An early-season run of big games before an underwhelming finish to September wraps up in Week 3 with a few headliners: defending national champion Clemson against defending Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville, the first Texas-USC game since the 2006 Rose Bowl and the annual Tennessee-Florida rivalry tilt.
Note: Because of Hurricane Irma, Miami at Florida State has been postponed until Oct. 7. FIU at Indiana and Georgia Tech at UCF also will not be played as previously scheduled.
All times are Eastern, and within each time slot games are previewed in order of importance and watchability.
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Illinois at No. 22 South Florida
7 p.m., ESPN
South Florida returns to the field after last week's game at Connecticut was postponed because of Hurricane Irma. The Bulls are 2-0 thus far under Charlie Strong, with a pair of underwhelming performances from this offense against San Jose State and Stony Brook. On Friday night, the Bulls host an Illinois squad that barely beat Ball State in Week 1 but actually held Western Kentucky to only seven points last week. Despite playing Ball State and WKU, the Fighting Illini are 122nd in yards per play so far on offense. Maybe their defense has shown positive signs, but they don't have a difference-maker like USF QB Quinton Flowers.
Pick: South Florida 34, Illinois 20
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Saturday Early Afternoon
After escaping Youngstown State in OT in its first game, Pittsburgh faces its second straight top-10 team that owns an explosive offense. Last week, Pitt controlled the clock but none of the game in a 33-14 loss at Penn State. This week, it hosts Oklahoma State, which got 540 passing yards from Mason Rudolph and 296 receiving yards from James Washington in a 45-38 home win vs. the Panthers in 2016. The Pitt secondary played well against Penn State, but the unit will once again be missing its best player, the suspended Jordan Whitehead, and it's tasked with slowing down arguably the best receiving corps in the nation. The problem for Pitt isn't necessarily defense here; it's an offense that lost a lot from last year and has averaged only 4.2 yards per play in two games with USC transfer Max Browne starting at quarterback. Even when it controlled the clock, Pitt wasn't equipped to keep up with Penn State. It's not equipped to keep up with Oklahoma State, either.
Pick: Oklahoma State 40, Pittsburgh 20
No. 25 UCLA at Memphis
A week before going to Stanford for an important conference game, UCLA has to travel to face Memphis, an American Athletic Conference team, and the game kicks off at 9 a.m. PT. Everything about the game screams trap for the 2-0 Bruins, especially because Memphis is sort of an early-season unknown. With a prolific offense returning, the Tigers beat UL Monroe 37-29 in horrendous weather, then had their Week 2 game at UCF postponed. He wasn't able to show it in that ULM game, because of the poor conditions, but Memphis QB Riley Ferguson is a talented passer who makes for an intriguing counterpart to the UCLA offense, led by prized NFL prospect Josh Rosen. In the comeback win over Texas A&M and a rout of Hawaii, Rosen has thrown for 820 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions, a fantastic start as he returns from a shoulder injury behind a vulnerable offensive line with a new offensive coordinator. It's a dangerous road trip, but Rosen is playing well enough to allow the Bruins to survive it.
Pick: UCLA 35, Memphis 27
Air Force at No. 7 Michigan
Noon, Big Ten Network
No defenses lost more than the Falcons and Wolverines, who returned one defensive starter each entering this season. Air Force got off to a strong start with a 62-0 win over VMI, but that was an FCS opponent. Michigan is obviously much better equipped to reload on defense, especially with standouts like Rashan Gary and Maurice Hurst who weren't technically "starters" last year but were clear returning stars. Preparing for the option can always be difficult, but the Wolverines won't have much difficulty at home, even though their offense hasn't really clicked yet. They're too talented in the defensive front to lose a game like this in the Big House.
Pick: Michigan 34, Air Force 10
Baylor at Duke
12:30 p.m., ACC Network regional
The Matt Rhule era has gotten off to a rocky start, as Baylor started 0-2 with losses to Liberty and UTSA. Sophomore quarterback Zach Smith, who ended last year as the starter, will move back ahead of Arizona transfer Anu Solomon and try to get the Bears' season on track in a tricky road game against Duke. The Blue Devils dominated Northwestern last week, and coach David Cutcliffe has found a budding star QB in Daniel Jones, a mobile 6-foot-5, 210-pound sophomore who had 413 yards of total offense against the Wildcats. The Duke defense has also played well thus far. At least early in the season, these have looked like two teams trending in opposite directions.
Pick: Duke 31, Baylor 21
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Saturday Late Afternoon
No. 23 Tennessee at No. 24 Florida
3:30 p.m., CBS
The birth of divisions in the SEC in 1992 combined with the ascent of Tennessee under Phil Fulmer and Florida under Steve Spurrier turned Tennessee-Florida into one of college football's best rivalries in the 1990s. From 1992-2005, nine of the 14 Vols-Gators games featured both teams ranked in the AP top 10. Since then, it hasn't happened in any of the past 11 meetings. In fact, this is only the third time in the past 10 years that Tennessee is ranked at all going into the Florida game.
A year ago, the Vols finally ended Florida's 11-game winning streak in the rivalry, but the Gators got the last laugh, winning the SEC East anyway thanks to Tennessee's struggles in the second half of the season. Both teams enter this game under a lot of pressure. The Vols beat Georgia Tech in Week 1, but their passing game is a question mark, and they were gouged by the Yellow Jackets on the ground. Florida, meanwhile, is still dealing with suspensions -- including to top WR Antonio Callaway and top RB Jordan Scarlett -- and is also still dealing with questions about its lackluster offense. Neither Malik Zaire nor Feleipe Franks had success at quarterback in the opening loss to Michigan, and significant improvement is needed for the Gators to actually win a third SEC East title in a row.
The biggest strength in this game is Florida's pass defense, with talent in the pass rush and in the secondary despite dealing with attrition from last year. Both teams have a lot of issues for teams ranked in the top 25; Florida can win on its home field by forcing more mistakes.
Pick: Florida 19, Tennessee 17
No. 10 Wisconsin at BYU
3:30 p.m., ABC
Back in 1990, when Ty Detmer won the Heisman Trophy, BYU scored 40 points per game and passed for 448 yards per game. With Detmer as offensive coordinator, through three games BYU is scoring 11 points per game and passing for 155 yards per game. The beginning of the 2017 season has been a nightmare for the Cougars, as they limped to a 20-6 win over Portland State, then lost 27-0 to LSU and 19-13 to rival Utah. Next up: yet another stingy Power Five defense. Wisconsin has had some injuries to deal with defensively, but this is still a strong unit that has held overmatched Utah State and Florida Atlantic to a total of 24 points. BYU has enough going for it defensively to give Wisconsin's powerful running game some problems, but the emergence of freshman Badgers RB Jonathan Taylor gives Wisconsin a lot more confidence on offense right now than BYU -- especially with Cougars QB Tanner Mangum dealing with an ankle injury.
Pick: Wisconsin 24, BYU 13
Notre Dame at Boston College
3:30 p.m., ESPN
A rivalry clash between two teams with frustrated fan bases. Notre Dame is coming off yet another one-possession loss, falling to Georgia at home 20-19 after going 1-7 in one-score games a year ago. Boston College barely beat NIU, scored 10 points in a loss to Wake Forest and appears to be destined for yet another season languishing in the bottom of the FBS in many statistical categories on offense. The Eagles have the defense to allow them to hang around with most opponents, but despite last week's issues, Notre Dame is far more likely to do something on offense.
Pick: Notre Dame 27, Boston College 13
SMU at No. 20 TCU
3:30 p.m., ESPNU
The wondrous Iron Skillet is on the line in a Dallas-Fort Worth battle. Both teams enter this one with some optimism: SMU has scored over 50 points in each of its first two games as Chad Morris appears set to turn the corner in his third year as head coach, with the help of standout WR Courtland Sutton. And TCU is back in the top 25, coming off an impressive 28-7 road win at Arkansas. The Mustangs are dangerous enough on offense to upset somebody, but that's likely to come in the AAC rather than on the road against a Big 12 opponent that has a far superior defense.
Pick: TCU 45, SMU 27
Purdue at Missouri
4 p.m., SEC Network
These teams are a combined 14-34 over the past two seasons, and yet this one has the potential to be a lot of fun. Missouri scored only 13 points in a loss to South Carolina last week, but it has embraced tempo on offense and is capable of putting up lot of points, at least against mediocre defenses, behind QB Drew Lock, WR J'Mon Moore and RB Damarea Crockett. And Purdue has quickly become fun again under new coach Jeff Brohm, as it averaged 8.2 yards per play in a blowout win over Ohio in Week 2.
Boiler up to somethin pic.twitter.com/9nOctDbgXW- FOX college football (@CFBONFOX) September 9, 2017
It marked the first time since 2004 that Purdue put up over eight yards play and 40 points against an FBS opponent, according to Sports-Reference. These teams aren't great, but they are both capable of being entertaining when matched up against each other, rather than opponents that have tough defenses.
Pick: Purdue 38, Missouri 37
Army at No. 8 Ohio State
4:30 p.m., Fox
The natural question after Ohio State lost to Oklahoma is whether it can rebound and follow a path to the playoff similar to 2014. That year, the Buckeyes bounced back from an early nonconference loss to Virginia Tech by beating Kent State 66-0. Don't expect anything quite like that this Saturday. But even though Army's option offense is difficult to prepare for -- especially after an angst-filled week in Columbus -- the Buckeyes have the talent and athletes in their defensive front to contain the Black Knights and end their five-game winning streak. Ohio State can presumably work to fix some of its offensive issues against Army, UNLV and Rutgers the next three weeks before diving into the heart of Big Ten play.
Pick: Ohio State 41, Army 17
Oregon State at No. 21 Washington State
5:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Washington State is 2-0 under Mike Leach for the first time after a bizarre double-OT win over Boise State in which it scored 47 points despite not scoring an offensive TD until midway through the fourth quarter and dealt with an injury to QB Luke Falk. Falk will be in the starting lineup against a struggling Oregon State that was blown out by Colorado State and Minnesota. To make matters worse, the Beavers' secondary has been decimated by injuries, which is the worst possible news against a Mike Leach team.
Pick: Washington State 44, Oregon State 21
Minnesota's Goldy Gopher helmets are awesome and/or something straight out of a horror movie:
Ready to roll... pic.twitter.com/5r6NJFTp7j- Gopher Equipment (@GopherFBEquip) September 13, 2017
The P.J. Fleck era is off to a solid start, as Minnesota blew out Oregon State on the road last week by 34 despite attempting only eight passes. Now comes an interesting challenge: Middle Tennessee, a prolific offensive team that was shut down by Vanderbilt but beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome last week. The tandem of QB Brent Stockstill and WR Richie James gives MTSU a chance, but inexperience in the trenches is an issue for the Blue Raiders. With a solid running game and a defensive front led by standout tackle Steven Richardson, Minnesota can control the line of scrimmage and grind out a win in a difficult matchup for the Blue Raiders.
No. 16 Virginia Tech at East Carolina
3:30 p.m., CBSSN
East Carolina has been a nightmare for ACC teams in recent years. That's especially true of Virginia Tech: The Pirates beat the Hokies in both 2014 and '15. Last year, however, Virginia Tech turned the tables with a 54-17 blowout, and it's not hard to envision something similar. Two years after foolishly firing Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina is coming off a 3-9 season and is off to a disastrous start. It was crushed at home by FCS power James Madison, then trailed West Virginia 49-3 at halftime. This isn't the same ECU that caused the ACC so many problems. Redshirt freshman Hokies QB Josh Jackson can continue his stellar start to the season.
Pick: Virginia Tech 41, East Carolina 13
Other ranked teams in action: Mercer at No. 16 Auburn (4 p.m., SEC Network)
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No. 3 Clemson at No. 14 Louisville
8 p.m., ABC
The 2016 showdown between Clemson and Louisville was one of the most exciting games of the season. With Clemson on its way to a national title and Louisville QB Lamar Jackson on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy (over Tigers QB Deshaun Watson), the two teams met on Oct. 1 in Death Valley. The game was sloppy -- the teams combined for eight turnovers -- but after a scoreless first quarter, Clemson took an 18-point lead, Louisville responded to take an eight-point lead, Clemson responded to go ahead by six and Louisville was stopped in the red zone on its final possession. Watson had 397 yards of total offense; Jackson had 457. It was a suspenseful and entertaining night in which the mistakes were overshadowed by the tense, high level of play.
Sat will be 4th time reigning Heisman winner faces reigning natl champ. Others 2013 Manziel v Alabama, 2008 Tebow v LSU, 2004 White v USC.- Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) September 11, 2017
This year, Watson is gone, leaving a gaping hole at quarterback for Kelly Bryant to fill. Bryant has played well enough so far, but the real story of the season for Clemson isn't quarterback play; it's the defense, which is loaded with front-seven talent and sacked Auburn's Jarrett Stidham 11 times in a 14-6 Week 2 win. Clemson wouldn't have won without Watson last year, but it is a road favorite here because of the presumed mismatch between its star-studded defensive line -- Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant -- and Louisville's vulnerable offensive line, which gave up 11 sacks to Houston in November last year and still doesn't inspire much confidence.
Jackson is off to another jaw-dropping start to the season after his 525-yard performance against North Carolina, but after not getting much help against Houston and LSU in late 2016 losses, this is the best defensive line Jackson will have ever seen. Jackson vs. the Clemson D-line is as good as matchups get, the most talented offensive playmaker against the most dominant defensive unit. Will Louisville's offensive line allow the matchup to live up to expectations?
Jackson has progressed as a passer and showed last year that he could do a lot of damage to Clemson, and this year, with Watson gone, there's no doubt who has the quarterback advantage. But while Louisville has the best player in this game, Clemson has the better team.
Pick: Clemson 31, Louisville 28
Texas at No. 4 USC
8:30 p.m., Fox
Twelve years ago, the last time these storied programs met on a football field, Texas beat USC in a Rose Bowl that we ranked as the best college football game of all time, topping a list of the top 100. Maybe 12 years doesn't seem so long, but a lot has happened for both since then. Both fell from grace after 2009, as Pete Carroll bolted USC for the NFL and sanctions were handed down, and Texas has been mired in mediocrity since losing the national title game to Alabama. Through coaching turmoil and lackluster results, both are seemingly headed toward where they want to be: Texas hired Tom Herman as head coach, and USC has a star-studded backfield, headlined by QB Sam Darnold and RB Ronald Jones II, and playoff expectations after winning last year's Rose Bowl.
For years, we've been arguing whether Texas and USC are "back." It's quite clear that USC is far closer to being where it wants to be, right now. There's long-term optimism in Austin, but Herman debuted with a 51-41 loss to Maryland, and it's unknown whether sophomore Shane Buechele, who's dealing with a shoulder injury, or freshman Sam Ehlinger will start at quarterback in the Coliseum. Clearly, there's still a lot of room for improvement for Texas across the board, and in Week 1, at least, this didn't look like a defense capable of slowing down Darnold, Jones, Deontay Burnett, Stephen Carr and these Trojans, who just torched Stanford for 42 points and 623 total yards.
Texas is 17-point dog at USC. Tom Herman was underdog 6 times as Ohio State OC & 5 times as Houston's coach. Herman's teams won all 11 games- Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) September 14, 2017
Herman has thrived in an underdog role (USC is favored by 16), but it's a streak that's bound to end against a Trojans team coming off a statement win over the Cardinal.
Pick: USC 35, Texas 24
No. 12 LSU at Mississippi State
7 p.m., ESPN
The past three LSU-Mississippi State games have been decided by a total of 10 points, and it serves an early-season conference measuring stick for both teams. LSU is trying to prove that its revamped offense under coordinator Matt Canada can break the Tigers out of their recent rut. Mississippi State is trying to prove that it can be a top-25-type team with Nick Fitzgerald at quarterback. Both teams are 2-0, with the most impressive performance being LSU's 27-0 shutout of BYU.
A lot has changed since their meeting a year ago: Les Miles was still LSU's coach, a week before getting fired, and Fitzgerald and LSU RB Derrius Guice were not household names yet. Those two ended up being atop the SEC in rushing, and they've become two of the most difficult players to defend in the country. The problem for Mississippi State? It's a lot easier to trust LSU's defense to get the job done. The Tigers get standout pass rusher Arden Key back from an injury, and although he's unlikely to be a full-time player in his first game, his presence on a situational basis can have a significant impact, as part of a talented Tigers defense.
Pick: LSU 34, Mississippi State 24
Oregon at Wyoming
7 p.m., CBSSN
Depending on the bowl matchup, this could be the last Power Five opponent that Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen faces. In total in two games against Nebraska (last year) and Iowa (Week 1), he has completed 54 percent of his passes for 363 yards, one touchdown and seven interceptions. Given how it played last year, it's hard to know what to make of a game against Oregon's defense, but this is a high-profile chance for Allen to prove himself on his home field against a Pac-12 team. Allen needs help, of course. This offense is missing some key players from last year like prolific tailback Brian Hill, and he just doesn't have the weapons that a team like Oregon does. Allen nevertheless needs to become a more consistent quarterback, turning the impressive physical tools he has into a big performance in a spotlight game against a Ducks defense that is going to be better than last year but is still beatable. For all the attention on Allen, though, the mismatch here is Wyoming's defense trying to slow down Royce Freeman, Justin Herbert and the Oregon offense.
Pick: Oregon 42, Wyoming 27
Arizona State at Texas Tech
8 p.m., FSN
Texas Tech is a 7 ½-point favorite over Arizona State at home. You may remember last season's meeting, when the Red Raiders scored 55 points in Tempe but still lost by 13, in true Texas Tech fashion. Arizona State RB Kalen Ballage scored eight touchdowns in the game, without scoring in the first quarter; he has scored a total of nine touchdowns in the 12 games since then. Texas Tech's defense remains an enormous question mark -- its only game this season was against an FCS team -- but so is Arizona State's. The Sun Devils barely beat New Mexico State in Week 1, then lost by 10 to San Diego State at home in their second game. Both coaches, Kliff Kingsbury and Todd Graham, are on the hot seat, particularly Graham at Arizona State, because of all the obvious weak points on these teams. The game is unlikely to match the 123 points we saw last year, especially with Patrick Mahomes no longer playing for Texas Tech, but it's hard to imagine the defenses getting many stops.
Pick: Arizona State 42, Texas Tech 41
No. 18 Kansas State at Vanderbilt
7:30 p.m., ESPNU
The Commodores and Wildcats have met only once before: a 26-14 Vandy win in 1984. The game this year is far more interesting than it was in the 1980s. Under Derek Mason, Vanderbilt has a stingy defense, one that held a potent Middle Tennessee offense to six points, and QB Kyle Shurmur is also off to a strong start. Under Bill Snyder, Kansas State is once again a possible Big 12 contender, although we'll learn a lot more about QB Jesse Ertz -- who's been nearly perfect thus far against Central Arkansas and Charlotte -- and this offense on the road vs. a stout defense like this. How competitive can Vandy be in the SEC East? Is Kansas State really a top-20 team? It's a sneaky intriguing game that can start to provide answers to those questions.
Pick: Kansas State 27, Vanderbilt 17
Kentucky at South Carolina
7:30 p.m., SEC Network
The Gamecocks started the season 2-0 away from home, beating N.C. State and Missouri, and they make their home debut in an SEC East game that could be more important than expected. South Carolina's offense hasn't necessarily been great -- Deebo Samuel's kick returns have been a huge help -- but the Gamecocks have the division's best quarterback in sophomore Jake Bentley, with Samuel leading a solid group of supporting talent. They're also matching up with a Kentucky team missing one of its best players, injured LB Jordan Jones. Like South Carolina, the Wildcats have opened with a 2-0 record, but it's been rather underwhelming, with fairly tight wins over Southern Miss and Eastern Kentucky.
Pick: South Carolina 30, Kentucky 20
Colorado State at No. 1 Alabama
7 p.m., ESPN2
Alabama hasn't allowed more than 14 points to a non-Power Five opponent since 2011. Colorado State has the potential to be a prolific offense, led by QB Nick Stevens and WR Michael Gallup, and it even opened the season with a 58-27 win over Oregon State. However, the Rams followed that up by scoring three points against Colorado. Alabama is far too good in the secondary and at the line of scrimmage for Colorado State to have a chance.
Pick: Alabama 38, Colorado State 13
Georgia State at No. 5 Penn State
7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Few places have better atmospheres for night games than Happy Valley, although this isn't the typical prime-time opponent. It's Georgia State, which is 0-1 with a loss to Tennessee State. The Panthers actually put a scare into Wisconsin last year in their most recent Big Ten trip, but they scored only 10 points against an FCS team at home in Shawn Elliott's coaching debut. They're not going to keep up with Saquon Barkley and Penn State's offense.
Pick: Penn State 41, Georgia State 10
Tulane at No. 2 Oklahoma
6 pm., Pay-per-view
After watching Oklahoma earn an enormous road win at Ohio State, planting a flag at midfield and all, in a prime-time ABC game, now you can pay to watch Oklahoma destroy Tulane at home. The Green Wave have intriguing potential under coach Willie Fritz, but not the sort of potential that involves posing any sort of serious threat to a team like Oklahoma now, even if the Sooners are in a letdown spot.
Pick: Oklahoma 48, Tulane 13
Other ranked teams in action: Samford at No. 13 Georgia (7:30 p.m., SEC Network)
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No. 19 Stanford at San Diego State
10:30 p.m., CBSSN
If you haven't seen Rashaad Penny play yet, here's a great opportunity to fix that. Behind 2,000-yard rusher Donnel Pumphrey, Penny ran for 1,018 yards and 11 TDs, averaging 7.5 yards per carry in 2016. With Pumphrey gone, it's Penny's show now. In two wins over UC Davis and Arizona State, he has rushed for 413 yards and three TDs and returned a kickoff for a TD. But despite getting demolished by USC's offense last week, Stanford is by far the biggest test the Penny and the Aztecs have faced this season. Sandwiched between key conference games against USC and UCLA, a trip to San Diego is a trap for the Cardinal, but they have their own standout replacement running back in Bryce Love, with a defense that won't be embarrassed two weeks in a row.
Pick: Stanford 29, San Diego State 23
Ole Miss at California
10:30 p.m., ESPN
An SEC team is involved, but this game is destined for wacky #Pac12AfterDark happenings. With a suspect defense, a fun quarterback in Shea Patterson, a talented receiving corps and a wide-open offense, Ole Miss is built to play entertaining shootouts. This isn't the Sonny Dykes version of California, but the Golden Bears won at North Carolina in Week 1 and can still throw the ball. Patterson has thrown for 981 yards and nine TDs in two games against lackluster opponents. The competition steps up a notch here, on the road, but regardless of the result, Patterson and this Rebels offense are likely going to put up big numbers again. Expect a fun late-night show in Berkeley.
Pick: Ole Miss 40, California 37
Fresno State at No. 6 Washington
9:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
Washington's quiet nonconference slate ends against Fresno State and coach Jeff Tedford, a former Pac-12 foe at California. The Huskies had an uneven 30-14 Week 1 win over Rutgers, then easily took care of Montana, 63-7, in Week 2. At home, there's little reason to expect anything but smooth sailing against the Bulldogs, who are in rebuilding mode and are coming off a 41-10 loss at Alabama.
Pick: Washington 45, Fresno State 17
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Contact Matt at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MattBrownCFB and Facebook.
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