Wednesday, August 27

College Football Preview: Week 4

Week 4: Shaping Up the SEC Weekend

That basically sums it up. Most of the NCAA settles down after week 3, but the top five teams in the SEC are all involved in meaningful games as we transition from nonconference to conference play.

Virginia Tech @ North Carolina
These are the two popular picks to win the ACC Coastal division, which means - yes - people are picking North Carolina to win their division.
Okay, we realize that Butch Davis was the man primarily responsible for putting together those early 2000 Miami powerhouses. However, at Miami, Davis was entering a program that had been kicking everyone's asses from 1983-1994 before he was even hired. North Carolina is basically the same team they were last season, which was a woeful bunch. Yates should continue to improve, but the lack of a running game or a top defense will make Beamer's bunch too much to tackle.
Pick: Virginia Tech

Iowa @ Pittsburgh
Now I know you're thinking "why the hell is this worth talking about?!" and in a lot of ways you're right to wonder that. The thing is that the Big East still gets very little respect and this is a chance for them to earn some. We're thinking Syracuse is going to get rocked by Penn State in week 3, Rutgers has some losable nonconference games (Fresno State and, apparently, UNC) and if indeed USF loses to Kansas as I predict, people are going to be clamoring for the conference to be removed from the BCS - again, despite a nice three year BCS unbeaten streak they've got going on. Iowa, on the other hand, is getting anxious to get their program back to where it was from 2002-04 when they won a combined 31 games.
Yeah, that's not happening. LeSean McCoy is one of the nation's top backs, and with an actual QB on his team he'll have the opportunity to perhaps only run against seven and eight man fronts rather than the nine he was consistently seeing last season. Bonus that Iowa returns just three of their starting front seven. Iowa never really had an offense, and now they've lost Albert Young and Damian Sims.
Pick: Pitt

Florida @ Tennessee
If you're like everyone at this blog not named Chris, then you loved watching Tim Tebow plunge his throbbing left arm into the crevaces of this Tennessee defense in a 59-20 route last season. And you'll love watching the same thing happen again.
Pick: Florida

LSU @ Auburn
This is the game of the week. By now, we think people will just be figuring out that Auburn is way better with Burns than they were last season. LSU's quarterback situation should be settled, and their speed and talent at the other positions can shine through. Should be a great game.

Auburn returns most of their offense and installs new QB Kodi Burns. Along with Tate and Lester, this should be a fearsome ground attack as long as the line produces. It's an experienced line, but not a great one by top 10 standards. This is particularly troubling considering that their opposition is expected to field one of the nation's top defensive lines. The Auburn receivers and LSU secondary are both weak spots for their respective units; whichever wins that one could tip the more important ground battle in their team's favor.

LSU might as well be returning nine offensive starters, with the experience that Byrd and the RB corps have. However, with Ryan Perrilloux's dismissal, freshman Jarrett Lee will likely be the starting QB here. Home games against Appy State, Troy, and North Texas will give Lee some familiarity with this offense in a gametime situation, but won't remotely prepare him to face the Auburn secondary in Jordan-Hare. Auburn also has one of the nation's top LB corps and a solid defensive line led by junior Sen'Derrick Marks.

Since the 2004 season, LSU is 2-2 against Auburn, all in very close games, with a really weird split: Auburn has won the lowest-scoring games (7-3 in 2006, 10-9 in 2004) with LSU winning the others 30-24, 20-17. I don't know if that holds any water, but this feels like another low-scoring battle where the Tigers (groan) are going to come out on top.
Pick: Auburn

Notre Dame @ Michigan State
It's possible that Notre Dame could be 0-2 if SDSU doesn't choke. Can they lose to Michigan State? I don't know. That's the exciting thing about the Jimmy Claussen era - anything is possible!
Pick: Michigan State

Massachussetts @ Texas Tech
Whatever NCAA records are still standing after the Eastern Washington game are going to fall here. Crabtree 23 TDs in the first half? It could happen.
Pick: Over

Georgia @ Arizona State
You can't have two "games of the week" so we'll call this one the "game of the week for people who don't think 6-3 is an exciting game" because let's face it, the loser of this game could outscore the points total from that LSU-Auburn showdown. ASU is basically like 2007 Hawaii minus Colt Brennan but with an offensive line capable of playing on the mainland... kinda. So it should be 34-17 or something like that? Tough to say; preseason rankings indicate that Georgia should win easily but ASU's surprised some teams in the past. Either way, this is the probable Pac 10 #2 vs a team that looks like one of the two best in the SEC (along with Florida).

ASU's offense loses a ton of talent in Rudy Burgess, Ryan Torain, and Brent Miller. The line is a serious question too, with three new starters. I don't think it's a problem that jeopardizes their standing in the Pac 10 (clearly below USC and better than everyone else), but in this game Georgia is returning 9 starters from the defense that wrecked pretty much everybody from the seventh week onward (we don't know what happened against Troy... chalk it up to lack of focus sandwiched between the Florida and Auburn games). Things could get ugly if the Dawgs shut down ASU's running game and start putting the heat on Carpenter.

Offensively, Georgia is one of the last remaining teams to be successful while focusing on the power running game from the I formation. Brannan Southerland's recovery from offseason foot surgery could play a factor here, but I'm not going to put a huge weight on the health of the guy lead-blocking for Knowshon Moreno. Indeed if we're talking about blocking, when Clint Boling gets back from suspension could be more important, as his backup would be the only freshman on a now more experienced offensive line. ASU loses two starters from a secondary that was already ranked 61st against the pass, so Stafford could have a field day throwing to football Jesus.
Pick: Georgia

There's a string of inter-Big-6 nonconference games on Weds-Fri night that frankly aren't worth talking about but could be interesting in retrospect, particularly if Baylor of Colorado (unlikely!) pull off upsets. We've also got Wake facing FSU and Arizona vs UCLA... again, games I'll put more thought into if they look interesting after week 3 when I take another look at these.

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