Top Ten Games for September 6-8
Intersectional battle in Baton Rouge leads list
By Raphielle Johnson
Last week, besides it being the opening week was a special time in college football. With Appalachian State winning at Michigan, the date September 1, 2007 will long live in the annals of Mountaineer football. Some head coaches got their first taste of football at their new institutions, with the results varying by school. Some, such as Idaho’s Rob Akey and Florida International’s Mario Cristobal, ran into buzz saws in losses at USC and Penn State, respectively. Others, like Jeff Jagodzinski at Boston College, had much better weekends. But the great thing about the opening game is that there’s always another shot at redemption. Below are the ten best games of the upcoming weekend (in my opinion), along with some honorable mention candidates by conference.
10. Oregon State @ Cincinnati (Thursday, 7:30 PM EST ESPN)
The Beavers, fresh off a 24-7 win over Utah in their opener, head to the Queen City to take on the Bearcats. Cincinnati had a much easier time with their opponent last Thursday, pasting Southeast Missouri State 59-3. Things will be tougher this time around. After watching Syracuse get handled by Washington last Friday, the Big East needs a better showing against a Pac-10 school. QB Ben Mauk (18-27, 244, 2 TDs, 1 INT) played well for the Bearcats, but he’ll be up against a much better secondary this week. On the other side, look for a heavy dose of RB Yvenson Bernard, who ran for 165 yards and two touchdowns on twenty-nine carries against the Utes.
9. Colorado @ Arizona State (Saturday, 10:15 PM EST Fox Sports Net)
The two teams couldn’t have had less similar debuts last week. Colorado, behind redshirt freshman QB Cody Hawkins, came back from a double-digit deficit to knock off in-state rival Colorado State in overtime, 31-28. Arizona State, on the other hand, won the first game of the Dennis Erickson era 45-3 over San Jose State. The Sun Devils were balanced on offense as well, putting up 250 yards on the ground and 270 though the air. Two things the Buffs need to improve upon if they’re going to win this one: the 25 first downs they allowed the Rams last week, and the three turnovers committed. A minus two turnover margin this week will send CU home with a loss.
8. Notre Dame @ #14 Penn State (Saturday, 6:00 PM EST ESPN)
Game one of the Jimmy Clausen era is here…and hopefully this means that the playbook for the Irish offense will be opened past the basic runs sections. Of their first twenty-four plays, Notre Dame ran (or was sacked) on 21 of them with Demetrius Jones in starting. Evan Sharpley got the put the ball in the air some, but to little avail. Clausen had the surgery to his throwing elbow to deal with, but if he was healthy enough to play in the fourth quarter then why not let him start? First up for Clausen is a tough Penn State defense that did whatever it wanted with Florida International Saturday. At quarterback, Anthony Morelli went 23-38 for 295 yards and three scores, and probably more importantly no interceptions. Notre Dame’s defense will have its hands full with Morelli and the numerous skill position players at his disposal.
7. Miami @ #7 Oklahoma (Saturday, 12:00 PM EST ABC)
These two tradition-rich programs haven’t met since the 1988 Orange Bowl, which the Hurricanes won 20-14. Unlike those days when both programs were at or near the top of the college football world, the two schools come into this one in different positions. Oklahoma, even with a freshman quarterback (Sam Bradford), is once again in position to make a run at a national title. Miami, after a 7-6 season in 2006, is looking to recover that lost mystique with the help of new head coach Randy Shannon. Both teams played well against overmatched opponents last week (OU beat North Texas 79-10, Miami coasted against Marshall 31-3), with the Sooners’ DeMarco Murray rushing for five touchdowns. The man who so many fans were excited about coming out of spring practice give Bob Stoops that home run hitter that few teams in the country can match. This should be an interesting affair, but unlike the 80s this one will be played on Oklahoma’s turf.
6. South Carolina @ #11 Georgia (Saturday, 5:45 PM EST ESPN2)
Well, in their 28-14 win over Louisiana-Lafayette, Gamecock quarterbacks Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher split time, combining for 21-29, 238 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Is this enough to keep senior Blake Mitchell, who returns from a one-game suspension, on the bench? We’ll have to wait and see, but whomever gets the call will have a tough time with a Georgia defense that played well in their 35-14 win over Oklahoma State. The question asked of the Dawgs all off-season was how they would fare in replacing eight starters on defense. Well, we may have our answer. Along with the defensive play was that of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who showed his growth in not turning the ball over and recognizing that it’s not always a bad thing to throw the ball away. The traditional conference opener for these SEC foes, this is a game that usually plays out as a close, low-scoring affair. Whether or not that trend continues will depend on South Carolina’s quarterback position.
5. Oregon @ Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 PM EST ABC)
Last week’s shocker led to Michigan tumbling out of the top 25 in both major polls, and rightfully so. A defense that some didn’t seem too concerned with in the preseason showed itself to be downright inadequate in their loss to Appalachian State. Now comes an Oregon squad that has more talent at the skill positions that the Mountaineers and runs the same spread attack. QB Dennis Dixon, who many (Myself included) questioned due to his playing minor league baseball instead of sticking around to work with the team, played well in the Ducks’ 48-27 win over Houston. But, the Cougars don’t have a running back comparable to Michigan’s Mike Hart, who may have been the only difference between a two-point loss and a blowout last weekend. So the fact that Oregon gave up 315 yards on the ground (205 to Anthony Aldridge alone) isn’t a good sign. This one should go down the wire, with whichever defense that can make a stand getting the win.
4. South Florida @ #17 Auburn
Well, for all those who scoffed at the Big East’s non-conference schedule, here’s the one game that could make some serious noise should their member win. South Florida, which could be the league’s fastest team, heads down to the Plains to take on an Auburn team who flirted with defeat in their 23-13 victory over Kansas State last weekend. DE Quentin Groves took over the game in the late stages, forcing the Josh Freeman fumble that was returned for the game-clinching touchdown. In order for the Tigers to avoid the same type of game, they need more consistent play from QB Brandon Cox (allowing him to stay upright won’t hurt either), who was 17-30 for 229 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. South Florida didn’t look like world beaters in their 28-13 win over Elon last week, but in QB Matt Grothe and RB Mike Ford the Bulls have two of the more dangerous young players in the country. How well will they perform in front of about 90,000 screaming fans in orange and blue? We’ll have to watch for the answer.
3. BYU @ #13 UCLA (Saturday, 6:30 PM EST Versus)
The Cougars and Bruins get together in the Rose Bowl in a game that should provide some answers for both. Although Ben Olson (a BYU transfer nonetheless) played great football last weekend in the Bruins’ 45-17 win at Stanford, throwing five touchdown passes, BYU’s defense should provide a much stiffer test. And speaking of that defense, UCLA’s offense will be a much tougher outfit to stop that the Arizona unit that the Cougars toyed with last weekend. A win here for BYU would be huge for two reasons: another non-conference win for the Mountain West, and it could start a roll towards a BCS bid for the Cougars. On the other hand, this is a huge year for the Bruin program as well, one in which they could challenge for the Pac-10 title. All this should make for a very entertaining game to watch.
2. #19 TCU @ #7 Texas (Saturday, 7:00 PM EST Fox Sports Net)
When discussing which team outside of the BCS leagues could make a run to one of those coveted spots, TCU’s name came up quite often. And for many, this showdown in Austin represented the one major roadblock in that quest. And with the Longhorns missing some key contributors on both sides of the ball due to either injury or suspension, the chances of an upset are higher. But, don’t expect Colt McCoy and his teammates to simply lay down for the Horned Frogs. The two programs, formerly members of the Southwest Conference, haven’t met since 1995. TCU hopes to get back star defensive end Tommy Blake, who’s had some medical issues to deal with thus far. Even without Blake, look for TCU to give the Horns all they want and then some.
1. #9 Virginia Tech @ #2 LSU (Saturday, 9:15 PM EST ESPN)
Strange things happen to visiting teams when they go into Baton Rouge after dark, and the Hokies will definitely have their hands full with the Tigers on Saturday night. LSU’s defense was dominant to the tune of seven turnovers forced in their 45-0 win at Mississippi State last Thursday. And Virginia Tech didn’t exactly impress the masses in their 17-7 win over East Carolina on Saturday. But, given the emotion surrounding that game, look for better play from their offense. How much has QB Sean Glennon grown since the end of 2006? This game will give the first definitive answer to that question. While the two teams will still have a good chance to win their respective conferences, the winner stands to gain a nice push towards New Orleans for the National Championship Game.
Honorable Mention: Some other games to pay close attention to by conference
ACC: #16 Nebraska @ Wake Forest (Saturday, 12 PM EST ESPN)
Big 12: Fresno State @ #23 Texas A&M (Saturday, 3:30 PM EST)
Big East: Navy @ #15 Rutgers (Friday, 7 PM EST ESPN)
Big Ten: #5 Wisconsin @ UNLV (10 PM EST Versus)
Conference USA: #3 West Virginia @ Marshall (11:10 AM EST ESPN)
MAC: Indiana @ Western Michigan (8 PM EST ESPNU)
Mountain West: Air Force @ Utah (6 PM EST)
Pac-10: #22 Boise State @ Washington (3:30 PM EST)
SEC: Southern Miss @ #24 Tennessee (7 PM EST ESPN GamePlan)
Sun Belt: Ohio @ Louisiana-Lafayette (7 PM EST)
WAC: New Mexico State @ New Mexico (9:30 PM EST)