The working headline for this column was something like "Most Anticipated Games of Week 3, Besides That One," and it would've been perfectly serviceable. Much of the FBS is still reaping the fruits of the base desire to pay six figures for (usually!) guaranteed wins over airy FCS confections, but filling football contests can be found on Saturday, if you know where to look.1
We are bound for College Station this weekend, along with half the footballing universe. We've never been to Texas A&M, and this seems like the time to go. Any place that tenderly burnishes the nickname "Hate Barn" for its stadium seems like one with which we ought to get acquainted. But while Tide-Aggies will be the only game2 in town, couch-bound consumers will be well served, too: The Pac-12 is sending UCLA to Nebraska; the Big Ten is dispatching Ohio State to Cal; and aren't you the teensiest bit curious to see what happens between Washington and Illinois at Soldier Field?
Elsewhere, chaos gleefully reigns in some of the sport's most storied echelons. Boston College beating USC in the Coliseum is not as stupid an idea now as it was a month ago. For this, Football Jesus, we give thanks, and vow to treasure the bounties of Week 3 in all their forms.
The tectonic shifts of September aren't through: No matter what, one of college football's most high-profile teams, from the sport's nastiest division, is going home with a loss.
When it comes to my own turn to lay my weapons down, I shall do so with thankfulness and fatigue, and a gullet full of barbecue. —Robert Louis Stevenson, mostly
On Your Marquee: No. 1 Alabama at No. 6 Texas A&M
All times Eastern.
This summer in Tuscaloosa, we asked several Alabama players whether they were happy to be getting the rematch (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS) with the only team that beat them in 2012 out of the way so early this season. The Aggies kept the Crimson Tide from a perfect record last year, and wrapped Kevin Sumlin's inaugural campaign at A&M with a 10-win regular season and a rollicking Cotton Bowl victory over ex–conference foe Oklahoma. The Tide, meanwhile, were forced to settle for a mere 12-1 win-loss ratio and another national title.
Alabama's players, as they're inclined to do, gave perfect Process answers. We haven't really thought about it. It's a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. I don't really look at it as a distraction. All the hype and noise around it, it doesn't really get to me. But there was never really any getting around it. If Johnny Manziel were in bed by nine o'clock every night reading Cat Fancy magazine, this would still be the lone Alabama grudge match of 2013 and by default a Big Damn Loud Deal. Whether the directly involved parties will say so or not, it's worth wondering if they aren't a little bit thrilled by the prospect of finishing this game and getting on with the rest of the season, as we are.
In the run-up to Week 3, we have one real data point from each team. Alabama played Virginia Tech and promptly went on a bye week; A&M faced Rice and had a virtual bye in the form of Sam Houston State. The marquee matchup of the marquee game, we don't have to tell you, is another one of Nick Saban's storied defenses versus The Johnny Football Problem.
Flip the field and the question marks linger. Alabama's O-line looked mortal against Virginia Tech but will likely find easier going here. Manziel rode the bench for a half in Week 1, but he wasn't the reason Rice piled up 306 rushing yards. A&M's defense loses defensive back Floyd Raven to a collarbone injury but returns linebacker Steven Jenkins, defensive end Gavin Stansbury, and defensive back De'Vante Harris from two-game suspensions. Tide quarterback AJ McCarron, meanwhile, is operating with full strength in all of his limbs for the first time since Bama's 2011 Arkansas game. And ask the Hokies what happens to teams that don't tackle Christion Jones with a quickness.
A&M entering its first SEC rematch as a nine-point underdog seems mildly ludicrous, and count us among those in favor of every team losing at least once every season, for giggles, but remember this: While the Aggies proved that the 2012 Tide weren't invincible, only Les Miles has beaten Saban more than once since Saban's arrival at Alabama, and some fraction of that phenomenon has to be credited to Miles imbibing the unknowable energies of the moon and stars.
Whatever happens, we're not through hearing about the losing squad. A one-loss SEC team, particularly a one-loss SEC West team, has Options. Just ask Alabama.
But First ...
Enjoy the uptick from Week 2 in quality of weeknight prime-time games. Arkansas State in an early Sun Belt tilt on Thursday! An opportunity to triangulate just what the hell we might be able to expect from Boise State this season on Friday! And the headliner game: no. 24 TCU at Texas Tech, Thursday night at 7:30 (ESPN).
You might recall from the Red Raiders' surprising romp of a debut against SMU that Tech is fielding what the school says is the first walk-on true freshman to open a season as the starting quarterback for a BCS football program. Austin native Baker Mayfield has been on campus in Lubbock since July and has completed 64 of 90 pass attempts in game action for 780 yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions, while rushing for 82 yards and another score. That streak of superb play figures to get a lot more difficult to extend this week, when Mayfield must play opposite a Gary Patterson defense.
We spoke with Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury about the quarterback he's getting to know right along with the rest of us.
So, you guys have had an OK debut.
Well, we'll find out this week. We've stepped up the competition a little bit.
Do you remember your first impressions of Baker when he got here in the summer?
He's a very humble, very quiet kid. Had a tremendously successful high school career. Won a state championship. Had all sorts of yards. Very unassuming when you talk to him.
That's kind of surprising, coming out of Lake Travis. He's got to be used to big stages.
I thought that was sorta odd. I don't know if it's because he was down the rung a ways, in the order. They've had a bunch of Lake Travis quarterbacks that've come out that've been more high profile than him. But he's just a very humble, very quiet, unassuming-type kid.
What was it that made him stand out in camp?
He attacked it like he was meant to be the starter from day one. Every drill we did, he tried to win. QB drill, throwing contest, anytime he got a rep, he was trying to make the most of it. It wasn't your typical true freshman coming in, a walk-on just happy to be here. I mean, he was on a mission from day one.
Was there a turning point between Mayfield and Davis Webb, when it became obvious Michael Brewer wasn't going to be able to go?
We had confidence in both of them; it just seemed that whenever we'd get in a scrimmage situation and go live versus the defense, [Baker] would find a way to make plays, and he'd extend plays, and the ball would move every time he was in. And we just felt as a coaching staff that that was gonna give us the best chance to win our first game.
Did the no-thinking teaching system level the playing field between the QB candidates at all?
I think what helped Baker more than anything was the system he played in in high school. Lake Travis is one of the top [programs] in the country, and they do a tremendous job with their quarterbacks. I think the last five have been Division I players. He ran a very similar offense, and you could tell that when he got in our system he was very comfortable with the communication, the operation, the pace of play.
Does any of Baker's work so far remind you of either of your earlier guys?
He reminds me of both those guys, of Case [Keenum] and of Johnny [Manziel]. He's not as fast as Johnny, but he's got that same type of fearless, cut-it-loose attitude, and he's a really accurate passer, naturally, like Case, which in my opinion is just something some people have and some don't. To be that way at that early an age is pretty impressive.
Is that kind of accuracy really just innate? To what extent do you believe it can be taught?
I think it can improve to an extent, but you see the greats — Peyton Manning [and] Tom Brady are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady for a reason. I know they work at their trade, but for whatever reason they're, to begin with, more accurate than most.
• Most compelling undercard matchup: If the largely known quantities of Alabama and Texas A&M clashing in College Station do not interest you, venture into the less-explored narrative of Penn State vs. Central Florida (Saturday, 6 p.m., BTN). Nittany Lions freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who broke the program's single-game passing yardage record for a freshman last week (against Eastern Michigan), will meet a Knights defense that has allowed seven points in two games (against Akron and FIU). See? Mysterious! WoooOOOoOOOooOOoo!
• Best future Rose Bowl pairing: The Bear Raid is still largely in hibernation or in cub stage, depending on your preferred bear metaphor, but how much would you pay to see Urban Meyer and Sonny Dykes coaching against one another in a bowl game somewhere down the line? For now, content yourselves with the no. 4 Buckeyes' visit to Berkeley (Saturday, 7 p.m., Fox).
• Most morbid curiosity: We've seen no. 19 Washington play only one game, and we saw it late: a replay of that opening-week evisceration of Boise State. It's not a lot to go on. Illinois, meanwhile, narrowly escaped Southern Illinois in Week 1 and beat up on Cincinnati in Week 2. A terrible suspicion that the Illini are about to have the stuffing beat out of them at Soldier Field by Steve Sarkisian's marauders does not seem out of place at this time (Saturday, 6 p.m., BTN).
• Rivalry game of the week: Brothers and sisters, it's weird-ass trophy time: UTEP and New Mexico State renew their battle for the Silver Spade and Brass Spittoon (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN3).
• Most promising nightcap: Another Big Ten vs. Pac-12 tilt, and a real treat for the last game of Week 3: no. 20 Wisconsin at Arizona State (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN).
• Are there any other ranked games this weekend besides That One? That Other One! No. 16 UCLA travels to no. 23 Nebraska for a noon kickoff (Saturday, ABC). The last time these teams met, in Pasadena in 2012, the Huskers and Bruins recorded nearly 1,100 yards of combined offense, 305 of those from Brett Hundley's arm. We are unabashedly eager to see if Hundley, Taylor Martinez, and friends can best that total in 2013.
• Would it be unseemly of me to watch Boston College at USC? Prrrrrrobably, unless you're an actual Boston College football fan. We know one! He's going to the game (Saturday, 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network)! He is almost positive Frank Spaziani is no longer the head football coach at BC, and he's "pretty sure our running back is named Andre." It's gonna be a ball.
• When is Texas maybe not having its starting quarterback to play a visiting SEC team not the biggest Longhorns football story of the week? When Texas reinstalls Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator before facing no. 25 Ole Miss (Saturday, 8 p.m., Longhorn Network).
• Where can I lay eyes on Famous Jameis? No. 10 Florida State hosts Nevada this week (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN), a game the Seminoles' hatchling starting quarterback is looking forward to for obvious mullet-related reasons.
• Don't you think those little M's on the back of Michigan's jersey necks make the Wolverines look like walking calculators? Yes, but: (1) It's Michigan, so it works, and (2) the no. 11 Wolverines are playing Akron this week (Saturday, noon, BTN), meaning you're going to need calculators to add up all those impending Devin Gardner–to–Jeremy Gallon stats.
Arbitrary Power Rankings: Children of the Corn Sequels
Iowa State will wear these throwback uniforms in Saturday's rivalry showdown with Iowa (6 p.m., Fox Sports 1). It's a bold look, hearkening back to the Cyclones of the 1920s, and if you're under 100 years old and wondering where you've seen those stark stalks before:
1. Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice. That's right. They called the first sequel "The Final Sacrifice" and then made SIX MORE AFTER IT. And somewhere in God's green Internet, someone cared enough to cut COTCII into a Teen Paranormal Romance trailer, which should run at least as long as Pretty Little Liars if we can only grab the attention of ABC Family [waves at orbiting Disney death star]:
2. Children of the Corn: Genesis. Honestly, just super impressed somebody was still at this in 2011.
3. Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering. Starring Naomi Watts; featuring a pre-Glee-fame Mark Salling; highlighted by a boss fight that culminates in a deadly mercury shower.
4. Children of the Corn: Revelation. One of Michael Ironside's scowlier roles.
5. Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest. First onscreen credit for Charlize Theron, and featuring Nicholas Brendon as "Basketball Player One"!