Reporting Matt Ryan
Last weekend will likely end up being the most disappointing of the college football season. A lack of marquee matchups and especially the high number of cupcake opponents for the top-tier teams, made it a Saturday to forget. The best game of the weekend turned out to be the Friday night Mountain West Conference clash between Fresno State and Boise State, a 41-40 victory for the West Coast Bulldogs. The lack of excitement will more than be made up for this weekend with a separation saturday in the SEC and anticipated matchups around the nation. Conference play is also underway for most schools, meaning less cupcake games and more matchups with BCS implications.
10. #5 Stanford at Washington State (10pm, ESPN): The Cardinal easily took care of business in their Pac-12 opener against Arizona State building up a 39-7 lead going in to the fourth quarter. They will now face a Washington State squad that upset USC in their conference opener and lost by a touchdown (31-24) to Auburn on Labor Day weekend. Connor Halliday has done well as the signal caller in Mike Leach’s pass heavy offense, but he will need to cut down on the turnovers (eight interceptions in four games), if the Cougars are going to have any chance of pulling off the upset.
9. USC at Arizona State (10:30pm, ESPN2): Lane Kiffin has been on the hot seat since the Trojans 10-7 loss to Washington State three weeks ago and those rumors heated up again, after his squad barely beat Utah State (17-14) last Saturday. A road win in Phoenix wont get him off the hot seat completely, but could change the attention of the season from his coaching future to getting back in to Rose Bowl contention. The Sun Devils went from the high of highs two weeks ago by beating Wisconsin on a last second snafu, to getting blown out by Stanford a week ago. Losing at home to the Trojans would likely end their aspirations for a bid to a BCS bowl.
8. #10 Texas A&M at Arkansas (7pm, ESPN2): The Aggies head to Fayetteville with the nation’s sixth highest scoring offense. In his first four games, Johnny Manziel is putting up Heisman numbers again with 1483 combined offensive yards and 15 total touchdowns. Arkansas is coming off a heartbreaking loss on the road against Rutgers, after squandering a 24-7 in the final 18 minutes of play. The Razorbacks were also outgained by 177 offensive yards (400 to 283).
7. Iowa at Minnesota (3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2): The Golden Gophers are 4-0 for the first time since 2008 and could find themselves in the polls next week, with a win over the Hawkeyes. Iowa fell to Northern Illinois 30-27 in their season opener and held off a comeback attempt in their 27-21 win over in-state rival Iowa State. This matchup begins a difficult stretch for the Hawkeyes who face Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin over their next four games.
6. #12 South Carolina at Central Florida (12pm, ABC): The Knights are coming off a 34-31 road win over Penn State. Their offense put up over 500 yards of offense and never trailed against the Nittany Lions. That offensive firepower will be needed to keep up with Connor Shaw and South Carolina’s offense. Even with an extra to week to prepare, a noon start on a road trip makes this a trap game for the Gamecocks.
5. Arizona at #16 Washington (7pm, FOX): This is an example of why the Pac-12 may be the second best college football conference in 2013. The matchup will feature the nation’s fifth and ninth ranked rushing teams. Washington has gotten off to a 3-0 start this year, including victories over Boise State and Illinois. A win over the Wildcats in their conference opener would secure their status as the biggest threat to the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12′s North Division. Arizona is also 3-0 this year, but has yet to face off an opponent from a BCS league. This will be a major test to see how much the Wildcats have improved in year two of the Rich Rodriguez regime.
4. #21 Ole Miss at #1 Alabama (6:30pm, ESPN): The Crimson Tide are the number one team in the nation, but have yet to play like the juggernaut they have been in years past. Alabama’s 66 rushing yards against Colorado State was their least amount since 2010 and they are second to last among SEC teams in offensive yards yards per game. Nick Saban’s squad has gotten by so far, scoring a lot of special teams and defensive touchdowns. More productivity from the offensive side of the ball will be needed to beat an improved Rebels team. Ole Miss already has comeback wins against Vanderbilt and Texas. An upset over the twice-defending national champions would establish them as legitimate contender for the SEC crown.
3. #14 Oklahoma at #22 Notre Dame (3:30pm, NBC): The Golden Domers won the first leg of this home-and-away series in Norman a year ago. Tied at 13-13 with about five minutes to play, Everett Golson led Notre Dame on three scoring drives to end the Sooners conference and national title hopes. Oklahoma is heading to South Bend with a much improved defensive unit from a year ago. Their young front seven (only one senior starter) has been rebuilt under new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, to better matchup against the spread offenses of the Big 12 and a versatile team like Notre Dame.
2. #23 Wisconsin at #4 Ohio State (8pm, ABC): Wisconsin routed Purdue 41-10 in their Big Ten opener, only a week after a disappointing trip to Phoenix. Their backfield trio of Melvin Gordon, James White, and Corey Clement has carried the offense in the first month of the season, more than making up for the loss of Montee Ball his 22 touchdowns from 2012. The Badgers will be the first major test of the season for the Buckeyes who faced only one BCS conference opponent in their first four games. Braxton Miller is expected to start for Ohio State this weekend, after missing the last two games from a knee injury suffered against San Diego State. Even if the preseason Heisman contender is not 100%, his senior backup Kenny Guiton has been more than effective in relief with 14 total touchdowns.
1. #6 LSU at #9 Georgia (3:30pm, CBS): This showdown between hedges could determine who will be the top SEC contender to stop Alabama’s three-peat bid. Both teams are boasting top-tier offenses, as well as inexperienced defenses. Georgia has had no trouble scoring points in the month of September, but their defense is clearly a work in progress with just three returning starters from a year ago. The Bulldogs gave up 450+ yards against Clemson and South Carolina, and allowed two special teams touchdowns against North Texas. LSU has lost 13 players to the NFL from a year ago, but is climbing the rankings again with what may be the most versatile offense of the Les Miles era. Zach Mettenberger, sophomore-running back Jeremy Hill, and junior-wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, give the Bayou Bengals offensive balance that was lacking at times during the days of Jordan Jefferson and Jarret Lee.
A win for Georgia would put them in the drivers seat in the SEC East race, with a matchup against an injury-plagued Florida team, as the biggest remaining hurdle separating them from a potential rematch against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. A loss for the Bulldogs would put an end to their national title hopes and likely put the Bayou Bengals on collision course with Alabama for another Game of the Century in Tuscaloosa.