October 23, 2009
• Iowa at Michigan State.
This is a kind of "trap" game, but less so for the undefeated Hawkeyes than for the pundits who start getting tempted: You know, Iowa's not that good, and they're on the road, and Michigan State is on a roll, and the Hawkeyes just can't keep winning because they almost lost to Northern Iowa and they're not that good. This is more or less how I talked myself into taking Wisconsin over Iowa last week, and that was a much better pick than Michigan State would be this week -- just viddy Black Heart Gold Pants' quick summary of opposing quarterbacks' performances against the Hawkeye defense to date, compare that to the Spartans' pass defense against quarterbacks who aren't Juice Williams or playing for Montana State, and open your heart to Ricky Stanzi already.
• Texas at Missouri.
I was at this game last year, and the final box score doesn't indicate at all what a complete, start-to-finish thrashing Texas put on the Tigers: UT scored touchdowns on all five of its first half possessions, three of them from 80-plus yards out, and held Mizzou's prolific spread to negative yardage well into the second quarter, by which point the game was over. This was the game that confirmed Colt McCoy's robotic accuracy and rising Heisman star while simultaneously closing the window on Missouri's last, best shot at national acclaim with the formerly robotic Chase Daniel, who was hounded and hit as often in Austin as he had been anywhere else in his career.
So to say the Tigers are going to fare somewhat better than they did the last time around isn't saying much. Even if you mitigate the big themes of last year's blowout and account for a homefield advantage in Columbia, the story looks the same: McCoy remains among the most accurate passers in the country, and the Longhorn defense is still bringing first-round heat off the edge with Sergio Kindle. The Tiger offense -- and quarterback Blaine Gabbert in particular, who has five interceptions in the last five quarters after throwing none through the first four-and-a-half games -- is on a two-game slide in the losses to Nebraska (12 points in the rain) and Oklahoma State (17 points), and this is no place to find its footing again.
• Oregon State at USC.
Much respect for Oregon State, one of the more underrated programs anywhere and the only Pac-10 team with more than one win over USC since 2002, but: Pete Carroll has never lost to the same team two years in a row, and has only lost in the L.A. Coliseum once (the crazy 2007 upset to Stanford) since '02. Statistically, nothing favors the Beavers here, least of all their prospects of getting much done against a defense that hasn't budged from last year's perch despite the mass exodus to the NFL; Notre Dame last week was the first team to move the ball on SC with any kind of consistency, and Sean Canfield isn't Jimmy Clausen. OSU is going to struggle to score, and if Matt Barkley is really catching on as quickly as it looked in South Bend, it won't be close.
• Oklahoma at Kansas.
The Sooners have no momentum here: Their star quarterback and best receiver are hurt, their best running may not play, the offensive line is still searching for stability through its own bout of injuries, they're 0-3 against ranked teams with five combined offensive touchdowns in those games, their marquee win is against either Tulsa or Baylor and their chances of landing another Big 12 title seem impossibly long off the loss to Texas -- i.e., not a good week to be going up against the nation's No. 2 total offense.
Where OU is still OU, though, is in its top-notch defensive talent, especially among the front seven, which made Colt McCoy's life hell for most of the afternoon last week in the Cotton Bowl. The Sooners are fourth nationally and best in the Big 12 in sacks and tackles for loss, and Kansas is not a great pass-protecting; Colorado broke through for five sacks in their upset of KU in Boulder, for heaven's sake. I'm not sold at all on the Oklahoma offense minus Sam Bradford (or even necessarily with him, as green as it is almost everywhere else), but with their backs against the wall, I'm willing to guess the Sooners do enough offensively for a change to make the defense's effort worth it.
• Arkansas at Ole Miss.
If you're scratching your head over the six-point line here in Ole Miss' favor -- Arkansas has played better in each of its last three games, big wins over Texas A&M and Auburn and last week's skin-of-the-teeth loss at Florida, than the Rebels have in any game to date -- look no further than Ole Miss' secondary: The Rebels rank fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense and effectively locked down Julio Jones and the rest of Alabama's underrated passing game two weeks ago despite the loss; even against the high-flying Razorbacks, that's a wash at worst. And if there's any defense that's going to allow Jevan Snead and the rest of the underachieving Rebel attack to get untracked, this is the one -- despite holding Tebow in relative check, Arkansas still ranks last in the SEC in passing, pass efficiency and total D, and next-to-last in points allowed. Already two losses down in conference play, Ole Miss needs this one badly.
• Georgia Tech at Virginia.
The Yellow Jackets' record at Virginia is a well-chronicled horror show -- Tech has zero wins in Charlottesville since it upset the No. 1 Cavaliers en route to the 1990 mythical championship -- and UVA, incredibly, is the only team in the ACC that can plausibly match Tech for momentum: The Cavs have won three in a row after their 0-3 September, and can tighten their tentative early hold on the Coastal Division lead. But as solid as UVA is on defense, generally, it's been mediocre (59th nationally) against the run, and mediocre is death against Tech's triple option, which has rolled up 24, 42, 49 and 28 points the last four weeks against BCS defenses -- including both of the top-ranked defenses in the ACC, North Carolina and Virginia Tech -- and put up 30 on Clemson earlier in the year. Even if it slows the triple option a little, the Jackets have also developed a lethal deep passing game with Demaryius Thomas, and Virginia doesn't have the firepower to keep pace.
• Clemson at Miami.
Speaking of keeping pace: Clemson hasn't had much passing game to speak of, and not much offense at all outside of C.J. Spiller, to consider the Tigers hanging with Miami's downfield passing attack: If Georgia Tech and Oklahoma couldn't break 21 in South Florida, why would we expect the least-efficient passing attack in the ACC to make enough headway to run with Jacory Harris and his Merry Men?
• South Florida at Pittsburgh.
The most obvious shortcoming in USF's loss last Thursday to Cincinnati was a combination of pass protection and inexperience at quarterback -- athletic redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels spent the night running around the Bull backfield like a dervish because he didn't know (and didn't have much to figure out) where he wanted to go with the ball, and wound up completing less than half his passes with two interceptions as a result. Pitt's greatest asset as a team: Rushing the passer. The Panthers rank third nationally behind USC and, yes, Cincinnati in sacks and bring two of the Big East's best rushers in Greg Romeus and Adam Gunn. I don't know how much damage emerging freshman running back Dion Lewis is going to inflict on a pretty stout Bull defense, but as long as he keeps the ball off the turf, Pitt should be able to grind its way to 7-1.