Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
Florida heads to Rocky Top for crucial SEC West Showdown
Florida(+3) at Tennessee
A few months ago, when CBS was selecting its early season schedule, the network passed on the Tennessee-Florida game (for the first time since 1995) in favor of Alabama’s trip to Arkansas. Now, however, after Tennessee’s hot start, Florida’s win at Texas A&M and Arkansas’ shocking loss to UL Monroe, the Vols vs. Gators showdown in the marquee game of the day in the nation’s premier conference. Tennessee has looked sharp in both games — a win over NC State in Atlanta and a lopsided victory over hapless Georgia State — but Florida is the more battle-tested of the two teams. The Gators’ offense is still an issue, but there were signs of progress in the 20–17 win at Texas A&M on Saturday. The story of the game, though, was the Florida defense. After giving up three drives of more than 70 yards in the first half, UF limited A&M to a total of 65 yards in the second half. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray might be the most physically gifted quarterback in the nation, but he has yet to lead his team to a victory against a quality opponent with an elite defense.
Florida 24, Tennessee 21
Alabama (-21) at Arkansas
Arkansas’ loss to UL Monroe last week was a blow to the Razorbacks’ ego, but it’s important to remember that it was not a conference game. However, it’s very difficult to envision a scenario in which a team that lost a 28–7 lead at home (in Little Rock) to UL Monroe is good enough to challenge Alabama and LSU in the SEC West. To make matters worse, All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson might not play due to an injury suffered in the Monroe game. Alabama, meanwhile, is rolling right along. The Crimson Tide improved to 2–0 with a 35–0 win over Western Kentucky and looks like the best team in the country after two weeks. This trip to Fayetteville will be Bama’s first true road game, so don’t be surprised if the Tide struggles a bit — even if Wilson doesn’t play for Arkansas. In the end, though, Alabama will prevail.
Alabama 31, Arkansas 17
Notre Dame (+4) at Michigan State
For the first time since 2005, both Notre Dame and Michigan State are undefeated for their annual early season showdown. Michigan State moved to 2–0 with a 41–7 win in its first-ever visit to Central Michigan. Le’Veon Bell was “held” to 70 yards on 18 carries after exploding for 210 against Boise State. Notre Dame gutted out a 20–17 win over an underrated Purdue club that features an outstanding defensive front. The Irish had trouble running the ball, but Everett Golson and Tommy Rees combined to throw for 324 yards and one touchdown. The key for Notre Dame, however, will be on defense and its ability to slow down Bell and the Michigan State rushing attack. Andrew Maxwell is a talented quarterback, but the first-year starter made some key mistakes in the win over Boise State. Notre Dame must force Maxwell to make plays down field.
Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 21
USC (-9) at Stanford
Matt Barkley has been nearly flawless through two games. The senior quarterback has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 559 yards with an amazing 10 touchdowns — four more than any other player in the nation. It helps when Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are your primary targets, but Barkley is clearly playing the position at the highest level. USC’s defense, however, was a bit of a disappointment last week. The Trojans surrendered 455 yards to Syracuse in a 42–29 win over the Orange at the Meadowlands. We knew this wasn’t going to be one of the premier defenses in the nation, but those numbers are a bit alarming. Stanford bounced back from a lethargic Week 1 win over San Jose State by dominating Duke 50–13 in Palo Alto. The Cardinal have won three straight in this series. They won’t get to No. 4.
USC 38, Stanford 24
Arizona State (+7) at Missouri
Todd Graham might not be the most well-liked coach in America, but he’s done a terrific job early in his first season at Arizona State. The Sun Devils are 2–0 with wins over Northern Arizona (63–6) and Illinois (45–14). Now, Graham and the Devils take their show on the road to face a Missouri team that must bounce back — both physically and emotionally — from a 41–20 loss at home to Georgia in the school’s first-ever SEC game. Missouri played well for much of the game but was overwhelmed by the Bulldogs’ front seven on defense in the fourth quarter. The Tigers won’t face the same type of defensive pressure this week, which is good news for the banged up Mizzou offensive line. If quarterback James Franklin has ample time to operate, the Tigers should get back in the win column this weekend.
Missouri 30, Arizona State 24
Wake Forest (+25) at Florida State
This line seems a bit high considering that Wake Forest beat Florida State last season and played well last week in a 28–27 win over a well-regarded North Carolina team. The Deacons had trouble running the ball vs. UNC, but Tanner Price completed 27-of-38 for 327 yards to lead the passing attack. Florida State has won its two games by a combined score of 124–3, but the two wins came against FCS opponents. We think this is a very good FSU team, but we won’t know for sure until the Noles play a few schools that hand out more than 65 scholarships. After Wake, Florida State hosts Clemson and then travels to South Florida and NC State. It’s a crucial stretch for the preseason ACC favorites.
Florida State 30, Wake Forest 17
Connecticut (-2.5) at Maryland
It’s the highly anticipated Randy Edsall bowl. The not-so-popular head coach went 74–70 in 12 years at Connecticut before bolting for his “dream job” at Maryland. Things haven’t gone so well in College Park, where Edsall has a 4–10 record through the second week of the 2012 season. The Terps are 2–0 in ’12, but the wins have come against William & Mary (by one) and Temple (by nine). There is some quality young talent on the roster — and the Terps are starting a true freshman quarterback (Perry Hills) — but the program has a long way to go to be relevant in the ACC. UConn has split its first two games, dominating UMass 37–0 in Week 1 before dropping a 10–7 decision to NC State at home last weekend. The sample size is small (and the first opponent was dreadful), but the Huskies have been stout on defense so far in 2012. That, combined with Maryland’s struggles on offense, gives UConn the advantage in this classic Big East vs. ACC showdown.
UConn 13, Maryland 10
BYU (-4) at Utah
Utah’s season hasn’t exactly planned. First, the Utes had a 12-game winning streak vs. in-state rival Utah State snapped. Then starting quarterback Jordan Wynn announced that he was retiring from football after suffering another shoulder injury. That leaves senior Jon Hays (12-of-26 vs. Utah State) as the starter with true freshman Travis Wilson being used as a change-of-pace option. BYU, on the other hand, has looked very good in wins at home vs. Washington State (30–6) and Weber State (45–13). The Cougars will be out for some revenge after getting pounded at home, 54–10, last season by their hated rivals from Salt Lake City.
BYU 24, Utah 14
North Carolina (+3.5) at Louisville
North Carolina’s hopes of contending in the ACC Coastal took a big hit with a surprising loss at Wake Forest on Saturday. The Tar Heels are ineligible to play in the league’s title game, but there was a belief among many — including Athlon Sports — that they could challenge Virginia Tech in the division. That, however, will be difficult after Saturday’s loss. Louisville remains the favorite in the Big East. The Cardinals are 2–0 after beating Kentucky and Missouri State at home. Sophomore Teddy Bridgewater has been terrific in both games. He’s completed 49-of-60 (81.7 percent) for 576 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Nobody expects him to continue to operate with that type of efficiency, but Bridgewater is emerging as one of the top young quarterbacks in the game.
Louisville 24, North Carolina 20
Rutgers (+9) at South Florida (Thu.)
Once again, South Florida is off to a strong start. The Bulls improved to 2–0 with an impressive come-from-behind win over a solid Nevada team in Reno. Now, the Bulls need to sustain this strong play throughout the course of the season — something they haven’t been able to do in recent years. Rutgers is 2–0, but the Scarlet Knights haven’t been overly impressive in wins over Tulane (a bad FBS team) and Howard (a mediocre FCS team). The Scarlet Knights are only averaging 315 yards per game (ranks 100th in the nation), an alarmingly low number given the level of competition. Jawan Jamison has looked good running the ball (222 yards on 28 carries), but nothing else has really stood out about the RU attack.
South Florida 24, Rutgers 16
Last week: 6–4 overall (4–6 against the spread)
Season: 15–5 overall (11–9 against the spread)
— by Mitch Light