By Mitch Light(@AthlonMitch)
Here are previews and predictions for the 10 best college football games this weekend.
Oklahoma (-10) vs. Texas
Alabama and LSU are stealing a lot of the national headlines, but Oklahoma, still ranked No. 1 by the coaches, is also playing very good football. Landry Jones, as expected, has been superb at quarterback, ranking fourth in the nation in total offense (but third in his own league) with a 362.5 yards-per-game average. The defense, outside of a shaky first half against Missouri, has been strong, as well. Texas appears to be much improved after last year’s surprising five-win season, but Mack Brown’s team has yet to face a high-quality opponent. The Horns have some decent wins — BYU at home and UCLA and Iowa State on the road — but we’re still not sure if Texas is good enough to challenge OU and Oklahoma State for the Big 12 title. The big key is at quarterback: Are Case McCoy and David Ash good enough to make plays on a big stage against an elite opponent? We’ll find out.
Oklahoma 26, Texas 17
Florida (+14) at LSU
LSU’s Tiger Stadium would be very close to the top if you are making a list of venues that would NOT be ideal for a true freshman to make his first collegiate start. One positive for Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel: At least the game is not at night. Driskel, regarded by most as the top prep quarterback in the nation last year, was forced to play the entire second half against Alabama last week. He completed 2-of-6 attempts for 14 yards. The Gators will need far more production this week against a ferocious LSU defense that yielded only 155 yards to Kentucky last Saturday. Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will do his best to put Driskel in favorable situations, but it will be very, very difficult for the Gators to muster enough offense to win this game in such a difficult environment.
LSU 21, Florida 10
Auburn (+10) at Arkansas
After giving up an average of 36.7 points and 534.3 yards in its first three games, Auburn somehow managed to shut down South Carolina last week in a surprising 16–13 win in Columbia. The Tigers are still last in the SEC in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense (and that includes a Week 4 win against FAU, arguably the worst offensive team in the nation), but there are signs of hope after limiting the Gamecocks to season lows of 289 yards and 13 points. Now, however, comes the most difficult test of the season. Arkansas leads the SEC in total offense (471.8 ypg) and rolled up nearly 600 yards in its 42–38 come-from-behind win over Texas A&M over the weekend. The Hogs don’t have much balance — they rank ninth in the league in rushing — but the passing attack is nearly unstoppable (against teams not named Alabama).
Arkansas 41, Auburn 33
Missouri (-3) at Kansas State
Kansas State is emerging as one of the surprise teams in the nation. Bill Snyder, who turns 72 this week, has the Wildcats off to a 4–0 start, highlighted by wins at Miami (Fla.) and over Baylor. K-State is getting great play from junior dual-threat quarterback Collin Klein, who has thrown only two interceptions in 85 attempts and is averaging over 100 yards rushing per game. Missouri is one of the better two-loss teams in the nation, with its defeats coming at Arizona State in overtime and at Oklahoma, by only 10 points. The Tigers have a potent dual-threat quarterback, as well. In his first season as a starter, James Franklin has been extremely efficient in the passing game (61.1 percent, seven TDs, one INT) and effective running the ball, as well. K-State is a nice story, but Missouri has the better team.
Missouri 30, Kansas State 21
Ohio State (+11) at Nebraska
What had the potential to be one of the most hyped regular-season games in recent Big Ten history is almost an afterthought now. Ohio State, due in part to its personnel issues and coaching drama, has been a huge disappointment. The Buckeyes, coming off an uninspiring 10–7 loss at home to Michigan State, have been brutal on offense against quality opponents. Nebraska received a rude welcoming to the Big Ten last Saturday night, suffering a sobering 48–17 loss at Wisconsin. The Huskers will continue to beat up on mediocre (and even good) competition, but will have a tough time defeating top-10 teams until they prove they can make plays consistently in the passing game. Ohio State’s defense is good enough to put pressure on Nebraska, but the Buckeyes won’t be able to score enough points to win in Lincoln.
Nebraska 24, Ohio State 10
Georgia (-1) at Tennessee
With John Brantley’s injury at Florida and South Carolina’s surprising loss at home to Auburn, this game suddenly takes on great importance in the wide-open SEC East. Georgia has won three straight after opening the season with losses to Boise State and South Carolina. The Dawgs are getting outstanding play from true freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell (100-plus yards in all three SEC games), and the defense has been strong in recent weeks. Tennessee flexed its muscles in a 41–10 win over Buffalo on Saturday. The Vols are now 3–1, with three easy wins at home and a 10-point loss at Florida. We know Tennessee can throw the ball — even without Justin Hunter. The key for the Vols — this week and going forward — will be the running game. This team must show the ability to have some balance on offense.
Georgia 35, Tennessee 30
Michigan (-7.5) at Northwestern
This game opened with Michigan as a 3.5-point favorite but quickly shot up to over a touchdown. That’s quite interesting, especially since Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has been cleared to play after tweaking his Achilles in last week’s loss at Illinois. Persa, when healthy, is one of the most effective quarterbacks in the nation due to his ability to run and throw. The same, obviously, can be said for Michigan’s Denard Robinson, who continues to put up amazing numbers for the surprising Wolverines. The key for Michigan, though, will be on the defensive side of the ball. The Wolverines are drastically improved statistically, but the early season schedule hasn’t been too taxing. They will be tested this weekend in Evanston.
Michigan 34, Northwestern 27
Florida State (-11.5) at Wake Forest
You can make a strong case that Wake Forest is the most-improved team in the nation. A year ago, the Deacs slumped to 3–9 overall, losing five games by 30 points or more. This year, a much more seasoned Wake team is off to a 3–1 start, which almost assuredly would have been 4–0 had starting quarterback Tanner Price not been hurt in the second half of a Week 1 overtime loss at Syracuse. Florida State’s shot at a national title ius gone after losing back-to-back games to Oklahoma and Clemson. The Seminoles will regain the services of quarterback EJ Manuel, who missed most of the second half against Oklahoma and the entire game vs. Clemson. This game will test Florida State’s mental toughness. Wake Forest is good enough to beat the Noles if they aren’t ready to play.
Florida State 28, Wake Forest 20
Miami (Fla.) (+7.5) at Virginia Tech
The teams picked by many, including Athlon Sports, to finish 1-2 in the ACC Coastal Division, are each 0–1 in league play. Virginia Tech struggled mightily on the offensive end in a 23–3 loss to Clemson at home. The Hokies managed 258 yards of offense and were held without a touchdown in an ACC game for the first time since losing at Boston College, 22–3 in 2006. David Wilson has been terrific at tailback, but Tech is really struggling in the passing game. Miami throttled Bethune-Cookman, 45–14, last week, but the Canes still have to be upset about their 28–24 loss at home to Kansas State two weeks ago. It’s been a strange first season for Al Golden; his team has a dominating win against Ohio State yet has lost to Maryland and Kansas State. The big concern for Miami this week is stopping Wilson and the Hokies’ running game. The Canes rank 105th in the nation in run defense, allowing over 200 yards per game.
Virginia Tech 20, Miami (Fla.) 17
Iowa (+4) at Penn State
Penn State has been brutal on offense this season against teams not named Indiana State and Eastern Michigan, scoring 11 points against Alabama, 14 against Temple and 16 against Indiana. The quarterback situation is a mess, and there doesn’t appear to be any resolution in the near future. This team will have to win this season by running the ball and playing defense. We’re still trying to get a handle on Iowa. The Hawkeyes let a lead get away (actually five leads) in a triple-overtime loss to Iowa State and then stormed back from 17 down in the fourth quarter to beat Pittsburgh one week later. James Vanderberg has been very good at quarterback, throwing only one interception in 129 attempts, and the running game has potential with Marcus Coker carrying the load. The Hawkeyes have the potential to be very good on offense.
Iowa 24, Penn State 14
Last week — 6–4 (8–2 vs. spread)
Season — 31–19 (26–23–1 vs. spread)