College Football Week 6: Pac-12 North Keys The Undercard

The Pac-12 South kicks of college football Week  6 tonight, as USC pays a visit to Utah. While it’s unlikely this one will be much of a game—in addition to not being good enough, the Utes have some injuries on the offensive line—the powers-that-be on the other side of the conference have some key games Saturday that lead up our discussion of the Saturday undercard.

Stanford is coming off a tough loss at Washington last Thursday night. The Cardinal can still likely win out and win the division, but there’s no room for error as they try and stay within a game of Oregon. Stanford visits another team who took a tough loss last week. Arizona lost on a late drive by Oregon State, and Saturday presents Rich Rodriguez with another chance at a signature win in Tucson

This game will have a decidedly different feel than the Stanford-Washington game. That game was close-to-the-vest, and the Huskies were comfortable playing at Stanford’s between-the-tackles pace and able to rally in the fourth quarter. Arizona will try and push the tempo with quarterback Matt Scott showing he’s well up to speed running the Rich-Rod offense.

The key is going to be for Stanford to stick with its running game, even if they fall behind early and see if they can force Scott into some mistakes. I like their chances of doing that—the Cardinal is a well-disciplined team and this is the kind of spot where that edge really stands out.

Washington, fresh off their upset, and ten days to get ready goes to Oregon. I suppose in theory this is a game where the Huskies can mark themselves as a contender for the division title—heck, if they pull the upset, you’d have to call them the favorite. But the tempo dynamics that governed their win over Stanford will not be in evidence on Saturday in Eugene, and this is a case where the talent disparity is going to favor the faster team.

Washington is well-suited to spring an upset on a team like Stanford, who tends to keep games close. I don’t believe the Huskies can even get in striking distance against Oregon, who should hold its #2 spot in the national rankings.

Now let’s move conference-by-conference with a look at other undercard games ahead…

Big 12: Five teams are still undefeated in this conference, and preseason favorite Oklahoma isn’t one of them. The Sooners go to Texas Tech, one of the unbeatens and putting up big yardage behind the right arm of Seth Doege. But the Red Raiders are dealing with some academic problems with a couple receivers.

Furthermore, Tech doesn’t play the same smack-you-in-the-mouth style that Kansas State did in upsetting Oklahoma. As a result, I think Landry Jones will win a shootout in Lubbock. Speaking of shootouts, the one set between West Virginia-Texas will be a part of tomorrow’s marquee game feature.

And a battle of unbeatens takes place with Iowa State-TCU, although Horned Frog quarterback Casey Pachall is going to miss this game with an injury (actually he was suspended for a DWI). These aren’t the TCU teams of the last two years that did it with defense and the running game. Pachall’s arm is essential to their success and without him, Iowa State is a little bit better.

SEC: It’s a big week in the SEC. So big that we’re going to wait until tomorrow to look at the two biggest games, which are LSU-Florida and Georgia-South Carolina.

Big East: Friday night offers Pitt-Syracuse, two teams that have been a mix of tease and disappointment in September. I was high on the ‘Cuse to start the year, but they’ve not met expectations, while Pitt has started to look a little better after a terrible start. The loser faces a lot of question marks going forward. And conference front-runner Rutgers hosts UConn, a game that should give the Scarlet Knights little trouble.

ACC: Georgia Tech and Clemson have already seen their hopes of playing for the conference championship realistically dash. Now each is playing to salvage a season, especially the Yellow Jackets, are playing terrible defense and were beaten up by Middle Tennessee last week. If you’re playing bad defense, seeing Clemson, with Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins on the other side of the field, isn’t exactly an antidote.

If Clemson is going to get back in the race, it would help greatly if N.C. State could beat Florida State, a big Atlantic Division game that will be a part of tomorrow’s previews.

Don’t overlook Duke—at 4-1, in a weak Coastal Division, the prolific passing attack led by Sean Renfree could surprise. If the Blue Devils are going to be this year’s version of Virginia, then they’ll need to beat Virginia on Saturday. It’s another contrast in styles kind of game, with Mike London’s Cavs needing to play it close to the vest, and Renfree wanting to get the passing game opened up and make some big plays to Connor Vernon on the outside. I like their chances, mainly because Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco has been mistake-prone, something that can’t happen in their offense.

Did I just really burn an entire paragraph writing about a Duke-Virginia football game? I need to get either an editor or a life.

Big Ten: Illinois-Wisconsin is a big game involving bad teams, and not just because yours truly will be in attendance at Camp Randall on Saturday. Either Wisconsin, Illinois or Purdue will be in the Big Ten championship game (and I suppose technically Indiana could too) and the winnowing out process starts Saturday.

Purdue has been the most impressive of those contenders, but their home game against Michigan will be the first real test. Northwestern-Penn State is a good game  unlikely to matter because of the Lion probation. NU is playing solid, steady football right now, while Penn State has seen Matt McGloin really emerge at quarterback. It should be a good one in Happy Valley. Nebraska-Ohio State goes in prime-time and will be previewed tomorrow.

A  few notes from the midmajors…

*UL-Monroe and Middle Tennessee are Sun Belt teams who have made their mark in beating power conference opponents, and now go head-to-head. UL-Monroe’s win was over Arkansas, which I think we have to concede now looks vastly overrated. Maybe the same will be true of the Middle Tennessee victory over Georgia Tech, but for now I’m going to lean to the Blue Raiders in this one.

*Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch has been an all-everything quarterback in his first year as starter in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. The Huskies play a pretty good Ball State team, as both angle for position in the MAC West. The other likely contender in that division is Toledo, who is home against respectable Central Michigan.

*Rakeem Cato’s putting up big numbers for Marshall and now plays host to Tulsa, a game both schools hope is a prelude to a rematch in the Conference USA championship game come December 1.

*Utah State is looking to continue a nice non-conference run for themselves, and for their league, when they go to BYU. Chuckie Keeton threw for over 400 yards last week, and it’ll be necessary for the versatile quarterback to open things up with his arm again in this game.

TheSportsNotebook will have its usual Friday feature of the marquee games, which, in addition to the  five conference games mentioned above, will also include the Miami-Notre Dame battle from Soldier Field in Chicago.