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Setting the stage for a very big weekend of college football.
ALABAMA (2-0) AT OLE MISS (1-1)
* The Big Question: Does Ole Miss have Nick Saban’s number?
* Answer: Seems that way, doesn’t it? There aren’t many teams that defeat Saban’s Crimson Tide in consecutive seasons, and now Ole Miss is going for three straight. Alabama was simply outplayed two years ago in the fourth quarter, but last season it committed five turnovers (leading to 24 Ole Miss points). This time, the game should be determined by the ability of Alabama’s offensive line to neutralize Ole Miss’ physical, athletic defensive front. The Crimson Tide just needs to play better. Nobody beats Saban three straight times.
* Prediction: Alabama 33, Ole Miss 21.
FLORIDA STATE (2-0) AT LOUISVILLE (2-0)
* The Big Question: Will there be any punts?
* Answer: Maybe not. With the blinding offensive weaponry of the Seminoles and Cardinals, this one figures to be an offensive showcase. Seminole redshirt freshman QB Deondre Francois faces his first true road game, but he’s surrounded by offensive talent, and running back Dalvin Cook is bound to get untracked in the running game. Meanwhile, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson has been simply brilliant and could stamp himself as the early Heisman Trophy favorite with a good performance here. This seems like a basketball game. Last team in possession wins it.
* Prediction: Florida State 45, Louisville 42.
OHIO STATE (2-2) AT OKLAHOMA (1-1)
* The Big Question: Is he still Big Game Bob?
* Answer: Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is 20-15 against top 10-ranked opponents. He’s also 55-6 at home since 2006 (with seven undefeated seasons). The Sooners are very much in play to win the Big 12 championship, but their College Football Playoff aspirations likely will be snuffed out with another defeat. Stoops won’t have an answer for J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes, who look formidable.
* Prediction: Ohio State 34, Oklahoma 24.
MICHIGAN STATE (1-0) AT NOTRE DAME (1-1)
* The Big Question: Is Notre Dame an elite team?
* Answer: Notre Dame now goes about the business of proving itself after an incredibly entertaining 50-47 overtime defeat at Texas. The Fighting Irish did all they could, but it was the Longhorns’ night, no question. Michigan State, 66-16 since the start of the 2010 season, has ended the last three seasons at No. 3, No. 5 and No. 6 in the final Associated Press poll, but there’s uneasiness in the MSU camp: New QB Tyler O’Connor gets initiated with the Spartans.
Meanwhile, Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer has looked brilliant, separating himself from what was supposed to be a rotation with Malik Zaire. Notre Dame is a legitimate top-10 team. We’re not sure what to make of Michigan State.
* Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Michigan State 21.
USC (1-1) AT STANFORD (1-0)
* The Big Question: Can Christian McCaffrey be stopped?
* Answer: Not this Saturday night. McCaffrey, the Stanford star who set the NCAA record for all-purpose yards (3,864) last season, had 210 all-purpose yards against Kansas State (with a 97-yard punt-return touchdown called back by penalty). USC is one season away from returning to its status as a Pac-12 power. It will be a major accomplishment if it can weather a ridiculously difficult schedule. Its defense was shredded in a season-opening 52-6 loss against Alabama, and McCaffrey’s presence isn’t a good way to ease into the league schedule.
* Prediction: Stanford 38, USC 24.
TEXAS (2-0) AT CALIFORNIA (1-1)
* The Big Question: Has Texas turned the corner?
* Answer: Well, not yet. The heat is off Longhorns coach Charlie Strong — for the moment — and he can improve his Texas record to 14-14 with a road win at Cal. No doubt, the Longhorns were superb in a season-opening 50-47 overtime win against Notre Dame, but their defense will be stressed by Golden Bear QB Davis Webb, the Texas Tech transfer who passed for 522 yards in a 45-40 loss against San Diego State. It’s also one of those weird, late-night Pac-12 settings, and Texas was 1-4 on the road last season. We’re not ready to proclaim Texas as a major contender. It still feels like a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of year.
* Prediction: California 42, Texas 38.
COLORADO (2-0) AT MICHIGAN (2-0)
* The Big Question: Will this be a competitive game?
* Answer: Um, no. It’s an encouraging start for the Buffaloes, but it was built on victories against Colorado State and Idaho State. This will be a bit different. Incredibly, Colorado has 10 consecutive losing seasons. The last winning record was 7-6 (in 2005). Baby steps are needed.
Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines will show no mercy, of course, as they march forward to what appears to be a legitimate bid for the College Football Playoff. After its trip to the Big House, Colorado must figure out a way to navigate a tough Pac-12 schedule (three of its first five: at Oregon, at USC, at Stanford).
* Prediction: Michigan 48, Colorado 17.