Let’s set the TV agenda set for both college & the NFL this week…
COLLEGE FOOTBALL TV SATURDAY
Baylor-Texas A&M (Noon, FX): Get ready for the points to fly fast and furious, as Baylor brings all-everything quarterback Robert Griffin and talented receiver Kendall Wright, while A&M has Ryan Tannehill and running back Cyrus Gray. The Aggies also have a defense capable of melting down at a moment’s notice and it’s already cost them any national hopes they may have had. This game will be big for bowl positioning at year’s end—the Big 12’s Cotton Bowl slot may be up for grabs, and I like the Bears to spring the road upset as A&M’s defense has more second half problems.
Michigan-Michigan State (Noon ET, ESPN): This rivalry game is a huge battle in the Legends Division, as the winner will join Nebraska as the lead contender for a trip to Indianapolis for the conference championship game in December. Both teams stepped up and played good defense in league play. Michigan State registered nine sacks against Ohio State, while Michigan shut out Minnesota—I know it’s only the Golden Gophers, but for the past several years, the Wolverines haven’t been able to shut out anyone. Michigan State has a more balanced offense, while Michigan is reliant on Denard Robinson making plays. While I like UM’s improvement right now, I’m not sold on them as a complete team and look for Sparty to get this victory.
The other notable national TV game is Indiana-Wisconsin (Noon ET, ESPN2). Those of us who are Badger fans will watch, but I can’t think of any reason to recommend the game with the 40-point spread to be endured by anyone else, especially IU fans.
Games in the 3:30 ET time slot all lost some juice last week. There’s Oklahoma State-Texas (3:30 ET, ABC Regional). It was supposed to be a big test game for the Cowboys and maybe it will prove to be that. But we just saw the Longhorns hammered by Oklahoma and I’m sure Okie State quarterback Brandon Weeden was licking his chops at the vulnerable UT secondary. Ohio State-Illinois (3:30 ET, ABC Regional) lost its potential impact in the Leaders Division with the Buckeyes’ two conference losses, although whether Illinois can take care of business at home will give us a heads-up as to whether they can be the divisional challenger to Wisconsin. And LSU-Tennessee (3:30 ET, CBS) could be interesting as a letdown spot for the Tigers after their thirty-point thrashing of Florida, but Tennessee’s running game has been so inconsistent, especially in a disappointing loss to Georgia last week, that it’s tough to see an upset in Knoxville.
Prime-time is a little tamer than normal too. There’s no ABC game on Saturday night, as the network is televising Saturday night NASCAR as the race for the Sprint Cup is down to seven races left. Florida-Auburn (7 ET, ESPN) is an interesting cross-divisional SEC game, but with the Gators’ offensive problems I don’t see how they keep up with Auburn, especially on the road. The other two games are blowout specials with Stanford-Washington State (7:30 ET, Versus) and Oklahoma-Kansas (9:15 ET, ESPN). I suppose you can evaluate the NFL possibilities for Andrew Luck and Landry Jones. Mostly though, the main prime-time slot looks like a good time for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series as Rangers-Tigers pick back up in Arlington.
If you stick it out to 10:15 ET, there is a key Pac-12 game going on ESPN, as Arizona State faces Oregon, a possible preview of the league championship game (though Stanford will have plenty to say about that). There’s going to be a lot of pressure on Sun Devil quarterback Brock Osweiler to keep up with the fast-paced Duck offense, but the absence of LaMichael James is still out after his arm injury last week and there’s no word on his return. Oregon’s defense hasn’t been championship-caliber this year and if this game were in Tempe, I think an ASU win would be in the making. But homefield is enough to push Oregon over the top. With the Pac-12 title game’s location based on regular season record, this is a bigger game than would normally be the case among cross-divisional opponents.
NFL SUNDAY TV PREVIEWS
Buffalo-NY Giants (1 ET, CBS): Buffalo’s riding high at 4-1, while New York is looking for answers after an inexplicable defeat at home to Seattle. This is a game where the Bills are going to need to find a consistent running game. Fred Jackson’s had his moments this year, but on Sunday he’s the key to keeping the Giant pass rush at bay. Even with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora banged up, Tom Coughlin’s team has gotten a boost from the plan of Juan Pierre-St. Paul at defensive end. New York also needs to take advantage of some injury problems Buffalo is having at linebacker to establish their own running game. I’m looking for the Giants to get enough pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick to control the Buffalo offense and enough of a running game to keep the heat off Eli Manning and the hosts get a badly needed win.
San Francisco-Detroit (1 ET, Fox): Admit it, this isn’t one you had circled as a huge Week 6 game. These two franchises are back to the mid-1990s when Steve Young and Barry Sanders had these teams in the playoffs. This is a big test spot for both teams, although in different ways. 49er quarterback Alex Smith has to show he can handle a hostile road environment against a good pass rush. The Lions have to bounce back after a big Monday Night win over the Bears and keep their focus on a short week. I’m still not sold on the San Francisco defense’s ability to stop a really good offense and that’s what they’ll face at Ford Field. The short week is a concern, but so is the West Coast team traveling on a three-hour time difference and playing an early kickoff. The intangibles cancel each other out and the Lions are a better, more explosive team playing at home, and the final score will reflect that.
Dallas-New England (4 ET, Fox): The game most of the country will see, although Fox analyst Troy Aikman is again without Joe Buck, who’s down in Texas for the American League Championship Series. To say there’s a lot of pressure on Cowboy linebacker Demarcus Ware to perform is a big understatement. If Ware can’t get to Tom Brady, the Patriot quarterback will have complete freedom to light up a shaky secondary. And if the game turns into a passing contest, Tony Romo is likely to force the action and give away some mistakes. Come to think of it, he’s likely to do that anyway. I’m not confident in the Dallas running game to control the tempo, or in the ability of the defense to slow Brady. The Patriots win this one big.
Minnesota-Chicago (8:20 ET, NBC): The two forgotten teams of the NFC North, as rivals Green Bay and Detroit ride high undefeated. The Vikings showed some spunk last week in burying Arizona and more importantly, they showed a pass rush. They’ll have a tremendous opportunity to bring that again and create problems for Chicago’s Jay Cutler. But can the Vikes establish Adrian Peterson with the run as easily as they did last week? The success of Peterson running the ball and the huge early lead (28 1st quarter points) set up Donovan McNabb with a very manageable situation that’s not likely to replicated. I look for the Bears to win but I’m also hoping there’s a Game 7 of the Rangers-Tigers series on Sunday night to watch instead of this.