Top-ranked teams facing enormous road tests. Potential playoff elimination games. Crucial conference contests. Intriguing nonconference matchups.
The stakes are so high it’s hard to believe it is only week three of the college football season.
Where to start? How about this? For the first time in the history of the AP college football poll, the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 teams will all be playing ranked teams in true road games. For two of the teams hosting those games, a loss likely means scratching at least one goal for this season off the list.
No. 19 Mississippi (which faces No. 1 Alabama) and No. 14 Oklahoma (which faces No. 3 Ohio State) each opened the season with high-profile losses. A second will make reaching the College Football Playoff a very long shot. You can throw No. 18 Notre Dame (1-1), which faces No. 12 Michigan State at home, into that category, too. Though be careful to bury a team with two losses.
Last season, Stanford with two losses found itself on the edge of playoff contention, in need of just a few Championship Saturday upsets, to have a strong case to make the field. As Power Five teams play more conference games and take on tougher nonconference challenges, it seems inevitable that a team with two losses will make the playoff at some point.
And if any of the Sooners, Rebels or Fighting Irish loses on Saturday, all will try to convince themselves that they will become the first two-loss team to make the playoff.
No. 6 Houston (minus 8) at Cincinnati
The Bearcats can score and the Cougars have a couple of aching stars in QB Greg Ward and RB Duke Catalon for their AAC opener … HOUSTON 41-28.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
No. 21 Baylor (minus 30½) at Rice
OK, Owls, win as a four-plus-touchdown underdog and you’re in the Big 12 … BAYLOR 45-20.
No. 1 Alabama (minus 10) at No. 19 Mississippi
The last team to beat one of Nick Saban’s squads three straight seasons was Purdue (1997-99) when he was Michigan State coach. So how hard can it really be? … ALABAMA 35-21.
No. 2 Florida State (minus 2) at No. 13 Louisville
As far as Heisman campaigns go, this is QB Lamar Jackson’s New Hampshire primary after a strong showing in Iowa. Put up big numbers this week and he will be a serious contender for the long run … FLORIDA STATE 38-31.
No. 3 Ohio State (minus 1½) at No. 14 Oklahoma
The Buckeyes have won 18 straight games on the opponents’ home field … OHIO STATE 30-28.
No. 12 Michigan State (plus 7½) at No. 18 Notre Dame
On the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century this is certain: the Spartans and Fighting Irish won’t play to a tie … NOTRE DAME 27-21.
Southern California (plus 8½) at No. 7 Stanford
No team in the country could use a big victory more than the Trojans … STANFORD 34-27.
No. 11 Texas (minus 8) at California
The Bears have the worst rushing defense in the nation, allowing 6.85 yards per carry … TEXAS 42-35.
No. 22 Oregon (plus 3) at Nebraska
Two fragile fan bases, with much skepticism for their coaches. Mental health on the line in Lincoln … NEBRASKA 38-32.
North Dakota State (no line) at No. 13 Iowa
Normally we skip the FBS-FCS matchups, but the five-time defending national champion Bison are the Hawkeyes’ toughest opponent to date … IOWA 31-17.
No. 25 Miami (minus 3½) at Appalachian State
The Hurricanes are the biggest thing to hit the Yadkin River Valley since Daniel Boone … MIAMI 28-24.
No. 16 Georgia (minus 6) at Missouri
Bulldogs freshman QB Jacob Eason, who needs to loosen up a Tigers’ defense focused on RB Nick Chubb … GEORGIA 21-14.
No. 17 Texas A&M (plus 3½) at Auburn
When assessing the longtime security of Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin and Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, this game could really sting the loser … TEXAS A&M 28-24 UPSET SPECIAL.
Mississippi State (plus 12½) at No. 20 LSU
The Tigers turn to Purdue transfer Danny Etling to fix their QB issues; it could be one of the stories of the season or one of the last straws for Les Miles … LSU 28-14, BEST BET.
Colorado (plus 20) at No. 4 Michigan
Kordell Stewart and Michael Westbrook aren’t walking through that tunnel for the Buffaloes … MICHIGAN 42-17.
Georgia State (plus 34) at No. 9 Wisconsin
Last tuneup for the Badgers before a daunting stretch against Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska. … WISCONSIN 45-17.
Ohio (plus 27) at No. 15 Tennessee
The Vols get serious next week against Florida … TENNESSEEE 45-13.
North Texas (plus 36½) at No. 23 Florida
Luke Del Rio’s 320 yards passing against Kentucky last week was the most for a Gators QB in an SEC game since 2004 … FLORIDA 56-14.
Texas State (plus 31) at No. 24 Arkansas
Arkansas OT Dan Skipper, who is 6-foot-10, has six blocked kicks in his career … ARKANSAS 48-14
Pitt (plus 6) at Oklahoma State — nashman92
Forget the playbook. Cowboys needed to study up on the rulebook this week … OKLAHOMA STATE 31-28.
Temple (plus 8½) at Penn State — TheShlembear
Penn State will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Joe Paterno’s first game as Nittany Lions coach … PENN STATE 31-20.
UCLA (minus 3½) at BYU — barredindc
Third straight Pac-12 opponent for the Cougars (1-1) and one of six games against Power Five opponents. Who needs the Big 12? … UCLA 28-27.
Western Michigan (minus 3) at Illinois — amygillsports
The Broncos look to go 2-0 against the Big Ten West after beating Northwestern to start season … WESTERN MICHIGAN 30-23.
Record: Last week 12-3 straight; 8-6-1 vs. points.
Season: 24-9; 16-16-1.
Upset specials: 0-2.
Best bets: 0-2.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
More college football coverage at www.collegefootball.ap.org