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: 4-2
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2010
#7 Nebraska (4-0, 0-0) @ Kansas State (4-0, 1-0) (7:30pm EST, ESPN)
Two straight Big 12 games on Thursday night? Poor Big East; it’s not bad enough that their league is dreadful this year and can barely beat anyone outside of FCS schools – now they’re even being edged out of their traditional Thursday night showcase game. Last week’s Thursday night Big 12 game between Oklahoma State and Texas A&M turned into a wild shootout; don’t expect aerial pyrotechnics like that this week. Kansas State and Nebraska both want to grind things out on the ground. K-State features one of the nation’s best backs in Daniel Thomas, going for 157 ypg, while Nebraska counters with a hydra-like attack featuring Roy Helu (76 ypg), Rex Burkhead (76ypg), and red-hot freshman QB Taylor “T-Magic” Martinez (116ypg). There are reasons to like Kansas State – they’ve had an extra week to prepare for the Huskers, they’re at home, Nebraska struggled with South Dakota State in their last game – but probably not enough to actually pick them to win this game against a top ten-ranked Nebraska team with a salty defense. This game should go a long way in determining who wins the Big 12 North.
THE PICK: NEBRASKA 24, KANSAS STATE 14
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2010
#1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0) @ #19 South Carolina (3-1, 1-1) (3:30pm EST, CBS)
Another week, another big Alabama game. Ho-hum. After needing some late-game heroics (and a Ryan Mallett meltdown) to sneak out a road win over Arkansas, Bama rebounded to throttle Florida at home last week. Now they face the third leg of their three-week gauntlet against top 20 teams, a road game against a South Carolina team that’s had two weeks to prepare for the Crimson Tide. The question is: will that matter? The good news for USCeast is that they’ll have a few things in their favor that Florida didn’t – a much more consistent and coherent offensive identity, homefield advantage, two weeks of preparation, and a Bama team that may be a bit beaten down from their exertions over the past two weeks. The bad news is that Bama’s also been getting better, game by game, especially on defense. The Tide’s biggest weakness is/was their pass defense, which Mallett shredded (until the end, at least), but USCeast is ill-suited to exploit that advantage with the inconsistent Stephen Garcia flinging the ball. Alabama’s reaching “pick against them at your peril” status right now, much like USC in 2003-2005 or Miami in 2000-2002. I’m not going to buck that trend this week. On the other hand, given Florida’s obvious issues this season, this game may be a prelude to a USCeast-Bama rematch in the SEC title game. Of course, my pick in that game will probably be the same as my pick in this game…
THE PICK: ALABAMA 27, SOUTH CAROLINA 20
#17 Michigan State (5-0, 1-0) @ #18 Michigan (5-0, 1-0) (3:30pm EST, ABC/ESPN)
This year's Battle of Michigan could be the best installment in a while -- and that's saying something when six of the past seven encounters have been decided by a touchdown or less. But both teams enter this game on a high, as undefeated 5-0 squads with potent offenses. Michigan has, of course, been The Denard Robinson Show all season -- but lordy, lordy what a freaking show it's been. Robinson's been an absolute magician to watch thus far, slicing through defenses on the ground (and through the air) and producing a bushel of jaw-dropping highlight reel plays every week. On the other hand, Michigan hasn't exactly been playing a murderer's row of defenses thus far -- and while Michigan State has some issues on defense (particularly in the secondary), they do have some legit all-conference talent in their ranks and the going should be a bit tougher against the likes of Greg Jones and Eric Gordon. Not to mention that Michigan State has some of the most savage big-hitters in the league on defense; Denard Robinson has already proven to be a bit fragile (he's missed at least a few plays in every game this season), so Michigan could be in serious trouble if Sparty is able to bludgeon him a few times and put him out of commission. On the offensive side of the ball, Sparty has been one of the most balanced teams in the nation, with an explosive pair of running backs in Edwin Baker (75-536-5), and Le'Veon Bell (64-471-7) and (in the last two weeks) a resurgent passing offense under Kirk Cousins (81/120, 1132 yards, 9/4 TD/INT). MSU's best defense against The Fightin' Denards may be to simply deny him the ball and with an offense like that (and against a defense as porous as Michigan's), they may be able to do just that. It's hard to bet against Robinson pulling yet another phenomenal spectacle out of his bag of tricks, but Sparty really does seem well-suited to pull the curtains on The Denard Show for a week.
THE PICK: MICHIGAN STATE 34, MICHIGAN 31
#12 LSU (5-0, 3-0) @ #14 Florida (4-1, 2-1) (7:30pm EST, ESPN)
This game should be a fascinating one to watch, especially if you like watching bad football. Between Les Miles’ chronic clock management blunders, the continuing incompetence of the LSU offense, and Florida’s own incompetence on offense, this one should be an uglyball masterpiece. If you like dropped passes, turnovers, and tackles for loss, make this your game of the weekend because it’s probably going to set offensive football back a few decades. Florida has the benefit of homefield, but LSU may have the better defense (they certainly have the best defensive player on the field in CB Patrick Peterson, a complete stud). You wouldn’t think that Les Miles’ perverse luck could continue, but sometimes you just have to ride a crazy hand and see where it takes you. Florida has provided little reason to have faith in them, either.
THE PICK: LSU 13, FLORIDA 9
#23 Florida State (4-1, 2-0) @ #13 Miami (3-1, 1-0) (8:00pm EST, ABC)
The ACC’s marquee rivalry is renewed once again, this time with both teams ranked, something of a rarity in the recent days of this rivalry. Both teams have highly touted quarterbacks in Christian Ponder (FSU) and Jacory Harris (Miami), but neither guy has been too spectacular thus far this season (Ponder: 78/129, 844 yards, 8/3 TD/INT; Harris: 68/119, 895 yards, 10/8 TD/INT). Both teams also suffered humbling road defeats in big-time non-conference showdowns (FSU got thrashed by Oklahoma, while Miami was beaten down by Ohio State). Miami made a big statement by going on the road and annihilating Pitt on Thursday night a few weeks ago, while Florida State has quietly been beating up on the usual ACC dregs (Wake Forest, Virginia) the past few weeks. These look like two evenly-matched squads on the offensive side of the ball -- but Miami appears to have a significant advantage on defense. That would be reason enough to pick them -- if not for the fact that Harris is an enormous wildcard in this matchup. Harris has thrown eight interceptions already this season, the fifth-worst total in the nation -- and it's even worse when you consider that the guys who have thrown as many or more interceptions have also thrown 50-85 more passes than Harris. He's throwing an interception every 15 passes -- which is not good. If he does that against FSU, Miami may suffer. If he can protect the ball, their defense should be able to slow down Florida State enough for Miami to prevail. Against my better judgment, I'll bet on that to happen.
THE PICK: MIAMI 24, FLORIDA STATE 20
USC (4-1, 1-1) @ #16 Stanford (4-1, 1-1) (8:00pm EST, ABC)
A year ago, Stanford's destruction of USC ranked as one of the most shocking results of the season (well, at least until we found out that USC was no longer the USC of old). Now, it's practically expected -- oh, how things can change dramatically in the span of a year. Despite opening the year 4-0 USC looked just as shaky as they were a year ago -- and their upset loss to Washington last week did nothing to alter those concerns. After cruising through the early part of the year, Stanford opened up an early lead on Oregon a week ago... and then watched the bottom drop out as the quick-strike Oregon offense exploded. But Oregon is going to do that to a ton of teams this year and USC is better matchup for Stanford than Oregon, frankly. USC still has some better talent at a few positions (WR, RB, maybe DL), but Stanford has the advantage at QB -- and is there anyone who wouldn't trust Harbaugh to coach circles around Kiffin at this point?
THE PICK: STANFORD 35, USC 27