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.
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.