Intersectional, conference battles highlight schedule
By Raphielle Johnson
Well, last weekend’s marquee non-conference showdown, Virginia Tech at LSU, failed to live up to the preseason hype as the Tigers ran through the Hokies 48-7. Hopefully this weekend’s meeting between USC and Nebraska won’t be the same type of game, but it shouldn’t be as this is the first chance in a couple of years for the Cornhuskers to announce to America that their proud program is indeed back. But focusing solely on this affair will lead you to ignore some other key non-conference matchups, as well as some conference battles in the SEC and ACC. Here are the top ten games for the weekend of September 13th-15th, followed by some honorable mention games by conference.
10. Florida State @ Colorado (Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN)
Both teams come into this intersectional battle with 1-1 records, with their last games being a tale of two halves. The Buffaloes come into this one off of a 33-14 loss at Arizona State, a game that the Buffs actually led 14-0 before being outclassed by the Sun Devils. Florida State, on the other hand, fell behind UAB 17-3 at home before recovering for the 34-24 win. Quarterback play will decide this one, with Colorado redshirt freshman Cody Hawkins and Florida State junior Drew Weatherford both needing more consistency. But Weatherford has only thrown one pick to his four touchdowns thus far, something that could be a good sign for the Seminoles.
9. Pittsburgh @ Michigan State (Saturday Noon EST, ESPN)
Both the Panthers and Spartans are 2-0, with this game being a huge opportunity for both the raise expectations for this season. Mark Dantonio is in his first year in East Lansing, but having the running back tandem of Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick has made the transition a little easier thus far. And quarterback Brian Hoyer has played well thus far, but the Panthers should provide his first true test of the season. Pittsburgh lost Bill Stull at quarterback due to injury, but Kevan Smith did play well in his stead in Pitt’s 34-10 win over Grambling. A player to watch for Pitt is freshman running back LeSean McCoy, who leads the team in rushing with 175 yards and three scores. The question in this one is which defense shows up ready to play, since both offenses can get some things done.
8. #10 Ohio State @ Washington (Saturday 3:30 PM EST, ESPN)
After struggling to a 20-2 win over Akron at home last weekend, the Buckeyes make the long flight to Seattle to take on a 2-0 Washington team that may be better than many predicted in the preseason. QB Jake Locker looks to be the savior of the Husky program that fans have been clamoring for, but he’ll have his hands full with an Ohio State defense led by linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman. While the defense was at its usual level last week, the Ohio State offense struggled throughout. QB Todd Boeckman went 14-23 for 131 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Even with Chris Wells getting it done on the ground (he ran for 143 yards last week), Boeckman must take better care of the football. With two inexperienced signal callers and a rowdy crowd, turnovers will tell the story in this one.
7. Fresno State @ #19 Oregon (Saturday 7 PM EST, ESPN GamePlan)
These kinds of games are the ones that test just how good a team can be throughout the season. Sure, Oregon went into the “Big House” and blew out Michigan last week, but awaiting them in Eugene is a Fresno State team that has to be angry following their triple-overtime loss at Texas A&M. If there’s any program that would relish this challenge, it would be the Bulldogs, who under Pat Hill have taken the “anyone, anywhere, anytime” approach to non-conference games. Fresno State will have to do their best to contain QB Dennis Dixon and the rest of the Ducks, who boast one of the most versatile attacks in the country. On the other side of the ball, Oregon’s defense (especially their talented secondary) will have its hands full with improving quarterback Tom Brandstater and tight end Bear Pascoe. There should be a lot of points in this one, and don’t be surprised if this one goes down to the wire.
6. #4 West Virginia @ Maryland (Thursday 7:45 PM EST, ESPN)
Another chapter will be added to this border rivalry on Thursday night, with the Terrapins hoping that they can do a better job of containing running back Steve Slaton, who ran roughshod over the Terps in Morgantown last season. Maryland QB Jordan Steffy has yet to throw a touchdown pass, but he has completed seventy-five percent of his passes thus far. And Keon Lattimore has stepped up to lead a crowded running back position, racking up 217 yards and five scores in his first two games. The good news for Maryland heading into this one is that they’re ranked 15th in run defense nationally. The bad news is that neither Villanova nor Florida International offers the challenge that Slaton, Pat White and Noel Devine will bring to the table. The Mountaineers and Terrapins won’t meet again until 2010, making this one even more important to Maryland.
5. #16 Arkansas @ Alabama (Saturday 6:45 PM EST, ESPN)
Three running backs that average more than 100 yards rushing per game will be in Tuscaloosa for this one. Of course you know about Arkansas’ tandem of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, but how many know who Alabama’s Terry Grant is? Grant, a freshman from Lumberton, MS, is sixth in the country with 302 yards. Grant, who also has five touchdowns on the ground, averages more than seven yards per carry. While Alabama’s passing game looks to be in good hands with QB John Parker Wilson and receiver DJ Hall, QB Casey Dick has given the Hogs not much more than a question mark thus far. Going against a defense as solid as the Crimson Tide’s, it may be a good idea to get some more production from the passing game other than the “WildHog” formation, which features McFadden at quarterback.
4. #21 Boston College @ #15 Georgia Tech (Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN2)
When the season began, it looked like the Eagles of Boston College would have an extremely tough time getting through their first three games (all ACC contests) undefeated. Well, they head to Atlanta with that goal still within reach, setting up a showdown between two of the ACC’s best teams. And given what happened to Virginia Tech last weekend, the winner of this one could indeed become the favorite to win the conference come December. In BC quarterback Matt Ryan and Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice, the conference’s top offensive players will be on display, but this one could end up being a coming out party for the two defenses. Georgia Tech QB Taylor Bennett can make all the throws, but he’d better be on the lookout for cornerback DeJuan Tribble, who can be as much of a threat to score on a pass as the wide receiver he happens to be covering at the time. And on the other side of the ball, look for Georgia Tech defensive coordinator to send plenty of blitzing linebackers and defensive backs after Ryan. This one will be close throughout, but keep in mind that Boston College has traditionally been one of the nation’s best when it comes to turnover margin.
3. #1 USC @ #14 Nebraska (Saturday 8 PM EST, ABC)
Last year’s game was a little too soon when it came to announcing the Huskers as back on the national landscape. But this one is the perfect opportunity for Nebraska to make some noise and throw a monkey wrench into the national title picture in the process. Arizona State transfer Sam Keller should be familiar with the Trojans, as he started the 2005 game against USC. After a torrid start that saw the Sun Devils take an 18-point lead into the half, Keller’s five interceptions help the Trojans come back for a 38-28 victory. With a rabid crowd behind him and Nebraska’s most talented team in a few years by his side, Saturday night is the perfect opportunity to erase that memory. USC QB John David Booty, considered one of the favorites for the Heisman, will face a much stiffer challenge than the one put up by Idaho two weeks ago. The last time Nebraska hosted the number one team in the land was 1978, when the Huskers beat Oklahoma 17-14. The locals are hoping for the same this time around.
2. #9 Louisville @ Kentucky (Saturday 7:30 PM EST, ESPN Classic)
Usually, this Commonwealth rivalry is played on the season’s first weekend, with the Cardinals rolling to a big win. Things have changed in the Bluegrass State, however, with Kentucky boasting an offense every bit as explosive as the Cardinals’ attack. But is Rich Brooks’ program finally on equal footing with the Cards? We’re going to find out in what could be the best matchup all season at the quarterback position: Louisville’s Brian Brohm and Kentucky’s Andre Woodson. Both have lit up scoreboards in their first two games, but the level of competition was sorely lacking for both squads. That being said, neither defense has shown a whole lot this far, making this one a game in which a substitute for the scoreboard operator could be needed. Quite simply, whoever can make a stop on defense could end up winning this game. If you like offense, tune in.
1. Tennessee @ #3 Florida (Saturday 3:30 PM EST, CBS)
The traditional conference opener for both SEC East teams usually is a harbinger of what’s to come within the division: since 1992 the winner of this game has played for the SEC title in ten of those fifteen seasons. Luckily for the Volunteers, they have an experienced quarterback in senior Erik Ainge heading into “The Swamp”. Also, the Gators are a little banged up on the offensive side of the football with the likes of WR Bubba Caldwell (out) and RB Brandon James (should play) nursing injuries. This one is normally a tight, defensive affair, but given the offensive firepower of both teams paired with two defenses that have either struggled (Tennessee) or haven’t been tested (Florida), there could be a few more points than usual on the scoreboard.
ACC: Virginia @ North Carolina (Saturday Noon EST, ESPN GamePlan)
Big 12: Oklahoma State @ Troy (Friday 8 PM EST, ESPN2)
Big East: Illinois @ Syracuse (Saturday Noon EST, ESPNU)
Big Ten: Notre Dame @ Michigan (Saturday 3:30 PM EST, ABC)
Conference USA: #6 Texas @ Central Florida (Saturday 3:30 PM EST, ESPN2)
MAC: Central Michigan @ Purdue (Saturday Noon EST, ESPN2)
Mountain West: TCU @ Air Force (Thursday 8 PM EST, CSTV)
Pac-10: #11 UCLA @ Utah (Saturday 5 PM EST, Versus)
SEC: Mississippi @ Vanderbilt (Saturday 7 PM EST, ESPN GamePlan)
Sun Belt: Minnesota @ Florida Atlantic (Saturday 1 PM EST, ESPN360)
WAC: Wyoming @ Boise State (Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN GamePlan)