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Eyes on the Nation: Big matchups for SEC also-rans carry some relevance for Michigan

How will the Ole Miss offense perform without Shea Patterson against No. 1 Alabama? Will Vanderbilt’s trip to South Bend end better than Michigan’s? These angles and more for Week 3.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Shea Patterson and Ole Miss took one on the chin in last year’s 66-3 beatdown from Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He promised a bounce-back performance the following week.

“I don’t care if we lost to Alabama by 60 points,” he said at the time. “We’re going to do everything we can to get ourselves better tomorrow and throughout the week and come ready at Auburn.”

While the defense fell apart in a 44-23 loss, Patterson connected on 34-of-51 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns against the Tigers’ top 10 S&P defense. He seemed to elevate a Rebel offense with poor offensive line play against good teams.

After Notre Dame 2018, this story sounds familiar.

For those following Southeastern Conference football, the Ole Miss offense hasn’t missed a beat after his transfer to Michigan. They host No. 1 Alabama this weekend to prove it’s real growth.

DID OLE MISS NEED PATTERSON TO PRODUCE POINTS?

The answer to that question comes Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN. The Rebels have scored 123 points in their first two games: a 47-27 triumph over defense-optional Texas Tech and a 76-41 barn-burning victory over Southern Illinois.

To be clear, the question here is not, “Will Ole Miss beat Alabama?” A defense ceding 41 points to last year’s No. 8 finisher in the FCS’ Missouri Valley Conference, well, just won’t cut it. Not against the Tide.

With that said, starting quarterback Jordan Ta’amu filled Patterson’s shoes after a mid-season injury, throwing for nearly 1,700 yards while just starting five games (3-2 record).

This year, he’s already amassed 784 yards, seven touchdowns and no turnovers. It’s one thing to do this against over-matched competition, but it’s another to approach these totals against a Nick Saban defense.

The relevance for Michigan fans here is this: Did the Ole Miss offense make Shea Patterson look good, or did Patterson keep a struggling unit afloat in 2017?

While not completely apples to apples — the Rebels fielded a horrendous pass-blocking team last year, while this year a veteran unit fields potential NFL draft picks in Greg Little, Sean Rawlings and Javon Patterson — producing more than a measly three points against Alabama may show how head coach Matt Luke’s system elevates all who helm it.

At the very least, it’s a relevant comparison piece. You know what, never mind. Wolverine fans probably just appreciate that John O’Korn isn’t the quarterback anymore.

HOW GOOD IS NOTRE DAME?

Given the infallible and always-reliable transitive property of college football — Team A beat Team B, who beat Team C, therefore Team A is better than Team C — Michigan fans discovered their team is exactly one point better than Ball State last weekend.

In the Irish’s 24-16 victory, quarterback Brandon Wimbush resembled the guy many expected coming into this season: electrically athletic, but prone to mistakes. The senior threw three interceptions — two in Cardinals territory to snuff out scoring chances.

On top of that, Notre Dame rushed for under three yards a carry again against one of last year’s worst S&P rush defenses. Was this the classic letdown after a rivalry game, or a sign Michigan dropped a winnable game against a tractable team?

Derrick Mason’s Vanderbilt Commodores sail into South Bend (2:30 p.m., NBC) to answer the question. Vandy holds two wins over top 25 teams in the last two years — No. 18 Kansas State last year and No. 17 Tennessee in 2016 — and a defense that’s allowed only 17 points in two weeks.

The chip on the shoulder that drove Notre Dame to beat Michigan wasn’t present against Ball State. If it doesn’t appear against Vanderbilt, and the Irish falter, Michigan’s loss looks pretty ordinary.

MICHIGAN ROOTING INTEREST, WEEK 3

  • No. 23 Arizona State at San Diego State (10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network. Until further notice, #YouPlayToWinTheGame. Herm Edwards is a fun story of a coach who is bucking conventional wisdom. Instead of hiring a young coordinator from a Power Five program, the Sun Devils went with a 64-year old analyst who last coached in college almost 30 years ago.

I’m sure Detroit Lions fans would rather have him than Matt Patricia after Monday night.

  • No. 24 Oklahoma State over No. 17 Boise State (3:30 p.m., ESPN). Michigan trails the Broncos by a few spots in the polls.
  • No. 15 TCU to show any sort of weakness on No. 4 Ohio State (8 p.m., ABC). The Buckeyes look like a Death Star with Dwayne Haskins dealing at quarterback and Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins plowing through defenses.

The game takes place at Jerry World in Dallas, and Gary Patterson seemingly always deploys a tough defense. The Buckeyes are Ivan Drago until further notice. As Duke Evers said to Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV, though: “He’s not a machine. He’s a man!”

Let’s see if TCU show a chink in the armor of the technological terror Urban Meyer has constructed.

  • No. 12 Louisiana State over No. 7 Auburn (3:30 p.m., CBS). Cajun Brady Hoke. That is all.
  • Rutgers over Kansas (noon, FSN). The journey to the Scarlet Knight’s first bowl since 2014 goes through Lawrence.
  • Texas over No. 22 Southern California (8 p.m., FOX). Technically, Michigan should root for Texas to keep the Trojans from passing in the polls.

I really point this game out since it’s not everyday two programs of these caliber play each other. Last year’s overtime win for the Trojans was a classic, and the Longhorns have a chance for revenge in Austin.