By Casey Keefe
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#5 Michigan State @ #18 Iowa: This is the best game of the weekend. It’s clear that the Big 10 is the finest conference in the nation and here we are with another classic showdown. It’s hard to find two teams that are more evenly matched than these two. Both clubs are led by very balanced offenses and tough, nasty defenses. Go down the line on both teams and you’ll find mirror images at every single position.
This is sure to be a close, tight game that goes down to the final minute – I have no doubts about that. While the Spartans defense is certainly legit, I think Kirk Ferentz and Iowa will look to establish Adam Robinson and the run game early on. If Robinson’s able to run with success, which I think he will be, it will make Ricky Stanzi and the passing game extra dangerous. If/when State lets their guard down receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos will kill them over the top.
On the other side of the ball is where the Hawkeyes will shine the brightest. Yes, they’ll be going up against an explosive dual-threat quarterback in Kirk Cousins, as well as a dangerous running game featuring Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell – but I think they’re smart enough, athletic enough and instinctive enough to contain the Spartan attack and limit their damage. Iowa always plays with 110% effort for 60 minutes, and they’ll need that tenacity and resiliency this week.
As I said, this is sure to be a close game that goes down to the final possession. The final factor that puts Iowa over the top in my mind is home field advantage. Kinnick Stadium is a very tough place to play, especially if you’re a Big 10 team coming in for a big game. Wisconsin got the best of them last Saturday, but I don’t think we’ll see a repeat of that scene this week… Prediction: Iowa
#6 Missouri @ #14 Nebraska: As I look at this game, two obvious questions arise… How will Missouri follow up their win over then #1 ranked Oklahoma last week? – Will they come out that same intensity this time around?… Also, which Taylor Martinez will we see? – The one who looked lost a few weeks back against Texas, or the one who regained his dominant form last Saturday against Oklahoma State?
The answers to those questions will go an awful long ways towards deciding this game. The Tigers have a tremendous offense led by quarterback Blaine Gabbert. He loves to pass the ball deep – Nebraska must be ready for that. And they better be able to apply pressure on Gabbert to limit his time in the pocket – something the Sooners failed at last week. The ‘Huskers defense has gotten lazy and let its guard down numerous times this season. Needless to say they can’t afford to do that against a unit as good as this Missouri offense.
The biggest thing to watch is how Taylor Martinez performs against the Tigers defense. All of you know about Martinez by now. He’s a dual-threat quarterback who really terrorizes defenses with his legs. Can he get free and go off against this Missouri defense? – It’ll be tough, that’s for sure. Despite allowing teams to move the ball on them, especially with the pass, Missouri does do an excellent job of clamping down in the red zone and keeping opponents out of the end zone. Martinez and the ‘Huskers must find ways to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals. Simple as that.
This will be another barometer to see if Missouri is ready for the big time. They’ve lost 15 games in a row against ranked teams on the road. Will that streak continue this week? – I think so… Prediction: Nebraska
#2 Oregon @ USC: Duck Nation is in an absolute frenzy right now. Their team controls their own destiny for the BCS national title. Standing in their way this week is an old friend, the USC Trojans. With the caliber of offenses we’ll see at the Coliseum on Saturday, It’s safe to say this game will be decided by whichever defense plays best.
USC is coming off a bye, but the last time they were on the field they played their best game of the season, dismantling California 48-14 in a game where Matt Barkley threw a school-record 5 touchdowns. With receivers as talented as Robert Woods and Ronald Johnson, not to mention a running back as explosive as Allen Bradford, Oregon will be up until their necks. They must find a way to put pressure on Barkley, while still accounting for all of his weapons.
When the roles get reversed is when USC will have their biggest trouble. Oregon has the top offense in the country, rolling up 569 yards per game and accounting for 55 points on average. Running back LaMichael James is an absolute machine and is no doubt the Ducks biggest weapon. Quarterback Darron Thomas is finally making strides and getting better. No longer can defenses just stack the box and dare Thomas to beat them – because he now can… The Trojans have a very shaky defense which allows nearly 25 points per game.
Although both offenses are prolific, the better defense by far is the Oregon Ducks. They may not shut down Barkley and company, but they’ll limit him. I don’t see any way the Trojans can do the same on defense. A lot of points will be scored – the majority by the Ducks… Prediction: Oregon
Michigan @ Penn State: Very few programs exude royalty quite like Michigan and Penn State. Even though neither of them are top teams this year, it’s still and always is a fun matchup whenever these two clash.
All eyes will be on the quarterbacks in this one. Denard Robinson hopes to keep his name in the Heisman conversation, but he’ll be going up against a very tough Nittany Lions defense. The secondary is strong and Robinson is still not too big of a passing threat – so Penn State should be able to stack the box and keep a spy or two on Robinson at all times to try and contain his ground damage. If they can do that, they’ll be in great shape.
On the other side is where big questions lay. Penn State freshman quarterback Rob Bolden suffered a concussion last week against Minnesota. His status is uncertain and will remain so up until game time no matter what you read. If he’s able to play he should have a chance to shine. Let me be clear – I am not a fan of Bolden. I think he’s downright awful. However, State does have a couple talented receivers and Michigan’s secondary is atrocious…combined that with the fact that the Wolverines will be keying in on stopping running back Evan Royster, and it adds up to a couple key opportunities for Bolden to let loose downfield. Whether he takes advantages of these opportunities or not could very well decide the game.
Despite the uncertainties at quarterback, I like Penn State in this game. It’s a “white-out” game at Beaver Stadium – at night… 110,000-plus going nuts. That along with the fact that Michigan is so damn one-dimensional is why I like the blue and white to prevail… Prediction: Penn State
– The new #1 team in the BCS is the Auburn Tigers. They’ll take their act to Oxford to take on the ‘Ole Miss Rebels. Although I’m not blown away with Auburn’s defense, it won’t one bit thanks to Cam Newton who will run wild on the slow, undermanned Rebels.
– Another big game for Syracuse as they head to Nippert Stadium to take on the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Orange picked up their best win in years last week against West Virginia… But all the renewed hype and hoopla will come crashing back down if they don’t win again this week.
– Gut-checks galore in East Hartford… Both Connecticut and West Virginia are coming off embarrassing losses. Now’s not the time to mess around with Big East play in full swing. We know the Mountaineers are a strong team – but the Huskies have been horribly underperforming this season. Yes, it’s been a circus at quarterback, but they’re still talented enough to win the Big East… The question is have they already dug themselves too big of a hole?
– Interesting game between undefeated Utah and Air Force. Keep an eye on this one… I don’t think the Utes will lose, but it sure won’t be a blowout. Don’t be shocked if it’s a close battle till the very end.
Check back on Monday for my recap of all the weekend action.
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