The Red River Rivalry renews on Saturday when Texas plays Oklahoma at their traditional neutral site venue in the old Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns and Sooners each come in with an air of desperation, as both have dropped conference games, to West Virginia and Kansas State respectively. There’s no room for error if either team wants to get back in the national championship race and there might not be even when it comes to just winning a Big 12 title.
If it seems like you haven’t seen at lot of Oklahoma, it’s because they’ve already had two bye weeks and are 3-1. This game starts an eight-week stretch of no off weeks, and including a home date with Notre Dame, road trips to West Virginia and Iowa State and a season finale at TCU. And OU needs to win all eight.
Oklahoma can feel good about where they’re at defensively. They picked off Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege three times last week, and Doege had been carving up secondaries prior. Even in the Sooners’ loss to Kansas State, they played a respectable game on defense. The issue is going to be the depth at the skill positions and whether Landry Jones can start coming up big in key situations.
Jones does not have the same kind of depth at receiver he’s had in the past when Ryan Broyles was out on the flank. But Kenny Stills is still a quality target and at the end of the day, it’s the quarterback that makes the receiver more than vice-versa. If Jones can’t do that it confirms the doubts of his worst critics, which say he’s a product of the system and not a driver of the system.
Texas doesn’t have any concerns about their production through the air, as David Ash has not only seized a job that was up for grabs between him and Case McCoy in August, but Ash has moved himself into any discussion about who the second-best quarterback is in the Big 12, behind West Virginia’s Geno Smith. But the Longhorn defense has been a big disappointment this year, and the running game hasn’t impressed anyone.
I expect Ash to have a decent game, but going against a good secondary, he’s going to have to get help from his running game, and the UT defense can’t place him in situations where he has to play from behind. I like Oklahoma’s ability to keep themselves in situations where Ash has to throw, thereby giving the defense a chance to make its own big plays.
I’m not entirely sold on Jones as a big-game quarterback, but the Longhorn defense hasn’t proved it can really test anyone. Let’s call this one for Oklahoma in the 38-24 range.
Click here to read a conference-by-conference review of other notable games on the Saturday schedule, starting with a discussion of the realistic Orange Bowl hopes still harbored by Boise State.
Now let’s move on to the other two big games of college football Week 7, Stanford-Notre Dame & South Carolina-LSU…
Stanford-Notre Dame: This game stands to have huge implications in each team’s push for a major bowl bid. Even if you don’t believe Stanford can beat Oregon in the Pac-12 North (and I don’t), if the Cardinal added a win over Notre Dame to go with an earlier victory over USC, and they can find themselves in good position for at-large invitation to a BCS bowl game. It could be the Rose, if Oregon ends up playing for the national title and they’d also be a good fit for the Fiesta. But Stanford needs to win this game to make their case.
Notre Dame, ranked 7th in the AP poll, can be forgiven for thinking bigger thoughts than just getting to one of the big bowl games. At 5-0, they have two losses to give, but if ND doesn’t get this game, those visits to Oklahoma and USC can knock them out of a major bowl altogether, never mind the national championship.
Both teams play similar styles. Each brings a physical brand of football, with Stanford running behind Stephan Taylor and Notre Dame using the two-pronged backfield of George Atkinson III and Theo Riddick. But I don’t like how un-physical Stanford was in their narrow 54-48 escape against Arizona last week.
It’s true that ND won’t spread the field like Arizona did, and Stanford might be more comfortable playing their own style of play. But if you use that argument, then what’s the explanation for losing to Washington, a 17-13 game that unfolded exactly the way a physical run-oriented team would have liked?
The concerns surrounding Notre Dame surround the caliber of competition. They’ve played a good schedule to date, but we also have to note that it’s against teams from the Big Ten (Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue) and the ACC (Miami). The Irish have proved everything that can be realistically proven, and I think they are unquestionably better than any team coming out of these two conferences or the Big East.
But now we’re jumping up in class, playing a top team from the troika of the Pac-12/Big 12/SEC that rules college football. Can ND still push people around in the trenches?
Given this, Notre Dame being favored by more than a touchdown seems excessive. But playing in South Bend means you have to give them the benefit of the doubt and think they’ll get to 6-0.
South Carolina-LSU: Let’s begin by noting that this game is much more important to LSU than it is to South Carolina. The Tigers’ loss in Florida last week means their back to the wall for the national title I know, I see nothing in this team that suggests such a run is possible, but that is the goal that motivates the players and therefore the urgency is relevant.
But even if you don’t buy into that possibility, you’ll surely buy into the notion that LSU wants to win the SEC West and they need to stay within a game of Alabama before the Crimson Tide comes to Baton Rouge in November.
Meanwhile, South Carolina has moved up to third in the polls after their thrashing of Georgia, and they have a much bigger game next week at Florida (whomever set this schedule must have something against Steve Spurrier). If the Gamecocks lose Saturday night, they can still beat Florida and keep control of the SEC East.
And if they win out, that includes games against Tennessee, Clemson and a presumed SEC Championship date with Alabama. Yeah, I think 12-1 against that schedule gets them into a national title shot.
LSU showed they can still defend a run-oriented offense. Even though they allowed 134 yards to Florida running back Mike Gillislee, they only allowed 14 points to the Florida offense. This suggests that Marcus Lattimore alone won’t be enough for South Carolina to win. They’ll need Connor Shaw to throw more than the 10 passes he attempted against Georgia, and they’ll need him to expand the field and incorporate his receivers into the passing offense a little more. Shaw has been very high efficiency this season, but if his team is going to win Saturday night, he’ll need to go to the proverbial next level.
All things being equal, I think South Carolina is a much better team than LSU this season, but this is one of those spots were things are anything but equal. LSU’s got the homefield, South Carolina’s in a schedule crunch spot and the Tigers are desperate. The Mad Hatter will have enough in his bag of tricks to pull one out here.