By Casey Keefe
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#1 Ohio State @ #18 Wisconsin: The Buckeyes celebrate their new #1 ranking by taking a trip to Madison to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. Surviving this test will be no easy feat for Jim Tressel and company. Wisconsin is nearly unbeatable at home, winning 40 of their last 44 games at Camp Randall.
I know Ohio State is perceived as this big, bad powerhouse – but they’re going to be in for a rude awakening come Saturday night. State has played a soft schedule to this point and has only left the friendly confines of the horseshoe just once. I’m not sure they’re prepared for what’s in store for them. Outside of their loss at Michigan State, Wisconsin has been downright dominant this season. They play an old-school power brand of football… Hard-nosed defense, run the ball and don’t make mistakes – that’s what this Badger team is all about.
Terrelle Pryor is a monster to deal with on the field. He’s matured into a legitimate quarterback and opponents must now respect his arm – not just his legs. Brandon Slaine provides a boost in the backfield and will need to be at the top of his game Saturday. I expect the Badgers to key in on stopping the run. They won’t necessarily dare Pryor to beat them through the air, but they won’t be overly concerned with him. They think that as long as they contain Pryor and Slaine on the ground they will be all set. I tend to agree with that. Wisconsin’s secondary is good enough to not require any extra help.
The most important battle will be Ohio State’s defense against John Clay, James White and the Badgers running game. The unit averages 241 yards per game on the ground, and if the offensive line plays up to their ability this could be a rough day to be a Buckeye. Scott Tolzien is a smart, tough quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes. I expect Wisconsin to use the run to set up the pass, and really control the pace and tempo of the game. The key is taking an early lead to set the tone. If they do that they’ll feast off their home crowd and use the boost to carry them to an enormous win of the so-called “#1 team in the country”… Prediction: Wisconsin
#12 Arkansas @ #7 Auburn: If you like offense this is your game. Arkansas features one of the best passing attacks in the nation thanks to Heisman candidate Ryan Mallett who averages 350 yards per game through the air. Auburn on the other hand relies heavily on their dual-threat quarterback Cam Newton who’s become a bit of a phenom. He leads the SEC in rushing with 112 yards a game – plus, his arm’s no joke either.
Both defenses are shaky to say the least. Arkansas’ unit is better but they’ve had their share of rough stretches. The question will be – which defense plays better? That’s what will decide the game. We’ll see a plethora of points scored between both teams, but whoever is able to really clamp down on defense towards the end is who will come out on top. As is always the case, I expect turnovers to play a huge factor as well. Auburn is mistake prone and so is Arkansas – even with the golden boy Mallett on their side.
Needless to say, this is a pivotal game in the SEC. The Razorbacks will forever have a chip on their shoulder after their devastating loss against Alabama a few weeks back. Meanwhile, you have to think Auburn got a luxury wake-up call last week against Kentucky. It took a game winning field as time expired for the Tigers to beat the Wildcats…but they did, and they remain undefeated. This game is a complete toss-up. Playing at home will certainly help Auburn, but I’m not sure they’ll have enough to get past Mallett and company… Prediction: Arkansas
Texas @ #5 Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have been waiting a long time for this one. They’ve been seeking revenge ever since Colt McCoy and the ‘Horns snuck away with a lucky win in the Big 12 championship game last year. The only difference this time is that a spot in a BCS game isn’t on the line…at least right away. Texas has fallen on hard times. They’ve lost two games in a row and are out of the top 25 for the first time in 10 years. Nebraska on the on the other hand has their best team in years.
Two factors will decide this game. The first being ‘Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez who will tear apart Texas’ defense. Martinez provides a dual-threat and is sure to keep the ‘Horns D off-balance. As long as he and his mates keep from turning the ball over they’ll be fine… The other key is the fact that Nebraska’s defense will absolutely smoother Garrett Gilbert and the ‘Horns offense. Texas is walking into a buzz saw. Their offense has been out of sync all year long and will be overmatched and overpowered against a defense as complete and nasty as the ‘Huskers.
This is another game where home field advantage will provide an extraordinary boost. Bo Pelini and company have lost enough sleep at night trying to get over last year’s loss against Texas. It’s revenge time and the ‘Horns are ripe for the picking… Prediction: Nebraska
Mississippi @ #8 Alabama: Boy oh boy would I hate to be Ole Miss in this spot… Here they are traveling to Tuscaloosa to take on an Alabama team who are fresh off having their perfect season crushed by South Carolina. No player on the Rebels has any idea what anger is until they step onto the field Saturday and line up across from one of Nick Saban’s boys… It’s going to get ugly.
South Carolina did the impossible last week – they stopped ‘Bama’s rushing attack of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. They moved the ball up and down the field and scored on the vaunted Tide defense. And they dominated the trenches, as evidence by their 7 sacks and numerous pressures on Greg McElroy… The Gamecocks deserve all the credit in the world. They caught ‘Bama on a bad day and were just the better team. Well, in case you had any doubts – history will not be repeating itself this week.
One thing to keep in mind here is that this Ole Miss team lost at home to Jacksonville State. Remember that? It’s safe to say that Eli Manning won’t be walking through that door… It’s true the Rebels have improved over the past couple weeks thanks to transfer quarterback Jeremiah Masoli finally easing into the offense. But that won’t matter this week. ‘Bama will be on Masoli like jelly on toast. He’ll hardly have air to breathe will the way he’ll be pressured come Saturday. Nothing will be let up on the ground, or through the air – and you mind as well count on a pick-6 or two.
Things will be equally as bad on the other side of the ball for Ole Miss. Their defense is atrocious, so do you think they have any chance to slow down Ingram and Richardson? – Me neither. Star receiver Julio Jones is banged up and looks to be a game time decision. Whether he plays or not won’t make a huge difference. Greg McElroy has plenty of other weapons to utilize. This game will get out hand early – very early… Prediction: Alabama
– Great game in East Lansing. A very underrated Illinois team takes on the undefeated Michigan State Spartans. Defense will be on display in this one. The powerful running game of State (Cousins, Baker, Bell) against a very strong Illini defense, ranked 20th nationally. Similar battle on the other side where LeShoure and Scheelhaase will be trying to pound the ball against Greg Jones and the Spartans defense. Tremendous battles in this game. Give Michigan State the edge.
– Big gut-check game for Michigan coming off their embarrassment against Michigan State at the Big House. They’ll stay at home to take on Iowa in a pivotal Big 10 matchup. Denard Robinson was shut down for the first time all year last week against State. Does Iowa have the quickness and athleticism to shadow and contain Robinson like State did? – I think so.
– Big game in the Big East: Pitt @ Syracuse. Surprisingly, the Orange have raced out to a 4-1 record, 1-0 in the Big East. They’re coming off a hard-fought win over South Florida and hope to continue their luck against the Pitt Panthers who desperately need a win. Syracuse has been solid in spots against the run. This week they get the dynamic duo of Dion Lewis and Ray Graham… Can they stop them? It’ll be a tall task for the Orange and I think it’s asking too much. It may be close, but Pitt will ultimately come out on top.
– Rutgers takes on Army in the first of hopefully many college football games at the New Meadowlands Stadium. Army is actually a pretty solid team this year. They’ll give Rutgers a fight. The player to watch is freshman quarterback Chas Dodd who has been turning heads in his limited action. He should be able to take a few more steps in his maturation and progression this week. Either way, Rutgers will win.
Check back on Monday for my recap of all the weekend action.
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