College Football Week 3 Picks & Predictions

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 6 Texas A&M, 3:30PM ET
The most anticipated matchup of Week 3 will take place at Kyle Field in College Station today. One thing that has made Nick Saban so successful is his ability to get his team focused on one game at a time. But you know he and the Crimson Tide have circled this date since Johnny Manziel and A&M rolled into Tuscaloosa and upset ‘Bama a year ago. The Aggies are just 1-4 all-time at home against top-ranked teams and since the start of the 2008 season, the Tide are 41-0 when it has fewer turnovers than its opponent. Look for ‘Bama to limit its mistakes, keep the ball on the ground (they’re 51-0 when rushing for at least 140 yards) and generate pressure on Manziel. If they can stay disciplined defensively and maintain good gap responsibility, they should get their revenge.

Tennessee vs. No. 2 Oregon, 3:30PM ET
Butch Jones tried to ratchet up the tempo this week in practice in order to get his players ready for what they’ll see today in Eugene. But Oregon is too fast, too athletic and too skilled on the perimeter for an overmatched Tennessee squad. The Ducks are 4-0 against the spread in their last four games overall, 4-1 ATS in their last five home games, and 6-1 ATS in their last seven games following an ATS win. The Vols, meanwhile, are 0-4 against the number in their last four games versus the Pac-12 and 0-7-1 ATS in their last eight games following an ATS win. Look for Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas to run wild on a gassed Tennessee defense in the second half.

No. 19 Washington vs. Illinois, 6:00PM ET
This game has become more interesting in the past two weeks. Washington turn heads by crushing Boise State in Week 1 and Illinois surprised the masses by routing a previously underrated Cincinnati team 45-17 last Saturday. While quarterbacks Keith Price and Nathan Scheelhaase will receive all of the attention tonight, keep an eye on Huskies junior middle linebacker and defensive leader John Timu (13 tackles vs. Boise), and the duo of Jonathan Brown and Mason Monheim for the Illini. The under is 5-1 in Illinois’ last six neutral-site games and 4-0 in the Huskies’ last four games in September. While defense won’t dominate this game, the combined score should fall under the total.

No. 21 Notre Dame vs. Purdue, 8:00PM ET
The Fighting Irish have won five straight games against the Boilermakers but two of those contests were decided on Notre Dame’s final drive. The Irish have new players on both sides of the ball that are growing on the job, which is part of the reason why their defense allowed 411 yards per game over their first two contests. Quarterback Tommy Rees is still trying to find his rhythm as a passer too, so look for this game to be somewhat tight. The underdog is 6-2 against the spread in the last eight meetings between these two teams and the Irish are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games overall.

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Alabama dominates Arkansas, makes case for No. 1 (Updated with link to video)

Univesity of Alabama running back Trent Richardson (3) tries to break away from the South Carolina defensive including Stephon Gilmore (5), Antonio Allen (26) and Chaun Gresham (29) during their NCAA college football game in Columbia,South Carolina October 9, 2010. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Go ahead, tell me a team that wants to play Alabama right now.

The Crimson Tide destroyed Arkansas 38-14 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, announcing to the nation — if it didn’t know already — that they were once again a serious national title contender.

But it wasn’t just the score, it was the way the Tide dominated every facet of the game to pick up the blowout victory. Trent Richardson ran wild, accumulating 126 yards on 17 carries, and 85 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. A.J. McCarron was pretty near perfect, going 15-of-20 for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

And the defense. Oh, the defense.

Arkansas finished with 226 total yards, almost all of which came through the air. The Razorbacks run game managed just 17 (!) yards on 19 carries. Yes, math majors, that’s less than one yard per carry. The ‘Bama defense/special teams also chipped in offensively with an interception return for a touchdown and a beautiful punt return for a score by Marquis Maze. On the return, Maze cut back across about half of the Arkansas coverage team (that might be a slight exaggeration), and then cut back on the final guy just for the heck of it. It was as if he wanted the Arkansas trainers to have one more set of ankles to tape this week.

Alabama has another test next week against Florida. The Gators have the type of speed on offense that can score on anyone if given room, but something tells me Nick Saban will outwit Charlie Weis and figure out how to not give those guys room. The big matchup, of course, is Nov. 5 at home against LSU. That will very likely be for the SEC West title, which essentially means a trip to the national title game. Both defenses are outstanding, but at this point you’d have to give a major edge to the Tide offensively.

Some other thoughts from today’s daytime games:

– Ohio State has found its quarterback, and I think a lot of people knew it was going to happen. Braxton Miller didn’t have eye-popping passing numbers by any stretch (5-of-13, 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns), but he used his feet to gain 83 more yards. With either quarterback, Ohio State is going to have to go through some growing pains in the passing game, so it makes the most sense to stick with the youngster who adds an extra dimension to the game.

– Oklahoma State did its part to make sure Texas A&M doesn’t leave the Big 12 with a conference title. The Cowboys rallied to beat A&M 30-29 at Kyle Field, in what is likely the last conference meeting between the two schools. The Aggies, who look to be headed to the SEC next season, jumped out to a 20-3 lead before surrendering 27 straight points to the Cowboys. A&M can still win the Big 12, but it will need some help, and a win against No. 1 Oklahoma. Good luck with that.

– Tommy Rees was horrible for most of Notre Dame’s game against Pitt, but the sophomore found a way to come up bit when it mattered, going 8-of-8 on the Irish’s final touchdown drive to give his team a 15-12 win. On the touchdown, Rees fit a pass through a tiny hole to tight end Tyler Eifert. It was the kind of crisp, decisive pass he hadn’t made all game. His ability to bounce back must be what keeps him in games, because Brian Kelly has certainly had a lot longer leash with Rees than he did with Dayne Crist.

Tommy Rees is the absolute right choice against Michigan

Much was made of the quarterback change at Notre Dame earlier this week as Brian Kelly named Tommy Rees the starter over Dayne Crist.

It wasn’t much of a surprise after Rees came into the game for Crist in Notre Dame’s 23-20 opening week loss against South Florida, and was much more productive. But for the first night game in the Big House, against a defense like Michigan’s, Rees is the perfect choice.

Rees is unflappable, meaning the moment of playing under the lights in front of 110,000 screaming banshees won’t bother him. Rees’ first three starts were at Notre Dame, Yankee Stadium and USC. He’s used to big-time environments. Then again, anyone who plays at Notre Dame is.

He also doesn’t get down on himself when he makes mistakes. A year ago, he threw three interceptions against USC, but he never got down on himself, and made plays down the stretch to help the Irish pick up their first win against USC since the Bob Davie era. It’s part of the reason Notre Dame fans have taken to subtly comparing him to Joe Montana (this is beyond a stretch, but when you haven’t competed for a national title since 1993, sometimes you stretch).

Rees is going to make mistakes, but Crist would have made them, too. Rees will be able to overcome those mistakes in front of 110,000 people, while Crist hasn’t shown the ability to do that, even on his homefield.

But Rees being the right pick goes beyond the mental aspect of the game. Crist has the bigger arm and is a better runner than Rees, but he isn’t quick to make a decision as his three-star counterpart. Against Michigan’s secondary, there are going to be openings, and Rees will see them early and exploit them. A less decisive quarterback would miss those. Michigan’s also going to bring a lot of heat, which again forces the quarterback to make quick decisions.

Rees is likely to be the guy for the rest of the season, but even if Crist had played well against South Florida, I feel like Rees would have been a better choice in this game. Does that mean Notre Dame is going to win the game? That will depend more on their defense than anything, but it definitely gives them a good shot.

Notre Dame’s high hopes crash and burn in Week 1

Coach Brian Kelly (L) leads his Notre Dame team onto the field before their NCAA football game with Army, at the first football game at the new Yankee Stadium, in New York November 20, 2010. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Everything that could have gone wrong for Notre Dame today did. Fumble on the 1-yard line that was returned all the way for a touchdown? Check. A pair of interceptions inside the 10-yard line? Check. Seventy-three yards of penalties? Check.

All this added up to a 23-20 loss to South Florida in the Irish’s home opener. It wasn’t the start to the season Notre Dame expected. It wasn’t the start anyone expected, as several pundits had the Irish headed to a BCS game this year. That’s still not completely out of the question, but it sure seems like a longshot that this team can find a way to win 10 games.

Notre Dame was horribly prepared for this game, that’s the only way to explain what happened. If there’s one or two fluky/bad plays that cost you, that can be blamed on individuals. When it’s permeated throughout the entire team, that rests on the shoulders of the coaches. Brian Kelly didn’t have his team ready to play today, for whatever reason, and now the Irish are 0-1 in a season they were supposed to “return to glory.”

Making matters worse, Notre Dame dominated nearly every statistical category. They out-gained South Florida 508-254. They held the Bulls to three yards per rush (in reality, the defense played well, only allowing one touchdown despite being put in a bad spot multiple times).

One positive that comes from this is that Notre Dame found its starting quarterback for the rest of the season: Tommy Rees. The negative, Kelly maybe should have realized that before naming Dayne Crist the starter a couple of weeks ago. Rees led the Irish to a 4-0 finish last season. He’s more accurate and 10-bazillion times more poised. Crist struggled in the first half, throwing an interception in the redzone (Rees threw one there, too, but that one was on the receiver) and making a handful of poor throws that stalled drives. Rees took over in the second half and was 24-of-34 for 296 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Yes, there were two weather delays in the game, but if anything, those were beneficial to the Irish. There is nowhere other than Kelly and the coaching staff to pin this loss. When you’re Notre Dame, you have to be ready to go every week. This team clearly was not.

Notre Dame’s Crist out, probably for a long, long time

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23: Dayne Crist  of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes against the Navy Midshipmen at New Meadowlands Stadium on October 23, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Dayne Crist tore his ACL on Halloween a year ago, playing mop-up duty against Washington State. Now, 364 days later, the Notre Dame quarterback has suffered another devastating knee injury.

Crist ruptured his pattellar tendon in today’s game against Tulsa, according to NBC. If that’s accurate, it likely means Crist’s season is over, and the Irish will have to finish out the season with true freshman Tommy Rees taking the snaps. Rees took over after Crist was hurt today, and looked very solid early on in leading three touchdown drives and throwing two TD passes (the other came on a hook and ladder play). But he also threw an interception at the end of the half which was returned for a touchdown which brought Tulsa to within two points.

Crist was 174-of-292 for 2,033 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He had also thrown seven interceptions, and his 59.6% completion percentage has been pointed to by many as a big reason the Irish haven’t yet gotten Brian Kelly’s high-octane spread offense into full gear.

It’s a huge setback for Crist and the Irish, who are in danger of not being bowl eligible this season with games remaining against Utah and USC.

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