarborough. “That’s why they’re here. That’s their job.”
Beating Alabama’s defensive backs before the front seven gets to Kelly is going to be mighty tough. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze will need to find a weakness and isolate it with his spread-offense schemes. The Rebels have definitely shared the wealth in the passing game, with 11 different players recording a reception so far and seven scoring receiving touchdowns.
Senior tight end Evan Engram paces the group with 11 catches for 164 yards and one score through two weeks. Having been on hand for the last two upsets, his experience and pass-catching ability will be invaluable.
It will also be up to running backs Akeem Judd and Eugene Brazley to make plays on the ground and help keep Alabama’s front seven honest. Ole Miss’ rushing attack has been relatively lackluster so far, but if they can undercut a swarming Alabama defensive line on a few plays, it gives Freeze more opportunities to call play action and keep the offense balanced.
If the Rebels are going to be the first team to beat a Saban-coached Alabama team three years running, they’ll need a complete, multifaceted effort.
Should Alabama lose this matchup, it would put an early dent in its College Football Playoff hopes, but nothing it can’t come back from. A win for Ole Miss could have it close to (if not in) the Top 10 despite a season-opening loss to the Seminoles.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Source: Bleacher Report-CFB News