Tag Archives: Tennessee Volunteers

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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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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Quick thoughts from week two

Lane Kiffin won’t be the head coach at USC next year. He won’t ever be the head coach anywhere again. He’s a joke.

Michigan State is a really good team with really bad quarterback play. No way they can best out the likes of Nebraska, Michigan, and Northwestern in what is a very good division.

Jeff Driskel is bad. Real bad. Florida has to have a better option on that roster.

Miami and Florida State have easy schedules the rest of the way. A couple double digit win seasons from these two could help shift the balance of power in Florida.

It’s not just the two Florida schools though. Clemson and Virginia have also produced impressive non conference wins. The ACC may not be the joke it’s been lately, Logan Thomas not withstanding.

Texas, really? The other contenders on the Big XII have all shown dramatic defensive improvement. Without massive improvement, and quickly, Texas could struggle to reach .500. Saturday against Ole Miss is a must win.

Tennessee has looked good against lesser competition. Reality check this week.

Louisville isn’t playing around. The competition hadn’t been tough, but they’ve handled it like a contender should.

Indiana blew a chance for a strong start to their season by losing to Navy.

Raheem Cato and Marshall can score some points, lots of them. Watch them when you can.

Southern Miss has gone from 12-2 to one of three worst teams in the nation in the blink of an eye. It’s astonishing.

I’ve tried telling people that Ohio is overrated and Bowling Green will win that division. Maybe they’ll start listening now.

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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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Late Night Drive, Top 25 Round-Up, New Top 25, Big 10 In Big Trouble, Other Week Two Thoughts

1.  Alabama– W vs Western Kentucky 35-0: What did you really expect out of this one? ‘Bama did what you would expect, and will travel to take on a wounded Arkansas team who better have a chip on their shoulder next week

2. USC– W vs Syracuse 42-29: The win was not as impressive as you might have thought it would be considering Lane Kiffin’s disgust at losing the number one ranking. A 13 point win over this Syracuse team is no way to prove you deserve it.

3.  LSU– W 41-3 vs Washington: The Huskies scored first, and then watched LSU score the game’s remaining 41 points as the Tigers cruised to an easy victory. It was quite clear that Washington didn’t belong on the same field as the defending SEC champs, and it will only be even uglier against Idaho next week. With Auburn and Florida looking less and less imposing, and South Carolina coming to Baton Rouge, the Tigers next real test may be when they go to College Station to take on a Texas A&M team who is dying for a shot at the Bayou Bengals.

4.  Oregon– W 42-25 vs Fresno State: For the first half, Oregon was Oregon, busting out to a 35-3 lead and their second half finished getting the job done. It’s not like next week with Tennessee Tech will tell us anything more.

5.  Florida State– W vs Savannah State 55-0: I really don’t even want to acknowledge this game actually took place.

6.  West Virginia- Bye: Why, oh, why weren’t we treated to a West Virginia/Florida State matchup on Saturday???

7.  Michigan State– W 41-7 vs Central Michigan: With the rest of the Big Ten struggling this season so far, there is absolutely no reason right now not to have Michigan State as the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten title after coming up just short a year ago. They host Notre Dame next week in what should be a decent test for Sparty, but so far, they’ve looked as advertised on defense.

8.  Georgia– W at Missouri 41-20: Old man football? Imagine if they played young man’s football what they would have done. It seems the old man football was better conditioned for four quarters of play than Missouri. That, and Jarvis Jones may be the best defensive player in college football. Georgia was the only top 25 team this week to go on the road, and win. Not only did they win, they did so impressively in a tough environment. Everybody should be back from suspensions by the time Tennessee comes calling in the next big game for Georgia. For Missouri, they get one more home game before having to travel to play South Carolina on the road. A win over Arizona next week is paramount, because they don’t want to be staring at 1-3 when they take on the Gamecocks.

9.  Oklahoma– W vs Florida A&M 69-13: This blowout does little to ease the concerns that arose after struggling to beat UTEP in the season opener. The Sooners get Kansas State at home in two weeks, as its sandwiched by their two bye weeks. That one will be a good barometer of what to expect from Oklahoma in their final nine games.

10. Ohio State– W vs Central Florida 31-16: Central Florida is not a bad football team, so getting a double digit win over them isn’t anything to scoff at. Considering the rest of the conference’s struggles, the Buckeyes appear to be among the Big 10 elite. Too bad they can’t win it. A late first half interception that set up a touchdown turned the tide against Central Florida, who led 10-7 and had the ball around midfield. Ohio State didn’t look back from there.

11. Clemson– W vs Ball State 52-27: This Tigers team is good, but just how good? The Auburn victory a week ago doesn’t look nearly as impressive after the egg they laid against Mississippi State. We will know much more about these Tigers in two weeks when they travel south to play Florida State.

12. Arkansas– L vs Louisiana Monroe 31-34: Easily the upset of the day, and perhaps season thus far. The Razorbacks better hope Tyler Wilson can play next week, otherwise the 38-14 whipping put on them by the Tide last year might look like it was actually a competitive game. Then again, it’s not backup quarterback Brandon Allen’s fault that the defense allowed 440 plus yards passing through the air.

13. Nebraska– L at UCLA 36-30: UCLA ran 94 plays to Nebraska’s 67, and that’s a good way to outgain a foe 653-439. After playing brilliantly against Southern Miss, Taylor Martinez struggled, but not nearly as much as the Husker defense, yielding 217 yards to Johnathan Franklin. The last time UCLA scored 34 or more points in back to back games was 2007. This season, in both games they’ve surpassed their season high in points from a year ago.

14. Texas– W 45-0 vs New Mexico: It was only New Mexico, but it was still a shutout. The Longhorn defense is extremely good, and figures to get better as the year goes on. They get a shot to go beat up on an SEC team in Ole Miss next week before getting a bye week and beginning their conference slate.

15. South Carolina– W vs East Carolina 48-10: Dylan Thompson got the start, and played well, throwing for over 300 scores and three touchdowns. Is there a quarterback controversy? Probably not yet, but there could be before the Gamecocks welcome in the other Columbia school (Missouri) to Williams-Brice Stadium in two weeks.

16. Kansas State– W vs Miami 52-13: The Wildcats are a major sleeper in the Big 12 this year, and Saturday proved that they are serious about proving last season was no fluke. A complete domination of Miami, their second straight win over the Canes, along with a battle with lowly North Texas next week, means their September, 22 trip to Norman to play Oklahoma will have an awful lot on the line. There were concerns about the Kansas State defense entering the year after losing three of their top four tacklers. It looked mighty solid Saturday. As for Miami, they have lost at least six games in five of their last six seasons. They may make it seven of eight this year. My how the mighty have fallen

17. Notre Dame– W vs Purdue 20-17: Notre Dame survived a late rally by Purdue to tie the game by answering with a quick drive of their own culminating in a game winning 27 yard field goal as time expired. But let’s be real, this isn’t exactly a very good Purdue football team, and getting just 52 yards on 36 carries against a team who allowed 175 yards per game a year ago is not a good sign at all. The schedule toughens up big time for the Irish in the next two months, and they could be anywhere from 3-5 to potentially 8-0. Impossible to have a good read on this team yet.

18. Virginia Tech– W 42-7 vs Austin Peay: As often is the case against an FCS team, it’s almost impossible to really learn anything about a team. Georgia Tech’s explosion against their own FCS team is probably the best thing seen from the Hokies all day. Their trip to Pittsburgh next week doesn’t look remotely close to as difficult as it seemed three weeks ago

19. Louisville– W vs Missouri State 35-7 The Cardinals will get a real test next week when North Carolina comes calling. But as it appears now, they’re a legitimate threat to the Big East title, and with South Florida, Cincinnati, and Connecticut at home, a 12-0 season might be something to think about with this team

20. Oklahoma State L at Arizona 59-38: Despite over 600 yards of offense, four turnovers doomed the Cowboys who realized this Rich Rodriguez Wildcats team is no Savannah State. Speaking of Rich Rodriguez’s Wildcats, in the last 5 years, Arizona has started 2-0 three times, making a bowl all three seasons. It’s a good omen

21. North Carolina– L at Wake Forest 28-27: For as talented as North Carolina is, when your team has no real goals with which to strive for during the season, it can be a very trying year with college kids, as is the case in Chapel Hill. With a trip to Louisville coming up next week, it looks like another story of a talented North Carolina team being undermined by off-field issues. Wake Forest meanwhile was thought to be perhaps the worst team in the ACC. This may be another of Jim Grobe’s overachievers.

22. Boise State– Bye

23. Tennessee– W 53-13 vs Georgia State: The Vols won and won big, as they should have. Now they get to host Florida in a game where they will get an opportunity to cement themselves as bonafide contenders in the SEC East, and set up a potentially HUGE game in Athens two weeks after that.

24. TCU– W 56-0 vs Grambling: TCU eased through this warmup before making their Big 12 debut against Kansas next week. The Forgs have had double digit wins in each of the past four seasons, and that’s where expectations are this year, even with the switch to a superior conference.

25. Georgia Tech W 59-3 vs Presbyterian: Clearly, the Blue Hose defense is no Virginia Tech defense, as the Jackets rolled to over 700 yards of offense, and we found out they actually do have wide receivers on the field in this offense. A crucial home game with Virginia awaits.

Others:

Florida– W 20-17 at Texas A&M: Fortunately for the Gators, their defense took over in the second half and 17-7 deficit became a 20-17 victory. It’s a good thing though, because the Gators offense struggled again. Florida has to play at a very confident Tennessee next week, a much better Vols team than the one Florida beat a year ago.

Baylor- Bye

Michigan– W 31-25 vs Air Force: I guess it’s simply a college football tradition as grand as “The Victors” or the helmets Michigan wears, to overrate the Wolverines. At this point in the season, it certainly seems like it has happened again. In two weeks they travel to South Bend, in a game they MUST win.

Utah– L at Utah State 27-20: Who was it that said little brother might have a chance to win this game, especially if Chuckie Keeton played well for Utah State? *Ahem*

Auburn – L at Mississippi State 28-10: Don’t think for a second people on The Plains aren’t starting to call into question the hiring of Gene Chizik. Yes, he won them a national championship, but for his career, without Cam Newton as a quarterback, his overall record is 21-31. In case you didn’t realize, that’s bad. His SEC record without Cam Newton is 7-10. That seat is getting warmer, and even if they beat ULM next week (no sure thing), a likely loss to LSU would mean a 1-3 start.

South Florida– W at Nevada 32-31: In a game involving two of the better under the radar teams in the nation, South Florida rallied with a late touchdown to get off to a 2-0 start before playing Rutgers this upcoming Thursday night. The Bulls are the favorite in the Big East, while Nevada is expected to be Boise State’s fiercest competition in the Mountain West. Nevada has looked plenty the part, and should be 10-1 when they host Boise State on the first day of December.

Mississippi State– W vs Auburn 28-10: Dan Mullen is doing some really, really good things in Starkville. The Bulldogs completely dominated Auburn, and with the schedule setting up like it does, they very easily could be 5-0 when Tennessee pays a visit in October

Man,  how bad is Pittsburgh this year? 0-2 after being drubbed by Cincinnati, and neither loss was close. And one of those losses came to Youngstown State. This offense returned 9 starters from a year ago, but has scored only 27 points in two games.

Connecticut is going to be a factor in the Big East, their defense is more than good enough to ensure that they are. Meanwhile, Mike Glennon’s struggles continue for the North Carolina State Wolfpack, who despite getting the win, looked awfully unimpressive in a 10-7 victory over a team many pegged in the bottom half of the Big East.

Virginia may be 2-0 after a 17-16 win over Penn State, but it’s not exactly a 2-0 that inspires a lot of confidence that they didn’t overachieve a year ago. For Penn State, getting to .500 this year may be an ambitious goal, as Saturday was a clear example of how the Jerry Sanduski saga has an on-field affect. Anthony Fera, who made 14 of 17 field goals a year ago transferred. His replacement, Sam Ficken, missed four in the loss, including a game winner as time expired.

 I think the days of Colorado being considered a big time program are gone. In fact, it’s simply about time to say that Colorado is actually a bad football program. They’ve lost 50 games in the past six years, and now have begun this season 0-2 after an inexplicable 30-28 home loss to Sacramento State on a last second field goal. From this point out, it’s very conceivable that Colorado will not be a favorite in another game they play. In fact, entering this season, in their previous 33 games, Colorado was a favorite just five times.  They’re 0-2 this season, with losses to Sacramento State, and a Colorado State team that got beat by 15 by North Dakota State. This program may not only be the perennial Pac 12 bottom feeder, but right now, it’s not even a playoff team in FCS.
I’m sorry, but Kirk Ferentz might be the most overrated coach in America. I don’t understand all the hype around him. Five times in the past seven years Iowa has lost at least five games, the only exception being 2009 and the Orange Bowl victory. After barely beating Northern Illinois to start the season, a 9-6 loss to Iowa State has to have folks thinking their lucky stars that their schedule consists of so many bottom dwelling Big 10 teams. It was the second straight loss to Iowa State for the Hawkeyes, a trend that is more than a bit disconcerting. Iowa State by the way, has a very good chance to be 4-0 when they play TCU.
Last week I had someone point out that I foolishly completely left Wisconsin out of not only my top 25, but the entire list altogether. After the 10-7 loss at Oregon State, I don’t think that looks so foolish now, does it? The Beavers have what looked initially like two winnable road games back to back in the next two weeks with trips to UCLA and Arizona. Even a split in those two would put the Beavers in great position to return to a bowl for the first time since 2009.Arizona State absolutely hammered Illinois 45-14, an Illinois team that was thought to be a potential sleeper to win their division. Between Ohio State’s ineligibility, Wisconsin’s struggles, Penn State’s complete ineptitude and this flop by Illinois, the Big Ten leaders division may be the worst division in the entire country.

Man, how important was Art Briles and Case Keenum to Houston? This was a team who was one win away from a BCS bowl a year ago, and now is 0-2 with losses to Louisiana Tech and Texas State. Ouch.

Northwestern has taken on two BCS conference teams in their early non conference slate in Syracuse and Vanderbilt, and beaten them both. They take on a third in Boston College next week. The 2-0 start for the Wildcats has been one of the very few bright spots in the Big 10 this season.

To wrap it up, I’ll pick up where I left off with Northwestern. Just how bad is the Big Ten this year? Conference favorite Wisconsin squeaks by Northern Iowa and loses to Oregon State. Illinois gets blasted 45-14 by an Arizona State team expected to finish near the bottom of the Pac 12, while Penn State can’t beat Ohio and is 0-2. Not only that, Michigan embarrassed the conference against Alabama and did nothing to get rid of that sour taste with an uninspiring win over Air Force. Nebraska lost to UCLA because their defense forgot entirely how to tackle, and Iowa lost a second straight time to Iowa State. Things do not look good in Big 10 country.

New Top 25

1.  Alabama

2.  LSU

3.  USC

4.  Oregon

5.  Florida State

6.  West Virginia

7.   Michigan State

8.  Georgia

9.  Oklahoma

10. Ohio State

11. Clemson

12. Texas

13. Kansas State

14. South Carolina

15. Virginia Tech

16. Notre Dame

17. Louisville

18. Tennessee

19. Boise State

20. TCU

21. Mississippi State

22. Florida

23. Georgia Tech

24. UCLA

25. South Florida

Others

Stanford

Arizona State

Nebraska

Baylor

Arizona

Rutgers

Northwestern

Arkansas

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Desperate Vols Need a Win Against N.C. State

Tennessee vs North Carolina State

For the first time since 1939 Tennesee and North Carolina State will take each other on on the football field in game one of the Chick-fil-A kickoff at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. For Tennessee, there may be more at stake than for the Wolfpack.

The Volunteers, once a flagship program of the SEC have fallen into midpack territory in the SEC, as their place on the pecking order now may be beneath even that of Arkansas and South Carolina. Having fallen behind two members who joined the league in 1992 is an embarrassment for the once proud SEC power. Four consecutive seasons with at least six losses have Vols fans squirming, and very little Derek Dooley has done can really inspire much confidence that things are going to change.

The biggest culprit is the offense, or the complete and total lack of one. Injury to quarterback Tyler Bray last season certainly did nothing to help the cause, but for an SEC school with the resources of Tennessee, injuries are not a valid excuse.

Consider that no team in the league scored fewer points per game in conference games than Tennessee. Yes, that means 2-10 Ole Miss scored more points in SEC games than the Vols did. Tennessee averaged a mere 64 yards per game on the ground in conference play, including -30 yards rushing combined in their two games against Florida (-9) and Georgia (-21). Over a three game stretch against LSU, Alabama and South Carolina, the Vols scored a total of 16 points with a collective total of just 27 first downs in total. Tennessee scored more than 12 points in a conference game on just two occasions. Talk about offensive ineptitude.

Unfortunately for Tennessee the defense couldn’t even come close to picking up the slack. While the unit wasn’t horrible by any means, to overcome the lack of offense, it needed to be dominating, and it was far from it.

The good news for Tennessee is that they expected to return 19 starters, ten on offense, nine on defense, in an effort to bounce back to form. The bad news is that they open up against a very formidable North Carolina State team at a time where the leash for Dooley and the patience from Vols fans are both extremely short. This bad news was made worse when it was announced Da’Rick Rogers had been suspended and subsequently transferred to Tennessee Tech. As bad as the Volunteer offense was, Rogers shined a year ago, leading the SEC in receptions. Vols fans expected the pairing of Rogers and Justin Hunter to give them one of the better receiving corps in the country. So much for that.

The good news however is that all five starters return from what was an exceptionally young offensive line a year ago, which is a recipe for failure in the SEC. The question will be who is going to take over the running back duties from Tauren Poole. It’s not like the running game can be any worse, only against Buffalo did they even average over four yards per carry, so the only way to go is up.

Defensively they do indeed return nine starters, however two of their three leading tacklers from 2011 are not among the returnees. With the loss of Austin Johnson, not only does Tennessee lose their leading tackler, but also over half of their interceptions, so while the losses are minimal, they could have a huge impact. Expected to replace Austin Johnson as the teams playmaker on the defensive side of the ball is linebacker A.J. Johnson who was second on the team in tackles a year ago as a true freshman, and was a freshmen all-american.

So there are some reasons for optimism, but it should be heavily guarded optimism. You don’t perform as poorly as Tennessee did a year ago without having real deep rooted problems, problems that don’t tend to go away quickly. And this opening game of the 2012 season will show quite a bit as to how much improvement is made, because as mentioned, N.C. State is no slouch.

In fact, the Wolfpack figure to play a spoiler role in the ACC Atlantic Division. Expecting them to seriously challenge Florida State and Clemson for the division title might be a bit too unrealistic, they certainly will be a thorn in the side of the ACCs contenders.

But before spoiling the party in the ACC, the Wolfpack would first like to give Tennessee it’s third loss in four years to an ACC school, and the Wolfpack have the team to do just that. In fact, the matchup plays itself out almost perfectly for N.C. State. Last season the Wolfpack defense allowed just 3.7 yards per carry and just over 130 yards per game. Unfortunately, of their losses on defense this year, they lose five of the front seven from a year ago. So putting together a new front seven might be cause for concern against an SEC foe in week one. Unless of course that SEC foe has the running game of, say….Tennessee.

Losing five of the front seven is bad, but returning the entire secondary is anything but. Safeties Brandon Bishop and Earl Wolff were among the top three on the team in tackles last season and cornerback David Amerson led the nation with a whopping 13 interceptions. So considering that the Vols are going to have to throw the ball to have any success, N.C. State has to feel good about the fact that they are going to play right into the strength of this defense.

N.C. State did lose 15.5 from three departing starters on the defensive line, but they also return Art Norman, who as a redshirt freshmen had seven of his own. So getting to the quarterback shouldn’t be a huge problem, though Tennesse, amazingly enough a year ago, did a fantastic job at protecting the passer.

Offensively the Wolfpack possess what may be their finest offense in the last few years. Mike Glennon is a standout quarterback who will likely be a household name by the time the 2013 NFL draft roles around. Glennon threw for 3,000 yards and 31 scores a year ago and figures to top those numbers this year. Quarterback however is still an area of concern, as there is absolutely no depth behind Glennon should something happen. Brien Taylor and Tyler Brosious are no longer with the program, meaning freshmen Manny Stocker, who was at least in for the spring, likely will be the backup.

Another potential cause for concern is the receiver corps Glennon is throwing to. Three of the top four from last season are gone, as are roughly half of the touchdown receptions. How quickly sophomore Bryan Underwood or junior Quintin Payton become a dependable option opposite Tobais Palmer will go a long way in determing just how good this offense can be.

The offensive line brings back four starters, but junior tackle Rob Crisp was a very highly rated recruit coming out of high school and saw 413 snaps last year, so in a sense, the line returns virtually intact. And that is exactly what returning running backs Tony Creecy and James Washington want to hear. Creecy ran for nearly 400 yards as a redshirt freshmen, but early indications he’ll get the bulk of the carries this season, even though Washington ran for almost 900 last season.

Tonight, Tennessee knows it’s going to have to score to beat N.C. State, they aren’t going to be able to shut down the Wolfpack offense, but the matchups don’t lean in Tennessee’s favor, especially sans one of the nations best receivers. A third loss in four years to little sisters from the ACC is not going to sit well at all in Knoxville. A loss here could send things spiraling out of control, and quickly. Meanwhile, for N.C. State, a win could have them in prime position to be 4-0 when they travel to Miami at the end of the month.

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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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