Tag Archives: Pac 12

2017 College Football Conference Predictions

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

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

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

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

American Athletic

East

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

West

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

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

Atlantic Coast

Atlantic

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

Coastal

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

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

Big Ten

East

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

West

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

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

Big 12

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

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

Conference USA

East

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

West

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

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

MAC

East

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

West

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

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

MWC

Mountain

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

West

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

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

Pac 12

North

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

South

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

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

SEC

West

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

East

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

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

Sun Belt

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

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

 

 

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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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Big Games at the Midway Point for Surprise (Good & Bad) Teams

10070980I’m not here to tell you that Georgia absolutely must win against Missouri to keep their hopes for the playoffs alive, and really, their hopes for the SEC East. Just as I’m not going to tell you the importance of the games in the SEC West. Everyone knows what’s on the line with the big games around the country. I’d rather talk about some of the other action across the country where there may be more riding on it than meets the eye.

ULM at Kentucky- I know that Kentucky is feeling real good about themselves after beating South Carolina. And considering they’ve gone 4-20 overall and 0-16 in the SEC over the past two years, their 4-1 start that includes a 2-1 SEC record is certainly worth celebrating. However, they better hope the celebration extends no further than the fanbase. Don’t forget Kentucky wasn’t overly impressive in their wins against Ohio and Vanderbilt, two teams arguably in the bottom 20% of the entire country. Todd Berry’s Louisiana-Monroe squad has struggled to score points this year, but they’ve been pretty solid on defense in getting off to a 3-2 start. Should they be able to go into Lexington and win? Of course not. But it doesn’t mean they can’t. They’re arguably better than both Ohio and Vanderbilt, and Kentucky, being a young team not used to being in this position, is ripe for a potential let down. The fact that LSU awaits next week only amplifies this possibility. It’s a let down Kentucky can ill afford to have as they try to return to the postseason. Tennessee, Missouri, and aforementioned LSU still await on the road. Mississippi State, Georgia, and Louisville still have to come to Lexington. None of those games are games you can just check a “W” beside if you’re Kentucky. And even if they do beat ULM, Kentucky will still need to win one of those six to make a bowl. Lose to ULM and the ‘Cats need to win at least two of those final six games, and that’s a tall order. It’s an order you dont want to put on a young program just now learning to compete and play in the SEC.

 

Penn State at Michigan- Making a bowl seems like a pretty big stretch for Big Blue at this point, but lose at home to Penn State, and that “big stretch” becomes pretty much an impossibility. The program is in flux as it is, so nobody is expecting anything from this season, but falling to 2-5 would just further smear the mud all over this once proud program. For Penn State, with postseason restrictions lifted, they’ve got something to play for, even if you couldn’t tell in that performance against Northwestern. The only two truly daunting games left on the schedule are Michigan State and Ohio State, and both are at home. So there’s a faction of Penn State that thinks this can still be a pretty special season. Lose to Michigan though, and that is all over.

 

Northwestern at Minnesota- The Wildcats victories over Wisconsin and Penn State have propelled the Wildcats back into the discussion in the Big 10 Western division, and Minnesota, at 4-1 isn’t out of it. Northwestern has Nebraska at home next week in a pivotal two game stretch for the Wildcats while Minnesota follows this battle up with Purdue and Illinois on their schedule. Both teams know they’re still a contender in the division, but both teams know they can’t afford to lose this one and hold to that belief. Northwestern particularly is on a slippery slope, two disheartening losses in non conference play to open the season still leave them just 3-2. Considering Nebraska still awaits, as well as trips to Iowa and Notre Dame, another slip up against a non elite team could start a downhill trek that ends with the Wildcats missing out on the postseason a second consecutive year.

 

Louisville at Clemson- Louisville is the only team left that has a remote chance at dethroning Florida State in the Atlantic division, but with a loss already in hand to Virginia, a second conference loss to Clemson would end those dreams before Florida State even steps foot in Papa John’s Stadium. Clemson meanwhile has gotten new life under freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson, and when looking at their remaining schedule sees an opportunity to finish the year at 10-2, and still make their way into a playoff rotation bowl. They know at 9-3, any hopes of crashing that party are over. The Cardinals easily represent the best defense the young Watson has faced this year, so this one could be interesting, and the flickering hopes of both teams getting into a marquee bowl rest on the outcome of this one on Saturday.

 

North Carolina at Notre Dame- A fourth straight loss, with Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Miami in successive weeks to follow, would spell doom to the Tar Heels season. Even at 0-2 in the ACC, even with a home loss to Virginia Tech, North Carolina isn’t done in the ACC Coastal race. And while losing to Notre Dame wouldn’t impact their standing within the ACC at all, an already low-level of morale in the locker room would hit desperation levels of empty with another loss. The fortunate thing is that the three games that follow could still enable the Tar Heels to salvage the season, but when you start the season ranked, 2-4 at mid October just isn’t acceptable. Larry Fedora is feeling the heat, and beating a highly ranked Irish team who is in the thick of national title discussions would go a long, long way to cooling his seat down some. Speaking of being in the national title race, disappointing years by Stanford and Michigan have helped devalue the Notre Dame schedule, essentially turning this into a one game season for the Irish…in principle. The problem is, you can’t play 7 of the other 8 games on the schedule “in principle”. There was a thought that if the Irish went 11-1 with a loss to Florida State, that their schedule would be strong enough to still warrant playoff consideration. There was a thought that if the Irish beat Florida State, they could afford a slip somewhere else and still receive strong consideration for a playoff spot. Unfortunately the schedule doesn’t look as strong as it once did for Notre Dame, and what was supposed to be a schedule boosting game against ACC favorite North Carolina has now turned into a lose-lose situation for the Irish. If they win, they’ve simply defeated a 2-5 team. If they lose though….. they can kiss the playoffs goodbye.

 

Duke at Georgia Tech- A loss to Miami already in hand, Duke can’t afford to go 0-2 in the division by losing to Georgia Tech and still have a chance to head to Charlotte for a second straight year. Yes, it’s true they started 0-2 in the division last year, but the losses came to two teams who didn’t factor into the division race at season’s end. That’s not going to be the case this year. Miami is expected to be there, and right now Georgia Tech is in complete control. A third division win would put the Jackets even more firmly in the driver’s seat before two road division games await them. If Tech can enter that pair of games at 3-0 in the division, they can feel real, real good about their chances. But if they lose to Duke, they open the division back up to pretty much everybody, and give hope to teams who might be about to lose it.

 

Washington State at Stanford- Washington State is a lot better football team than people realize. Their losses to Rutgers and Cal could easily, easily have gone the other way, particular last week’s loss to Cal. They also played very well against Oregon. They’ve also been a better team away from home, than at home thus far this year, so the fact that this game is in Palo Alto isn’t overly concerning. Stanford is a very, very uninspiring 3-2. I thought from day one this year they were an overrated team, and their fledgling offense has shown no indication that they’re going to prove me wrong. It’s entirely possible that Washington State finds a way to win this game and Stanford finds themselves 3-3, with two conference losses, something that with the expectations that program now has, is unacceptable. The narrow misses have been adding up for Washington State, and another loss would be the fifth of the year, putting them well behind the eight ball in their quest to reach a second straight bowl for the first time in over a decade. When it comes to the goals each had coming into this season, this is a must win for both. And what’s surprising, is that it’s actually winnable for both.

 

West Virginia at Texas Tech- Texas Tech has had one losing season over the past 21 years, but if they want to keep that streak in tact, they’re going to need to find a way to beat a West Virginia team that is better than most thought at the outset of the year. The Red Raiders, simply put, cannot stop anyone. They have a defense that rivals that of the Atlanta Falcons and the North Carolina Tar Heels, and that’s not a comforting feeling hosting an offense that’s scored at least 33 points in each of its last four games. With TCU, Oklahoma, and Baylor still left on the Texas Tech schedule, suffering a fourth loss this early in the season could prove fatal to any post season hopes they may be fostering.

 

Toledo at Iowa State- The warmth of Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads’ seat was documented earlier this week, and losing at home to Toledo and dropping to 1-5 will probably make it too hot for him to withstand through the end of December.

 

Houston at Memphis- As mentioned last week, East Carolina and Central Florida are both conspicuously absent from Memphis’ schedule this season, and Houston represents the toughest opponent left on it. If Memphis can find a way to get past the Cougars, and in my opinion they should, not only would the Tigers be 4-2, they’d be in position to achieve the first double-digit win season since…. since… ever. Yes, that’s right, Memphis has never reached double-digit wins in a season. Beat Houston, and suddenly that becomes a very, very realistic goal. Not to mention, so does a conference championship.

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Late Night Drive: Oregon Establishing Themselves As Elite, Gators Keep Impressing, Seminoles, Irish and Wildcats With BIG Statements & More

1. Alabama W 40-7 vs Florida Atlantic: At this point, the Alabama season is about two football games. The trip to LSU, and then the SEC Championship game against South Carolina, Florida, or Georgia, all of whom the Tide avoid in the regular season. With Ole Miss at home next week, it will be more of the same for the Tide. Convincing routes in which the other team wonders why they even had to show up.

2.  LSU W 12-10 at Auburn: It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was a road win in the SEC, so there’s that. Quarterback problems of 2011 were supposed to be remedied by Zach Mettenberger, but it didn’t seem so against a shaky Auburn defense. LSU became the first team to not score at least 26 points on Auburn, but ultimately it didn’t matter as the LSU defense did what is expected of it, and that’s dominate. Kiehl Frazier’s terrible play at the quarterback position for Auburn though certainly helped. Auburns loss was the third of the season, the first time they’ve ever had three losses before October, and they’ve failed to score at least 20 points in all three losses..

3.  Oregon- W 49-0 vs Arizona: So Arizona thought they were ready to be a contender in the Pac 12? Yeah, about that. I don’t think it’s too big a stretch right now to say that Oregon is the second best team in the country. Nobody in America can do what they do on offense, and have been doing, for years. Another day of nearly 500 yards of offense is just another typical Oregon game. And the only reason they didn’t reach 500 was good field position gained from five turnovers, that included two interceptions brought back for touchdowns. The Ducks get Washington State and Washington in back to back weeks, and the damage they may inflict on scoreboards the next two weeks is frightening.

4.  Florida State-  W 49-37 vs Clemson: Guess who’s back, back again….. It may start feeling like the 90s around here with Florida State playing the way they are. Against Wake Forest they answered the bell against a team that had previously given them fits and dominated the way a national title contender should. Saturday night, despite falling behind by 14 early in the second half, they spent the rest of the night imposing their will on the hapless Tigers defense as a 35-3 run was shades of 1990s dominance all over again. Offensively and defensively, the second half was a thing of beauty for the Seminoles, who likely won’t be tested again until they travel to Virginia Tech in November.

5.  West Virginia- W 31-21 vs Maryland: It wasn’t quite the performance expected, as the offense could only gain 25 yards rushing, but Geno Smith’s 338 yards and three touchdowns thru the air were enough for West Virginia to eventually put away a rather pesky Maryland team. The Mountaineers next week make their Big 12 debut against Baylor, and have to be licking their chops at the thoughts of going up against that defense.

6.  Georgia- W 48-3 vs Vanderbilt- Georgia throughly dominated the Commodores, having now outscored Vanderbilt 91-3 in their last two meetings in Athens. Aaron Murray is playing as well as any quarterback in the country, and the three headed monster at tailback of Keith Marshall, Todd Gurley and Ken Malcome may be as good as any backfield in college football. And just think, two of the three best players on the defense have yet to see the field. The sky may be the limit for this team.

7.  Oklahoma- L 24-19 vs Kansas State: A lackluster opening performance against UTEP, followed by a game against Florida A&M that answered little, Oklahoma was still a bit of an enigma coming into this battle with Kansas State. An enigma they are no longer. Twenty-seven rushing attempts yielded only 88 yards and Oklahoma lost the battle of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. They have another week off before they play 9 straight games, eight in conference with the only one out of it being a visit from Notre Dame. The Sooners desperately need to get the offensive woes worked out if they’re going to have any chance to overcome the hole they’ve dug themselves early in the season.

8.  Ohio State- W 29-15 vs UAB: Despite being outgained 403-347, and yielding more first downs than they obtained, Ohio State was able to ice away a 14 point victory over a feisty UAB team that led 9-0 at one point, despite failing to score an offensive touchdown.

9.  Texas- Bye

10.Clemson- L 49-37 at Florida State: For about 33 minutes it really looked like this wasn’t the same old Clemson. They’d gone on the road and jumped on top of Florida State 28-14. I guess that’s when they looked at the tiger paw on their helmets and remembered who they were, and that defense is optional, and so is blocking when it matters. Florida State blitzed Clemson 35-3 after that to run away and hide. That Florida State didn’t score more on the Tigers was only because of a pair of turnovers and 11 penalties. In Clemson’s last two games against ranked opponents, they’ve allowed 1,256 yards. Yes, you read that right.

11.Stanford– Bye

12.Notre Dame-W 13-6 vs Michigan: The Irish only had 239 yards of offense, and they turned the ball over twice. And yet, they still came away victorious over an overrated Michigan team who helped the cause by committing six turnovers. While the Notre Dame offense still needs to find a way to get into another gear for this team to be truly dangerous, there is no denying how well they play defense. Michigan State and Michigan combined to score just nine points in the last two weeks. The Irish will get a week off before likely being in the top ten for the Catholics vs Cons battle with Miami in Chicago.

13.USC W 27-9 vs California: Matt Barkley played poorly again, throwing for under 200 yards and also throwing two interceptions, but it didn’t matter. The Trojan defense was more than enough to win against California, and if that wasn’t enough, Silas Redd added 158 yards and a touchdown just to further cement the point. The Trojans will get a week off before taking on arguably, three of the worst BCS conference teams in the country with Utah, Washington and Colorado. That should get them back in position to be close to the top five by the time they welcome Oregon on November, 3rd. Jeff Tedford’s tenure at California definitely seems to be in great question now. The loss was their third in four games, and they’re now 0-3 against FBS teams.

14.South Carolina- W 31-10 vs Missouri: I keep trying to convince you that South Carolina is overrated. I think I’m going to have to back off that stand now. The performance by Connor Shaw was phenomenal on Saturday, and again, the defense was completely suffocating. Missouri was just 2-12 on third downs, and that won’t win many SEC games. South Carolina has allowed in four games just 39 points. Yes, that’s less than 10 per game.

15.Kansas State- W 24-19 at Oklahoma: The Wildcats had this one circled, and using a formula similar to what Stanford used to beat USC, went on the road and knocked off a top ten Sooner squad that was expected to be a national title threat. The passing game never got going, but a steady, persistent, and tough running game eventually enabled the Wildacts to add on a late touchdown, and then run out the clock to ice the victory. John Hubert and Collin Klein combined for 209 yards and one score a piece in the victory. The Wildcats get a much needed bye before drawing Kansas and Iowa State. It’s now very possible that by the time they go to Morgantown they will be ranked in the top five.

16.Florida– W 38-0 vs Kentucky: It wasn’t an overly sexy victory, but it was thorough and complete and leaves the Gators feeling as about themselves as they arguably could heading into the bye week that will precede the LSU game in The Swamp in two weeks. The defense continues to be stifling, and the offense has now scored 37 and 38 points in their last two games, both SEC battles. Joker Phillips could be on his last legs at Kentucky, as at 1-3, there don’t appear too many more winnable games, and a third consecutive losing season seems inevitable.

17.Louisville- W 28-21 at Florida International: Teddy Bridgewater didn’t play nearly as well as he had been this season, and the Panthers proved to be a stiffer test than expected, but the Cardinals pushed through for a hard fought victory over a pesky foe from a surprisingly competitive Sun Belt conference. A very disappointing Southern Miss team awaits Louisville next week before they prep for their conference slate, at which point they should be 5-0.

18.Boise State- W 7-6 vs BYU: In what was truly one of the worst football games to witness in recent memory, Boise improved to 65-2 at home since the beginning of 2002. But they sure didn’t do it in the way we are accustomed to seeing. Offensively the transition form Kellen Moore has not gone well, as against Michigan State and BYU, they’ve scored just 20 points, and zero offensive touchdowns. They’re going to need to score if they’re going to beat Fresno State or Nevada to win the conference.

19.Mississippi State- W 30-10 vs South Alabama: On a day when the Bulldog offense struggled, the defense and special teams picked up the slack. Nickoe Whitley and Johnathan Banks combined for 113 interception return yards, and Jameon Lewis averaged 45 yards on two kick returns to give more than enough cushion for the Mississippi State defense to protect. And protect it did, again. Saturday night marked the third time in four weeks the Bulldogs held their opponents to 10 points or fewer.

20.TCU- W 27-7 vs Virginia: Three games, thirteen points allowed. That’s it. Casey Pachal threw for over 300 yards with three touchdowns for the Horned Frogs who won their 11th straight game, the longest current winning streak in the country. The Frogs will play SMU for the Iron Skillet next week, so that mark should run to at least 12.

21.UCLA- L 27-20 vs Oregon State: Just as we were ready to pronounce UCLA legitimate contenders in the Pac 12, the running game that had carried them a 3-0 start abandoned them thanks in no small part to the stout Oregon State defense. The loss essentially negated anything UCLA gained from the USC loss to Stanford. On the other side though Oregon State moved to 3-0 as Sean Mannion threw for 379 yards in a game the Beavers were in control of throughout.

22.Michigan State- W 23-7 vs Eastern Michigan: It’s a really good thing the Spartans have a dominant defense, otherwise, they might lose ten games this year. As is, due mostly to the inadequacies of the Big Ten, Sparty is still a factor in the conference championship picture, but the offense has to get going. Eastern Michigan had allowed 37, 31, and 54 points in their first three games, all losses, but the Spartans could only muster 23. Not a good sign with Ohio State next on the schedule.

23.Georgia Tech- L 42-36 vs Miami: This was one of those losses that can reshape an entire program. Having stormed back from 19 down in the first half to lead by 17 with 36 unanswered points, things looked great on the flats. Then for the second time in four games, the defense choked away a lead in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Suddenly the seat Paul Johnson is on is getting very hot, going 16-16 in your last 32 games will do that.

24.Arizona- L 49-0 at Oregon: Arizona’s stay in the top 25 will be short lived, and for them to make a return, they’re going to have to impress a lot of people in a big way. Their performance on national television against Oregon is the kind of thing people will hold against you for a good long while. The fortunate thing for Rich Rodriguez’s team is that with Oregon State and Stanford next, the Wildcats could help burry the memory of the flop in Eugene with a couple of victories. But for that to happen, scoring when they’re in the redzone, and not throwing the ball to the other team would help.

25.Rutgers- W 35-26 at Arkansas: The mess of a season continues for Arkansas as they join Auburn in the ranks of 1-3 SEC teams. The Razorbacks have back to back road games coming up before coming home for perhaps the only three really winnable games they have left on the schedule. For Rutgers, despite the fact that Cobi Hamilton obliterated their secondary to the tune of over 300 yards receiving, they enter their bye week 4-0, with four of their next five games coming at home. Gary Nova has played better and better each and every week, so the Scarlet Knights have to feel pretty good forward

Others

Tennessee- W 47-26 vs Akron: Has there ever been a less impressive 21 point victory? I’m not sure I’ve seen one. The leash on Derek Dooley just got pulled a little bit tighter. The Georgia game in Athens next week may not be a must win, per say, but the Volunteers absolutely cannot afford to go to Athens and get blown out, not if they don’t want to be making a coaching change after the year.

Virginia Tech W 37-0 vs Bowling Green: After laying an egg in a shocking loss (though not to this guy here) to Pittsburgh last week Virginia Tech needed to come out and get a solid, complete win. Mission accomplished. The loss to Pittsburgh eliminated the Hokies from all national title talk, but a loss to Cincinnati would be a huge blow to the teams confidence, which might undermine their quest to win the ACC championship.

Northwestern- W 38-7 vs South Dakota: Venric Mark ran for 117 yards and three touchdowns as the Wildcats improved to 4-0. After allowing 41 points to Syracuse in the season opener, the Wildcats have yielded just 33 in their subsequent three games. With Indiana coming up at home, Northwestern should be 5-0 this time next week.

Nebraska- W 73-7 vs Idaho State: There really isn’t too much you can tell from a 66 point beating of the Bengals, and really, there’s not been much you can tell from any of the Nebraska victories thus far in 2012. That all should change in the next two weeks when Wisconsin comes to Lincoln, and then the Cornhuskers travel to Columbus.

Baylor– W 47-42 at Louisiana Monroe: Questions about whether or not Baylor could survive post RGIII may not be answered yet due to the lack of major competition, but the early returns are definitely promising. The Bears have averaged over 50 points per game to start the season, but the level of competition will get really amped up next week when they are West Virginia’s homecoming date. The Mountaineers will be eager to get off on the right foot in their new conference, so after next week, we’ll know much more whether or not Baylor can still compete without the Heisman winning quarterback.

Missouri- L 31-10 at South Carolina: Missouri’s first road SEC game didn’t go any better than their first home conference game, as the Tigers were simply outclassed by South Carolina. At this point they’ve got to start wondering if their run of seven consecutive bowl appearances is in jeopardy. Suddenly the Central Florida game in Orlando next week becomes very, very important.

Ohio- W 44-10 vs Norfolk State: The Bobcats keep things rolling after their scare against Marshall the previous week. With Massachusetts, Buffalo, and Akron the next three games on the schedule, Ohio should be 7-0 at the bye week and having established a presence in the top 25.

Cincinnati- Bye

Since the season opening loss to Florida, Texas A&M has bounced back nicely, scoring 70 points in a win over South Carolina State, marking a combined score of 118-16 by which they’ve won the past two weeks.  Also in the SEC West, Ole Miss continues to show they can score points, and lots of them, as ten Rebels combined to rush for 303 yards in the 39-0 win over an atrocious Tulane team.

There may no less an impressive 3-1 team in all of college football than Wisconsin. Freshmen quarterback Joel Stave went 12/17 for 210 yards in his first career start in the 37-26 win over UTEP, but the loss of Montee Ball to injury might be the more lasting result from the win.  The change at quarterback seemed to help an offense that only scored 49 points in its first three games, including just 23 in two games against FBS teams. In two wins, Illinois has allowed seven points, total. In two losses, they’ve allowed 97, including 52 in their 52-24 loss to Louisiana Tech on Saturday. After losing their first two games of the season, Penn State has ridden a familiar formula, stout defense, to two consecutive victories after their 24-13 defeat of Temple in what was perhaps Temple’s best chance to beat Penn State for the first time since 1941. Michigan now stands at 2-2, and if anyone still thinks Denard Robinson is a legitimate Heisman candidate, or that this team remotely resembles a top 25 football team, you can probably quit reading now. On the opposite end of that spectrum is a 4-0 Minnesota team who beat Syracuse 17-10. Three of the Gophers victories have been by seven points oor les, but after successive 3-9 seasons, starting 4-0 is a refreshing change in Minneapolis. They get their first conference game next week with an extremely disappointing Iowa team who was defeated 32-31 by a Central Michigan team that was 2-31 all time on the road against BCS schools.

North Carolina State has quietly shaken off an ugly showing in the Georgia Dome against Tennessee to start the season and won three straight games, based mostly off the strength of its defense. Their trip to south Florida next week to play Miami suddenly has some more intrigue, as both have shown signs of life that they might can be a spoiler in the expected Hokie/Seminole ACC party. The Hurricanes played two phenomenal quarters against Georgia Tech, that sandwiched two terrible ones. It will be interesting to see which team shows up next week. Maryland was much more competitive than expected against Virginia Tech, and the Terrapins schedule sets up in a way that they could potentially win their first 5 conference games, especially if the defense continues to play solid. Next week Duke and Wake Forest will square off in a game more important than you might think. On the strength of their 49-37 win over Army, Wake Forest will be seeking a 4-1 start against a Duke team looking to do the same after breezing past Memphis 38-14. Virginia continues to disappoint, mustering only 7 points in a 27-7 loss to TCU. After giving up 56 points to Georgia Tech the week before, they can’t be looking forward to playing Louisiana Tech next week, a Bulldog team that has scored over 50 points in all three games this year.

Arizona State has to be kicking themselves for the loss to Missouri last week in a game that they easily should have come away victoriously from. After completely destroying Utah 37-7, the Sun Devils moved to 3-1, having outscored their opponents 145-27 in their three victories. And Colorado did the impossible, they won a football game, a 35-34 squeaker over a Washington State team that was seeking its first three game win streak since 2003.

What began as a promising season for South Florida has taken a complete turn for the worse. After losing at home to Rutgers, they dropped a road game to Ball State and now have to host Florida State next week. The Skip Holtz experiment does not seem to be working in Tampa.

The Nevada running attack continues to be among the country’s best, and it was paced by Stefphon Johnson and his 170 yards and 6 touchdowns as Nevada steam rolled through Hawaii, 69-24. The one point loss to South Florida may come back to seriously haunt the Wolfpack, much the way a loss to Hawaii did in 2010. Fresno State was unable to beat Tulsa despite returning two interceptions for touchdowns. Tulsa meanwhile won their third straight game with the 27-26 victory. UNLV and Wyoming each notched their first wins of the season. The Rebels downed Air Force who fell to 1-2 in their quest for a fifth straight winning season. Wyoming’s victim was Idaho, and its becoming apparent Rob Akkey is not going to last in Moscow. San Jose State is off to a strong 3-1 start thanks to David Fales to Chandler Jones 14 yard touchdown pass with under a minute left to defeat San Diego State 38-34. Utah State has continued their impressive start to the season as well  with a 31-19 victory over Colorado State. After having won just one game in each of the past three years, under former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie, New Mexico has already doubled their win total from last year with a 27-14 victory over New Mexico State, snapping a three game losing streak to the Aggies. Illinois turned the ball over six times, and Colby Cameron threw four touchdowns in a 52-24 laugher for Louisiana Tech, who has topped 50 points in each of their first three games, all wins.

Southern Miss may have begun the year expecting to contend for a second straight conference championship, but that may be nothing but a pipe dream. Replacing Larry Fedora has not been easy for Ellis Johnson as the Golden Eagles allowed over 40 points for the second time in three games while getting run over by Western Kentucky 42-17. The Hilltoppers are now 3-1 and positioned to make the first bowl in school history. The game of the day however may have been the overtime victory by Marshall over Rice 54-51.

The MAC conference has been most impressive this year, and that continued in week four. Western Michigan improved to 2-2, the only losses having been road games against Big Ten teams, after beating Connecticut 30-24, serving notice that the Broncos will indeed be a factor in the MAC. Northern Illinois joined in the fun of beating BCS conference teams, topping Kansas 30-23, and being a one point loss to Iowa away from being 4-0. Toledo also moved to 3-1 after beating Coastal Carolina, while Central Michigan did what Northern Illinois could not, and beat Iowa 32-31. The surprise team at 3-1 though has to Ball State who after an upset over South Florida only has a loss to Clemson blemishing their record, despite having played a team from the Big East, Big Ten, and the ACC.

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

Must See:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upset Watch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Forget About:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of the Rest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Must See Games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upset Watch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Forget About:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of the Rest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why You Should Watch Utah vs Utah State Friday Night

Reason number one to tune in for the Utes and the Aggies should be reason enough, it’s football, that counts, and is the only game on tv. If that’s not enough, I think I can scrounge up a couple other worthwhile reasons to at least keep an eye on this Beehive State battle.

For starters, it’s time people just start accepting Utah for what they are, which is a very solid football program. Last years 8-5 season was their first season without double digit wins since a 9-4 season in 2007, the year before they went out and went 13-0 and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to finish as the second ranked team in the entire country.

While there is no reason to think year’s Utes squad is going to do anything similar, there is reason to think they could definitely improve upon last years campaign.

While little could be taken from their 41-0 victory over Northern Colorado, it should still be noted, it WAS 41-0. In today’s day and age, we constantly see supposedly inferior teams giving the big boys all they want and then some, even upsetting them. What you want to see when playing an opponent like that is to go out, and quickly take care of business leaving no doubt. Utah did exactly that. The Utes defense surrendered just 114 yards on the night. Meanwhile, the offense was faced with 15 third downs, and including fourth down conversions, managed to pick up a first down on 12 of those occasions. Not too shabby, not even against the scout team defense.

On the other side, Utah State did something similar against Southern Utah. Southern Utah  did beat UNLV and new FBS member Texas- San Antonio last season. Their 34-3 win came in spite of 10 penalties for 120 yards, but included holding the Thunderbirds to just 56 yards rushing on 27 carries.

So that sets the stage for the first true test for either team in 2012. For Utah State, it’s the first of many as they take on an ambitious schedule in 2012. Following the visit by Utah, the Aggies will travel to Wisconsin, Colorado State, BYU and WAC favorite Louisiana Tech before their season is over. Utah, meanwhile, has their annual (though that’s in peril) “Holy War” with BYU the following week.

Utah brings back nine starters from last year’s offense. Somehow the Utes managed to score 25 points per game, despite barely averaging over 300 yards per game. The problem seemed to rest at quarterback, and protecting the quarterback. The loss of Jordan Wynn to injury proved more than Utah was ready to handle at the position. Utah averaged just 173 yards a game through the air, more than 60 yards less than in 2010, and their lowest total since 1984. Wynn returns to reclaim his starting spot, but highly touted freshmen Travis Wilson may be a better insurance policy than Joe Hays was a year ago.

Either way, the passing game should improve with the return of the entire interior of the offensive, and more importantly, the top six receivers from a season ago. Among those six returning is DeVonte Christopher.

The running game is in good hands with the aforementioned return of three interior starters on the line, but more critically, the return of senior running back John White. White, a junior college transfer a year ago, is one of the more talented backs in the country, even if odds are good you haven’t heard of him. He rushed for over 1500 yards a year ago, with 15 scores to match. He picked right up where he left off in last Thursdays win by rushing for 119 yards, averaging five a carry.

Utah’s run game will take on a Utah State defense that was stout against the run a year ago, but must replace key members of that unit, including NFL draft choice Bobby Wagner and his 147 tackles, which included 11.5 for a loss.

Last season, led in part by Bobby Wagner and fellow linebacker Kyle Gallagher, Utah State made their first bowl appearance since 1997 and this year will seek their first bowl victory since 1993. Last year’s Aggies won 7 games, but remember took Auburn to the wire (a game many will argue they should have won) before losing 42-38. The Aggies hung the 4th highest yardage total Auburn surrendered all season.

They also lost by just three on the road to BYU, and only by seven to Louisiana Tech, and by one to Ohio in the bowl game. Coach Gary Andersen has done good things with this Aggies team, and this is not the typical Aggie team Utah is used to seeing. The Aggies are certainly in a position to end a 12 game losing streak in this series.

The key of course will be Utah State’s ability to run against the Utah defense. While they lost their top two rushers from a year ago, the Aggie offense does return sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton (293, 4 TD) and senior running back Kerwynn Williams (542, 3 TD) . However, last Thursday it was sophomore Joe Hill who stole the show, rushing for 110 yards and three scores against Southern Utah. Last seasons version of the Aggies was held under four yards a carry just once all season, by Lousiana Tech, and topped 200 yards in 9 (199 against Nevada) of their 12 games.

Utah of course is known for stingy run defense, having allowed just 114 and 112 yards per game in the last two seasons, allowing just 3.2 yards per carry in each. Last year only three teams ran for more than 131 yards against the Ute defense, and nobody topped 185. In fact, only two teams even managed to average at least four yards per carry.

Utah returns three starters from that defensive line, including senior Star Lotulelei, a 6’4, 325  lb run plugger in the middle. The Utes are however very young at linebacker. They only have one senior expected to receive playing time, and a redshirt freshmen and true sophomore wman two of the linebacker spots. How those two replace Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez, who combined to make 205 tackles a year ago, will go a long way to determining if Utah State is able to hang around.

A spot of hope though for Utah State came in what they saw from Keeton on Thursday night. He completed 22 out of 26 passes for over 300 yards. As a team, last year Utah State didn’t have a game all year where they completed as many passes (backup Adam Kennedy was 1 for 1 against Southern Utah), and didn’t throw for more than 255 yards all season. So if the Aggies can get a passing game to help the running game out, Utah State could very well snap a 12 game losing streak to their intrastate rivals.

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