College Football Previews: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Notre Dame, USC and More

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The college football season is heating up and heading into Week 8 there are a lot of unanswered questions. Can Michigan State take down Big Ten top dogs Wisconsin? Can USC knock Notre Dame out of the top 25?

Let's discuss:

#4 OKLAHOMA STATE (6-0, 3-0) AT MISSOURI (3-3, 1-2) (12pm ET, FX)
Sooner or later, Gus Johnson has to get a good game to call, right?  It's a crime to waste his excited calls on boring blowouts, but that's what he's been saddled with so far this season.  Last week's Baylor-Texas A&M game seemed promising in a back-and-forth first half, but the Aggie defense finally remembered how to play a second half and the Aggie offense decided not to even risk things and just kept scoring... and scoring... and scoring all half long.  So will this game be any more competitive?  There's reason to be hopeful on that front: Mizzou has three losses, sure, but they've come to three teams who are a combined 17-2 this year -- so, really, they haven't been losing to anyone they shouldn't be losing to.

The Tigers also gave Oklahoma one of their toughest games of the season: they opened up a 14-3 lead on the Sooners before ultimately losing 38-28.  Like that game, this game is a home date for Mizzou.  On the other hand, Oklahoma State is already pretty battle-tested on the road -- they edged Texas A&M by a point in College Station and dispatched Texas in Austin last week.  Ultimately, it seems like this game will follow the same blueprint as the Oklahoma game: Mizzou rides the emotion of the home crowd to an early lead and hangs tough with the 'Pokes for a while, but ultimately Brandon Weeden and Co. will pull away from the rebuilding Tigers.


NORTH CAROLINA (5-2, 1-2) AT #8 CLEMSON (7-0, 4-0) (12pm ET, ESPN)
Try as they might last week, Clemson just couldn't give in to their innate Clemson-ness.  They spotted Maryland multiple double-digit leads... then came storming back each time, ultimately winning a wild 56-45 shootout with the Terps.  This week they head home to entertain a North Carolina team that's been better than I expected this year; I thought the Tar Heels might implde in the wake of the scandals that engulfed them in the off-season (not to mention the departure of HC Butch Davis), but no dice -- they're sitting at a solid 5-2.  

On the other hand, they kind of look like they've been running out of a little steam the last few weeks: they won an ugly 14-7 game against a mediocre Louisville squad, then lost to a struggling Miami team.  But on the other, other hand, UNC battled back after getting behind 27-3 in that game, lost only 30-24 and bottled up Miami's explosive running back Lamar Miller.  Unfortunately, Clemson has multiple explosive options on offense, led by super-frosh Sammy Watkins who's already accounted for 1200 total yards and nine touchdowns.  Clemson might get tripped up yet this year, but I don't think it will be at home to a North Carolina team that's struggling a bit.


#21 AUBURN (5-2, 3-1) AT #1 LSU (7-0, 4-0) (3:30pm ET, CBS)
LSU had three star players suspended earlier this week, including their top running back (Spencer Ware) and their best defensive player (Tyrann Mathieu).  It won't matter.  Auburn won an ugly slog over Florida a week ago, but they've looked unconvincing most of this season -- and now they're switching quarterbacks the same week they had to Death Valley.  All the horseshoes in Chizik's ass won't be able to help them eke out a win here.


USC (5-1, 3-1) AT #24 NOTRE DAME (4-2) (8pm ET, NBC)
Notre Dame keeps slowly moving up the polls and regaining respect after their turnover-filled 0-2 start to the season, while USC keeps trundling along as one of the least-convincing 5-1 teams in the country.  USC did look much improved in their Thursday night beatdown of Cal a week ago, but doing that to an error-prone and inconsistent Cal team is one thing -- going on the road to do it against a Notre Dame that's stopped making mistakes is going to be another matter entirely.  USC's road to victory seems pretty clear: big games from Matt Barkley and Robert Woods and some timely turnovers from the defense.  

Easier said than done; the Notre Dame defense should be the toughest one USC has faced and while their own defense did a good job of forcing turnovers against Cal, Notre Dame has cut off the flow of turnovers from their offense over the last few weeks.  This has the feel of an ugly, brawling game with Notre Dame's running game grinding USC down and their defense keeping Barkley and Woods in check.  The Irish win to stay in BCS contention.


#5 WISCONSIN (6-0, 2-0) AT #13 MICHIGAN STATE (5-1, 2-0) (8:00pm ET, ESPN)
Finally, seven weeks into the season, the Badgers hit the road for a real road game (until now their only trip outside of state lines was a quick jaunt to Chicago for a "neutral site game" against Northern Illinois, a game where they had the majority of the fans anyway).  Finally, Wisconsin plays an opponent with a pulse (their past six opponents have gone a combined 16-23 -- and Northern Illinois and South Dakota have contributed almost 2/3 of those wins) and a legitimate defense.  In fact, Michigan State might have the best defense in the Big Ten -- it's certainly one of the most ferocious and hardest-hitting units in the league.  (Sometimes a little too hard-hitting...)  So, yeah, we'll finally get to see what Wisconsin is made of this week.  Are they really as good as they've looked in mauling everyone they've faced?  Or was that fast start just a mirage?  

Meanwhile, Michigan State is playing its third big game in four weeks; they're 2/2 so far, gritting out an ugly 10-7 win over Ohio State in Columbus, and earning a bruising 28-14 win over Michigan in a heated rivalry game last week.  Now they have a primetime showcase against a Wisconsin team that pipped them to the Rose Bowl last year -- despite the fact that Sparty had a head-to-head win over the Badgers.  Can they get up for a third straight big game?  Can their defense slow down the so-far-unstoppable Badger offensive juggernaut and Russell Wilson?  Can their sometimes-anemic offense put up points on a Badger defense that's occasionally looked shaky?  Wisconsin isn't going to steamroll Michigan State -- the Spartan defense is too good to let that happen -- but they are going to get the win.  Russell Wilson, Montee Ball, Nick Toon, and the Badger offensive line are just too good; Michigan State isn't going to be able to keep them in check all night long. 


#22 WASHINGTON (5-1, 3-0) AT #7 STANFORD (6-0, 4-0) (8:00pm ET, ABC)
While Wisconsin has (justly) taken some grief for the slate of nobodies that they've pounded over the first half of the season, it seems like Stanford has mostly escaped criticism, despite exactly playing a murderer's row -- their six opponents have gone a combined 15-25, with the best win coming against... Duke?  Washington State?  Arizona?  

So while it's impressive that they've won all six games by 25+, it's hard to know how good they really are.  Enter: Washington, sitting at 5-1 and looking like the first real test for Stanford all year.  Washington started the season weakly, sneaking out wins over Eastern Washington and Hawai'i and losing a sloppy shootout with Nebraska, but they've been getting better and better each week in Pac-12 play, culminating in the 52-24 beatdown they laid on Colorado last week.  Granted, Stanford will be just a bit more of a test for them than the Buffs, but the Huskies look like they have the firepower to make Stanford sweat.  

Washington lost a top-ten NFL draft pick at the QB position when Jake Locker departed last year... but they might actually be better with Keith Price calling the shots.  He's already thrown for almost 1500 yards and 21 TDs this year and he's ably assisted by Chris Polk, maybe the best RB in the Pac-12 that doesn't suit up for Oregon (he already has almost 900 yards of offense and 5 TDs).  So is all that enough to topple the Trees?  Probably not.  Stanford has a powerful, pressure-inducing defensive line, a horde of match-up nightmare tight ends and -- oh yeah -- some guy named Luck.  You might have heard of him?  Washington is good enough to put a scare in Stanford... but that's it.