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College Football Rankings 10/8

There’s a familiar face at number one, and no, I do not care that they lost to Ole Miss because for an evening they forgot that even though St. Nick is their coach, they are not supposed to freely hand out presents to opponents.

The Big Ten is better than most thought, thanks in particular to the outstanding defense being played by Michigan and Northwestern. Remember when the SEC was known for defense? I’m just saying…

I still need to see LSU be more than one dimensional, but, as long as their quarterback doesn’t throw it to the other team, they’re going to be a contender.

Oklahoma is definitely reminding us that it’s not just Baylor and TCU in the Big 12.

With FSU and Georgia Tech looking more disappointing by the week, having survived Notre Dame and with South Carolina has utter dog meat right now though, while I don’t think Clemson is one of the five best teams in the nation, I can’t see a scenario where they miss the playoffs. They seem to be over their “Clemsoning” days. But, relapse is a dangerous part of addiction recovery.

1 Alabama 4-1
2 Utah 4-0
3 Baylor 4-0
4 Ohio State 5-0
5 TCU 5-0
6 Clemson 4-0
7 Oklahoma 4-0
8 LSU 4-0
9 Michigan State 5-0
10 Michigan 4-1
11 Texas A&M 5-0
12 Northwestern 5-0
13 Stanford 4-1
14 Florida 5-0
15 USC 3-1
16 Georgia 4-1
17 Notre Dame 4-1
18 Florida State 4-0
19 Ole Miss 4-1
20 Duke 4-1
21 Mississippi State 3-2
22 Texas Tech 3-2
23 North Carolina 4-1
24 Iowa 5-0
25 Oklahoma State 5-0
26 UCLA 4-1
27 Houston 4-0
28 Oregon 3-2
29 Memphis 5-0
30 Louisville 2-3
31 Toledo 4-0
32 West Virginia 3-1
33 Kansas State 3-1
34 Boise State 4-1
35 Wisconsin 3-2
36 Boston College 3-2
37 Navy 4-0
38 Cal 5-0
39 N.C. State 4-1
40 Temple 4-0
41 Cincinnati 3-2
42 Arizona State 3-2
43 Auburn 3-2
44 BYU 3-2
45 Miami 3-1
46 Pittsburgh 3-1
47 Washington 2-2
48 Syracuse 3-1
49 Arizona 3-2
50 East Carolina 3-2
51 Georgia Southern 4-1
52 Arkansas 2-3
53 Missouri 4-1
54 Indiana 4-1
55 Tennessee 2-3
56 Kentucky 4-1
57 Central Michigan 2-3
58 Ohio 4-1
59 Tulsa 2-2
60 Virginia Tech 2-3
61 Illinois 4-1
62 Nebraska 2-3
63 Bowling Green 3-2
64 Western Kentucky 4-1
65 Iowa State 2-2
66 Appalachian State 4-1
67 Northern Illinois 2-3
68 Georgia Tech 2-3
69 Minnesota 3-2
70 Louisiana Tech 3-2
71 Marshall 4-1
72 Texas 1-4
73 Air Force 2-2
74 Penn State 4-1
75 Maryland 2-3
76 South Carolina 2-3
77 Colorado 3-2
78 UConn 2-3
79 Oregon State 2-2
80 Western Michigan 1-3
81 Arkansas State 2-3
82 Buffalo 2-3
83 Southern Miss 3-2
84 Virginia 1-3
85 Vanderbilt 2-3
86 San Jose State 2-3
87 Louisiana Monroe 1-3
88 Akron 2-3
89 Middle Tennessee St 2-3
90 Purdue 1-4
91 Washington State 2-2
92 Utah State 2-2
93 UNLV 2-3
94 Ball State 2-3
95 Nevada 2-3
96 Colorado State 2-3
97 Kent State 2-3
98 UT San Antonio 1-4
99 SMU 1-4
100 San Diego State 2-3
101 Wake Forest 2-3
102 Hawaii 2-3
103 Louisiana Lafayette 1-3
104 South Alabama 3-2
105 South Florida 1-3
106 Rice 2-3
107 Texas State 1-3
108 Old Dominion 2-3
109 Fresno State 1-4
110 Army 1-4
111 Rutgers 2-2
112 Tulane 2-2
113 New Mexico 3-2
114 Troy 1-3
115 Eastern Michigan 1-4
116 Miami Ohio 1-4
117 Florida Atlantic 1-3
118 UMass 1-3
119 UTEP 2-3
120 Florida International 2-3
121 Central Florida 0-5
122 Kansas 0-4
123 North Texas 0-4
124 Idaho 1-4
125 Charlotte 2-3
126 Georgia State 1-3
127 Wyoming 0-5
128 New Mexico State 0-4

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Desperation Time for Big Name Programs

Nicely done Paul, looks like last year's charade means we're just going to let the programs slide into mediocrity and worse just...slide.

Nicely done Paul, looks like last year’s charade means we’re just going to let the programs slide into mediocrity and worse just…slide.

Here we are, only a few days into October, and already, several big name schools have their fingers hovering perilously close to the panic button, and with good reason. The upside to having fifty gazillion bowls is that pretty much anybody with a pulse will make one. The downside of this though? If you don’t, then you’re in trouble. Real trouble. Obviously different schools view different levels of success for job security, but there’s one basic rule of thumb across the board just about everywhere; If you don’t make a bowl game, you’re going to be fired.

Obviously this is not taken literally, every single season, at every single school, but making a bowl game is I guess somewhat equivalent to the Mendoza Line. If you aren’t playing in a bowl, then you’re not just merely mediocre, or slightly below average, you’re just plain awful.

In the lower tier of programs in the country, consistent trips to the postseason aren’t necessary to remain employed, but consistently ending seasons without a trip to such a wonderful winter vacation spot such as Mobile will have you looking for a job.

But at other schools, you get one pass, if that, and if you start making a habit of not playing in a bowl game (a habit meaning it happens more than once during your tenure) you will be run out of town faster than Matt Williams after a year of unmet expectations. And this is where things get tricky with these teams. When they have this blip, is it really just a mirage, a series of unfortunate events that so imperfectly aligned that the postseason was beyond their grasp? Or is it the signs of deeper problems, and much more the beginning of the end, if not THE end already?

This is why it’s best for coaches to simply avoid this predicament altogether. Don’t miss a bowl and don’t let the questions begin to amass. But some big time coaches and some big time schools are dangerously close to opening Pandora’s Box of questions about the future of the program.

Georgia Tech has the third longest active bowl streak in the country, at 18. But barring a complete miracle, it won’t extend to 19. High school recruits of today have never seen Georgia Tech not play in a bowl game. It’s something Tech can sell to kids, but not much longer.

Everyone knew the schedule was going to be tough, but after their flukish run last season, and early season domination of patsies, it was thought they would not only be able to successfully navigate the rough waters to another winning season, but that they would be in the thick of the conference race, and possibly the national title picture. Week by week they’ve taken themselves out of consideration for all three. The Notre Dame loss squelched all talk of the playoffs. The loss at Duke the following week put the brakes on talks of an ACC championship, and then this past weekend’s loss at home to North Carolina, in which a 21-0 lead was choked away, pretty much put the kibosh on bowl possibilities.

Tech sits at 2-3, which, at first glance doesn’t appear to be a death sentence. But then you have to remember this team hasn’t beaten an opponent better than Tulane to this point. You consider that if you look at their schedule, there is only one game left on it right now where they can feel like they’d be the favorites. And that is for a trip to Charlottesville, where despite recent success, it’s been a house of horrors. They have to host Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. They must still travel to play to Miami. They have to go play at Clemson this week. And oh yeah, Florida State and Georgia come calling. Do you see four wins on that schedule? Didn’t think so. Four losses? That’s easy to come up with. What’s frightening for Tech is that 2-10 is as likely at this point as a trip to a bowl game.

The irony in all of this is that the streak should have ended in 2012, but an NCAA waiver allowed a sub .500 Yellow Jacket team that truly didn’t win the division but played in the ACC title game due to the off field transgressions of conference bad boys Miami and North Carolina to play in a bowl anyway. Tech played well against Florida State in the conference title game, and then went and beat USC in the Sun Bowl, finishing 7-7 and keeping some heat off of Johnson. 2013 wasn’t much better, another 7-6 year, another loss in a bowl game. It was obvious at this point that Johnson needed to go. The sooner the better, because the rebuilding process following Johnson will be a long and painful one.

Then, much like this year, in 2014, came back to back losses to those basketball schools in Duke and North Carolina. The ax was ready to drop on Johnson. And then something miraculous (or not, depending on how you want to look at it) and Tech caught fire, won the division, beat Georgia, nearly upset Florida State in the ACC title game and ran all over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

Well done Paul Johnson, you pulled the veil back over our eyes for a moment and kept attention away from the real ugly truth at Georgia Tech. The program was ultimately, at its core, in real trouble. Many, myself included, praised Johnson after last year. I even apologized for being “wrong” about him. No, I was right. I let him convince me I was wrong.

And it looks like this year on the flats, we’re going to finally see how right I originally was. Clemson is the toughest game left on the schedule, so it’s unfair to say it’s a must win, that a loss to the Tigers completely buries the Jackets. But, they’ve used their mulligans, and they could really use some breathing room, not mention some confidence. Going up to Clemson and getting a win, which Tech has had a knack for back when Clemson was mastering the art of Clemsoning, would help. But, these aren’t those same Tigers, and these aren’t the Jackets you can believe in to go win a game like this.

Georgia Tech isn’t the only Tech however in the ACC coastal in deep trouble. Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer, another program on a precipitous decline, is staring at a similar fate. From 2004 thru 2011 the Hokies won double-digit games every single year. That’s eight consecutive 10 win seasons. That’s quality work. But over the last three years they’ve only won 22 games. They’ve lost in each of the last two years to Boston College, they’ve been beaten by Cincinnati, and with their loss two weeks ago, they’ve lost in successive seasons to East Carolina. They’ve only even played six games over the past three plus seasons as a ranked team. Again, after eight consecutive seasons of 10 plus wins.

The Hokies, like Georgia Tech, cannot lose more than three more games the rest of the way. And they have to play aforementioned Boston College on the road, just like they have to travel to play Miami and Georgia Tech. They also still have N.C. State and Duke to play at home. Just like with Georgia Tech, the only game left on the schedule that you can say with confidence they could be favored in is against Virginia.

The sharp decline of the program already had many wondering how much longer Beamer would last, especially since special teams, long the calling card of this regime, had become an all out weakness of the Hokies. This year, with it looking more and more likely that a bowl isn’t going to happen, it’s looking more and more likely that this could be Beamer’s swan song.

While Georgia Tech has a game that they can lose and still back their way into a bowl game, a home loss to N.C. State to drop to 2-4 might get the vultures circling in Blacksburg.

Michael Vick, Marcus Vick, DeAngelo Hall, now Bill Cosby? Might be getting what's coming to ya, Hokies.

Michael Vick, Marcus Vick, DeAngelo Hall, and….. Bill Cosby? Might be getting what’s coming to ya, Hokies. I shudder to think what happened in this room after Beamer left it. 

Speaking of Beamer and the Hokies, wouldn’t The Battle at Bristol lose some of its luster if Virginia Tech were to find themselves coming off a season without a bowl game? Yeah? Well, what if both Virginia Tech AND Tennessee were coming off seasons without making a bowl? Don’t look now organizers, but that very well could be what takes place.

While the final five games on Tennessee‘s schedule look very, very winnable, and thus, completely missing out on a bowl game doesn’t look as likely with the Vols as it does with the two Techs, it can’t be ruled out. Kentucky is better. Maty Mauck could be back for Missouri by the time they meet, South Carolina could be fighting for their post-season lives in their own right, and Kentucky could be actually playing for something at the end of November. So if you’re Tennessee, you would like a little wiggle room.

The problem is, as they too sit at 2-3, they’ve got a very angry Georgia team coming to Knoxville this week, and then after that they have to travel to take on the Alabama team who has made this Georgia team so angry. 2-5 looks very, very possible. As mentioned, the schedule eases up enough to think that at 2-5, Tennessee could still finish 7-5. However, you have to look deeper than just the ease of the schedule. You have to look at the psyche of this program. Tennessee has lost six or more games in seven consecutive years. Yes, you read that correct, Tennessee hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2007.
So how much life do you think will be left in this team if it starts 2-5? Lane Kiffin bolted after a year. Derek Dooley didn’t finish his third season. Butch Jones is in his third season. Rocky Top could be about to explode….. again.

Mentioned in looking at the schedule Tennessee closes with was of course the old ball coach and South Carolina. There are two programs Spurrier likes to beat more than anyone; Georgia and Tennessee. When looking at what South Carolina has left, there is virtually no way they can survive losing to Tennessee and still make a bowl game. As bad as the remaining schedule looks for Georgia Tech, it’s even worse for South Carolina.

The Gamecocks can only afford three more losses to still make a bowl game. The problem? There are currently four teams ranked in the top 11 left on their schedule. Sure, I suppose it’s good news that three of them are at home, but home is where this team lost to Kentucky.

A bit of irony? The last time South Carolina didn’t make a bowl was 2007, as mentioned earlier, the last time Tennessee didn’t lose at least six games.

Shifting to the SEC West, Auburn isn’t in full-fledged panic mode yet, but they are one road loss in the next two weeks away from going to defcon one. With Ole Miss, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama as four of their final five games, Auburn does not want to enter the final five games of the season anything less than 5-2. Knowing they must win one of those four to reach a bowl game, after pre-season expectations (wildly placed, and not by yours truly) of contending for a national title would be a lot of pressure on a fragile team. Which is why Auburn is getting a bye at the right time.

Because these next two games, at Kentucky, and at Arkansas, are absolutely must win games. And neither looks like a gimme. Conference road games are always tough. But when you need overtime to beat Jacksonville State at home, and only led San Jose State by 7 at home late in the fourth quarter, is there any reason to believe you have any kind of chance on the road against SEC opponents?

Auburn is talented. More talented than their next two opponents. But, they’re also far more talented than both Jacksonville State and San Jose State, and it didn’t mean that much. The problem for Auburn, much like at Georgia Tech, is the very real possibility of finishing the season with 8 or 9 losses. If Auburn stumbles against Kentucky in two weeks, the question becomes, aside from Idaho, will they win another game this year?

I only mention Texas because, well, I have to. They are still one of the biggest brands in the country, even if the on field product has deteriorated to the point it’s unrecognizable. Texas can only afford to lose two more games and still squeak into a bowl game. And both Baylor and Oklahoma still loom on the schedule.

Granted, Texas showed some life against Cal and Oklahoma State, two top 25 teams, but all that progress seemed to get erased with the shellacking at the hands of TCU on Saturday. The schedule outside of national title contenders Oklahoma and Baylor isn’t all that daunting, though no trip to Morgantown is fun, and Kansas State is a very underrated team. The problem is the losses to Cal and Oklahoma State due to shoddy special teams play that pretty much make all of these games must win games for the Horns to make a bowl game. Because, let’s face it, there’s absolutely zero reason on this planet to think they’re beating Oklahoma or Baylor at this point.

Making matters worse seems to be the discord in the locker room that spilled out on to social media this week. The situation in Austin, Texas is messy. There’s a new AD in charge, and Charlie Strong looks more and more like a dead man walking. And if he is, Texas could be staring down the barrel of a season spent threatening to lose double-digit games. Thank God for Kansas, right?

Speaking of former Big 12 powers, someone should tell Mike Riley he’s not in Corvallis anymore. Nebraska finds themselves in as precarious a situation as just about anyone on this list. They sit at 2-3, and with their two most winnable games both being on the road, the margin for error is slim, at most. Missing bowl games doesn’t sit well with the folks in Lincoln. At all. Winning 9 games a year didn’t sit well with them, so imagine bordering on losing that many in a season.

The schedule is also much tougher than it looked a few weeks ago. Northwestern is good. Really good. Iowa is a lot better than expected. Granted, they must come to Lincoln, but that’s where BYU has already won, after losing their starting quarterback, and Southern Miss made a game of it. This is a team that was curb stomped for three quarters by Miami, today’s Miami, not the Miami you grew up hearing about, and who lost to a team who fired their coach in August before the first game was even played.

Yes, there are serious concerns in Lincoln right now. But, on the bright side, as alluded to, they get their toughest opponents all at home. Iowa and Northwestern might have established themselves as the favorites in the division, though neither possesses an offense that looks like it could bury Nebraska and leave them with no chance. Wisconsin has shown they don’t have a pulse offensively against a semi competent defense, and the Spartans of Michigan State seem to be missing that special something at this point of the season. So, with the glass half full, there’s reason to think Nebraska has a shot to win all four of these games, and, ultimately, win out and play for the division title.

But they lost to Illinois.

And there is the glass half empty. It’s also conceivable they lose all four and miss the post-season. It’s conceivable that they not only lose all four, but that they get stymied by the Minnesota defense on the road as well, and the Huskers finish 4-8, at best.

Just a a few short years ago it would have been preposterous to suggest that as we approached the middle of the college football season that programs like Auburn, Texas and Nebraska would be facing such daunting tasks just to make it into a bowl game. Such is the nature of college football though. Two of the most respected coaches in the game, Spurrier and Beamer need to pull rabbits out of a hat to try to salvage their seasons. It’s just the cyclical nature of the game. Not every program, or every coach can stay on top forever. If you’re a Tennessee fan though, you’re starting to wonder if you’ll ever get on top again, or if the karma from firing Phil Fulmer and hiring Lane Kiffin is seeing to it that you never regain your place among the SEC elite. And if you’re a Georgia Tech, you’re kicking yourself for becoming a prisoner of the moment and being blinded to the reality that you knew existed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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