College Football Saturday TV Previews
Let's get TV plans for Saturday set…
Oklahoma State-Missouri (Noon ET, FX)
The highlight of the early window, with the Cowboys looking to avoid a post-Texas letdown against a team that's at least as good, if not as prestigious as the Longhorns. Mizzou runs the ball well with Henry Josey, and Tiger quarterback James Franklin is a two-threat player. The problem is that Missouri's offense is still most effective in a game where the pace is kept manageable. Okie State will do everything to disrupt that, and there's nothing suggesting that Missouri's defense is up to the task of slowing down Brandon Weeden, Kendall Hunter and Justin Blackmon. The guess here is that a bit of a letdown combined with Mizzou's homefield keep this one competitive, but too much firepower prevails for Oklahoma State in the end.
ESPN offers North Carolina-Clemson, although I think the juice from this one was lost a bit when the Tar Heels lost to Miami. If you can't contain Jacory Harris, then Clemson's Tajh Boyd-to-Sammy Watkins combo should have a field day. ESPN2 is stuck with Illinois-Purdue, a game that will inspire Saturday chores to get taken care of everywhere.
Auburn-LSU (3:30 ET, CBS)
This game's gotten considerable juice to it, now that LSU has suspended star corner Tyrann Mathieu and starting running back Spencer Ware. The latter is replaceable and I believe Michael Ford is more than capable of handling the rushing duties, but a lockdown corner like Mathieu isn't. Auburn is going through quarterback changes, as Clint Moseley seems to be winning the job away from Barrett Trotter, who was ineffective, even as his team was winning. It's still not going to be easy to throw the ball against the LSU defense, as they have tremendous speed throughout and can get after the passer. But it's a little less onerous that it was prior to Mathieu's suspension. In the end, Auburn doesn't have the passing game to exploit this new edge and win on the road, but this game will be closer than the 21-point spread (which may drop substantially between now and kickoff) and LSU is now vulnerable to an opponent like Arkansas, who throws the ball much more effectively.
The other games in the midafternoon are pretty tame. Air Force plays Boise State on Versus, and the looming question of "style points" always hangs over the poor Broncos, for whom just winning decisively is never enough. ABC is stuck with an awful regional package of Nebraska-Minnesota, Georgia Tech-Miami and Texas A&M-Iowa State. I suppose the Tech-Miami game isn't bad and it involves two teams in the wild ACC Coastal race, but it's nothing to keep anyone away from Auburn-LSU.
Prime-time is where the real action of Saturday night goes, with three good games, along with Alabama-Tennessee (7:15 ET, ESPN2) a game that might have been good if not for the injury to Vol quarterback Tyler Bray. And don't forget there's also Game 3 of the World Series, so there's plenty to look forward to on this night, including…
USC-Notre Dame (7:30 ET, NBC): A rare night game for the Irish, and offhand I want to say this is their first prime-time home game since Michigan in 1988, which would make it the first since NBC got the exclusive contract to ND home games. Irish-Trojans might not be a battle of national powers like when Ara and McKay strolled the sidelines, but nor is it the mismatch of the Pete Carroll era. Both teams have a great pass-and-catch combo, with Tommy Rees and Michael Floyd for the hosts and Matt Barkley and Robert Woods for USC. Brian Kelly's team does run the ball more consistently with Cierre Wood, they're at home and they get a big win. Notre Dame has to be thinking about winning out to the season finale with Stanford, which would get them to 9-2 and likely playing for a BCS slot against the Cardinal.
Wisconsin-Michigan State (8 ET, ESPN): Sparty was the only team to beat Wisconsin last year and they could hold the same honor this year. This is also a likely preview of the Big Ten Championship Game, with both teams in opposite divisions of the new-look conference. Wisconsin is the solid favorite and there is no reason to think MSU can slow down Russell Wilson, especially now that he has Nick Toon back at receiver, after the latter missed last week with a foot injury. Nor can the Spartans hope to slow down the Badger rushing attack. What they can hope to do is gash the UW defensive front. Both UNLV and Indiana piled up nice rushing numbers against Wisconsin, and Edwin Baker for Michigan State can certainly exceed that. Kirk Cousins can move the ball in the air. If Sparty can build a ground-oriented attack that scores about 31 points they can win. Tough to do, but not impossible. And as a Wisconsin fan, I'm forgoing a pick and concerned about the emotion the home team will bring to this prime-time telecast.
Washington-Stanford (8 ET, ABC): It's a classic "show us what you've got" kind of game on both sides. Washington's 3-0 in the Pac-12, but hasn't played any of the better teams in the conference. Stanford is rolling along undefeated, and Andrew Luck's Heisman campaign continues unabated, but they too have to show they're really all that. The Huskies did not play well defensively in a road visit to Nebraska in September, giving up 51 points. What's Luck going to do to them? And don't overlook underappreciated Stanford running back Stephan Taylor. I'm not sure just how good Stanford is, but I think they hang some big numbers on the board here.