Welcome to the Week Three edition of the Three by Three. Allow me to be your college football sherpa, guiding you through the intrigue in the sport each week. I will try to avoid just covering the big obvious stuff, but sometimes Deion Sanders is the most interesting thing, you know?
Each week I will highlight three interesting storylines each from the Missouri contest, in the SEC, and around the nation. Let’s get to it.
Kansas State at Missouri (11 AM Central on SECN)
If Missouri is going to win this game, a lot of things are going to have to go right. Brady Cook needs to play a complete game, the offensive line reshuffle needs to work, the defensive ends need to set the edge better, the kicking game can’t be glitchy, etc, etc. But most importantly, the team needs to generate a turnover, probably two, if they want to win. Kansas State is one of the most efficient teams in the country, and is well-balanced on both sides of the ball. The Tigers need to win the opportunity battle first and foremost; what happens on those opportunities is another discussion. Blake Baker’s stop unit has yet to create a turnover this season; they must get off the schneid this week.
DO YOU BELIEVE?
The sound bite of the 2023 college football has been Deion Sanders’ rallying cry in Boulder. Applying that to Missouri, I’m not sure there are too many believers at the moment. Last week’s outing against Middle Tennessee State was ROUGH. Heading into the year, I was optimistic because I hoped that the recipe that worked so well in rebuilding the defense overnight in 2022 – veteran transfers and a new coordinator – would work on the offensive side of the ball. Well, so far, I was wrong. Mizzou’s mantra all offseason has been “something to prove.” If they’re ever going to show that they have something new in the works, now is the time. DO YOU BELIEVE?
How to deal with the upcoming loss
Honestly, I’m wallowing right now. If MTSU had been a comfortable win, you could at least paint the picture of what a revenge victory over Kansas State would look like. Now, it’s hard to even draw it up in the imagination – we saw what happened when essentially these same two teams met 51 weeks ago. So how are you going to dull the mid-afternoon depression? I’ll probably pick up a few local IPAs to have in the fridge. I’ll definitely be posting a wide selection of Tim Robinson/I Think You Should Leave gifs on twitter to try to laugh through the pain. And who am I kidding, I’ll definitely watch some other college football games to pretend our coach isn’t stuck in the caveman era.
In the SEC
Tennessee at Florida (6 PM on ESPN)
Last year’s Tennessee-Florida game was sort of anonymous for Mizzou fans. Maybe you remember it better than I do, but I mostly kind of missed it, because this game happened in the shadow of the terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad Auburn game. (And the Aaron Judge home run chase.) I remember Tennessee shoved them into a locker early, but then the Gators kind of hung around long enough to earn a backdoor cover. This year, the Vols look kind of mortal, and have to travel to The Swamp. But do the Gators have enough firepower to hang with even a lesser version of the Heupel offense?
Any QB breakouts?
This has been a difficult early going for god’s own conference, and a major reason for the mediocre marks so far has been middling quarterback play. With league play opening this week and a selection of winnable non-conference games, there is an opportunity for guys to put their sluggish starts behind them and put their stamp on the season. Can young guns like Carson Beck, Jalen Milroe, and AJ Swann and Connor Weigman control a game from start to finish? Transfers like Graham Mertz and Devin Leary have been less than impressive out of the gate. Veterans like Joe Milton, Brady Cook and Will Rogers need to put together complete games. The best SEC quarterback so far has been Spencer Rattler; despite a shaky cast around him, he has a chance to lead his South Carolina outfit to a monumental upset this weekend.
Which teams rebound?
Outside of Georgia, the league is as wide-open as it has ever been in recent years. Alabama, Florida, LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M have all taken tough non-conference losses to open the season. Whoever is going to make a run to the top of the league is going to need to start showing it, and soon. Yes, the quarterback play might ultimately determine who rebounds first (and the highest), but the disappointing marks do not end with the signal callers. Units like South Carolina’s offensive line, Texas A&M’s secondary, LSU’s run defense, Florida’s entire offense, etc. could use some patchwork. This feels like a “get right” week across the league.
Around the Nation
Colorado State at Colorado (9 PM Central on ESPN)
The Buffaloes have been the story of the season so far. They offer star power, with their megawatt head coach, his talented son Shedeur at quarterback, and a fabulous two-way player in Travis Hunter. They have a great storyline, with Deion’s nontraditional approach to coaching and roster building. Their once-proud fanbase is resurgent. Their games are exciting — even when Nebraska dragged them into the muck, their perimeter talent and explosiveness ended up winning out. And now, we get to enjoy them in the classic #PAC-12 After Dark window. Things always get a little spicy out west when the sun goes down — let’s add CFB’s spiciest outfit into the mix.
JMU at Troy (6 PM Central on NFL Network)
One of the best games of the day is this little Sun Belt collision. James Madison is coming off an emotional win in Charlottesville last week, while the Trojans got demolished by Kansas State. The Trojans won the league last year in Jon Sumrall’s first season as head coach, but JMU feels they should have had a shot. Deemed ineligible for a bowl by the NCAA’s transition rules, the Sun Belt did not want to have a situation where their conference champion wouldn’t represent the league in a bowl game, so the Dukes could not play for their league title, either. What did they do? Went out and won the division anyway, declaring themselves “The Kings of the East” when their season ended Thanksgiving weekend. For Curt Cignetti’s Dukes, this game is unfinished business; for the Trojans, its a chance to remain the class of the league and show they deserved their crown. Both teams play excellent defense and have quality running backs; JMU can pass it around a little bit, too, although Troy has yet to figure that part of the game out. Also watch for two of the best defenders in the entire country – Troy cornerback Reddy Steward and James Madison nose guard James Carpenter demand your attention.
Where does the chaos strike?
It’s easy to look at the schedule and say, “Oh, this week’s games stink. There are no good games this week.” And to an extent, you are right – there are no headliners like Alabama vs Texas, or Ohio State vs Notre Dame (soon!). There aren’t even too many rivalries or obvious Group of Five upset spots. Yes, a bunch of massive matchups loom in Week Four. But you know the drill by know – say the week is going to be boring, and you conjure up the wrath of the college football gods. In this sport, if it looks like things are going to be normal on paper, things go sideways. Something is going to get weird. Western Kentucky is going to hang 40 and take Ohio State to the limit. Spencer Rattler is going to play the game of his life between the hedges. It’s the Red Bandana game up in Boston. Weber State is a feisty little FCS squad and Utah’s quarterback situation kinda stinks. Et cetera. Just when you think things are going to be normal, this sport delivers.