Games and Players To Watch in Week 3

September 14, 2023 by staff and Rich Cirminiello, Maxwell Football Club

This week, LSU continues its quest to build back from a Week 1 loss to Florida State, Minnesota and North Carolina meet for the first time in a matchup between programs with deeply contrasting styles, Quinn Ewers and Sam Hartman look to continue making their offensive statements, while Auburn's Assante and UTSA's Moore leave their mark on defensive.

Meanwhile, Texas and Florida State look to stay perfect as they top the list of team odds of going undefeated.

In addition to the games below, keep an eye on Pitt at West Virginia when they collide in the Backyard Brawl.

SEE: Complete schedule, picks, odds

Games To Watch - Week 3

LSU (1-1) at Mississippi State (2-0) - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

LSU’s quest to build back from a Week 1 loss to Florida State continues with this weekend’s SEC opener in Starkville.

Yeah, the Tigers were humbled in the second half by the Noles, but all their preseason goals are right there in front of them. Just don’t stumble again because any margin for error has now vanished. LSU remains one of the most talented teams in America, especially now that star DT Maason Smith is back on the field. Mississippi State has won its first two games of the Zach Arnett era, surviving an OT battle with Arizona in Week 2. This conference game features two of the more accomplished senior quarterbacks, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and MSU’s Will Rogers. Mississippi State's Jo'Quavious Marks is a fantasy favorite after rushing for 127 and 2 TD's vs SE Louisiana, and then gaining 123 yards and scoring 1 TD vs. Arizona. He also has a combined 91 yards receiving as has factored in 51 of 124 plays.

South Carolina (1-1) at Georgia (2-0) - Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Okay, here’s your shot to shock the world again, South Carolina.

The Gamecocks have been giant killers under Shane Beamer, beating ranked Tennessee and Clemson in back-to-back weeks last November. The two-time defending national champs, though, are an entirely different challenge. QB Spencer Rattler has been on a tear since midway through 2022 and is completing 83.3% of his passes so far this year. He’ll need to raise the bar and avoid turnovers against a Georgia D that reloads on the fly. The Dawgs have coasted in routs of Tennessee-Martin and Ball State, but this everyone’s first chance to see new QB Carson Beck and all the fresh faces on both sides of the ball versus a quality opponent.

Minnesota (2-0) at North Carolina (2-0)- Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

The Gophers and the Tar Heels meet for the first time in a matchup between programs with deeply contrasting styles.

This is one of the sneaky-good Week 3 battles. Carolina always seems to play entertaining games, beating South Carolina and Appalachian State last weekend in an OT thriller. Minnesota, conversely, is an old-school, largely no-name Big Ten program that wins with ground-and-pound on offense and an air-tight D. Tar Heel QB Drake Maye is struggling to find a downfield threat and has thrown just two TD passes in two games. It will not get easier against a Gopher secondary that’s allowed only one touchdown pass and is bolstered by next-level DBs Tyler Nubin and Justin Walley.

Tennessee (2-0) at Florida (1-1) - Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Sure, this doesn’t quite have the juice of yesteryear. But this is still Tennessee and Florida in the Swamp, with both teams trying to gain ground on SEC East frontrunner Georgia.

The Vols and the Gators for the 53rd time, with the latter holding a nine-game home winning streak in the series. Florida last lost to Tennessee in Gainesville in 2004 when Chris Leak and Erik Ainge were the quarterbacks. This year, it’ll be Joe Milton against Graham Mertz, with the edge going to the visitors. Still, the Vols needed a strong second half on Saturday to shake free from Austin Peay, so both programs have a lot to prove now that SEC play is beginning.

Players To Watch - Offense

The Maxwell Football Club honors the nation’s best offensive player with the Maxwell Award. Here’s a look at last week’s standout offensive players.

QB Quinn Ewers, Texas

Ewers made the most of his second crack at Alabama, guiding the Longhorns to a statement win over No. 3 Alabama, 34-24. Ewers was knocked out of last year’s meeting in Austin, a game Texas let slip away. But Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, where the Tide had won 21 straight, the junior gunslinger starred in the upset. Showcasing great touch on deep balls, Ewers connected on 24-of-38 for 349 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The arm talent has always been there, but in Week 2 he performed like the leader of a confident program with a high ceiling.

This week, Texas hosts a Wyoming team that has already defeated another Big 12 opponent - Texas Tech.

RB Corey Kiner, Cincinnati

Behind Kiner and a defense that yielded just 262 yards, the Bearcats went on the road and knocked off Pitt, 27-21, in a mild upset. On a night that the passing game was unable to stretch the Panther D, Kiner kept the chains moving with a career-best 153 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. His second straight 100-yard effort was highlighted by a 68-yard sprint, which was also a personal-best at Cincinnati.

RB Omarion Hampton, North Carolina

Last week, Carolina won with defense. This past Saturday, it leaned heavily on the ground game. The Heels are a lot more than just QB Drake Maye, which bodes well for the start of ACC play. Hampton was the offensive hero in Chapel Hill, helping Carolina overcome a sluggish start to outlast Appalachian State, 40-34, in double-overtime. The sophomore carried 26 times for a personal-best 234 yards and three touchdowns, adding a reception for 10 yards.

QB Sam Hartman, Notre Dame

Hartman was triumphant in his return to ACC country this past Saturday. The record-setting former Wake Forest quarterback led Notre Dame into NC State, a school with whom he’s very familiar. Facing a rugged veteran D in inclement weather, Hartman spearheaded a 45-24 rout with 286 yards and four touchdowns through the air, including two to rising tight end Holden Staes.

QB Will Howard, Kansas State

Troy arrived in Manhattan riding a 12-game winning streak, but left town on the short end of a 42-13 pasting. With the multi-dimensional Howard at the controls of the offense, the Wildcats have now scored at least 40 points in four straight regular season games for the first time since 2002. The senior from Downingtown, Penn. completed 21-of-32 passes for 250 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, while adding two rushing scores and 33 yards on the ground.

WR Gage Larvadain, Miami (OH)

While it didn’t make national headlines in the offseason, the RedHawks mined a transfer gem from Southeastern Louisiana. The former Southland Conference Freshman of the Year is already paying dividends for his new team. In Saturday’s win over Massachusetts, Larvadain erupted with eight catches for 273 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a 99-yard sprint through the Minutemen secondary. His 273 yards is second-most in program history.

QB Bo Nix, Oregon

The Ducks were pushed hard in Lubbock, but survived, 38-30, to get to 2-0. And, as is often the case, Nix was a huge reason why Oregon came out on top. The senior rallied his team back from a fourth quarter deficit with 359 yards passing and two touchdowns on 32-of-44 passing. Nix also scrambled for 46 yards, using his athleticism to extend drives at key moments late in the game.

QB Tyler Van Dyke, Miami

Miami is a totally different team led by a totally different quarterback. In a battle of programs with a lot to prove Saturday, the Canes raced past No. 23 Texas A&M, 48-33, behind a rejuvenated Van Dyke. Playing like last year’s sophomore slump is now a distant memory, Van Dyke bombarded the Aggies for 374 yards and five touchdowns on 21-of-30 passing. Those five scoring strikes not only matched a career-high, but also is the most ever by a Miami QB versus an AP Top 25 opponent.

Players To Watch - Defense

The Maxwell Football Club honors the nation’s best defensive player with the Chuck Bednarik Award. Here’s a look at last week’s standout defenders.

LB Eugene Asante, Auburn

Asante was on the scout team last year and wasn’t even listed as a starter for Saturday night’s game in Berkeley. Yet, there he was starring in a key road win over Cal, 14-10, that was dictated by the play of both defenses. Asante, who closes fast and rarely allows yards after contact, played all game like he was shot out of a cannon. He led the Tigers with 12 tackles, adding 1.5 tackles for loss and a key fourth-quarter edge sack to prevent the Bears from extending a lead.

LB Aaron Beasley, Tennessee

The Vols needed Beasley longer than expected, and the Bednarik Award candidate was up to the challenge. Tennessee struggled to shake FCS Austin Peay, leading by just a touchdown at halftime. And with more reps, the Vols’ emotional and physical leader helped preserve a tougher-than-expected 30-13 victory. Beasley was all over the field with nine tackles, including eight solo stops, two sacks and a career-high five tackles for loss, most by a Vol in nearly two decades.

LB Jason Henderson, Old Dominion

ODU’s tackling machine was at it again in Saturday’s upset win over visiting Louisiana. The Monarchs snapped a seven-game losing streak, handling the Ragin’ Cajuns, 38-31. Henderson once again headlined the defense with 17 stops, including 2.5 for minus yards. It was the 17th double-digit tackle game of his career and the second-straight to kick off the 2023 campaign.

LB Jett Johnson, Mississippi State

Nathaniel Watson is the most decorated defender in Starkville. However, in Saturday night’s gut-check overtime defeat of Arizona, no Bulldog was better than Johnson. The Mississippi State graduate was instrumental in all phases of the 31-24 victory, wrapping up in the open field and blanketing receivers like a safety. Johnson led the team with 11 tackles, including two for loss and a sack, while also intercepting two Jayden de Laura throws.

S Jaden Hicks, Washington State

Wazzu will play with a chip on its shoulder all season long. Wisconsin witnessed it firsthand Saturday on the Palouse. The Cougars, believing they’re Power 5 worthy, knocked off a ranked Power 5 visitor in Week 2. The offense was good, but the D was fantastic, holding a team that had two 100-yard rushers a week earlier to just 90 total rushing yards. The hard-hitting Hicks was one of numerous stars, making nine tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and two pass breakups. He was the nation’s second-ranked Week 2 safety, according to Pro Football Focus.

ED Trey Moore, UTSA

The Roadrunner offense has misfired through the first two games. It’s a good thing for Jeff Traylor & Co. that the defense has dug its heels in so far this month. UTSA held fast-paced Texas State to just 13 points, a week after the Bobcats hung 42 on Baylor. Moore has picked up where he left off as a freshman in 2022, making a team-high seven tackles and three sacks of TJ Finley. The sophomore has an explosive first step and the technique to get underneath the pads of opposing blockers.

LB Collin Oliver, Oklahoma State

This isn’t your dad’s Cowboys. Oklahoma State is 2-0 in large part because of the play of an underrated defense. OSU travelled to hostile territory, Tempe, late Saturday night and put Arizona State in a second-half headlock. The Pokes pitched a shutout over the final 40 minutes, with Oliver collecting seven stops, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. According to Pro Football Focus, Oliver’s effort earned him the seventh highest grade among Week 2 linebackers.

LB Danny Stutsman, Oklahoma

The Oklahoma offense misfired for much of the first three quarters in Saturday’s visit from SMU. So, the defense stepped up to hold the Mustangs to just 11 points in a hard-fought win. Stutsman was the headliner for the Sooner D, flying all over the field with reckless abandon. He finished the day 17 tackles, one off his personal-high, 2.5 stops for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.