Week three of the 2014 college football season is a barren wasteland. Locally, Wisconsin is on a bye, and nationally, there’s just one game that features two Top 25 teams.
I mean, College Gameday is on the North Dakota State campus this week. Trying to pick a handful of matchups to highlight basically requires me to ask, which of these games will suck the least? Sadly that’s a difficult question to answer, but let’s take a look at the schedule.
No. 6 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina
We kick things off with the most obvious choice for game of the week. The Gamecocks began the year ranked No. 9 in the nation but have since sputtered to a 1-1 start, highlighted by Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill/Trill’s surgical dismantling of the South Carolina defense in the season opener.
The Gamecocks rebounded last week to pick up a victory, but the 33-23 decision over East Carolina did nothing to eliminate the early doubts. South Carolina actually dropped three spots in the AP poll after the win and now finds itself already at a season crossroads against an SEC East rival.
Georgia, meanwhile, has vaulted from No. 12 in the preseason polls to No. 6. The Dawgs have only played once, which is unfortunate because that means we’ve only gotten one chance to see Todd freaking Gurley so far.
Against Clemson two weeks ago, Gurley ripped the Tigers for 198 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries. His touchdown runs consisted of 18, 23 and 51 yards. Oh yeah, he also had a 100-yard kickoff return and accounted for nearly half of Georgia’s all-purpose yards.
If you’re a casual college football fan, you know the SEC is good. If you’re more than a casual college football fan, you know the SEC West is markedly better than the SEC East. A program from the East hasn’t won the SEC title since Florida in 2008 during the Tim Tebow regime. There are relatively few quality teams in the division outside of one or two rotating schools.
Missouri may be the reigning East champion (geography need not apply in the SEC), but the Georgia-South Carolina winner has already been penciled in as the division favorite. This game has massive implications for the conference title race, and for Georgia, the College Football Playoff race.
No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas in Arlington, Texas
It’s remarkable how far and how quickly Texas has fallen in terms of being a national powerhouse. After losing the BCS title game to Alabama following the 2009 season, the Longhorns have finished ranked in the final AP poll just once in the past four years and are 4-15 against ranked opponents in that span.
The Longhorns have become an afterthought. That was never more apparent than last week, when Taysom Hill and BYU went into Austin and trounced Texas in a 41-7 blowout. It was the Longhorns’ worst home loss since UCLA beat them 66-3 in 1997.
Oh hey, what a convenient transition. The Bruins were ranked No. 7 to start the year and had College Football Playoff hopes. Though UCLA is 2-0, its victories over Virginia and Memphis (combined 2013 record: 5-19) have been unimpressive and have led to more questions than answers.
Quarterback Brett Hundley began the year as a preseason Heisman candidate but has struggled to get into a rhythm while simultaneously trying to lead the offense and run for his life. His offensive line has already allowed eight sacks, tied for the third-worst figure in college football.
UCLA is still the better team here, but the Bruins are clearly vulnerable. The atmosphere at Jerry World could make this a close game.
East Carolina at No. 17 Virginia Tech
Longtime Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer began the season on the hot seat. Two weeks later and suddenly the Beamer Ball frenzy is back after the Hokies went into Columbus and knocked off then-No. 8 Ohio State.
We still don’t know how bad the Buckeyes are sans Braxton Miller. If Ohio State limps to a 7-5 finish, Tech’s win won’t seem as impressive.
But we can’t say that with any certainty, and it’s still Ohio State. This was a team that had national title hopes last month. To be in that position, the Buckeyes had to have a solid roster outside of Miller.
Still, the Hokies enter this weekend seemingly having to legitimize the Ohio State win. East Carolina is no slouch, having gone 10-3 last year. As mentioned earlier, the Pirates lost 33-23 to South Carolina on the road last week and were within striking distance throughout.
East Carolina has a talented quarterback in Shane Carden, who has begun his senior season averaging over 300 yards per game and a completion rate just under 70 percent.
A Virginia Tech win erases any doubts about the Ohio State game and would set the stage nicely for the week four matchup with fellow ACC Coastal team Georgia Tech.
Central Florida at No. 20 Missouri
With James Franklin now graduated, the Tigers have turned to sophomore Maty Mauk under center. Mauk filled in for an injured Franklin last year in four games, completing just 50 percent of his passes but throwing 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Through two games this fall, Mauk has completed 64 percent of his passes and thrown eight touchdowns and two picks. His presence at quarterback has been the biggest reason for the Tigers’ 2-0 start, but he’s dealt with the not-so-powerful defenses of South Dakota State and Toledo.
The UCF secondary was fantastic last season and returned all its key players, but it allowed 454 passing yards to Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg in the opening week. That’s the only game the Knights have played so far, so Hackenberg’s performance could stand out as an anomaly.
Fresh off a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor last season, UCF lost quarterback Blake Bortles to the NFL and initially replaced him with Pete DiNovo. However, after struggling in the first half against the Nittany Lions, DiNovo was benched in favor of Justin Holman. Holman nearly led a comeback win, erasing a 10-point deficit and taking a lead into the final minute before Penn State kicked a field goal as time expired.
Had Holman started that game from the outset, the Knights probably would have beaten Penn State and been on the verge of the top 25. Missouri needs to be on upset alert this weekend.