Tag Archives: Maryland Terrapins

Must Win Games in Week Three? You Betcha

South Carolina finds themselves in a must win situation, and would Steve Spurrier rather be playing anyone than Georgia?

South Carolina finds themselves in a must win situation, and would Steve Spurrier rather be playing anyone than Georgia?

There is still yet another weekend of September games on the schedule, but already in week three, some teams and coaches are feeling the heat. For some coaches, they’re fighting for their job. For some teams, their chance to spoil the college football playoff party as a dark horse may be dependent on a key early season victory, and for some, they’re neither here nor there, but need a win in the worst way to keep a season from spiraling out of control before it ever really gets started.

For starters, there are a few teams with a chance to make big time statements and propel themselves into the playoff discussion, while a loss this week would probably drop them too far behind the pack to be able to recover, either due to the depth of their fall, or the arduous task that would lie in front of them asking them to not lose another game all season.

#14 Georgia Tech at #8 Notre Dame– This one I went back and forth on as to just how important it is to each team, and finally decided, that if either one wants to make the playoff, they can’t lose this game. And that has more to do with their schedules the rest of the way than it does how far a loss on Saturday might drop them. The odds of either team running the table from Saturday going forward aren’t good, which is what it would require for either to get back into the playoff race. Georgia Tech faces what could amount to be one of the most daunting schedules in all of college football, and while the Irish slate isn’t as difficult, the presence of Clemson, USC and Stanford means Notre Dame would really like to have some margin for error as they head into the cooler months of the season. So while both teams potentially could recover from this loss, both teams know that their best shot at being in the college playoff conversation in November is probably dependent on getting out of September without a loss. With the ACC and the Independent Irish on the outside looking in when it comes to playoff prognostications, every win over a highly ranked foe is critical to obtain, and they can’t afford to let those opportunities slip away.

Stanford at #6 USC- Last year Stanford saw their streak of double digit win seasons snapped at four, all the more impressive considering they’d never posted back to back double digit win seasons in their school’s history. Many felt that was an aberration for David Shaw and the Cardinal however and several pundits predicted the Cardinal would be right back in the playoff mix, and even potentially dethrone Oregon in the Pac 12 North. Then the season began and the Cardinal were physically dominated by Northwestern in one of the more stunning outcomes to date during the 2015 season. While Stanford can afford to lose to USC and still win the Pac 12, they absolutely cannot afford to lose this game and still have any shot at making the college football playoff. It says a lot about where Stanford has come as a program that that is the level of expectation no only in Palo Alto, but nationwide. But a second loss in three games to start the year will have them re-evaluating those expectations very quickly.

Temple at UMass- No, I’m not crazy. And no, I’m not implying Temple is a threat for the college football playoff. However, with their dominant victory over Penn State, and then subsequent win on the road at American Athletic Conference favorite Cincinnati, along with a loss by Boise State to BYU, Temple suddenly has a very legit opportunity to be competing for one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. Yes, Temple, they of 4 bowl games in 67 years of existence. That Temple. But to do so, aside from the Notre Dame game, Temple simply can’t slip up. At all. Every game becomes a must win game for the Owls. But what a story that would be. And they’ve already navigated what most would have considered two of their three toughest tests. Until Temple loses, expect to see them on this page every week from here until the end of the season.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of teams fighting to stay in the race for a national title, you have the coaches fighting to keep their seat from scalding their rear ends as they put for sale signs in their yard. Often times, once the whispers start getting louder, the writing is on the wall. And early season struggles for a coach who came in with the seat anywhere from lukewarm to blistering more often than not lead to a change at the top for the program.

South Florida at Maryland– Randy Edsal was not brought to College Park to go 7-6. Considering that the man he replaced at Maryland won more than 7 games in 6 of his 10 seasons as the head coach, Edsal can’t afford to begin his tenure with five consecutive seasons of failing to top the 7 win mark. After losing in embarrassing fashion to Bowling Green (who, as I’ve championed all along, as a very underrated and explosive offense) Edsal could find himself in real trouble if they slip up again to a weak Bulls program. The Big Ten schedule did Maryland no favors, so if the Terps fail to make a bowl this year and have losses to Bowling Green and South Florida on the resume, Edsal might need to start preparing his.

Illinois at North Carolina– Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels have seen a decrease in their number of wins in both his second and third year on the job, not exactly the direction you want your program to go. 2014 was supposed to be the big turnaround, and it became the biggest disappointment. But with so many starters back on both sides of the ball, and what promised to be a highly explosive, borderline unstoppable offense in Chapel Hill, many, including myself, tabbed Carolina as a sleeper this year. Then the offense slept the entire way through the South Carolina game and had us wondering why we put any faith in the Tar Heels. Illinois may be 2-0, but after the firing of Tim Beckham in August and the uncertainty with that program, along with a lack of talent, losing at home to them is unacceptable for any coach of any program that thinks of themselves as being relevant in college football. The Heels still have a favorable ACC schedule, and have yet to begin conference play, so those goals will still be out there. But it’s going to be awfully difficult to focus on those tasks with what promises to be a whirlwind of rumors and whispers surrounding the future of the program. Couple that with the seemingly never ending cloud of NCAA investigations, and a loss to Illinois could be the straw that breaks the camels back in Chapel Hill.

Virginia Tech at Purdue– This game is far more important than I think many casual observers probably think. Whispers about the future of Frank Beamer and whether or not it was time to hang it up at Virginia Tech have begun to get louder and louder in recent years. Especially as the hallmarks of “Beamer Ball”, his special teams units, have fallen drastically to the point they are no longer a strength, they’re a legit weakness. With a mere 23 wins and no top 25 rankings over the past three years have the program at a potential crossroads. Beamer and the Hokies suffered a bad break when quarterback Michael Brewer went down, but that injury may not be enough to save Beamer if the Hokies suffer to another 5 or 6 loss season. Much like the situation at North Carolina, the schedule is still favorable for conference play, and the Hokies will still control that aspect of their destiny, but losing to a Purdue team that entered the year considered among the worst among all power five conference teams would turn the whispers into full fledged open conversation, and the 2015 Virginia Tech season will be more about what the future of the program holds and less about what they can accomplish this year.

Speaking of Purdue, the Boilermakers went 13-13 in what amounted to the final two seasons Danny Hope was on the job. In the two ensuing seasons they went 4-20 while being rendered for the most part completely uncompetitive. How patient will Purdue remain? The Big Ten schedule for Purdue is disastrous, with only the home games against Indiana and Illinois really seeming to be winnable at this point, so the thoughts of sneaking into a bowl game seem slim, at best. That said, if the team can be competitive in the Big Ten, even if they go 2-6, but can come away with a victory over a team like Virginia Tech, it might be enough to give Darrell Hazell a fourth year on the job. With the Hokies still having all sorts of concerns at quarterback after the Brewer injury, this is one Purdue can get, and at home, needs to get, if Hazell is going to stick around.

Western Kentucky at Indiana– There are many, yours truly included, who just don’t understand how Kevin Wilson still has a job at Indiana. I think we’ve had him on the hot seat for successive years now, and yet, here he is, despite never finishing .500 or qualifying for a bowl in four years on the job. With games against Wake Forest, Rutgers, Maryland, and Purdue still on the schedule, Hoosier fans have a glimmer of hope that this will be the year they return to a bowl game, for what would be just their second postseason appearance over 22 seasons. But after narrowly escaping against Southern Illinois, no game can be chalked up as a W. But if Indiana is going to make a bowl, which this time HAS to be the only way Kevin Wilson gets to back for another year, they absolutely must win a home game against Western Kentucky.

Rutgers at Penn State– With the Kyle Flood allegations and suspensions, Rutgers has officially become the biggest dumpster fire in college football. Just don’t tell that to Penn State fans. Getting blown out by Temple and then struggling to beat Buffalo isn’t what Penn State does. Ever. But it’s what this Penn State does. The Nittany Lions are 4-7 in their last 11 games, including losses at home to Illinois, Maryland and Northwestern, and then the opening week embarrassment at the hands of Temple. Even more disconcerting is the development, or the lack thereof, of Christian Hackenberg. While scouts drool over his physical attributes, his play has worsened since his freshmen year. Many fans wonder aloud how he fared so much better as a freshman under Bill O’Brien than as a junior under James Franklin. These fans will not settle for this. If they cannot take advantage of the mess that is the Rutgers football program and they fall to 1-2 to start the year, the heat on James Franklin, even in just his second year, will ramp up exponentially. One could look to a rather soft conference schedule as a beacon of hope, but, Rutgers is supposed to be the soft part of that schedule. If they can’t take care of business this week, the ball might begin to get rolling on James Franklin.

When a quarterback regresses to this level from his freshman year, confidence in the head coach begins to wane.

When a quarterback regresses to this level from his freshman year, confidence in the head coach begins to wane.

And finally, there are those who are fighting to salvage a season. No, there is no real job security issue with the head coach, and they were never a threat for the playoffs, but their 2015 seasons have not gotten off to the start they expected, and a loss this week could have them well behind the eight ball as we ramp up conference play.

#11 Clemson at Louisville– Personally I take great joy in seeing the Cardinals 0-2. It’s nothing against Louisville, well, it is now, but I love seeing Bobby Petrino fail. I especially love to see how he’s failed. The Cardinals are still talented enough on defense, and Petrino is still smart enough of an offensive mind that this team can still play spoiler in the ACC Atlantic Division. However, an 0-3 start could prove disastrous, because after Samford, Louisville has to play N.C. State and Florida State on the road. 1-5 is a problem anywhere, for any coach, of any program.

South Carolina at #7 Georgia- After the unimpressive win over North Carolina, and the twice as unimpressive loss to Kentucky, South Carolina looks in real trouble. The fact that Connor Mitch is out, potentially for the season, puts an even bigger damper on the inauspicious 1-1 start. The loss to Kentucky by South Carolina takes a bit of the pressure off of Georgia. In years past, an early season loss to the Gamecocks would leave the Bulldog Nation scoreboard watching the rest of the year in hopes of still recovering to play in the Georgia Dame for the SEC championship. With Kentucky already having handed South Carolina a division less, it takes some of the impetus off this game for Georgia. But staring an 0-2 start in the division in the face, it magnifies it ten fold for the Gamecocks. With a road schedule that includes Missouri, Texas A&M and Tennessee, a loss to Georgia suddenly makes the thought of South Carolina missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2007 a real possibility.

Furman at Central Florida– Over the last five seasons, Central Florida has reached unprecedented and unexpected heights. They’ve christened their new on campus stadium by winning 47 games over that stretch, three times amassing double digit figures in wins as well as winning a Fiesta Bowl and finishing the year in the top 10. 2015 has been much different. It started with a shocking loss to Florida International. That was followed by a dreadful performance against Stanford where the Knights weren’t even remotely competitive. Hopes of returning to the postseason are already on life support, but a loss to Furman would pretty much end them all together. Additionally, rumors continue to swirl about the future of George O’Leary and how much longer he plans to remain the head coach and whether or not he moves on to an administrative role. An 0-3 start, including losses to FIU and Furman might be the most persuasive voice in his ear. Any hopes of salvaging the 2015 campaign rest on righting the ship this Saturday.

Texas Tech at Arkansas– This may not be as much about Arkansas as it is the SEC. The Hogs suffered some off-season attrition, and some of the pre-season prognostications were probably a bit over zealous. However, they still shouldn’t lose at home to Toledo. Now they get to welcome Texas Tech into town, and while the Red Raiders aren’t receiving a lot of love nationally, they have scored 128 points in two games. Of course, they always score points. But the Red Raiders would love nothing more than to earn some national respect while also pouring some salt in the wounds of the SEC from last week. And that’s why this is so dangerous for Arkansas. Texas Tech is coming in with no pressure looking to prove a point. Arkansas takes a gander at their upcoming schedule and one could reasonably ask, if they lose this game, where does their next win against an FBS opponent come from? That’s a scary proposition, and when you’re 1-2 having lost at home to Toledo and Texas Tech, you’re not exactly brimming with the confidence necessary to take on the SEC schedule that awaits. A loss this weekend to the Hogs could be disastrous.

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Coaching Carousel About to Get Rolling

Pack Your Bags:

Will Muschamp, Florida- Other than Brady Hoke, is there a more dead in the water coach than Muschamp? His only saving grace was going to be Treon Harris and the ability to still win a very watered down SEC East. Now that Harris is suspended indefinitely, the Gators are once again the team that couldn’t do anything against Tennessee’s defense, and the team that will struggle to make a bowl game. Add to that, a second backup quarterback is getting in fights with freshmen defensive linemen, and the Gators program is one giant mess. Being Florida, the list of potential replacement will be long, and full of top flight coaching talent. Personally, I think Doc Holiday is who they should go after. Either way, unless Florida wins the division, which with Driskel at the helm simply won’t happen, Muschamp is gone. He might be gone regardless. The program is in flux, and it’s not winning. That’s a bad thing if you’re a head coach.

Brady Hoke, Michigan- As mentioned, he’s the only one on Muschamp’s level right now. Like Muschamp, Hoke went 11-2 in his first year, and like Muschamp has overseen a steady nosedive ever since. Their yardage differential in conference play has gotten worse by about 55 yards per game in each of the last two seasons, and one can only shudder to think what it will be in 2014. Getting dominated by Minnesota was bad, being Rutgers first conference win, even worse. On top of that there is the bizarre handling of Shane Morris’ injury. Hoke won’t be back. Muschamp at least has ways he can save his job, potentially. Hoke? He’ll be lucky if Michigan doesn’t lose 10 games this year.

Bobby Hauck, UNLV- You would think taking a program to just their second bowl in two decades, and first in 13 years, as Hauck did a year ago, you’d reap some rewards. And Hauck did. He’s still there. Hauck went 6-32 in his first three years years at UNLV, a mark that gets you fired just about anywhere, but he was retained for a fourth year and the program was rewarded with a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Unfortunately, that was a mirage. They’re winless to begin 2014, and the most competitive they’ve been was a 14 point loss to Northern Illinois. They’ve scored more than 17 points just once in five games, while allowing 33 or more every single time on the field. They’re not just losing, they’re completely uncompetitive. Losing 33-10 to San Jose State alone should be considered fireable, but when that’s the second most competitive you’ve been in a game all season long………

Have a Good Real Estate Agent On Speed Dial:

Kevin Wilson, Indiana- It’s put up or shut up time in Bloomington, and to date, it’s still hard to tell which Indiana is going to do. There was the terrible loss to Bowling Green in week three that was followed by the huge win in Columbia against a ranked Missouri team. Do the two cancel each other out? Probably, and the win might even carry more weight. But that win only carries weight if Indiana, in the very, very least, makes a bowl game this season. At 3-2, with Iowa, Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers and Purdue among those on the remaining schedule, if Indiana can’t get the necessary six wins to be in the post season, there’s no way Wilson is brought back for a fifth year. Seventeen starters returned from last year year’s team, if he can’t get it done in 2014, he’s not going to get it done.

Tim Beckman, Illinois- Illinois has faced two quality opponents (Washington and Nebraska) this year, and allowed 44 plus points to both of them in games they were never even remotely competitive in. They’ve also allowed 34 to Western Kentucky, 35 to Texas State and 38 to Purdue. There’s not an FBS team they’ve played that hasn’t put at least 34 points on the board against them. The Purdue game is the most damning, as the Boilermakers are just plain bad this year. Losing by 11 at home to Purdue is not something you can afford to do when trying to convince people that in your third year you have the program moving in the right direction. A 5-7 season likely grants Beckman another year, but if finish the year losing 8 in a row, or 9 of 10, I’m not sure he gets that fourth season.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina- This was supposed to be the year the Tar Heels took the proverbial next step and became legitimate ACC contenders, or at least, champions of the Coastal division. Instead, they’re a punch line. The Tar Heel basketball team would likely yield fewer points to East Carolina and Clemson than did the football team, and in a year of heightened expectations, that isn’t acceptable. To be fired, Carolina would have to go in to full on implosion mode, but with Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Miami as their next four opponents, and only the Yellow Jackets being in Chapel Hill, full on implosion isn’t too far-fetched. If North Carolina is 2-7 when they begin their final three games of the season, all games they could potentially lose as well, the cries for Fedora’s job will ring louder than the victory bell Duke will be ringing for a third straight season.

Al Golden, Miami- It’s too early in the year to throw dirt on his grave, but he’s a lot closer to packing his bags than he is renewing that country club membership. Miami hasn’t won double-digit games in over a decade, Golden was supposed to fix that. Instead he’s lost two of his first three ACC games, in the process getting clubbed for a second straight year by Louisville, and losing to Georgia Tech for the first since 2008. They still have to play both Virginia schools on the road, and Florida State still comes Sun Life Stadium. At this point, Miami will be clawing to finish .500. Of course, it’s still possible they win this division. Possible though, doesn’t mean likely.

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia- At 3-2, the Mountaineers are one win away from equaling last year’s total, so they’re showing a great deal of progress, especially when you consider their losses were respectable showings against Alabama and Oklahoma. But when you consider the program hadn’t lost more than 4 games in a season for seven consecutive season before Holgorsen’s taking over as head coach, “improvement” may not be enough. West Virginia fans are mad they ever fell far enough that finishing .500 was indicative of improvement. Obviously the change in conference had a lot to do with that, but TCU seems to have adapted quite nicely in this, their third season in the Big 12. Unfortunately for West Virginia, their home conference schedule drew Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU, and Kansas State, the toughest teams in the league. So the road schedule is where the majority of their winnable games lie. Finding three more wins on this schedule is tough, and without them, finding Holgorsen here in 2015 seems equally as tough.

Paul Rhoads, Iowa State- I’ve been championing Iowa State as a team that’s better than their record indicates, but at 1-4, at the end of the day, you are what your record says you are. Rhoads won seven games his first year in Ames, and then proceeded to lose seven in each of the next three seasons before slipping to 3-9 last year. As they enter the second half of the season, 3-9 seems a lot more likely than 6-7. Having Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Texas and Toledo left on the schedule though does leave hope that they can find six wins, but it’s a flickering hope that’s fading fast. Winning all five of those is beyond daunting, but not as daunting as beating Oklahoma or TCU seems at this point. Rhoads isn’t packing his bags yet though because there is still hope. Lose at home to Toledo on homecoming though, and the hope is gone.

Bill Blankenship, Tulsa- The only reason I don’t have him as effectively gone is that I don’t have as much access to people in the know with the Tulsa program to know exactly what the mindset is over there. What I do know is he’s taken a team that was 11-3 two years into his reign, and just two years ago, and turned them overnight into a 3-9 squad. He’s turned that 3-9 squad into a team who has started this season 1-4, the only victory coming over a Tulane team who has only managed to beat SE Louisiana to this point. Tulsa lost by 29 to Florida Atlantic, and by 25 to Colorado State. They’re not even competitive with the solid mid major programs anymore. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the success achieved in 2012 was due far more to Todd Graham than it was Bill Blankenship. Memphis, Central Florida, and East Carolina still remain on this year’s schedule, making returning to a bowl less and less likely. What is likely is a return to 3-9, or worse. If that happens, the Golden Hurricane will be searching for a new coach. If they don’t win at Temple, and at home against South Florida in the next two weeks to get back to 3-4, I’d wager Blankenship is as good as gone.

Norm Chow, Hawaii- Does this need explanation? 3-9, 1-11, and now, 1-4. Yes, they were competitive against Washington, Oregon State and Colorado. But Northern Iowa was competitive against them, and they lost by two touchdowns to Rice. Chow was brought in because of his offensive prowess. His offenses have averaged 21.2, and 27.4 points per game. This season, they’ve scored 16 or less in three of their five games. They play three of their next four at home. If they don’t go at least split their next four, the writing will be on the wall. Really however, they need to take three of the next four.

Renew the Country Club Membership One More Year:

Randy Edsall, Maryland- If the Terps really wanted to make a change, it would have been done prior to moving into the Big Ten, so for Edsall to be fired, Maryland would have had to absolutely fall apart this year. That hasn’t happened. But Ohio State’s dominating victory at Byrd Stadium showed just how far Maryland is from really being competitive in the conference. With Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State still on the schedule, getting more than 7 wins this year seems a very tall task, so Edsall will enter next year with a warm seat and expectations of improvement.

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech- The way things look, not only can Johnson renew that membership for another year, he can go ahead and put himself down for several. Much to the chagrin of many Tech fans, myself included, it appears Paul Johnson is safe, and getting safer. Suddenly, this team who struggled with Wofford and needed a miracle to beat Georgia Southern (a far better team than initially credited for) is in complete control of the ACC Coastal division. At 5-0, barring a complete collapse, Johnson has assured himself of returning for at least one more year. If he wins the division, he probably buys three more.

Mike London, Virginia- No coach needed a fast start more than Mike London. At 4-2, with narrow losses to two ranked teams (at the time BYU was ranked, and with an all stars candidate quarterback) Virginia has shown the marked improvement that they had to show to give London any chance at keeping his job. However, he’s not out of the woods yet. The schedule does him no favors. Four of the next six are on the road, and all but one are divisional foes that were picked ahead of them in the pre-season. The only non divisional opponent is Florida State. In other words, even a bowl isn’t a guarantee at this point. While I don’t foresee them collapsing to that degree, finishing around 6-6, or 7-5 is still very, very possible, and that’s only going to buy London one more year. On the flip side, it’s also almost equally as likely they finish 8-4 or 9-3, and that, that would buy him a good deal of rope.

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Beyond the Marquee Games, Much on the Line Across the Country

Everybody and their mother knows at this point the college football schedule this weekend is jam packed with big time games in big time conferences with big time teams. But the gluttony of top 25 matchups though isn’t all that makes this weekend so spectacular. It’s the depth. The second, and even third tier games this weekend, are games that would have been in competition for prime time slots, or more national coverage during one of the earlier lackluster weekends in September. Your remote should be busy this weekend. And if you’re watching with someone who wants to see every game, and you don’t, you might want to find a separate television set.

We’ll start right off in the Big Ten with a couple of conference newcomers who thanks to Braxton Miller’s injury, Michigan’s implosion, and Penn State forgetting how to play football last weekend against Northwestern, find themselves relevant in the Big Ten’s Eastern division.

I don’t think anyone would have expected Rutgers to end the first half of their first year in the Big Ten at 5-1. Yet, that’s precisely what they can do if they defeat a Michigan team that, in addition to not being a very good football team, is also dealing with internal strife that makes any Bobby Petrino run program seem functional. Embattled athletic director Dave Brandon has said he would only consider firing coach Brady Hoke after the season is over. Yeah, tell that to maize and blue if they’re sitting at 2-4, 0-2 in the conference with the losses coming against Minnesota and Rutgers. The Knights though have to be kicking themselves, they know full well they should be playing to remain unbeaten, save a meltdown at home in the 4th quarter against Penn State. The Knights get into the real meat of their schedule in two weeks, and it’s still conceivable (no, I’m not a full believer in them yet) that they could lose as many as 4, 5, or even all, of their final six games. Making the postseason in their first year in the Big Ten was a reasonable lofty goal for the program, losing to Michigan would be a huge blow.

Meanwhile, Maryland is gaining believers by the week. Their only loss is to a better than advertised West Virginia team. Ohio State is not going to have an easy time in there. The first Big Ten home game too for the Terps? Gonna be a big deal in College Park. If Maryland pulls the upset, it turns the division on its ear, and welcomes a new contender to the mix. Personally, I’m not sure Maryland is quite there yet, as I think Ohio State is getting better and better each week. However, Maryland would do themselves, and the ACC, proud, by putting up a good fight. And if it’s close, late, the inexperience at quarterback for Ohio State could very well rear its ugly head.

The SEC schedule gets all the focus because of what’s going on in the west, but the east isn’t chop liver. Wait, I couldn’t say that without laughing, so yes, yes it is. It does not mean however there’s nothing compelling about the matchups Saturday.

Florida vs Tennessee is, well, Florida vs Tennessee. The East is such garbage, both still have a shot to win it. As of Today. When this one is over, we can pretty much eliminate one of them. And even for the victor, they’re still not going to be considered a favorite in the division, as South Carolina, Missouri and Georgia, for the time being, still lay claim to that title. But what is perhaps the more intriguing plot line here is the postseason fate of these two once proud programs.

Tennessee has only been to a bowl in four of the past nine years. Staying at home over the holidays this year would be the sixth time in a decade. The last time that happened? From 1955-1964. Yeah, it’s been fifty years since the Vols have seen that kinda of desolation. A loss to Florida drops them to 2-3, meaning even if we assume, and that’s a dangerous game at this point with a Vanderbilt team they’ve lost two straight against, and an improved Kentucky team, they beat Vandy, Kentucky, and Chattanooga, they must get a victory against either Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina, or Missouri. Now, if I were a betting man, I’d still bet the Vols get the required six wins to play in a bowl game, but with the first three of that quartet all in succession following Chattanooga, it’s not a risk Tennessee wants to take, or pressure they want to be under.

While I’d still bet on the Vols to make a bowl, even with a loss, I don’t feel the same way about Florida. Galen Hall was coaching the last time the Gators had successive seasons end in November, and that was only because probation denied them the postseason despite a 9-1 campaign in 1984, prior the a 6-5 1985 season. The last time Florida legitimately didn’t qualify for bowls in successive years? 1978 and 1979, the final year of Doug Dickey, and the first of Charley Pell. Because of the situation regarding the Idaho game, which Florida would be wise to find a way to play if they want to make a bowl, the Tennessee game is huge for Florida. Drop it, and they’ve seven games to find five wins. Do you see five wins against LSU, Missouri, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and Florida State? In this case, I wouldn’t bet on it.

As mentioned, the East is a dumpster fire, meaning Kentucky hosting South Carolina takes on new meaning. The Wildcats have shown great improvement this year, and the talent level is as high as it’s been in a long time in Lexington. South Carolina has only been impressive in one showing this year, and that was against a Georgia defense that is rivaled only by North Carolina and the Atlanta Falcons for ineptitude. You want a potential upset? Circle this one. The loss to Missouri means South Carolina is facing elimination with basically every SEC game they play from here on out, so the pressure is on.

The ACC Coastal division is a lot like the SEC East. Every game matters. But unlike the SEC West where they all matter because of how good everyone is, in these divisions it’s simply because nobody has shown to be good enough to separate themselves from the pack.

North Carolina and Virginia Tech both are approaching this game as a must win, though depending on the angle you’re approaching it from, you could argue either way in regards to who it is most important for. In terms of just the division race, the Hokies absolutely cannot afford another loss. Division tie breakers are likely to play a major role in determining who plays Florida State in December, and opening with two division losses is an easy way to put yourself well behind the eight ball.

On the Tar Heel side you have a team who is reeling from a lack of confidence, caused completely by a lack of defense. They’ve allowed 120 points in their last two games, not in any way looking the pre-season favorite to win the Coastal. The return of seven starters on defense had people thinking the Heels could make the leap this year. Unfortunately, of the four they lost, they lost three of their top four tacklers, including their best pass rusher, and team leader in interceptions. And it’s showing.

They’re fortunate that their ACC loss came out of the division though. Meaning, if they can scrape themselves off the ground and find a way to beat Virginia Tech, at home, where the Heels are 16-5 the past three years, they still are in complete control of their ACC championship hopes. But if the defense gets trounced by the Hokies, Larry Fedora might want to get a good real estate agent.

What makes the Carolina and Virginia Tech game even more important is that each of them already has a conference loss, something Pittsburgh and Virginia cannot say, and those two meet in Charlottesville, where one will come out still unscathed, and two games up on the loser of the Carolina, Virginia Tech tilt.

This one is hard to call. Pittsburgh has the nice win over Boston College, though their victory over USC is looking more flukish by the second, but has looked worse and worse in the two subsequent weeks, following to an uninspiring Iowa team, and then an embarrassing loss to Akron. Being at home, this is one Virginia absolutely must win if they’re serious about a big bounce back season. The Cavs have played three ranked teams this year, losing by 8 to each UCLA and BYU (who are both still unbeaten) and emerging victorious over Louisville. Is Virginia ready to contend in this division? That remains to be seen. But they’re not the same team they’ve been the last four years under Mike London while amassing an 8-24 conference record. These are the games programs like Virginia have to learn to win to keep rising. Fall here, and you look at the rest of the schedule, and it’s possible you don’t see another victory. There’s no way London survives the year if the Cavs don’t make a bowl game, and to do that, they absolutely cannot enter the second half of their season at 3-3.

Even with the intrigue surrounding the other two games, Miami at Georgia Tech is bigger than both. Georgia Tech knows they’re in the catbird seat, they have a win in hand against Virginia Tech, they know they get Duke and Virginia at home. They know they’ve pretty much had North Carolina’s number in recent years. The thorn in their side? Miami. The Jackets have dropped five in a row to the Hurricanes, and simply seem overmatched every time they meet. But none of that matters if the Jackets grab a win at home.

For Miami, they have to win this game to win the division. It’s that simple. The Hurricanes suffer from the unfair scheduling practice of matching up one cross division opponent with a permanent rival. Theirs of course is Florida State. Granted, it’s not impossible to suggest Miami can beat Florida State, especially with the way the Seminoles have played this year, but let’s be real, it’s not likely. Making matters worse this year was the fact they drew Louisville to pair with the Seminoles, and a 31-13 beat down at the hands of the Cardinals at Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville’s first ever SEC game put Miami in a hole. Overcoming one cross division loss can be done. Overcoming two in a division where you know the race is going to be tight, much more daunting. And to do so, you must take care of the head to head battles with the strongest competition. Personally, I think Miami wins and keeps this race wide open. But if they lose Saturday night, you can go ahead and eliminate them.

On the other side, despite both having already lost to Florida State and effectively eliminated themselves from contention for the division title, Clemson vs N.C. State is still important. Neither is gonna beat Florida State for the division, the only team with even a chance of that is Louisville. That said, both teams can reasonably set goals of a 10 win season. Clemson has a chance to be favored in every game from here on out, and they’d need to win every one of them to finish 10-2, or lose one and win their bowl game, but they can still put together a really strong season, and something to build on with standout freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson. Not to mention, four straight 10 win seasons is nothing to scoff at. The Wolfpack schedule might be even easier after this week. Survive Clemson at 5-1, finishing 5-1 is really, really doable. After losing nine a year ago, a nine win season would be considered a rousing success in Raleigh.

Out west, everyone knows who the contenders are matched up with this week, but there’s one more game that has caught my eyes. The Washington State Cougars are a much better team today than they were early in the season. I don’t think they’re going to go win any conference titles, but they’re going to play spoiler. Granted, the Oregon loss last night takes some of the shine off their strong showing against the Ducks, two weeks ago, but not much. If they could make a bowl after their lackluster start, that would be impressive. They’ll need to win Saturday to do that I believe though, the conference is too good, and too deep, to be able to survive losing to bottom tier teams and still make a bowl.

And basically, the same thing can be said about Cal, though they’ve actually begun 3-1, and are defending a hail mary away from 4-0. Arizona’s win over Oregon last night probably makes the sting of Cal’s last second loss to the Wildcats hurt even more. But Cal cannot dwell on that loss. What they can do is get off to a 4-1 start, something they haven’t done since 2009.

Kansas State showed some moxie, going toe to toe with Auburn a couple of weeks ago, and followed that up with a business as usual dismantling of a bad UTEP team. Saturday Kansas State will try to win a fourth straight meeting with Texas Tech for the first time in school history. The Wildcats have an off week after this, and then a trip to Norman to face Oklahoma, with essentially, everything on the line for them. The worry has to be keeping Kansas State focused on the Red Raiders. Texas Tech isn’t going to stop much of anything on defense, but they put up a good fight against Oklahoma State last week. The question, is that because J.W. Walsh is down, or because Texas Tech is getting better as a football team. After what Arkansas did to them on the ground, I expect Kansas State to do more of the same and set themselves up for a showdown with Oklahoma.

Speaking of Oklahoma State, they better be real careful this week at home against Iowa State. I know the Cyclones are 1-3, but if there’s such a thing as a solid 1-3 team, I think it’s this bunch. There is no shame in losing to North Dakota State, they’d be a legitimate top 25, maybe even top 15 team, in the FBS. They took Kansas State to the wire, and thus far, are the only team to stay within three scores of Baylor. Paul Rhoads is now 28-39 in Ames, and he knows the clock is ticking. Upsetting a name program like Oklahoma State may be the only way to catapult this team into a bowl, and perhaps save his job. With Toledo, Texas and Kansas among their next four games, a victory Saturday could certainly springboard a mid-season surge that gives them meaningful games to play in November.

East Carolina is THE favorite in the American conference, there’s no question about that. But should something happen to the Pirates, the line of teams behind them who could pounce is long. Last night Central Florida took a big step elevating themselves above the crowd and emerging as the chief threat to East Carolina by winning a hard-fought physical game in Houston.

On Saturday, either Cincinnati or Memphis will join them. Cincinnati is a very difficult team to read. They opened with two straight off weekends, and haven’t exactly been impressive in their wins over a pair of MAC foes, including a seven point win over a Miami of Ohio program that seems to spend every other year as one of the ten worst teams in the country. They were trying to use Ohio State as a measuring stick, and they were run out of the building in a matter of minutes. We’ll find out a lot more about them taking on a very game Memphis team.

The Tigers may be 2-2, but ask 20% of the top ten teams in the country what they feel about Memphis, and they’ll all tell you that when they played Memphis, they know they were in for a game. After nearly shocking UCLA in Pasadena, the Tigers three weeks later gave Ole Miss everything they wanted. Sure, 24-3 doesn’t look competitive, but that wasn’t the case at all. Until fourth quarter this game was very competitive. The Rebel defense was just too strong for Memphis, and eventually, the depth on the Tigers wore down. Don’t expect the same to happen with Cincinnati. The Tigers avoid Central Florida and East Carolina in an unbelievable gift from the scheduling gods, and with the only remaining conference road games being SMU, Temple and Tulane, if Memphis can win in Cincinnati, this is a team who becomes a very, very real threat to win the conference in their first year as a member.

The western version of the American Conference, the Mountain West has a pair of games this week that will help clear up where the contenders reside. The Boise State loss to Air Force last week was just further proof that the Broncos are no longer the program they once were. They’re staring down a second straight conference loss this week when they visit Nevada. Does anyone know the last time Boise State dropped consecutive conference games? Anybody? Bueller?

Nevada, is one of three teams who entered the year with legitimate hopes of winning the West division, and thus far, might have proven themselves the most capable. They’ve beaten Washington State and suffered a narrow loss at the hands of Arizona thus far in their two biggest tests to date. They would love to help throw some more dirt on Boise State’s dominance’s grave, but they’ll have to do something they’ve done once in their last 14 attempts, and that’s beat the Broncos. Of course, that one time they did….

Staying in the same division Fresno State and San Diego State play on Friday in what is a rather underrated rivalry. The Aztecs are still smarting from a loss to North Carolina that they’d really like to have back. Unlike Fresno State, the Aztecs were at least competitive in one of their losses. The Bulldogs have beaten up on the cupcakes on their schedule, but for any team with a pulse, they have been the cupcake. Little is known about these teams to this point, but the winner gets a big leg up in the division.

Another MWC team ventures out of the conference, fresh off the aforementioned upset of Boise State, as Air Force begins the battle for the Commander In Chief trophy by taking on Navy. Navy has yet to top 27 points in a game this season, a surprising lack of offense for the Midshipmen, especially considering the talent at quarterback with Keenan Reynolds. On the other side, Air Force could hardly have been a less impressive 2-1, but the victory over Boise State has lifted spirits out in the Wild Blue Yonder. At 2-3, Navy needs to get a win, the schedule isn’t brutal down the stretch, only Notre Dame seems unwinnable, and after that, Georgia Southern might be the only team they aren’t favored against. Nevertheless, they don’t want to enter the second half needing to 4-2 to extend their bowl streak. For Air Force, the schedule lightens up after Navy, a win to get to 4-1 could be great momentum to propel them through October and into a very meaningful November.

Lastly, ULM takes on Arkansas State. Both have taken their lumps against ACC and SEC foes, but handled their business against everyone else, though close wins over the likes of Troy and Utah State aren’t exactly impressive. Early season struggles by Louisiana, and Georgia Southern being ineligible for the conference championship in year one are signs that point to this game possibly being the deciding factor in the conference when all is said and done. The ULM offense has been abysmal this year, and they better figure things out quickly because the Red Wolves have long been one of the better defensive teams in the conference.

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Games You’re Probably Not Going to Watch but Should

Middle Tennessee State (2-2, 1-0) at Old Dominion (3-1, 1-0) – I know, I know, why on earth would anyone watch this? Well, it could be a very entertaining football game, for starters, Old Dominion can score, and, it may have a massive impact on the race in Conference USA. Marshall is by far the class of the East division, however, their two closest challengers are the Monarchs and the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee’s two losses came against Minnesota and Memphis in games where they played competitively, but we just beaten by deeper, more talented football teams. Old Dominion’s lone defeat was a very competitive loss to an N.C. State team that’s looking to send shock waves around the country Saturday. The Monarchs are in their first “official” year of FBS play, having gone 8-5 during their transition season a year ago. They brought back 44 lettermen and 17 starters, and it’s shown through the first four weeks of the season. A victory tonight goes a long way to putting them in prime position to grab a postseason birth. Oh, and they get Marshall next Saturday, at home in Norfolk.

 

Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2) at Kentucky (2-1, 0-1) – After their narrow overtime loss on the road to Florida, Kentucky fans were trying to convince everyone that the program under Mark Stoops is taking leaps in the right direction. Wait, actually those were Florida fans who were trying to convince you the close victory wasn’t reflective of the fact that they still stink, but that Kentucky is now an East contender. Either way, Kentucky could win their third win of the season, which is something they haven’t done in either of the past two years, and garner much needed confidence before getting into the meat of the schedule. Vanderbilt is showing us either, a) why James Franklin left, or b) how irreplaceable he was. Regardless, if Florida fans, err, Kentucky fans, want us to believe the Wildcats program is improving, they need to handle their business at home against a really, really bad Vanderbilt team.

 

Western Michigan (2-1) at Virginia Tech (2-2) – The Hokies are a three touchdown favorite in this tilt, and I just can’t figure out why. The Virginia Tech team we saw against Ohio State was a mirage created by the false confidence instilled in the Hokies because Braxton Miller wasn’t playing, and the air let out of the balloon with Ohio State for the same reason. Western Michigan has made a remarkable turnaround on offense this season, after barely topping 17 ppg in 2013. Nine returning starters can do that, I suppose. The problem is their defense. The question is, can the Hokies do enough to exploit that to feel comfortable against the Broncos offense? I think Virginia Tech wins, but don’t be surprised if in the middle of the afternoon Saturday you see this score and kinda go, “ohhhh, might need to go check this one out”.

 

Maryland (3-1) at Indiana (2-1) – The Hoosiers seem to be eternally stuck on the “right there” ledge, so close to breaking through to becoming a respectable program capable of going to the post season every year. But every year they suffer some inexplicable loss that causes you to realize they aren’t there yet. This year it was Bowling Green. They of course followed that up by beating a ranked Missouri squad, simply to add to the frustration Indiana fans feel with head coach Kevin Wilson. If Indiana doesn’t make a bowl this season, they’ll be shopping for a coach this winter. Wilson knows this. He knows he needs to take care of business in his three very winnable home games left (Maryland, North Texas, and the finale against Purdue) to have any shot of accomplishing this. Most Indiana fans would’ve taken 2-1 after three games when the year started. But they’d have taken that with the expectations of being 5-1 heading to Iowa. For Maryland, they’ve been a pleasant surprise. Aside from West Virginia, who we know can score some points, the Terps defense has been solid, and has spear headed a 3-1 start that has the most optimistic of College Park residents talking about contending in their division. That may be a stretch, but getting a win on the road to start the Big Ten slate and being 4-1 would be huge.

 

#1 Florida State (3-0, 1-0) at N.C. State (4-0, 0-0) – Okay, you’ll probably watch this one, but many will watch casually. Be wary of this one, if you’re the ‘Noles. North Carolina State has a history of knocking of ranked Seminole teams in Carter-Finley Stadium, and this ‘Pack squad would like to continue the tradition. Florida State doesn’t look nearly as invincible as they did a season ago. A soft schedule has aided the ‘Packs 4-0 start, so the doubts are more than just whispers, but there are some talented playmakers on this offense, and Brissett can sling it. Do NOT sleep on this game.

 

North Carolina (2-1, 0-0) at Clemson (1-2, 0-1) – Despite the embarrassing showing last week against East Carolina, North Carolina still is in complete control of their destiny when it comes to accomplishing their primary goals. Win ten games, and win the Coastal division. Even with a loss to Clemson, they’d still be in complete control of that destiny. However, losing back to back games, especially the way they lost last week, would create a hurdle that will be tough for the team to overcome. Especially considering Virginia Tech, a trip to South Bend, a Georgia Tech team they’ve lost 14 of 16 to, and the back to back road games with Virginia and Miami all await. It may seem early to be desperation, but for the Tar Heels, the time is now. Of course, speaking of desperation, Clemson is 1-2, not a place they are accustomed to, considering they’ve found themselves ranked in the top ten by week six in each of the past three seasons. The bad news is the next three weeks may feature the toughest conference foes left on their schedule. The good news is they’re all at home. But with that, comes the bad news, slip up against any one of them and you’re at best 2-2 in the ACC, and at best 3-3 with three road conference games and South Carolina left. A loss Saturday puts them under immense pressure against N.C. State the following week. These are two ACC teams who absolutely must win this week.

 

Duke (4-0, 0-0) at Miami (2-2, 0-1) – Sticking with the ACC theme, what a way to get the Coastal started, huh? Carolina is playing Clemson in a huge game for them, Georgia Tech knocked off Virginia Tech on the road last week, and now, we get last year’s division champs trying to prove it was no fluke by going down to south Florida to take on a reeling Miami team. I was one at the beginning of the year that thought Duke was destined for a major decline after last year’s stirring 10-4 season. While against soft competition, Duke has given no impression that that’s the case. While many big name programs have struggled with inferior foes this year, Duke has taken care of business with three wins of 34 or more, and the other by 17. Miami, on the other hand, still hasn’t figured out how to stop a decent offense. That’s not a good thing with Duke coming to town, having scored at least 34 points in 11 of their last 15 games, and having topped 27 in 13 of their last 15. Miami already has an ACC loss, a home loss to a divisional foe would be extremely crippling. With Virginia Tech already having suffered a home loss to one of the division contenders, Duke, like North Carolina against Clemson, can join Georgia Tech and Virginia as the way, way too early favorites to win this division.

 

Memphis (2-1) at #10 Ole Miss (3-0) – Memphis narrowly missed out on what would’ve been one of the three biggest wins in school history with a close loss against a UCLA team who, you may have seen last night, is pretty dadgum good. Last week Memphis confidently took care of business against Middle Tennessee State and enters this battle with the rival Rebels feeling pretty good about themselves. And that’s going to be important, Memphis has lost five in a row in the series, and by an average of 24 points. The Rebels meanwhile have quietly eased their way into the top ten by easily laying waste to any team in their path. Boise State and Louisiana aren’t world beaters, but they were expected to put up a good fight. While the Broncos did for a while, the Rajun Cajuns were throttled from the get go by Ole Miss, and the Rebels would like to do the same to Memphis so they can put this one in their back pocket and get ready for next week. And why? Oh, that team from Tuscaloosa comes strolling in. And for that reason, don’t be shocked if Ole Miss doesn’t get caught looking ahead and finds themselves in a dog fight with Memphis, a Memphis team that will gain confidence the longer the score stays close.

 

 

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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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