Before The Week 9 Games, Part 2
- Final Thoughts
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2011 Fearless Predictions
Final Thoughts, Week
By Matt Zemek
BYU-TCU: The team that used to be in the Mountain West against the team that is - but won't soon be - in the Mountain West. The team that wants to be in the Big 12 (but won't be) against the team that landed in the Big 12 (after going to the Big East but then watching that conference crumble). The newest Independent against the school that's been thrown around the conferences with remarkable regularity since 1995. It's the perfect Realignment Bowl.
MICHIGAN STATE-NEBRASKA: Location, location, location. Put this puppy in East Lansing, and Sparty wins. Not in Lincoln, though, and especially not with a sleepyhead 11:05 a.m. local time kickoff. The Big Ten Legends Division is still Michigan State's to lose, but Nebraska should pull through here.
MISSOURI-TEXAS A&M: Um, about BYU-TCU being the Realignment Bowl......... I suppose this would be the Realignment SEC Championship Game, then. Another interesting coincidence in this game: Missouri quarterback James Franklin is this year's version of 2010 A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson.
NORTHWESTERN-INDIANA: One team will win its first Big Ten game of the season. Ruh-roh, Pat Fitzgerald.
SYRACUSE-LOUISVILLE: How in blazes is Louisville favored? How in the Sam Hill does Jersey Shore get higher ratings than Mad Men? What in tarnation makes young Americans watch 62-7 NFL games more than Game 4 of the World Series?
ARKANSAS-VANDERBILT: If the Commodores spring the upset, one can feel pretty confident in calling James Franklin one of the ascendant coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
BAYLOR-OKLAHOMA STATE: The score of last year's Baylor-OSU game in Stillwater? 55-28 in favor of the team not named Baylor. The score of Baylor's most recent game, an Oct. 15 contest against Texas A&M? 55-28 in favor of the team not named Baylor. Any questions? I thought not.
OKLAHOMA-KANSAS STATE: Since the Sooners are steaming mad after a loss, and since Kansas State is a run-first offense instead of a pass-first offense, it is legitimate - debatable, but legitimate - to claim that a Wildcat victory here would represent a bigger upset than the 2003 Big 12 Championship Game. Ell Roberson would probably agree, no? And for those of you who want to bury Bob Stoops, a question: Do you really think the Sooners will fail to win yet another conference title? We should all have Oklahoma's problems. (Landry Jones, though, will not make it in the NFL - that seems abundantly clear by now.)
ILLINOIS-PENN STATE: If the Illinois team that didn't show up at Purdue shows up in Happy Valley, that means Illinois won't show up, right? The riddle that is Ron Zook continues. Meanwhile, if the Illinois team that didn't show up at Purdue shows up in Happy Valley, Penn State will be 5-0 in the Big Ten and 8-1 overall entering November... without being significantly tested in the league. Who are you, Big Ten, and what have you done with good football this season?
GEORGIA-FLORIDA: Wait - stop me if you've encountered this scenario before: Georgia, after wobbling a bit in the early stages of a season, gets things back on track and carries high hopes for an SEC East title into Jacksonville. How does this story end? Can anyone help me out here? What's the post-Vince Dooley narrative on the banks of the St. John's River? Yes, Aaron Murray, you have a lot of history, mojo, juju, and other funky four-letter words to overcome this Saturday. And no, Mr. Murray, you shouldn't be trusted. Time to slay some demons, young fella, and make a name for yourself in the Georgia football pantheon.
WEST VIRGINIA-RUTGERS: The Big East desperately needs West Virginia to run the table before it runs off to the Big 12. If the Mountaineers can't win this game, the Big East champion will quite possibly come from the winner of the Cincinnati-Rutgers game. Yes, that sentence was just written. Yes, that sentence caused my stomach to turn. Just watch: A Clemson team that's been dying for a premium January bowl experience will win its way to the Orange Bowl... and play Cincinnati in front of 15,000 empty seats in Miami. It would be Clemson-level luck, to be sure.
NAVY-NOTRE DAME: Seriously - what sane parent would want his kid to play quarterback for Brian Kelly, given the way in which the Fighting Irish coach throws his signal callers under the bus? Even Terry Dean thinks the Steve Spurrier of 1993 treated him better than Kelly is treating Dayne Crist these days.
WAKE FOREST-NORTH CAROLINA: Wake Forest is itching to get to Clemson, but the game that will determine if the Demon Deacons are a decidedly above-average team (or just an average team) is this challenge in Chapel Hill.
SMU-TULSA: Conference USA's feature games should get more national exposure, given the mediocre nature of the past few weekly schedules. The week nine slate is a lot better than week seven or week eight, so it's a little easier to understand that this game will fall off most people's radar screens. Nevertheless, the three-team battle for C-USA West begins in earnest with this Pony-Hurricane hoedown in Oklahoma. Perhaps C-USA should consider more Friday night scheduling in order to be noticed... or, wonder of wonders, maybe the league should make its Thursday night games the featured attractions on the schedule, instead of downmarket games such as UCF-UAB or Rice-Houston.
SOUTH CAROLINA-TENNESSEE: Remember "Auburn 3, Mississippi State 2" from 2008? You might see the replay here. Alshon Jeffery can't throw passes to himself, and Tauren Poole can't hand the ball off to himself. Two depleted offenses will serve their own team's best interests by avoiding crippling mistakes and putting punters in position to knock wedge shots inside the 10-yard line. If this game produces two touchdown drives of at least 5 plays and 70 yards, I will be stunned. Maybe South Carolina will get an 80-yard touchdown pass to Jeffery on a jump ball, and maybe Poole will break a 75-yard run against a Carolina blitz, but sustained marches aren't likely to occur. Not in this production of "Backups In Knoxville: Fright Night At Neyland."
Defenses and special teams might not directly score touchdowns, but they are likely to set up more scores than the offenses can generate on their own. Drive starts between the 50 and the opponent's 35 are hardly guaranteed to produce points. The team that forces more turnovers inside its opponent's 20 will win, and the team that gives up the ball more times inside its own 20 will lose. If you don't get paid to watch football, don't watch this game. You have been warned.
WISCONSIN-OHIO STATE: Everything I believed about Russell Wilson - that he shrinks in big games, demonstrates a Jekyll-and-Hyde pattern on the field, and does not possess the mentality of a champion - was validated last weekend in East Lansing. The Badgers are lucky that Ohio State's offense is so pitiful this year; otherwise, they'd get eaten for dinner in Columbus.
STANFORD-USC: Lane Kiffin, Patron Saint Of The Martyrs, O Font Of Undue And Unmerited Arrogance, the people of South Bend, Indiana - and Palo Alto, California - will flock to Mass on Sunday morning, just so you know. They will pack the pews and say prayers of thanksgiving. Why? They'll be thanking the good Lord for humbling you through the presence of Andrew Luck, who will eviscerate your defense and give your team an abrupt dose of reality. You will then lack the ability to martyr yourself again. How about coaching your team the way you did against Notre Dame - it was your best performance on a sideline as a head coach - and keeping your trap shut until you, you know, ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING in your coaching career?
CLEMSON-GEORGIA TECH: Georgia Tech will naturally throw the kitchen sink at Clemson. The Yellow Jackets' season is on the line; a loss here will basically wrap up another ACC Coastal Division title for Virginia Tech. It's a road night game for the Tigers, so this game offers a possibility for a trendy "non-upset upset" pick. However, Clemson avoided a landmine at Maryland, overcoming its penchant for slipping on the banana peel. Clemson might lose in the ACC Championship Game, but the sense here is that the Tigers will hold the fort until then. Georgia Tech's passing game simply has to answer the call in this tilt and hit those big-play bombs Paul Johnson depends on.
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-Yes, there are actually games this weekend. Just look past the Bama/LSU hype for a couple of hours.
- The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is not a must-win game for Georgia head coach Mark Richt. Even with a loss to Florida, Georgia can still make it to the SEC Championship Game because South Carolina sans Marcus Lattimore probably has two SEC losses still on the docket. On paper, Georgia has the clear advantage over Florida; but this game isn't played on paper, it's played in Jacksonville. When Georgia sees that Florida helmet in person, the Bulldogs immediately become the underdog - I don't care what their record is. Georgia could come in as 30-point favorites, and I still wouldn't pick the Bulldogs. Eighteen of the last 21 games, that'd be the right pick. History repeats itself.
- Clemson will "pull a Clemson" at some point, but it won't be this week. Georgia Tech has been the anti-Tech in ACC games, and it has been the offense that has been struggling. To beat Clemson, you have to outscore them. Tech isn't capabale of doing that right now. Clemson cruises, and keeps on livin' right.
- Stanford is still a bit of a mystery since the toughest team the Cardinal has played is Washington. Despite the sanctions, USC has remained competitive. Matt Barkley's star re-emerges, and the Trojans knock off Stanford.
- At roughly the same time, Boise State will rejoice.
- South Carolina will get a game from Tennessee, despite the Vols starting true freshman quarterback Justin Worley. Without running back Marcus Lattimore and with Connor Shaw taking the snaps, the Gamecocks are a middle-of-the-road SEC team at best.
- Kansas State, you're catching Oklahoma at the worst possible time. I apologize in advance for what's about to happen.
- Houston Nutt, if your Ole Miss Rebels are the tonic that fixes the Auburn offense, don't bother getting on the airplane back to Oxford.
- I ask almost every week - can we put a halt to the realignment talk for 24 hours and enjoy some football on Saturday?
Final Thoughts, Week