Orange Bowl

Five things to watch in Week 3

 
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Bruins signal caller, Brett Hundley will look to take advantage of the Cornhuskers defense who have been inconsistent thus far in 2013.
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Mark Schlabach | ESPN

Five things we'll be watching in college football this weekend:

1. Will No. 1 Alabama's offense look in better in Saturday's SEC West showdown at No. 6 Texas A&M?

The Crimson Tide, the defending BCS national champions, left a lot to be desired on offense in their 35-10 victory over Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game two weeks ago. Quarterback AJ McCarron, who was playing with a painful ingrown toenail, completed only 10 of 23 passes for 110 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Worse, the Crimson Tide averaged only 2.5 yards per rushing attempt behind an offensive line with three new starters.

Texas A&M's defense was pretty porous in its first two games against Rice and FCS foe Sam Houston State, allowing an average of 449.5 yards per game, which ranks 92nd out of 123 FBS teams. The Aggies will get back three defensive starters who were suspended for the first two games.

"We struggled last year in the game with them, and I think it's going to be the same kind of things of importance on offense," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "We are going to have to block, execute, going to have to throw and catch, going to have make good decisions and play our game. Get a hat on a hat, eliminate negative plays and try to not get behind in the down and distance and take advantage of opportunities when we get them."

2. Can the Blackshirts slow down No. 16 UCLA's offense?

No. 23 Nebraska's defense will be looking for redemption when the Cornhuskers host the Bruins at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on Saturday. Last season, the Cornhuskers allowed 653 yards of offense -- the second-highest total surrendered in school history -- in a 36-30 loss to UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley did a lot of the damage, accounting for 358 yards of offense and four touchdowns.

Nebraska's defense struggled in its opener, allowing 602 yards of offense in a 37-34 victory over Wyoming. Cowboys quarterback Brett Smith, another dual threat, passed for 383 yards with four touchdowns, while running for 92 yards. The Cornhuskers bounced back in last week's 56-13 rout of Southern Miss, allowing only 284 yards of offense, including 62 rushing. Of course, the Golden Eagles have also lost 14 games in a row.

3. Is Tennessee capable of pulling off a stunner at No. 2 Oregon?

Probably not, but the Volunteers have looked much better under first-year coach Butch Jones. The Vols routed FCS foe Austin Peay 45-0 and forced seven turnovers in a 52-20 blowout of Western Kentucky last week. But we'll learn a lot about Tennessee the next two weeks, when it plays at Oregon and then at No. 18 Florida.

The Ducks have been just as explosive under new coach Mark Helfrich, the offensive coordinator under former coach Chip Kelly, who is now with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. Oregon is averaging 62.5 points per game and 9.5 yards per play. The Ducks already have five 100-yard rushing performances, including two each from quarterback Marcus Mariota and tailback De'Anthony Thomas, who combined for 487 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in two games.

4. How good is Illinois?

Washington had one of the most impressive performances in Week 1, blowing out Boise State 38-6 at renovated Husky Stadium, which vaulted the Huskies into the national rankings. But Illinois is one of the biggest surprises of the season in coach Tim Beckman's second campaign and will look to improve to 3-0 in Saturday night's game at Chicago's Soldier Field.

After struggling with FCS foe Southern Illinois 42-34 in their opener, the Illini blew out Cincinnati 45-17 last week, rolling up 522 yards of offense in the process. New offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, a former Western Michigan coach, has made a world of difference for quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who is completing 74 percent of his passes for 728 yards with six touchdowns in two games. He threw only four touchdowns in 10 games in 2012.

5. Which team is a bigger sleeper -- Arizona State or Wisconsin?

With USC's problems, Arizona, Arizona State or UCLA might be the team to beat in the Pac-12 South. Wisconsin won its first two games over inferior opponents by a combined score of 93-0 and looks like a real sleeper in the Big Ten in coach Gary Andersen's first season.

After routing UMass and FCS foe Tennessee Tech, the Badgers take a big step up in competition when they play at Arizona State on Saturday night. Wisconsin's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in 11 straight quarters, dating back to the Rose Bowl game, and the offense has a three-headed monster in the backfield with James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.

The Sun Devils blew out FCS foe Sacramento State 55-0 and are preparing for a difficult four-game stretch. After hosting the Badgers, they'll play at No. 5 Stanford next week, followed by a home game against USC on Sept. 28 and a neutral-site contest against No. 21 Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas, on Oct. 5.

 

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