2012 College Football Week 9 Breakdown: Kansas State, Notre Dame, Michigan and More
Sorry for my absence last week; I was pulled away from the CFB world for a family get-together. But, honestly, I probably needed a break to clear my head and recharge my batteries anyway, if back-to-back 2-4 weeks are any indication. I'm in a funk. Kevin ably filled in last week (and went 4-2), but let's see if I can bust out of this slump I've been in for most of October.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 27
#2 FLORIDA (7-0, 6-0) VS. #10 GEORGIA (6-1, 4-1)
3:30pm ET, CBS
LINE: FLORIDA -6.5
With a win over Georgia, Florida can lock up another SEC East crown and book a spot in the SEC Championship Game -- before Halloween. That would be pretty impressive. Florida's already notched impressive wins over LSU and South Carolina in recent weeks, although both of those wins came in The Swamp. This game will pose a few different challenges -- it's at a neutral site (so no 90,000 rabid Gator fans making life hell for the other team) and Georgia brings a more balanced and explosive offense to bear than either LSU or South Carolina. From the Georgia perspective, this is a win Mark Richt needs badly; he won this game last year, but Florida has dominated this series since 1990, going 18-4 against the Dawgs in that span.
Richt has three of those four wins in his tenure as Georgia coach -- but he also has eight of the losses. Georgia entered this year as the odds-on favorite to win the SEC East and head back to Atlanta; if they fail to do that AND lose to Florida again, the heat will get turned up for him. History -- and even recent form, judging by Florida's demolition of South Carolina last week and Georgia's nail-biter over Kentucky (of all teams) -- says to pick Florida, but if I have a hunch that an upset is in the works. Florida isn't quite as good as the scoreline against South Carolina suggests (they benefited from some great field position thanks to several USC turnovers) and I think Aaron Murray and the rest of the Georgia offense is going to give them some problems.
THE PICK: GEORGIA 27, FLORIDA 21
#14 TEXAS TECH (6-1, 3-1) AT #3 KANSAS STATE (7-0, 4-0)
3:30pm ET, FOX
LINE: KANSAS STATE -7.5
The challengers keep coming at Kansas State -- and they keep getting knocked down. Oklahoma in Norman? Sure, no problem. West Virginia in Morgantown? REALLY no problem. Now K-State heads back to Manhattan, KS for what is, on paper, their toughest remaining test -- a home date with #14 Texas Tech. Texas Tech is fresh off a 3OT thriller with TCU and their own demolition job of West Virginia (49-14 in Lubbock); they've established their bona fides as a very solid team. Will K-State have a letdown? Not with Bill Snyder in charge. This game won't be the scoreboard-shredding affair like several of the games these teams have played lately, but that will suit their old-school coaches just fine. It's just too hard to bet against Collin Klein and K-State right now, though, especially at home.
THE PICK: KANSAS STATE 28, TEXAS TECH 17
DUKE (6-2, 3-1) AT #12 FLORIDA STATE (7-1, 4-1)
3:30pm ET, ESPNU
LINE: FLORIDA STATE -27.5
Believe it or not -- and I know which way you're leaning, but just hear me out -- this could actually be an ACC Championship Game preview. Yes, seriously. At 4-1, Florida State is tied with Clemson atop the Atlantic division while at 3-1, Duke is all alone atop the Coastal division (for now). Sure, Duke figures to fall from that perch with back-to-back games against Florida State (this week) and Clemson (next week)... but, on the other hand, who knows? The Coastal division hasn't exactly been terribly impressive this year.
The novelty of seeing Duke in the ACC Championship Game -- for football! -- would be amazing. But back to the game at hand... the Dukies are coming off a thrilling 33-30 win over arch-rivals North Carolina, while Florida State is coming off a 33-20 win over one of their biggest rivals, Miami. Florida State has been prone to slip-ups this year (see: at North Carolina State), but at home, against a Duke team badly outmatched in terms of talent? I just don't see it. Duke's had a remarkable run this year and it might get better yet -- but probably not in this game.
THE PICK: FLORIDA STATE 41, DUKE 14
#5 NOTRE DAME (7-0) AT #8 OKLAHOMA (5-1, 3-1)
8pm ET, ABC
LINE: OKLAHOMA -11
It's not often you see a top-5 team enter a game as a double-digit underdog, but... here we are. Notre Dame has answered every test put before them this year (hence, 7-0), but how testing have those encounters been? Their 20-3 asphyxiation of a victory over Michigan State in East Lansing looked great at the time -- only now we know that this year's Spartan squad is a toothless (on offense) shadow of its former squads. In fact, Notre Dame has three wins over Big Ten squads on their resume, but given what we know about the Big Ten now (it stinks), how much stock should we put in those wins? Notre Dame is fresh off back-to-back home wins -- each by the skin of their teeth -- over Stanford (a defensively stout but flawed team) and BYU (ditto). Their best win this year might be their 41-3 rout of Miami... and Miami's a 4-3 team this year. So while Notre Dame's start been commendable, it's hard to tell just how impressive it's been. Oklahoma will represent their biggest test by far, both in terms of talent (Oklahoma has plenty of that, as always) and atmosphere (the Norman natives should be plenty excited for this game).
On the other hand, the Notre Dame defense figures to be the best defense Oklahoma has seen since K-State... and that defense caused Oklahoma enough grief to make them sputter and flail (and lose). They got their mojo back in back-to-back-to-back thrashings of Texas Tech, Texas, and Kansas, but Manti Te'o & Co. are just a bit better than those defenses. But, ultimately, I think Oklahoma will get some points against that defense in this game -- and I don't have enough faith in Notre Dame's offense to be able to match them.
THE PICK: OKLAHOMA 24, NOTRE DAME 14
#22 MICHIGAN (5-2, 3-0) AT NEBRASKA (5-2, 2-1)
8pm ET, ESPN2
LINE: NEBRASKA -2.5
This game won't lock up the Legends division in the Big Ten -- but it will give the winner a big leg-up in the race (especially Michigan who would be two games up on Nebraska and have the head-to-head tiebreaker). These two teams met a year ago in Ann Arbor and Nebraska got absolutely pulverized (45-17), so they'll have a bit of revenge on the brain in addition to wanting the win for conference title race purposes. They've already avenged their other two conference losses from a year ago (Wisconsin and Northwestern) -- can they make it three for three? I think they can, especially at home under the lights and in front of a rabid crowd. The key for Nebraska will be whether Taylor Martinez and the rest of the Cornhusker offense can solve the Michigan defense.
Michigan's recent run of good form (4-1 in their last five games) has been led not by electrifying QB Denard Robinson (although he's been pretty good, too), but by that aforementioned defense -- Michigan hasn't given up more than 13 points in a game since a 31-25 win over Air Force in week two of the season. That's pretty stingy and odds are Nebraska will need to score more than 13 points to beat Michigan (considering that their own defense has allowed at least 13 points in every game but one this year, against Idaho State). But I think Nebraska gets it done at home, with Martinez leading a late scoring drive to lock up the win for Big Red.
THE PICK: NEBRASKA 28, MICHIGAN 24
#11 MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-0, 3-0) AT #1 ALABAMA (7-0, 4-0)
8:30pm ET, ESPN
LINE: ALABAMA -24
Mississippi State is probably the least-heralded SEC team to start off a season 7-0 that we'll see in our lifetimes. Then again, that's what happens when your best win is... Tennessee? Mississippi State may be 7-0, but Alabama represents -- by an enormous margin -- the toughest team they've played this season. The non-conference slate was loaded with patsies (Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama, and Middle Tennessee State) and the conference slate has thus far seen only the aforementioned Vols (maybe the best 3-4 team in the nation, but... still 3-4), Auburn (an unmitigated disaster), and Kentucky (counting down the days 'til the hoops season tips off, as always). They haven't garnered a lot of attention because, well, nothing they've done has warranted a lot of attention. To be sure, starting off 7-0 is commendable but so far all they've done is beat the teams they were supposed to beat.
On the other hand, Alabama hasn't exactly been challenged all that much since their opening week massacre of Michigan, either. They played non-conference games against Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic and got Arkansas in mid-meltdown. Ole Miss, Missouri, and Tennessee are not exactly SEC powerhouses this year, either. So just how good Bama is slightly unclear as well. If this game was at Mississippi State and there were going to be tens of thousands of Bulldog fans going nuts and ringing their cowbells non-stop for four hours straight, I might have started to believe that they just might get a few breaks in this game and get a historic win. But in Tuscaloosa? Nah.
THE PICK: ALABAMA 35, MISSISSIPPI STATE 14
Get more great college football analysis over at College Football Zealots.