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College Football 2013: 5 Big Questions for Week 3

Nick Saban Johnny Manziel
Sam Greenwood, Bob Levey / Getty Images

This season’s “Game of the Century” is here, as No. 1 Alabama looks to avenge last season’s loss against Johnny Football and No. 6 Texas A&M. While that’s certainly the biggest game of the week, here is a look at that and some of the other story lines in Week 3:

Saban vs. Manziel: Who Wins?

They are the two most polarizing figures in college football, the guys everyone loves or hates. But Nick Saban and Johnny Manziel are also the best at what they do, and, when Alabama and Texas A&M meet up on Saturday, it guarantees to be entertaining. It’s only mid-September, but this could be toughest test for the Crimson Tide before the SEC Championship game. After Saturday, they only have two games against ranked opponents (No. 25 Ole Miss and No. 8 LSU), both of which will be in Tuscaloosa. So, like it or not, Johnny Football could be your last, best hope if you don’t want to see Nick Saban hoisting the crystal ball for the third consecutive year. Despite playing less than five quarters this season, Manziel has looked every bit the part of a returning Heisman winner, throwing for 497 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. The Alabama defense has had this game circled on their calendar for nearly a year now, so Manziel will have his work cut out for him to upset the Crimson Tide in back-to-back years.

How Big Will the Oklahoma State Story Get?

Boosters and assistant coaches handing players envelopes stuffed with cash. Hot co-eds bribing recruits with sex. Professors changing grades to help athletes. It’s like something out of the movies, but according to a Sports Illustrated series of reports, it’s exactly what has gone on at Oklahoma State under head coaches Les Miles and Mike Gundy and assistant coaches who are now at Texas and West Virginia. While we haven’t yet heard the other side of the story (many of the sources for the article either have their own credibility issues or are now backtracking and saying they were misquoted), the controversy will continue to swirl around OSU for some time. While the distraction shouldn’t impact the Cowboys much in this week’s matchup with Lamar, it will be interesting to see if this story has legs and, if so, how the cloud hanging over Stillwater (and Baton Rouge, and Morgantown, and Austin) will impact teams the rest of this season.

Can Anyone Stop the Bleeding in Texas?

Mack Brown says he’s not panicking. And we should believe him, because firing your defensive coordinator two games into the season is a totally non-panicky move, right? After last week’s loss to BYU, in which the Longhorns gave up a school-record 550 rushing yards, Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replaced him with former coordinator Greg Robinson. Robinson served as Texas’s defensive coordinator before taking the head-coaching job at Syracuse (where he went 10-37 in four years). Since July, he has been working as an analyst with the Longhorn Network. He’ll be tested this week by an Ole Miss squad that has had success on the ground running a read option. But Texas also has problems on the offensive side of the ball. WR/RB Daje Johnson (131 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 touches this year) is out with an ankle injury and quarterback David Ash is listed as doubtful after suffering head and shoulder injuries in last week’s loss. While Texas is certainly the more talented team (at least on paper), Ole Miss is a very real upset threat in Austin.

Will UCLA Expose Nebraska’s Defense Again?

While Nebraska’s defense played better against Southern Miss than they did in a Week 1 debacle against Wyoming, question marks still swirl around the Blackshirts. This week, Nebraska can silence some of their critics by exacting some revenge on a UCLA offense that exposed their weaknesses a year ago. In last season’s matchup, the Bruins torched the Cornhuskers for 653 yards, the second-most ever given up by a Nebraska defense. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, one of the nation’s top run/pass quarterbacks, torched the Blackshirts for 358 yards and four touchdowns a year ago and is backed up by potent run game that racked up 345 rushing yards in a Week 1 win over Nevada. The Cornhusker defense will have to play much better than it did in Week 1 or it could be a long day in Lincoln. Unfortunately, UCLA enters this game with heavy hearts after wide receiver Nick Pasquale was killed when he was hit by a car on Sunday.

Can Anyone Stop Oregon’s Offense?

Through two weeks, Oregon’s offense has now rolled up 1,329 yards and 125 points. Sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota has put himself squarely in the Heisman mix, racking up 668 total yards and six touchdowns in less than six quarters of action. Speedy running back De’Anthony Thomas has already rushed for 252 yards and five touchdowns while helping the Ducks rank second nationally in rushing and third in scoring. Oregon will face its final non-conference contest of the season this week against 2-0 Tennessee. The Volunteers seem to be playing better under first-year coach Butch Davis, but it remains to be seen if the Tennessee defense, which forced seven turnovers (including five in six snaps) in last week’s 52-20 win over Western Kentucky, can be anything more than a speed bump for the Ducks. If not, Oregon likely will not be tested until mid-October when they begin a four-game stretch that includes matchups with No. 19 Washington, No. 16 UCLA and No. 5 Stanford.

 

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