Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What to Watch, Week Nine

Missed out on deciding whether Louisiana Tech-Boise St. was a must see game. I didn't watch it, maybe you did. As I understand it, BSU was sloppy, but they got the job done.

All times eastern


Florida St. at NC State is worth watching (7:30pm, ESPN). An NC State win brings the Seminoles back to the pack in the ACC Atlantic. The Pack have been at home since September 16th after losing at East Carolina by six. The 'Noles goal is to run the ball, but more importantly is to not turn the ball over as on the season they are a -4 in that department (Wolfpack: +4). The three-headed monster at RB for FSU (Chris Thompson, Jermaine Thomas, Ty Jones) will need to move the chains to keep NC State's potent offense off the field, particularly the passing game led by Russell Wilson, who should eclipse his numbers from last season, but Wilson is close to his interception total from 2009 (11 that year, nine this season).


Oklahoma St. at Kansas St. (12pm, FSN) leads off the early slate of games. Justin Blackmon, who had another standout day despite his lowest catch total in a game this season (5 for 157), was charged in Texas on Tuesday with speeding and DUI. His status for the game is unclear (details here
). His ability to play will be huge for the Cowboy offense and could signal an increased workload for Kendall Hunter and that suits the Cowboys just fine as Kansas St. is the 3rd worst rushing defense in the FBS (230 yards per game allowed).

Syracuse at Cincinnati (12pm, ESPNU) is another game to keep an eye on. Optimism is high for Orange fans (myself included) after the win at West Virginia. Every game remaining on SU's schedule is winnable and three of the remaining five games are at home. Bearcats QB Zach Collaros may miss this game due to a leg injury and Chazz Anderson, who subbed in at the end of the game vs. USF last week, may be the starter. Its a role he has filled before as he went 2-1 as the starter in 2008. The Orange ran for 183 yards utilizing both Antwon Bailey and Delone Carter, and Carter has proclaimed himself ready to play after sitting out the 2nd half of the West Virginia game with a bruised hip. Both teams can be stingy on defense, but Cincy's pass defense can be soft at times (108th in the nation) with opponents completing 68% of their pass attempts (3rd worst in the nation). Ryan Nassib might be able to improve compared to his numbers against the Mountaineers as he threw for just 63 yards and 1 TD on an anemic 5-for-15.

Another Big East game to keep an eye on at noon is Louisville at Pittsburgh (12pm, Big East/ESPN Gameplan). The Cards have been very competitive in all their games and are coming off a shutout of Connecticut, the pick of many pundits to win the Big East. Pittsburgh has shown signs of life since entering Big East play and Tino Sunseri has looked like he "gets it" with seven passing TDs against one interception in the two Big East wins. Dion Lewis also had his 1st 100 yard outing of the season against Rutgers. Pitt's run defense has been stout this year allowing just 92 yards per game but will be tested by Bilal Powell, fourth in the NCAA in rushing yards per game at 143 yards per contest.

Three big ones highlight the mid-afternoon games. Starting in Iowa City as the Spartans aim for 9-0 vs. the Hawkeyes (3:30pm, ABC/ESPN). Michigan St. was tested as many expected vs. Northwestern and were able to gut it out in the end. Iowa is coming off a one point loss to Wisconsin and that takes them out of the Big Ten race for now. Iowa has an excellent run defense and running the ball is what Michigan St. like to do, but the Spartans can put the ball in the air as needed. The key to this one may be special teams, particularly the kicking game. Iowa has only attempted five field goals all year, making four, with their longest attempt (and make) at 40 yards. Dan Conroy is 13-for-14 and coach Mark Dantonio has had confidence in Conroy from 40 yards and beyond, making all four of those kicks including a 50 yard attempt. Note that Michigan St. also hasn't attempted a 40+ yard attempt since September and that type of rust for a kicker doesn't help either.

Missouri at Nebraska is the other game to keep an eye one (3:30pm, ABC/ESPN). The Tigers surprised me, and most of the nation, with the defense they brought to Oklahoma in their win. Meanwhile, Nebraska showed off a passing game from Taylor Martinez (5 passing TDs, 312 passing yards) that no one would expect from the Huskers. Heck, Martinez had 35 passing attempts and the most attempts he had in his previous starts? 17, less than half of the number he had vs. Oklahoma St. Martinez still got his numbers on the ground (112 yards) and the Huskers won't switch to an Air Raid offense anytime soon. Blaine Gabbert got the job done vs. Oklahoma but the Blackshirts will be another test as they were able to slow down Oklahoma St.'s high powered passing attack, even though they gave up 283 yards.

East Carolina and UCF are the third game (3:30pm, Bright House/MASN/WITN), and some of you are probably asking why this game is as big as it is. As of today, both of these teams are undefeated in C-USA play (ECU 4-0, UCF 3-0) and the winner gets sole possession of 1st place in C-USA East. Both schools still have to contend with Southern Miss, who is 2-1 on the East side, so this game will give one school a leg up. ECU is the two-time defending conference champion and starting QB Dominique Davis has the pedigree of leading a team through the crucial part of the schedule, winning the final two regular season games for Boston College in 2008 to clinch the ACC Atlantic Division. He also started the ACC title game and their bowl game.

Keep an eye on the Duke-Navy game too (3:30pm, CBS College). Navy is coming off an impressive and a win here will make them bowl eligible. And because the Mids have a single bowl tie-in, they will claim their spot in the Poinsettia Bowl if victorious. CBS College will have games involving all three service academies, including one we'll touch on later.

Baylor at Texas is interesting for a few reasons (7pm, FSN). First one is that Baylor is bowl eligible and ranked. If the Bears do make it to a bowl, this will be the 1st time they will represent the Big 12 in any bowl game. Texas is a head scratcher. Lose to UCLA, play decent and lose to Oklahoma, win at #5 Nebraska in a game they played so well defensively, then lay an egg at home vs. Iowa St. And the losses, those were all in Austin. A three game losing streak in Austin. Tough to comprehend. It seems at times that if the game is put in Garrett Gilbert's hands and he has to throw the ball, it plays into the hands of the opposition. Baylor hasn't exactly stopped anyone defensively this year, they've just been able to outscore the opposition thanks to QB Robert Griffin III.

The rest of the nighttime slate is appealing too, so stock up. The Pac-10 provides Stanford at Washington (7pm, Versus) and the marquee matchup of Oregon-USC. I think that Stanford should have little trouble with the Huskies and nothing this season has made me think otherwise, but the Huskies have a chance as long as Jake Locker can get behind center. Oregon-USC strikes me as a mismatch in favor of the Ducks, heck most Oregon vs. anyone matchups will do that the rest of this year. USC is 5-2 but doesn't have the defense that the Pete Carroll-coached Trojan teams prided themselves on. USC might be able to put some points on the board, but they'll need to keep up with the Ducks.

The Big Ten gives us Michigan at Penn St. (8pm, ESPN) and we get to see Denard Robinson on the big stage again. The Alabama game showed the nation that Penn St. is retooling this year and the Nits have struggled with teams they've typically beat, like Temple and Illinois. Those teams tested PSU on the ground and that's where Michigan will focus their attack.

Last game to look in on is Utah at Air Force (8pm, CBS College). This is the 2nd game in a three team round robin that will determine who should finish out the season as the MWC and have a chance to take an at-large BCS bid, at least in the case of TCU and Utah. The Falcons were held far below their average of 300+ yards on the ground, gaining only 184 vs. TCU, and they once again showed a sieve-like defense against the rush with 377 yards allowed. Utah has tremendous balance to its offense and boasts the 3rd best scoring defense. This game begins a strong five game stretch for the Utes to finish the year: vs. TCU next week, at Notre Dame on 11/13, at 5-2 San Diego St. on 11/20, then host BYU in the final MWC game for both teams on 11/27.

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