Week 3 in the SEC is littered with intriguing conference matchups and pivotal nonconference games on the slate. No. 22 Penn State will travel to the Plains to take on Auburn in a rematch of last year's thriller in State College with the Tigers starting T.J. Finley at quarterback after he and Robby Ashford split snaps over the first two games. Coach Bryan Harsin's crew cruised to a win over Mercer in Week 1 but struggled mightily in a win over San Jose State in Week 2.
Meanwhile, No. 24 Texas A&M will host No. 13 Miami in what's a season-defining game for the Aggies. Coach Jimbo Fisher's crew was stunned by Appalachian State last weekend, and another nonconference loss as this team gets ready for the daunting SEC gauntlet would elevate the angst and animosity in College Station to a fever pitch.
No. 1 Georgia will also be in action as it visits South Carolina in the SEC opener for the Bulldogs, and Mississippi State will head to Death Valley to take on LSU in the two conference games on the schedule this weekend.
Let's take a spin around the conference and makes some picks for the games featuring SEC teams in Week 3.
Appetizer: Aggies in crisis mode
Texas A&M's loss to Appalachian State wasn't just an upset, it was an indictment. The passing game has taken most of the heat, but the way the Mountaineers were able to own the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball is a direct refection of the development and, perhaps more alarming, the lack of motivation and respect given to a very good opponent. The Aggies gave up five tackles for loss and conceded the time of possession battle 41:29 to 18:31. When you consider that Fisher's offense doesn't exactly operate at warp speed, that kind of disparity in time of possession should never happen.
Saturday night's game vs. the Hurricanes is, in some ways, a program-defining game for Fisher and the Aggies. A win would show resilience and a pivotal ability to block out the noise. A loss during a season in which the College Football Playoff was theoretically an attainable goal would solidify its place as the most underachieving program in the country.
Main course: Feast or famine for Bryan Harsin
There's no need to rehash the drama from February that almost cost coach Bryan Harsin his job at Auburn after just one year. It all led to the need for Harsin to win big in 2022, or the powers-that-be that were after him in the winter will get their wish this fall. Harsin's true quest starts this week against the Nittany Lions.
There are reasons to be excited about this team. The Tigers have converted all eight of their red zone trips into touchdowns, allowed just six tackles for loss over the first two games and lead the conference in rushing defense at 64 yards per game. However, the absence of a legit downfield threat under center and a pass defense that is ranked 11th in the SEC (236 yards per game) have combined to make this team one of the biggest mysteries in college football.
Consider this game a pivot point for Harsin. A win over Penn State could set the tone for a five-game home winning streak to start the season, which will leave him plenty of margin for error down the stretch. A loss, however, could splinter a program that is already vulnerable to outside forces.
Dessert: Underrated quarterback battle
Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers has been incredible so far this year. The junior gun-slinger for the Bulldogs leads the SEC in passing (381.5 yards per game), touchdown passes (9) and completion percentage (78.6%). He's a big reason coach Mike Leach's crew has jumped out to a 2-0 record and is on the cusp of becoming ranked in the AP Top 25.
He'll be heading to Death Valley for a showdown with LSU counterpart Jayden Daniels. It seems like everything associated with LSU has been dismissed from the moment that final extra point attempt vs. Florida State was blocked in the opener, but Daniels has quietly been pretty solid despite getting no help from his offensive line. He leads the SEC in passer rating (179.04), hasn't thrown a pick and completed 73.5% of his passes vs. the Seminoles despite his offensive line. Simply put: he's not the problem.
Keep an eye on the SEC opener for both squads on Saturday night in Death Valley. We'll have a much better grasp on the passing attacks for both teams when all is said and done.
Straight up: 19-5 | Against the spread: 8-13
*Picks were made on Instagram since SEC Smothered & Covered starts in Week 3
No. 1 Georgia at South Carolina
It's impossible to trust Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler after he's tossed two touchdowns and three picks in two games, especially against a defense that has given up three total points over two games. The Bulldogs offense has been wildly efficient when the first team is in and, more importantly, have driven the offense through quarterback Stetson Bennett IV as opposed to the other way around. Georgia will call off the dogs enough in the fourth quarter to keep this within the massive spread. Pick: South Carolina (+24)
No. 20 Ole Miss at Georgia Tech
The status of Rebels co-starting quarterback Luke Altmyer was in doubt earlier this week, but it sounds like he'll be available with fellow-co starter Jaxson Dart against the Yellow Jackets. Honestly, though, it won't matter all that much. The Rebels could put me back there and I could find a way to outscore an offense that's averaging 4.96 yards per play. Pick: Ole Miss (-16)
No. 22 Penn State at Auburn
This is going to be a battle of mistakes. More specifically, it'll be a battle of which team makes more of them. Finley has tossed three interceptions and only one touchdown this year, while Nittany Lions starter Sean Clifford has only one pick on 64 attempts this season with five touchdowns mixed in for good measure. Make no mistake, Auburn will keep this one close in the fourth quarter thanks to running backs Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter, but it's hard to trust Finley enough to pick Auburn to pull the upset. Pick: Penn State (-2.5)
Vanderbilt at Northern Illinois
The Huskies have given up 32.5 points per game this year in games against Eastern Illinois and at Tulsa. That's not exactly a horrible state on the surface, but wrapped within the context of the strength of their opponents is concerning. The Commodores offense under dual-threat weapon Mike Wright will have more success against NIU than its previous two opponents to win this one outright. Pick: Vanderbilt (+2.5)
UL-Monroe at No. 2 Alabama
Poor ULM. It's about to get an angry Nick Saban-coached team that is embarrassed after narrowly escaping Austin, Texas with a one-point win over Texas last week. Quarterback Bryce Young is about to light up the Warhawks, EDGE star Will Anderson Jr. will stop jumping offsides and the Crimson Tide will make this one hurt. Pick: Alabama (-49)
Mississippi State at LSU
Death Valley is a terrible place to play for opponents, but it won't matter this weekend for a Mississippi State team that is wildly underrated. We all know about how dangerous the Air Raid offense is under Rogers, but defensive coordinator Zach Arnett is extremely creative and one of the best up-and-coming coaches of whom you've never heard. He will get ultra-creative against a porous Tigers offensive line and leave Baton Rouge with a seven-point win. Pick: Mississippi State (-2)
Akron at No. 15 Tennessee
We know Tennessee's offense is as dangerous as it comes in college football, but its defensive front blew up what we thought was a decent Pittsburgh defensive line last week. Akron has given up nine tackles for loss per game through two games, and won't have a chance to handle what the Volunteers will bring. Tennessee will play this one in the 60s and its defense will shine. Pick: Tennessee (-47.5)
South Florida at No. 18 Florida
It's hard to trust Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson if he's not a threat on the ground. Granted, he will be healthier this weekend against the Bulls, but he is last in the SEC in passer rating among qualifying quarterbacks (90.04) for a reason. A couple of mistakes through the air will keep the Bulls within a spread that is about four points too big. Pick: South Florida (+24.5)
No. 13 Miami at No. 24 Texas A&M
Texas A&M has a quarterback problem, offensive line problem, defensive line problem and confidence problem. That's not good when potential first-round pick Tyler Van Dyke is taking the snaps for the team across the field. The Hurricanes will play this game in the high 20s or low 30s, and it's impossible to create a scenario in which the Aggies keep up let alone win in that style of game. Pick: Miami (+5.5)
SEC teams vs. FCS opponents
*No lines have been published
- No. 9 Kentucky over Youngstown State
- Missouri over Abilene Christian
- No. 19 Arkansas over Missouri State
Which college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 3, and which favorites will go down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,400 in profit over the past six-plus seasons -- and find out.