Thursday, October 01, 2009

College Football Weekend Preview: Way to Kill the Buzz, Guys

There were two marquee games this weekend. California was going to take down USC for Pac 10 supremacy, and Oklahoma was going to battle Miami in a game that saw the upstart Hurricanes trying to prove themselves against an elite program.

A funny thing happened on the way.

The buzz got killed.

USC went to Seattle and lost to lowly Washington. Then, California got absolutely thrashed by Oregon. If that wasn't enough, Miami's unbeaten season came crashing down last week at Virginia Tech.

Poor ABC. Now, they're stuck doing regional coverage of two games that no one cares nearly enough about.

The better of the two games should be the Cal-USC tilt. The Bears, despite last week's horrific flop in Eugene, are well-positioned to take down the Trojans. They have one of the best running backs in the country in Jahvid Best and an emerging defense. USC's defense is great, but the offense is still shaky behind freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. Not helping matters is a scary weightlifting accident that took down running back Stafon Johnson for an undetermined period of time (thankfully, Johnson is expected to make a full recovery).

Given Oregon's obvious flaws, it's still likely that the Pac 10's BCS berth will go to the winner of this game. Then again, Stanford could still win it, and you just never know.

Anyway, this appears to be a good time to play USC. They're beaten down a bit, really hurting on one side of the ball, and Cal gets them at home. That's all the reason to think Cal will win, despite the fact that it's Cal and they just lost 42-3 to a team they should have been able to beat.
The pick: California

Oklahoma at Miami: The Hurricanes took a whoopin' in Blacksburg last week, but they're talented enough to rebound. Their speed could be a problem for Oklahoma, but much of this depends on whether quarterback Jacory Harris can rebound and play with the same kind of swagger we saw against Georgia Tech two weeks ago. If he can't, the Hurricanes are in trouble. Their defense will face a serious challenge, especially if Sam Bradford returns for this game. Even if he doesn't, Oklahoma's physical line and solid running game will be problematic for Miami. This is a more experienced Oklahoma team that has more to lose. They can still claim a real shot at the BCS title game, even with that loss to BYU.

(Miami, meanwhile, is a long shot at best. An ACC loss is not going to look good for them, even if they can beat Oklahoma and run the table. They'd need help to get ahead of teams like Florida, Alabama, and Texas in the BCS.)

Despite the pressure on OU, they have the talent, experience, coaching, and smarts to overcome it, even without a healthy Bradford in the fold.

(UPDATE: Joe Schad reports that Landry Jones will start. Doesn't change anything here.)
The pick: Oklahoma

Michigan at Michigan State: Yes, Michigan is unbeaten, and that's nice. But this is an instate rivalry with plenty of juice, even if you don't consider the records. Sparty needs to do something to show that their 1-3 record is a fluke. They've lost excruciatingly close games to Central Michigan, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin in succession, though the Wisconsin game was only close thanks to a touchdown with 15 seconds to play. Michigan is shaky on defense, but their opponent this week might be worse. The Spartans have been torched on the ground and through the air in this three-game skid, and it seems that they're going to have a ton of trouble dealing with the Wolverines' spread offense.
The pick: Michigan

Wisconsin at Minnesota: The Gophers deserve a lot of credit. After the tough loss to Cal, they responded with their best all-around effort of the season in a win at Northwestern. The Badgers, meanwhile, served notice that they intend to contend in the Big Ten, taking a 38-17 lead into the final minutes against Michigan State, a team thought to be a tough out in the league. The Gophers still haven't won Paul Bunyan's Axe since kicker Rhys Lloyd hit a game-winner on the last play of the game in 2003 and sprinted across the field to be the first one to grab it. Wisconsin's goal is to ruin the Big Ten opener at TCF Bank Stadium and keep the Gophers' bad Axe karma rolling for one more year. They need to tighten the screws defensively against Eric Decker and the Gophers' free-wheeling attack in order to do this. Luckily for Wisconsin, they have a potential star at quarterback in Scott Tolzien, and John Clay is the most physical running back the Badgers have had since Ron Dayne.
The pick: Wisconsin

LSU at Georgia: Hard to be overwhelmed by anything these teams have done. LSU barely beat Mississippi State last week, while Georgia needed a late field goal to top Arizona State. You could argue both teams were just looking ahead, which is fine, and this should be an entertaining game, but both squads still have some work to do. LSU's defense isn't nearly as good as people thought it would be when John Chavis took over as coordinator. Meanwhile, Georgia really, really misses Matthew Stafford. The Bulldogs struggled in a game against another top team, Oklahoma State, earlier in the season, and even though this one is at home, the Tigers appear to be a bit better right now.
The pick: LSU

Other games (home team in CAPS)

Northwestern over PURDUE
Penn State over ILLINOIS
STANFORD over Ucla
BOSTON COLLEGE over Florida State
North Carolina State over WAKE FOREST
Ohio State over INDIANA
ARKANSAS over Texas A&M
Auburn over TENNESSEE

Last week: 6-7
Season: 32-18

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