Sports

Casey’s Call: UConn Holds The Key; Week 4 College Football Preview

LSU football (credit: Butch Dill/Getty Images), Jim Calhoun (credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

LSU football (credit: Butch Dill/Getty Images), Jim Calhoun (credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

By Casey Keefe
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We are entering what will be the best weekend of college football to this point, but unfortunately as is so often the case, the biggest storylines apply to what’s happening off the field rather than on it.

By now you surely know all about Syracuse and Pittsburgh’s behind-the-back decision to bolt the Big East for the greener football pastures of the ACC. The move sent shockwaves throughout the entire college football world.

Thanks to Texas’ arrogance and greed, it seems like the Pac 12 is putting their plans for expansion on hold. As a result, it looks like the Big 12 may miraculously survive (sans commissioner Dan Beebe) since Texas and Oklahoma plan to stay put. The SEC will ultimately want to add one more school to their soon-to-be 13 team conference (with the addition of Texas A&M). Missouri is the likely 14th, with a reconsideration of West Virginia still a possibility… The Big 10 might go fishing for BYU, Louisville or West Virginia themselves.

The real helter skelter uncertainty lies with the Big East. As schools scramble in search of a scrap of stability, the world waits and wonders if the ACC will look to open their doors for two more schools. Connecticut and Rutgers are hoping for an invitation. Word is the ACC has its sight set on Notre Dame (who doesn’t?). But if they think Notre Dame is about to waive their Independent football status, they’ve got another thing coming.

I had wondered if UConn might take on the responsibility of “saving” the Big East. They are the crown jewel of the conference. If the Big East as we know it was to be saved, it would have be UConn who saves it. But new president, Susan Herbst, has made it clear that their priority is to jump to the ACC.

Being the most powerful man in the state, I thought maybe Jim Calhoun’s loyalty to the Big East might be strong enough to derail Herbst’s interest in the ACC, but by all accounts this is not the case.

Calhoun stated, “What UConn should do is put its head down and do what’s best for UConn.”

There you have it. Connecticut’s agenda is to do what’s best for them, which means making a play for the ACC.

Reports say most ACC schools are open to bringing in UConn and Rutgers. But there are a couple schools opposing the idea. I’d be willing to bet the house that two of those schools are Duke and North Carolina who’d be scared to share the same conference as the Huskies in basketball.

There’s so many ways this whole thing can shake out. There are so many questions to be answered… Will the ACC extend their arms to UConn and Rutgers? If so, will the Big East be able to survive? Will the SEC come to their senses and reconsider their idiotic decision to decline West Virginia an invitation? What will end up happening with the basketball-only Big East schools?… Only time will tell.

It’s sad and unfortunate that when the damage is done, the Big East will most likely be reduced to going after the Army’s, Navy’s, Air Force’s, ECU’s and UCF’s of the world. No disrespect to any of those schools, but man is that a rough group of candidates or what?

The bottom line is the future of the Big East conference, for better or worse, depends on the ACC’s decision whether or not to invite UConn… Stay tuned.

#2 LSU (3-0) @ #16 West Virginia (3-0) – 8 p.m.

No team has faced tougher tests than the Tigers through the first three weeks of the season. They have already taken on Oregon and Mississippi State, having beaten both convincingly. Led by the second best defense in the land, behind ‘Bama, no one can deny LSU is for real. They hold opponents to no gain or a loss on 46% of their rushing plays…and opponents are only completing 18% of throws 15+ yards, including three interceptions and no touchdowns.

What worries me about LSU heading into this game is their over-the-top cockiness and sense of entitlement. They’ve been talking trash all week and have vowed to shut out the Mountaineers. Problem for them is West Virginia has one of the most explosive offenses in the country. No, Noel Devine isn’t around anymore, but quarterback Geno Smith has taken his game to a whole other level. He and receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney will be a handful to deal with, even for a defense the caliber of LSU.

West Virginia has this game at home which will no doubt provide an enormous boost. Mountaineer Field is one of the toughest places to play in the nation, especially at night. WV has won 16 of their last 17 home games, while the Tigers are riding a nice streak of their own, winning 35 straight non-conference games–a streak which dates back nine years. Not too shabby.

Call me crazy, but I expect West Virginia to pull off the upset… Why? Well, I love the way their defense matches up against Jarrett Lee and LSU’s offense. Despite their second half letdown against Maryland last week, the Mountaineers defense is a very solid unit and I expect them to keep the Tigers in check. The bigger test will be on the other side of the ball where I expect Geno Smith and the boys to spread the field and chip away at that big bad purple and gold defense. The key will be for West Virginia’s offensive line to hold the fort. LSU is nasty at the point of attack. It’s imperative that the Mountaineers stand their ground up front.

Another reason why I like West Virginia is the home field. I said it before, I’ll say it again–Mountaineer Field is one of the most underrated big game atmospheres in all of college football. LSU won’t rattle, but the extra boost the crowd will provide the home team cannot be understated. Tomorrow night, there will be a few couches set on fire after what will be a close, intense, hard-fought Mountaineer victory… Prediction: West Virginia

#7 Oklahoma State (3-0) @ #8 Texas A&M (3-0) – 3:30 p.m.

If you love offense, this is your game. Oklahoma State averages 52 points per game, thanks largely in part to the deadly QB-WR combination of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Texas A&M’s not too bad themselves averaging 42 points per contest. As is always the case in games like this, it’s whichever defense is able to make the big stop which wins.

As much as I love the Cowboys, the cold hard truth is their defense sucks. The Aggies on the other hand know a thing or two about D. They’ll be able to get a little pressure on Weeden. Even though I trust Weeden not to make any dumb mistakes, when a QB is faced with constant pressure there is only so much he can do. Expect to see double teams on Blackmon at all times… I’m sure he’ll put up some decent numbers, but I’d be shocked if his streak of consecutive 100 yard games reaches 15.

The two factors that put the Aggies over the top in my opinion is their quarterback Ryan Tannehill who is a gamer and knows how to win, along with the fact that this game is being played at Kyle Field. Home field advantage is no myth in college football and College Station is home to one of the best crowds in the sport… Prediction: Texas A&M

#14 Arkansas (3-0) @ #3 Alabama (3-0) – 3:30 p.m.

This matchup seems sexy on paper, but I don’t expect this one to be all that close. Arkansas was very sloppy in their 38-28 win over Troy last week. Bobby Petrino looked like his head was about to explode on several occasions. The Razorbacks are a work in progress and quite frankly are not worthy of the #14 ranking.

Arkansas’ two biggest weaknesses will be what hold them back from putting up a fight in this game–their offensive line and secondary. Both units are very much mediocre and mediocre doesn’t cut it when you play a team the caliber of Alabama. The nail in the coffin for the Razorbacks is the fact that their star defensive end, Jake Bequette, will once again be sidelined due to a hamstring tweak. Without creating any pressure up front, Arkansas’ secondary will be picked apart early and often… Prediction: Alabama

Quick Hits…

- Missouri (2-1) @ #1 Oklahoma (2-0) – 8 p.m.: The Sooners have been hell-bent on revenge against the Tigers ever since they knocked them from the top spot a season ago. A spot they once again find themselves in, however this season they are much more experienced and improved. Plus last time I checked, Blaine Gabbert was no longer strapping on a Tigers helmet. Expect Oklahoma to improve their home winning streak to 38 by the time the lights shut off in Norman… Prediction: Oklahoma

- #11 Florida State (2-1) @ #21 Clemson (3-0) – 3:30 p.m.: The two best teams in the ACC Atlantic clash tomorrow afternoon in front of what is sure to be a raucous Clemson crowd. The Tigers youth, shaky defense and overall slow starts scare me…but I love the playmakers they have on offense, especially quarterback Tajh Boyd.  EJ Manuel will be a gametime decision for the Seminoles, and unfortunately for them, Manuel is only one of several walking wounded. Florida State is just too banged up to compete… Prediction: Clemson

- Notre Dame (1-2) @ Pittsburgh (2-1) – 12 p.m.: We finally saw flashes of what this Notre Dame team is capable of in their 31-13 bashing of Michigan State in South Bend last weekend. The Irish have dug themselves quite a hole and if they want to have a prayer to still reach their preseason goals they will surely have to take care of Pitt tomorrow afternoon at Heinz Field. The Panthers embarrassed themselves with an all-out collapse at the hands of Iowa last Saturday. The next time Pitt wins a big early season game against a legitimate opponent will be the first… Prediction: Notre Dame

Follow Casey Keefe on Twitter: @CaseyKeefeWFAN

Which is your must-watch game this weekend? Let Casey know in the comments below…