1) Can Louisville’s offensive line block Clemson’s front seven?
The match-up between Louisville’s offensive line and Clemson’s front seven is simply the only match-up that matters in the prime time tilt between #3 Clemson and #14 Louisville on Saturday night. Despite video game numbers from reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, the Cardinals have not looked that great overall through their first two games this season. The running game outside of Jackson has been suspect, and many passing downs still present Jackson with little-to-no time to throw the football with the offensive line under siege.
I’ve found that many Cardinals fans on social media this week have fallen for the smoke-and-mirror illusion that Louisville’s offensive line has somehow gotten better since they have only allowed a combined two sacks against Purdue and North Carolina.
To that assertion, there are two things to keep in mind.
First, Purdue’s defense and North Carolina’s defense are both garbage.
Second, even though Lamar Jackson has only been sacked twice, he was officially hurried six times against Purdue and seven times against North Carolina. Jackson’s athleticism has won out in many situations throughout the first two games, as he has eluded pressure on numerous occasions to avoid sacks and make plays outside of the pocket.
While Jackson has been impressive in the first two weeks, Clemson’s defense is an entirely different animal. Their front seven, specifically their defensive line, is among the best in college football, and they will be able to get home and keep Jackson from improvising on Saturday night. If Jackson cannot make plays happen off-script, I expect Clemson to roll to a much easier win than most anticipate on the road on Saturday night.
However, if Lamar Jackson pulls another Houdini and beats the Tigers, expect him to propel himself into the very early lead position in the Heisman race
2) Will Pittsburgh run the ball well enough to keep things interesting against Oklahoma State
If there is one thing that is clear in the match-up between Pittsburgh and #9 Oklahoma State on Saturday, it is that Pittsburgh will need to run the football well in order to win the football game. Oklahoma State can score better than many teams in the country, posting 51.5 points per game thus far, which is good for ninth nationally entering the contest. A big reason why they have been so successful through two games (besides a soft schedule) is due to the play of quarterback Mason Rudolph. Rudolph has thrown for 638 yards and six touchdowns through two games, and will command the air-raid offense against the 81st-ranked passing defense of the Panthers on Saturday.
All signs point to Rudolph having a field day against Pittsburgh, which is all the more reason why the Panthers need to run the football well on Saturday. A strong running game will keep the Oklahoma State offense off the field, which may be just about the only way that the Panthers will keep the Cowboys out of the end zone.
If Qadree Ollison and Quadree Henderson can keep the chains moving on the ground for Pittsburgh in this game, the Panthers will have a decent chance of keeping this game close. However, if they struggle to gain consistency running the football, there will simply be too much resting on the arm of quarterback Max Browne, who has been quite mediocre so far this season.
Bottom line: If Pitt runs the football effectively, they’ll have a chance in this game. If they don’t, let the blowout commence.
3) Can Virginia win a 50-50 contest against UConn?
Let me make this very clear: Virginia is a 10.5-point favorite against the Huskies for a reason. The University of Connecticut football program is currently in shambles as they embark on Round Two of the Randy Edsall coaching experience. Former head coach Bob Diaco did the program no favors in his tenure in Storrs, going 11-26 in three seasons at the helm, which included a 6-18 mark in conference play.
This football team is bad…really bad.
With that being said, the state of the Virginia program is no secret. Bronco Mendenhall inherited a mess in his own right, as he came over over from BYU and went 2-10 in his first year with the school. After beating William & Mary and looking surprisingly competitive in a loss to Indiana last week, Mendenhall will look to beat UConn to bring Virginia over .500 for the first time in his tenure, three games into year two.
Despite the fact that Virginia is a 10.5-point favorite, there are still questions on both sides of the football for the Cavaliers, making this a potential 50-50 contest on Saturday. When handicapping the scoring line, Vegas is putting plenty of stock into the respectable performance that the ‘Hoos put together against Indiana, along with the fact that they are playing at home. However, there still has not been enough consistency on offense or defense to really trust Virginia to win the game by double-digits. Sure, Virginia has looked more competitive in the first two games of 2017 than they did all of last season, but can they channel the opening two performances and parlay it forward into a win against a team they should beat?
We will learn plenty about Virginia on Saturday, as this is a game that they would find a way to lose in past seasons. If they win by a couple of scores, at home, looking like the double-digit favorite that they are, it will be a very positive sign for Bronco Mendenhall and a step forward early in this rebuild. Lose, and it’s a step back with plenty of questions continuing to surround the program in Charlottesville.
4) Will NC State finally play to their potential against FCS-foe Furman?
NC State is going to win their game on Saturday, but here’s my take on why you should pay attention to their game against a Furman team from the FCS.
The start to the 2017 season for NC State can be summed up in one word: disappointing.
The Wolfpack allowed two turnovers and a special teams touchdown to cost them the ball game in Week One against South Carolina, and followed that seven-point defeat with a lackluster effort against Marshall last Saturday. The Thundering Herd led the Wolfpack 20-10 in the middle of the second quarter before NC State scored 27 unanswered points to avoid the catastrophic 0-2 start. It was the second straight weekend that the ‘Pack slept-walked through the game, with the difference in Week Two being Marshall’s talent gap compared to South Carolina’s in Week One.
As we move into Week Three, expectations remain high for NC State and their aspirations of Atlantic Division title contention. They have yet to put together a complete game for 60 minutes on both sides of the football this season, and it will be interesting to see if they can do so against Furman, a team that they should steamroll on Saturday afternoon. Quarterback Ryan Finley has been great, completing 74% of his passes for 756 yards and five touchdowns, but the running game has been largely absent so far. The Wolfpack have only rushed for 233 yards as a team through two games, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry during that span.
Against Furman on Saturday, look for NC State to try to establish the run to bring balance back to the offensive attack. I understand that it’s Furman, but a strong output on the ground will give this team confidence moving forward and will take pressure off of quarterback Ryan Finley, as well as the defense, which has spent far too much time on the field through two games this season.
5) Will Duke avoid a letdown against Baylor?
Imagine reading that headline three years ago. Most would have thought you had lost your mind if you told them that Baylor would be a two touchdown underdog to the Duke Blue Devils in 2017.
But alas, here we are.
Baylor is in a bad, bad place as a football program. There are plenty of reasons for this, and none of those are good or worth re-hatching. New head coach Matt Rhule had his work cut out for him in Waco, no question about that. However, with that being said, I’m not sure many expected things to be quite this bad. Baylor has lost plenty of talent for a multitude of reasons, but nobody was expecting losses to Liberty and UTSA out of the gate. Baylor has so much at stake on Saturday, and they perhaps need a win more than any other team in college football entering Week Three.
On the other side, Duke is BALLING OUT (also probably feeling way too good about themselves). I will admit, their 41-17 blowout victory against Northwestern last weekend was impressive, but nobody truly knows how good Northwestern is yet, so it’s hard to put too much stock into one game this early in the season. Because of this, the Blue Devils need to be very, very careful and not read their press clippings to avoid coming out flat against a desperate Baylor team on Saturday.
For the record, I don’t think the Blue Devils will, as they have the one certain element in this football game.
Jones is one of the best quarterbacks in college football who nobody knows about yet. After a strong freshman campaign a year ago, Jones is off to a great start as a sophomore for Duke, completing 69% of his passes for 518 yards and five touchdowns to only one interception. I expect him to play well on Saturday, and help the Blue Devils cruise against Baylor.
Don’t rule out a back-door cover by Baylor though, if you’re into that sort of thing. They might be desperate enough to make some people money in betting circles as a 14-point road underdog.
Thanks for reading everyone! Follow me on Twitter @MikeMcDanielACC and check out InsideTheACC on Facebook and on Twitter @InsideTheACC. You can also follow Mark Rogers for all of his college football coverage on Twitter @MarkRogersTV.