Do you remember the last Saturday where the Southeastern Conference wasn’t home to a single, important college football matchup? Me either.
The nation’s best conference plays possibly the worst non-conference slate possible this week, with SEC opponents this week including: Florida Atlanta, Nicholls State, San Jose State, Lamar, Eastern Michigan, Sam Houston State, East Carolina, Ohio, Arkansas State, Toledo, and UAB.
Ole Miss plays Vanderbilt in the league’s only conference game; I am more intrigued by whether or not LeBron James will attend this week’s Ohio State – Virginia Tech game.
So what happens when there isn’t an important SEC game? Does college football just take the week off? Is College Gameday live from College Station for the Texas A&M – Lamar showdown?
As it turns out, there are a few other conferences with marquee games, and it’s their chance to steal the spotlight for at least a week.
#7 Michigan State at #3 Oregon, FOX (6:30 EST)
The first game of the season featuring two Top 10 teams also includes a major contrast of style. The last few years, Oregon has had more trouble with Stanford than they have with anyone else. The Cardinal have countered the Ducks’ potent, high-speed offense with a slow, physical style of play. Michigan State plays a very similar style to Stanford, which might cause problems for Oregon.
The Spartans won’t be anywhere close to Oregon in terms of team speed, and they’ll have to counter that speed by slowing the tempo. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook threw for 285 yards, three touchdowns, and only one incompletion in the Spartans’ opener against Jacksonville State; Cook will have to play efficiently and turnover-free if his team is going to pull off the victory in Eugene.
For the Ducks, their pace of play is going to cause problems for the Spartans. Turnovers obviously must be avoided against a Pat Narduzzi defense, but Oregon also must avoid three-and-outs. Keeping the Michigan State defense on the field is a major key to the game for Oregon. If they can check those boxes at the end of the game, they should emerge victorious.
This game has major playoff implications — (Sidebar: I love being able to use this phrase with college football now.) — as both teams are trendy picks to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. It’s a big game for the Big 10, a conference that desperately needs a win against another Power 5 conference. But it’s just as big a game for Oregon, a school that needs to prove it can win against bigger, more physical teams.
Prediction: Oregon 37, Michigan State 24
#14 USC at #13 Stanford, ABC (3:30 EST)
Steve Sarkisian’s first Pac-12 game as head coach of USC is a road game in Palo Alto. The Trojans were impressive against Fresno State in the season opener, but they will be tested this weekend against the Cardinal.
Stanford shut down UC Davis, 45-0, in its season opener, and Ty Montgomery was explosive nearly every time he touched the ball. This game really doesn’t have any divisional implications in the Pac-12, but a win would be a great start to the season for either school.
For USC to win, Cody Kessler must play very well, and the same goes for his counterpart, Kevin Hogan of Stanford. Neither one is expected to make dazzling throws, but they each must find a way to get the ball to their playmakers. Montgomery is a game-changer for Stanford, and he’s also a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball.
Prediction: Stanford 27, USC 23.
Michigan at #16 Notre Dame, NBC (7:30 EST)
This game is bigger for Brady Hoke than anyone else. Some consider this a make-or-break year for Hoke, although apparently not Michigan’s AD, after the Wolverines finished 8-5 and 7-6. After the injury to Ohio State’s Braxton Miller (more on that later), the Wolverines have an outside chance of winning their division. What better way for Hoke to silence critics than with a win over Notre Dame on the road?
The problem is that Notre Dame is better than Michigan right now. Whether or not they prove that Saturday night remains to be seen, but Brian Kelly’s squad has more talent and frankly is the better-coached team right now.
Everett Golson was sharp in his debut against Rice, throwing for nearly 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was an efficient 13-for-14 with 173 yards and three touchdowns against Appalachian State, but Gardner has been shaky against good defenses throughout his career.
The rivalry between the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish is coming to a halt after this year, which gives this game even more importance. For Brady Hoke, it’s a great chance to make a statement entering into a crucial year for his future.
Prediction: Notre Dame 26, Michigan 20.
Virginia Tech at #8 Ohio State, ESPN (8:00 EST)
This game was infinitely more interesting before the season started. Before Braxton Miller injured his shoulder, this game was going to be a real test for the Buckeyes’ unproven offensive line. The Hokies have a reputation they’re trying to uphold defensively, and this was their chance at a statement game.
Now, this game has no luster. Sure, Ohio State is still ranked in the Top 10. But its importance on the national level has diminished since it was announced Miller would miss the season. Ohio State, once thought to be a national title contender, now might struggle to win ten games.
The game is still a big one for Virginia Tech, as the Hokies have a chance to knock off a ranked team on the road. Frank Beamer’s team hasn’t been the same the last few years, but they have a realistic chance at winning their division this year. (Okay, so every team has a chance to win that division because it’s so terrible. Whatever.) A win over Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes could be a huge confidence boost for the Hokies.
Prediction: Ohio State 24, Virginia Tech 19.
The Big 10
Every week, we’ll rank the best 14 teams in the country in honor of America’s most confused conference.
Just Missed the Cut: Ohio State, Ole Miss, Arizona State, Missouri, Notre Dame