This week presents several teams the opportunity to shake off tough defeats (Wake Forest, Michigan State, Oregon, Fresno State, Auburn, etc.) from last week and possibly turn their season around.
Last Week: 8-6
Wake Forest at NC State
After playing flawless football for 3 quarters the Deacons imploded against Clemson beginning with a bad snap on a field goal that led to a fumble return for a touchdown. What will the Deacons psyche be after such a tough and harrowing loss? We'll find out very early on Saturday as kickoff is set for Noon EST. On the other side of the field, NC State has won two in a row after a shaky start. Chuck Amato made the bold decision of replacing veteran Marcus Stone with freshman Daniel Evans. The results have been dramatic. Under Stone, the Pack own a listless victory over Appalachian State, a home loss to Akron, and a road loss to Southern Miss. With Evans under center, the Pack have knocked off Boston College and Florida State at home. After their poor start, the Pack actually control their own destiny in the ACC race. They'll win a close won against a somewhat disheartened Wake Forest squad.
Winner: NC State
Iowa State at Oklahoma
After back to back 7-5 seasons, I have to say I was expecting more from the Iowa State Cyclones. With their quarterback, running back, and number one receiver returning I thought they would be in contention for the Big 12 North title. Thus far, the Cyclones are 3-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12. Their victories are over Toledo (2-4), UNLV (1-4), and Northern Iowa (non-Division IA). To be fair, their losses have all come to good teams (Iowa, Texas, and Nebraska), but against those bad to mediocre teams, Iowa State is winning by razor thin margins. Those 3 wins have come by a combined 9 points. Maybe they put it all together and beat a humbled Oklahoma team. Maybe, but I doubt it.
Rutgers at Navy
A few seasons ago this battle between teams in the dumpster would have allowed the winner to finish with 3 wins and the loser with 2. Now the winner of this game will be bowl eligible before Halloween. Both Schiano and Johnson have done a fine job in rebuilding these atrocious programs (Johnson got things done a little faster). If you get the chance, you may want to check this game out. You may see about 500 combined yards rushing. Navy leads the nation in rushing offense (over 350 per game) and Rutgers is 10th (over 208 yards per game). Amos Alonzo Stagg would love this battle in the trenches.
Ohio State at Michigan State
A win here would turn Sparty's entire season around. Since opening the season 3-0, in typical Sparty fashion, Michigan State has now lost 3 straight including blowing a large fourth quarter lead against Notre Dame and getting beaten at the gun by lowly Illinois. In cases like this, one has to blame the coaches. Its not like the Spartan players all have polio. There is talent on this roster. Will it come together and upset the number one team in the country in East Lansing on Saturday? Doubtful.
Winner: Ohio State
Missouri at Texas A&M
Last week Missouri opened up a 24-0 lead on Texas Tech in Lubbock only to see the red Raiders cut the lead to 3 in the second half. How did the Tigers respond? By scoring the last 14 points of the game to win going away. Now they face their second tough road test in as many weeks. Last week, the Aggies got a much needed road win over a solid (especially at home Kansas team). Now the Aggies seek to become bowl eligible and get themselves back in the Big 12 South race. The difference in this game will be 3rd downs. Missouri converts 3rd downs at a fantastic rate (nearly 53%, good for 6th in the nation). Texas A&M is 7th nationally in 3rd down defense holding teams to a 27% conversion rate.
Winner: Texas A&M
UCLA at Oregon
After a flukish 10-2 season, UCLA is quietly humming along under the radar with a solid 4-1 start. Unfortunately, with an inexperienced quarterback, the Bruins are not road tested having lost their only road contest to the Washington Huskies. Starting your second ever road game in Autzen Stadium is not an enviable task for UCLA quarterback Ben Olson. The Ducks will capitalize on several Olson turnovers and send the Bruins back to hibernation.
Cal at Washington State
Since soiling themselves on national television against Tennessee, Cal has been nothing short of spectacular scoring over 40 points in each of their last 5 games. Not surprisingly, the Bears are 5-0 in those games and have won by no fewer than 21 points. Be wary of the Cougs at home though. Two weeks ago, they gave the Trojans all they could handle in Pullman. They'll do the same to Cal. The Bears won't get to 40, but they'll stay undefeated in Pac 10 play.
Hawaii at Fresno State
As detailed earlier this week, The Bulldogs have struggled mightily since pushing the Trojans to the limit 11 months ago. At 1-4, they are in serious jeopardy of missing out on postseason play. Both sides of the ball bear equal blame for the Bulldogs struggles. The offense ranks 80th in points per game and the defense 78th in points allowed per game. On offense, the prime culprit is sophomore quarterback Tom Brandstater who is completing about 50% of his passes. On defense, there are multiple culprits. Now a confident Hawaii squad rolls into Silicon Valley with a 3-2 record and an outside chance at winning the WAC if Boise stumbles. In an unusual occurrence, the Warriors have become road warriors this season. They haven't won on the road yet, but their losses have been to Alabama (4-2) by 8 and Boise State (6-0) by 7. Unfortutnately, those road travails will continue. The Bulldogs will pull out a close game and get back on track (a little).
Winner: Fresno State
Florida at Auburn
Despite one of the nation's toughest schedules, Florida stands 6-0 with wins over Tennessee, Alabama, LSU, and Kentucky (better this year) already in their back pocket. Auburn comes into this game fresh off an embarrassing performance in a home loss to Arkansas. A loss here would pretty much doom any BCS and conference title hopes for Auburn. A loss for Florida would probably end their national title hopes (maybe Meyer would jump on the playoff bandwagon), but with the aforementioned victory over Tennessee they have the tiebreaker over their closest rival. The hostile environment and increasingly difficult schedule will finally get to the Gators.
Arizona State at Southern Cal
Excluding Houston Nutt, this has not been a good season for former Boise State head coaches. Dan Hawkins is winless at Colorado and Dirk Koetter is winless in the Pac 10 at Arizona State. Not only is Koetter winless, but the Sun Devils have been outscored by 28 and 35 points respectively in their 2 conference games. Things won't get better this week with a pissed off Trojans team that has struggles somewhat in its last two games. The Trojans rout the Sun Devils and gain some much needed style points.
Winner: Southern Cal
Maryland at Virgina
Who's afraid of Virginia? No one really. Absent the 37-0 beat down of Duke, the Cavs have lost to Pitt, Western Michigan, Georgia Tech, and East Carolina. Their other win was a one point defeat of Wyoming. Remember when Al Groh was set to take UVA to the level of Florida State and Miami. Well, he's almost there. The Noles and Hurricanes are both 3-2. Give him another year or two and he'll have the Cavs back to ACC mediocrity. Speaking of mediocrity, whatever happened to Ralph Friedgen--offensive genius. The Terps haven't scored 30 points in 8 games, and 3 of the games in the interrim have been against William and Mary, Middle Tennessee, and Florida International. The Terps won't get 30, but they will get their fourth win of the season.
Army at Connecticut
In they didn't blow the opener to Arkansas State and then inexplicably get blown out by Rice two weeks ago, the Knights would be 5-1 and in prime position for a bowl bid. As it stands, they are 3-3 and still have a decent shot at going to a bowl. To get their, they must win this game against a disappointing Connecticut team. The Huskies are 2-3 and have been blown out by the likes of Navy and South Florida. Now truth be told, those are solid teams, but BCS teams should not lose to Navy by 24 points at home.
Kentucky at LSU
Don't laugh, this game will be tougher than you think for the Tigers. The Wildcats have a solid offense, but unfortunately for them, this game is in Baton Rouge and not Lexington. Kentucky is still fighting for bowl eligibility and with games left against Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Louisiana-Monroe they certainly have a shot. Still a win here would do wonders for their bowl hopes. LSU has lost both their road games, but at home they are just bludgeoning teams, winning by no fewer than 31 points. The difference won't be that large here, but 3 touchdowns seems about right.
Michigan at Penn State
Can the Nittany Lions ruin the nation's hopes for an undefeated matchup of Buckeyes and Wolverines in late Novemeber? Penn State has not beaten Michigan in a decade (1996) going 0-7 in that span. But, Happy Valley will be rocking Saturday night. But. Mario Manningham will miss the game. Against my better judgement, I'll go with Penn State to get a modicum of revenge in ruining Michigan's perfect season as the Wolverines did to the Lions last year.
Winner: Penn State