If Texas football isn’t back yet, at least it’s different entering week 3

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Here’s what’s going on in college football Until Saturday …

How To Tackle Week 3

Tennessee–Florida, plus realignment spotlight

College Football Playoff implications

Noon: No. 7 Penn State (2-0) at Illinois (1-1), Fox: The Nittany Lions hit the road for the first time this season, and Audrey Snyder has a story leading up to the 25th anniversary of LaVar Arrington’s “magic” leap.

Afternoon (3:30 p.m.): South Carolina (1-1) at No. 1 Georgia (2-0), CBS: South Carolina hasn’t had the most electric start to its season, but it’s finally time to watch our reigning national champ play a conference opponent. Also, our Official Visit series hits Athens this week.

Prime time (7 p.m.): No. 11 Tennessee (2-0) at Florida (1-1), ESPN: The Vols are searching for their first win at the Swamp since 2003 and had an out-of-sync win against Austin Peay last week. Will the Gators take advantage?

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Tennessee will try Saturday for its first win at Florida since 2003. (Eakin Howard / Getty Images)

Group of 5 spotlight

Noon: Iowa State (1-1) at Ohio (2-1), ESPNU: The Bobcats are 0-8 all-time against the Cyclones, but Iowa State remains short-handed amid a gambling scandal. QB Kurtis Rourke returned last week for Ohio and went 18-for-29 in the team’s 17-10 win against Florida Atlantic.

Afternoon (4 p.m.): Tulane (1-1) at Southern Miss (1-1), ESPNU: These two renewed their “Battle for the Bell” rivalry in 2020. Tulane hung around against Ole Miss last week even without starting QB Michael Pratt, while Southern Miss will want to keep things under control after losing 66-13 to Florida State.

Prime time (7 p.m.): James Madison (2-0) vs. Troy (1-1), NFL Network: To open Sun Belt play, it’s the East Division preseason favorite versus the West Division preseason favorite. Chris Vannini has more G5 updates in his mailbag.

Realignment specials

Afternoon (3:30 p.m.): San Diego State (2-1) at No. 16 Oregon State (2-0), FS1: The Beavs are still mapping their path forward for 2024 and beyond. Whether it be in a recreated Pac-12 or after an Oregon State move to the Mountain West, there’s a chance these two will see a lot more of each other soon.

Prime time (5 p.m.): No. 8 Washington (2-0) at Michigan State (2-0), Peacock: The Huskies downed the Spartans last season in Seattle, but that was before this was a future Big Ten matchup. (Note: Michigan State will be without coach Mel Tucker, who was suspended after sexual harassment allegations.)

Prime time (8 p.m.): TCU (1-1) at Houston (1-1), Fox: These programs have competed together in three leagues with the series’ Big 12 debut coming Saturday. The Horned Frogs have won the last eight meetings, although the Cougars lead 13-12 all-time.

Best bets by Austin Mock

Noon: No. 14 LSU -9.5 (-115) at Mississippi State, ESPN: “Mississippi State needed double overtime to beat Arizona last week, and it had a plus-four turnover margin. LSU might be a tad underrated after their blowout loss to Florida State. LSU could run away with this one.”

Afternoon: South Carolina at No. 1 Georgia under 54.5 (-110): “South Carolina’s offensive line struggled protecting Spencer Rattler against North Carolina two weeks ago. I expect much of the same against Georgia. Add in the fact that Georgia likes to play at a slower pace, and you have a recipe for a lower scoring game.”

Prime time: No. 11 Tennessee at Florida +6.5 (-110): “I bet this at +7 earlier in the week in my Best Bets column but still think 6.5 is a bit too high. Tennessee’s offense isn’t the well-oiled machine it was a year ago, and we are all a bit slow to adjust our perception. That will leave the door open for Florida to keep this game close.”

(All point spreads come from BetMGM. Click here for live odds and here for ticket info from StubHub.)

Feldman’s Files

Is the SEC ready for Texas?

Whether Texas is officially “back” remains to be seen, but here’s one thing I do feel confident in saying: Texas is different. The Longhorns whipped Alabama at their place in Tuscaloosa, and there was nothing fluky about it. Yes, Quinn Ewers looked fantastic and was even better than his stat line (24 of 38 for 349 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) indicated because there were at least three drops by UT receivers.

“He’s a completely different guy,” a UT source said of Ewers. “He’s way more comfortable and more of a proactive leader.”

But the biggest change here is in the trenches. UT hasn’t looked anything like this since the Mack Brown era, and I’m talking prime Mack years.

Talking to coaches this week, it’s a stark change from how UT, which has only had two offensive llinemen drafted in 15 years, used to be. Credit Steve Sarkisian for bringing together an elite staff in Austin. Not so coincidentally, many of the best hires are coaches who used to work with Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa — special teams coordinator Jeff Banks, offensive line coach Kyle Flood and defensive line coach Bo Davis. Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski long had been known as one of the top defensive minds on the West Coast, and he has proven to be a shrewd hire.

“Sark went out and got a bunch of guys who are either the best at what they do or are among the best, and now it’s really showing up,” one SEC source said. “That was a butt-kicking. Texas outplayed Alabama and outcoached them. The score (34-24) should’ve been a lot more lopsided than it was.”

Flood and Davis have developed a lot of top-level talent through the years, and now they’re doing it at UT. A big key for the Horns is that they’re now doing it together, or more specifically, they’re doing it opposite one another with their players going against each other every day. It’s a battle every single day at practice with guys making each other better and tougher and more physical.

The truth is, UT players got the experience of going toe-to-toe against the Tide last year and grew from that, but if you’re a Texas offensive llineman, you can’t ask for a better challenge than facing Byron Murphy, a super explosive “ball of butcher knives” coming at you. Or freakishly agile 360-pound nose man T’Vondre Sweat. It has helped Texas that its veterans like sixth-year man Christian Jones, the former starter at left tackle, trusted Flood enough to come back for another year as opposed to possibly going as a late-round NFL draft pick, and Jones has learned to become a much more physical player at right tackle. Former five-star prospect Kelvin Banks is good, if not better than advertised in his second year. The tandem of right guards Cole Hutson and road-grader DJ Campbell, who rotated in every two series, anchored the interior with center Jake Majors.

The best barometer of how Texas has gotten nasty again is reflected by this: Against Alabama, UT generated five sacks and nine tackles for loss while the Longhorns’ offensive line didn’t allow a single sack and only gave up two TFLs. If last week in Tuscaloosa is any indication, it may not be a case of whether the Horns are ready for the SEC but more of whether the SEC is ready for the Horns.

Upset Watch

Week 3 Until Saturday Upset Special: South Alabama 24, Oklahoma State 21.

Oklahoma State (2-0) is playing with a quarterback carousel of Alan Bowman, Garret Rangel and Gunnar Gundy (a topic Stewart Mandel dove deeper into in his mailbag). All three have played almost equal snaps, and Mike Gundy isn’t making it sound like there’s an end in sight. If the Cowboys are stalling before hosting Kansas State in two weeks, the Jaguars might not be so easy to manipulate. South Alabama (1-1) has plenty of experience returning from its 10-3 squad last season. Upset Special record: 1-1.

Plus two more upset picks:

  • Stewart Mandel: Iowa State at Ohio (+3), Noon, ESPNU: Ohio 17, Iowa State 14
  • Bruce Feldman: No. 15 Kansas State at Missouri (+5.5), Noon, SEC Network: Missouri 23, Kansas State 21

Quick Snaps

If you missed it earlier this week, Sam Khan Jr. outlined the rise of the college football general manager. What is a college football GM? And how does it differ from those we know in the NFL?

In recruiting: Florida State’s 2024 class looks massively improved from what the program has seen previously. And are Texas and Oklahoma SEC ready? Ari Wasserman evaluates the current state of recruiting.

Miami over Florida State? Hear Grace Raynor out in our ACC power rankings.

Kyle Tucker ranks the eight new SEC starting quarterbacks while Antonio Morales checks in with the 2023 five-star QBs.

(Top photo of Quinn Ewers: Tim Warner / Getty Images)

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