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Three by Three: Week Two Mizzou, SEC, and CFB Preview

Presenting the 3x3, sharing three things to watch each in the Mizzou game, in the SEC slate, and around the CFB nation at large during Week Two of the season.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Tennessee Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Week Two 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 the Alabama vs Texas game 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.

Three Things to Watch: On Mizzou

Harrison Mevis

Last week our beloved Thiccer Kicker put up the single worst week of his career. He missed a pair of field goals, and his unblemished streak of extra points made would have come to a screeching halt if an offsides penalty hadn’t bailed him out for a redo. Did he just lack focus for the night? Was he sick or something? Was the holding that bad? It will be worrisome if this extends into another game before he is expected to be a high leverage weapon during conference play. I don’t want to worry about place kicking all season, Harrison; please put this behind you like we know you can.

Keep up OL improvement

The offensive line’s play against South Dakota was a revelation. Yes, it was just an FCS school, but the unit struggled mightily in the same spot last year against Abilene. Connor Tollison in particular looked like a new man: his snaps were consistent, he was noticeably bigger, and he was getting after guys in the run game. There were some glitches to clean up, mostly a few procedural penalties, but I am hopeful the group can maintain their improvement. The competition increases a notch this week, and then another notch next week; keep that positive momentum going forward.

Wide Receiver blocking

Eli Drinkwitz singled out his wide receiver’s poor blocking during fall camp in a moment of exasperated candor. That extended into Week One, as the Tigers on the perimeter earned poor marks for their blocking according to PFF grading. I know it’s a subjective science, but those marks across the board, combined with Drink’s public concerns, is a major red flag. Luther Burden graded the highest of all the receivers at 67. Mekhi Miller and Mookie Cooper were both subpar at 590 and 59.5, respectively, and Theo Wease was downright bad at 48.3. For the veterans, and a big-bodied one in Wease, that number should be higher. In an offensive system based on running the ball and short throws and creating yards after the catch, there must be better performance as a unit.

Three Things to Watch: In the SEC

Ole Miss at Tulane (2:30 PM CT, ESPN2)

This is a fun Deep South matchup of two creative offenses with loads of skill position talent. Tulane looked like one of the fastest and most athletic squads in the country last week as they dispatched an upstart South Alabama squad. Ole Miss has a reliable identity in the Lane Kiffin era: uptempo offense, chunk yardage offense, and a just-good-enough defense. But what if that defense isn’t good enough against Willie Fritz’s funky offense and a razor-sharp QB in Michael Pratt? Things will get pointsy in the Big Easy.

Auburn at California (9:30 PM CT, ESPN)

Talk about a culture shock matchup as Auburn and Berkeley collide. Can you find a more disparate fanbase culture clash in the Power Five? Cal has been Big Ten West -adjacent under Justin Wilcox, after he cut his teeth as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin. But new offensive play caller Jake Spavital brought back the “Bear Raid” offense this year, and the results were promising as they hung 58 points on North Texas in the opener. We know how Hugh Freeze and Philip Montgomery want to operate their offense. A game that could have been a defensive slugfest a few years ago now will look like something right of the Big 12 circa 2013. With Spavital off the Holgorsen branch of the Mike Leach tree and Mongtomery a Briles disciple, that’s not really a joke, just the truth.

Texas at Alabama (6 PM CT, ESPN)

I mostly want to avoid the big screaming PTI headlines in this column, but c’mon, I had to write about this game. Some matchups are worthy of the storylines and the hype. Alabama had an offseason full of questions; new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was widely criticized, and the defense had to replace a number of stars at every level. They took all that talking season nonsense and went out and absolutely incinerated Middle Tennessee in Week One. Texas, on the other hand, spent the whole offseason hearing about how they were finally BACK and the clear-cut best team in the Big 12. They played Rice in Week One and kinda played with their food a little bit. Alabama won this game by the hair of Bryce Young’s chinny-chinny-chin last year; they don’t have his wizardry to fall back on if things go sour against a Texas team that is improving in physicality. This game is going to be big, loud, and smashy like all the best prime-time matchups. Let’s hope it delivers an instant classic before it becomes a ho-hum regular season league game.

Three Things to Watch: Around the Nation

UCF at Boise State (6 PM CT, FS1)

Two of the best “midmajor” programs in the past twenty years square off, although UCF would like you to know that they have graduated to the big leagues now, thankyouverymuch (and don’t you dare call them the Golden Knights). Both teams have ground-based attacks based on a stable of running backs and a dynamo at the quarterback position. UCF’s John Rhys Plumlee was a former SEC wide receiver and plays centerfield for the UCF baseball program, and Boise’s Taylan Green is doing the most passable Vince Young impression since the man himself was redefining the zone read play on the Forty Acres. This one should be high-flying and entertaining, although I do see a scenario where UCF puts it away easily; they have fewer question marks on defense and I trust a Gus Malzhan offense a lot more than a Bush Hamdan one.

James Madison at Virginia (11 AM CT, ESPNU)

The Cavaliers play their first home game since the program and campus were turned upside down by a senseless act of gun violence last fall. Emotions will run high in Charlottesville as the outpouring of love reminds us that even though a sporting event can feel silly in the shadow of unspeakable tragedy, the community built around our favorite teams plays an important part of the healing process. For a Virginia fan base that is hurting right now, a win over the in-state, upstart James Madison Dukes would feel like the relief of a million pounds of pressure.

Illinois at Kansas (Friday, 6:30 PM CT, ESPN2)