Each week, the Los Angeles Times’ national college sports reporter J. Brady McCollough will pick the week’s eight best games — that have a combination of big-brand intrigue and a spread within a touchdown — plus the USC and UCLA games. Through three weeks, McCollough is even at 15-15 and looking for a breakthrough.
No. 12 Notre Dame vs. No. 18 Wisconsin
Once we get over our disappointment that this game isn’t in Madison or South Bend (it’s being played at Chicago’s Soldier Field), we can realize that it should still be awesome. Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan led Wisconsin to the 2020 Rose Bowl but lost the starting job to freshman Graham Mertz leading into the pandemic season. Now Coan gets to show the Badgers what they’re missing. Wisconsin lost to Penn State in its opener and hasn’t looked like a dominant rushing team thus far, and Notre Dame has not been very convincing in starting 3-0, narrowly escaping Florida State and Toledo. Someone’s going to have an inflated sense of self after Saturday. Notre Dame 27, Wisconsin 23
Missouri at Boston College
Missouri fell to Kentucky in Week 2 but appears to be competent on both sides of the ball. Boston College will be playing its first legit opponent after losing quarterback Phil Jurkovec to season-ending injury. The Tigers will ride running back Tyler Badie, who’s been slashing through defenses thus far this season. Missouri 31, Boston College 26
Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin, Texas A&M vs. Arkansas and UCLA vs. Stanford are among the top college football games to watch Saturday.
Louisiana State at Mississippi State
When these teams played in their 2020 opener, LSU’s defense was so bad that KJ Costello emerged from the game looking like a Heisman Trophy contender. Costello wouldn’t finish the season as the Bulldogs’ starter, which is classic Mike Leach. Ed Orgeron and Leach could use a win here badly, with each team 2-1. LSU’s defense still has issues, but it’s not quite as bad as last year’s. LSU 35, Mississippi State 28
No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 16 Arkansas
The Aggies are going to need an inspired effort from quarterback Zach Calzada, who struggled against Colorado in relief of the injured Haynes King. Arkansas’ defense, which stymied Texas in Week 2, will be an even stiffer test for the young Calzada. The Razorbacks have been steadily improving under second-year coach Sam Pittman, and they will take advantage of King’s injury to improve to 4-0 and become one of the nation’s best early stories of 2021. Arkansas 20, Texas A&M 17
Louisville at Florida State
Florida State is still looking for its first win of Mike Norvell’s second season. The Seminoles are desperate, but they’re just not good enough right now to slow down Louisville dynamic dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham. Louisville 33, Florida State 20
No. 24 UCLA at Stanford
Stanford coach David Shaw started the wrong quarterback in Week 1. If he had gone with Tanner McKee, would the Cardinal be 3-0 and ranked like UCLA? We’ll never know. Stanford now has lots of film to evaluate Chip Kelly’s rushing attack led by Zach Charbonnet, who was bottled up during the Fresno State loss. Winning in Palo Alto would be an impressive recovery by the Bruins and another sign this UCLA team will be different. UCLA 28, Stanford 24
No. 25 Kansas State at Oklahoma State
In this under-the-radar battle of Big 12 3-0 teams, it will come down to which team can run the ball better. Kansas State has stud tailback Deuce Vaughn, and Oklahoma State has LD Brown and Jaylen Warren, the Utah State transfer. This feels like a toss-up, so we’ll go with the home atmosphere in Stillwater. Oklahoma State 24, Kansas State 23
Nebraska at No. 20 Michigan State
The Spartans are surging under second-year coach Mel Tucker, who is showing why he left Colorado for Michigan State in the dark of night after one season. Michigan State beat Miami, which was clearly being overrated. Are the Spartans due for a letdown against a Nebraska team that challenged Oklahoma last week on the road? It’s hard to bet on Scott Frost right now, and Michigan State has an emerging star in running back Kenneth Walker III. Michigan State 34, Nebraska 24
A plan to expand the College Football Playoff stalled when college sports administrators were unable to reach consensus on whether to grow the postseason format.
Kentucky at South Carolina
The Wildcats could improve to 2-0 in the SEC with a win, while the Gamecocks are trying to avoid starting 0-2. South Carolina will finally get to start its intended quarterback, Luke Doty, who missed the first two weeks with an injury. South Carolina feels like a work in progress with first-year coach Shane Beamer, whereas Kentucky has an identity under Mark Stoops. Will Levis, the Kentucky transfer quarterback from Penn State, will make enough plays to get it done. Kentucky 28, South Carolina 20
Oregon State at USC
USC fans who are already chalking up a victory should do a little more research on Oregon State. The Beavers played Purdue tough on the road in their opener, and that was before they landed on Chance Nolan as their best quarterback. Running back BJ Baylor has taken over the backfield, and Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith will not hesitate to force USC to stop him. This game will be tighter than most assume, but Kedon Slovis and Drake London will win it for USC late. USC 31, Oregon State 24