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4-Down Territory: Three Weeks With Lots of Questions Left To be Answered

First a quick programming reminder—don’t forget to listen to Pigskin Stew Radio each Thursday at 5 pm on ESPN Radio Pittsburgh 970 am and 104.7 fm or on-line at iheartradio.com. And on TV each weekend watch Nittany Game Week on their network of 12 stations or on the website www.NittanyGameWeek.com where you can find all the times and stations.

Now on to week three. We’re hitting what is roughly the end of the first quarter of the 13-week regular season. and there are still many questions to be answered. But so far, it's All Hail the Pac 12 and in honor of legendary analyst Bill Walton we’ll say long live “The Conference of Campions.” The Pac 12 is 6-3 in non-conference games against Power-5 teams. By contrast the SEC is 3-6 in those match-ups.


First Down: High Noon Kickoffs: More and more good games are starting to sneak into the noon window. The ratings for FOX have been fantastic as the last two weeks have averaged over 8 million viewers (driven partly by Colorado PrimeTime at noon time). This week legitimate playoff contenders show up at noon. #3 Florida State at Boston College ABC: BC gave up 28 points to Holy Cross last week. If they do not elevate their level of play, FSU and QB Jordan Travis could make this ugly. BC QB Thomas Castellanos is a legitimate running and passing threat, but this will be the best pass rush group he is likely to face all year……#14 LSU at Mississippi State ESPN: Mississippi State narrowly escaped in an OT win over Arizona last week. The Bulldogs threw only 17 passes in that game. LSU has a lot to prove and a slate of huge games ahead. Their defense has a lot to prove in what is already a must-win game for them….#15 Kansas State at Missouri SEC Network: KSU QB Will Howard has been an accurate passer, but has shown that he will force a ball into an INT at a rate that needs to come down. The KSU defense will be a great test for Mizzou’s offense……..#7 Penn State at Illinois FOX: Illinois has two strong defensive tackles in Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph. They will need to generate pass rush on Drew Allar to protect a revamped secondary. The Illinois DBs in your face style will be the most physical test PSU WRs have faced this year. Illinois RB Rodney McCray had 142 yards against PSU in their 2021 9-OT win. To win the Illini will have to get that kind of run production against PSU’s defense.


Second Down: Midday Siestas?: There are some potential snoozers in the midday lineup.......Weber State at #12 Utah 2:00 Pac 12 Network: Utah has wins over Florida and at Baylor and returning QB Cam Rising has yet to take a snap. They have leaned on their stout defense to get two Power-5 non-conference wins…..Central Michigan at #9 Notre Dame 2:30 Peacock: Central Michigan is hoping to catch Notre Dame looking ahead to the Ohio State game next week…….. #10 Alabama at South Florida 3:30 ABC: Alabama fans tend to be impatient and all eyes will be on QB Jalen Milroe after he overthrew on some sure TDs last week and had 2 INTs on missed reads. The Texas pass rush had an impact on him. Alabama should feast on the USF Bulls…..San Diego State at #16 Oregon State 3:30 FS1: The Beavers continue to roll and have won 6 straight and 9 of their last 10 games. San Diego State is coming off a 35-10 loss to UCLA. Expect the OSU momentum to keep going…… #19 Oklahoma at Tulsa 3:30 ESPN 2: The Sooners are making a rare trek to Tulsa where they are heavy favorites. Oklahoma may have too much offense for the Golden Hurricanes…..NC Central at #24 UCLA 3:30 5:00 No TV: This one should be over by halftime……Western Kentucky at #6 Ohio State 4:00 FOX: Western Kentucky racks up a lot of yards on offense. The OSU defense is getting better LB play than they’ve had in recent years and that has led to a more dominant unit. Ohio State offense looks to hit the expectations of an impatient Buckeye fan base......Northern Colorado at #23 Washington State 5:00 Pac 12 Network: If the UNC that plays in the ACC was coming to town, The Cougs would be worried.


Third Down: Midday Mayhem?: With a number of teams yet to play meaningful game, there could be some surprises....South Carolina at #1 Georgia 3:30 CBS: This is Georgia’s first real test of the year. South Carolina’s offense has been one dimensional in leaning on the pass game. One dimensional offenses don’t do well between the hedges at UGA…..Minnesota at #20 UNC 3:30 ESPN: After week one it looked like UNC’s defense had made the strides they needed to contend, and then came App State and a shootout. Minnesota will be one of the more physical teams UNC will play this year. For Minnesota to get the win they will need to get more out of their ground game. Drake Maye will likely be the best QB the Golden Gophers face all year……Northwestern at #21 Duke 3:30 ACC Network: Can Duke handle the pressure of expectations that come with the spotlight? Northwestern lost to Rutgers and then looked like a completely different team against UTEP. Duke has a roster that matched up athletically in key spots against Clemson. That alone is reason for optimism against the Wildcats…..#8 Washinton at Michigan State 5:00 Peacock: Last year MSU was a mess in the secondary. This year they appear to have improved, helped in part by a rejuvenated pass rush that has netted 10 sacks in two games. Washington QB Michael Penix torched the Spartans last year in Seattle and if he gets a hot hand it will be a long night to end a long week in East Lansing. The Spartans have improved on offense and new QB Noah Kim has yet to throw an INT. The Huskies’ defense is solid but if MSU can mix the run and pass they will have a chance for the upset …..Western Michigan at #25 Iowa 3:30 Big Ten Network: Every few years Iowa plays down to an overmatched opponent. Coming off a win over Iowa State and a week before a trip to Penn State seems like a trap game. That being said this is a tall order for Western Michigan……


Fourth Down: Primetime Extended: The primetime slate includes a 10 p.m. kickoff from the home of Rocky Mountain High in Boulder. But first…..#11 Tennessee at Florida 7:00 ESPN: In a match-up of Big Ten transfer QBs 6th-year Tennessee QB Joe Milton (from Michigan) squares off against 5th-year Florida QB Graham Mertz (from Wisconsin). Both had INT issues at their previous schools highlighted by the 26 Mertz threw at Wisconsin. Milton has yet to throw an INT in over 200 attempts at Tennessee. If Florida is going to win this one they may need to get an INT or two. Graham Mertz had big expectations at Wisconsin that he never quite met. This is a chance for him to win on the big stage……Bowling Green at #2 Michigan 7:30 Big Ten Network: The Jim Harbaugh penance season comes to a close with what should be another workman-like romp against an overmatched non-conference opponent…..Georgia Tech at #17 Ole Miss 7:30 SEC Network: The Ole Miss defense stepped up when needed at Tulane and that is a trend that bodes well for their hopes this season……Pitt at West Virginia 7:30 ABC: The 106th “Backyard Brawl” is a game between two teams that need this win. Expect WVU to run the ball behind a really good o-line. On defense WVU played to stop the run against Penn State and the talented PSU running backs did not have a run over 14 yards. Expect WVU to try to force Pitt to win through the air as well….. Wyoming at #4 Texas 8:00 The Longhorn Network: The story of the Alabama win was the Texas DEFENSE and the massive pass rush they generated. Texas has skilled athletes in all the right places this year. They need to find the consistent running and this is a good week to establish that…Hawaii at #13 Oregon 8:00 The Pac 12 Network: Expect Oregon to roll in this one before they head into next week’s showdown against Colorado…….Colorado State at #18 Colorado 10:00 ESPN: While the talk has been about Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders, his brother Shilo Sanders is the leading tackler on a defense that has fueled two wins with a bunch of turnovers. CB/WR Travis Hunter is averaging an ungodly 120+ plays per game (for reference 75-80 plays is a lot for most players). Colorado State did not play last week giving them two weeks to study and prepare for this one. Given that they allowed 466 yards passing to WSU, they will need to do much better against the Colorado offense.

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