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

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

Must See Games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upset Watch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Forget About:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of the Rest:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Your College Football Viewing Guide

Early Games

1. Auburn at Clemson 12:00 ABC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. West Virginia at Maryland 12:00 ESPNU

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

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

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

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

3. Penn State at Temple 12:00 ESPN

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

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

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

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

Pittsburgh at Iowa 12:00 ESPN2-

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

Kansas at Georgia Tech 12:30 FSN

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

Afternoon Games

1. Tennessee at Florida 3:30 CBS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Michigan State at Notre Dame 3:30 NBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Texas at UCLA 3:30 ABC

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

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

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

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

Washington at Nebraska 3:30 ABC

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

Virginia at North Carolina 3:30 ESPNU

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

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

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

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

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

Night Cap

1. Oklahoma at Florida State 8:00 ABC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Ohio State at Miami 7:30 ESPN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Navy at South Carolina 6:00 ESPN2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syracuse at USC 8:00 FX

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

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

It also makes them even more attractive to the ACC.

Utah at BYU 9:15 ESPN2

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

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

Oklahoma State at Tulsa 10:00 FSN

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

LATE LATE Night

Stanford at Arizona 10:45 ESPN

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

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

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

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

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