Every week throughout the season we’ll give you a college football viewing guide by highlighting the five best games of the coming weekend. We will also pick those five games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
Week 2 was busy in the world of college football. There was excitement all day from Army’s near-upset of Michigan to LSU’s triumph over Texas to Cal’s upset over Washington at nearly 4 a.m. ET.
On paper, Week 3 doesn’t look as promising. But you never know with this sport. Every time it seems like we’re in for a dull weekend, two or three upsets nobody expected come out of left field.
In fact, things went off the rails the last time there were no ranked vs. ranked matchups in a weekend, as noted by ESPN’s Chris Fallica:
First weekend without a ranked matchup since Week 7 2017- Saturday 10/14/17. What happened that weekend? 7 ranked teams lost, 5 lost as favorites, including 3 as favorites of 16+ points. One of those big favorites which lost - Clemson at Syracuse that Friday night.— Chris Fallica (@chrisfallica) September 11, 2019
Will we be in for something similar this weekend? We can only hope.
(Note: All times ET, point spreads from FanDuel Sportsbook)
5. No. 24 USC at BYU
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: USC -4
USC may have lost QB JT Daniels for the season, but it is riding high after an impressive win over Stanford last weekend. In Daniels’ place, true freshman Kedon Slovis made his first career start and tore up the Cardinal defense for 377 yards and three touchdowns. Slovis, who completed 28-of-33 passes in the 45-20 win, looked like a natural fit in Graham Harrell’s Air Raid offense. USC is now 2-0 and back in the top 25 headed into Provo, where Slovis will make his first road appearance and the Trojans will play their first game since the resignation of athletic director Lynn Swann.
For BYU, it’s a second chance to upset a Pac-12 team at home so far this year. The first try came against rival Utah in the season opener. It didn’t go so well. The Cougars hung around in the first half, but turnovers and the ability to stop the Utes running game was too much in a 30-12 loss. But BYU responded last week by shocking Tennessee in Knoxville, overcoming a late deficit to top the Vols 29-26 in double overtime. Do Zach Wilson and the Cougars have another upset in store?
Picks: Sam Cooper: USC -4, Nick Bromberg: BYU +4
4. No. 1 Clemson at Syracuse
Time: 7:30 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Clemson -28
Clemson hasn’t faced many challenges in recent years — but the Tigers have struggled against Syracuse the past two seasons. In 2017, a 6-0 Clemson team traveled to the Carrier Dome on a Friday night and were shockingly upset, 27-24. It was Clemson’s only loss until the College Football Playoff semifinals. Last year, Trevor Lawrence was knocked out of his first career start and the Tigers needed backup Chase Brice to lead a fourth-quarter comeback in a 27-23 win. The Tigers, 2-0 to start 2019 after last week’s 24-10 win over Texas A&M, are hoping things go more smoothly this time around.
Meanwhile, Syracuse made the jump from 4-8 in 2016 and 2017 to 10-3 in 2018, Dino Babers’ third season running the program. Entering 2019, expectations were higher for the Orange than they have been in quite some time despite the graduation of four-year starting QB Eric Dungey. But the season hasn’t gotten off to the smoothest of starts. In Week 1, Syracuse beat Liberty 24-0 but had some issues on offense. Last week, the Orange were blown off the field by Maryland, allowing 42 first-half points in an eventual 63-20 loss. Babers’ team will have to elevate their play to even keep it close against the defending national champions.
Picks: Sam: Syracuse +28, Nick: Syracuse +28
3. Arizona State at No. 18 Michigan State
Time: 4 p.m. | TV: Fox | Line: Michigan State -14
Arizona State is 2-0 to start Herm Edwards’ second season as head coach, but those wins haven’t exactly come against top competition. In Week 1, the Sun Devils took care of Kent State 30-7 before struggling to get past FCS Sacramento State, 19-7, last week. In those two games, ASU has really struggled in the red zone, scoring just two touchdowns in nine trips. Some of that is the product of playing true freshman QB Jayden Daniels, who has thrown for 588 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
On the other side, Michigan State is hoping to avenge the loss it suffered at the hands of ASU in Tempe last year. Like many of its other losses a year ago, MSU couldn’t muster much on offense that night, falling 16-13. Many of those offensive issues carried over for MSU in the season opener, an uninspiring 28-7 victory over Tulsa. But the Spartans looked better last week, putting up 582 yards of offense in a 51-17 blowout over Western Michigan. Redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins broke out for 192 yards in the win.
Picks: Sam: Michigan State -14, Nick: Arizona State +14
2. Stanford at No. 17 UCF
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: UCF -8
Stanford played a physical slogfest in Week 1, got beaten handily by a Pac-12 rival in Week 2 and now has to travel across the country to play a team with one loss combined over the past two seasons in Week 3. That’s a brutal schedule. The first of those three games was a 17-7 home win over Northwestern. K.J. Costello, the team’s starting QB, was knocked out before halftime and was held out of the 45-20 loss to USC in Week 2. Costello will return for Saturday’s trip to Orlando, but the focus for Stanford should be on a defense that was gashed by Kedon Slovis, USC’s true freshman backup QB, in his first career start. Through two games, UCF is averaging 634 yards of offense and should be quite a challenge for the Cardinal.
While Stanford has Costello back, UCF has its own quarterback situation developing. Brandon Wimbush, a grad transfer from Notre Dame, opened the season as the starter but split snaps with true freshman Dillon Gabriel. Wimbush was banged up last week, so Gabriel got the start in last week’s win over Florida Atlantic. Gabriel was just 7-of-19 throwing (albeit for 245 yards and 2 TDs), but the Knights gashed the Owls for 312 yards on the ground. It’s unclear who will start at QB on Saturday, but there’s now a third contender: Darriel Mack Jr. Mack started late last year after the injury to McKenzie Milton but has been out the past two months with a broken foot. Now cleared to go, UCF coach Josh Heupel has plenty of options with Stanford coming to town.
Picks: Sam: UCF -8, Nick: UCF -8
1. No. 19 Iowa at Iowa State
Time: 4 p.m. | TV: FS1 | Line: Iowa -2.5
“College GameDay” is headed to Ames for the first time, and Iowa hopes a joyous day at Iowa State doesn’t end well. The Hawkeyes are off to a strong start, outscoring Miami (Ohio) and Rutgers by a combined score of 68-14 in their 2-0 start. While the offense has featured a balanced running back by committee approach, QB Nate Stanley has played well despite the lack of a true go-to receiver. On the other side of the ball, the Iowa defense has surrendered only 370 total yards. But the in-state rival Cyclones should present a much tougher challenge than the likes of Miami (Ohio) and Rutgers.
Iowa State opened the season ranked for just the second time in program history. That didn’t last long. The Cyclones nearly opened the season in disastrous fashion but managed to knock off Northern Iowa, an FCS program, 29-26, in triple overtime. The ISU offense, playing its first game since the NFL departures of RB David Montgomery and WR Hakeem Butler, did not play well. But coach Matt Campbell had the benefit of a Week 2 bye to assess what went wrong and correct the mistakes. Expect a much better effort from ISU this time around, especially playing the rival Hawkeyes in front of a national audience.
Picks: Sam: Iowa State +2.5, Nick: Iowa -2.5
Records ATS to date: Sam: 7-6, Nick: 6-7
Week 3’s best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 0-3, Overall: 2-4)
Georgia Southern at Minnesota (-16.5): The Gophers have played close games in each of the first two weeks at home to South Dakota State and on the road at Fresno State. The combined margin of victory in those two games? Ten points. Georgia Southern runs the option and should be able to limit Minnesota’s possessions. Pick: Georgia Southern +16.5
Buffalo at Liberty (+6): Buffalo had a first-half lead over Penn State in Week 2 while Liberty has gotten shut out at home by Syracuse at home and lost by three touchdowns on the road at Louisiana. The Bulls are the better team and should easily move to 2-1. Pick: Buffalo -6
Florida State at No. 25 Virginia (-7.5): The hook makes this tough. Though I was confident in all three of my picks last week and ended up going winless. So maybe that’s a good sign. I have no faith in Florida State’s defense after the way it’s collapsed in the second half against both Boise State and Louisiana-Monroe. And Bronco Mendenhall’s Virginia team looks really good. Prove that you can keep this one close, Seminoles. Pick: Virginia -7.5
Sam Cooper (Last week: 2-1, Overall: 2-3-1)
Pittsburgh at No. 13 Penn State (-17): Penn State struggled early last week before blitzing Buffalo in the second half. I think that slow start will serve as a wakeup call for the PSU offense, and it will put up plenty of points again this week. I have a hard believing Pitt can keep up. The Panthers have been outscored 84-20 vs. PSU in their last two matchups. Pick: Penn State -17
NC State at West Virginia (+6.5): I’m just going to keep fading West Virginia, a team whose running backs have rushed for just 56 yards on 43 carries this season. The Mountaineers were 13.5-point underdogs at Missouri last week and lost by 31. NC State has 75 points through its first two games and should be able to handle WVU pretty easily. Pick: NC State -6.5
Oklahoma State at Tulsa (+13.5): Despite having stars at RB (Chuba Hubbard) and WR (Tylan Wallace) and a promising freshman QB (Spencer Sanders), I think Oklahoma State is flying under the radar so far this year. Tulsa is a decent team and has Baylor transfer Zach Smith at QB, but I don’t think they can keep up with the Cowboys offensively. Pick: Oklahoma State -13.5.
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