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College Football Previews: Alabama, USC, Clemson and More

Now that we’re moving into conference play, the games are more important heading towards a conference title and BCS bid. Florida State is coming off a tough loss at home to Oklahoma, while Clemson finally got the Auburn monkey, er – Tiger off their back. LSU heads to Morgantown to show West Va what life would have been like if the SEC did accept their application to join. Arkansas and Alabama meet in Tuscaloosa in a coaching battle between two of the biggest schemers in college football, who ever emerges could be battling LSU for the SECW crown later this season.

It’s cute to say Oklahoma State and Texas A & M are playing for a shot at the Big 12 title, although, I’m not sure either can beat Oklahoma this year; however it would be kind of ironic considering the current question to the future of the Big 12 if aTm somehow pulls it off and takes the title and its talents to South Beach Birmingham. South Carolina is struggling more than any other teams in the top 15 and could possibly be upset by Vanderbilt if the Steves don’t play their cards right.

Lastly, the Southern California Trojans roll into Tempe to take on Arizona State this week. USC can’t play for a title, and I saw nothing that screamed “conference champion” when ASU played the Fighting Zookies last Saturday, which is good for #10 Oregon – who is the top ranked in the conference and has a definite shot in the title chase.

As always, don’t forget to check out Our Top Ten College Football Teams going into play this week. Be safe and enjoy your football-filled weekend.

#11 Florida State Seminoles (2-1) at #21 Clemson (3-0)

September 24, 2011 3:30 pm ET – Memorial Stadium, Clemson SC

I can’t find one game this week that I want to watch more than this one. Florida State put forth a tremendous amount of effort and held Heisman candidate Landry Jones to in their loss to Oklahoma last week. In the end, the Sooner’s defense was just a little bit better than the Seminole’s offense. Regardless, losing to the number one team in the country isn’t anything to hang your head over. The Seminoles are still a very good football team with a talented, athletic defense that is among the best in the country. Plagued with injuries all season, they may be without starting QB EJ Manuel who suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder against Oklahoma. If Manuel is out, freshman Clint Trickett will step in and have to rely on a thin receiving corps that may have four starters out.

Clemson is coming off an incredible victory against Auburn, a team that had bested the ACC squad 14 straight times. Down 14-0, QB Tajh Boyd threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns as he led Clemson to a come-from-behind 38-24 victory. Clemson didn’t always look perfect and other factors were involved, namely Auburn’s defense being filled with cracks; a sign of how important Nick Fairley was to the defense last year. Despite all of Auburn’s shortcomings, it doesn’t take away the fact that Clemson played better on both sides of the ball. Clemson’s offense is ranked ninth nationally in total yards of offense, led by Boyd, receiver Sammy Watkins, and tight end Dwayne Allen.

Key Match-up: Florida State Secondary vs. Clemson Receiving Corps

#14 Arkansas Razorbacks (3-0) at #3 Alabama (3-0)

September 24, 2011 3:30 pm ET – Bryant Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa AL

The Razorbacks scored 24 points on Troy last week before giving up a touchdown with seven seconds to go in the first half, but got worn down by the Troy defense in the second half. After a touchdown that capped a 77 yard drive on Arkansas’ first possession of the third quarter, QB Tyler Wilson threw an interception, wide receiver Joe Adams fumbled, and the Hogs were forced to punt four times. As good as Troy’s defense looked against Arkansas in the second half, the Alabama defense will look even better.

Alabama blew out North Texas last week 41-0 using their dynamic duo of running backs, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, who got great blocking by their offensive line and the wide receivers down field as they ran for every touchdown last week. The defense held the Mean Green to 169 of total offense, but did record a sack or an interception. QB AJ McCarron continued to struggle, throwing for 15-of-21 for 190 yards, rushing four times for negative 28 yards, and was sacked three times. Freshman Phillip Sims fared slightly better once again, going 6-for-8 for 49 yards, negative 10 rushing on one carry, and was sacked once. Luckily for Nick Saban, he has Richardson and a stingy defense that has given up only 18 points in three games.  SEC West games are hard fought chess matches between coaches, and this one surely will not disappoint.

Key Match-up: Bobby Petrino vs. Nick Saban

#7 Oklahoma State Cowboys (3-0) at #8 Texas A & M Aggies (3-0)

September 24, 2011 3:30 pm ET – Kyle Field, College Station TX

Texas A & M will be playing their last Big 12 opener, as they are slated to join the SEC in July barring any litigation from Baylor. While that plays out, the Big 12 in general is in turmoil, with the threat of more schools leaving for other conferences, so both teams could be playing for the last Big 12 title. The Aggies are led by QB Ryan Tannehill threw for more than 300 yards for the second time in his career and Cyrus Gray rushed for two touchdowns while topping 100 yards for the ninth straight game during last Saturday’s 37-7 rout of Idaho at home. The offensive line has yet to give up a sack, while the defense has collected 11 so far on the year. Last season, The Aggies outgained the Cowboys 535-351 but committed five turnovers in the 38-35 loss, the Aggies third straight in the series

Oklahoma State enters Big 12 play as a top three team nationally in offense with 52.3 points, 601.0 yards and 408.0 passing yards per game led by QB Brandon Weedon who has had three straight games with at least 350 passing yards.  Last week, the Cowboys played a bizarre game against Tulsa, that didn’t start until after midnight central time, and finished around 3:35am. Justin Blackmon, 2010’s Biletnikoff Award winner’s NCAA record run of 14 straight games with over a hundred yards ended as he ended up with only 57 yards but did have a score in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma’s defense has given up more than 30 points to both Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulsa this season, although fatigue due to the time the Tulsa game was mostly likely a factor. Since 1997, seven games have been played between the two that have been decided by five points or fewer; expect another close one this time around as both teams are evenly matched, but I give the slight edge to the host.

What to watch: The tandem of Brandon Weedon to Justin Blackmon


Vanderbilt Commodores at #12 South Carolina Gamecocks (3-0)

September 24, 2011 7:00 pm ET – Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia SC

Ordinarily, this game would mean very little, here’s why it matters now: Vandy isn’t bad. They are 3-0 and lead all FBS teams with 10 interceptions after grabbing five last Saturday in their biggest conference win since 1971 in a 30-7 romp of Mississippi. The Commodores have turned 12 turnovers in 42 points in three games, led by ball-hawk Trey Wilson who has returned two of his three INTs for TDs. Vanderbilt’s offense aren’t particularly threatening in the air, but on the ground they are averaging 177 yards per game. Last week, RB Zac Stacy ran for 169 yards, including a 77 yard run for a score.

Although South Carolina has a more balanced Offense led by QB Stephen Garcia, the star of the Steve Spurrier Show is sophomore RB Marcus Lattimore, who gained a career-high 246 yards on 37 carries and three touchdowns as the Gamecocks narrowly squeaked by Navy 24-21 last week. Garcia went 18-for-25 for 204 yards and an interception, and may throw more this week. South Carolina’s defense has one of the most talented and athletic players in the nation in freshman Jadeveon Clowney who put a lot of pressure on Navy QB Kriss Proctor late in the game, forcing him to throw an interception. Despite being the 12th ranked team in the country, the Gamecocks have looked shaky at times; being forced to come back from a 10 point deficit in the second half against Eastern Carolina, and barely hung on in a 45-42 shootout against Georgia. If Garcia starts feeling rushed, he may make poor decisions that could find the ball in Vandy hands.

Key Match-ups: Stephen Garcia vs. Vanderbilt Secondary

Jadeveon Clowney vs. Vanderbilt OLine

#2 LSU Tigers (3-0) at #16 West Virginia Mountaineers (3-0)

September 24, 2011 8:00 pm ET – Mountaineer Field, Morgantown WV

LSU has one of the toughest schedules in the FBS, having already beaten two teams ranked in the top 25, Oregon and Mississippi State, both on the road. This week, the Bayou Bengals take on the highest ranking team in the Big East that has a high octane offense, and a complicated defense. LSU is a complete team that rivals Oklahoma for all around the best in college football. The defense and rushing attack have been highly productive throughout the season, but last week the Tigers passing game made their first appearance and looked good as QB Jarrett Lee complete 21 of 27 passes for 213 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Last season LSU came away with a 20-13 victory but West Virginia’s defense gave the Tigers fits holding Jordan Jefferson to 230 yards and 13 offensive points. Les Miles will be more prepared against the 3-3-5 “Okie” defense which uses misdirection and size from the front three to free linebackers to puzzle offenses with their speed and blitz packages. LSU had success last year against West Va with RB Stevan Ridley who ran for 116 yards on 20 carries. This year, Ridley is with the New England Patriots, but Spencer Ware is built from the same mold, and should assume the role adequately. The Mountaineers are a capable, explosive team but LSU might be too much for them to handle.

Key Match-up: LSU OLine vs. West Va front Six


#25 Southern California Trojans at Arizona State Sun Devils

September 24, 2011 10:15 pm ET – Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe AZ

I’m going to start with Arizona State on this one. I watched them play Illinois last week in Champaign as the 22nd ranked team in the country. I must have seen them play on a very off night, because nothing I saw Saturday reflected anything close to either conference champion or Top 25. Despite only allowing Illinois 240 yards of total offense, Head Coach Dennis Erickson didn’t have an answer to stop an Illini defense that sacked QB Brook Osweiler six times and forced him to throw two interceptions.  This week the Sun Devils will open their PAC-12 season as conference favorites against a Trojan squad who is ineligible for post season play.

USC played their first Pac-12 game of the season two weeks ago, defeating conference new-comer Utah 23-14 at home, and will play their first away game of the season in Tempe. Last week in a 38-17 victory over Syracuse, QB Matt Barkley tied a career high with five touchdown passes and threw for 324 yards without an interception. The Trojan defense held the Orangemen to 73 rushing yards and sacked QB Ryan Nassib three times.

Last season, USC defeated Arizona State 34-33 handing the Sun Devils their 11th straight loss in the series. Saturday night, ASU will have their best chance to end the streak, as long as they contain Barkley, while protecting Osweiler on the other side of the ball.

Key to winning the game for either team: Matt Barkley and Brook Osweiler

Other games to keep your eye on:

  • North Carolina Tar Heels at Georgia Tech Yellowjackets – Sept 24, 12:00 pm ET
  • U Texas – El Paso Miners at #18 South Florida Bulls – Sept. 24, 7:00 pm ET
  • #15 Florida Gators at Kentucky Wildcats – Sept. 24, 7:00 pm ET
  • Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Boise State Broncos – Sept. 24, 8:00 pm ET
  • Missouri Tigers at #1 Oklahoma Sooners – Sept. 24, 8:00 pm ET
  • #10 Oregon Ducks at Arizona Wildcats – Sept. 24, 10:15 pm ET

Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and BourbonMeyer.com. Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc

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