By Casey Keefe
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#1 Alabama @ #19 South Carolina: The Tide travel to Columbia to take on their third straight ranked SEC team. They passed the first two tests with flying colors, triumphing on the road against Arkansas and then pounding rival Florida into the ground. This week against the Gamecocks could be the ugliest of them all.
Steve Spurrier has a talented South Carolina team, but their offense relies way too much one man, quarterback Stephen Garcia. Its one thing to be carried by one guy – such as Michigan is with Denard Robinson – and beat less than stellar teams. But it’s a whole other beast to do so against the best team in the country. Alabama has been game-planning for Garcia all week long and will be zoned in on him come Saturday.
I’m not blown away with the Gamecocks’ supporting cast on offense. I think ‘Bama will make things awfully difficult for Garcia. He’s a dual-threat quarterback, capable of doing damage on both the ground and in the air, but he ain’t playing against Auburn or Kentucky. Expect him and the offense to struggle to move the ball past midfield on most of their drives.
To add insult to injury for SC, they are extremely weak on defense. They never play a consistent game and go through stretches of downright sloppiness. They have no idea what’s in store for them on Saturday. Forget about Greg McElroy and the passing game, SC will be way in over their head just dealing with ‘Bama’s run game. Mark Ingram is back to Heisman form and Trent Richardson is a monster in his own right… Prediction: Alabama
#12 LSU @ #14 Florida: The Tigers have to be the worst 5-0 team in the country. Not at any point this season have they’ve been sharp. In just about every game, their execution has been poor, their play-calling has been poor and their clock-management has been poor. In their lucky win last week against Tennessee they turned the ball over 4 times and committed 9 penalties… It’s safe to say if they repeat that this week against Florida they will be blown out, and blown out big.
LSU will be rotating two quarterbacks, Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. Fortunately for the Gators, both are horrible. They should be able to pressure and rattle Jefferson and Lee. The main battle to watch on this side is Florida’s defense against running back Stevan Ridley. Based on LSU’s passing struggles and Florida’s stingy secondary, the only way LSU will be able to move the ball is if Ridley can get going on the ground.
Keep an eye on Gator quarterback John Brantley. He’s banged up with bruised ribs and there’s no telling how healthy or effective he’ll be come Saturday. Freshman backup Trey Burton will probably see some action. Unlike their offense, LSU’s defense is no slouch. They’ll have to be at the top of their games against not just Brantley and Burton, but Jeffery Demps and Mike Gillislee on the ground as well. Much like Brantley, Demps and Gillislee are both nursing injuries but are expected to play.
The game will be decided by which defense blinks first. I think it’ll be LSU because as sloppy as Florida’s offense can be, they are all in all just more sharp and crisp on a consistent basis. Plus, you can never overlook the advantage of playing a night game at home in The Swamp… Prediction: Florida
#23 Florida State @ #13 Miami: As heated as this rivalry is, this is actually the first time in four years that both come in as ranked teams. The stakes are higher, and if the trend stays true we’re sure to be in for a great game. The last nine contests in this series have been decided by less than 10 points. To quote FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher: “This is the reason why you come to Florida State…to play in these games”. I’m sure the feeling is mutual for Randy Shannon and the ‘Canes.
These are two similar teams to be honest. Both are led by strong, opportunistic defenses. They rank #1 (Miami) and #2 (FSU) in the ACC. On one hand you have the Seminoles who specialty is pressuring quarterbacks, as evidence by their conference leading 25 sacks on the year. On the other hand you have Miami who is loaded with playmakers in the secondary and feast off turnovers.
Offense is a different story for these clubs. They both have talented offenses, but tend to be mistake-prone at times. Even though both have solid running games, the vast majority of the offensive responsibilities will fall on the quarterbacks, Jacory Harris and Christian Ponder (shocker, I know). With the way both these teams apply pressure and take advantage of mistakes, whichever quarterback slips first may end up costing their team the game. It’s a toss-up, but I’ll take the home team… Prediction: Miami
#17 Michigan State @ #18 Michigan: It will be a welcome sight to see Spartan coach Mark Dantonio return to work after two weeks off dealing with health troubles. Dantonio put it best himself: You can’t keep me down on Michigan week”. He may be relegated to the press box, but his spirit and energy will be felt on the sidelines. On the field, both teams enter as undefeated 5-0 clubs. Needless to say, something’s got to give.
Michigan’s defense is far from great. They don’t always generate much pressure up front and are extremely vulnerable in the secondary. State on the other hand has a balanced offense led by dual-threat quarterback Kirk Cousins. They are also potent on the ground with Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell in the backfield. This unit will be able to move the ball and score on Michigan’s defense, that’s for sure.
The biggest question is obvious – can State stop Denard Robinson. The Heisman favorite is a one-man show for the Wolverines on offense. It’s insane how talented he is. He can beat you with his legs and his arm. You can never let your guard down against Robinson or he’ll burn you. Good news for State fans is that I think their defense, especially the front seven is smart enough and athletic enough to contain Robinson. It seems like nobody has been able to keep him under 500 total yards, but I believe State has the ingredients on defense to keep him in check… Prediction: Michigan State
– Gut check game for Stanford against USC. They were embarrassed last week against Oregon, getting outscored 28-0 in the second half. They’ll be facing an angry USC team that is coming off a last-second loss against Washington. Can Andrew Luck and company bounce back and keep their standing in the Pac 10?
– Can Notre Dame take the next step against Pittsburgh? The Irish were sharp on both sides of the ball against Boston College last week. Let’s see how Dayne Crist and company fare against the Panthers. The biggest obstacle for ND will be defending against Dion Lewis (if he plays) and Ray Graham. Run defense has been the Irish’s biggest crutch. They will be tested this week.
– Is Arizona for real? They sure looked it against Iowa a couple weeks ago. Following an off week, they better show up sharp against Oregon State or they’ll be picked off. The defense has been nasty, but I want to see more consistency out of the ‘Cats offense. The talent is there with Nick Foles and company, but can they play a complete 60 minutes?
– It’s time for another installment of “The Game” – UConn vs. Rutgers. I’m joking of course, but this has turned into a feisty rivalry over the years. Both these teams seem to be heading in the opposite directions. The Huskies have been playing real sharp since their loss against Temple, meanwhile Rutgers is fresh off a disastrous loss against Tulane. It’s a special Friday night game in Piscataway… Expect UConn to come out on top.
Check back on Monday for my recap of all the weekend action.
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