Although it is just six weeks into the college football season, some burgeoning programs enter this weekend facing pivotal games that could make or break their season. Other teams will try to renew past glory and burst back onto the national scene by upsetting ranked rivals. The end result will be the difference between a game on New Year’s Day and the Gaylords Hotels Music City Bowl.
This weekend’s slate of games is highlighted by a pair of Big 12 showdowns and matchups between SEC and Pac-10 powerhouses. After the dust settles Saturday night, one team may be on the express route to the Rose Bowl, while another traditional power is left pulling out its hair in shock and disgust.
Oklahoma (2-2 overall, 1-0 Big 12) at No. 2 Texas (4-0, 1-0) – 1 p.m. – ABC
By looking solely at the records and statistics in this matchup, one would expect a blowout of Michigan-Eastern Michigan proportions. Texas comes into the game surging with momentum and national title aspirations. The Longhorns crushed Missouri, 51-20, in their Big 12 opener and squeaked out a close road victory over an excellent Ohio State team earlier this season. As Michigan fans know, Vince Young is one of college football’s most electric players and a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He has completed more than 65 percent of his passes for 780 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for 310 yards and two scores.
On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma has already suffered an embarrassing home loss at the hands of Texas Christian and has received inconsistent play from both the quarterback and running back positions. Rhett Bomar has more interceptions than touchdowns and Adrian Peterson – last year’s Heisman runner-up – is averaging less than 100 yards per game on the ground.
But not so fast. Oklahoma has controlled this rivalry for the past five years – meaning Texas has not beaten its hated foe this millennium. The Sooners have not lost three games in one season since 1999, and Bob Stoops will have his team prepared to keep both streaks alive. Peterson is a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode for 200 yards, and Bomar showed signs of improvement last week. The Sooners will keep this game closer than most people expect, but, in the end, Young and the raucous Texas crowd will not let the Longhorns waste perhaps their best chance at a national title.
Texas 31, Oklahoma 27
No. 15 Texas Tech (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) at Nebraska (4-0, 1-0) – 4 p.m.
Each of these teams come into this conference matchup unbeaten, but it’s difficult to judge how talented these squads truly are. Texas Tech has essentially played a high school schedule, beating a couple of Division I-AA schools. Nebraska barely edged Pittsburgh and Iowa State the past two weeks, and the Cornhuskers have yet to play a road game.
Still, it’s difficult to ignore the Red Raiders’ potent offense. First-year starter Cody Hodges has thrown for 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns while leading Tech to an average of more than 50 points a game. Nebraska seems to have turned a corner under coach Bill Callahan, who has tried to move the program away from its renowned option offense. Quarterback Zac Taylor threw for 431 yards, a Nebraska record, and two touchdowns in last weekend’s overtime victory.
Nebraska has given up just nine points per game, but the Cornhuskers have yet to face a spread attack like that of Texas Tech. Once notorious for its intense student atmosphere, Lincoln doesn’t strike fear in opponents like it once did. Although Nebraska may be the class of the Big 12 North, that holds about as much weight as the Padres victory in the NL West. Texas Tech should have little trouble exposing Nebraska’s weaknesses, on both offense and defense.
Texas Tech 38, Nebraska 17
Virginia (3-1, 1-1 ACC) at No. 18 Boston College (4-1, 1-1) – 1 p.m.
This game features two teams in the middle of the ACC pack, and the loser will essentially be eliminated from any chance of playing in a BCS bowl. Arguably the best conference in college football, the ACC features three top-10 teams and three others ranked in the Top 25. Virginia faces an impossible schedule, with five games remaining against ranked opponents. The Cavaliers shot themselves in the foot last week by blowing a fourth-quarter lead against Maryland, and now they have to try to rebound in another road game.
Boston College has played well, except for its home loss to undefeated Florida State. The defense has been the team’s strength, yielding just 10.2 points per game thus far. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been competent, but not much better than that, since taking over three weeks ago, throwing for 599 yards.
Virginia has been inconsistent all year and has yet to notch a victory against a quality opponent. Quarterback Marques Hagans may not be the answer; his deficiencies are hidden by a balanced rushing attack that averages over 175 yards per game.
If Boston College can get past Virginia, the Eagles have a chance to run the table because it faces only one more ranked opponent. That incentive – on top of the sheer talent difference and homefield advantage – should be more than enough for Boston College to dispose of the Cavaliers.
Boston College 24, Virginia 13
No. 10 California (5-0, 2-0 Pac-10) at No. 20 UCLA (4-0, 2-0) – 7:30 p.m.
Coming off an easy victory over Arizona, California heads down to Los Angeles to face the Bruins in a Pac-10 showdown. There should be a lot of points in this one – both teams average more than 40 points per game. The winner of this game automatically becomes the biggest remaining challenge to Southern Cal. California quarterback Joseph Ayoob has struggled this season and is just now starting to settle into his starting role.
This game features the two best running backs in the Pac-10 who don’t play for Southern Cal – California’s Marshawn Lynch and UCLA’s Maurice Drew. Lynch returned from injury last week and rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown. Freshman receiver DeSean Jackson has a lot of potential and will be looking to have breakout game against the Bruins. UCLA had to come up with a late comeback to pull out a win against Washington. Quarterback Drew Olsen has had a great senior season so far with 1,049 yards and eight touchdowns, silencing the critics in Westwood. Mercedes Lewis is quite a weapon for the Bruin’s offense and perhaps the best in the nation at his position. California has the No. 2 rushing offense in the country and will have to run the ball as effectively to win, especially in light of Ayoob’s struggles. Led by seniors Spencer Havner and Justin London, UCLA is very solid at linebacker.
In the end, this game will come down to the play at quarterback, where the Bruins have a decisive advantage. UCLA struggled last week, but it is at home and will bounce back. The Bruins held Adrian Peterson to 58 yards, so they should be able to contain Lynch. Olsen and Drew will make just enough plays to pull out a victory.
UCLA 31, California 28
Oregon (4-1, 1-1 Pac-10) at No. 17 Arizona State (3-2, 1-1)- 10:15 p.m.
Arizona State is coming off a tough loss, in which it hung with Southern Cal for a half before the Trojans took over. Oregon struggled against Stanford for a half before pulling away to win, 44-20. These two explosive offenses should score a lot of points. Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller leads the nation in passing yardage with 1,790 yards and will be looking to carve up the Oregon secondary. Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens has played very well this season, throwing for 12 touchdowns and just one interception.
Arizona State has lost two games this season against top-25 opponents where they were unable to maintain a big lead. The challenge this week is to keep it up for four quarters. Sam Keller is a very good quarterback and should have no trouble with the Duck’s defense. But Clemens and Oregon should also be able to move the ball on Arizona State. The real question for this game is whether the Sun Devils come out flat after what happened to them against Southern Cal. The Sun Devils might struggle a bit early, but they should overcome those early troubles. Keller and the Arizona State offense are better then their counterparts and too good to be held down by the Oregon defense.
Arizona State 45, Oregon 38
No. 5 Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC) at No. 8 Tennessee (3-1, 2-1) – 3:30 p.m. – CBS
Georgia travels to Tennessee to take on the Volunteers in a game that has SEC and national title implications. This game should be a defensive battle. Tennessee has the No. 4 rushing defense in the country, while Georgia’s opportunistic defense allows just 11.3 points per game and has forced 14 turnovers. Tennessee seems to have solved the quarterback controversy between Eric Ainge and Rich Clausen. Clausen started last week after he brought Tennessee back from a 21 point deficit down against Louisiana State two weeks ago. The Volunteers will hope they can ride Gerald Riggs and their running game.
The Bulldogs have not been seriously tested this season, and they will look to prove themselves as a legitimate title contender. Quarterback D.J. Shockley is coming off a game in which he threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns. Tennessee is definitely one of the toughest places to play in the SEC, and this game will be no easy task for Georgia. Shockley and Georgia are a bit overrated, and they haven’t proven themselves yet. Tennessee needs to win this game, and playing at home should give them the emotional edge. Tennessee should bring Georgia back to earth in a low scoring football game.
Tennessee 16, Georgia 7