We were spoiled with tons of great games in week two, so the football gods had to rein us back in. This weekend’s slate is lackluster, but major upsets happen when you least expect them. A top 10 team losing to a group of five schools? Well within range this weekend. A perennial national title contender losing after being favored by 20 points? Don’t count it out! I am not going to sit here and predict those upsets today; those happen on Fridays with Bold Predictions. Here is where we will lay out the top five games for this weekend.
5: #11 Tennessee vs Florida (7:00 EST, ESPN) – Remember, we have a light slate this weekend. Tennessee is clearly more talented in this matchup. Florida came into the season with hope and expectations before losing on the road to Utah in the first week. The Gators bounced back to defeat McNeese State 49-7, providing them with a much-needed confidence booster. Florida needs to establish the run early if they have any hopes of defeating Tennessee. Graham Mertz threw the ball 44 times against Utah, while the running backs averaged just 3.5 yards per carry. Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne, on the other hand, averaged 7.8 yards per carry against McNeese State. The talent difference between the two opponents is obvious. Florida must rely on their rushing attack to keep the game close, as Graham Mertz is not the quarterback to carry a team on a weekly basis. Tennessee looked less than stellar last week against Austin Peay, winning just 30-13. Joe Milton has proven he can throw the ball a country mile. This weekend, he will be tested by the Florida defensive backs. The Gator secondary has allowed only 231 passing yards this season, including the 75-yard pass on the first defensive play of the game. Milton needs to be efficient with the ball and find his playmakers in space. The spread is just seven points in this matchup, which makes it well worth watching.
4: #15 Kansas State vs Missouri (Noon EST, SEC Network) – First, I have to figure out if I even have the SEC Network because this is clearly the best game of the noon timeslot. This game had the potential to be much higher until Missouri decided to let Middle Tennessee State hang around for way too long. Middle Tennessee State never had the lead in this game, but Missouri never had a secure lead until the clock hit zero. Meanwhile, Kansas State has dominated both of their games thus far. The Wildcats defeated Troy, who was the Sun Belt champion in 2022 and is viewed as a favorite once again. Will Howard is the established starter this season and has Kansas State looking to repeat as Big 12 champions. Kansas State will need to find a way to slow down Luther Burden. The second-year receiver has been electric for Missouri so far this season, registering 15 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown. Burden will need another great game against a strong Kansas State defense in order to give the Tigers a shot at victory.
3: Minnesota vs #20 North Carolina (3:30 EST, ESPN) – Minnesota and North Carolina enter this weekend facing a true test of good offense vs. good defense and poor offense vs. poor defense. Minnesota’s offense has been lackluster through the first two games, although they did rush for almost 300 yards against Eastern Michigan. Athan Kaliakmanis has thrown for just 313 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions in the first two games. Chris Autman-Bell has been missing from the lineup, and questions still remain about his availability for this weekend’s matchup. Minnesota’s defense and its ability to force turnovers will be key. The Golden Gophers have forced five turnovers, including four interceptions, this season. The secondary will face a true test when they go up against Drake Maye. The North Carolina defense has not provided much support to Maye, but he is no stranger to shootouts. The Tar Heel defense ranked 102nd in scoring last year, allowing almost 31 points per game. Maye is off to a slower start this season, throwing just two touchdown passes and two interceptions. North Carolina needed double overtime to beat Appalachian State. Omarion Hampton carried the team, rushing for 234 yards and three touchdowns. Can Minnesota’s defense force enough turnovers to keep North Carolina out of the endzone?
2: #8 Washington vs Michigan State (5:00 EST, Peacock) – Maybe I’m old school, but I don’t want to see my best matchups on streaming services. Anyways, Washington traveling to East Lansing was already one of the most intriguing matchups, with the slate being considerably lighter, and now the Mel Tucker drama adds to the storyline. How will the Spartans come out playing with an interim coach and rumors of a scandal surrounding the program? Michigan State is still a relatively unknown team, having played only Central Michigan and Richmond. The defense has only allowed 214 passing yards and is set to face one of the best offensive attacks in the country. Michael Penix is a Heisman hopeful after a strong 2022 campaign and an electric start to the 2023 season. Penix has thrown for 859 yards and eight touchdowns through the first two games of the season. Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillian are two names to remember. The receiving duo has an argument for the best wide receiver combo in the country. Odunze and McMillian each have over 200 yards and at least two touchdowns already this season. Michigan State does not have the firepower to win a shootout, so they will need to slow down the Washington offense.
1: Pitt vs West Virginia (7:30 EST, ABC) – The Backyard Brawl is far from the most important game this weekend. In the age of conference realignment, we need to take time to watch the great rivalries while we still have a chance. The Backyard Brawl is one of the greatest rivalries in college football and a game that helps make this sport so great. Pitt and West Virginia enter the game with a 1-1 record. West Virginia faced Duquesne last weekend and defeated them without issue. Garrett Greene played well against Penn State and gave the Nittany Lions’ defense trouble when he got out of the pocket. Greene’s rushing ability will give Pitt’s defense issues on Saturday if they are unable to contain him outside the pocket. Pitt entered the season with higher expectations after Phil Jurkovec transferred in from Boston College. Jurkovec completed just 10 of 32 passes against Cincinnati, including just three completions in the first half. The key for this game will come down to Pitt’s front seven. West Virginia’s strength is their offensive line. Cincinnati ran the ball easily against the Panthers, and the Mountaineers should find similar success. Pitt needs to stop the run, or it could be a long day for Pat Narduzzi’s team.