Tag Archives: Florida State Seminoles

2017 College Football Conference Predictions

Let me preface this by first stating this strictly takes into account the quality of team and does not factor in a couple of other key components that make a difference.

The schedule can make all the difference in the world. A team with 4th place talent in a division but who draws winnable home games, winnable road games against the other side, and doesn’t play the top teams from the other division can sneak in an win a division title above more talented teams.

Additionally, coaching is not heavily accounted for, nor are special teams, or the huge benefit of experience on the offensive line and at quarterback.

I might get around to taking a closer look at these things later. But for now, just based on the quality of teams, here are my conference predictions for 2017.

American Athletic

East

  1. South Florida
  2. Central Florida
  3. Temple
  4. Connecticutt
  5. Cincinnati
  6. East Carolina

West

  1. Memphis
  2. Houston
  3. Tulsa
  4. Navy
  5. SMU
  6. Tulane

This league could be incredibly competitive, as each division boasts three teams who could win it. In the end, the Bulls ability to play defense should prevail in getting them the conference title and a shot at being the Group of Five representative to a major bowl.

Atlantic Coast

Atlantic

  1. Florida State
  2. Clemson
  3. Louisville
  4. N.C. State
  5. Boston College
  6. Syracuse
  7. Wake Forest

Coastal

  1. Miami
  2. Virginia Tech
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. Georgia Tech
  5. North Carolina
  6. Duke
  7. Virginia

Florida State is the pick to beat Miami in the championship game, and while Miami is good, they aren’t on a level to compete with Florida State if the ‘Noles play their best. The competitive imbalance is extreme in the ACC, as even though I have Virginia Tech second in their division, they’re only about 6th best in the conference overall.

Big Ten

East

  1. Ohio State
  2. Penn State
  3. Michigan
  4. Indiana
  5. Maryland
  6. Michigan State
  7. Rutgers

West

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Northwestern
  3. Iowa
  4. Nebraska
  5. Minnesota
  6. Purdue
  7. Illinois

Another conference with horrible disparity between the two divisions. The top three teams in the conference all come from the East. Which is unfortunate for a team like Indiana. It should be noted that Iowa has added two graduate transfers over the summer, receiver Matt Quarrells (New Mexico) and running back James Butler (Nevada) to give a much needed boost to the offense. Keep an eye on them. But whoever wins the West is probably not beating whoever wins the East, which should be Ohio State.

Big 12

  1. Oklahoma
  2. TCU
  3. Texas
  4. Oklahoma State
  5. Kansas State
  6. West Virginia
  7. Baylor
  8. Iowa State
  9. Texas Tech
  10. Kansas

The national media seems so eager to just hand this conference title to Oklahoma, and I don’t think it’s nearly that easy. The difference between the best team and the 5th best team in this conference is closer than in any other conference besides Conference USA.

Conference USA

East

  1. Western Kentucky
  2. Middle Tennessee State
  3. Marshall
  4. Old Dominion
  5. Florida Atlantic
  6. Florida International
  7. Charlotte

West

  1. Louisiana Tech
  2. UT-San Antonio
  3. Southern Miss
  4. North Texas
  5. Rice
  6. UTEP
  7. UAB

While I think Louisiana Tech is the best team in the league, narrowly over Western Kentucky, I can make a case that the 2-5 all come from the East, and all could win that division. It’s not the sexiest league in the country, but there’s some good talent here, and should be plenty of exciting football.

MAC

East

  1. Ohio
  2. Miami
  3. Akron
  4. Bowling Green
  5. Buffalo
  6. Kent State

West

  1. Toldeo
  2. Western Michigan
  3. Eastern Michigan
  4. Northern Illinois
  5. Central Michgan
  6. Ball State

Toledo and Ohio are both pretty clear cut favorites, and the Rockets the odds on favorite to win the conference. To be quite honest, other than Miami’s reclamation last year and Terry Bowden trying to make Akron relevant, the league lacks for story lines. Eastern Michigan competing for the division title however would be a nice one to add to plot.

MWC

Mountain

  1. Colorado State
  2. Boise State
  3. Wyoming
  4. New Mexico
  5. Air Force
  6. Utah State

West

  1. San Diego State
  2. Hawaii
  3. Nevada
  4. UNLV
  5. Fresno State
  6. San Jose State

The top three teams in this league are all really good, and they go about it different ways. One (SDSU) rides their defense, another (CSU) the offense, and a third (BSU) is the more balanced of the three. Potential number one draft pick ,Wyoming quarterback, Josh Allen might just be good enough to add a fourth team to the mix. And Air Force never plays as bad as their talent looks at the season’s outset on paper. In the end, the fighting Mike Bobos give Colorado State a conference championship.

Pac 12

North

  1. Washington
  2. Stanford
  3. Oregon
  4. Washington State
  5. Cal
  6. Oregon State

South

  1. USC
  2. UCLA
  3. Colorado
  4. Utah
  5. Arizona State
  6. Arizona

Depth is not really something the Pac 12 appears to have a lot of. Washington and USC are overwhelming favorites to win their divisions and Stanford is the only team I think has any chance to wreck that part of the story. But in the race for the playoffs, a 1-loss USC or Washington needs a couple of those middle tier teams to elevate their game and make a national mark.

SEC

West

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. LSU
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Arkansas
  6. Ole Miss
  7. Mississippi State

East

  1. Florida
  2. Georgia
  3. South Carolina
  4. Tennessee
  5. Missouri
  6. Kentucky
  7. Vanderbilt

Of the top nine teams in the league, only three come from the East. Yeah, it could be that bad. The west is deeper, but I don’t think even with more depth they have anyone that can beat Alabama for the division. Auburn will give them a run for it, but the gap is too wide. And I honestly don’t think LSU is a viable threat to the Tide right now, but, without Les Miles there, who knows?

Sun Belt

  1. Appalachian State
  2. Troy
  3. Arkansas State
  4. Louisiana
  5. South Alabama
  6. New Mexico State
  7. Idaho
  8. Georgia State
  9. Louisiana-Monroe
  10. Georgia Southern
  11. Texas State
  12. Coastal Carolina

Troy picked a bad year to be really good, because I think Appalachian State is just simply on another level. Arkansas State will be a contender once again because of an outstanding defense, but after that, there doesn’t seem to be anyone capable of upsetting the hierarchy at the top of the conference. Appalachian State is the favorite, no doubt, but if they slip up, there are two capable teams behind them.

 

 

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College Football Rankings 1-128

Before the attacks begin and the questions of my sanity, take a second to realize how I devise my own personal rankings. And also, take a second to realize, they mean absolutely nothing, and the only purpose they serve is to spark debate. Well, that and in December just see what kind of feel I had on the season back at the one third mark.

To begin with, this is not a ranking of who has the best resume, from the worst. A 5-0 team may very well be behind a two loss team in the same conference. A team who has but one victory may be above someone who has only lost once. On the flip side, a team who is 5-0, and deemed not to have played anyone, isn’t necessarily penalized for the lack of a schedule. In other words, I only use what a team has done to aide in evaluating that team in a vacuum. I don’t rank them based simply on what they’ve accomplished, or not accomplished, this year. They’re ranked in order from who I think, on this date, is the best team in the country, to who I think is the worst.

This means there may be cases where a team is ranked behind a team they’ve already beaten. Upsets happen. That’s why they’re upsets. Being the better team two weeks ago, doesn’t mean that I think you’re the better team today.

I also don’t look at it in the, “on a neutral field, who will win?” manner either. These outcomes are often predicated on matchups, a team may be a bad matchup for someone I rank them above, but a good matchup for someone above them. So, I don’t play that card. On paper, in a vacuum, is team A better than team B? That’s what I ask myself. Who do I think is the better football team right now.

Obviously, there are cases where I’ll use head to head matchups if two teams are extremely close to one another, but they’re not the end-all-be-all tiebreaker. Season results, strength of schedule, what you’ve done against that schedule, injured players returning, injured players going forward, bad luck, suspensions, weather, there’s a whole litany of factors I take into consideration. But, “so and so beat so and so, there is no way you can have them below them”, isn’t going to spawn much discussion.

Based on the manner I do these rankings, they’re very, very subject to change. They’ll be quite fluid. Which is why I’m really looking forward to this upcoming weekend. Of course, my ego would like it if the results on Saturday reflected accuracy on my part today. But really, what fun would that be in college football?

1 Alabama
2 Oklahoma
3 Oregon
4 Auburn
5 Florida State
6 UCLA
7 Baylor
8 Ole Miss
9 Texas A&M
10 Michigan State
11 USC
12 Mississippi State
13 LSU
14 Kansas State
15 Ohio State
16 Arkansas
17 Georgia
18 Nebraska
19 Wisconsin
20 Stanford
21 Notre Dame
22 Marshall
23 West Virginia
24 BYU
25 Oklahoma State
26 North Carolina State
27 TCU
28 Clemson
29 Arizona State
30 Missouri
31 Maryland
32 South Carolina
33 East Carolina
34 Washington
35 Arizona
36 Iowa
37 Louisville
38 Virginia
39 Georgia Tech
40 Memphis
41 Virginia Tech
42 Tennessee
43 Iowa State
44 Texas Tech
45 North Carolina
46 Miami
47 Texas
48 Penn State
49 Rutgers
50 Oregon State
51 Florida
52 Duke
53 Utah
54 Nevada
55 Minnesota
56 Cincinnati
57 Georgia Southern
58 Washington State
59 Air Force
60 California
61 Northern Illinois
62 Boise State
63 Syracuse
64 Middle Tennessee State
65 Navy
66 Colorado State
67 Pittsburgh
68 Central Florida
69 Boston College
70 Wyoming
71 Temple
72 Illinois
73 Toledo
74 Kentucky
75 Western Kentucky
76 ULM
77 Akron
78 Houston
79 Colorado
80 Arkansas State
81 San Diego State
82 Bowling Green
83 Michigan
84 Indiana
85 Florida Atlantic
86 UTEP
87 Hawaii
88 UTSA
89 Utah State
90 South Florida
91 Northwestern
92 Fresno State
93 Texas State
94 Ohio
95 Kansas
96 Louisiana Tech
97 Old Dominion
98 Central Michigan
99 North Texas
100 San Jose State
101 Ball State
102 Louisiana
103 UAB
104 Tulsa
105 Purdue
106 Vanderbilt
107 Wake Forest
108 Western Michigan
109 New Mexico
110 Tulane
111 Rice
112 South Alabama
113 Troy
114 Connecticut
115 Florida International
116 Southern Miss
117 UNLV
118 Massachusetts
119 Idaho
120 New Mexico State
121 Kent State
122 Army
123 Buffalo
124 Appalachian State
125 Miami Ohio
126 Georgia State
127 SMU
128 Eastern Michigan

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New Top 25, Dawgs & Noles Crash, South Carolina and Ohio State surge, Welcome Louisiana Tech and Ohio

I think right now it’s Alabama and Oregon at the top, and that, I think is pretty concrete and universally agreed upon. The question is, who is that third team that could potentially spoil that party. After Saturday night, one has to think it’s South Carolina. But are the Gamecocks really on that level?

Georgia takes a huge hit for completely not showing up at all. The Seminoles also drop a good bit after losing at North Carolina State. The SEC should fear not though, LSU stays in the top 10, and Mississippi State replaces Georgia among the top 12, so the conference still has five teams in the top 12. Georgia and Texas A&M also ensure that half the teams in the conference are ranked after this week.

I didn’t want to drop TCU all the way out, I’m interested to see what becomes of their quarterback situation. With Paschal, I think the Frogs win that game against Iowa State and remain unbeaten, so I didn’t penalize them too much.

With Nebraska, Northwestern and UCLA all playing poorly in games with a real chance to prove something, someone had to replace them in the top 25. Welcome teams like Louisiana Tech and Ohio. Both could potentially run the table this season.

It’s a real shame Ohio State isn’t eligible for the conference title, or a bowl game. These Buckeyes are good, and wouldn’t Urban Meyer against any SEC school in a potential national title game be extra compelling. Unfortunately it won’t happen……this year.

And Notre Dame? They’re for real people. They are for real.

1.  Alabama

2.  Oregon

3.  South Carolina

4.  Ohio State

5.  West Virginia

6.  Florida

7.  Kansas State

8.  Notre Dame

9. LSU

10.Oklahoma

11.USC

12.Mississippi State

13.Florida State

14.Louisville

15.Clemson

16.Georgia

17.Rutgers

18.Oregon State

19.Texas

20.Texas A&M

21.Stanford

22.Cincinnati

23.Ohio

24.Louisiana Tech

25.TCU

 

Others

Northwestern

Tennessee

Michigan State

San Jose State

Boise State

Iowa State

UCLA

Nebraska

Penn State

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Noles Ready to Make a Statement; Can Arizona and Kansas State be for Real?; All About Tigers in the SEC & More in Week 4

Must See:

Michigan at #11 Notre Dame- It doesn’t matter how bad Michigan may look against a quality opponent, at the slightest hint of success, here they come like a bad case of herpes right back again in the national spotlight. I’m not buying just yet.

Now, I’m not saying Michigan is a bad football team, or even that they won’t win this football game. What I am saying is that I don’t think they’ve done anything to prove they’re a top 25 team just yet. That Air Force team they let hang around, at home, in a game where they should have been making a statement, it’s the most inexperienced team in the nation.

While the Fighting Irish aren’t exactly coming in with senior starters at every position, they are far more equipped, from a talent and experience perspective, than Air Force to win in Ann Arbor.

One probably can’t expect Notre Dame’s defense to play as well against Michigan as it has to start the season, because let’s face it, Michigan State and Purdue are anything but offensive jugernauts, and the difference between Denard Robinson at Michigan and Andrew Maxwell at Michigan State is night and day.

However, the Irish are still more than plenty good enough to limit Robinson’s impact, and hold Michigan enough to allow their own offense to score enough points to win the football game. The Irish are yong in the secondary, but are experienced and talented up front. They lost just two starters from 2011, and replace one of them with Stephon Tuitt, who as a freshment last year was 3rd team freshmen All-America as a reserve.

Of course the key is Manti Te’O at inside linebacker. He’s a two time All-American and was outstanding last season, and is playing at a similar pace this season. He was key last week in slowing down Le’Veon Bell from Michigan State, and will likely be personally responsible to containing Denard Robinson.

The trick for Notre Dame will be to find some points. They’ve scored 20 in each of their last two games, and while that was more acceptable on the road against an elite defense such as Michigan State, doing so the prior week against Purdue is a reason for concern.

Whoever is at quarterback, whether its Tommy Rees, or Evertt Golson, they must improve their play. Denard Robinson’s big play ability makes it impossible to expect Notre Dame to completely stifle Michigan like they did Michigan State, so the Irish offense is going to need to come up with a play or two at some point.

#15 Kansas State at #7 Oklahoma- 58-17. 690. 240. That was the score, the yardage produced by the Oklahoma offense, and the yards gained by Kansas State last year when the Wildacts, then 7-0 and ranked in the top ten, got brought back down earth really quickly, at home. They remember. If you don’t think this game was circled on the, just remember how much Kansas State struggled with North Texas last week, just a week after drilling Miami 52-13. It’s safe to say their minds were already on the Sooners.

After last year’s debacle in Manhattan, it appeared to take Kansas State’s defense some time to recover. After having allowed more than 24 points just twice in their first seven games, the Oklahoma game was the first of three in a row where over 50 were hung on the Wildcats.

They settled back down over their final three, and allowed no more than 368 yards in any of the three games to close the season. That momentum, despite three of their top four tacklers being gone, has carried over into this season.

Oklahoma meanwhile looked extremely sluggish and out of sync on offense in their opening win against UTEP, which followed a trend of their offense struggling to close the sesaon out against Oklahoma State and Iowa. After scoring 38 or more points in eight straight games, the UTEP game marked the third in a row where they failed to top even 26.

Against Florida A&M the offense clearly looked better, but that was, again, Florida A&M.

Oklahoma entered the season as a serious national title contender, but the offensive issues that hurt them down the stretch last year don’t seem to be resolved. With a schedule that includes visits from defensive stalwards Texas and Notre Dame, with TCU on the road, as well offensive juggernaut West Virginia in Morgantown, the Sooners need to be able to get some points on the board.

Kansas State will go a long way towards giving us a better read on Landry Jones and company. Nobody questions the skill players at Oklahoma, they’re as good as any set in college football, maybe better. But the offensive line has taken some hits. Starting center Ben Habern and starting guard Tyler Evans are both lost for the year due to injury, and attrition has also claimed three reserves.

Oklahoma fans may have waived this off earlier in the year and said they weren’t concerned, but with the way TCU, Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State have looked, they realize now, their first priority needs to be winning the conference.

Defensively Oklahoma is about as talented as anyone, but if there is a weak link in might be the secondary. Last season it was prone to being torched by elite passing attacks.

While few will argue that Kansas State has a passing game that is on par with the likes of a Baylor, Texas Tech, or Texas A&M from a year ago, it’s still got some playmakers. More importantly, it is led by a senior quarterback who is playing some of the best football in the nation. Collin Klein’s downfall a year ago was his accuracy. If he could just manage to be more accurate throwing the football, the combination of his deadly running (1,141 yards, 27 touchdowns) and an improved aerial assault could make him one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

So far, consider it done. He’s completing over 72% of his passes, while still providing a reliable, tough, threat as a runner. With Matt Barkley and Tyler Wilson already essentially out of the Heisman picture, if Klein can lead the Wildcats into Norman and knock off another Heisman candidate at quarterback in Landry Jones, Wildcat fans may be reminded of another dual threat quarterback who wore purple and silver and had a number seven adorn his jersey too.

#10 Clemson at #4 Florida State- The last time Florida State played a home game ranked this high in the polls was October 8, 2005, against Wake Forest. Which also coincides with the last time they won an ACC championship.

While last year’s game against then number one Oklahoma was big, it didn’t have quite the feel of this year’s battle with Clemson. A lot of people may have felt at the time the ranking was still a bit too premature, and the subsequent two losses in a row after the Oklahoma loss seemed to prove that.

This year though, something is definitely different about this Florida State team. The killer instinct and swagger that made them the premier program of the 90s seems back, as evidenced by a 52-0 throttling of Wake Forest last week, a game more recent versions of the Seminoles would have likely struggled to win, much less put away so convincingly.

The Seminole defense, hyped before the year as among the nations best, some even comparing it to the SEC monsters of LSU and Alabama, has allowed just three points all season. I’m aware that Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest don’t possess basically anything closely resembling a dangerous attack, but still, no touchdowns allowed in three games is still no touchdowns allowed in three games.

But Saturday, this will be a test. A big one. Last season Clemson scored nearly 34 points a game, and that was with a sophomore quarterback and true freshmen wide receiever running the show. Their slew of skill players, including the afore referred to Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, all return, except only for tight end Dwayne Allen. If anyone is going to test the speed and athleticism of Florida State’s defense this year, its going to be Clemson.

But the real strength of the Seminoles defense lies up front. Even without Brandon Jenkins, the defensive line might still be the best and deepest in the nation. There are at least five players, not including the All-American Jenkins, who potentially could be first team All-ACC players. Tank Carradine, the number one junior college transfer a year ago, and Mario Edwards, the highest rated defensive lineman recruit this past off-season, add some of the depth. Anthony McCloud started twelve games last season, and had five tackles for a loss as a defensive tackle, and he won’t even be starting. Taking his place is Timmy Jernigan, the ACC Defensive Freshmen Player of the Year. Yeah, the ‘Noles are loaded up front.

And that’s bad news for Dabo Swinney’s Tiger team. While the offense returns a plethora of skill players, anyone who watched the Packers/Bears Thursday night game a week ago knows how little value they have when you don’t block.

Clemson has to replace three members from their offensive line. So while they return 94% of the yards gained a year ago, losing three fifths of the offensive line is a definite cause for concern. Center Dalton Freeman has 39 starts under his belt, and will be called upon to try and help steady a young offensive line in its first true road test. It’s not that it will be a lack of talent that Freeman will be leading, sophomores Kalon Davis and Gifford Timothy are both highly regarded, and both had very impressive springs. But doing it on the practice field in the spring, and doing it while 78,000 people are doing the tomahawk chop at full throttle are two different things.

On the other side, Clemson only recorded 24 sacks as a defense a year ago, and of those 24 sacks, those responsible for 19 of them are no longer with the Tigers.

Florida State’s biggest offensive weakness last year was easily the play of the offensive line. They struggled to establish a running game, and let their quarterbacks get absolutely mauled. It will be critical for Clemson to try and exploit this weakness.

So far this season, Clemson has only been able to get three sacks, while allowing over 180 yards per game on the ground. While DeShawn Williams has played very well at defensive tackle, they need some of the other youngsters, such as Grady Jarrett, Corey Crawford, and Vic Beasley to step up and make some plays.

While Clemson’s secondary as performed well to date, they have yet to face a quality quarterback or passing attack. Florida State brings in a group of receivers that takes Seminoles fans back to the E.G. Green, Peter Warrick, Laverneus Coles days, while quarterback E.J. Manuel is playing the best football of his life.

Clemson is a talented team, no question about it. But on the road, against this Seminoles team, they aren’t talented enough. I think Saturday evening the Seminoles officialy welcome themselves to the national championship race.

Upset Watch:

Missouri at #14 South Carolina- So, finally, we really get a chance to see what South Carolina is made of. Or do we?

Injuries have plagued Connor Shaw all season, and while backup Dylan Thompson has served more than capable as a backup, Vanderbilt, East Carolina and UAB don’t exactly elicit fear in the hearts of SEC fans. So while Thompson has played well, if Shaw is healthy and capable of playing, he’s the starter. But if we know anything about the ole ball coach Steve Spurrier, he’s going to have a short leash.

The problem though isn’t likely to be at the quarterback position. The defense, the heart and soul of this team, may be at a significant disadvantage Saturday.

Missouri’s offense looked really good for a half against Georgia two weeks ago, and last week against Arizona State did enough to win behind Corbin Berkstresser who was filling in for James Franklin.

The Tigers pose a different type of threat than most SEC teams with their exceptionally athletic quarterback, and extremely quick hitting passing game. While the Gamecocks have recorded 72 sacks the past two seasons and return 14 in the duo of ends Devin Taylor and Jadevon Clowney, Missouri’s quick hitting attack may help negate the edge South Carolina’s pass rush would have.

For a team that attempted 383 passes, allowing only 18 sacks is a pretty remarkable feat, and not once did they allow more than two a game a season ago. In contrast, South Carolina only attempted  317, but their quarterbacks were sacked 30 times, and five times allowed three or more in a game.

But that won’t be the biggest problem the South Carolina defense will face, it will be the lack of experienced playmakers in the secondary. Senior corner Akeem Agueste will miss the game with injury, and All-SEC safety senior D.J. Swearinger is serving a suspension for the brutal hit he bestowed on UAB.

Their asbence not only takes away two of the better players on their defense in general, but leaves them dangerously young and inexperienced in the secondary against a team with a plethora of receivers and an ability to really spread the field. That’s not a good thing if you’re South Carolina.

Working against Missouri though will be the same thing that’s plagued them during the last two weeks, in particular against Georgia. The Tigers have serious depth problems on the offensive line, something South Carolina, with their extremely deep and extremely talented defensive line, can take full advantage of. Generally you think of offensive lines wearing down a defensive line, but the inverse could be the case this Saturday in Columbia.

Missouri, in general in recent years, hasn’t been overly phased by playing away from home. While they did go 1-4 on the road last year, there was an overtime loss to Arizona State, a ten point loss to then #1 Oklahoma, a seven point loss to #20 Kansas State, and a three point defeat to Robert Griffin’s Baylor squad. So don’t expect the environment to be overly intimidating for Gary Pinkel’s team.

Missouri desperately wanted to make an early statement against Georgia, and for a half appeared on their way. Surely some things were learned that night, and while some of those deficiencies that popped up aren’t correctable in the immediate future, others are.

Don’t be surprised if Saturday Missouri doesn’t come away with a victory over South Carolina. While presumably that would put them right back in the SEC East race, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It still would be called an upset for a reason.

#25 Rutgers at Arkansas- To suggest Arkansas is in trouble is to make an early season attempt at understatement of the year. Things were bad when they lost to Louisiana Monroe (who has since proven to be better than people thought), but they hit a new low with a 52-0 shut-out loss at the hands of Alabama in a game in which it was suggested Razorback players quit on their own field.

But the lows may not be done coming. With Rutgers at home, then two road games against Texas A&M and Auburn, it’s not far fetched to think Arkansas could be 1-5. For a team that entered the year with SEC, and even national, title aspirations, that’s about as precipitous a drop as one can have.

Worse yet, are the things Arkansas could become notorious for this season. For starters, they did lose to a team from the Sun Belt. They did get suffer the worst defeat to Alabama in the past 10 years (Georgia State not withstanding) and they were accused of quitting.

Now imagine if they lose at home to a Big East team, Rutgers no less. Rutgers isn’t supposed to beat SEC teams, ever. Let alone on the road. After that? Imagine they become the first SEC victory for Texas A&M, which would be a huge win for the Razorbacks former SWC rivals. And the week after that? They could become just the second win of the year for Auburn. No, things do not look good in Fayetteville.

On the other side Rutgers comes in full of confidence at 3-0, and with a leg up on the Big East race. The Scarlet Knights defense has been particularly stout, allowing only 25 points thru three games. In particular the secondary has been outstanding. In order to slow down the Arkansas offense, good secondary play is paramount.

Arkansas could potentially have quarterback Tyler Wilson, an early season Heisman hopeful before an injury and his teams plunge into irrlevance, back on the field for the first time since leaving the ULM game with an injury. Some have argued that Arkansas shouldn’t risk putting him on the field in a non SEC game, and ensure he’s fully healthy for the rest of the slate so the Razorbacks can attempt to save their season.

I’m sorry, losing at home to Rutgers and falling to 1-3 would pretty much be the ruin of the 2012 campaign. In other words, if Tyler Wilson can play, he needs to.

In past years under Greg Schiano, Rutgers has not handled success very well. Will they do so differently with Kyle Flood? That remains to be seen. Throw in that, as well as the fact that Rutgers is only 2-7 the past two years in road games, and this has all the makings of an Arkansas victory.

This of course will depend on whether or not the Arkansas team has already checked out on the 2012 season, if Tyler Wilson plays. If the answers are no, and yes, respectively, Arkansas has a great opportunity to start turning the ship back around.

East Carolina at North Carolina- Nobody pegged North Carolina to be 1-2 at this juncture, and certainly not look as poor as they have in doing so. While they lost by just 5 to Louisville, the fact they trailed by over 20 points spoke volumes. At 1-2, and with no postseason to play for, you have to wonder if the Heels are just going to mail in the season. It certainly appeared so in the first half in Louisville last week, but the second half comeback may give the Heels reason to have some hope for the remaining nine games.

After an uninspiring blowout loss in Columbia to South Carolina, East Carolina bounced back with a surprising 24-14 victory over North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora’s old team, Southern Miss.

After taking over a program that went 26-15 over Skip Holtz’s final three years, Ruffin McNeill had gotten off to a sluggish 12-14 start. Perhaps that is changing a bit, as with 15 starters back from last year’s team, improvement seems to be the order of the day in Greenville.

The cause for concern with East Carolina is the pass defense, notably the back seven in general. Whereas Southern Miss lacks the passing game to expose that, as South Carolina did, the Tar Heels should have no such problems. But on that same note, East Carolina with Andrew Bodenheimer and Justin Hardy also will be able to get after North Carolina’s secondary too.

Whichever team runs the ball more effectively, likely wins the game. Giovani Bernard certainly gives North Carolina the better running back, along with the better offensive line. Counteracting that will be a solid group of linebackers that East Carolina has, led by Jeremy Grove, who as a freshman had 122 tackles a year ago.

These are the type of games Skip Holtz’s Pirates would sometimes find ways to win. For Ruffin McNeill to satisfy East Carolina fans, he needs to start.

Baylor at Lousiana Monroe (Fri)- By now the Lousisiana Monroe story is pretty well known. They beat Arkansas in Little Rock, and lost in overtime thanks to a missed field goal at Auburn. So their next task? Baylor. But at least it’s at home.

Final scores of 59-34 and 48-23 in their first two games would indicate that Baylor is doing just fine without Robert Griffin III. A closer look says that may not be the case. The defense allowed SMU 34 points, an SMU team that five times last year scored 17 points or fewer, and was forced to replace eight starters on offense, including the entire offensive line.

Then the following week against Sam Houston State, it was a tightly contested football game at halftime. While in years past, just being 2-0 would be cause for celebration in Waco, times, and expectations, have changed.

With an ominous slate of games looming that includes West Virginia, TCU and Texas, the Bears can ill afford to lose to the Warhawks and slip to 2-1 before beginning that stretch if they hope to reach the postseason for a third straight season.

On the other side, ULM has to be feeling quite good about themselves right now, and with talent all around at the skill positions, they enter tonight’s game with Baylor thinking they should win the game. And you know what? They’re probably right.

Don’t Forget About:

#2 LSU at Auburn- A 1-2 Auburn team that barely defeated Louisiana Monroe seems in no place to offer a stiff challenge to the “real” team from Louisiana who is 3-0 and has only allowed 31 points thru their first three games. But, that my friends is why they play the game.

No, I’m not sitting here saying Auburn will win this game, or that Auburn even has a very good shot to come away victorious. What I am saying though is this is a road game in the SEC, where even for a powerhouse like LSU, anything can happen.

Aside from last year, LSU has struggled away from Tiger Stadium. Not to the tune of a losing conference road record or anything, but some narrow victories over opponents initially thought to be competely overmatched. And even just last season, when away from Baton Rouge, the Tigers gained 100 yards less per game, and allowed nearly 100 more.

LSU only allowed more than 198 yards through the air six times in their fourteen games a year ago. Of those six, five came away from home. Granted, the caliber of opponent (Having Northwestern State, Kentucky and Western Kentucky on your schedule helps the home stats) factored greatly in the Tigers struggles.

Offensively, in games away from Tiger Stadium, LSU threw for for 98, 146, 91, 30, and 53 yards, respectively against Oregon, West Virginia, Tennesssee, Alabama, Georgia and Alabama again. On that note, I think everyone and their mother also knew quarterback was the biggest weakness on the team last season.

That’s where Zach Mettenberger comes in. Having averaged over 200 yards per game, against albeit less than stellar competition, Mettenberger has given Tiger fans renewed confidence in the position. But this offense doesn’t go as he does, it goes as their dominating offensive line paves the way for Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue, who already have rushed for 573 yards in just two games.

And in all reality, there is no reason the offense should have to put up many points against Auburn to come away with a victory. The ineptitude of the Auburn offense may stagger some people on Saturday.

Kiehl Frazier has barely completed over half of his passes while engineering the nations 113th ranked passing attack, and the Tigers have struggled to score against the likes of Clemson and Mississippi State. Now that offense gets to take on a defense as dominant as LSUs?

Auburn survived a must-win against ULM last week, but barely, to avoid the season going into a complete tailspin. However, should they go get blown out at home by LSU, they could find their year teetering on the edge of disaster. Against the three best teams in the SEC last year, Auburn was defeated 45-10, 45-7 and 42-14. That’s not how you show you belong in the upper echelon of the SEC.

For Auburn, Saturday is about competing. For LSU, it’s about making a big statement on the road. Considering that the home team has won 11 of the last 12 in this series, one might think history favors Auburns chances to do just that. Then again, the skill of football player on the football field will suggest they have no chance.

Miami at #23 Georgia Tech- For whatever reason, presumably the speed and athleticism of the defensive line, Miami has given the Georgia Tech offense fits in the past four years. Under Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech has lost 11 ACC games in four years, and three of them have to Miami. Tech’s only victory under Paul Johnson against Miami came in 2008.

Last year Miami limited Tech to a season low 211 yards, and only had two drives all game that were more than five plays. That said, Tech’s second worst offensive performance of the season came against Virginia, who the Jackets just posted 56 points against, so take it for what its worth.

Special teams ultimately were a major deciding fact in last years 24-7 Miami victory, as the Tech defense itself had its best day of the season, allowing Miami only 262 yards themselves.

While Georgia Tech’s offense looks better than it did a year ago, the same can’t be said for Miami. Duke Johnson may be the best freshmen running back in the country, but he’s essentially the extent of their offense.

Defensively, Miami doesn’t appear much better. They were down early to Boston College, but rallied to win, still allowing 32 points to a team that hasn’t scored that many points in a conference game on anyone besides North Carolina State in four years.

They followed that up by getting demolished 52-13 by Kansas State, and even just last week did not look impressive against Bethune Cookman.

Miami cannot be considered a contender in the ACC, and at 34-31 in the conference since they joined it, it’s becoming the norm.

Georgia Tech meanwhile is still, despite the loss to Virginia Tech, very much alive. However, they know they can’t afford to lose another division game. Taking care of Virginia was an excellent start, but beating Miami will be just as important. If they do, it sets up a big one in Clemson in two weeks.

Arizona at #3 Oregon- Since the 2007 upset when Dennis Dixon was lost for the year, and so were Oregon’s national title hopes, Oregon has beaten Arizona four straight times, averaging 51 points and over 500 yards of offense in each game. However, what seems to be forgotten is that Arizona has averaged over 36 points per game in that same stretch. It’s not like Oregon has completely wiped the floor with Arizona, and this may be the best Arizona team since Ortege Jenkins was flipping his way into endzones back in 1998.

At first glance, one has to wonder how Arizona can be so improved. Last year saw the Wildcats go 4-8, and proceed to lose a 4,000 yard passer, their leding rusher, and four of their top five receivers, including Juron Criner and his near 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. Oh, they also lost four of their top five tacklers. In other words, they returned less than a quarter of their total yards from a year ago, and barely half of all their tackles. Yet they’ve improved?

Blame it on Rich Rodriguez. He’s come in, and the players, unlike at Michigan, immediately have bought into the system. The result is a team that lost seven games by double digits a year ago is now 3-0, including a 58-39 beat down of Oklahoma State, who, only finished last season as the number three team in the nation, and who many felt deserved a shot at the national championship.

But at some point, the lack of talent that’s readily available right now has to catch up to them, right? Probably so. And this week is probably that point.

The Oregon Ducks are not Toldeo, they’re not even Oklahoma State. They’re a different breed of football team, one who some don’t think is on the level of Alabama or LSU, but whose performance in 2010 against Auburn indicates they are very capable of that. Offensively, what Oregon is doing is probably as good, if not better, than what Steve Spurrier’s Gators teams of the 90s did.

Consider this, over the past five years, and on their way to a 53-13 record, Oregon has scored over 40 points 41 times in 66 football games. They’ve been held under 30 points all of 9 times. But while they’ve been doing all this scoring, they’ve yet to have a season in that stretch where they allowed 400 yards per game on defense.

The bottom line is that the Ducks are here, and here to stay. They’re a better version of what Rich Rodriguez had been building at West Virginia. Come Saturday, it’s very likely Rodriguez gets a real taste of his own medicine when the Ducks come screaming at him from all over the place.

For Arizona, their goal needs to be to stay competitive. Don’t lose the momentum from their 3-0 start, and learn what they can. It can only serve to make them better in the long run. But for right now, they just aren’t there yet. Then again, few teams can say they’re “there” when talking about Oregon.

Best of the Rest:

Temple at Penn State- Is this the year Temple finally beats Penn State? It hasn’t happened since before December 7, 1941 became date that will live in infamy. Last year the Owls fell just 14-10, and this may be their best shot to snap a 29 game losing streak to their fellow Keystoners. The loss to Maryland two weeks ago puts extra impotus on this game for Temple, as a loss would almost surely derail hopes of making a second straight bowl game for the first time in school history.

Fresno State at Tulsa- Fresno made some waves last week with their 500 plus yard performance against Colorado…in the first half. That helped atone for a first half against Oregon that saw them trail 35-6 at the half. Tulsa may be one of the more underrated mid majors in the country. They’ve won 56 games over the past seven seasons, and this year’s only loss was on the road to an Iowa State team that is better than people realized. Since both teams already have a loss, it’s highly unlikely that either makes a play for a BCS bowl. However, both will be in contention for their conference championship, and both have the ability to work their way into the top 25. Tulsa has two running backs that both neared 900 yards a season ago, while Fresno possesses the younger brother of David Carr, and the 3,500 yards and 26 touchdowns he threw a season ago. If you want to see some points put up, find this game on your television.

Akron at Tennessee- Terry Bowden will coach his first SEC game since 1997 for the Akron Zips . Unfortunately it’s going to be in Knoxville against an angry Tennessee team who squandered a second half lead last week against Florida in a game the Vols desperately needed to interject themselves back into the discussion with the SEC elite. Bowden may wish he was back on ABC by the second quarter.

UTEP at Wisconsin- Brett Bielema has seen more than enough of Danny O’Brien at quarterback, and has decided to bench the former Maryland Terrapin in favor of redshirt freshman Joel Stave. Stave is a big kid, with a good arm, and Bielema hopes he can provide some life for an offense that in the past two weeks against Oregon State and Utah State has only managed 23 points. And this after scoring just 26 in a narrow victory over Northern Iowa. Wisconsin is still the default favorite to win the Big Ten Leaders Division title, but with Nebraska on the road next week, the Badgers better get something going on offense, and now.

Louisiana Tech at Illinois- The Bulldogs of Lousiana Tech post one of the more explosive offenses in the country, having scored 56 points in each of their first two games. Getting an Illinois team that allowed 45 to Arizona State a couple weeks ago has to have quarterback Colby Cameron itching to go. Louisiana Tech’s receiving trio of D.J. Banks, Myles White, and Quinton Patton though to face up against an Illinois secondary that was very good a year ago. Although they struggled mightily against Arizona State, the defense is easily the strength of this team, and it needs to be good against Lousiana Tech. If this game gets into shootout territory, Illinois just doesn’t have the players to keep up with the Bulldogs.

Syracuse at Minnesota- Syracuse has played two FBS schools this season (Northwestern, USC) and has allowed 42 points to each of them, both in losses. That trend will have to change for Syracuse to get back to .500 before beginning Big East play. The Orange have lost 10 of their last 12 true road openers, so it doesn’t bode well for them. Meanwhile, Minnesota could potentially be 4-0 before playing an Iowa team in their conference opener that they’ve beaten the past two years. Minnesota hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2003, but off to a 3-0 start for the first time 2008 (7-6), the Gophers can start thinking about the possibilities of it happening this season.

Maryland at #5 West Virginia- West Virginia gets one final tune-up before debuting in the Big 12 against Baylor in a week, and this should be nothing but just that, a tune up. Going back to the Orange Bowl, the Mountaineers have scored 181 points in their last three games, and even though Maryland might offer a far tougher defensive test than they have faced this year, they should have no trouble rolling to a win. The Terrapins remember only could score seven against William & Mary, and lost this past week at home to Connecticut. There will be no way they can keep up with the West Virginia offense and the Mountaineers should make it seven straight over the Terps.

Virginia at #20 TCU- TCU simply continues to be TCU, and for Virginia, that’s not a good thing, at all. Virginia is fresh off a complete drubbing at the hands of Georgia Tech, in which the Yellow Jackets led 49-7 in the third quarter. That’s not exactly a good eway to go into a road game against a perennial top 20 team that rarely loses at home; 54-6 in the past ten years. Four turnovers and third down deficiencies against Kansas limited TCU to just 20 points, but don’t be fooled, it’s still an offense capable of putting up big points, which can’t make Virginia fans feel good. But beyond that, TCU is again playing its typical great defense, and for a Virginia team who is having serious problems running the football, it looks like an 0-2 week for the ACC against the Big 12.

California at #13 USC- While the Trojans hopes for a national championship appear to be shot, along with Matt Barkley’s quest to win the Heisman, after their loss to Stanford, USC is still very much in control of their destiny in terms of going back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2008. After making the Rose Bowl their home away from home, have gone just 17-11 in conference play dating back to the beginning of 2009. In the seven years prior, they were 52-7. While Cal arguably has more explosive players on offense, they aren’t nearly as physical as Stanford was, and physicality is the key to beating USC. It’s a matchup that plays into the hands of the Trojans. These are still anxious times though in southern California, as evidenced by Lane Kiffin walking out of a press conference less than half a minute in. They know they can’t afford another conference loss, as suddenly, division road games against Arizona and UCLA don’t seem the easy wins they once appeared to be. And with Utah still left on the road, and a game against Oregon, one more loss could effectively end their conference title hopes. Just don’t expect it to happen this week though.

Oregon State at # 21 UCLA- The Bruins offense has looked outstanding during the first three weeks of the season, and the defense has looked much improved over last year’s unit as the Bruins have served notice that while they backed into the division title last year, they have every intention of taking it on their own merits this year. Conference openers are always huge, and this is no different for UCLA. With no Oregon on the schedule, Stanford and USC at home, and road games consisting of Colorado, California, Arizona State, and Washington State, there’s no reason UCLA can’t be thinking about a double digit win season. But lose to an Oregon State team that did defeat Wisconsin, and it’s all a moot point. The Beavers were probably feeling pretty good about that victory, but Wisconsin’s performance the next week, coupled with the Beavers having a bye, and we really don’t know what to make of Mike Riley’s team.

Utah at Arizona State- Utah got a huge win, and much needed confidence boost with their win against BYU last week, coming without Jordan Wynn at quarterback. Wynn won’t be back, so the Utes have what they have. And that’s still a solid defense. Utah knows they should have played for the conference title a year ago, before a ghastly home loss to Colorado to end the season. With USC eligible this year, and Arizona and UCLA vastly improved, Utah can’t afford slip-ups in division play. Arizona State on the other hand, might be playing with house money. After their first two games, people started paying attention to what the offense under Todd Graham was doing. Following a loss at Missouri last week, a game they arguably should have won, people were kicking dirt back on them again. Opening conference play with a division win might get the eyes peeled their way again.

Nevada at Hawaii-  Nevada has lost their last seven trips to Hawaii, including a 2010 loss that may have denied the Wolfpack a chance to play in a BCS game, as the 31-21 defeat was the only loss they suffered during the year they beat Boise State and won the conference championship. Once again, Nevada appears to be the biggest threat to Boise State for the conference title, but a narrow loss to South Florida probably means there will be no BCS bid for Nevada. In any event, watching the Wolfpack offense is something else. Quarterback Cody Fajardo, just a sophomore, pilots an offense that runs the ball as well as just about anybody, compiling over 300 yards a game on the ground thus far this season.

San Jose State at San Diego State- San Jose State has mde but one bowl appearance since 1990, but after going 1-12 in Mike MacIntyre’s first season, and then improving to 5-7 a year ago, they might be headed to another one. Heads turned when the Spartans fell by just three points to Stanford in Palo Alto when the season started. They turned because the assumption was Stanford was nothing without Andrew Luck. The Cardinal in the subsequent two weeks absolutely squelched any of that talk, which begged the question, then how good might San Jose State be? Good enough to win the WAC? Yes. Top 25 caliber? Perhaps. Going on the road in a non conference game against San Diego State will be a good litmus test for the Spartans. San Diego State has never made three straight postseason appearances before, but could do so this year. However, with Boise State, Nevada, and Fresno State all on the road, the Aztecs could really use a boost by getting a home win over a good San Jose State team. San Diego State has perhaps the best receiving corps in the conference, and among the better ones in the entire country. Brice Butler, Colin Lockett and Dylan Denso last year combined for 158 catches, almost 2,400 yards and 18 touchdowns. Granted, that was with Ryan Lindley throwing them the ball. It will be the best offense San Jose State has faced. The outcome of Saturday’s game will tell a lot about both teams.

Utah State at Colorado State- Utah State’s dream off a miracle unbeaten season died with a missed field goal in Madison against Big Ten favorite Wisconsin, but the energy around the program did not. After beating Utah the week prior, giving Wisconsin all they could handle on the road further solidified the thinking that Utah State simply has a good football team. Unfotunately for them, they still have remaining road games with BYU, San Jose State and league favorite Louisiana Tech. So, while they were dreaming big, reality said it wasn’t going to happen. However, that is not to say an 8 or 9 win season is out of the question, but to do that, the Aggies must avoid let downs against teams they clearly outclass, like Colorado State. 

Memphis at Duke- No, seriously, this game might actually be of some importance by the time the year is over. Duke is still trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 1994, and wile a couple of Dvid Cutcliffe’s teams have shown promise, none have done it. This year’s Duke team is arguably his best overall, but a challenging schedule will make a postseason trip difficult. A loss to one of the worst teams in the country, in Memphis, would make it impossible, and likely spell the end of Cutcliffe’s time in Durham.

Colorado at Washington State- Because whichever team gets the win, it will likely be their last (or in Colorado’s case, only) win of the season.

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Why Tennessee Must Win, Michigan State is Dreaming Big & More In Week Three

As is the case with every college football weekend, there’s a handful of games you can’t miss, as well as the few that you should keep an eye on for potential upsets. But what about the others on the docket? Which of those are worth paying attention to? Glad you asked, I’ll let you know.

Must See Games:

#1 Alabama at Arkansas- Is it possible that year’s Alabama defense is even better than last years historically dominant unit? Why, yes, yes it is. This game could go a long way into giving us an idea if it actually is or not. If Tyler Wilson plays that is.

That’s the million dollar question. If Wilson plays at quarterback for Arkansas this becomes perhaps the biggest test the Tide defense will face all season. If he doesn’t, the things Alabama may do to backup quarterback Brandon Allen may be worthy of criminal charges.

While Arkansas’ defense leaves a bit to be desired, even with numerous suspensions to the receiving unit, Arkansas boasts perhaps the most talented offense in the SEC. No team in the conference has the plethora of weapons that Arkansas does, and no team will be capable of stretching out the Alabama defense like the Razorbacks. Again, if Tyler Wilson plays.

Sure, Michigan had Denard Robinson…..and…..They didn’t have the offensive line with the ability to even remotely match up with Alabama’s defensive front, and without Fitzgerald Toussaint didn’t have the home run threat in the backfield that Arkansas does. In fact, Arkansas has three of them in potential All American Knile Davis, last years leading rusher Dennis Johnson, and Ronnie Wingo.

Tight end Chris Gragg and receiever Cobi Hamilton give the Razorbacks both big play ability on the outside, and reliability.

We can only hope Wilson is able to go. If so, this could be a riveting battle. Arkansas is ticked off, and with a huge chip on their shoulder, and at home. Those are the makings of an upset. But only if their All-American quarterback takes the field.

#18 Florida at #23 Tennessee- Without a doubt, THE game to watch this week is going to be out of the SEC, actually, the vast majority of the big time games will be played with an SEC member. When Florida travels to take on Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday night it will seem like a rewind to 10-15 years ago, back when this battle almost annualy decided the SEC East champion.

An impressive season opening win in the Georgia Dome over North Carolina State, along with the return of 19 starters has Tenneesee fans convinced Derek Dooley has this Volunteer squad ready to make the jump back into the elite of the SEC in year three.

Nothing would do more to indicate a reversal of the slide the Vols have endured the last few years than beating Florida for the first time since 2004.

Tennessee in fact hasn’t been ranked since week one of the 2008 season when they lost in overtime at UCLA. They had played 46 straight games as an unranked team, something completely unheard of in Knoxville. Now that they’re back among the top 25, and back among the topic of conversation, can they prove they belong?

Since that fateful loss in the Rose Bowl in 2008, Tennessee is just 1-16 against ranked opponents. Saturday night, they’ll strive to reverse that trend too.

It will not be easy however, as the losses in recent years to Florida have all been by double digits, and there’s been a reason for that. The Gators have consistently had better players. Do they this year? That remains to be seen.

One thing is for certain, the recieving duo of Justin Hunter and junior college transfer Cordarelle Patterson has the ability to be the best tandem in the SEC. If the growing pains on the offensive line continue to pay off, the Vols should be able to do something they’ve struggled to do in recent years against quality SEC teams, and that is score points.

Of course, the Gators defense is no slouch. Their offense has struggled mightily, but the defense has given up just 31 points in their first two games, including just 17 at a Texas A&M team that returned seven starters from an offense that put up 40 a game last year, and averaged almost 500 yards per game at home.

Florida though will be without the services of linebacker Jelani Jenkins, which could be a big blow. Jenkins may very well be the most versatile defensive player on the Gators.

Another detriment to the Gators defense will be the size disadvantage at cornerback. Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins each go 6’0. Hunter and Patterson, the Tennessee receivers, go 6’4 and 6’3, respectively.

Florida isn’t immune to offensive issues either. They’ve managed only 23.5 points per game in their first two outings, against Bowling Green and Texas A&M, neither of whom is exactly known for great defense. Florida’s offense has disappeared lately against any sort of quality opponent. Last season against Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Ohio State, their largest offensive output was a paltry 263 yards against Ohio State.

Further compounding the matter is this that sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel is anything but long on experience, and in front of what will be the most raucous crowd Neyland Stadium has hosted in a while, that only stands to benefit the home team.

No team in the country is more experienced than Tennessee, and the 105 returning starts by their offensive line was tied for third in the entire nation. So, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this is a make or break year for Derek Dooley, which means it’s not a stretch to say this is a must win game for Tennessee.

#2 USC at #21 Stanford- Against San Jose State Stanford looked the post Andrew Luck era was going to be dreadful. Fortunately the next week against Duke made Cardinal fans feel a little bit better. However, these USC Trojans are not San Jose State or Duke.

USC is a legit national title contender, who’s biggest weakness is probably its coach. And thats critical in this early season road test. Not only does Kiffin have a penchant for opening his mouth and sounding dumb, he also has a tendency to get outcoached by better coaches.

Getting outcoached seems the only way Stanford has a chance. These two played an epic three overtime game a year ago. The big difference, USC brings back its Heisman caliber quarterback, Matt Barkley, and Stanford does not.

What Stanford does bring back is a very good defense led by the linebacking duo of Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, which is among the finest pairs of linebackers in all of college football. Last year Stanford didn’t do a terrible job defensively against USC, but that was with Michael Thomas, Delano Hall and Johnson Bademosi in their secondary. Three new starters replace them season, not a good recipe for playing USC. The Trojans have a receiving corps that would give even the nations best secondary absolute fits. One that’s among the weakest in the Pac 12? Yikes.

With no Andrew Luck, Stanford won’t be able to hang with the Trojans in a shootout. The only hope is to control the game with the ground game and Stephan Taylor while keeping USCs offense off the field. Even then, it’s doubtful that will be enough.

Stanford is still a good team, but they aren’t the level they were with Andrew Luck, and the secondary losses make USC a particularly tough matchup. So while it’s a crucial game in the Pac 12, and involves two ranked teams and is worth checking out, don’t expect the final score to be close.

#20 Notre Dame at #10 Michigan State- It’s two top twenty teams, so it has to be a big game, right? Well, if you say so. And because it’s still Notre Dame.

That said, I’m still not a believer in the Irish, and why should anyone be. They haven’t had a double digit win season since 2006, and they’ve lost to South Florida, Tulsa, Connecticut, and Navy (twice) in the past three seasons. Yet, at the slightest hint of success, they climb the polls faster than kudzu climbs tree trunks in Georgia. I don’t get it.

So, I really hope Michigan State goes out and lays the wood to the Irish on Saturday night.

Last season, despite winning 31-13, the Irish only gained 275 yards. Winning the turnover battle helped the Irish to what seemed a convincing win over then 15th ranked Michigan State. The Spartans clearly learned something that day though, they went 9-2 the rest of the way, losing by just three points in the Big Ten title game.

Michigan State returns eight starters from a defensive unit that was among the nations best last year, and figures to be even better this season. So far, so good. In their opening two games against Boise State and Central Michigan, they’ve allowed 20 points, total.

The only potential question on the defensive side of the ball is the interior where they had to replace two starters, but they have plenty of experienced size that’s been able to step right in.

The back seven is both experienced, and extremely talented. Their trio of linebackers posses SEC type speed, while still mantaining good size. Ask Georgia how easy it is to run on this bunch.

They defend the run and the pass, as they allowed just 2.8 yards per carry last sesaon, and only 177 yards a game through the air. And they’re better this year.

To go along with their suffocating defense the Spartans also posses a very experienced offensive line that’s also blessed with talent. Behind that line is Le’Veon Bell, a junior running back who will likely be a household name by the time the year is over.

As I go on about the Spartans, I realize THEY play the “old man football” that Missouri player Sheldon Richardson was referencing. In any event, this style of football is working for the Spartans, enough so that there is legitimate talk not only of their first Rose Bowl since 1987, but their first national championship since 1952. Remember, this team is 22-5 the past two seasons. And just as importantly when it comes to their battle with Notre Dame, 14-0 at home.

Upset Watch:

#13 Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh- Before you go thinking I’m entirely off my rocker, just remember how the Hokies offense looked against Georgia Tech during their season opener before the undermanned Yellow Jacket defense finally tired late in the game.

I know, you can counter with how bad Pittsburgh has pretty much looked all season, but this is the first road game for Virginia Tech this season. And while the Hokies have still compiled a nice road record in recent years, it hasn’t come without a few struggles, especially against inferior opponents.

Obviously, the antidote for a struggling offense doesn’t seem to be a date with the Hokies outstanding defense. But Pittsburgh is hoping with each carry, running back Ray Graham becomes a little more confident, and a little closer to 100% in his return from a torn ACL.

Graham is going to have to play huge for the Panthers, and they’re going to need a few breaks along the way. This is one of those games, that on paper, no, there’s really nothing to truly make one think Pittsburgh will actually win this game. It’s just something I feel like going with.

Louisiana Monroe at Auburn- I warned earlier this week that Gene Chizik’s seat at Auburn might be getting warm after getting dominated by Mississippi State. If the Tigers do the unthinkable and become the second SEC team in a row downed by the Warhawks, Chizik might want to invest in a realtor.

Simply put, Auburn, two years removed from a national championship, is just not that talented, at least not by SEC standards. So I guess it’s a good thing they get to play a Sun Belt squad. Then again, Arkansas is pretty talented by SEC standards and they were upended by this same squad.

Louisiana Monroe is playing a very ambitious schedule, as next Friday they will welcome Baylor into Malone Stadium, and many would have predicted an 0-3 start. Suddenly, having beaten then 8th ranked Arkansas, there’s talk of an 8 or 9 win season. For a school that’s never even made a bowl game, seven sounds pretty nice.

Louisiana Monroe doesn’t necessarily need to win this game, but they do need to play well to keep the confidence and momentum riding from their victory over Arkansas.

Quarterback Kolton Browning appears to have take a good step forward after a solid sophomore year and he’s got some options to throw to in Brent Leonard and Tavarese Maye.

Auburn, despite nine starters back on defense, has been nothing close to a dominant unit, which Tiger fans with blue and orange glasses assumed would be the case with the number of returning players.

But alas, the problem for Auburn ultimately rests on the offense, as the Tigers have scored just 29 points in two games, though neither one was played at home.

The defensive line for ULM is young, and undersized, yet Arkansas’ offensive line could do nothing to protect Tyler Wilson last week. If Auburn can’t get Kiehl Frazier some protection, it could be Chizik who needs it by the end of the day.

Utah State at Wisconsin- If it wasn’t for Arkansas, Wisconsin’s loss at Oregon State last week would have been the biggest shocker in the country, and resulted in the largest drop in the polls. As it was it was somewhat overshadowed.

What was not overshadowed was the dreadful performance of Wisconsin during the first two games this season. Running back Montee Ball entered the year among the favorites to win the Heisman. Beating Northern Iowa by five at home, then losing to Oregon State when you only muster seven points isn’t the way to begin a Heisman campaign.

So what did the Badgers do? Fired the offensive line coach of course. I suppose it wsa his fault that he had to replace three starters on the unit, and its also his fault that superstar quarterback Russell Wilson is no longer under center.

In other words, even if you go 11-3 and make a second straight Rose Bowl apperance, when you lose three offensive linemen and a Heisman trophy contender at quarterback, there will be a drop-off.

The Badgers now just hope the drop off isn’t severe enough to drop them to 1-2. The good news of course is that Ohio State isn’t eligible to win the Big 10 title, Penn State is in trouble, and Iowa is vastly overrated. So the division championship still appears to be gift wrapped for the Badgers. But do they really want to be playing in the Big 10 title game with losses to Oregon State and Utah State on their resume?

It’s a possibility. You might remember last week I thought Utah State could beat Utah, and they did. The Aggies, unlike Wisconsin, have the key pieces back on their offense. If Chuckie Keeton plays like he has to start the season, there’s no reason to think that in the 4th quarter in Madison on Saturday night, Utah State will be on the verge of potentially going 3-0.

Granted, playing on the road at Camp Randall is a far cry from playing at home, but this isn’t the typical Utah State football team. A win here could really shoot this team towards something special.

Don’t Forget About:

North Carolina at #19 Louisville- The Tar Heels have one of the most talented teams in the ACC, unfortunately indiscretions by the Butch Davis regime has left them without a bowl, or conference championship to play for. That has to be the explanation for how they somehow managed to lose to Wake Forest. That or they’re taking one for the ACC and throwing conference games to keep the leagues bowl teams looking better.

If its the latter, then expect the Heels to come out firing on all cylinders as they take on the Cardinals.

North Carolina possesses a potential All-American in running back Govani Bernard and provides him a very good offensive line to run behind that returns four starters from a year ago. The Heels have also brought back quarterback Bryn Renner who, as a sophomore, threw for over 3,000 yards. Over 700 of them went to senior wideout Erik Highsmith, as the number two receiver. So offensively, North Carolina has the ability to put the points on the board.

Defensively though, Louisville has the ability to keep them off of it. In two games against Kentucky and Missouri State (offensive juggernauts, I know) the Cardinals have allowed just 21 points.

Noth Carolina represents their third straight home game, and serves as a vital game as from here they play three straight on the road, with trips to Southern Miss and Pittsburgh on the horizon. The Tar Heels are likely the most talented team on Louisville’s schedule, so a win over them would do wonders for the confidence of a team that’s quietly thinking about a perfect season.

If they’re to do it, sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has played superbly in the opening two games, must navigate a North Carolina defense that often lines up in a unique and unusual alignment. That’s something that could be tricky for a young quarterback.

The Tar Heels have little to really play for this year, but if conference pride is among those things left, going to Louisville and beating one of the favorites in the Big East has to be one of the major goals of the season.

Arizona State at Missouri- Missouri got indoctirined to “old man football” last week against Georgia, so perhaps they’ll welcome the challenge of a wide open attack such as the one Todd Graham brings with him as he brings the Sun Devils into Columbia.

In Graham’s first two games as head coach at Arizona State his team has put up 108 points in two victories, including a resounding 45-14 route of an Illinois that some had tagged as a Big Ten sleeper.

Missouri’s confidence might have been shaken last week with the way they were welcomed to the SEC, but there’s no time for that. They better understand that in the SEC, you don’t let Pac 12 teams just come into your stadium and roll up big points (unless they’re USC).

If Missouri goes out and gets beaten by Arizona State, or lets the Sun Devils rack up a lot of yards and points, they’re going to hear it from the SEC faithful. All in all, that might not be a bad thing. They might need to learn a little more just what type of athlete it takes to really be considered SEC.

#14 Texas at Ole Miss- Texas is just about back folks, and there’s nothing they’d like more than to hammer that point home with a win on the road against an SEC team. No, Ole Miss is not anywhere near the elite of the SEC, but, even the non-elite in the SEC are a step above most teams non conference opponents. Also, Ole Miss took care of UTEP perhaps more convincingly than Big 12 favorite Oklahoma did.

Texas’ defense, in particular the front four, is going to be as good as most anybodys outside Tuscaloosa.

Offensively the Longhorns still have a lot of youth at key positions, and will be prone to struggle against better defenses, but their defense should be able to keep them in most any game they play. And the Ole Miss defense isn’t quite to a point where it’s considered one of the better defenses in the nation.

The Rebels do however return eight starters on both offense and defense, and they’ve already matched last year’s disastrous two win total. Despite that though, Ole Miss is still a ways away from seriously competing at anything resembling an elite level. For now, they’ll settle for being competitive against the nations better teams. Last season Ole Miss was outscored in league play by an average of 37-12. While Texas isn’t an SEC team, they’re the type of competition Ole Miss can gauge their progress against.

If this game is still within 14 points going into the fourth quarter, it will be considered a success for the Rebels. It will also tell the Longhorns they may not yet be completely ready to return to the nations elite.

Best of the Rest:

Wake Forest at #5 Florida State- I understand that somehow, against all the natural forces in the world, Wake Forest has won four of the last six meetings in this series. I also understand that Wake Forest somehow beat a talented North Carolina team a weak ago. However, I also understand that in their last two trips to Doak Campbell Stadium, Wake Forest has scored a total of 12 points, and those were against defensive units without the prowess of this year’s Seminoles team.

Even without Brandon Jenkins, the Seminoles put out a championship caliber defense, the only question has been if their offense can keep up. So far, so good, as quarterback E.J. Manuel has looked as good as ever.

The only way this game is close is the look-ahead factor that may plague Florida State. They host Clemson next week in perhaps the biggest regular season game in the ACC this season. So perhaps Wake Forest hangs around for a half. But by games end, this won’t be close.

#16 TCU at Kansas- So, about that 2-0 start for the Kansas Jayhawks in which they’ve already equalled last year’s win total….. They won’t be surpassing it this week. TCU will play its first ever Big 12 game, and they draw an opponent that is 2-23 in conference play the previous three seasons. If only because it’s the first game for TCU in a big boy conference since its days in the Southwest Conference, keep an eye on how bad the Horned Frogs take care of the Jayhawks.

UConn at Maryland- The Terrapins may be 2-0, but its not been pretty. The season started with a 7-6 win over William & Mary. Yes, that’s right, Maryland scored but one touchdown against William & Mary. That doesn’t bode well considering they’re taking on a Connecticut team with a stout defense that limited North Carolina State to just ten.

You throw in the fact that the Huskies have circled this one on their calendar due to it being a chance to visit former head coach Randy Edsall, who left on less than amicable terms, and this spells disaster for Maryland. Like Kansas, Maryland has already matched last years win total. Don’t expect them to surpass it Saturday.

Virginia at Georgia Tech- Last season the Cavaliers spoiled the then 12th ranked Yellow Jackets perfect season and sent the 6-0 Jackets into a tail spin where they would lose four of their final six games. Don’t think Georgia Tech has forgotten about this, especially Paul Johnson. It’s not often a Paul Johnson offense is held under 300 yards, but it happened in Charlottesville last year. Don’t expect it to happen in Atlanta on Saturday.

For Virginia, thanks to Penn State’s troubles, they’re 2-0. Otherwise, one would assume there’s no way the Cavaliers come away with that 17-16 win, earmarked by four missed Penn State field goals. With TCU on the road next week, Virginia, which has won 10 of their last 15 games, may be sent crashing back to earth.

Northwestern at Boston College- The Wildcats have already beaten a Big East and an SEC team, so now they take aim at one from the ACC. No, Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College do not represent the upper echelon of their conference, but they also aren’t Savannah State.

A victory Saturday over Boston College sets Northwestern up to potentially, potentially I said, be 8-0 when Nebraska comes to Evanston on October, 20. They follow up the Boston College game with South Dakota and Indiana at home. Then they do indeed go on the road for two games, but it’s a severely crippled Penn State team, and a void of talent Minnesota squad. So Michael Wilbon, be ready, you might lose your mind as the school could play host to one of the biggest games ever at Ryan Field Stadium.

Of course, first things first, they must take care of business against Boston College, which is no gimme. The Eagles blew a double digit lead against Miami at home in the opener, but this is still a team that has some players on it. 17 starters return from last year’s disappointing team, and coach Frank Spaziani knows that the team has declined in each of his three years.

Boston College needs a win in the worst way, while Northwestern has some might big dreams tucked away in the back of their minds.

Ohio at Marshall- Frank Solich is steadily building a very stout program in Athens, and he might be at a point in his career where the grass won’t be greener somewhere else. He’s won 27 games in the past three seasons, going 19-7 in conference, and winning the schools first ever bowl game.

The Bobcats have already won at Penn State this season, and look every bit as good as last years 10-4 team. While it may be a stretch, the Bobcats are good enough, and their schedule more than favorable enough, that they could potentially make a run at a perfect regular season. Doing so would likely put the Bobcats in the top 25 for the first time since 1968.

For Marshall, the days of Randy Moss, and Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich are over. 2002 seems like such a long time ago now as they haven’t topped 8 wins in a sesaon since. They’ve actually in fact, lost eight or more games in each of the past eight years.

Offensively though they’ve shown some life this season, and they might be the stiffest test the Bobcats face all year. For their shortcomings, Marshall has gone 12-5 at home the past three seasons.

#25 BYU at Utah– The loss to Utah State by Utah lost week took some of the luster off this game, as does the fact it no longer concludes the regular season, and the two no longer share a conference. But that doesn’t mean the Holy War is any less unholy between the combatants.

Utah’s disappointing loss stung even more when quarterback Jordan Wynn announced he was no longer playing football due to recurring injuries to his shoulder. So that leaves the quarterback position in disaray, and when that happened last year, the Utah offense fell apart.

With UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State all being impressive in the opening two weeks of the season, Utah suddenly seems destined for the bottom of the barrel in the Pac 12 South. An upset victory on homecoming over the visiting Cougars could do wonders to turning the season back in the right direction. The Utes have been to a bowl for nine straight seasons, though that looks like it could be in jeopardy this season.

BYU quietly went 10-3 last season, but in their first year as an independent a less than daunting schedule kept BYU out of the top 25 at seasons end for the second straight year. Nevertheless, BYU has reached double digit victories in five of the past six seasons, and this team seems destined to do the same.

The Cougars face four tough road challenges, and Utah is one of them. Securing a victory over the Utes would certainly leave BYU on the fast track towards another 10 win season.

The weapons on offense are certainly in lace. Receivers Ross Apo and Cody Hoffman return, having combined for 95 catches and 19 touchdowns a year ago.

Defensively, the top five tacklers from a stingy defense in 2011 are all also back, and they allowed just six points in a 30-6 victory over Washington State in the season opener. They allowed only 13 in the subsequent 45-13 route of Weber State.

Last year Utah embarrassed BYU 54-10, and you better believe Cougar players and coaches haven’t forgotten a moment of it. BYU was -5 in the turnover battle that day, and it lead to their 7th loss in the last 10 games with Utah. That’s a trend the folks in Provo aren’t happy about, and expect to be turned around, starting Saturday.

Houston at #22 UCLA– How do you go from 12-0 and your schools first ever BCS berth to losing 30-13 to a team playing its first ever game at the FBS level? Ask Houston head coach Tony Levine. He managed to do just that in his first game as Cougar coach.

Last season the Cougars were a Conference USA championship game win over Southern Miss away from a potential Sugar Bowl invite. Then came a 49-28 loss, and the loss of three record setting recievers, and the loss of record setting quarterback Case Keenum. The result? Yeah, that embarrassing 17 point loss at home to Texas State.

At lesat in the second game of the year against Louisiana Tech the offense showed back up, scoring 49 points as the two schools set a records for most first downs in a game. Unfortunately the defense allowed 56.

UCLA meanwhile, which hasn’t lost fewer than six games in a season since the 10-2 year of 2005, is 2-0 under first year coach Jim Mora. The upset of Nebraska also propelled the Bruins into the top 25 for the first time since 2007, when they lost 44-6 to Utah in the third game of the season.

The Bruins aren’t an overly talented lot on offense, but the defense, despite the loss of linebacker and returning leading tackler Patrick Larimore, is. A young unit was often abused las tyear, allowing over 31 points and nearly 420 yards per game. But they took their lumps, and even without Larimore, return eight of their top ten tacklers from a year ago.

One area of concern, that could bite them against Houston, is the lack of a pass rush. UCLA only had 14 sacks last season, but the hope is the return of all three defensive line starters, and both outside linebackers, that will change in 2012. Last week they managed to harrass Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez into a bad game.

With Oregon State at home and Colorado in Boulder their next two games on the schedule, there is little reason to think UCLA can’t be 5-0 before playing California on the road. It’s been a while since UCLA made a meaningful October game, and they should this season.

However, Houston still has talented players, Jim Mora is still the UCLA coach, and this program in recent years has had a tendency to completely forget to show up at times. So this game isn’t exactly written in ink as W just yet.   

Bowling Green at Toledo- You may be wondering what on earth I’m thinking here, but remember, Bowling Green played Florida awfully tough at the swamp, and this is a team with 17 starters back, including 10 on defense. If someone is going to dethrone Ohio in MAC West, it might be the Falcons.

On the other side, Toledo must replace seven starters on each side of the ball, and break in a new head coach. Yet despite that, Toledo only lost by seven to now ranked Arizona, and beat Wyoming, both on the road. The Rockets are 14-2 the past two years in conference play for a reason, though this year they hope to finally make it into the MAC title game.

With Western Michigan and Northern Illinois both on the road within the division, Toledo has to take care of business in their home games, especially against the other side.  It’s a big early season game for both teams.

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Your College Football Viewing Guide

Early Games

1. Auburn at Clemson 12:00 ABC

Auburn’s march to the national championship never should have even begun last year, as Clemson first threw, then kicked away, what should have been a sure win for the Tigers from South Carolina.

Clemson looked horrible against Wofford last Saturday, eeking out an eight point victory. The Terriers only completed two passes against Clemson, but they went for 127 yards and almost were enough as the Clemson defense surrendered 272 rushing yards at almost five yards per attempt.

You have to know that Michael Dyer is eagerly awaiting his shot at the Clemson run defense.

But it’s doubtful his mouth his watering any more than that of Clemson’s Andre Ellington . Remember that Mississippi State that team couldn’t move the ball to save their life against LSU? Ask Auburn what THEY think of the Bulldogs offense. Mississippi State rolled up over 300 yards on the ground.

Expect plenty of points in this one, so for entertainment purposes, it’s worth watching. And while not of the profile of the two Florida schools taking on big time opponents, it’s another game the ACC really needs to win to stop the rampant jokes about the ineptitude of the conference.

It could be easily argued that were Auburn on the road in their first two games, they’d be 0-2. They weren’t, and they aren’t. However, they are on the road this week, don’t expect the good fortune to continue.

If this particular game doesn’t grab your attention, perhaps it’s too much orange, too much Tiger, or not enough defense, there are still some appealing options to tune your television to.

2. West Virginia at Maryland 12:00 ESPNU

Much like the Clemson/Auburn tilt, this is another game the ACC really needs to win to try and starting earning some respect back. Did Maryland roll up 500 yards of offense on Miami because their offense is that good? Or was it because the Hurricanes were missing a pretty heavy portion of their front seven?

It’s hard to really get a read on West Virginia after two games with weaker opponents. However, when you look around the country and see the number of AQ schools struggling with lesser opponents, even FCS foes, there is something to be said for taking your weaker foes and handling them in the manner that is expected of you.

The key of course will be how well Maryland can contain Geno Smith.

For West Virginia, they know they have LSU visiting Morgantown next week, and you can’t help but think the look ahead factor will come into play this week for the Mountaineers. If they realize too late that they are indeed facing a pretty good Maryland team, a lot of luster from that LSU game will be gone.

3. Penn State at Temple 12:00 ESPN

Temple may in fact be 0-35-1 against Penn State since 1943, and they may have indeed been outgained by 237 yards in last year’s battle in Happy Valley, despite only losing by 9. However, if you’re looking for a game that might surprise you, look no further.

If you haven’t heard of Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown, take a gander at this one. The pair combined for over 1500 yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago for the Owls, and are both back in the backfield in 2011. They’ve already combined for over 400 yards and six scores in just two games this year.

Akron isn’t exactly Alabama, yes, I’m aware, but sleeping too hard on the Owls is a dangerous proposition for Penn State. For the second year in a row Penn State took on Alabama, hoping to prove they have the talent and size and speed to hang with the nation’s big boys. For the second year in a row Penn State was reminded they still have a long ways to go.

The let down of this, couple with Temple’s desire to end the losing streak may mean you just wanna keep this game as part of your early afternoon rotation.

Pittsburgh at Iowa 12:00 ESPN2-

Two years ago, this game would have been a huge matchup. In 2011? Well, how excited do you get about a team who just lost to Iowa State going up against a squad who struggled to beat both Maine and Buffalo? Well, you don’t. It’s the match-up of two sexy names that just don’t bring the sexiness.

Kansas at Georgia Tech 12:30 FSN

That Georgia Tech is playing Kansas in a “revenge” game, speaks volumes. However, the Jayhawks, for all their weaknesses, figure to offer a slightly stiffer test than the first two the Yellow Jackets have faced, don’t they? It will be interesting to see if the Tech offense continues to roll the way they have in the first two weeks.

Afternoon Games

1. Tennessee at Florida 3:30 CBS

Tennessee hasn’t even played Florida to within single digits since 2006, as part of a six game losing streak for the Vols to the hated Gators. If the trend is to start reversing, this Saturday afternoon better be the day it happens, otherwise……

Tyler Bray is an impressive young quarterback for Tennessee who is just itching to bust out in a big way on a national stage. It doesn’t get a lot more national than this.

With the SEC East very winnable for all of the usual suspects, much like the Georgia/South Carolina game, the loser faces an uphill battle coming out of the losers bracket. For once though, Florida might be the team who can least afford this loss.

The Vols only play three more road games the rest of the season, and neither Georgia or South Carolina comprise any of those road trips.

For Florida, they play Kentucky next week before an absolutely brutal stretch that consists of LSU in The Swamp, then a road trip into Alabama to take on both the Crimson Tide and the Tigers, and then lastly their clash with Georgia, followed two weeks later by playing South Carolina on the road. Florida can absolutely not afford to enter that stretch with a loss in SEC play, division play no less.

This is going to be SEC football at it’s best. The intensity will be huge, and the defenses will probably be the story of the day. It will come down to which quarterback can make a few more plays.

Florida, with Chris Rainey and Will Demps, surrounds Jeff Brantley with more elite playmakers than Tennessee is able to field around Bray. However, Brantley’s confidence is shaky, and a sluggish start against the Vols could lead to a quick unraveling.

Tennessee’s defense still has SEC caliber athletes on it, if Brantley can’t do the job, the pure athleticism of the likes of Demps and Rainey won’t be enough.

Look for Tennessee to suddenly make the SEC East race very, very interesting.

2. Michigan State at Notre Dame 3:30 NBC

In case you’ve forgotten, last Saturday night the Notre Dame defense forgot to play the fourth quarter against the “other” team from Michigan and promptly collapsed their way to an 0-2 start.

If it’s not their own offense self destructing in the red zone, as was the case against South Florida, it’s their defense completely forgetting what the job of a defense in football actually is.

It doesn’t get easier with Michigan State marching into South Bend. The Spartans are still likely smarting from the whipping they received at the hands of Alabama in the Capital One Bowl in their last appearance in front of the nation. They’d love nothing more than to send Notre Dame to an 0-3 start while affirming that perhaps last year’s 11-2 season was no fluke.

Yes, they’ve been cupcakes, but there is still no way to argue with the results from the Spartans defense. They’ve allowed a mere six points over their first two games, including a stifling performance against Florida Atlantic. The Spartans yielded just ONE first down, and less than 50 yards of offense.

The Spartans offense probably will be the toughest Notre Dame has faced yet. For all of Denard Robinson’s explosiveness, Michigan State may have the more balanced, complete offensive unit. The backfield is deep, and Cousins is considered one of the Big Ten’s elite quarterbacks.

Clearly, on paper, Notre Dame should start this season 0-3, and wouldn’t that be a story. This was the year the Irish were supposed to return to a BCS bowl, and restore the luster to the Golden Dome, and well, all the other garbage we’ve been hearing out of South Bend. In this particular contest we’ll find out if it’s just more smoke being blown up our asses, or if Notre Dame is serious about contending.

Something tells me that this team with shaky confidence is going to be on life support after the Spartans roll through.

3. Texas at UCLA 3:30 ABC

If you listen to coaches and fans of both programs, both would have you believe they’re on the way “back”. Though when it comes to that, Texas clearly has less a distance to travel to get “back”. For many, they have no memory of UCLA being consistently relevant on the national stage.

Losing to Houston in the first week of the season certainly didn’t do anything to help UCLA’s cause. Neither did needing ten fourth quarter points to survive mighty San Jose State last Saturday.

Texas may have beaten BYU on Saturday, but it was anything but pretty, and BYU has looked anything but an elite team. For UCLA, it’s pretty obvious they’re nowhere close to being an elite program.  However, for Texas, a loss to these Bruins would cause those tremors of doubt following last year to start turning into full blown concern.

At the end of the day though, Texas just has more talent and is still the better football team. They better hope it shows up on the scoreboard though.

Washington at Nebraska 3:30 ABC

The only things you need to know for this rematch of last year’s bowl game rematch, is this: Jake Locker will not play, Christian Martinez will.

Virginia at North Carolina 3:30 ESPNU

Two programs headed in opposite directions? Very possible. The stunning aftermath of last year’s disappointment in Chapel Hill probably still hasn’t completely settled over the football program. Last year’s run at the ACC title of course never materialized with the amount of key players suspended, and now the coach responsible for the influx of talent at North Carolina is no longer in charge.

The Tar Heels rolled over James Madison before barely escaping Rutgers in week two, as the Heels prepare for two critical games on their schedule. Virginia visiting Chapel Hill will be followed by a trip to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech. That’s two division games right off the bat for North Carolina. Drop one at home to Virginia, a predicted conference bottom feeder, and suddenly the thought that this program is going to suffer a sharp nose dive without Butch Davis becomes very real.

For Virginia, Mike London is still in rebuilding mode, but there are reasons to think progress is happening. For starters, the Cavaliers did return 18 starters, including 10 on defense. Unfortunately it’s a defense that was gashed for 204 rushing yards per game at over 5 yards a carry a year ago.

While the defense showed improvement against Indiana last week, it must be remembered that it was Indiana. What also must be remembered is that Virginia was down with 6:30 to go in the football game.

This game is more about the fact that North Carolina, simply put, cannot afford to lose. If they do, it speaks volumes as to how far the Tar Heels have tumbled.

Night Cap

1. Oklahoma at Florida State 8:00 ABC

I can’t think of too much more that should be said about this game. This is THE game of the day, and we’ve all had this told to us several times over the course of the week by ESPN.

I know Florida State was embarrassed in Norman last year, we all know that. The question is, is this the same Florida State squad that got slaughtered last year, or is this a team improved enough to actually pose a threat to the Sooners?

Florida State fans will point to the fact that to close the 2010 season the ‘Noles took on SEC teams, defeating them both. True, fair enough. However, it wasn’t like Florida State went out and just whipped on SEC teams and beat them physically.

Florida State was +4 in the turnover battle against both South Carolina and Florida. South Carolina in fact had a 106 yard edge in total yards, playing without Stephen Garcia.

Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game also boasted a yardage advantage of over 100 yards. On four other occasions last year (Oklahoma 142, North Carolina 99, Clemson 84, Maryland 78) Florida State was outgained by more than 75 yards.

Yes, the Seminoles boast 16 returning starters, yes E.J. Manuel could be a special talent, and yes they’ve rolled through their first two opponents setting up this battle. But are they good enough to beat Oklahoma?

They’ve got 16 starters back too, ya know, including their own special talent at quarterback. The Sooners also don’t turn the ball over, which is what Florida State will need to force them to do to have a chance.

Granted, the two games Oklahoma lost last season were both on the road, to teams you might say this Florida State squad is better than. So no, it wouldn’t be fair to say Florida State doesn’t have a chance. But it’s fair to say it’s not a good one.

The key may be Greg Reid. Be it via special teams, or perhaps an early interception of Landry Jones, big plays from Reid getting the crowd and momentum on Florida State’s side could go a long way to helping the Seminoles stay in the game. And you know what they say about letting an opponent hang around too long, especially when on the road.

2. Ohio State at Miami 7:30 ESPN

From the standpoint of big time programs, big names, and all the marketing aspects, this game easily becomes must see television.

From the standpoint of what it really matters though, maybe not so much.

For all we know, in a couple of years the NCAA is very likely to tell us that this game never actually happened, so it might just be a foolish waste of time to watch a game that ultimately we’ll be told never took place.

In any event, one storyline that no suspensions, no future vacating of games, no off field troubles can eliminate, is that of the ACC desperately seeking approval from the nation.

To avoid further embarrassment, one can only hope Jacory Harris spent his time while suspended familiarizing himself with the Hurricanes orange jerseys and white helmets, and understanding he’s not supposed to throw the ball to the guys in silver helmets.

If Harris can do that, the Hurricanes might have a chance. And while, beating up on Ohio State is a favorite past-time of the SEC, it’s something the ACC would love to say it did too.

Whatever happens with Oklahoma and Florida State, it’s this game, coupled with Maryland and Clemson that might actually do more to help prove the ACC has a little bit of football depth, and it’s the joke it’s thought by even it’s most ardent defenders to be.

3. Navy at South Carolina 6:00 ESPN2

South Carolina could be on of the most overrated teams in college football right now. Having seen them play twice, I don’t see how someone sees this team as one of the ten best in college football.

Is it because they won a weak SEC East last year? Do people remember how they closed the year? a 56-17 blowout loss to Auburn, followed up by a loss in the bowl game to Florida State.

The early returns this year don’t much to convince you that this team is elite either.

The vaunted Gamecock defense of a year ago has allowed 39.5 points and over 400 yards per game over their first two contests. They just watched Georgia freshmen Isaiah Crowell pace the Bulldogs to 188 yards on the ground.

Consider this as well, which is more frightening if you are a Gamecock fan, South Carolina has forced 8 turnovers in two games, and STILL allowed 40 points per game.

So you have a defense that’s got some issues that need to be worked out, so how do you work on them? You get to defend the triple option from Navy.

Navy has averaged almost nine wins a year the last eight seasons for a reason, because they can run the football. Clearly, Delaware and Western Kentucky are not South Carolina, this much is known.

But this is a dangerous game for the Gamecocks. They need to work on fundamentals on defense and getting back to what they do best, and they get the wrench of defending this offense this week.

Fortunately for South Carolina, beginning this week with Navy they play four straight home games, with the toughest opponent, per the national rankings, being a weakened Auburn team.

Unfortuantely for South Carolina, Auburn is next on the schedule, and Auburn’s offense has shown plenty of scoring ability. So does South Carolina spend time this week putting in extra preparation for the Navy offense, or do they try and patch up their own holes with an eye towards Auburn next week.

There’s also the little matter of coming off a huge SEC road win giving themselves the upper hand in the East, while preparing for a revenge game against a foe they desperately want a crack at.

I’m not saying Navy will win, but this is a trap game if there ever was one.

Syracuse at USC 8:00 FX

USC has been anything BUT impressive in their early season home victories over Minnesota and Utah, and Lane Kiffin has made it clear that he doesn’t have very many good players on his team. But, he has more good players than a Syracuse team who had to hang on to beat Rhode Island at home last week.

However, one would also think Syracuse is a better team than Minnesota, and the Gophers arguably could have beaten the Trojans in week one. With Toledo, Rutgers, and Tulane in the following weeks, a Syracuse shocker tonight could leave the Orange sitting pretty looking at potentially a second straight eight win season.

It also makes them even more attractive to the ACC.

Utah at BYU 9:15 ESPN2

It’s not the season’s final game. It’s not even a conference game. It’s no longer two non-AQ heavyweights doing battle trying to crash the BCS party. So, in many ways, nationally, it’s no longer that revelant.

What it is though, is a nasty rivalry. And a really competitive one at that. Amazingly, 12 of the last 14 games have been settled by a touchdown or less. That probably doesn’t change this year.

Oklahoma State at Tulsa 10:00 FSN

The suspension of Tulsa’s Damaris Johnson takes away the bulk of the luster from this game. Instead, of watching two elite receivers and playmakers get their hands on the ball all night, we should just be watching Justin Blackmon help Oklahoma State roll to a lopsided victory.

LATE LATE Night

Stanford at Arizona 10:45 ESPN

If for no other reason than it’s a chance to watch Andrew Luck, eyes should be peeled to this football game. Considering Landry Jones will have just finished going up against Florida State, take the time to check out to other prime Heisman candidate.

As for the results of the game itself, whether or not there is a chance for it to be competitive will be determined by the status of Arizona wide receiver Juron Criner. As of now Criner is listed as questionable, sans one of the nations elite receivers, as good as Nick Foles is at quarterback, the chances of Arizona keeping pace with Stanford become slim to none. This is a Wildcat offense that is averaging less than 60 yards per game on the ground, so taking away their biggest threat on offense in the passing game would be too much to overcome.

Furthermore, the Wildcats just haven’t been the same since their 42-17 blowout loss to Stanford last season. Arizona was ranked 13th in the country with a 7-1 record. They are 1-6 since that loss. Make it 1-7, and with Oregon and USC looming on the schedule, it may make it to 1-9 and head coach Mike Stoops may not make it to the second week of October.

So there you go, keep your remote clicking, the drinks cold, and the wife off your case. Enjoy your Saturday.

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