Week 3 X-Factors
Week 2 of the 2014 college football season is in the books, which means the year is already going way too fast. And while Week 3 doesn't have a ton of intriguing matchups on paper, there are still key games that will help shape the inaugural College Football Playoff and possibly change the direction of the season for some teams in a bit of limbo.
Let's take a look at some players that will be vital to the success of their teams on Saturday.
Missouri QB Maty Mauk: The Tigers signal-caller faces a Central Florida defense that will challenge him with a variety of looks. Mauk is an intriguing NFL prospect after filling in well for James Franklin last season. Now the starter in Columbia, he has a chance to ‘wow’ scouts against George O’Leary’s Knights. Expect UCF to show Mauk different types of blitzes, so the QB will have to be a bit sharper than he was last week against Toledo, which intercepted him twice. Keep in mind that Mauk does only have six career starts, so he is still growing at the position. UCF will present a real challenge for Mauk and the Mizzou offensive attack.
Pittsburgh RB James Conner: Going back to last season, the Panthers running back has gone for 229, 153 and 214 yards in his last three games. He had four rushing touchdowns in the season opener against Delaware and went over 200 yards last week against Boston College. This week, he faces an overmatched FIU team. Perhaps most intriguing about Conner is that Pitt head coach Paul Chryst hasn't ruled out Conner lining up at defensive end at some point this season. A two-way Heisman Trophy contender?
What does Todd Gurley have in store for South Carolina after his excellent opening game?
Georgia RB Todd Gurley & South Carolina RB Mike Davis: I paired these tailbacks together because they will be front and center in Saturday’s best game of the day. The Bulldogs’ Gurley is coming off of a fantastic season opener against Clemson in which he averaged 13.2 yards per carry on 15 rushes en route to 198 yards and three touchdowns. He also had an electric 100-yard kickoff return for another score in the Bulldogs' victory at Sanford Stadium. Gurley said his goal for 2014 is to play in every game after he's battled nagging injuries throughout his career. And he appears to be in the best shape of his life. Meanwhile, Davis and the Gamecocks are in “must-win” mode as they try to avoid a second SEC loss. Davis had only six carries in the opener but went over 100 yards with two touchdowns in the win over East Carolina last week. Gurley should get his yards against a struggling Gamecocks defense, but Davis will have to put up similar numbers to make quarterback Dylan Thompson more effective. The nightmare scenario for Carolina is being in obvious passing situations all game long even against a vulnerable 'Dawgs secondary.
Virginia Tech CBs Kendall Fuller & Brandon Facyson: The Hokies are coming off of a superb defensive performance at Ohio State and now will face one of the nation’s best wide receivers in East Carolina’s Justin Hardy, who caught 11 passes for 133 yards last week against South Carolina. Hardy could have entered the NFL Draft after last season, but he came back to improve his stock. He has a chance to be a late first-rounder in 2015 and would continue to help his cause with a strong effort against Fuller & Facyson, perhaps the best corner combination in the country.
Other players to monitor
* The Texas defense is very susceptible against the run, including being very porous when the opposing quarterback carries the football. The Longhorns have allowed the fourth-most rushing yards (777) in the FBS to opposing signal-callers since the start of last season, and UCLA QB Brett Hundley is a major threat on the ground. Last week the ‘Horns gave up 99 rushing yards to BYU QB Taysom Hill.
* Washington's defense gave up 475 passing yards and seven touchdowns to Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams last week. This week the Huskies face Illinois QB Wes Lunt, who is averaging nearly 45 pass attempts per game and completing 67 percent of his throws with seven touchdowns and an interception this season. The Huskies have a young secondary that will be without Marcus Peters this week.
Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.