Every week, I’ll throw a spotlight on the six most interesting games of the weekend to tell you why these are the games you should try to catch, who’s going to win (and why), and what ramifications they could have on the rest of the college football landscape.
LAST WEEK: 3-3
#12 Arkansas @ Georgia (12pm EST, ESPN)
Arkansas was the trendy pick in the SEC this year, following in the proud footsteps of 2009 Ole Miss and 2008 Georgia, although by now the pollsters have learned their lesson well enough not to place Arkansas immediately in the top ten. They certainly didn't look like a top ten team in struggling with UL-Monroe for three quarters last week. Like that '09 Ole Miss squad, they feature a much-hyped veteran signal-caller (Ryan Mallett for Arkansas, Jevan Snead for Ole Miss) and a good amount of other returning starters and were competitive against other top SEC teams the year prior.
THE PICK: ARKANSAS 31, GEORGIA 24
Georgia Tech @ North Carolina (12pm EST, ESPN3.com)
Oh, ACC. It wasn't really just two weeks ago that you had five teams ranked in the top 20 and various pundits (including this one) suggesting that the ACC Coastal could be the toughest division in college football, was it? Yeah, about that... NOT SO MUCH. It may still be tough for one team to emerge from that division, but only because all the teams in it are varying degrees of mediocre. Georgia Tech dispatched South Carolina State easily in week one (41-10), but provided one of the more surprising upsets of the season in traveling to Lawrence and losing to the same Kansas team that a week earlier had failed to score a touchdown against a I-AA North Dakota State team. That's... not good. But when your quarterback goes 5/15, good things generally aren't right around the corner, even if you are an option team. On the other side, North Carolina has had two weeks to think about their near-miss against LSU and prepare for Georgia Tech's always-tricky offense.
THE PICK: GEORGIA TECH 34, NORTH CAROLINA 21
#8 Nebraska @ Washington (330pm EST, ABC/ESPN2)
Nebraska pulled off a sloppy 38-17 win over Idaho last week, turning the ball over four times and committing ten penalties (for 123 yards); they'll need to be sharper than that to get to to 3-0 this week. The Washington hype bus got a flat tire in week one as they came undone on a road trip to BYU, but they bounced back nicely to take care of business against Syracuse last week. Nebraska obviously represents a massive leap in quality from either of those teams, but Washington has been a scrappy team against ranked opponents under Sarkisian. They went 2-3 a year ago, blasting a 19th ranked Cal team to the end the season and pulling off a memorable September upset over then-#3 USC. (In their three losses, they lost a spirited 31-23 game to LSU, but got smashed by both Oregon schools.) Granted, those teams may have been overrated at the time of those games (USC certainly was, judging by the rest of their season), but still: Sark has done an excellent job of getting his team ready to play against top teams when they come to Seattle. Nebraska, meanwhile, has found a bit of offense to go with their very solid defense, led by freshman quarterback Taylor "T-Magic" Martinez, who's been a capable passer (21/32, 242 yards, 0/1 TD/INT) and a dynamic runner (21 carries, 384 yards, 1 TD). Washington keeps it close by forcing Martinez into some costly errors, but Nebraska's defense ultimately makes enough stops to secure victory.
THE PICK: NEBRASKA 27, WASHINGTON 24
Clemson @ #16 Auburn (7pm EST, ESPN)
Somewhat inexplicably, ESPN's College Gameday has chosen to head to this game this week. Maybe they got some good buy one/get one free deals when they were in Alabama for the Penn State-Alabama game last week. In any event, it is an intriguing match-up between one of the few ACC teams that hasn't fallen on their faces yet and an SEC West team that continues to generate buzz as an SEC title contender. Mind you, Clemson's largely managed to avoid the embarrassing fates that have befallen fellow ACC teams by playing no one with a pulse (North Texas and Presbyterian so far) and Auburn looked decidedly not-ready-for-primetime in eking out a win over a Mississippi State team that could barely complete a pass.
THE PICK: AUBURN 34, CLEMSON 24
#6 Texas @ Texas Tech (8pm EST, ABC/ESPN2)
The last time Texas went to Lubbock these two teams played one of the best games of the last few years and Michael Crabtree made one of the most memorable catches of the decade in Tech's sensational upset of Texas that ended Texas' conference (and national) title ambitions. Sadly, most of the key personnel from that game -- Colt McCoy, Quan Cosby, Jordan Shipley, Graham Harrell, Michael Crabtree, Mike Leach -- are no longer around for this installment, so it may be hard to get a rematch that lives up to that tremendous standard. That said, if Texas Tech continues to build upon the promise shown in their first two games and the Texas offense continues to look lethargic, an upset isn't out of the question.
#9 Iowa @ #24 Arizona (1030pm EST, ESPN)
And now we come to the only game of the day to feature two ranked opponents. Iowa beat Arizona 27-17 a year ago in Iowa City in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated (Arizona's two touchdowns came off a pick-six and late touchdown drive against reserve defenders after Iowa had already built a 27-10 lead). So what's changed in a year, aside from the locale? Not much for Iowa, aside from a rebuilt offensive line that's performed well against admittedly below-average competition (this week will be the first true test) and a linebacking corps that's two-thirds new. Arizona, on the other hand, has a lot of new faces in the front seven on defense, but returns a lot on offense. But the most significant change is at quarterback; Matt Scott was the Wildcats' QB in the early going last year, but he was so disastrous against Iowa (4/14, 50 yds, 0/1 TD/INT) that he gave way to Nick Foles... and never got the job back. Foles led the Arizona offense on their only scoring drive against Iowa a year ago and went to garner all-conference honors in the Pac-10; the Arizona offense really exploded when he took over and bears little resemblance to the outfit that sputtered and died against Iowa a year ago -- so that will be a significant new challenge.