Have to trim the slate a little bit. My class schedule is interfering with my ability to watch 8 games in one weekend.
1) Oklahoma State at Troy – Having made the jump from I-AA just a couple of years ago, Troy has developed a bit of a reputation for taking on all comers in a bid to establish itself as a legitimate I-A school. So far they have shown some improvement but still have a long way to go. Expect Oklahoma State to come away with this one rather easily.
2) Notre Dame at Michigan – As bad as Michigan’s looked the last two weeks, Notre Dame has looked worse… right down to a nation-worst -8 total rushing yards and 266 yards of total offense cumulative for the first two games. Most teams with a non-dysfunctional offense will at least get that by the third quarter of game one, let alone at the final gun of the second game. Statistically and in terms of talent, I still think Michigan’s the better team. Chad Henne went down with a partially-torn MCL but to hear some people tell the tale, that’s actually an improvement and not a setback. If they can shake off last week’s debacle, and that’s a big if, they should win this one.
3) Florida State at Colorado – RB Hugh Charles is coming off of an injury so that should help Colorado’s offense produce a little bit more effectively than they did last week at Arizona State. Meanwhile Florida State beat UAB, but that game wasn’t over until the end of the third quarter. This is the UAB team that Michigan State dropped 55 on in week one, the UAB team that your local 8-man high school flag football team could beat. This is almost like Michigan vs. Notre Dame, except the trainwreck isn’t going to be as spectacular. Colorado should win this one.
USC at Nebraska. Has Sam Keller finally shaken the rust off? Last week he threw two picks and fumbled twice. In the NFL they call that “Rex Grossman”. What about the receivers dropping passes that hit them square in the chest? The defense has gotten better in the last year (in the secondary particularly), but all the play fakes and misdirections Wake Forest ran successfully had to register with USC’s coaches. And what’s Bill Callahan’s strategy, is Nebraska going to play to win or play not to get embarrassed? I think execution is going to be a big factor in whether Nebraska even stands a chance, but playcalling is also going to have something to do with it.
So why do I still think Nebraska can win it? Because we already know what they have to work on… USC doesn’t. They beat Idaho handily two weeks ago, but that’s Idaho. There are a lot of teams that could beat Idaho by 28 points without trying. We know USC has some injury problems. CB Josh Pinkard is done for the year. C Matt Spanos has a torn triceps, leaving a freshman to line up against Ndamukong Suh. LB Brian Cushing is a gameday decision due to a sprained ankle. Can the guys replacing WRs Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett fill the hole adequately? These are things that frankly nobody knows because one game against the mother of all cupcakes isn’t going to show you where you need to improve.
Meanwhile, Nebraska’s been tested once already. We already know the defense is going to have to shore up and not bite too hard on play fakes. We know the wide receivers need to hold onto passes better. We know the team needs to produce better in 3rd down situations. We know some of the shifts and pre-snap motions are causing problems for the offense. The team has had a week to work on these things – and they’re all things you won’t necessarily find out until you get into game situations with real competition. If the football season was just fall camp and the opening game vs. a cupcake, half the teams in the nation would be championship contenders. But it isn’t, and when the real competition comes to play that’s when you find out what the team is really made of.
This is a really homer-ish thing to do, but I’m really buying the notion that knowing what your own problems are with a week to fix them is a better place to be than not knowing what your problems are and finding out on game day. Nebraska has a definite advantage over USC to that degree, and they also have the advantage of a home field crowd will no doubt be jacked like they were last year when Texas came to town. USC physically may be the better team, Pete Carroll may be a more proven coach, but the environment they are walking into can be an absolute deathtrap for them if they’re not extremely careful – just like it was for Oklahoma in 1978.
Flip a coin, but it won’t be by more than a touchdown. Nebraska wins this one.