A look at what’s ahead for college football fans on TV this Saturday…
Oklahoma-Texas (Noon ET, ABC)
It’s the annual Red River Rivalry played at its usual location in Dallas’ Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma’s in the middle of the national title race, presumably controlling their own destiny to a spot in the January 9 title game, but the toughest games in the Big 12 are still ahead of them and it starts here. After a disastrous 2010 season, Texas has rebounded nicely, and while they don’t have the look of an elite team, they are playing some very good defense. The concern I have here is that their corners may not be able to match up with OU’s receivers, especially Ryan Broyles, and the Longhorns also have some injury problems at safety. Offensively, UT has found a new McCoy-Shipley combination. After their 2009 title run was keyed by Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley playing pass and catch, now Case McCoy and Jaxon Shipley are the new tandem. Texas is on the right track and this one will be tougher than the Las Vegas says (Oklahoma -10), but the Sooners stay on track.
Florida-LSU (3:30 ET, CBS)
This game looked a lot better this time last week. That was before Florida quarterback John Brantley went out with a high ankle sprain. More importantly, it was before Florida lost to Alabama 38-10 at home and showed themselves still several steps behind the real powers of this conference. Even with Brantley, the Gator offense was one-dimensional, relying on running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps for not only rushing yardage but to be primary receivers. Even with Brantley, Florida would have been lucky to score 14 points. Now they’ll be lucky to sniff the end zone even once against the swarming Tiger defense. The final score may end up being respectable, because the LSU offense has its own set of issues and running back Spencer Ware is questionable, but who’s going to win will never be in serious doubt.
ABC has its usual split coverage across the country in this time slot. None of the games are huge, but all are interesting. Virginia Tech meets up with Miami in Blacksburg. Neither team has impressed and both suffered key injury losses on the defensive front, but the winner still only has one ACC loss and with Florida State and Clemson in the opposite division, the winner of this one still has a shot at the Coastal Division title. In the Big Ten, it’s Iowa-Penn State with the Hawkeyes talking seriously about running more no-huddle offense to take advantage of quarterback James Vanden Berg’s development. Penn State is just looking to run any kind of offense at all and even at home, it’s hard to pick them in this spot. The Big 12 offers Missouri-Kansas State, with the question being which dark horse gets less respect. Both quarterbacks—James Franklin for Mizzou and Collin Klein for K-State—take their share of pounding running the ball—and the winner will have a chance at one of the Big 12’s better bowl bids.
Ohio State-Nebraska (8 ET, ABC)
The folks at ABC must not have an opt-out option in their television choices here, because this once-juicy looking matchup is now the best advertisement there is to watch Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night. As bad as the final score for Nebraska looked at Wisconsin last week, bear in mind that the Cornhuskers did run the ball well and were hanging right with the Badgers before Taylor Martinez imploded with three straight interceptions that led directly to touchdowns. Ohio State’s 10-7 loss to Michigan State doesn’t look as ugly, but when you give up more sacks (9) than you score points and that touchdown doesn’t come until a few seconds are left in the game, then things are looking bleak. Ohio State doesn’t have the offense to put real pressure on Nebraska’s offense to keep up, which in turn means no real pressure on Martinez, which leads us to the conclusion that the Cornhuskers won’t beat themselves. Which means the rout is on Lincoln.
The better games at night are in the SEC in the 7 ET time slot, with Auburn-Arkansas (ESPN) in the West and Georgia-Tennessee (ESPN2) in the East. The Tigers and Hogs aren’t going to challenge Alabama or LSU for the Western title, but the winner of this game will help itself with regard to reaching a New Year’s Day bowl game. In the more watered-down East, the Dawgs-Vols winner will be right in the mix.