Today has some really good college football games, which makes it somewhat annoying that four of them are going to more or less conflict with each other time-wise. I’m old enough to remember when the Noon ET time slot used to have at least one really good game going. Now everything is backloaded to prime-time. But here’s some thoughts on the big games of today, starting with the late afternoon USC-Stanford game that starts in about an hour and a half.
I’m going to make a tentative try at some college football handicapping and pick these games against the Las Vegas number. I didn’t do this last week, and may not do it next week, if only to avoid the constant public humiliation (because if I do continue this, I’ll post my record). But here we go. The road team listed first, and the Over/Under follows the spread in parentheses… USC (+3, 54) Stanford: If this game goes according to the Vegas number it ends up around 28-26 Stanford. I love the Cardinal program as its developed under David Shaw, but I see this as a retooling year on the Farm. USC looks ready to return to the status of Pac-12 contender. I think they win outright, and I’d certainly grab them with the points. Pick: USC Michigan State (+13, 57) Oregon: I really like Sparty’s chances here, and I applaud David Pollack on ESPN Gameday, who called the outright upset. I’m not sure what I think in terms of the outright winner, but that makes it clear I’m taking the 13-point underdog against the number. Oregon hasn’t matched up well with Stanford and Michigan State plays a similar style—even better in fact, as they beat the Cardinal in last year’s Rose Bowl and have more consistent passing with Connor Cook. Pick: Michigan State Michigan (+3.5, 57) Notre Dame: I don’t have strong feelings here, and given the history of this rivalry, I don’t like giving more than a field goal. But I liked what I saw from the Irish here, I think they’ll win and odds are, that even in a close game, they would get an ATS cover. Pick: Notre Dame BYU (PK, 46) Texas: I’m targeting the total here. Texas is breaking in a new quarterback and head coach Charlie Strong suspended both offensive tackles. But Charlie can also coach himself some defense, and while Taysom Hill is an electric quarterback for BYU, the Coogs depend on him a little too much. I’m very conflicted on who wins, but not at all hesitant about saying it’s a low scoring game. Pick: Under Virginia Tech (+10.5, 47) Ohio State: Virginia Tech has performed poorly against the number over the last three years—which is really a way of saying the betting market has performed poorly in rating them, since the kids themselves have won 24 games and gotten a Sugar Bowl bid in that timeframe. They aren’t responsible for inflated numbers. But it does give credence to the “Virginia Tech is overrated” theme. I think Ohio State has gotten underrated since the injury of Braxton Miller and will take the Buckeyes to cover the big line. Pick: Ohio State
The legal saying “The defense rests” applied on Saturday a lot more than fans in outposts like Columbia, Austin and South Bend would have liked. The defenses of South Carolina, Texas and Notre Dame were positively awful in big road losses that reshaped TheSportsNotebook’s BCS bowl projections. Here’s the rundown on the damage and the new-look bowl projections.
Georgia 41 South Carolina 30: Even though I picked the Gamecocks to win the national championship on the basis of their defense, but it didn’t shock me that Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray had a big game. What did disturb me was that South Carolina was also hammered in the trenches. Georgia running back Todd Gurley rushed for 134 yards on 30 carries. With two straight good games against good teams (including Clemson last week), Gurley has to be in the early Heisman discussion.
Gurley’s big game negated a strong running attack from South Carolina, who got 149 yards from Mack Davis. And with the battle in the trenches a wash, with each offense winning the battle, the war would ultimately be won by the quarterbacks on the perimeter. Connor Shaw is a good quarterback and he had a nice game on Saturday—16/25 for 228 yards, no interceptions. But Murray can win a shootout with anyone, and he was a razor-sharp, 17/23 for 309 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
The fact Murray’s 17 completions produced over 300 yards is a further indictment of South Carolina’s tackling in the secondary, or lack thereof. Shaw played well enough for the Gamecocks to win this game, if his team would have done the things they usually do well—win the battle of the ground game and be sure tacklers. But they didn’t.
Michigan 41 Notre Dame 30: There are no typos here, we really had the strange occurrence of Week 2’s two biggest games coming in with a 41-30 score. It reminds me of 1988 when Miami beat Michigan 31-30, and then turned around and lost to Notre Daye by the same score.
At any rate, Notre Dame has even more reason to be dissatisfied than South Carolina. The Irish had the problems with defending the pass, allowing Devante Gardner to go 21/33 for 294 yards, and Jeremy Gallon to catch eight passes and look like an All-American.
Notre Dame’s problems went deeper though, because the Irish failed to run the ball. They got only 96 yards on the ground, and if not for Gardner’s one bad decision, an ill-advised pass that created an ND interception in the end zone, this game would have been much more decisive.
I’m sure Irish quarterback Tommy Rees will catch some heat for his two interceptions, but the reality is he threw the ball 53 times and had to play from behind the entire night. Notre Dame won last year with defense and running the ball, and neither was present on Saturday night.
BYU 40 Texas 21: We go from bad to worse to simply inexcusable in the tour of South Carolina-Notre Dame-Texas. The Longhorns gave up 550 yards on the ground in Saturday’s road game. Quarterback Taysom Hill ran wild, 17 times for 259 yards, undoubtedly making Texas feel a little bit like the Green Bay Packers did in last year’s NFL playoffs against San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick. The running back Jamaal Williams went for 182 in the conventional rushing attack.
My disgust level with these three teams varies. With South Carolina, I’m annoyed, and even though they still can win the SEC Championship, I’m dropping them into at-large status. But that’s still in the BCS, which would ultimately be the standard of success for this year’s team. It’s also realistic to think they can win out between now and the season finale against Clemson.
Depending on how Georgia fares the rest of the way, the Gamecocks could still get a season-ending parlay of Clemson and the SEC Championship Game (presumably against Alabama), and if they end up 12-1, could still play for the national title.
With Notre Dame, my concerns are much deeper, that this team just isn’t good enough. Until I see them establish a running game, I’m keeping any thoughts of BCS bowl games on hold.
And Texas? How about we just demote them out of FBS level entirely?
Here’s the revised BCS projections. I’ve got Oklahoma taking Texas’ place as the Big 12 champ, Alabama and South Carolina reversing places as conference champion and at-large, and Wisconsin replacing Notre Dame. The Badgers have a big road test next week at Arizona State, but the ultimate key to their hopes are the eight games post-September, after the road trips to Tempe and Columbus are behind them.
SEC: Alabama Big 12: Oklahoma Pac-12: Stanford ACC: Clemson Big Ten: Ohio State American Athletic (old Big East): Louisville At-Large (no more than one per conference): South Carolina, Oregon, Florida State, Wisconsin
Which, according to our bowl projections, sets up these matchups…
BCS National Championship: Alabama-Stanford Sugar: South Carolina-Florida State Orange: Clemson-Louisville Fiesta: Oklahoma-Wisconsin Rose: Ohio State-Oregon
The biggest games of college football Week 2 are on the ESPN Saturday tripleheader, previewed earlier by TheSportsNotebook. But beyond the trio of Florida-Miami, South Carolina-Georgia and Notre Dame-Michigan, are ten other games that are worth your attention. Maybe not to watch, but at least to check on when you get the scores…
Texas-BYU (7 PM ET, ESPN2): This is the easily the biggest of the undercard games. I think the Longhorns should be the best team in the Big 12 and have them on the short list of dark horse national championship contenders. But this is a tough road spot against a good defensive team.
BYU lost a crusher last week to Virginia 19-16. The Cougars were killing the clock with less than three minutes left, and for some inexplicable reason decided to pass on 3rd-and-long when UVA was out of timeouts and trailing by four. BYU should have put it in the defense’s hands, especially when the Cavs had to get a touchdown.
Instead, the nightmare scenario unfolded—an interception and return setting up a game-winning touchdown.
The Cougars still showed they can play defense, something that was true throughout last yearand this will be a big challenge for Texas quarterback David Ash and what has the potential to be a really good offense. We need to see how they handle a challenge in a touch road environment. And we need to see if UT’s newly healthy defense, with end Jackson Jeffcoat can dominate what’s been a subpar BYU offense.
Toledo-Missouri: Kirk Herbstreit put Toledo on the national radar when he picked them to upset Florida. Herbie didn’t get the upset pick, but Toledo played the Gators tough before losing 24-6. What Toledo could not do was run the ball, and that’s something that needs to change if they’re going to compete with Missouri.
The Tigers are a (-17) favorite, and if they get Henry Josey rolling on the ground, they can pull away from Toledo the same way their SEC brethren did. Ultimately, how well Missouri handles this game will be an early litmus test of their ability to handle the SEC East in their second year in the conference. The Tigers finished 5-7 last year, a disappointment for a perennial bowl program.
Oregon-Virginia (3:30 PM ET, ABC/ESPN2): Was the Cavs’ win over BYU a sign that Mike London has the program back and turned around? If so, can he cause problems for Oregon? This would be more interesting if it was a noon kick, with a team traveling on a three-hour time difference. As it is, I’d be surprised if Virginia can be competitive against a national championship contender.
Wake Forest-Boston College (Friday, 8 PM ET, ESPN2): Both teams have designs on making a bowl game this season, and both had reasons to be concerned about their Week 1 showings. Wake Forest had a ho-hum 31-7 win over Presbyterian. Senior quarterback Tanner Price gets his favorite target, receiver Michael Campanaro back from injury, so we’ll see if that juices up the offense.
Boston College trailed Villanova early on, before getting an uninspiring 24-14 win. The Eagles only won two games last year and the poor showing suggest that maybe the talent base deteriorated under former coach Frank Spaziani even worse than I thought. Friday’s home game will be a better barometer of that. Either way, I can’t imagine too many people in the Boston area are going to watch this game over the Red Sox-Yankees on Friday night.
Washington State-USC: Mike Leach’s Washington State team was competitive at Auburn in a 31-24 loss last week and quarterback Connor Halliday again showed he can throw the ball. But USC is a lot better than Auburn, and the Trojan defense looks really good.
What makes this Pac-12 game interesting is the question of whether USC can find a quarterback. Lane Kiffin still isn’t settled on anyone, and it’s going to be a big waste of talent for receiver Marqise Lee if they can’t get him the football.
Syracuse-Northwestern: I like this Northwestern team quite a bit, but I was disappointed in the way they let Cal throw the ball almost at will last Saturday night, before ultimately winning 44-30. Was this just a case of new Cal coach Sonny Dykes just having his passing game up to speed faster than expected? We’ll find out here, because the Orange offense looked anemic against Penn State.
And speaking of which, this game is a good early barometer of how Northwestern compares to Penn State—it better be substantially better if the Wildcats want to compete for the Big Ten title.
Oklahoma State-UT-San Antonio: No, I don’t actually think the Roadrunners can beat Okie State, who is a (-28) favorite. But UTSA is a pretty good team, coached by Larry Coker. They beat New Mexico 21-13 last week, a program that’s improved under Bob Davie. And San Antonio contained a potent running attack.
Oklahoma State has settled on J.W. Walsh at quarterback, who looked good in the win over Mississippi State. What I’m curious about here is whether the Cowboys will keep their mental focus, which is what ultimately makes this game interesting.
Navy-Indiana: Both teams have, relative to their programs, big aspirations for this season. Indiana dropped 73 points on Indiana State to tune up. It’s Navy’s first game, which will place them at a substantial disadvantage. As solid as Navy is, if IU can’t win at home with a tuneup game under their belt, it won’t speak well to their ability to have a good year.
Duke-Memphis: Don’t laugh and make jokes about how this looks like the regional final in the South bracket of the NCAA Tournament. Even though it does. Seriously though, both teams have bowl aspirations.
Duke made it to postseason play last year, but need to find out if new quarterback Anthony Boone can get the ball down the field. Memphis has made some great strides after being arguably the worst FBS program a couple years ago. It’s their first game, but it’s also at home.
Bowling Green-Kent State: I don’t have any midmajor teams busting the BCS this year, but if I were forced to pick a candidate, I would choose Bowling Green. Already my pick to win the MAC, the Falcons took apart Tulsa in the season opener. Bowling Green might be that rare MAC team that wins with defense, and we’ll see if they can contain the explosive Kent running back Dri Archer. He left his team’s opener with an ankle injury, but is expected to play. Kent did not look good in a 17-10 win over Liberty, but this is a program that made the conference championship game last year.
I won’t say everything came up roses for the Pac-12 this past Saturday in college football. Washington was, as expected, smoldered at LSU, 41-3. Colorado managed to lose to Sacramento State. Utah lost to a good WAC team in Utah State on Friday night. But those thorns are overshadowed by an otherwise tremendous day for the conference that’s played like the nation’s best for the first two weeks of the season and it was highlighted by a 3-0 sweep of the Big Ten in games that were not only comparably matched, but probably should have favored the boys from the Midwest.
UCLA moved to 2-0 by beating Nebraska and the physical style the Bruins have shown these first two games (including a opening victory over Rice, a team who turned around and beat Kansas on Saturday). Jonathan Franklin ran over the Cornhusker defense and piling up 214 yards on the ground. If UCLA is going to run the ball like this when conference play starts they’re going to be looking at a good bowl bid.
Oregon State was similarly physical against Wisconsin, although for the Beavers it came on the defensive side. As a Badger fan, I came into the game concerned, especially about Oregon State’s ability to spread the field with quarterback Sean Mannion. I was completely unprepared for how well the Beaver defense dominated the line of scrimmage in holding Monte Ball to 61 yards. Mannion played efficiently and without the interceptions that hurt him in his freshman season and Oregon State won a 10-7 game that was not as close as the score sounds.
The sweep was completed when Arizona State put the smackdown on Illinois, 45-14 in a late-night game for most of the country. This one wasn’t a case of superior muscle, but control of the air. Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly completed 75 percent of his passes, including ten to receive Chris Coyle. Illinois played without starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but given the margin of victory that can’t be seen as an excuse. It was an excellent win for Todd Graham’s program against an Illini team that looked good in its season-opening win over MAC contender Western Michigan.
When the Pac-12 stepped beyond the boundaries of a Big Ten that looks absolutely terrible (more on that tomorrow), the results were still solid. Rich Rodriguez made his first big impact at Arizona, with a 59-38 win over Oklahoma State. I don’t want to get carried away with this win—it was mostly the result of too many mistakes from freshman Cowboy quarterback Wes Lunt, but it was still 59 points against a team that won the Big 12, won the Fiesta Bowl and had a good chunk of its defense back. Stanford pounded Duke 50-13, a result that looks good when you consider the Blue Devils played well in an opening week win over Sun Belt contender Florida International.
And the Pac-12’s Power Two came through. Oregon ran over Fresno State—an upper-tier team in the WAC—as Kenjon Barner enjoyed a 200-plus yard day en route to a 42-25 win. And even though USC was challenged by Syracuse into the third quarter, the Trojans eventually pulled away 42-29. If you were watching the ESPN crawl line on Saturday you may have noticed that Matt Barkley threw for six touchdown passes. Impressive enough, but it doesn’t accurately tell the story of the Trojan offense. Syracuse did a good job keeping the Trojan passing game underneath, as 23 Barkley completions only went for 187 yards. But the quarterback stayed efficient and the running game took over. Silas Redd, the Penn State transfer rushed for 107 yards on 15 carries and showed exactly why USC swooped like vultures on the carcass of the Nittany Lion program after the NCAA sanctions.
A few quick thoughts from the other conferences as we wrap up college football Week 2…
SEC: Missouri & Texas A&M have to be worried about their ability to complete for the long haul after losing their conference openers to Georgia and Florida respectively. Both had all the emotion in the world on their side and while their opponents were good, it wasn’t as though they represented the league’s elite (though Georgia could change that perception). Each was beaten at the line of scrimmage. Florida ran the ball effectively and it’s the reason they beat the Aggies 20-17. And what was a good Georgia-Mizzou game for three quarters turned into a 41-20 rout for the Bulldogs as the visitors’ offensive line began to assert itself late. Now the SEC’s new teams have to move forward with those physical weaknesses and lacking the emotion that was present at both campuses on Saturday.
Big 12: I know Texas won big over New Mexico, but the Longhorn rush defense did not look good. If I’m Mack Brown I’m worried about this. The Longhorns have to stop the run if they want to compete and get in the top three of this league. One team that will have no problem running over them is Kansas State, who did exactly that to Miami between running back Jeremy Hubert and quarterback Collin Klein in a 52-13 blasting.
ACC: Is N.C. State’s 10-7 escape against UConn a sign that it’s just another slow start for the Wolfpack and that they’ll turn it around in due course? A sign that maybe we underrated the Huskies? Or is this, along with Week 1’s loss to Tennessee, a sign that N.C. State won’t break past the mediocrity of the bowl borderline.
Big Ten: Kudos to Northwestern for a clutch 23-13 win over Vanderbilt. And Purdue played well in a 20-17 loss to Notre Dame, although the Irish were undoubtedly jet-lagged. Still, since I pointed out the Big Ten’s losses above, and am going to break down the complete flaws of my home conference tomorrow, I may as well say something nice here.
Big East: When you watch the Wisconsin offense struggle, you think of how offensive coordinator Paul Chryst left to take the head-coaching job at Pitt. The Panthers might be ready to give him back. After an opening loss to Youngstown State, Pitt couldn’t stop the run in a 34-10 loss to Cincinnati on Thursday.
Mountain West: I’m utterly disgusted with my preseason darkhorse pick of Wyoming to win the league, after the Cowboys lost 34-31 to Toledo. If there’s a challenge to Boise State this year—which still looks likely—the candidate to watch is Nevada. The Wolfpack narrowly lost to South Florida 32-31, and that follows an opening win over Cal.
The Best Of The Rest (Conference USA, WAC, MAC, Sun Belt): Once conference play gets going each of the leagues will get their own section in this weekly wrap-up. The most interesting thing in this part of the world was the doings in the WAC. Utah State’s win against Utah on Friday night, coupled with Louisiana Tech’s 56-49 shootout win over Houston (the same Houston who lost to Texas State) suggest that maybe the Aggies are the real favorite in this league.
College football Week 2 doesn’t have jaw-dropping games that will reverberate throughout the season (unless there’s some kind of shocking upset), but there are six good games that are worth at least tuning into on Saturday. Earlier this week, TheSportsNotebook took a look at the undercard games and assessed the impact of Florida State losing Brandon Jenkins for the year. Now we’ll conclude our prep for Saturday with a look at six showcase games, starting with a big SEC doubleheader…
Georgia-Missouri: Because it’s a conference game in what promises to be an open SEC East race (the side of the league where MIzzou was slotted) this prime-time kickoff from Columbia gets the nod as the best game of Saturday. The Tigers were the more impressive of the two teams in the opening tune-ups, although that’s going to mean less than the fact they have to deal with SEC talent for the first time. Georgia’s Aaron Murray can exploit inexperienced Missouri safeties, and a running game led by emerging freshman Todd Gurley can make some hay against a soft defensive line. The Tigers have playmakers, led by receiver T.J. Moe, but that’s not enough to beat a team as good as Georgia. It’s a Welcome To The SEC kind of moment as Georgia silences the home crowd.
Florida-Texas A&M: Kicking off at 3:30 PM ET, this is on right ahead of Georgia-Mizzou. Because A&M is in the Alabama-LSU side of the conference, there are no big thoughts for them. Florida, meanwhile, can compete in the East if they can get some kind of passing game going. The offense was mediocre in a ho-hum win over Bowling Green and Jeff Driskell will have to justify the decision to make him the #1 quarterback for Saturday. But even if he doesn’t, the Gators play better defense, they can run the ball with Mike Gillislee and then there’s that whole Welcome To The SEC thing.
Purdue-Notre Dame: Purdue made a bowl game last year, brought back 13 starters and then warmed up by blowing out Eastern Kentucky. They have good reason to be optimistic about this season. Notre Dame did everything right offensively in its win over Navy. Both the Irish and Boilers suspended their quarterbacks for Week 1, but only Purdue’s Caleb TerBush gets his job back this week. Brian Kelly is sticking with Everett Golson. The one area ND looked weak in was pass defense. Navy, running the triple option, was not equipped to exploit that. Will TerBush fare any better in his first game back? From a matchup standpoint and considering homefield, the signs still point to the Irish. But this is still a game in a dangerous schedule spot—right after the game in Ireland and right before the game against Michigan. At the very least, Purdue’s going to keep this one close—closer, as Lee Corso might say than the experts say. And the experts say Notre Dame by two touchdowns.
Miami-Kansas State: I wasn’t expecting Miami’s road win over Boston College, though I’m inclined to write it off more to BC incompetence than anything special about a very young Hurricanes team. It does mean that Al Golden can coach and that K-State will start to playing football considerably earlier than they did a week ago, when they messed around with Missouri State for three quarters before dropping five touchdowns in the final period. One thing to consider—K-State’s young on the offensive line, with two freshman starting, meaning the sluggish starts might not be all about focus. I expect the focus to be there, Collin Klein will be there and playing at home that likely means a Wildcat win. But I won’t be surprised if it’s less than pretty. Las Vegas is pegging 58 as the number for combined points in this game and I don’t think it’s going anywhere near that.
USC-Syracuse: This game is in MetLife Stadium, where the Giants and Jets play, as Syracuse looks to increase its exposure to recruits. If any high school defensive backs are visiting, Doug Marrone might want to get them in uniform early because a defense that was lit up by Northwestern is going to be positively scorched by Matt Barkley and the Trojans. There’s no question who’s going to win this game, but I’m interested to see how ‘Cuse quarterback Ryan Nassib fares. He threw for over 400 yards in Week 1 and a nice showing here would send a clear signal that Nassib is ready to carve up the Big East defenses ahead on the schedule.
Washington-LSU: Washington set new levels of stupidity this week in having a caged tiger at its practice field this week. Which led me to wonder what kind of moron—either in the athletic department or at the zoo—actually approves such a request. Washington might have been better served in wondering why their offense was so-so in a win over rebuilding San Diego State. Or trying to figure out how the young front seven will stop an LSU rushing attack led by Spencer Ware. Then again, if I had to figure these things out, maybe I’d do what Steve Sarkisian did and just bail out by creating an unnecessary and potentially dangerous distraction.
College football Week 2 gets started tonight, although the Thursday & Friday games of Pitt-Cincinnati and Utah-Utah State aren’t reason to get that excited. There are some good games on the Saturday undercard though, so let’s run through a list of games that might not fall in the category of games that make you clear three hours on the schedule to watch, but are certainly worthy of clearing 10-15 minutes to check in on the results of…
Vanderbilt played a good game in defeat last Thursday against South Carolina, while Northwestern beat what I believe is a pretty good Syracuse team on the road. The Commodores played a defensive battle, while the Wildcats won a shootout. Vandy-Northwestern meet in Evanston and it’s a good matchup of the pass defense of the Commodores against the pass offense of the Wildcats. And from the standpoint of conference strength, though it will never match Michigan-Alabama in terms of hype, it’s good barometer for how the leagues stack up in the middle.
Iowa did not play well in barely escaping a rebuilding Northern Illinois team in Week 1, while Iowa State got their season off to a strong start by running over Tulsa. The in-state rivals meet in Iowa City on Saturday and the Hawkeyes’ rush defense in general, and defensive line in particular, have to step it up against versatile Cyclone quarterback Steele Jantz. And other Big Ten team in desperate need of a bounceback effort would be Michigan—they host Air Force. If this were a typical Falcon team, an upset—or at least a close game—could be in the works. But Air Force has substantial rebuilding to do and this game comes down solely to Wolverine recovery abilities.
We’ll continue our Big Ten theme—it’s a big week for the conference after a disastrous Week 1 showing and a number of indicative games going on Saturday—with a trio of visits to the west. You have Illinois-Arizona State, Wisconsin-Oregon State and Nebraska-UCLA. The Cornhuskers looked the best of any Big Ten team in the opener and their run defense will be tested by the Bruins’ Jonathan Franklin. Wisconsin’s pass defense nearly collapsed in the second half against Northern Iowa, and now will be spread out and exposed by Oregon State’s three-receiver set and talented sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion. The possibility for the Beavers to move the ball through the air is real, but they have to avoid turnovers, sacks and most important their defense has to get off the field. And Illinois looked sharp in a win over Western Michigan and can make a nice statement by beating rebuilding Arizona State, playing its first real game of the Todd Graham Era (the Sun Devils warmed up with Northern Arizona last week).
Next up is three games where we can learn something about the ACC. N.C. State lost to Tennessee in its opener, but that’s no shame and the Wolfpack weren’t blown out. If they bounce back and beat a respectable UConn team, it says N.C. State is still on track to win at least eight games. Virginia wants to show it can make another run at the conference title, and Mike London’s team has to prove it can handle Penn State at home. We know about the Nittany Lion problems, on and off the field, but they still have talent and focus is probably going to be easier in getting away from the circus in Happy Valley. And Duke was a surprising easy winner over Florida International, while Stanford had to struggle past San Jose State. Now it’s the Dookies and Cardinal going head-to-head out west (is this the other half of an All-Academic tournament, along with Vandy-Northwestern?). I’m not saying Duke needs to win this game, but if they push Stanford hard it suggests David Cutliffe might have the Blue Devil program ready to compete for a bowl bid.
Perhaps no one’s Week 1 performance slid under the radar more than Nevada’s dismantling of Cal—it wasn’t a blowout, but the Pack pounded the Golden Bears at the line of scrimmage. Now they continue a good non-conference schedule by hosting South Florida, who’s got hopes for a bounceback year in the Big East and has a veteran defense. This game will also be under the radar, but if you love college football beyond the elite teams, it’s potentially as good as any game out there on Saturday. Another indicator game out west will be Arizona hosting Oklahoma State. Rich Rodriguez, with quarterback Mike Scott, have already shown they can pile up yardage. But is it enough to beat a Cowboy team that has still has good defensive talent on hand, even if their high-profile offensive playmakers from last year are all starting in the NFL on Sunday.
Conference games are, by definition, important at this time of year. Well, I guess I won’t sell the idea that Tulane-Tulsa (C-USA) or Florida Atlantic-Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt) are really crucial. But the Sun Belt does have a good one with UL-Lafayette going to Troy. Lafayette quarterback Blake Gautier is extremely versatile and led his team to a bowl win over San Diego State last year. Troy had been a top team in this conference, fell back last season, but then knocked off UAB last week and hopes to return to Sun Belt prominence in this game. And in the BCS conferences, Auburn-Mississippi State is one that will loom over the bowl positioning in the SEC West the rest of the year, while Wake Forest needs to look sharp against probation-saddled North Carolina. Demon Deacon quarterback Tanner Price did not play well in Week 1 and Wake needs him to get rolling.
I cite these not because I think an upset is imminent in any of them, but all have the possibility of being closer than the experts say. In particular, Nick Saban was right when he scolded the media about underrating Western Kentucky. It was coach-spin of course, but in this case the spin was accurate. Alabama will win, but if it stays competitive longer than you expect give credit to the Hilltoppers—the best team in the Sun Belt—rather than knocking the Tide.
More college football previews are ahead tomorrow, focusing on these six showcase games…