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
Week 2 marked the second straight week in college football that the ACC made a statement at the expense of the SEC. Last week it was Clemson beating Georgia. This time around it was Miami beating Florida, as the Hurricanes knocked off the Gators 21-16, and with the win Miami sent the message that they expect to be in the group with Clemson and Florida State vying for the ACC crown, Orange Bowl bid, and with a little luck, maybe more.
Miami’s defensive front seven is young, and the ACC isn’t exactly renowned for physical front walls in any case. With Florida showing a tough running game last year, and then again last week, there was little reason to expect the Hurricane rush defense to make its mark on Saturday. But that’s exactly what happened.
Florida ran it 44 times, but could muster only 122 yards. When they had to go to the air, disaster was the result. Jeff Driskell threw three interceptions, and the Gators as a team turned it over five times. It was reminiscent of 2012when Florida turned it over six times and lost to Georgia, costing the Gators the SEC East title, the chance to play Alabama, and a chance at the national championship.
Miami didn’t have to do much, but just left Florida self-destruct. Give the Hurricanes a lot of credit—it used to be that their quarterback, Stephen Morris, was the one who could be counted on to beat himself. He didn’t on Saturday and his team got a big win as a result.
SEC: I’m getting intrigued by LSU. No, I’m not overreacting to the fact that they blew out UAB. But I like how efficient Zach Mettenberg was in the passing game—16/19 for 282 yards and his obvious ability to hook up with receivers like Odell Beckham for big plays. I wasn’t high on the Tigers to start the year I’m still not sure what to make of the win over TCU—how good are the Horned Frogs?—but LSU is working its way back onto my radar.
Big 12: Baylor is in its second straight year of quarterback transition. Nick Florence was a credible replacement for the Heisman-winning RG3 a year ago, and now Bryce Petty has the job. Petty threw for 338 yards. Granted, it was only against Buffalo, but Big 12 defenses have become soft in recent years and if Petty can produce, Baylor is going to be a dark horse.
And can Oklahoma State run the ball? Not to pick nits in their 56-35 win over UT-San Antonio. UTSA isn’t a bad team and the score was 42-7 at one point. But the Cowboys ran for just 87 yards on 32 carries. This is an open conference race and one Okie State can certainly win, but this needs to improve.
Pac-12: It’s time to open the betting on when Lane Kiffin is going to get fired at USC. The Trojans lost 10-7 to Washington State at home, and as the score would indicate, the offense was terrible. USC’s two quarterbacks combined to throw for just 54 yards. While Washington State is well-coached under Mike Leach, the boss has never been noted for his defensive prowess. This is an appalling loss for Southern Cal.
Big Ten: Speaking of coaches in trouble, I’m not opening betting lines on Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, but I’m worried about him. Iowa already lost at home to Northern Illinois last week. Now the Hawkeyes looked very mediocre in beating Texas State 28-14. This was a 21-14 game in the fourth quarter and while Iowa controlled the trenches, they committed 11 penalties. It’s been a long time since Iowa looked like a real threat in the Big Ten.
WRAPPING IT UP
Any thoughts that Louisville might get trouble in the American Athletic Conference took a further blow on Saturday. Cincinnati got waxed by previously y inept Illinois, and SMU had to struggle past Montana State, 31-30. The Bearcats got muscled on the ground. The Mustangs’ problems were self-inflicted, but the opposition also much weaker.
The MAC looks strong at the top. Toledo played competitively in a loss to Missouri, the second straight week they’ve competed respectably against a decent SEC team (Florida being the other). We mentioned Northern Illinois knocking off Iowa. And Bowling Green rolled to another win, looking good in dismantling Kent State in a conference game.
Even better for the MAC’s elite is that at the lower rungs, some disasters are shaping up—Eastern Michigan, UMass, Akron and Western Michigan have all looked really bad. All the better for a potential BCS-buster.
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.
The college football Week 2 schedule is highlighted by an ESPN tripleheader that includes all three contenders in the SEC East. The action starts with Florida-Miami, rolls on with South Carolina-Georgia and concludes with Notre Dame-Michigan. TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage looks at all three games…
Florida-Miami (Noon ET): ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit made waves last week when he picked Toledo to upset Florida. The Gators won the game, but the closer-than-it-sounds 24-6 final vindicated Herbie’s general assessment. So what does that mean now that Florida steps up in class against Miami?
Before overreacting to Florida’s sluggish play of Week 1, we need to take note of how well they controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. They ran for 262 yards, with Mack Brown showing he can be an adequate replacement for Mike Gillislee in the backfield. Florida also shut down Toledo running back David Fluellen, the best back in the MAC. The Gators look as fundamentally sound as they did in 2012.
But I’m not impressed with Florida’s passing game. Jeff Driskell was very efficient, completing 17/22 passes and no interceptions. But he only got 153 yards out of those completions. Toledo can’t challenge receivers the way other teams, including Miami, can, and if Driskell can’t make big plays against a MAC defense, I’m not sure where it gets better.
Miami’s defense matches up well with Florida. The Hurricanes should be strong in the front seven, and they can hope Driskell won’t exploit a young secondary. I think the issue is going to be when Miami has the ball. Hurricane quarterback Stephen Morris has made some great progress over the last two years, but he’s not high-percentage and against a fast and talented defense can be forced into mistakes. If he doesn’t get a running game to support him, it could be a long afternoon.
Florida is a 3 ½ point favorite on the road. Similar to last week’s Georgia-Clemson game, this is an interesting case study of SEC power against what’s expected to be a good ACC team. Miami isn’t as good as Clemson, but it’s also possible Florida isn’t as good as Georgia. If that pattern holds, we’ll get a good football game.
In this case though, I don’t have confidence in the ACC team at home. Miami’s been too enigmatic in big games in recent years, and Florida’s defense is too good. The Gators get the road win.
South Carolina-Georgia (4:30 PM ET): This is the biggest game of the young season, given it’s an SEC East game and the winner has the early upper hand in the division. I liked everything I saw about the Gamecocks in their opening night win over North Carolina, and even though they’re on the road, a lot about this matchup works well for them.
South Carolina showed it could run the ball, while Georgia’s run defense looked suspect at Clemson. I think Mike Davis can have another 100-yard plus game, and if Connor Shaw plays another mistake-free game behind center, then Georgia is going to be in trouble.
The Bulldogs can put up points, with Aaron Murray at quarterback and Todd Gurley at running back. But the big plays aren’t going to be as easy as they came at Clemson. For example, Gurley took off on a 75-yard touchdown run on Saturday night where he got to the second level, and wasn’t touched the rest of the way. If he makes big plays against South Carolina, it will be against more duress. And if the Clemson defensive line could have some stretches disrupting Murray, what can the Gamecocks do?
What Georgia has going for them is their big-play capability. If they can create a fast tempo, the advantage is theirs. Think of it like a basketball game. South Carolina wants to run the half-court, go to the post and play physical defense. Georgia wants to play in transition, and shoot threes off the break.
Whoever wins tempo wins the game, and that will be South Carolina. And if you want to bet the game, you can even get (+3) with the Gamecocks.
Michigan-Notre Dame (8 PM ET): Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit will be on the call for this game (there’s no game on ABC, which has NASCAR Sprint Cup Series action).
Both teams won easily in opening games that we can’t take all that much from. Notre Dame beat Temple 28-6, while Michigan hammered Central Michigan 59-9. The Chippewas made a bowl game last year, so if you insist on taking something away from Week 1, Michigan had the more impressive victory margin.
But what it really underscores is a differing style of play that will define Saturday night in Ann Arbor. Notre Dame, even with Manti Te’o gone, is still built on rugged defense. The Irish have eight starters back from a defense that handled everyone except Alabama in 2012, and it starts up front with a dominant nose tackle in Louis Nix III.
Michigan is rebuilding its offense, and most of its team, but Devin Gardner got a lot of playing time at quarterback a year ago and looked pretty good in the process. He’s a good runner and passer, in the mold of predecessor Denard Robinson, but Gardner also seems to have more potential as a pure pocket passer. That will serve him well against an ND defense disciplined enough to keep containment on the perimeter.
The Notre Dame offense is a big question mark, and the ultimate answer to the question will shape the races for BCS bowl bids and the national championship game itself. Tommie Rees has had his share of big moments in his up-and-down career as ND quarterback and if he has more ups than downs on Saturday night, the Irish are going to be awfully tough to beat.
I’m intrigued by Michigan, with their young talent thanks to the recruiting of Brady Hoke. But intrigue isn’t a substitute for sturdy and steady defense. Notre Dame is (+4.5), which strikes me as a lot of points for a team that accomplished more last season and has more back this year. Homefield counts for something, and after Brian Kelly’s remarks this week denigrating the rivalry, I’m sure they’ll have some extra motivational juice. But not enough to make me pick against the Irish, and certainly not enough to lay 4 ½.
Speaking of Kelly’s comments, this has to be one of the more absurd things I’ve heard a coach say. If you didn’t hear, the Notre Dame boss said Michigan was a nice regional rivalry, but wasn’t a big deal on the national stage. I’m sorry, but Washington-Washington State is a nice regional rivalry. So is Indiana-Purdue.
The Notre Dame-Michigan game isn’t always huge—even Saturday, it’s not bigger than South Carolina-Georgia—but the Irish and Wolverines is most certainly a big national rivalry. That’s why I’ll be happy to tune in to wrap up Saturday night.
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.