Is there an undefeated team in America that remains as much of an unknown as Mississippi State? Coach Dan Mullen’s squad certainly has taken care of business to this point, winning its first two games by a combined score of 106-21. But given that those romps have come over FCS Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech — well, let’s just say the schedule so far makes it easy to have doubts about the Bulldogs.
But about one thing, there is no doubt: Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is a game-changer, accounting for 51 career touchdowns (eight this season) and rushing for 100 yards or more in seven of his last nine outings. He’s been a dual-threat problem for defenses ever since he took control of the starting job early last season, but Dak Prescott’s former backup hasn’t yet had that one big moment on the national stage.
Well, he has it Saturday night. No. 12 LSU comes to cowbell-clanging Starkville with a defense that’s allowed 10 points through its first two games. But the Tigers haven’t yet seen anything like Fitzgerald, who will have the chance to establish himself as a dark horse (because it is Mississippi State, after all) Heisman contender against a brand-name program in an ESPN prime-time game.
On to the predictions for Week 3, with all kickoffs in Eastern Daylight Time:
No. 12 LSU at Mississippi State: Nick Fitzgerald dazzles, but Bulldogs still fall short
Fitzgerald is capable of taking over a game, but the Bulldogs will need much more to upset an LSU team welcoming back its best defensive player, outside linebacker Arden Key. Tigers quarterback Danny Etling looks more and more comfortable in Matt Canada’s offense, necessary in a game where Fitzgerald will force LSU to put up points. On the way home, people will be talking about two things: how Fitzgerald should be a Heisman contender, and how LSU was still too good.
READ MORE: LSU adds Central Michigan to 2021 schedule
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Line: LSU by 8
Prediction: LSU 38, Mississippi State 35
Louisiana-Lafayette at Texas A&M: Aggies finally catch a breather
What to make of Texas A&M? The Aggies blew the huge lead in the Rose Bowl, then had to squeeze past Nicholls in their home opener. Coach Kevin Sumlin is catching all kinds of grief, some of it completely unacceptable. Did we mention that the Aggies don’t have a quarterback? Maybe they should just put Christian Kirk in the wildcat. Now here comes U-La-La, which has put up 51 and 42 points the first two weeks. Good thing the Cajuns can’t stop anyone, either.
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, SEC Network
Line: Texas A&M by 23
Prediction: Texas A&M 42, Louisiana-Lafayette 24
No. 23 Tennessee at No. 24 Florida: Vols end 6-game skid in the Swamp
Last season the Vols ended an 11-game losing streak in the series, and this season they’re trying to win in Gainesville for the first time since 2003. Florida continues to deal with all kinds of problems, from preseason suspensions, to the lack of a proven starter at quarterback, to having its home opener canceled by Hurricane Irma. Tennessee has its issues, but quarterback Quinten Dormady has improved since his rough first half against Georgia Tech, and the Vols have enough pieces on offense to slip by.
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS
Line: Florida by 4½
Prediction: Tennessee 20, Florida 17
Mercer at No. 15 Auburn: Tigers begin unbeaten run to LSU
Yes, last week at Clemson was uglier than anticipated on offense. This week against an FCS opponent (Tigers jumping on that bandwagon late) shouldn’t be. Quarterback Jarrett Stidham and that Auburn attack get back on track, and open what should be a run of four straight wins to the game at LSU on Oct. 14. The toughest matchup in that stretch is Mississippi State, on the Plains. The Clemson game will be forgotten soon enough.
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday, SEC Alternate Channel
Prediction: Auburn 51, Mercer 10
Purdue at Missouri: Mizzou drops another one as a home favorite
Do Vegas oddsmakers vacation in the Ozarks? Do they have a predilection for Boulevard beer and burnt ends? Because for a second straight week, the Tigers are a home favorite when they have no business being such. They were run out of their own stadium last week by South Carolina, and then fired their defensive coordinator. Purdue, meanwhile, opened eyes by pushing No. 14 Louisville to the brink in its opener. While the Boilermakers aren’t exactly Ohio State coming down from the Big Ten, it’s hard to have any confidence in Missouri right now.
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday, SEC Network
Line: Missouri by 7½
Prediction: Purdue 35, Missouri 31
Colorado State at No. 1 Alabama: Tide gives Mike Bobo rude welcome back to SEC
Welcome back to the SEC, Mike Bobo, where they still remember you not giving the ball to Todd Gurley on the goal line at South Carolina in 2014. But we digress. The Colorado State coach has a promising team with a lot of returning starters that notched a nice win over Oregon State to open the season. That shouldn’t matter against the Tide, which keeps rolling though a less-than-challenging part of its schedule.
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2
Line: Alabama by 28½
Prediction: Alabama 42, Colorado State 17
Samford at No. 13 Georgia: Jake Fromm gets comfortable in final tune-up before SEC play
Georgia showed plenty of pluck in rallying to win last week at Notre Dame, where all the red and black in the crowd made it seem like Sanford Stadium North. It’s back to the real thing this week, and Bulldogs freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has a real chance to build some confidence in his passing game ahead of eight straight SEC contests, pending the eventual return of starter Jacob Eason.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, SEC Alternate Channel
Prediction: Georgia 49, Samford 10
Kentucky at South Carolina: Gamecocks end 3-game losing streak to Wildcats
Oh, does it rankle Gamecocks fans that Kentucky, a program South Carolina thought it had left behind for good during the glory days under former coach Steve Spurrier, has won three straight in this series. South Carolina, a team gaining more and more confidence on both sides of the ball, halts that skid Saturday against a Wildcats squad that trailed in the third quarter last week to FCS Eastern Kentucky.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, SEC Network
Line: South Carolina by 6½
Prediction: South Carolina 27, Kentucky 24
No. 18 Kansas State at Vanderbilt: Upset gives Vandy first 3-0 start since 2011
The old Vanderbilt would have been upset in the opener at Middle Tennessee, and then squeaked by an FCS opponent at home. These Commodores handled those two games by an average margin of 32 points. Coach Derek Mason’s team is balanced on both sides of the ball, and in position to upset visiting Kansas State and earn its first 3-0 start since 2011.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU
Line: Kansas State by 4
Prediction: Vanderbilt 17, Kansas State 13
Ole Miss at California: Shea Patterson, Rebels prevail in Western shootout
Rebels quarterback Shea Patterson has looked fantastic against a pair of cupcakes to open the season, but things get more difficult beginning with a road trip to face a Cal team that won at North Carolina in its opener. West Coast games are never easy, and the Bears are capable of scoring points. Then again, so is Ole Miss. With Alabama and Auburn on deck after this, the Rebels had better get wins while they can.
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN
Line: Ole Miss by 4
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, California 42