College Football’s Week 3 Upset Meter Puts Iowa, USC and UCF on Notice

Scroll through college football’s Week 3 schedule and you’ll notice the lack of a single Top 25 matchup on tap for this weekend. Not even #CollegeAmesDay between Iowa and Iowa State will feature two ranked teams after the Cyclones dropped this week from No. 25 to the first team among the Others Receiving Votes category of the AP Top 25 Poll.

So at face value, this weekend might look like a snoozefest, and it could very well turn out to be one.

But that’s pretty unlikely, with the proof courtesy of ESPN’s Chris Fallica:

There’s a realistic chance we wake up Sunday morning having witnessed losses for somewhere between a quarter to a third of Week 3’s ranked teams.

While there are 23 games involving ranked teams this weekend, they won’t go 23-0.

We’re confident in that.

Here’s our best guess as to which ranked teams are most likely to lose this weekend, listed in descending order from most likely to lose to least likely.

It wouldn’t be surprising if they lost

No. 19 Iowa (-2.5) at Iowa State

The aforementioned Hawkeyes travel to face rival Iowa State on Saturday, when ESPN’s College GameDay will make its debut in Ames. Not that Cyclone fans needed more incentive to bring their A-game this weekend, but the presence of Lee Corso & Co. adds some juice to the matchup.

Iowa State is a home dog and the Cyclones have gone 5-4 against ranked opponents in the last two seasons.

Sure, Iowa has won four straight meetings in the rivalry, but the Hawkeyes needed overtime to win 44-41 in their last trip to Ames, and they won by a 13-3 margin last fall.

Since Iowa State made its leap in Year Two of the Matt Campbell era, the Cy-Hawk game hasn’t been lopsided. The SP+ rankings are much higher on Iowa (No. 20 overall, No. 56 offense, No. 17 defense) than Iowa State (No. 37 overall, No. 86 offense, No. 21 defense) and the Cyclones were far from convincing in their triple-overtime win over Northern Iowa in Week 1, but a timely bye week in Week 2 could prove to be beneficial.

 

No. 24 USC (-4) at BYU

USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis impressed in his debut as the Trojans’ starting quarterback, replacing the injured JT Daniels and completing 28-of-33 passes for 377 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions as USC turned a 17-3 deficit into a 45-20 rout over No. 23 Stanford in Week 2.

The SP+ rankings are impressed by USC’s offense, ranking it as the No. 16 unit in the nation after Week 2, but let’s see how Slovis and the Trojans handle their first road trip of the year.

BYU is riding high after beating Tennessee on the road in double overtime and the Cougars showed fight after falling behind by two scores in Knoxville.

Maybe things are surprisingly looking up for USC after the football team’s 2-0 start and AD Lynn Swann’s resignation, but let’s see how the Trojans navigate a challenging upcoming month of games before making any bold proclamations about them.

 

No. 17 UCF (-7.5) vs. Stanford

It’s probably safe to say this year’s Stanford team is the best regular-season opponent UCF has played during its two-plus year run in which the Knights are 27-1 since the start of the 2017 season.

The Cardinal may not be world-beaters this season, based on our two-game sample to go off of, but the good news is that starting quarterback K.J. Costello will return for Week 3 after getting knocked out in the first half of Stanford’s season opener against Northwestern.

Offensive tackle Walker Little is out for the year with a knee injury, which certainly hurts, but Stanford should have the advantage at quarterback over UCF freshman Dillon Gabriel, who started in Week 2 after Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush started the season opener. Gabriel was just 7-of-19 last weekend, but he threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns.

The SP+ rankings are sold on UCF (No. 17 overall, same as its AP poll ranking), while Stanford checks in at No. 61 with the nation’s No. 94 offense and No. 115 special teams unit. But the Cardinal have a top-30 defense, which could mean trouble for a freshman quarterback, and Costello was productive in his one half of play this season.

 

No. 21 Maryland (-7) at Temple

The SP+ rankings list Maryland at No. 38 nationally after Week 2, which feels more accurate than the Terrapins’ current AP poll ranking. The Terps are better than the Vegas oddsmakers, who set Maryland’s preseason win total between 3.5 to 4.5, believed, but what if Syracuse (currently No. 70 in SP+) turns out to be a 6-6 or 7-5 team, rather than the preseason No. 22 team?

Maryland crushed Syracuse, and there’s a lot to like about the Terps’ rushing attack that ran for 354 yards, 7.9 yards per carry and six touchdowns against the Orange, but it feels like the water is going to find its level — and a road game at Temple (No. 44 SP+) could mark the start of Maryland’s return to Earth.

 

Stranger things have happened

No. 25 Virginia (-7) vs. Florida State

What a weird time it is when Virginia is potentially the runaway favorite to win the ACC Coastal, while Florida State is likely to finish third (fourth? fifth? … asking for a friend) in the ACC Atlantic.

The Seminoles are lucky they’re not 0-2 after surviving an upset bid by UL-Monroe in overtime last week.

Florida State checks in at No. 46 in SP+ after Week 2, one spot ahead of Tennessee, which seems fitting, with a top-10 offense and top-20 special teams unit, but a defense that ranks No. 109.

Virginia (No. 32 SP+) is more level across the board — No. 72 offense, No. 19 defense, No. 50 special teams.

There’s no question Florida State has recruited at a higher level than Virginia with the Seminoles’ average recruiting class ranking of 5.8 from 2015 to 2018 being the best in the ACC, but you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who have faith in the ‘Noles at this point in the season.

 

No. 20 Washington State (-8.5) vs. Houston (NRG Stadium)

This Friday night game, which features two teams who are more known for their offense, could turn into a shootout (the over/under is 74 at the time this story was written), and it’s not the craziest idea to pick a (semi-)home dog in a shootout, especially against a program that lost its season-opener to an FCS school in 2015 and 2016. Those were different teams, sure, but the point remains that a (semi-)road loss to Houston isn’t crazy compared to home losses to Eastern Washington and Portland State.

Washington State has rolled to a 2-0 start against New Mexico State and Northern Colorado, and quarterback Anthony Gordon has put up Gardner Minshew-type numbers (884 passing yards, nine touchdowns). It’s not like the Cougars’ defense will present a major challenge (No. 99 in SP+), but let’s see how the Coogs handle their first game away from home and first game against an opponent that isn’t among the worst in the FBS.

 

No. 9 Florida (-8) at Kentucky

Last year, Kentucky finally ended its 31-year drought against the Gators, winning 27-16 in Gainesville. The Wildcats lost running back Benny Snell and linebacker Josh Allen to the NFL, and last week starting quarterback Terry Wilson suffered a season-ending injury. His backup last season, Gunnar Hoak, transferred to Ohio State in the offseason, leaving junior Sawyer Smith as the next man up.

We’re not predicting Kentucky to start a winning streak against Florida, since that hasn’t happened since 1976-77, but if the Gators were to fulfill our belief that they were arguably the most likely top-10 team to finish the season unranked, a potential trap game in Lexington in Week 3 could start their downfall.

 

Never say never

No. 6 Ohio State (-16.5) at Indiana

Look, here’s the deal. Ohio State hasn’t lost to Indiana since 1988. And back in 2015, when the hashtag #iufb4gameday was weaponized on Twitter (ultimately leading to College GameDay going to Bloomington, Indiana of all places in 2017 for a Thursday Ohio State-Indiana game), the 4-0 Hoosiers had a potential game-tying touchdown broken up in the end zone as time expired.

By the way, in that 2017 season opener, Indiana led 21-20 late in the third quarter before getting boat-raced 49-21. And in Urban Meyer’s first season in Columbus in 2012, when the Buckeyes went 12-0 — but were ineligible for the postseason — their second-smallest margin of victory was a 52-49 road win at Indiana.

Things get weird when Ohio State travels to Bloomington. Plus, Gus Johnson is broadcasting the game for FOX, which scientifically increases the chances of an upset by seven percent.

Will Indiana beat Ohio State?

Probably not.

Can Indiana beat Ohio State?

File that in the folder of life’s greatest questions along with “Do aliens exist?”, “Is there really the underwater city of Atlantis?” and “What was the purpose of Stonehenge, and how was it created?” but sure, why not. Theoretically, Indiana could beat Ohio State.

After Week 2, the Hoosiers check in at a respectable position of No. 40 in the SP+ rankings, including the country’s No. 1 special teams unit. They have redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who was the program’s second-highest quarterback prospect (behind only Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nate Sudfeld), per 247Sports, and he has a nice assortment of skill players around him.

 

No. 18 Michigan State (-14) vs. Arizona State

Arizona State beat Michigan State 16-13 in the desert last season, and now the Sun Devils make the return trip to East Lansing, where two top-12 defenses, according to the SP+ rankings, will square off in what should be a low-scoring affair.

Even with the return of a healthy Brian Lewerke, Michigan State’s offense ranks just No. 67 in SP+, compared to Arizona State’s No. 109 ranking. The Spartans might not cover, but if they can get anything close to a repeat performance from freshman running back Elijah Collins (17 carries for 192 yards against Western Michigan), they should be able to defend their home field.

 

No. 13 Penn State (-17) vs. Pittsburgh

Sure, this is a rivalry game, and Pat Narduzzi’s Pittsburgh program has been known to pull off some monstrous, unforeseen upsets — against No. 2 Miami in 2017 and at No. 3 Clemson in 2016 — but the Panthers might be bad, even for the standards of a potentially pedestrian ACC Coastal. The SP+ rankings place Pitt behind Tulane, Troy, Southern Miss and Northern Illinois, and the Panthers’ offense checks in at No. 105 nationally with a special teams unit that ranks No. 125.

Penn State let Buffalo hang around in State College last week, so maybe Pitt can make things interesting, but there’s a reason why we ranked the Nittany Lions as the second-most likely team to make it to October undefeated.

 

No. 23 Washington (-21.5) vs. Hawaii

Where would Hawaii finish in the Pac-12 this season? Maybe third in the Pac-12 South and fifth in the Pac-12 North?

The Rainbow Warriors are 2-0 this season with both of those wins coming over Pac-12 teams, Arizona and Oregon State. Hawaii Head Coach Nick Rolovich made sure to boast about the wins on Twitter with a screenshot from ESPN’s College GameDay and the Rose Bowl logo.

But Washington — even a Huskies team that comes into Week 3 limping after a home loss to Cal — is a different animal. They’re a fringe top-20 team in the AP poll and SP+ rankings (No. 21), so even for Hawaii, whose offense checks in at No. 22 in SP+, that’s a big ask to go on the road with a suspect defense (No. 119 SP+) and special teams unit (No. 102).

 

(We think) these teams are safe from an upset

No. 1 Clemson (-27.5) at Syracuse

No. 2 Alabama (-25.5) at South Carolina

Arkansas State at No. 3 Georgia (-33)

Northwestern State at No. 4 LSU

No. 5 Oklahoma (-23.5) at UCLA

New Mexico at No. 7 Notre Dame (-35)

Kent State at No. 8 Auburn (-35)

Idaho State at No. 11 Utah

No. 12 Texas (-31.5) vs. Rice

Montana at No. 15 Oregon

Lamar at No. 16 Texas A&M

Portland State at No. 22 Boise State

MORE: Despite 0-2 Start, Writing’s Likely On The Wall for USC’s Clay Helton