Best of Week 3: Ohio State-OU highlights blockbuster slate
This is a blockbuster Saturday that merits a nickname. So, let’s go with “Shakedown Saturday.” Everywhere you turn, there is a big game, paced by Ohio State’s trip to Oklahoma, in what is the last full-blown Saturday of non-conference action.
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Other headliners: Michigan State at Notre Dame and Oregon at Nebraska.
Here is a look at the Best of Week 3.
Best game: Ohio State’s game at Oklahoma should be a doozy. These college football titans have met just two times, with OU taking a 29-28 decision in Columbus in 1977 and the Buckeyes prevailing 24-14 in Norman in 1983. Sooner coach and Youngstown, Ohio, native Bob Stoops would love to dump Ohio State and build on OU’s trip to the playoffs last season. This will be the ultimate litmus test for a Buckeye squad ranked No. 3 that is being overhauled. The Sooners opened with a surprising loss at home to Houston but still rank No. 14 in the AP poll. OU can’t afford another loss if it wants to make the playoff. OSU is winning its games by an average score of 63-7.
Player on the spot: Michigan State’s Tyler O’Connor made his second career start and played pretty well in a season-opening win vs. FCS Furman. He had 13 completions to six different players and his three touchdown passes were all to different players. He averaged 10.6 yards per attempt and 14.6 yards per completion and is No. 4 in the nation in passing efficiency. The fifth-year senior needs to play like he did in engineering a 17-14 win at No. 2 Ohio State last season for MSU to escape Notre Dame with a win.
Best matchup: Ohio State secondary vs. Oklahoma pass game. The Buckeyes defense has been great. How great? It has yet to yield a TD and has scored three of its own. But the unit will be put to a big test vs. Sooner QB Baker Mayfield. OU is No. 16 in the nation in passing (337.5 ypg). Mayfield is hitting 72 percent of his passes and is No. 6 in pass efficiency. He threw for over 4,100 yards with 43 TD tosses last season, when he was fourth in Heisman voting. Buckeye corners Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore will be tested, along with safety Malik Hooker.
Best QB matchup: Gonna be fun to watch Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield take on Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, two legit Heisman contenders. Mayfield was No. 18 in the nation in passing yards last year with 3,700 to go with 36 TD passes. Barrett began last year behind Cardale Jones but eventually took over. He is looking to recapture his 2014 form, when he led the Buckeyes to the national title. So far, so good for Barrett, who opened 2016 with a school-record seven TDs in a win vs. Bowling Green.
Best coaching matchup: Gotta like Ohio State’s Urban Meyer vs. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. But let’s go with Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio vs. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly. Dantonio has built one of the nation’s best programs on blood, sweat and a big chip on his shoulder. MSU has won double-digit games five times in the last six years. Kelly had the Irish in the BCS title game in 2012 and is 55-23 in six seasons in South Bend.
Best coordinator matchup: OU’s OC Lincoln Riley vs. Ohio State’s Luke Fickell/Greg Schiano. Riley is a 32-year-old wunderkind. In his first season at Oklahoma in 2015, Riley led the Sooners to the No. 7 ranked offense in the country and to the playoffs. Schiano has come aboard to replace Chris Ash, who left coach Rutgers. Schiano is a former head coach at Rutgers and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who will co-coordinate the defense with Fickell. The Buckeyes have yet to allow a TD by their defense.
Best chance for an upset: Let’s go with FCS power North Dakota State playing at Iowa. The Bison are better than most FBS squads, winning the last five FCS national championships. And North Dakota State has toppled the last five FBS opponents it has faced. Yes, QB Carson Wentz—the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft–is gone. Still, the Bison will be a tough out. You have been warned, Herky. Still, Iowa is looking good with a 2-0 start and recent demolition of Iowa State.
More Week 3 notes:
- Michigan welcomes Colorado. But, this isn’t Bill McCartney’s CU, as the Buffs have been a floundering program for years, not going to a bowl since 2007 when Dan Hawkins was coach. Current boss Mike MacIntyre is 10-27 in three seasons but has Colorado off to a 2-0 start. The Buffs’ Hail Mary 27-26 win in Ann Arbor in 1994 will forever be remembered by Michigan fans. CU last visited in 1997, falling 27-3, with Rick Neuheisel as coach.
- No Big Ten team played Notre Dame last year. But the Irish welcome Michigan State this fall. And it will be an epic barometer for a Spartan program that is breaking in new quarterback Tyler O’Connor with retooled lines on both sides of the ball. ND and MSU have a storied rivalry, playing 77 times. But the series was put on hold the last two seasons after the programs had met every year since 1997. The Fighting Irish have won the last three meetings. The Spartans—who are coming off a bye and not impressing in an opening win vs. FCS Furman–haven’t won in South Bend since 2007, dropping the last three under the Golden Dome. ND is 1-1 with an epic season-opening loss at Texas. The Irish have a strong offense with QB DeShone Kizer. MSU’s last win vs. ND came in 2010 on the famous “Little Giants” fake field goal for a TD. Afterward, Mark Dantonio had a heart attack.
- Nebraska will get a good test from a visit from Oregon. The Ducks have become what the Cornhuskers used to be: A consistent national title contender. Oregon is in a bit of transition with a new QB in Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop. And the Ducks also have a new defensive coordinator: Brady Hoke, the ex-Michigan coach. These programs haven’t met since a two-game series in 1985-86, when both games were played in Lincoln and won the Nebraska, 63-0 and 48-14, respectively.
- Northwestern waded into Durham, N.C., last year and took a 19-10 decision from Duke. This was a good Blue Devil squad that would go on to cap an 8-5 season with a win vs. Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl, the program’s fourth postseason trip in succession. David Cutcliffe always has a solid team but is coming off a loss to Wake Forest. Things are even worse for the Wildcats, who have opened with home losses to Western Michigan and FCS Illinois State.
- A visit from Western Michigan will be a dangerous test for Illinois, as the 2-0 Broncos opened 2016 with a win at Northwestern. WMU’s P.J. Fleck is an up-and-coming coaching fireball who always preaches to “row the boat.” He played at Northern Illinois, is a native of the state and has his Bronco program rolling. You know the 35-year old would love to topple the Illini. In fact, Western Michigan may have as much talent as Illinois, as Fleck has taken his team to consecutive bowls and 8-5 records and won the MAC West in 2015. More danger for Illinois: WMU’s visit comes on the heels of a tough home game vs. a good North Carolina squad. Who will the Illini respond to adversity?
- Last season, Temple dumped Penn State, 27-10, to end a 39-game winless streak vs. the Nittany Lions that dated to 1941. Can the Owls make it two in a row? PSU is coming off a tough 42-39 loss at Pitt, the first time the Nittany Lions ever scored 39 points … and lost. The defense needs help.
- Maryland plays at Central Florida, the first meeting ever. It will be the Terps’ second trip in a row to the Sunshine after winning at FIU the week before. Maryland has opened with two easy wins.
- Georgia State and Wisconsin play for the first time, while Rutgers takes on New Mexico and coach Bob Davie for the first time. The Badgers look like a buzz saw, while the Scarlet Knights need more consistent play at quarterback.
- Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana are off.
Ranking Week 3 Games
1. Ohio State at Oklahoma
2. Michigan State at Notre Dame
3. Oregon at Nebraska
4. Duke at Northwestern
5. Temple at Penn State
6. North Dakota State at Iowa
7. Colorado at Michigan
8. New Mexico at Rutgers
9. Western Michigan at Illinois
10. Maryland at Central Florida
11. Georgia State at Wisconsin