Middle Tennessee State (2-2, 1-0) at Old Dominion (3-1, 1-0) – I know, I know, why on earth would anyone watch this? Well, it could be a very entertaining football game, for starters, Old Dominion can score, and, it may have a massive impact on the race in Conference USA. Marshall is by far the class of the East division, however, their two closest challengers are the Monarchs and the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee’s two losses came against Minnesota and Memphis in games where they played competitively, but we just beaten by deeper, more talented football teams. Old Dominion’s lone defeat was a very competitive loss to an N.C. State team that’s looking to send shock waves around the country Saturday. The Monarchs are in their first “official” year of FBS play, having gone 8-5 during their transition season a year ago. They brought back 44 lettermen and 17 starters, and it’s shown through the first four weeks of the season. A victory tonight goes a long way to putting them in prime position to grab a postseason birth. Oh, and they get Marshall next Saturday, at home in Norfolk.
Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2) at Kentucky (2-1, 0-1) – After their narrow overtime loss on the road to Florida, Kentucky fans were trying to convince everyone that the program under Mark Stoops is taking leaps in the right direction. Wait, actually those were Florida fans who were trying to convince you the close victory wasn’t reflective of the fact that they still stink, but that Kentucky is now an East contender. Either way, Kentucky could win their third win of the season, which is something they haven’t done in either of the past two years, and garner much needed confidence before getting into the meat of the schedule. Vanderbilt is showing us either, a) why James Franklin left, or b) how irreplaceable he was. Regardless, if Florida fans, err, Kentucky fans, want us to believe the Wildcats program is improving, they need to handle their business at home against a really, really bad Vanderbilt team.
Western Michigan (2-1) at Virginia Tech (2-2) – The Hokies are a three touchdown favorite in this tilt, and I just can’t figure out why. The Virginia Tech team we saw against Ohio State was a mirage created by the false confidence instilled in the Hokies because Braxton Miller wasn’t playing, and the air let out of the balloon with Ohio State for the same reason. Western Michigan has made a remarkable turnaround on offense this season, after barely topping 17 ppg in 2013. Nine returning starters can do that, I suppose. The problem is their defense. The question is, can the Hokies do enough to exploit that to feel comfortable against the Broncos offense? I think Virginia Tech wins, but don’t be surprised if in the middle of the afternoon Saturday you see this score and kinda go, “ohhhh, might need to go check this one out”.
Maryland (3-1) at Indiana (2-1) – The Hoosiers seem to be eternally stuck on the “right there” ledge, so close to breaking through to becoming a respectable program capable of going to the post season every year. But every year they suffer some inexplicable loss that causes you to realize they aren’t there yet. This year it was Bowling Green. They of course followed that up by beating a ranked Missouri squad, simply to add to the frustration Indiana fans feel with head coach Kevin Wilson. If Indiana doesn’t make a bowl this season, they’ll be shopping for a coach this winter. Wilson knows this. He knows he needs to take care of business in his three very winnable home games left (Maryland, North Texas, and the finale against Purdue) to have any shot of accomplishing this. Most Indiana fans would’ve taken 2-1 after three games when the year started. But they’d have taken that with the expectations of being 5-1 heading to Iowa. For Maryland, they’ve been a pleasant surprise. Aside from West Virginia, who we know can score some points, the Terps defense has been solid, and has spear headed a 3-1 start that has the most optimistic of College Park residents talking about contending in their division. That may be a stretch, but getting a win on the road to start the Big Ten slate and being 4-1 would be huge.
#1 Florida State (3-0, 1-0) at N.C. State (4-0, 0-0) – Okay, you’ll probably watch this one, but many will watch casually. Be wary of this one, if you’re the ‘Noles. North Carolina State has a history of knocking of ranked Seminole teams in Carter-Finley Stadium, and this ‘Pack squad would like to continue the tradition. Florida State doesn’t look nearly as invincible as they did a season ago. A soft schedule has aided the ‘Packs 4-0 start, so the doubts are more than just whispers, but there are some talented playmakers on this offense, and Brissett can sling it. Do NOT sleep on this game.
North Carolina (2-1, 0-0) at Clemson (1-2, 0-1) – Despite the embarrassing showing last week against East Carolina, North Carolina still is in complete control of their destiny when it comes to accomplishing their primary goals. Win ten games, and win the Coastal division. Even with a loss to Clemson, they’d still be in complete control of that destiny. However, losing back to back games, especially the way they lost last week, would create a hurdle that will be tough for the team to overcome. Especially considering Virginia Tech, a trip to South Bend, a Georgia Tech team they’ve lost 14 of 16 to, and the back to back road games with Virginia and Miami all await. It may seem early to be desperation, but for the Tar Heels, the time is now. Of course, speaking of desperation, Clemson is 1-2, not a place they are accustomed to, considering they’ve found themselves ranked in the top ten by week six in each of the past three seasons. The bad news is the next three weeks may feature the toughest conference foes left on their schedule. The good news is they’re all at home. But with that, comes the bad news, slip up against any one of them and you’re at best 2-2 in the ACC, and at best 3-3 with three road conference games and South Carolina left. A loss Saturday puts them under immense pressure against N.C. State the following week. These are two ACC teams who absolutely must win this week.
Duke (4-0, 0-0) at Miami (2-2, 0-1) – Sticking with the ACC theme, what a way to get the Coastal started, huh? Carolina is playing Clemson in a huge game for them, Georgia Tech knocked off Virginia Tech on the road last week, and now, we get last year’s division champs trying to prove it was no fluke by going down to south Florida to take on a reeling Miami team. I was one at the beginning of the year that thought Duke was destined for a major decline after last year’s stirring 10-4 season. While against soft competition, Duke has given no impression that that’s the case. While many big name programs have struggled with inferior foes this year, Duke has taken care of business with three wins of 34 or more, and the other by 17. Miami, on the other hand, still hasn’t figured out how to stop a decent offense. That’s not a good thing with Duke coming to town, having scored at least 34 points in 11 of their last 15 games, and having topped 27 in 13 of their last 15. Miami already has an ACC loss, a home loss to a divisional foe would be extremely crippling. With Virginia Tech already having suffered a home loss to one of the division contenders, Duke, like North Carolina against Clemson, can join Georgia Tech and Virginia as the way, way too early favorites to win this division.
Memphis (2-1) at #10 Ole Miss (3-0) – Memphis narrowly missed out on what would’ve been one of the three biggest wins in school history with a close loss against a UCLA team who, you may have seen last night, is pretty dadgum good. Last week Memphis confidently took care of business against Middle Tennessee State and enters this battle with the rival Rebels feeling pretty good about themselves. And that’s going to be important, Memphis has lost five in a row in the series, and by an average of 24 points. The Rebels meanwhile have quietly eased their way into the top ten by easily laying waste to any team in their path. Boise State and Louisiana aren’t world beaters, but they were expected to put up a good fight. While the Broncos did for a while, the Rajun Cajuns were throttled from the get go by Ole Miss, and the Rebels would like to do the same to Memphis so they can put this one in their back pocket and get ready for next week. And why? Oh, that team from Tuscaloosa comes strolling in. And for that reason, don’t be shocked if Ole Miss doesn’t get caught looking ahead and finds themselves in a dog fight with Memphis, a Memphis team that will gain confidence the longer the score stays close.