NCF Nation: what to watch week 3

Things I'm watching for today

September, 13, 2008
9/13/08
11:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I'm thinking this will be the best week of college football so far this year, and not just because of the titantic Ohio State-USC matchup later tonight in Los Angeles.

It will be the most balanced groupings of the season with more good games involving ranked teams than any week so far.

We can only hope that the excitement matches that we witnessed last night in the wild South Florida-Kansas game.

Here are some of the things I'll be watching.

  • How much the loss of Beanie Wells hurts Ohio State. I'm guessing it will mean we might see Terrelle Pryor. But I'll be also particularly watching game-changing linebackers James Laurinaitis and USC's Rey Maualuga.
  • Watching what Georgia TB Knowshon Moreno can do today against South Carolina. After two games, he's scored six TDs and his team has won two games by 63 points and still dropped in the polls. Will that result in a little extra incentive against the Gamecocks? We'll see.
  • What can Missouri's weak pass defense do to improve against Nevada? The Tigers rank 115th nationally, mainly because most opponents have been forced to pass in the latter stages of games. Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick and his "Pistol" offense will be a big challenge but the return of Missouri S William Moore and the possible return of LB Van Alexander should have them ready.
  • What can UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel do for an encore after beating Tennessee in the opener? BYU and its nation-best winning streak of 12 games will be a challenge for Neuheisel and streaky QB Kevin Craft.
  • In the day's earliest game, how much will moving the Houston-Air Force game to Gerald Ford Stadium in Dallas hurt the preparation of both teams?
  • What can California RB Jahvid Best, my dark-horse favorite in the Heisman race, do against Maryland's defense?
  • How will Iowa State's opportunistic defense handle the bullish line thrusts of Iowa RB Shonn Greene and Jewel Hampton.
  • Can surprise team East Carolina keep its magic alive another week at Tulane? The Green Wave might be a tougher challenge than you expect. Tulane outgained Alabama last week and controlled the ball for most of the game. But they will need big plays to stun the Pirates and claim their first victory over a ranked team since 1982.
  • Some of the magic is gone from the usual excitement of a Notre Dame-Michigan meeting, but both teams desperately need victories.
  • How will Wisconsin respond to the rowdy crowd that will be waiting for them tonight at Bulldog Stadium? Fresno State shouldn't be intimidated, considering its 2001 victory in Madison helped jump-start Coach Pat Hill's "any place, any time" mantra.

What to Watch: Week 3 Primer

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
11:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com  

Here's the final word on what you need to know heading into the second weekend of the 2008 season: 

1. Beanie Wells is very doubtful, and now so are the Ohio State fans. But don't forget the tenets of Tresselball: stout defense, field position, good special teams, pounce on mistakes. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez is making only his fifth start, so it will be a lot to ask him to play mistake free on Saturday. Hey, I'm doubtful of the Buckeyes without Wells, too. But Ohio State shouldn't be written off. -- Ivan Maisel 

2. The hype ends and the game begins with a pair of teams laden with future NFL talent vying for what figures to be the No. 1 ranking in all major polls and an early pole position for this season's national title game. The pregame momentum appears to reside with top-ranked USC, which is coming off a bye week following a tour de force performance at Virginia. Ohio State, meanwhile, looked terrible last weekend in slipping by Ohio. If the dominating defenses can be counted a push, then the Trojans advantage is more fire-power on offense and playing on their home field at the Coliseum. -- Ted Miller 

3. It breaks down pretty simply in South Bend: winner feels a brief and perhaps false sense of hope; loser feels terrible. It's rare when both teams come into this rivalry game as wobbly as they do this year. Michigan is 1-1, having lost to Utah and scraped past Miami-Ohio. Notre Dame is 1-0 after rallying to beat a San Diego State team that lost its opener to FCS Cal Poly. Both offenses have looked awful. Both proud fan bases need something positive to latch onto. -- Pat Forde 

4. The overriding reason Steve Spurrier took the South Carolina job was that he wanted to win a championship at a place where it had never been done. Granted, there's a lot of season left, but you wonder where he would be mentally and emotionally if his Gamecocks get clobbered Saturday at home by No. 2-ranked Georgia. That would be USC's sixth-straight SEC loss dating back to last season. Don't count him out just yet, though. Nobody loves beating up on Georgia more than the Head Ball Coach. -- Chris Low 

5. Rick Neuheisel gave UCLA football fans hope by upsetting then-No. 18 Tennessee 27-24 in overtime on Labor Day night. Extending that honeymoon might be more difficult. The Bruins play at No. 16 BYU on Saturday and will try to end the Cougars' 14-game home winning streak. These teams know each other very well. They played twice last season -- UCLA won 27-17 in Los Angeles during the regular season and the Cougars won 17-16 in the Las Vegas Bowl. -- Mark Schlabach 

6. Fresno State coach Pat Hill warns that Bulldog Stadium will be rocking when the No. 21 Fresno State hosts No. 10 Wisconsin. Wisconsin is the first Big Ten opponent to visit Bulldog Stadium and this is the first game between two ranked programs in Fresno. The Bulldogs have had two weeks to prepare for a game that could vault them to East Carolina, BCS-buster status. -- Graham Watson 

7. Linebacker depth was Purdue's biggest concern entering the preseason, and it will be put to the test against No. 16 Oregon. The Boilermakers expect to play without their fastest linebacker, junior Jason Werner, who has some back problems. Converted safety Joe Holland is expected to make his second straight start at weak-side linebacker spot. He'll be backed up by another redshirt freshman, DaVarro Greaves. -- Adam Rittenberg 

8. Regardless of how Virginia Tech's quarterbacks are used, the Hokies will face one of the top defensive lines in the conference in Georgia Tech. Still, Paul Johnson's offense can't afford to fumble three times in Lane Stadium like it did last week at BC. -- Heather Dinich 

9. Hurricane Ike has made weather the biggest story in the Big 12. Texas had a home game postponed for weather conditions for the first time in school history. Another game was played a day early and another was moved up to accommodate the hurricane's expected arrival. But the biggest weather conditions in effect might be seen at the SMU-Texas Tech game in Lubbock, where another storm dumped seven inches of rain Friday and could drown out a projected offensive shootout between the Red Raiders and Mustangs. -- Tim Griffin 

10. Just two games in the Big East, featuring two Northeast teams heading in opposite directions. Connecticut, last year's league co-champs and off to a 2-0 start, looks to keep its momentum going against Virginia at sold-out Rentschler Field. Then there's 0-2 Syracuse, a prohibitive underdog at home against Penn State, fighting to save coach Greg Robinson's job for at least another week. -- Brian Bennett

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

This normally runs on Friday, but with Rutgers playing tonight and only three other Big East games this weekend, we'll get a head start. The list will go in order of games played.

1. Rutgers' offensive line vs. North Carolina's defensive line: The Tar Heels' front four is huge, including two 300-pounders in Marvin Austin and Darius Massenburg and 330-pound tackle Cam Thomas. Rutgers has a young, reshuffled O-line which had its ups and downs against Fresno State. The Scarlet Knights need to average more than the 3.1 yards per rush they mustered in that 24-7 loss.

2. Brandon Tate vs. Rutgers' kick coverage: Tate is the Tar Heels' best weapon. He had 397 all-purpose yards and an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown. He needs only 197 kick return yards to break the all-time NCAA record. The Scarlet Knights obviously are on high alert for Tate. Kicking away from him might be a good idea, too.

3. Kansas' tackles vs. South Florida's defensive line: George Selvie said in the preseason that he wanted to get 20 sacks this year. The Big East's reigning defensive player of the year so far has zero as teams are double teaming him. South Florida didn't register a single sack at Central Florida last week. But that doesn't mean Kansas can relax. The Jayhawks are breaking in new starters at both tackle spots, and their first starts on the road will be big tests.

4. The running games at Raymond James: The Jayhawks' rushing attack has been ineffective against weak competition through two weeks, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. The Bulls are averaging more than a yard better per carry, but tailbacks Ben Williams and Mike Ford are still dealing with ankle problems. If either team can run the ball well Friday, that would provide a big assist to Matt Grothe or Todd Reesing.

5. The USF kicking game: Field goals have usually been an adventure for the Bulls the past couple of seasons. Jim Leavitt pulled Delbert Alvarado from the placekicking chores this week and inserted true freshman Maikon Bonani. How will that work if Bonani is needed in a big spot?

6. Connecticut's passing attack: Despite being 2-0, Randy Edsall had to defend his play calling from critics this week. UConn is never going to air it out completely. But with receiver Brad Kanuch and speedster Jordan Todman possibly returning from injuries, quarterback Tyler Lorenzen could have more options. And Southern Cal had no problems throwing all over Virginia's defense.

7. UConn's defense: The Huskies have given up four field goals and nothing else so far this season. Of course, they've done it against an FCS team (Hofstra) and Temple in a near-monsoon. Is Connecticut's 'D' really that good? We still might not know because Virginia has been so inept on offense itself.

8. Donald Brown: He's been fabulous through two weeks for Connecticut, and Virginia will no doubt stack the box to try and stop the junior running back. It will be fun to see what he can do against an ACC defense.

9. Syracuse's grit: The Orange have spent all week listening to fans and media call for their coach's head. People who aren't talking about that are focused on the former players and legends in town for this weekend's movie premiere. On top of that, their porous defense faces a Penn State machine that's averaging 55.5 points. Can Syracuse dig down and give a respectable effort with so many distractions and hurdles in the way?

10. Big East or Big Least: Yes, the Big East has been terrible the first two weeks. But this weekend offers a chance at respectability. All four games are on Big East turf, and two of them are winnable against ACC teams, who've been just as bad or worse. South Florida can register a win over a top 15 team. Taking care of business this weekend will slow down the jokes. Falling flat again will cue the laugh track.

What to watch in the SEC, Week 3

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
11:04
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Week No. 3 in the SEC is highlighted by a pair of conference games, two top 10 teams going on the road as solid favorites. No. 2-ranked Georgia plays at South Carolina, while No. 9-ranked Auburn plays at Mississippi State. Is Georgia as good as it's looked the first two weeks? And is Chris Todd the answer at quarterback for Auburn? We start to better answer those questions and more this week. The one change to the schedule is that Arkansas and Texas postponed their game until Sept. 27 because of Hurricane Ike. Florida is off this week before taking on Tennessee in Knoxville on Sept. 20, which isn't good news for the Vols. Florida coach Urban Meyer is 24-3 during his head-coaching career when he has more than a week to prepare for a game. He's 1-0 when he kicks a field goal with 25 seconds remaining in a three-touchdown game to rub Miami's noses in it. Here's a look at what to watch for around the league this Saturday:

1. Garcia's debut: After all the anticipation, all the arrests and all the angst, we finally get to see this weekend if Stephen Garcia can play. The Head Ball Coach says he's probably going to give Garcia a shot against No. 2-ranked Georgia. It's not the ideal setting to be taking your first college snap, but the Gamecocks are pretty desperate right now on offense.

2. Dogs on the road: Georgia's had it on cruise control the first two weeks with easy victories over outmanned foes at home. Now comes the fun part. The next two games are on the road, this Saturday at South Carolina and then next Saturday at No. 13-ranked Arizona State. The Bulldogs were shaky in their first three road games a year ago.

3. Moving on up: Depending on what happens out in Los Angeles this weekend and a few other locales around the country, the SEC could have four of the top seven or eight nationally ranked teams in college football by the time next Monday rolls around. Anybody taking any bets that one of those teams winds up in the BCS national championship game for a fourth time in the last six years?

4. Show your gold: Here Vanderbilt is again, knocking on the door of what could potentially be a really successful season. The Commodores can go to 3-0 by holding serve at home and knocking off Rice, which would set up a huge game for them next week at Ole Miss. The only problem with that is this is just the type of game the Commodores have lost over the years when it looked like they were about to break through. Then again, maybe this really is the "New Vanderbilt."

5. Snead's a treat: Do yourself a favor and go watch Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead play. Granted, Arkansas' Casey Dick put up big numbers the first two weeks, but Snead is making a strong bid as the SEC's third-best quarterback right now behind Tim Tebow and Matthew Stafford. The guy's a magician on the move and at being able to locate open receivers.

6. Any rust for LSU: It's been anything but a normal first few weeks to the season for the Tigers. The defending national champions haven't played since a season-opening 41-13 win over Appalachian State and have instead spent the last two weeks cleaning up from one hurricane and wishing another one away. The good news is that they get senior defensive tackle Charles Alexander and senior place-kicker Colt David back this week.

7. Cobb or Hartline?: You wonder how much longer Kentucky coach Rich Brooks wants to keep playing two quarterbacks. He really likes what true freshman Randall Cobb brings to the offense with his ability to scramble and make things happen when a play isn't perfectly blocked, but Brooks also isn't ready to give up on Mike Hartline. He can't afford to. There's too much season left.

8. Crompton's maturation: In the worst way, Tennessee needs junior quarterback Jonathan Crompton to have some success this Saturday against UAB. It's been two weeks since his rocky outing against UCLA, so this is a chance to build a little momentum heading into the Florida game. More important than Crompton believing he can beat the Gators is everybody around him believing he can beat the Gators.

9. Mississippi State pride: The Bulldogs' pride was bruised in that season-opening loss at Louisiana Tech. This is a football team that genuinely believed it would be competing for the Western Division crown this season. Here's a chance at home against No. 9-ranked Auburn to show what Sylvester Croom has been saying for the last week, that this team still has plenty of fight left in it.

10. Crimson and clover: It's a hard call as to whether Alabama was more impressive in its season-opening mauling of Clemson or more disappointing last week in its lackluster win over Tulane, a game that saw the Tide muster just 37 yards of total offense in the first half. That was Bad Bama. Nick Saban will make sure it's Good Bama that reappears this weekend against Western Kentucky.

Big Ten: What to watch in Week 3

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
10:37
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A great weekend of Big Ten games is on tap, and not just the big one at the L.A. Coliseum (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). I expect all of you to gain a few pounds sitting on your couches throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning. Anything less will be unacceptable. I get a rare Friday night at home -- fiancee is happy -- before hitting the road early Saturday to watch Purdue and No. 16 Oregon go at it (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

A quick disclaimer about this post because I've gotten a lot of nasty e-mails. These are the best 10 things to watch on a given Saturday, not the best thing to watch for each team. There often will be two items for a marquee game -- like the one in L.A. -- and multiple teams won't make the rundown, especially those playing weak competition. That's how it works.

Here are 10 things you don't want to miss:

1. Beanie watch ends: Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells is listed as doubtful for the matchup against top-ranked USC, but nothing will be settled until kickoff. Coach Jim Tressel doesn't want to risk further injury to Wells in September, but if the Heisman Trophy candidate can contribute, the Buckeyes will use him. If not, get ready for a guy (Dan Herron) nicknamed "Boom." Unfortunately, that's also the sound Rey Maualuga makes when he connects with ball carriers.

2. Pryor restraint: Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor will play a role against the Trojans. How significant a role largely depends on Beanie Wells' availability. If the offense stalls like it did last week without Wells, Pryor could get extended time in an effort to throw off the USC defense. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound freshman is a special talent, but can he handle the spotlight of such a marquee game?

3. Badgers hit the road: Wisconsin has survived slow starts against inferior opposition, but it can't afford to drag against Fresno State. Keep your eyes on Badgers quarterback Allan Evridge, who makes his first road start since 2005. Coach Bret Bielema gets two big pieces -- tight end Travis Beckum and linebacker Jonathan Casillas -- back on the field following injuries, but both players could be a bit rusty.

4. 'Hell' with the victors: Michigan players saw Charlie Weis' words around their training room this week. The Wolverines head to South Bend hoping to hand Weis and Notre Dame a third humiliating loss in the last three years. Quarterback Steven Threet gets the start and needs to show greater consistency, but he'll get help from a veteran defensive line that swarmed Jimmy Clausen last year.

5. Track meet at Ross-Ade -- Purdue has marveled at Oregon's team speed all week, and the Boilers have to find a way to keep pace Saturday afternoon. This will be the first of several defining games for Purdue senior quarterback Curtis Painter, who will set plenty of records but needs signature wins to complete his resume. The Boilermakers' back seven has improved but will play without speedy linebacker Jason Werner. Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson could capitalize.

6. Backer bonanza: NFL scouts will be drooling as arguably the nation's best linebacker tandems take the field at the L.A. Coliseum. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman hope to continue their takeaway trend against Mark Sanchez, while the "scary" Maualuga and Brian Cushing bring the pain to the Buckeyes offense.

7. State pride on the line: This is more than a rivalry game for Iowa. Iowa State provides the first significant test for the Hawkeyes, who have looked dominant against shoddy competition. Sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi has a grasp on the starting job and the support of Iowa fans, but he'll need to continue to make progress against the Cyclones. The home team has won the last four Cy-Hawk trophies, a good sign for Iowa.

8. Rush hour in East Lansing: Michigan State's defensive line has yet to break out, and Saturday would be a fine time to do so. Sun Belt champ Florida Atlantic and standout quarterback Rusty Smith come to town, and the Spartans need to apply pressure to avoid problems. With uncertainty in the secondary, Michigan State needs big things from end Trevor Anderson and tackle Justin Kershaw.

9. Illini D-line under the gun -- Illinois ranks 101st nationally in rush defense (201 ypg), a troubling sign as Louisiana-Lafayette's dynamic quarterback Michael Desormeaux comes to town. Can veterans like Will Davis, Derek Walker, Doug Pilcher and David Lindquist shore up the defensive front? This would be a perfect time as Illinois inches closer to a tough opening stretch in league play.

10. Orange could be feeling blue: What was once a great rivalry could get ugly Saturday at the Carrier Dome as Penn State's high-powered offense faces the worst BCS team in the country. Syracuse should be pumped for the game: coach Greg Robinson desperately needs a positive showing: but Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and the 17th-ranked Nittany Lions should put up some ridiculous numbers in this one.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here are ten things to watch for this week in the Big 12.

1. Missouri WR Danario Alexander's return: I'll be interested to see how Alexander performs in his first game since injuring his knee in the Big 12 championship game last December. He's a tall, athletic target who will be especially important for QB Chase Daniel in red-zone possessions. Just what the Tigers need, another offensive weapon.

2. Iowa State's defensive front against Iowa's inside running game: The Cyclones struggled mightily last week against Kent State. And they'll be stepping up in class as they try to contain bullish Iowa RBs Shonn Greene and Jewel Hampton.

3. The Oklahoma State triplets and what they'll do for an encore: QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter and WR Dez Bryant all will have their chances against Missouri State, but I'm not betting on another 200-200-300 performance like last week. The Cowboys will have the game in hand by the middle of the second quarter, limiting their chances to pad their statistics in the second half.

4. New Mexico State's first-game readiness: The Aggies, no doubt, will be at a huge disadvantage in their maiden voyage this season after their first game against Nicholls State University was postponed by Hurricane Gustav. Saturday will be Nebraska's third game. That experience should have the Cornhuskers ready for the Aggies' aerial attack keyed by QB Chase Holbrook.

5. Bob Stoops' heebie-jeebies in a Pac-10 stadium: Stoops has never won in two previous trips to the West Coast (Oregon in 2006, UCLA in 2005). That losing streak continues Oklahoma's struggles that have seen the team win only one of its last six road games against Pac-10 teams since 1988.

6. Washington State's early arrival at Baylor: Hurricane Ike pushed the kickoff up a day, making an already difficult trip more arduous for the Cougars. And they can't be feeling very confident after last week's 66-3 home blowout to California. WSU struggles defensively against the pass, so look for Robert Griffin to try to establish WR David Gettis early.

7. The trench battle between Kansas T Jeff Spikes and South Florida DE George Selvie: The Bulls have to pressure Kansas QB Todd Reesing for any chance to win. Selvie finished second nationally with 14.5 sacks, but hasn't notched one since mid-November. His slump has permeated the rest of his team as the Bulls have produced only one sack as a team this season.

8. Mike Leach's gambles: No Big 12 coach disdains punting on fourth-and-short situations as much as Leach, no matter where on the field he's positioned. After being burned twice on missed fourth-down plays deep in his own end of the field last week at Nevada, it will be interesting to see how reckless Leach will be Saturday against SMU.

9. Graham Harrell's slump: Some are wondering if Texas Tech's talented quarterback has hit a wall after struggling last week against Nevada. He had a below 50 percent completion percentage for the first time in his starting career last week. Harrell has thrown three touchdowns after the first two games of the season. He averaged 3.6 touchdown passes per game last season.

10. Nebraska's offensive discipline: The Cornhuskers struggled with self-inflicted mistakes last week against San Jose State. They were flagged eight times offensively, including false-start penalties on three consecutive snaps at one juncture. A veteran quarterback and offensive line were expected to have better communication than that.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Lots to look for in a big nonconference weekend:

1. USC RB Joe McKnight may be ready for his close-up: McKnight was burdened with stratospheric of expectations last year as a true freshman, most notably folks calling him the next Reggie Bush. He flashed some fanciness at times but didn't break through. Watching him during practices this week, however, there were a few "Reggie who?" moments. Dude's got some wheels. Saturday's game would be a nice stage for a breakout performance.

2. Good Craft or Bad Craft? UCLA can show the nation the victory over Tennessee was no fluke by beating No. 18 BYU on the road. The Bruins D will be challenged by a balanced, veteran Cougars offense playing at home, but the game likely will turn on QB Kevin Craft's ability to exploit a mediocre secondary. To do that, two things have to happen: One, he needs time to throw; Two, he needs to avoid the brain cramps that caused him to toss four first-half interceptions against Tennessee.

3. Ducks got Painter's number: Purdue QB Curtis Painter has piled up some big numbers, but he hasn't faced many secondaries as athletic as Oregon's. If the Ducks get good pressure up front, count on the DBs getting their belated first picks of the season.

4. Will the Huskies D finally show up?: Based on what it's done in the first two games -- 486 yards and 36 points per game -- Washington's defense looks poised to give up 50 or more to the third-ranked Sooners. That won't go over well in Husky Stadium, where an 0-3 start needs to arrive as softly as possible -- as in, not a five-TD spread -- or the already simmering talk about coach Tyrone Willingham will reach a boil.

5. Another round of Best highlights: See what we said last week -- California RB Jahvid Best broke out against Washington State with a pair of 80-plus yard TD runs. If he gets fancy again, such as matching his average of 240 yards of total offense per game, he officially will earn a new lead-in in media reports: "Heisman Trophy candidate Jahvid Best."

6. Is a Cougar QB change on deck? Gary Rogers has been mostly terrible in the first two games, so Kevin Lopina will get a shot at Baylor in a rescheduled Friday night game. Will Rogers respond to the challenge, or will new blood inspire the anemic offense? Or is there just no hope in 2008?

7. Speaking of QB issues, er, Stanford: The Cardinal is only saved from having the Pac-10's worst passing offense by the Cougars (105.5 yards vs. 96 yards per game). Starter Tavita Pritchard only has one TD pass in two games. He needs to step up at TCU, or he'll find Jim Harbaugh not just platooning his backups. And perhaps touted freshman Andrew Luck will get a shot.

8. Your nationally ranked Arizona Wildcats: If Arizona dispatches New Mexico with prejudice, as it should, then the Wildcats will start to win over skeptical believers. They already are getting Top 25 votes, which landed them 38th in this week's AP poll. Big number Saturday could have them sniffing the Top 25.

9. Don't get sloppy, Sun Devils: Arizona State needs to come out and stomp on UNLV early and get QB Rudy Carpenter safely on the sidelines by the middle of the third quarter. Don't screw around and risk any more injuries with Georgia coming to town next weekend.

10. Lyle Moevao, your Beavers need you: Oregon State looks out of sorts. Over the previous three seasons, a guy like Yvenson Bernard would have stepped up and made sure that the team stayed focused after a bad loss. Thus those famous Beavers second-half surges. Who steps up now? We nominate Moevao, who's got a lot of charisma. But he needs to step up with his play first. With the defense struggling, Moevao and the Beavers offense may have to win a scoring fest vs. Hawaii.

Non-BCS things to watch: Week 3

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

1. Bulldogs home field advantage: This weekend's game between Fresno State and Wisconsin is the biggest game Bulldogs Stadium has seen since it was built in 1980. Never has Fresno State played a ranked opponent while ranked. And the Bulldogs chances are good. Since 1980, it is 122-30-2.

2. Hurricane Ike: Several games have been upset by Hurricane Ike, but the team to worry about is Houston. While it's bunkered in Dallas, their school could be getting hit pretty hard with the storm. Where will their heads be this weekend?

3. East Carolina out of the spotlight: The new non-BCS darling is going up against a Tulane defense that held Alabama to fewer than 200 total yards of offense. This is the first conference game and the first true road game for the Pirates.

4. Rice away from C-USA: OK, Rice has shown it can beat a team within its own conference, but what about out of it? The Owls will have their chance against the lower end of the SEC when they travel to Vanderbilt.

5. Are the Red Wolves for real? Arkansas State is the only two-game winner in the Sun Belt, but the Red Wolves will have a challenge against Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles are 1-1, but they played well with Auburn last week.

6. Nobody puts Tyler Graunke in the corner: In his third career start, Graunke will have a chance to give coach Greg McMackin some validation. McMackin is starting Graunke against Oregon State despite Graunke missing some spring and all of fall camp because of academic missteps. But Graunke is the best QB option the Warriors have.

7. Owls ain't no Bull: I know, not the greatest matchup, but one between two programs that haven't had a lot of success and are looking to gain some. Both are 1-1 this season and the Buffalo offense and the Temple defense make this game an interesting matchup.

8. FAU's second chance: Florida Atlantic didn't show much against Texas in its first meeting with a BCS school this year, but it will have a second chance on the road against a Michigan State team that hasn't been talked about much. A better outing is expected.

9. Running back by committee: With Luke Lippincott lost for the season, Nevada will need to find a stopgap to replace him. Looks like junior Brandon Fragger and sophomore Vai Taua will get the bulk of the carries in his stead. Both players have more than 100 yards rushing already this season.

10. A different Notre Dame? Uh, no: Last week's game against San Diego State did little to inspire confidence that this is a different Notre Dame team from last year. And while Michigan is no longer a power, it's front four is still better than Notre Dame's O-line and its backfield.

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

In a word, quarterbacks. They're the plotline of the week. Check it out:

1. Virginia Tech's quarterbacks: The staff has kept this under wraps all week, and neither Tyrod Taylor nor Sean Glennon were available for interviews. With the offensive line's pass protection still struggling (they've allowed six sacks so far), will Taylor get more snaps than Glennon again?

2. NC State QB Russell Wilson: How Wilson responds in his first game back since suffering a concussion will go a long way in determining how long the Pack can hang with Clemson. Wilson threw just five passes against South Carolina, so this will be like his season opener again, only in Death Valley.

3. Virginia QB Marc Verica: He's never thrown a pass in a college game before, but will start on the road against Connecticut in place of Peter Lalich. He played one series against USC, but is said to be the most athletic of the Cavaliers' three quarterbacks.

4. Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers: The standout freshman has impressed Tommy Bowden enough to earn his first career start and will bring some pressure on Wilson. He's the only one on the team who has recorded a sack.

5. Duke WR Eron Riley: He's listed as probable with a "leg" injury, but he will need to be 100 percent if the Blue Devils are going to have a chance against Navy. His connection with quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is how the Blue Devils "almost won" this game a year ago.

6. Florida State's offensive line: This is the last chance for Rick Trickett to figure out who goes where before Wake Forest rolls into town, and he hasn't been entirely pleased so far. An injury to backup center A.J. Ganguzza has forced right guard Will Furlong to practice as a second center.

7. Former track stars in College Park: Cal's Jahvid Best and Maryland's Da'Rel Scott should provide some highlight-worthy runs. Both rank in the top seven nationally in rushing yardage. Scott has had two straight 100-yard rushing performances and Best had two runs of at least 80 yards against Washington State.

8. Tough tacklers in Death Valley: Clemson safety Michael Hamlin and NC State linebacker Nate Irving are tied for the conference lead in tackles with 11.5 per game. Hamlin had a career-high three interceptions against The Citadel and Irving had 13 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery against William & Mary.

9. Clemson's do-it-all Jacoby Ford: Tommy Bowden said Ford had his best week of practice catching the ball and wants to be known as a receiver as much as he is as a returner and a runner. The staff wants to get the ball in his hands this week.

10. Georgia Tech's defensive scheme: Enough about the offense. Check out what the Yellow Jackets are doing under first-year coordinator Dave Wommack and how he has tweaked the scheme. It allows the front four a little more freedom. And those guys are very good.

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