This weekend marks the beginning of the rivalry games and won’t end until bowl time. It can be the best and the worst time to be a college football fan. The upset potential this weekend is staggering.
Alabama and Tennessee renew “The Third Saturday In October”, albeit it’s the fourth Saturday this go around. Less famed and probably less heated match-ups like Auburn-LSU, Penn State-Michigan and Iowa-Michigan State all look to be great games. And with newly found hatred blossoming between Miss State-Florida, USC-Oregon, and TCU-BYU this weekend could be a wild one. Don’t overlook, relatively low-key games like Texas-Missouri, Oregon-Washington, Pitt-USF, Arizona-UCLA, or Kansas-Oklahoma; any or all of these games could spice the weekend up even more. The top 25 should see some major changes come Sunday.
I’ll try and sort through the mess. We’ll start from the top and work our way down.
#1 Florida at Mississippi State
State has run on some hard-luck lately. The Bulldogs are 3-4 and they’re just hitting the meat of what looks to be the toughest back-half stretch in America. They ended a three game skid last week against Middle Tennessee State, but if they end the season with anything other than a 5 game loosing streak I’ll be impressed. They get their three hardest games at home with Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss all heading to Starkville. Their best shots at winning will come in road games at Kentucky and at Arkansas but I don’t see them getting much love down the stretch. Dan Mullen could salvage his season with a victory on Saturday and how sweet would it be for him against his old friends in gator blue.
Florida will more than likely be without senior leader Brandon Spikes, along with defensive tackles Jaye Howard and Lawrence Marsh. This doesn’t bode well for them considering the tear MSU’s Anthony Dixon has been on recently. He’s a downhill, between the tackles, runner. Without the core of their line, Florida could have some trouble. MSU will show up and cause Florida all kinds of headaches. This will be a really good one.
#2 Alabama vs. Tennessee
Tennessee is in high spirits. Alabama is bruised and battered. I don’t think it’ll make much of a difference in the end though. Tennessee’s Jonathon Crompton has looked like an actual QB in recent games but don’t expect this façade to last. Alabama’s defense will be the best he’s seen all year, and yes I realize he’s played at Florida already. If his passer rating is over 100 I’ll be shocked.
Before I anoint Alabama as rulers of the world, I’ll point out the fact Greg McElroy hasn’t faced a defense this well coached or this fast all season. Ole Miss was tough, but Monte Kiffen will throw some wild looks his way. Expect his coverage’s to be disguised all day, and don’t expect McElroy to see through them either. He’s a smart kid, but experience wins this time. Don’t expect Ingram to plow through Tennessee the way he did against SEC foes Kentucky, Ole Miss, and South Carolina. You don’t do what he did the past three weeks and come out unscathed. He’s beat up and I think it’s going to finally catch up with him this week. Regardless, Bama’s running game stays on track with a healthy Roy Upchurch and freshman Trent Richardson helping to carry the load. A Low scoring affair, this one will be brutal.
#3 Texas at Missouri
Texas isn’t playing championship caliber football, yet, but they do have one aspect down pat — winning. They haven’t won pretty like last year or the 2005 season, but it looks more and more like they won’t need to. Their biggest tests are in the past, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the season will be easy. In fact this may make their route to theRose Bowl even tougher. The Motivation of controlling their own destiny this year may be enough to carry them past Missouri this weekend. The Longhorn’s defense is playing lights out and should rattle Mizzou’s sophomore stud Blaine Gabbert. He’s played up to his lofty expectations this year but we can’t expect him to lead this young Missouri team to victory against a physically superior, more experienced Texas side. Texas should win another less-than-impressive one, on the road. But again, win is the keyword.
#6 Iowa at Michigan State
Iowa is on the verge of school history. With a win this Saturday, the 2009 squad will be the first Hawkeye team to win its first eight games in the program’s 120-year history. It sure won’t be easy though. Michigan State is on a three game winning streak that succeeded a three game loosing streak. They believe, but most of all they’re good. They lost the three games by a combined 13 points. Theycould just as easily be undefeated coming into this game. Now, wouldn’t the Big Ten love that? Iowa has won with a happy-go-lucky defense that isn’t afraid to take chances. And so far, most of the chances they’ve taken have gone their way. I’m not sure how long that’ll last. I’d give this game a 50-50 shot either way. The Big Ten hasn’t been the way it’s seemed all year and I don’t expect this game to be any different. If Michigan State expects to win they know they’ve got to get their running game started. It’s been shaky all year with Larry Caper and Glenn Winston sharing touches.
#7 USC vs. Oregon State
This game obviously means a lot to USC, but you can bet Oregon State wants to win just as badly. OSU has been a thorn in USC’s side for about five years. Every time they’ve met it’s been down to the wire. Jacquizz Rogers is playing the best collegiate ball of his short career, and that’s saying something considering he shredded arguably the best defense in the nation for 186 yards. I don’t expect much different from him this year. OSU will come to play, but if there’s one thing for sure, its that Pete Carroll will be prepared for them this year. USC’s the favorite and for good reason, but don’t count the “little guys” out. Pasadena should be in for a good one.
#8 TCU at #16 BYU
I’m not even going to pretend and act like I follow the MWC like a good, well-rounded college football fan should. I have however seen the best and worst of BYU on national television. I’ve also seen TCU’s defense dominate conference foes. But I also know TCU toughest game so far was against a mediocre Air Force. Their two “Big Six” victories cameagainst sporadic Clemson and Virginia; the cream of the crop when it comes too bizarre score lines. Let’s face it, once again the ACC sucks and that hurts TCU. Bobby Bowden’s burning ship, the Florida State Seminoles, which, by the way, makes no sense, routed BYU. They also beat a very good Oklahoma team. This one could go either way but, I always believe in defense first and TCU’s got plenty of that. If BYU wants any revenge for last year’s heartbreaker, they’ve got the perfect chance this year. They come in the underdog, they’ve got home field advantage, and what school doesn’t love ESPN’s college game coming to town.
#9 LSU vs. Auburn
LSU and Auburn hate each other. Then again I think most everyone in the SEC hates LSU. Maybe Vanderbilt’s clear-headed student body can see the good in them, but the rest of us see them for the belligerent drunk, fiends they really are. They had the disadvantage of being overrated the last two weeks. Now they come in with the advantage forgotten and dejected, classic motivational tools to get the troops fired up. I’m sure Gene Chizik didn’t mind. A Coache’s worstenemy is high expectations; the lower the expectations, the happier they are.
LSU isn’t getting any better on offense, but this week could prove to be the cure. Auburn has been terrible against the run and Charles Scott is still looking for a breakout performance. I don’t count his game against Georgia. Yeah he got SEC player of the week, but he gained all his yards in the forth quarter and more than half of them came on one run, which any SEC running back could’ve made. Auburn will play hard and keep it close. They’ve got more than a chance for the upset, but LSU won’t go down quietly either. Death Valley isn’t ever fun and especially when you’re Auburn.
#11 Oregon at Washington
Oregon finally controls it’s own fate in the Pac 10 race, and with a meeting with USC next week let’s hope they aren’t looking ahead. I don’t think they are. They’ve really bounced back from the BoiseState loss well, and are buying into Chip Kelly’s system. Even without suspended LeGarrette Blount, their unproven offense has flourished. Jeremiah Masoli has proven he’s capable of throwing the ball as well as running it. But Washington is a far cry from the winless 2008 team too. They’ve banded around coach Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Jake Locker. This will be yet another hard fought battle and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised at all if Washington pulled this one out.
#13 Penn State at Michigan
Joe Pa doesn’t have many head-coaching seasons left and I’m sure he’ll want to make them count. Michigan’s made it tough on the old guy lately; they haven’t lost to PSU at home since 1996. Evan Royster has been on a mission, racking up ridiculous stats inleading PSU to three straight victories by a combined score of 107 to 20. Michigan’s freshman quarterback tandem, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, have been tough to handle, running Rich Rodriguez’s spread option attack. Is this the year Penn State gets over their decade long slump in Ann Arbor? I’m not sure. Michigan might be more than Joe Pa can handle, again.
#20 Pittsburg vs. UFS
Pitt freshman, Dion Lewis, leads the nation in rushing and has Pitt fans forgetting all about last season’s less-than-spectacular finish. They’ve still got a shot at the Big East title and a BCS bowl bid. Fellow freshman B.J. Daniel’s has been on and off so far, having his best game against weak FSU and his worst game against #5 Cincinnati. This game is a key match-up in the Big East and should be as hard-hitting as any game this season.
#22 Arizona vs. UCLA
Where did Nick Foles come from? Wherever it was, Arizona couldn’t be happier that they ended up with him. He’s come on ridiculously strong the last few weeks and has thrown for 799yards and 4 TDs the last TWO weeks. Arizona hasn’t seen the top 25 in a while, but I’m afraid their trip may be short-lived. UCLA’s secondary will be much tougher to shred than Stanford and Washington’s. I may be wrong but UCLA will be playing their hearts out. They’re in desperate need of some Pac 10 lovin’ and this is their perfect opportunity.
#25 Kansas vs. Oklahoma
Oklahoma is down and out and fighting for its reputation. 3-3 is not the way Bob Stoops envisioned this team at the mid-way point. Sam Bradford’s injury isn’t the end of the world; the mustachedwonder, Landry Jones can more than hold his own. Kansas may have the best sub-6-foot quarterback since Doug Flutie, and he’ll need to play like it if they have any chance of redeeming themselves for last years embarrassing defeat.