Three games are on tap tonight, with two ranked teams looking to make a statement on a day dominated by the MLB playoffs and the vice presidential debate. Last night's game wasn't much of a test for #17 Boise State, as they extended their home win streak to fifteen games with a 38-3 pasting of Louisiana Tech. Hopefully the games tonight will offer more in the way of suspense, and I think they will.
Pittsburgh (3-1, 1-0 Big East) @ #10 USF (5-0, 0-0) 7:30 PM EST on ESPN
The Panthers, fresh off of their win at Syracuse last weekend, head south to take on a USF team that's been banged up on the defensive side of the football recently. DE George Selvie is questionable for tonight's game after an ankle injury forced him to miss the Bulls' win at NC State last week. With a few of the USF health concerns coming on their defensive front, it could shape up to be a good night for Pitt running backs LeSean McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling.
Stephens-Howling was the star of their win at Syracuse, rushing for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. As for Shady McCoy, all he did in that game was run for 149 yards. Their production on the ground will tell the story of the game for the Panthers, who get into trouble when they have to lean on the arm of QB Bill Stull. Stull played well last weekend, and they've got a talented corps of receivers, but getting away from their bread and butter (running the football) got them in trouble against Bowling Green and Iowa.
The Bulls will counter with a deep offensive attack led by QB Matt Grothe, who Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt referred to as "the best quarterback in our conference". Grothe leads the Big East in total offense and passing yards per game, and is second in the league in pass efficiency. While the running back position for USF has been banged up thus far, Mike Ford (5 TDs) and Moise Plancher (4 TDs) are two of the leaders for a deep and talented unit.
The key in this game will be stopping the run, with the Bulls leading the Big East in rush defense and Pitt ranking 4th. I like the Bulls because of the home field advantage and they're better at the quarterback position.
Memphis (2-3, 0-2 Conference USA) @ UAB (1-4, 0-1) 8 PM EST on CBS College Sports
At this point in the season, neither team has much of a chance to get into the title chase. But the motivation to stay out of the East Division cellar should be enough to get these two teams going. The Tigers have been a disappointment thus far, with the defense giving up forty-plus points in their first two defeats. But they're on a two-game win streak and will look to beat UAB for the second consecutive year after losing the previous seven meetings.
Two of the conference's better runners will be on display in this one, with Memphis' Curtis Steele and UAB's Joe Webb (he's the quarterback) ranking in the top five in rushing yards per game. Webb is currently fourth in Conference USA in total offense and ninth in pass efficiency. The issue for the Blazers is the passing game, ranking near the bottom of the league in both pass offense and pass defense. But while the Tigers have been playing well of late, not so sure about them on the road. UAB wins a close one.
Oregon State (2-2, 1-1 Pac-10) @ #15 Utah (5-0, 2-0 Mountain West) 9 PM EST on Versus
Oregon State visits Salt Lake City fresh off of their upset of then-#1 USC last Thursday, but the question is can they do the same on the road. Luckily for the Beavers this doesn't involve a trip east of the Mississippi River, something they've had a serious problem with in recent years (see blowout loss to Penn State). But with QB Lyle Moevao, RB Jacquizz Rodgers and a capable receiving corps, OSU has enough firepower to hang with the Utes. A win would be a nice boost for the Pac-10, which is currently 1-5 against the Mountain West this year.
As for Utah, they'll be led by senior QB Brian Johnson, who currently ranks fourth in the Mountain West in total offense and second in pass efficiency. But to focus solely on Johnson would leave Oregon State open to the ground attack led by backs Matt Asiata and Darrell Mack. Mack ran for three touchdowns in their hard-fought win at Air Force a couple of weeks ago. It's for that reason, along with a stout defense that should do a better job of slowing down Jacquizz Rodgers than USC, that the Utes will win this game at home and make the Mountain West 6-1 against the Pac-10 this year.