Looking ahead to college football: Week 3′s five games to watch

The college football offseason is long and arduous, but its end is almost in sight. We’re going to take a look at five games you have to look forward to for every weekend of the season. (This is also a handy guide to decide how to RSVP for any autumn weddings.)

All times are Eastern and all games are played on Saturday unless otherwise noted. Also, this is not the best weekend for football outside of the little game in College Station. You may be able to take time to see some family members or friends…if you want to.

These games take place the weekend of September 14th.

Alabama at Texas A&M (3:30 p.m., CBS) – Your early Game of the Year candidate. You’re all aware of the story: Johnny Manziel and the Aggies went into Tuscaloosa and dealt the Tide their only loss of the 2012 season. (This did not stop an Alabama championship, but it did help Johnny Football win the Heisman.) Both teams will probably be in the top five and this is an early season game whose results will have a serious effect not just on the race for the SEC championship, but also the BCS title. A big question here is how well A&M – which loses left tackle Luke Joeckel (second pick in April’s draft) and center Patrick Lewis (four-year starter) – will protect Manziel from C.J. Mosley and the Bama front seven. Will the Aggies be able to control the Tide for another year, or will AJ McCarron and friends get vengeance? Thinking of how excited Uncle Verne is going to be during this game is getting me even more excited.

UCLA at Nebraska (12 p.m., ABC) – Last year’s edition in Pasadena was an absolute dandy, as the Bruins won 36-30 in a coming out party for Brett Hundley, who threw for 304 yards and four scores. Hundley is back but the Bruins will have to replace tailback Johnathan Franklin, who scorched the Blackshirts for 217 rushing yards. Taylor Martinez’s passing took a step forward in 2012, and he’ll have some help on offense during his senior campaign, as running back/return man Ameer Abdullah (nearly 2,000 total yards) and receiver Kenny Bell (863 yards and 8 touchdowns) return. T-Magic will need to keep an eye out for Anthony Barr, the monster Bruin pass rusher who ended up with 13 sacks last year.

Wisconsin at Arizona State (10:30 p.m.) – This is the second year in a row that Wisconsin has made an early season visit to the Pac-12, as they fell to Oregon State in Corvallis last September. Arizona State has the potential to be sneaky good this season if they can survive some early challenges, and this game doubles as a stiff test for new Badger coach Gary Andersen. The Sun Devils have All-American-type talent at defensive tackle (Will Sutton) and tight end (Chris Coyle), but attempting to counter them will be Montee Ball replacement Melvin Gordon, a redshirt sophomore who exploded for 216 yards in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Ohio State at California (7 p.m., FOX) – There are not a lot of potential losses on the Buckeyes’ schedule, so considering A) Cal gave them a heckuva game in Columbus last season before falling 35-28 and B) This game is a long ways from the Horseshoe, we’ll put Urban Meyer’s crew on a very mild upset alert. At the very least, you’ll get to see Braxton Miller do some cool stuff.

Iowa at Iowa State (TBD) – Paul Rhoads’ Cyclones have won the Cy-Hawk Trophy two years in a row in drastically different three-point victories (44-41 in 2011, 9-6 last year). While it seems like Kirk Ferentz’s future is protected by his massive, almost comical buyout, avoiding a three-game losing streak to the in-state rival would not hurt his popularity in Iowa City. (Honestly, this game is probably going to be brutal – it was 9-6 last year, after all – but our pickings are slim, I really wanted to type the word “Cy-Hawk” and if Iowa loses again their fans are going to initiate a Kickstarter campaign to get rid of Ferentz that will be immensely entertaining.)

Other games considered:

TCU at Texas Tech (7:30 p.m., ESPN, Thursday) – If new Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury wants to know how well his offense is coming along, there are worse measuring sticks than a Gary Patterson defense.

Tennessee at Oregon (TBD) – This game would be really interesting in ’14 or ’15, but Butch Jones simply has to replace so many key offensive pieces that I can’t imagine the Vols’ offense keeping up with the Ducks this early in the season.

Ole Miss at Texas (8 p.m., Longhorn Network) – You probably can’t watch this game because you probably don’t have the Longhorn Network. A reminder, kids: Read the fine print before you sign any contracts.

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