In this column, we'll be running through our favorite and least favorite matchups for the upcoming college football fantasy week. This should be viewed as gauge of just how confident we are in a given player against the opposition. While these recommendations can be used to help weigh starts and sits, they should be viewed as contextual information more than a strict, absolute guide.
Proceed with Confidence
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa at Ole Miss -- On Saturday, Southern Illinois QB Sam Straub passed for 382 yards and four touchdowns (also rushed for one) against the Rebels. The FCS Salukis dropped 41 points -- 38 by the end of the first half -- on Matt Luke’s crew. Now Alabama comes to town. What we like best about this matchup from the Bama fantasy side is that we might actually receive a full-ish game from all involved. Ole Miss’ defense is bad, but their offense is one of the best in all the land. How much you have to toggle that down to adjust for Alabama’s defense, uncertain. But even if Alabama works out to an early 21-0 lead, Jordan Ta’amu and friends are just going to keep on chucking it, and they have the talent to at least vaguely remain competitive. And if not, you’ll just have to settle for another awesome day by Tua over about a half of play. We love not just Tagovailoa, here, but also Damien Harris and Jerry Jeudy. Tide sophomore RB Najee Harris (who notched his first career 100-yard game in Saturday’s win over Arkansas State) is additionally worth starting consideration.
Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond vs. Louisiana-Monroe -- We snagged Mond in an industry IDP dynasty league a few weeks back, and boy howdy, let’s just say that we’re kind of excited. If you happened to miss his Saturday masterpiece against Clemson, the sophomore threw for 430 yards and three touchdowns, and gave Dabo Swinney’s Playoff contender a serious early season test. So, so excited to see how Mond develops off his star turn. He’s got a perfect opponent to keep it going against upcoming in Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks have been shredded through the air in two games. Old friend Chasen Virgil -- now with Southeastern Louisiana -- rolled with 358 yards and four touchdowns in Week 1, while this past weekend saw them surrender 378 yards passing to Southern Miss’ Jack Abraham. Mond will be available on the waiver wire in shallower formats.
Illinois RB Mike Epstein vs. USF -- Epstein will play host to the Bulls as he looks to post back-to-back 100-yard games after putting up 105 against Western Illinois on Saturday. Epstein especially figures to see concentrated carries if QB A.J. Bush -- who was knocked out by injury in the first quarter of Saturday’s contest -- can’t give it a go during the coming fight with USF. For their part, the Bulls allowed a pair of runners to post 60-plus yards in their opener against Elon, then completely broke open in surrendering at least 90 yards rushing to THREE Yellow Jackets in Saturday’s entertaining win. The triple-option will do that to you. It will also soften you up for the next week. This is a strong spot to start Epstein.
Texas RB Tre Watson vs. USC -- We’ll try to set aside our ambivalence toward the Longhorns with this one. Watson has rushed for 126 yards in two games, 74 of those coming versus Tulsa on Saturday. The Cal transfer saw his carries climb from 12 in a Week 1 loss to Maryland to 18 in Week 2. That’s encouraging not just for the outwardly obvious fact that he’s receiving more work, but also for the fact that the coaching staff feels confident that he’s past the knee injury which limited him to just two games played in 2017. His foe in this one will be a USC defense which has opened the campaign surrendering exactly 136 yards rushing to each of Lexington Thomas and Bryce Love. We won’t predict 136 yards on the nose for Watson, but we expect him to have a nice game.
Virginia WR Olamide Zaccheaus vs. Ohio -- We’ll admit upfront that we’re going out on a limb with this one. Call it a gut feel. We have to ride just slightly more on intuition simply because we haven’t seen Ohio against FBS competition yet (they had a rare Week 2 bye). It’s a pass defense which we liked for the G5 coming into the season, too. What we have seen of them raises an eyebrow, though. Howard WR Jaquez Ezzard notched a silly 8-228-1 receiving line versus the Bobcats in Week 1. As for Zaccheaus, himself, he managed just five catches for 15 yards (and a touchdown!) in a loss to Indiana on Saturday. If none of this is wetting your whistle, understandable. It might be tough to back QB Bryce Perkins as a passer -- he’s completing 52.1% of his passes -- but we feel this is a good opportunity for Zaccheaus and the Virginia offense, which has already received a Big Ten test (albeit one which they failed). Again, Ohio has only played Howard and they very well could have lost that game.
Baylor WR Jalen Hurd vs. Duke -- The Blue Devils just had a no good, very bad weekend, with significant losses on both sides of the ball. For their offense, that would be QB Daniel Jones, who is out indefinitely with a broken clavicle. More pertinently for those who have made a fantasy investment in the Bears receiving corps, Duke CB Mark Gilbert has been lost for the season due to a hip injury. Gilbert was hurt in the second quarter against Northwestern on Saturday. Wildcats WR Flynn Nagel finished his afternoon having caught 12 passes for 133 yards. Hurd, meanwhile, just posted an eye-opening 8-136-1 receiving line in Saturday’s impressive win over UTSA. He’s scored touchdowns in each of Baylor’s games this year. We love to see that kind production early on in the season, coming off of a summer of considerable hype. Denzel Mims is also worth strong starting consideration in this one.
Syracuse WR Jamal Custis vs. Florida State -- On opposite sides of the country, we’re seeing similar early-season flameouts from Arizona and Florida State after coaching changes. Funny, because we actually liked the hiring of both Kevin Sumlin and Willie Taggart. We actually thought Taggart would breathe life into this FSU team. They’re gasping for air, instead, following up their loss to Virginia Tech with a “wait, seriously” narrow win over Samford in which the Bulldogs absolutely tortured the once proud Seminoles’ secondary. That started with Kelvin McKnight (14-215-2), but did not end there, as Andrew Harris also caught five passes for 122 yards and Chris Shelling cashed in five grabs for 70 yards. We expect that Dino Babers is looking forward to this one. Custis has the shiniest performance of any Orange wideout this year, blasting off for 6-168-2 versus Western Michigan in Week 1. He also found the end zone in a semi bye week against Wagner on Saturday.
Proceed with caution
Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins vs. TCU -- Haskins has essentially been perfect in wins over Oregon State and Rutgers (seriously, he has 11 incompletions in 53 pass attempts), so we imagine you’re feeling OK in this spot. Just, take pause. This will be Haskins first moment on the big stage as a starter -- he did have a fun cameo vs. Michigan last year -- and it’s coming against a TCU team whose defense looked mostly suffocating in their win over SMU in this past Friday’s water-logged affair. Ben Hicks managed just 111 yards passing in that one. OSU’s a fair sight better than SMU, of course, but the Buckeyes also have yet to face any sort of a defensive challenge. Haskins falls back to earth just a little in this one.
SMU QB Ben Hicks at Michigan -- Oh, hey, speaking of Mr. Hicks. It’s admittedly a bit of a pill to sit him, as you presumably spent relatively decent draft capital on the signal-caller, but games like this against the elite units in the country are lava traps for owners. Beyond that, Hicks has had somewhat obvious difficulty adjusting to HC Sonny Dykes’ Air Raid. The formerly prolific passer managed just 252 yards (50% completions) in a season-opening loss to North Texas before his forgettable showing against TCU this past weekend. We’re out on Hicks until further notice.
Oklahoma State RB Justice Hill vs. Boise State -- The Broncos have looked fantastic on both offense and defense to open the season, securing dominant wins over Troy and UConn (818 yards of total offense!). We think they stack the box on Hill, here. The team has the personnel to pull it off to, ranking as S&P+’s No. 13 unit against the run a year ago. That was with Leighton Vander Esch wrecking havoc, but we’ve seen no tangible signs of regression with Vander Esch off to the NFL. Hill’s capable of ripping a hole through the universe on any given play. We just don’t think he does it, here.
Washington WR Aaron Fuller at Utah -- Fuller was one of the standout performers in Washington’s narrow loss to Auburn in Week 1, posting seven catches for 135 yards versus the Tigers. He was not quite able to match that sharp work against North Dakota over the weekend (six catches for 74), but it’s been a nice start to the year regardless. The fun stops in Week 3. Utah currently leads the country in passing yardage allowed, surrendering just 62 yards a game. While that’s come against the likes of Southern Utah and Northern Illinois, we don’t view it as a fluke (maybe a bit extreme). The Utes ranked 12th in the country against the pass by S&P+ metrics a year ago. We expect this to be something of a defensive slugfest. Outside of star backs Myles Gaskin and Zack Moss, it’s a potentially troublesome matchup on both fantasy sides.
Texas WR Collin Johnson vs. USC -- While we like RB Tre Watson to put forth a strong effort against the Trojans, we’re concerned with their passing game in this matchup. USC is coming off a strong effort against Stanford WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, limiting him to just four catches for 62 yards. It’s not like Johnson’s gotten off to a hot start, either. He failed to top 60 yards receiving against either Maryland or Tulsa through the first two weeks of the campaign. Our preferred play against the Trojans -- if you do feel confident enough to take on that pass defense -- would be Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who logged a 7-109-1 receiving line against Tulsa over the weekend.
Colorado State WR Olabisi Johnson at Florida -- The Gators have yet to face a passing attack with the kind of firepower possessed by CSU, but for us, the only startable option on the Rams for Week 3 will be Preston Williams. Johnson’s come progressively down to earth since rocking Hawaii with a 6-157-2 receiving line in the opener. He managed just five catches for 47 yards against Arkansas this past Saturday. Johnson will have other, more playable matchups within the Mountain West later this season. Pushing your luck in a road game against an angry Florida team would not be advised.