As the college football season moves into Week 4, the schedule-makers are throwing it back a little with a bit of a high school football vibe, as there are some surprisingly interesting games under the Friday night lights this week.
While the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes will get their final non-conference cupcake out of the way on Saturday when they host the Tulane Green Wave, their next opponent, the No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions will play their first conference cupcake as they go on the road to play the Illinois Fighting Illini at 9 p.m. ET on FS1.
The Fighting James Franklins will get an extra day to recuperate as they travel back to Happy Valley following what should be a solid win for the Nittany Lions. PSU is ranked No. 8 in this week’s S&P+ standings, while the Illini are all the way down at No. 99. And while I don’t tend to put a ton of stock into the common opponent debate—because in college football the varying styles of play on both sides of the ball can present far different matchup problems for different teams—Illinois opened its season with a 31-24 win over the Kent State Golden Flashes, while last Saturday, Penn State beat that same Kent State team, 63-10. While I don’t think that the score will be that lopsided tonight, it probably won’t be much better.
In another interesting Friday night contest, Lane Kiffin will take his Florida Atlantic Owls up I-95 to the home of the defending National Champions, the No. 16 UCF Knights. The Owls got their doors blown off in the season opener against Oklahoma, 63-14, and have seemingly taken a while to recover. Even though they have won their two games since, they haven’t looked impressive doing it; squeaking by an always solid Air Force team, 33-27, and struggled to stop FCS team Bethune-Cookman. FAU raced out to a 29-0 lead in the first quarter, but were outscored the rest of the way, holding on for a 49-28 win.
A performance like that likely won’t do the trick when they step up against the champs. The Knights were supposed to play the North Carolina Tar Heels last weekend, but the threat of Hurricane Florence caused the game to be canceled, so they are coming into the intrastate matchup off of an unexpected open week, having beaten UConn (56-17) and FCS’s South Carolina State (38-0) to start the season.
Josh Heupel’s offense has put up 609 yards per game in their first two contests for the Knights, and Kiffin’s defense is giving up 451.7 per game. This feels like a recipe for points.
And finally, it feels weird to say that with three games on Friday night, the least interesting could be the one between USC and a team coached by a pirate aficionado. Avast, me hearties, such is the state of Pac-12 football. The Trojans are currently 1-2 after falling to Stanford and Texas in consecutive weeks, while Mike Leach’s Washington State Cougars are 3-0 having beaten the likes of Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington.
However, as underwhelming as this one feels, it is Pac-12 After Dark, so who knows what craziness could ensue on ESPN tonight?