September is already disappearing into the rear-view. College football is definitely a sprint, so let’s play along and race right into the week’s top offerings.
Ohio State at Penn State, 4:30 p.m. PT: Urban Meyer has played to Dwayne Haskins’ strengths, empowering his strong-armed quarterback to look downfield, so expect them to attack a Nittany Lions that has had their issues this season. The Nittany Lions have seen Miles Sanders emerge as a capable replacement for Saquon Barkley and have plenty of receivers who Trace McSorley can wreak havoc with. Without top pass rusher Nick Bosa until November at the earliest, Ohio State now has to deal with its stiffest offensive challenge of the season and has looked vulnerable against Oregon State and TCU. I’m calling for the Big Ten’s regular-season Game of the Year to end up being a wild one. The ‘over’ is my top early lean this week.
Stanford at Notre Dame, 5 p.m. PT: New QB Ian Book had a strong debut as the Fighting Irish crushed Wake Forest, executing so well that they got the Demon Deacons’ defensive coordinator fired. Brian Kelly will continue to play Brandon Wimbush and might have to lean on his experience again here, which brings in the danger that neither Notre Dame passer will be able to find and sustain a rhythm against the Cardinal. Coming off a miraculous comeback win at Oregon, Stanford has gotten to this point unscathed without getting a truly big game out of top running back Bryce Love. He ran for 147 or more yards in last year’s first seven games but has surpassed the 100-yard mark only once this season, breaking off 136 on USC. Love topped the 180-yard mark four times last season and had a 301-yard game this time last year (Sept. 30) at Oregon State, so he’s due to start making the impact we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Love didn’t find the end zone but contributed 125 rushing yards and made one heck of a decoy in helping then-unproven QB K.J. Costello the opportunity to throw four touchdown passes in a 38-20 win over Notre Dame in Palo Alto. The winner here enters October looking like a strong candidate for the national semifinals.
West Virginia at Texas Tech, 9 a.m. PT: The Sooners looked vulnerable in nearly losing at home to Army last week, so each of these teams is undoubtedly fantasizing about a conference title. The Mountaineers haven’t been challenged since a strong defense has emerged to complement QB Will Grier being able to put the ball wherever he wants. The Red Raiders not only have Patrick Mahomes making the program look good, but are helping their own cause in recovering from a lopsided season-opening loss to Ole Miss by knocking off Houston and pulling off an upset of Oklahoma State in Stillwater to open Big 12 play. True freshman QB Alan Bowman has already broken some of Mahomes’ single-game records and has an impressive receiving corps that has improved every week. Things could get real interesting in Lubbock if the Texas Tech defense can pick up where they left off against the Cowboys last week, having pitched a second-half shutout.
Syracuse at Clemson, 9 a.m. PT: Trevor Lawrence officially replaced Kelly Bryant at quarterback this week since the Tigers offense has been glaringly better with him at the controls. That’s something I’ve predicted here since before the season opened as it appeared inevitable, but the change is news-worthy in that it lets you know Dabo Swinney is done messing around and views this Orange invasion as a viable threat. Clemson almost lost at Texas A&M in a game where Bryant’s experience came in handy, but will need to allow Lawrence to find a rhythm in case ‘Cuse moves the ball as effectively as the Aggies did and this turns into the shootout the visitors covet. With Eric Dungey healthy enough to play, Syracuse has a playmaker who has the mobility and arm talent to make the country’s top defensive front to work for everything it gets. In case you’ve forgotten, Syracuse beat Clemson 27-24 at the Carrier Dome last season.
Ole Miss at LSU, 6 p.m. PT: The Tigers stepped out of the spotlight briefly last week after their huge road upset of Auburn, overpowering a pretty good Louisiana Tech squad. Now the Rebels arrive in Death Valley and present a different challenge than they’ve seen thus far given the receivers who will test Greedy Williams and the LSU secondary here. Miami had a few viable threats but top receiver Ahmmon Richards was hurt in the season opener while Auburn was hampered by the lack of a true go-to guy. Ole Miss has three of them to turn to, but needs senior QB Jordan Ta’amu to shake off a shoulder issue and perform more consistently than he as over the past few weeks. A.J. Brown, the leading returning WR from the Rebs’ elite group, should overcome a hamstring issue to participate. LSU hung 40 on Ole Miss in Oxford last season, so Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow could have a big day and announce his candidacy for mayor of Baton Rouge afterward.
BYU at Washington, 5:30 p.m. PT: The Cougars knocked off McNeese State last week and now look to go back into giant-killer mode as they venture into Seattle. Coming off a win at Wisconsin on its last road trip, BYU can pull off an upset of Washington given how physical they can be on both sides of the ball and will look to frustrate Jake Browning into mistakes. The Huskies will need to ride electric senior RB Myles Gaskin to keep the heat off their quarterback, which could result in a lower-scoring game where the clock is constantly running.
USC at Arizona, 7 p.m. PT: After surviving Washington State at the Coliseum, a young Trojans team faces a crossroads game against the Wildcats, who are looking for their own resurgence as they try and turn the corner in Kevin Sumlin’s first season following a road conquest at Oregon State in the Pac-12 opener. There’s still time for Khalil Tate to turn things around, especially since defenses must now key in on sophomore RB J.J. Taylor after his eye-opening 284-yard day against the Beavers.
South Carolina at Kentucky, 4:30 p.m. PT: Benny Snell is a surprise Heisman candidate now, so hopefully you took advantage of my column on longshots to back from a month ago and got in on the 300-to-1 odds. The Wildcats are undefeated and nationally-ranked as they welcome in the Gamecocks, a program that’s undoubtedly higher on the football pecking order in the SEC. That perception may lead you to miss the fact that Kentucky has actually beaten South Carolina four straight times. If Terry Wilson can limit turnovers, a fifth consecutive win could be in the cards.
Others: Oregon at Cal, Iowa State at TCU, Florida at Mississippi State, Utah at Washington State, Virginia Tech at Duke, Florida Atlantic at Middle Tennessee, Purdue at Nebraska, Texas at Kansas State, Baylor at Oklahoma, Virginia at N.C. State, Pittsburgh at UCF, Florida State at Louisville.