Conference play gets under way this weekend. We find out who's for real and who's just teasing. The Big 10 matchups are particularly interesting as 10 teams with legitimate bowl aspirations open the season. Katy bar the door. On to the picks.
ACC Game: Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
This is a huge game in the ACC Coastal Division race. The winner remains undefeated and in the hunt fot the national championship. The loser is still in the ACC race but as far as national title hopes, its the Johnny Hates Jazz Special. Both squads own solid road victories over potential bowl teams (Georgia Tech at Auburn and Virginia Tech at NC St.). This game willl likely be a defensive battle with each team playing a very conservative brand of football. Even if Reggie Ball plays, I like the home crowd and more ferocious defense of the Hokies to come through.
Winner: Virginia Tech
Big East Game: Louisville at South Florida
Another slow week ahead in the Big East as this is the marquee game. The 'Ville hung 63 points on an overmatched Oregon St. team last week, while South Florida took care of business against Central Florida. This game will go a long way towards determining how good South Florida is. So far they have lost a somewhat close game at Penn St. (23-13) and beaten two lesser Florida schools at home (Florida A&M and UCF). If they can hang with Louisville at home then they can dream about going bowling in late December. The 'Ville is a different team away from Papa John's stadium, but they have too many athletes to lose to South Florida.
Big 10 Game: Iowa at Ohio St.
The best of the bunch in Big 10 country in a slate that also includes Purdue/Minnesota, Penn St./Northwestern, Michigan St./Illinois, and Michigan/Wisconsin. This is an eliminator game with both teams coming off of early season losses. Ohio St. still has faint national title hopes even with their close loss to Texas. Iowa on the other hand is likely out of luck barring an unprecedented slew of losses by top teams in the coming months after their whipping at the hands of Iowa St. Like Georgia Tech/Virginia Tech this game will also be a defensive battle. I am tempted to pick Iowa seeing as how Jim Tressel refuses to get the ball to his playmakers, Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes. However, Ohio St. will certainly be out for revenge after the 33-7 beat down Iowa put on them last year. Combine that with the homefield advantage and Ohio St. wins an ugly game where a 7 yard run may be the offensive highlight.
Winner: Ohio St.
Big 12 Game: Colorado at Miami
The Buffs travel east to take on The U in a game that would have been a lot more exciting in the early 1990's. Colorado has beaten rival Colorado St. in a squeaker and blown out the powerhouse New Mexico St. Aggies in their first 2 contests. Miami lost a closely contested ugly game to Florida St. and won a closely contested exciting game at Clemson. This is Miami's first home game and Colorado's first road game. The U takes it in a blowout.
Pac 10 Game: Southern Cal at Oregon
Despote all the lap dances Southern Cal has received from the media for being the greatest collegiate team since the Four Horsemen, don't forget this fact. In their previous 2 championship seasons, the Trojans have struggled on the road against decent Pac 10 teams.
2003 road conference games:
lost to California (8-6) 34-31
beat Arizona St. (5-7) 37-17
beat Washington (6-6) 43-23
beat Arizona (2-10) 45-0
2004 road conference games:
beat Stanford (4-7) 31-28
beat Washington St. (5-6) 32-12
beat Oregon St. (7-5) 28-20
beat UCLA (6-6) 29-24
Against teams with at least .500 records on the road, Southern Cal is 3-1 with an average margin of victory of 7.5. They are 21 point favorites over the Ducks this weekend. Oregon won't win, but they will give the Trojans all they can handle.
Winner: Southern Cal
SEC Game: Tennessee at LSU
This game has been moved to Monday night thanks to Hurrican Rita. Quoting my dad on last week's Tennessee game: 'Something with no heads is dead and something with 2 heads is a freak.' That sums up the Tennessee quarterback situation perfectly. Fulmer needs to pick his guy and stay with him. Anyway, LSU will win no matter who plays quarterback for the Vols.
Close but no Cigar:
North Carolina at NC St.: Your typical rivalry game. As the saying goes, you can defenestrate the records when rivals get together. NC St. is the better team and is playing at home, but the Heels will hang tough in an exciting ACC clash.
Notre Dame at Washington: While I would love to see classy Tyrone Willingham stick it to his former employers, the Huskies are just too bad to win this game. The talent the Irish have is far superior to that of Washington. Charlie Weis will continue tricking out the players Willingham recruited and beat the Huskies in a close game in Seattle.
Michigan St. at Illinois: As they are want to do, Sparticus will lose to an inferior team one week after notching a top 10 victory. You can practically see it coming. The road game at Illinois is sandwiched between the road win at Notre Dame and a home game with rival Michigan.
Penn St. at Northwestern: Joe Pa's boys have beaten absolutely no one of note early on, and suddenly all the pain and anguish of the past few seasons is forgotten. Since 1995 Northwestern has been a very competitive Big 10 team. A victory here will probably propel them to a bowl game. Northwestern upsets Penn St. and sports writers around the country begin their annual 'Does Joe Pa Have the Right to Choose When He Leaves' debate.
Enjoy the Weekend.