October 23, 2009
• Auburn at LSU.
This former SEC West rubber match was far more attractive three weeks ago, when the "Look out for this revamped Auburn offense!" meme was riding high at 5-0 and 500-plus yards per game and headed for an irresistible force/immovable object scenario against the LSU defense. Back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Kentucky have a way of deflating even the most compelling narratives -- outside of a futile burst in the final six minutes of the third quarter in Fayetteville, the other 114 minutes of action the last two weeks have yielded all of 17 points, along with a much bleaker storyline for the rest of the season.
The biggest difference in the swoon is the sudden decline of quarterback Chris Todd, one of the highest-rated passers in the country through the five-game win streak, who's fallen off the wagon 2008 style in the two losses, in which he didn't throw a touchdown and completed a little less than half his passes. LSU's offense -- still dead last in the conference in total yards and next-to-last in scoring after being put in a 60-minute sleeper hold by Florida its last time out -- isn't going to set a formidable pace even against Auburn's similarly sketchy defense, but the LSU D will never be an inviting opportunity for a struggling quarterback trying to get his feet under him, much less in a night game in Baton Rouge. Malzahn, Todd and Co. will be doing better than Tim Tebow, A.J. Green and their respective mates if they make it past two touchdowns.
• Penn State at Michigan.
It would have been hard for last week's 20-0 win over Minnesota to go more according to script for the Nittany Lions, who rolled up 464 yards, controlled the ball for 42 minutes and didn't have a turnover -- perfect Paterno Ball, and perfect timing for an offense that had been tied up in a burlap sack and stuffed in a trunk by Iowa, the only respectable opponents the Lions had seen amid a shameful lineup of pushovers. That bodes well for running up a fairly big number on Michigan, which aside from killer defensive end Brandon Graham has been every bit as generous as the Gophers when faced with somewhat comparable talent -- see: Notre Dame (34 points), Michigan State (26), Iowa (30), even Indiana (33) -- instead of a cowering tomato can that needs the money.
The more interesting matchup is the Wolverine offense against the typically fierce Penn State defense, which hasn't had a bad game yet -- even in the loss to Iowa -- and gets linebacker Sean Lee back from a four-game absence. The Wolverines have only had one bad game offensively, at Michigan State, and still managed to wake up in time there to force overtime with two late fourth-quarter touchdowns; they came back the next week to put up 28 and give the streaking Hawkeyes a strong run in Iowa City. Physically (and probably mentally), the Penn State D should crush battered freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, but Michigan and Forcier in particular have already made a habit of keeping things interesting.
• Tennessee at Alabama.
I doubt Tennessee's offense could have played much better than it did in the last five quarters before the bye week, mounting a late charge against Auburn and exploding in Georgia's face for 45 in one of the more stunning routs of the season. In that span, Jonathan Crompton has six touchdowns, no turnovers and a pass efficiency rating above 175.
I also doubt there's anything the offense could have possibly done in those two games -- or any game since crawling into a shell against Florida -- to make me or anyone else think it has any chance of scoring on an Alabama defense that hasn't allowed a touchdown in eight quarters, shutting out a pair of better offenses than Tennessee's in Ole Miss and South Carolina. Presumably, the Vols will try to drag the game into the mud with the same straight-ahead, clock-killing running game they clung to at Florida, but 'Bama is plenty comfortable in low-down defensive slogs. And if UT rolls the dice on Crompton having finally turned the corner, I suspect Nick Saban's defense will disabuse them of that notion quickly enough.
• Oregon at Washington.
I agree with Holly Anderson that Washington -- undefeated in Seattle since the season-opening heartbreaker against LSU -- is one of the weekend's more dangerous upset threats, and Jake Locker will inflict a bit of his usual dual-threat damage on the underrated Duck defense (only one offensive touchdown allowed in the last three games, and that in garbage time). But if you're asking me to take the Husky defense -- the worst in the non-Washington State portion of the Pac-10 by every significant measure -- against Oregon's streaking offense, I shall respectfully decline. The Ducks should be disappointed with anything less than a four-touchdown/400-yard barrage here.
• Boston College at Notre Dame.
Boston College road game = Total offensive collapse, but even if the Eagle O shows up, Notre Dame confirmed its own resurgent offensive bona fides by putting up 27 and nearly upsetting a truly hellacious USC defense last week. Jimmy Clausen remains one of the most efficient passers in the country, facing a thoroughly ordinary defense in all respects; assuming B.C. is en route to a winning record in the ACC, this could be the Irish's best win in three years.