By Casey Keefe
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You know the college football season is in full swing when you take a look at the matchups we have on tap this weekend. We are entering the best Saturday of the season to date. We have a handful of premiere matchups which are each good enough to be the showcase game on any given week.
The headliner is #7 Florida visiting Tuscaloosa to take on #1 Alabama. It’s the newest installment in a fierce SEC rivalry in which both teams have combined to win 52 straight regular season games. The Tide are the more talented team on paper, but you better believe the Gators will have an extra chip on their shoulder come Saturday night. They certainly haven’t forgotten about the whooping they suffered at the hands of the Tide in last year’s SEC title game which cost them a chance at the national championship.
Motivation won’t be a problem for Florida, but on the field they’ll be facing an uphill battle. Make no mistake, this is a very talented Gator team, and they won’t be intimidated playing under the lights in enemy territory. However, I’ve yet to see their offense really gel, and if they’re not clicking on all cylinders against ‘Bama they’ll be in big trouble. Despite being relatively inexperienced, the Tide have as good a defense as anyone in the country. They held their own against one of the best offenses in the country last week in Arkansas. They got after Ryan Mallett all afternoon and showed the ability to clamp down and close the deal when the game was in the balance.
Does John Brantley know what’s in store for him? He’ll be facing the toughest defense of his young career. Nick Saban will be throwing the kitchen sink at the kid trying to confuse him and force him into mistakes. I give ‘Bama a big advantage in this battle. I haven’t been impressed with Brantley to this point. If he can’t break out of his shell against Tennessee or Kentucky, I don’t see him doing it against Alabama. Florida will need running back Jeffery Demps to be at full strength and even though it looks like he’ll play, he is sure to be limited with the foot injury that’s been bothering him all week.
Florida is much better off on the defensive side of the ball. They have been stout for the majority of the season but will be taking on the daunting task of trying to defend against the nation’s best rushing attack. Mark Ingram seems to be better than ever after returning from knee surgery. The combination of he and Trent Richardson rushing behind the best offensive line the country makes for a long night for the Gators. They must be somehow be able to keep the running game in check and put extra responsibility on the shoulders of Greg McElroy. If they can do that and apply pressure on McElroy they may have a chance to force a few turnovers. That’s their best chance to stay in the game.
In the end, I think it’ll just be too much Tide for the Gators to handle. Back in training camp, Urban Meyer planned to spend an entire week preparing solely for Alabama. But that idea was scratched once Meyer realized his team should be focusing on the basics because they had a very long way to go. This is exactly what will hold Florida back in this game. They’re just not ready to compete with a team of Alabama’s caliber. Maybe next year, but this time around the Tide are just on a different level… Prediction: Alabama
#9 Stanford @ #4 Oregon: This game could very well decide the Pac 10. We know that Oregon is a legitimate contender. We’re not so sure about Stanford. They’re off to a fantastic start. They’re 4-0 for the first time in 24 years. Their #9 ranking is the highest they’ve been in the polls in 18 years. They obviously have one of the best quarterbacks in the country. The question is are they ready for the big time? If they are, Saturday’s a pretty good time to show it.
The offenses for both teams are top-notch, especially Oregon which leads the nation is scoring offense at 58 points per game. They are lethal on the ground, averaging 317 yards a contest thanks largely in part to star running back LaMichael James. Stanford on the other hand runs a balanced attack thanks to Heisman candidate quarterback Andrew Luck and a deep running game. The deciding factor will be which defense plays better. The Cardinal need to key in on James and the running game. I wouldn’t be overly concerned with quarterback Darron Thomas. The straw that stirs the drink for that offense is James. To slay the dragon, you must cut off the head.
The bad news for Stanford is that not only will they be on the road, they will be going up against a Ducks defense that matches up very well against their offense. Oregon has the advantage up front and should be able to get pressure on Luck. They just need to make sure they keep up with Stanford’s speedy receivers. I like their chances in this regard due to their fast, athletic secondary which has the ability to take gambles and still recover. I have no doubt Luck and company will connect on some big plays…but not as many as the Ducks will. Come Saturday night, I expect there to be a wild party in Eugene… Prediction: Oregon
#21 Texas vs. #8 Oklahoma: A lot of buzz was taken off this matchup when the Longhorns got blown out at home by UCLA last week. However, even though it’s still a vital game, I’m not sure it was ever going to have the same juice as a normal Red River Rivalry game. I’m not sold on either of these teams, especially Texas. They have been struggling on offense all season long. Garrett Gilbert has been very shaky and has stalled the Longhorns offense on numerous occasions. Oklahoma on the other hand is uncharacteristically weak on defense, allowing a conference high 421 yards per game and constantly letting down in big spots.
Which of these units steps up will help decide the game. We know the Sooners will be efficient on offense with Landry Jones and company. Meanwhile Texas will hold their own on the defensive side of the ball. But who wins the battle between Texas’ offense and Oklahoma’s defense? I’ll take the Sooners in that matchup. Despite their tendency to let down, I think we’ll see a much more focused unit that will hound and harass Gilbert into crucial mistakes… Prediction: Oklahoma
#11 Wisconsin @ #24 Michigan State: I think Mark Dantonio picked a bad week to return from his heart attack. State is a great team, but the Badgers are on a different level. Being at home will help the Spartans, but Wisconsin is an experienced, battle-tested team which has all the ingredients to combat State’s strengths. The Spartans have a great front seven, but I doubt they will have much success keeping the 2-headed monster of John Clay and Montee Ball in check. Wisconsin has one of the finest offensive lines in the nation. They are sure to create lanes for Clay and Ball and will keep quarterback Scott Tolzien upright. I expect Wisconsin to play old-school grind it out ball and control the tempo of this game. Slowly by slowly, they will take the crowd out of the game and drive State into the ground.
The Spartans only hope will be to force turnovers and be mistake free on offense. They have a good quarterback (Kirk Cousins) and a very solid running game (Edwin Baker & Le’Veon Bell). They are well coached and have all the components of a successful balanced offense. They will need to pull all the right strings in order to win. However, I’m not so sure anything they do will be enough against the Badgers defense. Wisconsin across the board is just too strong for State. If you’re a betting man, jump on the -1 ½ line. There’s no way the Badgers are not winning this game by more than a touchdown… Prediction: Wisconsin
#22 Penn State @ #17 Iowa: This seems like a sexy matchup on paper, but in reality I’d be shocked if Penn State is able to hang in this game. The Nittany Lions strength is Evan Royster and their running game along with their stout defense. Problem with Royster is that he’ll be going up against a phenomenal run defense, currently ranked third in the country. They will not give an inch. What complicates matters for Penn State is their true freshman quarterback Robert Bolden. As he showed against Alabama, he doesn’t know how to deal with a tough, in-your-face defense. Iowa has the best defensive lineman in the country in Adrian Clayborn. He’ll be after Bolden all day, while the rest of the defense is focusing in on Royster. Penn State will have no card to play on offense.
The Nittany Lions may be able to stay in the game for a little while thanks to their defense. Yards and points are tough to come by against their unit, but it’ll only be a matter of before quarterback Ricky Stanzi and the running back duo of Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton wears out the defense. Iowa’s offense is tough, resilient and they don’t make mistakes. Whether it’s on offense or defense, Penn State just doesn’t match up… Prediction: Iowa
Check back on Monday for my recap of all the weekend action.
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