Last Week: 8-6
BYU at Boston College
Both the Cougars and Eagles seek to continue the momentum they built up last week in home victories. The games themselves couldnt't have been more different. BYU destroyed Conference USA favorite Tulsa 49-24 while Boston College used some clutch special teams plays to knock off chic ACC pick Clemson 34-33. If Boston College wins this game, they will likely be 5-0 heading into a rough 2-game midseason stretch when they play Virginia Tech in Chestnut Hill and Florida State in Tallahassee. A win for BYU would perhaps signal a return to Mountain West dominance after a 4-season run in the middle of the pack. BYU struggled on offense in their first game this season against a BCS school losing 16-13 to Arizona. However, Boston College has not been strong defensively so far this season, giving up 366 yards to Central Michigan and 479 to Clemson. Still, I can't pick the Cougars to travel cross-country and beat one of college football's better coaches in his own backyard.
Winner: Boston College
Michigan State at Pittsburgh
Two teams that disappointed last year seek to start out 2006 3-0. A win for Sparty would mean a 3-0 start heading into the Notre Dame game next weekend. Along with Michigan and Ohio State thats the only real game Sparty can expect to lose. So a win this week makes a 10-win season a possibilty (with the bowl game). As for Pittsburgh, a win here and the Panthers will likely be 7-0 heading into a home showdown (that's right showdown) with Rutgers. Pittsburgh has handled Virginia and Cincinnati with relative ease so far this season. While no one is confusing those teams with the 95 Cornhuskers, they are a step up from Michigan State's first two opponents (Idaho and Eastern Michigan). The Panthers are more battle tested, have the better defense, and are playing at home. Oh ya, and John L. Smith still coaches Sparty.
Iowa St. at Iowa
These two midwestern schools with high expectations for 2006 have gotten off to underwhelming starts. While both schools are 2-0, Iowa St. has slipped by Toledo (0-2) in triple OT thanks to a dropped pass on a 2-point conversion and UNLV (1-1) by a 16-10 score thanks to a very controversial call. Iowa on the other hand was up only 17-7 in the 3rd quarter against Montana and then without quarterback Drew Tate, needed a goal line stand to hold off Syracuse (possibly the worst BCS team). Iowa State has played very well in this game since 2000, winning 4 of 6 including inflicting the Hawkeyes only regular season loss in 2002. However, the Hawkeyes have too much talent to lose to their archrivals at home.
Ole Miss at Kentucky
Fresh off a drubbing at the hands of Missouri, Ole Miss heads to the Blugrass State to try and pick up their first SEC win since beating Kentucky in October of last season and first SEC road win since beating South Carolina in 2004. With Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, and LSU still left on the slate, the Rebels desperately need a win to harbor any hopes of bowl eligibility. Kentucky has the same sentiments. Florida, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, and South Carolina remain on their schedule so a win here is a muct if Rich Brooks has any hopes of appeasing the faithful with a 6-6 season. Both teams were whalloped by the good teams they played (Louisville and Missouri). Kentucky soundly defeated their other opponent, Texas State, while Ole Miss edged Memphis by 3 points. In a close game, Ole Miss will get a crucial road victory for Ed Orgeron.
Winner: Ole Miss
Missouri at New Mexico
Under Gary Pinkel, Missouri has a nasty habit of dropping winnable non-conference games (Bowling Green in 2001 and 2002, Troy in 2004, and New Mexico last season). That track record should have most Tigers fans worried. However, this looks to be the best Missouri team since Corby Jones was under center in the late 90's. They plowed over non-Division I Murray State on Labor Day Weekend and then stomped Ole Miss last week. Quarterback Chase Daniel is running the no-huddle attack to perfection. Couple that with a suspect New Mexico team that lost to non-Division I Portland State in their first game and narrowly edged New Mexico State (winless last season) in their second and you have all the makings of a home invasion. New Mexico may keep it close until halftime, but the Missouri offense will prove to be too prolific.
Clemson at Florida State
Both teams should be undefeated heading into Bowden Bowl VIII. Unfortunatley for Clemson, some special teams gaffes cost them against a Boston College team that they outgained by 150 yards. Does that sound familiar? It should. A poor snap on a punt helped Georgia Tech escape Death Valley in 2004 and a botched fake field goal attempt set the wheels in motion for an upset loss to Wake Forest last season. A loss here pretty much eliminates Clemson from ACC contention before September is out. Not something every media pundit envisioned during the ACC media days. Of course, a loss is certainly not a sure thing here. Florida State has real issues running the football. Excluding sacks (which the NCAA counts when computing rushing yards for some strange reason) the Seminoles have rushed 27 times for 85 yards (3.15 yards per rush). That's Arizona Cardinals territory. Of course the first game did come against Miami, who by all accounts has a pretty stout defense, but the second game against the Men of Troy...Alabama. While it remains to be seen how good Troy is, the fact remains they are still a Sun Belt school and have no business being close against a top-20 team on the road. Still, the homefield, Clemson's injury woes on defense, and some inevitable special teams blunders by the Tigers will shift the the game in Florida State's favor.
Winner: Florida State
Texas Tech at TCU
15 years ago this would have been a conference game between two comparable southwest schools. Now its an opportunity for TCU to thumb its nose at not only the Red Raiders, but also the Big XII who left them out when Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor joined in 1996. A win for the Horned Frogs will make a BCS bid a possibilty, but they still must navigate the tough Mountain West conference (with games against BYU and Utah) with with no more than one loss. Texas Tech is trying to build on their Cotton Bowl appearance and make a push toward the top of the Big XII South with the departure of Vince Young at Texas and the seeming vulnerability of Oklahoma. The Red Raiders were nearly upset in a road contest at a mid-major Texas school last week (UTEP). This week they won't be so lucky and Mike Leach will be wishing he had kept last year's non-conference schedule (Indiana State, Sam Houston State, and Florida International).
Fresno State at Washington
Fresno State is 0-1 in Pac-10 play after losing a great game to Oregon on Saturday night. The Huskies hung with Oklahoma in Norman last week before succumbing 37-20, showing some steady progress in Ty Willingham's second year. Road games are always a challenge and this game will be no different for Fresno. In what should be a high-scoring affair, Fresno will survive and claim their first victory over a BCS school since their 2004 MPC Computers Bowl win over Virginia.
Winner: Fresno State
Oklahoma at Oregon
6 degrees of O for 2006:
1. Oklahoma beat Washington 37-20
2. Washington beat San Jose State 35-29
3. San Jose State beat Stanford 35-34
4. Oregon beat Stanford 48-10
Of well, its only 4 degrees. So what does this exercise tell us? It lets us know Stanford is probably in for a long season, but doesn't tell us much about these two teams. In 2004, Oregon lost at Oklahoma 31-7. In 2005, Oregon lost to Oklahoma on a neutral field 17-14. In the cozy confines of Autzen Stadium, Oregon will take care of the Sooners in a tight affair.
Miami at Louisville
The Cardinals always seem to deliver at Papa John's Stadium. However, Miami is certainly not Kentucky, Florida Atlantic, or some run of the mill Big East team. The U will definitely be bringing the defense, but can they slow down the prolific Cardinals attack? Slow down is the key word. They will be able to limit the Cardinals offense (they won't hanf 50 on The U) and Louisville has been less than impressive on defense. They did shut out hapless Temple (who only scored 3 on Buffalo), but also allowed 28 points to Kentucky. Miami will cool Larry Coker's hot seat and get back on track with a win here.
Michigan at Notre Dame
After struggling against a very good Georgia Tech defense, Notre Dame obliterated Penn State last weekend. Michigan has prepared for this game by hosting and disposing of Vanderbilt and Central Michigan. The games were not close, but I got the feeling the Wolverines were only going through the motions in preparation for this big road opener. Michigan has lost 2 in a row and 3 of 4 to the Irish. Michigan's losses have been by 2, 7, and 8 points, while their one victory was by 38. Of course, Notre Dame has not exactly been a dominant team (with the exception of last season) in those games Michigan lost. The 2002 Notre Dame team that beat them was 10-3, but like Agatha Christie, they did it with mirrors. The 2004 Notre Dame team that beat them was only 6-6. In fact, since 2000 in road games against teams with winning records, mighty Michigan is only 9-10. Make it 9-11 after this weekend.
Winner: Notre Dame
Nebraska at Southern Cal
Is Nebraska back? Since being embarrassed 40-15 by Kansas to drop their record to 5-4 in November of last season, the Huskers have won 5 in a row. The average margin of victory in those 5 games is over 24 points. So they're back right? Not so fast my friend. The best team they have beaten in that span was the worst Michigan team since 1984 by 4 points. They also won by 2 points over a 5-6 Kansas State team. Their point differential is boosted by a 27 point beatdown over a 7-6 Colorado program that has lost 6 games in a row, a 39 point home win over Louisiana Tech (who may end up being a solid WAC team), and a 49 point home win over non-Division IA Nicholls State. So let's hold off on the proclamations. Southern Cal is definitely a step up in competition and the games in the Coliseum where Southern Cal has not lost since...2 games ago. But seriously, the Trojans have not lost a home game since 2001. The Huskers will realize they have a long way to go after this game
Winner: Southern Cal
Florida at Tennessee
Which Volunteers team will show up Saturday night? The one that stomped Cal or the one that squeaked by Air Force. Methinks it will be somewhere in between. The Tennessee offense is certainly much better than last season, but Florida has a top-flight defense, and Meyer's offenses always do better in his second season. Rocky Top will be rocking on Saturday night, but Florida is simply too talented to lose to Tennessee.
LSU at Auburn
This one should be a jam-up SEC battle and the only sure thing is that the Tigers will win. Last year, Auburn's kicking struggles contributed to an overtime loss. Two years ago, LSU's kicking struggles contributed to a 10-9 loss. Games involving evenly matched teams are often decided by special teams. If that's the case Auburn may have the advantage. Auburn's kicker John Vaughn is 6 for 7 on field goal attempts this season including knocking down 2 over 50 yards (long 55). LSU's two kickers have gone 2-2 with a long of 33. If Auburn needs a long field goal to win, they know Vaughn has the ability.LSU should take Gordona Lightfoot's advice:
Sundown, you better take care
When I find you been creeping 'round Jordan-Hare