Tuesday, August 26

College Football Preview: Week 3

Week 3: Nonconference Showdown Weekend

So what I think is that the 2007 BCS was just bad enough that college football fans have to go to Purgatory. In Purgatory, there is college football, but it sucks... albeit, not as badly as the FSU/Oklahoma Orange Bowl. Purgatory lasts two weeks and then the good games finally start:

Week 3 is so good it hurts. Chris, myself, and a few people from our pick'em group will be watching this unfold in the quiet confines of Eastern Virginia. It will be a weekend of epic awesomeness and I only wish that our entire staff could be there. Anyway on to the games:

Kansas @ South Florida
Ohio State/USC overshadows what has the makings of a pretty sweet Friday Night game between Kansas and USF. Aqib Talib and Mike Jenkins are gone, but we've still got underrated talent on both teams and some fine college QBs. Expect a good one - that's right, your first good game of the season!
USF's offense should be its best in a while (ever?), but Kansas is also returning nine defensive starters including a top-notch linebacking corps and strong safety duo that was a little overshadowed by Talib's individual brilliance. When Kansas has the ball, you'll see a Jayhawks team missing both of last season's starting tackles, but with four seniors on the line. The WR and RB corps aren't at the strength of last season either. However, USF has lost both Ben Moffitt and Jenkins, as well as corner Trae Williams. Bottom line, I trust Reesing's decision-making and vision more than Grothe's.
Pick: Kansas

Michigan @ Notre Dame
If Miami (OH) can pull off the upset, these teams could be a combined 0-3. What we're really looking for here is sack count. The Wolverines have a legitimate opportunity to knock Jimmy Claussen out of the game by halftime.
Pick: Michigan

Oregon @ Purdue
With an impressive opening game against Northern Colorado, the Purdue bandwagon should be saturated once again. They will seriously hype Painter up as a good QB and try to act as there are more than two to four max teams in the Big Ten. Then in comes the Quack Attack... (Are they making fun of themselves? What the hell is wrong with people in Oregon?)
Pick: Oregon

Georgia @ South Carolina
For Georgia, this is the first of a five-week stretch that goes: @ South Carolina, @ Arizona State, vs Alabama, Bye Week, vs Tennessee. More interestingly, this was a home loss last season for the Bulldogs which ended up keeping them out of the BCS Championship game, and South Carolina may be a better defensive team than they were at the start of last season.
However, Matthew Stafford has really developed as a QB and the Bulldogs have figured out that their offense starts with Knowshon Moreno. They won't be as prone to turnovers as they were in the first half of 2007, and should win this handily.
Pick: Georgia

Arkansas @ Texas
This so would have mattered if Arkansas' RBs were still around. Yyyyep.
We're not sure what Texas's offense is going to look like this season, and this game may be our first real chance to tell. And we may not like what we see. But we do know what Arkansas will look like without McFadden or Jones, and for that matter with Casey Dick trying to run Petrino's offense.
Pick: Texas

I'm thinking BYU gets upset by Washington, so this would be their chance to redeem themselves. No non-Big 6 school has ever played in the BCS without a perfect record, so you kinda think this game is extremely important whether the Cougars are 1-1 (absolutely must win all remaining games) or 2-0 (realistically need to win all games).
The Bruins lost basically all of their offensive talent, have a terrible o-line, and are thin in the secondary. Oh yeah, and they still have no QB. Unlike their two meetings in 2007, this one may not even be close.
Pick: BYU

Oklahoma @ Washington
These schools had a decent game back in 2006 and the situations are similar. OU is the prohibitive favorite, but Washington has an explosive offense and OU did lose a lot of key defensive players.
The difference is that that game involved an OU team barely able to beat UAB the week before. This year's Washington lost tailback Rankin and their top two receivers on offense. Also they return just two of their defensive front seven - not a good sign when facing a Sooner offensive line composed of five returning seniors - two of whom weigh over 345. Bradford's a great QB unlike the mess in '06, and OU's ground game should dominate this one.
Pick: Oklahoma

Ohio State @ USC
This is the stuff they usually save for Rose Bowls. Well except for recently, when they save 49-17 massacres of overmatched teams that don't belong in the Rose Bowl for... Rose Bowls. But anyway this should be one of the best games of the season, and the best inter-conference game of the season. It could easily go either way.

Ohio State's offense loses a tackle and a fullback. Their defense loses LB Larry Grant and an excellent defensive lineman, Vernon Gholston. So basically this is the same OSU team as last season, only a year older. If we count Sanchez (3 games started '07) and Johnson/Gable/McKnight as returning starters for USC, then they're missing four on the offensive line as well as breaking in a new TE. Defensively, USC has a great unit but even they will miss Lawrence Jackson, Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, and Terrell Thomas. USC is a recruiting factory, and I have little doubt about the players stepping in to fill the holes. However, experience does count for something.

Let's talk about the players they do have. Offensively, I give USC a slight edge at receiver and an edge at QB. Interestingly, both teams have wild card QBs in Terrell Pryor and Aaron Corp, and I certainly expect playing time out of Pryor (Pete Carroll seems less the type to play two QBs in a game if it's not necessary, prefering to let the starter get the full flow of the game). Ohio State gets the nod on the offensive line and a very slight edge at RB... you could even just call this position a draw, but I think Chris Wells is the best RB in the nation. Defensively, though, Ohio State wins secondary and defensive line. Linebacker is a wash as both units are outstanding.

Now one thing you'll notice is that Ohio State should be better on both lines. I'm seeing the OSU defensive line averaging 6'4 282, and USC's offensive line 6'5 296 . On the other hand, USC's defensive line averages 6'4 281, versus Ohio State's mammoth offensive line averaging 6'5 318. Yes, Ohio State's smallest starting offensive lineman is just 3 lbs lighter than USC's beefiest, and the combined returning starters on the lines are seven to three in favor of the Buckeyes. I don't know how many USC games I've seen in the last six years where theoretically the opposition has a decent chance based on the skill positions but just get blasted on the lines. But this game could be the reversal of that, with Ohio State's defensive line able to fight USC's offensive line to a draw, while the Buckeye offensive line slowly wears down the Trojan front four.

A game this close could come down to special teams play as well. The Buckeyes' AJ Trapasso averaged 41.5 yards per punt last season and kicker Ryan Pretorius hit on 78% of his field goals - both a little above the national averages. USC's kicker David Buehler hit 84% of his field goals as one of the top kickers in the country, but the punter Greg Woidneck averaged just 37.9 yards per punt which was one of the lowest. USC held the edge in KO returns while Ohio State was a little better returning punts. Coverage does not help things either, as USC did better defending kickoffs while Ohio State did better defending punts and in fact allowed the 6th-fewest yards per punt return in the nation. On the one hand, we expect this to be a defensive battle, so Ohio State's expected edge in punting, punt returns, and punt coverage could swing the field position battle in their favor. On the other hand, if it comes down to a field goal kicking contest as low-scoring games sometimes do, I like USC's chances there.

We haven't mentioned the coaches. Jim Tressell and Pete Carroll are both outstanding and have been BCS mainstays, with Carroll preferring to, um, win... but whatever. (in Tressell's defense, Ohio State has probably faced tougher BCS competition overall, 05 Texas notwithstanding) Both are masters of scheming, but Carroll's staff seems to be a little better - and faster - at coming up with in-game adjustments. This hasn't been as pronounced since Norm Chow left, but USC is still a team who can come out with a very dangerous game-breaking strategy in the third quarter. Ohio State on the other hand seems more confident that, over the course of a 60 minute game, their talent will overcome all opposition... and playing in the Big Ten, that's often the case.

The only real concern I have in terms of coaching for Ohio State is their dedication to the ground game. Lots of Buckeye fans think the Florida game would have been a lot closer and the LSU game perhaps even a victory if the Bucks hadn't gotten so pass-happy. (Sure the 06 team had a hell of an aerial attack, but Florida's defense was fast and undersized) I don't know that running the ball at a healthy Glenn Dorsey counts as a winning strategy, but for what it's worth the OSU offense probably would have performed better in both games had they run the ball 5-10% of the time more often. Against USC, you do not want to turn this into Boeckman vs Sanchez. Boeckman is more experienced and the OSU secondary is probably a little stronger than USC's, but this is still a recipe for disaster if he starts floating passes. Sanchez isn't going to burn his own team with turnovers.

Bottom line, if you take a look at the world around you, it becomes evident that whatever being created this universe has a clear disdain for the human race. For that reason, Ohio State will win this en route to a third consecutive BCS title game meltdown. (yes, expect this game to get it's own post in a week or two)

Pick: Ohio State (god... why?)

Wisconsin @ Fresno State
You know, if they play this one in Madison, I think it's a comfortable win. But in Fresno, anything can happen. Both are good teams. I'm not sure if Fresno has the defensive personnel to stop PJ Hill and Travis "Catch It Like" Beckum.
Pick: Wisconsin

This week's got a ton of semi-interesting matchups as well: UNC @ Rutgers, Iowa State @ Iowa, Cal @ Maryland, Washington State @ Baylor, Penn State @ Syracuse, Auburn @ Mississippi State, and Virginia @ UConn. Okay, some of those stretch the definition of "interesting"... yeah. Still, this weekend is going to make you remember why college football is the greatest sport around.

Projected ESPN/USA Top Ten
1. Ohio State (+2)
2. Georgia (-1)
3. Oklahoma (+1)
4. Florida (+1)
5. Missouri (+1)
6. LSU (+1)
7. USC (-5)
8. Clemson
9. West Virginia
10. Kansas (+ something)