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.
TWO WEEKS AGO: 4-2
We took a break last week, but we're back and ready to go this week.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23 #6 LSU (7-0, 4-0) AT #4 AUBURN (7-0, 4-0) (3:30pm EST, CBS) Another week, another Milacle? Neutral observers (and fans of chaos and random insanity) can only hope so (although Auburn fans probably disagree, as do LSU fans with weak hearts). LSU's improbable undefeated run continues as they face their stiffest test yet -- a road game against top-5 Auburn, better known as The Cam Newton Show, starring Cam Newton, with special guest star Cam Newton. All of which is to say: Cam Newton is really damn good, as evidenced by the fact that through seven game, he's thrown for 1278 yards and 13/5 TD/INT on 80/122 passing and galloped for 860 yards and 12 TDs on the ground. He's a superfreak. And while he hasn't faced any elite defenses yet, he did a pretty good job of carving up (16/21, 158 yards, 2/0 TD/INT, 176 yards rushing, 3 TD) a respectable South Carolina outfit. You have to figure that he's gonna get his against LSU; the real question is what LSU can do to answer him. The Auburn pass defense isn't so hot (see: last week's Arkansas game), but LSU isn't terribly well-equipped to exploit that (outside of stud WR Terrence Tolliver). The unstoppable force that is Cam Newton meets the immovable object that is the Year of the Milacle; call me crazy, but I'm siding with the Caminator in this one.
THE PICK: AUBURN 34, LSU 28
#13 WISCONSIN (6-1, 2-1) AT #15 IOWA (5-1, 2-0) (3:30pm EST, ABC/ESPN2) Thanks to the impending Big Ten divisional alignments, this series, which has been one of the most competitive in major college football (Iowa leads 42-41-2), will be going by the wayside to an extent. They'll still play, but not every year and possibly no more than four times in a ten year span. As an Iowa fan, that makes me a little sad, since the Wisconsin games have usually been close, exciting games, although getting an annual game with Nebraska is a pretty solid trade-off, too. Not that this particular game needed any of that "break in the rivalry" juice to make it any bigger than it is, because it's pretty damn big to begin with. Wisconsin restored their Big Ten contender credentials with an impressive 31-18 ass-kicking of then-#1 Ohio State last week, while Iowa went on the road to knock off an explosive Michigan team. Iowa remains one of only three Big Ten teams that's still undefeated (along with Purdue and Michigan State), and they control their own destiny for the league title (assuming someone knocks off Purdue, which seems like a safe bet). Their next three home games are against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State; it's not really hyperbole to argue that the road to the Big Ten crown goes through Iowa City over this next month.
Iowa's played well since their disappointing loss to Arizona last month, but Wisconsin will pose a far different challenge than an inexperienced (and injury-riddled) Penn State team or an electric (but not very physically imposing) Michigan team; Wisconsin is all brawn and beef and very little subtlety. Fortunately, that's precisely the sort of team Iowa has long had success against. Throw in the letdown factor that Wisconsin will inevitably have to battle (see: South Carolina a week ago) and you can see why this will be a very difficult game for them. The key will likely come down to how well they can run the ball on Iowa's defense; if their massive OL can dominate Iowa's talented DL and open up holes for John Clay and James White, it could be a long day for Iowa. On the other hand, if Iowa can keep the Wisco running game mostly in check and force Scott Tolzien to beat them through the air, they should be in very good shape. On offense, Iowa could have trouble establishing a run game with Adam Robinson, but if the OL can provide Ricky Stanzi some decent pass protection (something they've been very good at all year, aside from the end of the Arizona game), he should be able to hit some big plays to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt through the air. I think the Iowa DL makes some big plays and Stanzi has another good day.
THE PICK: IOWA 24, WISCONSIN 14
#16 NEBRASKA (5-1, 1-1) AT #14 OKLAHOMA STATE (6-0, 2-0) (3:30pm EST, ABC) And now we come to perhaps the biggest "Prove Yourselves" game of the day. Nebraska has to prove that their 5-0 start wasn't a mirage built against dramatically inferior competition and that they can rebound from a gutting loss to Texas in a game that they'd had circled for months. Oklahoma State has to prove that their own 6-0 start isn't just the product of a really favorable schedule and that they can actually beat a good team. Oklahoma State was widely picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 South and for fairly understandable reasons: they lost a ton of talent, including multi-year starter Zac Robinson at QB and all-everything WR Dez Bryant. But they returned RB Kendall Hunter (who battled multiple injuries last year on his way to a somewhat mediocre campaign) and they've slotted in QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon to replace Robinson and Bryant and barely skipped a beat. Blackmon, in particular, has been a revelation -- he's leading the NCAA in receiving yards (955) and touchdowns (12) and, yes, he's put up those numbers in just six games. On the other hand, Nebraska will be by far the nastiest defense Okie State has faced this year and they've absolutely stifled passing games all season. The question for Nebraska is how well their own offense can move the ball and score points; Texas completely shut them down and extinguished Taylor Martinez's Heisman buzz. But the Okie State defense is not quite the same thing as a Texas defense coached by Will Muschamp that has two weeks to prepare for the Martinez buzzsaw. When in doubt, side with the elite defense.
THE PICK: NEBRASKA 27, OKLAHOMA STATE 20
NORTH CAROLINA (4-2, 2-1) AT MIAMI (4-2, 2-1) (ESPN2, 6:30pm EST) Before the season, there was some speculation that the ACC Coastal was going to emerge as the toughest division in college football. It had four ranked teams (North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Miami), loads of talent, and high expectations. Midway through the season, we now know that was a lie; the SEC West is unquestionably the top division. But while the ACC Coastal has endured some pratfalls along the way (UNC's ongoing scandals, Virgina Tech's loss to James Madison, Georgia Tech's loss to Kansas, Miami's homefield disemboweling at the hands of Florida State), they've also more or less righted the ship and emerged as solid teams; they're all sitting at 4-2 or better and getting ready for the brutal round robin of games they're going to face against one another over the next month. Despite dealing with massive suspension-induced losses from the ongoing scandals that have engulfed their program, North Carolina has been looking pretty solid after their 0-2 start. Miami has looked unable to compete against foes with talent on par with their own; they lost to Ohio State in a game that was only close because of Ohio State's miserable special teams and got blown off their own field by Florida State. Their four wins have come against Florida A&M, a bad Pitt team, a bad Duke team, and a so-so Clemson team. Suffice to say, I don't really trust them.
THE PICK: NORTH CAROLINA 24, MIAMI 17
#1 OKLAHOMA (6-0, 2-0) AT #11 MISSOURI (6-0, 2-0) (8:00pm EST, ABC) Oklahoma moved to the top of the initial BCS standings on the back of a 6-0 schedule against a slate of solid opponents (outside of their loss to the Sooners, Oklahoma's opponents are 23-10). The results haven't always been pretty (see: single-digit wins over Utah State, Cincinnati, and Air Force), but wins are the thing and Oklahoma's got 'em so far. Meanwhile, Missouri has quietly gone about its business and also sits at 6-0 and hosting one of the biggest games in their program's history (even with their recent success). Missouri's resume lacks any marquee wins (their best win is... San Diego State? Texas A&M? Illinois?), but they've beaten a collection of teams that has emerged as if not quite "good," at least "perfectly decent." That said, Oklahoma is a whole different beast than any of the teams they've played, especially since they seem to be clicking now. Earlier in the season, they might have screwed around with a not-totally-awful Iowa State team; instead, they obliterated them 52-0, exactly the way an elite team should. That's bad news for Missouri. Strangely, Missouri's success this season has been built on the back of a surprisingly stout defense, rather than the shoot 'em up affairs that constituted their success a few years ago. Can they use that and some homefield mojo to slow down Landry Jones, DeMarco Murray, and the rest of the Sooner offense? That's tough. The history of the last decade is that Bob Stoops wins big games in the league (it's just those pesky BCS bowl games that give him issues, plus Texas the last few years) and Gary Pinkel rarely does. It's hard to bet against that.
THE PICK: OKLAHOMA 34, MISSOURI 24
AIR FORCE (5-2, 3-1) AT #5 TCU (7-0, 3-0) (8:00pm EST, CBS College Sports) It's been a while since we've checked in with the non-BCS leagues and this is unquestionably the game of the day from the mid-major ranks. It would have been a match-up of top 25 teams if Air Force hadn't stubbed their toe last week at San Diego State, but as it is, it's still the first quasi-test TCU has faced since the season opener against Oregon State (or Baylor five weeks ago, if you think the Bears are legit). Since their splashy opening week win over Oregon State, TCU has mostly been minding their own business and beating the piss out of teams, especially since they opened up conference play a month ago -- they're 3-0 in Mountain West play and they've outscored their foes by an aggregate score of 103-3 (BYU got a pity FG on them last week). On the other hand, Colorado State, BYU, and Wyoming just aren't any good this year, either. Air Force isn't a great team, but they've emerged as a solid team this year; until last week's slip-up against SDSU, they'd beaten everyone in their path except Oklahoma (who they lost to just 27-24). They also pose a unique challenge for the TCU defense since they run the triple-option. Still, TCU seems too good on both sides of the ball to trip up at hoem against Air Force; this one might be close for a half or so, but TCU should pull away.
THE PICK: TCU 31, AIR FORCE 13