Thursday, October 08, 2009
College Football Weekend Preview: Time to Pay Attention to Wisconsin
Don't worry, Big Ten haters, because these days of two unbeaten teams in the league are going to end very soon.
After all, neither Wisconsin nor Iowa are any good, right? They can't be. Iowa had to block two (!) field goal attempts to beat Northern Iowa. Meanwhile, Wisconsin survived potential defensive meltdowns against Michigan State and Minnesota, and also needed double overtime to beat Fresno State (though they did have something like 45 guys affected by the flu).
Iowa doesn't dazzle you with anything offensively. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi has been mistake-prone, including a potentially deadly pick-six against Arkansas State last week, and the lack of playmakers on the outside really hurts the Hawkeyes' ability to stretch the field. However, they have a crazy-good defense, tough special teams, and the always-sound running game.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, could be as well-equipped on offense as they've been in years. Scott Tolzien has been a real find at quarterback, to the point that athletic sophomore Curt Phillips can't get on the field anymore, and Tolzien was the one ripping off a huge run against the Gophers. Meanwhile, John Clay is a monster in the backfield, and Zach Brown is also capable of making plays. Receivers Nick Toon and Isaac Anderson have developed nicely, and the Badgers have another top tight end in Garrett Graham.
Of course, they pretty much stink on defense, but they can score, and they usually will.
Odds are that one of them -- if not both -- will have a loss on their record when they clash next week in Madison. Iowa hosts Michigan Saturday night, while the Badgers visit Ohio State for a late afternoon game.
Michigan can spread the Iowa defense out, something Penn State struggled with. The Wolverines have the perimeter speed and weapons to attack the Hawkeyes, who are tough but do not have the fastest defense in the league.
Of course, Ohio State is a heavy favorite against Wisconsin, who has not seen a defense as big, strong, fast, or flat-out good as tOSU's. Of course, it could also be argued that tOSU, with heavyweights like Toledo, Navy, Indiana, Illinois, and shockingly one-dimensional USC on the schedule so far, has not seen an offense with the multiple weapons and quarterback play of the Badgers.
In the end, you have to give the advantage in this kind of game to the defense. They're at home, so they can rely on the crowd to throw the line play off a tick, and Wisconsin doesn't overwhelm you.
The pick: Ohio State
As for Michigan's offense, they were slowed down considerably by an average Michigan State defense last week. Let's not underestimate the ability of a performance like that to motivate young men, but the Wolverines were shown to be a pretty inconsistent team against Sparty. It has to be a worry, as they head into a potentially more hostile environment.
Iowa isn't flashy, but they find a way to win. Kirk Ferentz is known for the occasional resourceful team like this, and the Hawkeyes are a legit contender in the Big Ten. Should they be? Probably not, given how they had to hold on for dear life against Northern Iowa and Arkansas State. But they are. And they're going to be at Michigan.
The pick: Iowa
Nebraska at Missouri (Thursday): Missouri is unbeaten, while Nebraska lost a heartbreaker to Virginia Tech. This game should be awesome, as the Cornhuskers try to be the first team to truly shut down Blaine Gabbert, who has been awesome since taking over for Chase Daniel as Missouri's starting quarterback. The Tigers get this game at night and at home, which should serve as a major advantage, and they're probably going to have plenty of motivation, since they're ranked behind a one-loss division rival. Yes, the rankings are meaningless, but it's a virtual guarantee that this card gets played if Missouri wins. The Tigers have a good offense, but there's no question Nebraska is a better defensive team than the one Missouri ran over, under, around, and through last year in Lincoln. This year's matchup should be closer than last, but Missouri is still too strong for improving Nebraska.
The pick: Missouri
Boston College at Virginia Tech: For the Eagles, this is a chance to cement themselves as a contender in the ACC, but they may have picked a bad time to play Virginia Tech. The Hokies had a classic road letdown last week, barely beating an inferior Duke team one week after a 31-7 curbstomping of Miami. Tyrod Taylor is improving as a passer every week, and there's no reason to think the Hokies will stumble again.
The pick: Virginia Tech
Alabama at Mississippi: These are the kinds of games Houston Nutt thrives on. His team has already disappointed everyone with a poor performance, virtually ending any hope of a national championship. Now, they get Goliath on their home field, and no one thinks they have a chance. Of course, what hasn't been mentioned yet is that Nutt's Rebels don't really have a chance. The Tide will roll along.
The pick: Alabama
Florida at LSU: There are reports that Bionic Tim Tebow will miss this game. However, if you've seen LSU's defense and their roller-coaster performances this season, you'd understand that Tebow's status doesn't matter much. Les Miles finds a way to get his teams up for big games, and that defense will perform under the lights Saturday the way Tiger fans have been expecting all year. LSU will shut down Florida and win a close game. If the Tigers had more consistent quarterback play of their own, this could become a blowout.
The pick: LSU
Other games (home team in CAPS)
Auburn over ARKANSAS
MINNESOTA over Purdue
Georgia over TENNESSEE
Oklahoma State over TEXAS A&M
Georgia Tech over FLORIDA STATE
Last week: 9-4