NEW YORK- By Robert Cowper
Each week we’ll take a look at the best upcoming matchups in college football. I’ll try to focus on games that are easy to find on the dial, and not all on at the same time; my hope is that you can use this as a reference to plan your college football Saturday.
Missouri at #7 South Carolina, 3:30pm CBS
Missouri, newly added to the SEC, pops up in our top games for a second time, but again, it’s not because of their own talent it’s because of the opponent. It’s almost like when the Nets market their games through LeBron James and Kobe Bryant coming to town rather than their hawking their own mediocrity. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t a bad team, but I don’t think they belong in the SEC.
Without a doubt, your eyes should be on South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore every single time he touches the ball. I don’t know if he’ll make the jump to the NFL next year, but if he stays healthy he should. He missed the last six games in 2011 and shouldn’t take any chances on a repeat injury ruining his pro prospects. Lattimore averages 4.9 yards per carry for his career and has 34 total TDs (a SC record 31 rushing). South Carolina beat East Carolina and UAB by 38 and 43 points respectively, but I think they are content with a low scoring game with heavy doses of their rushing game. South Carolina 20, Missouri 15
California at #13 USC, 3:30pm Pac-12 Network
USC lost so they had to drop in the rankings, I get it. But to 13? I think that’s ridiculous.
At the end of the season, I think USC will be better than teams such as 11th ranked Notre Dame, 10th ranked Clemson and fourth ranked Florida State. If I was a betting man, I would take the over on this game. QB Matt Barkley is going to come out guns-blazing and try to put Cal away early. Cal played Ohio State close last week and it should be credited to sophomore RB Brandan Bigelow. Bigelow had four carries for 160 yards and two TDs; yes, that was four carries. His TD runs were from 81 yards and 59 yards out. Those stats are not repeatable, but if they give him eight-10 touches, his explosiveness could translate into a game changing TD scamper. Ultimately, potential heroics from Bigelow, et al will not matter. USC 59, Cal 30
#18 Michigan at #11 Notre Dame, 7:30pm NBC
This is my game of the week. Last year’s Wolverines versus Fighting Irish game was incredible. There were three scoring drives in the last 2:16 of the 4th quarter. Michigan scored 28 of their 35 points in the last period to avoid an embarrassment on the celebration of the Big House’s first night game. This year’s matchup looks like it might be equally as close.
Michigan is 2-1, but their two wins were over unconvincing opponents in Air Force and UMass. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is 3-0 and has beat Navy, Purdue and Michigan State. I still believe the uncertainty at QB for Notre Dame will be their undoing, but maybe they have finally settled on Everrett Golson. After the first two contests, Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees had also taken snaps. Cierre Wood should be the No. 1 RB but there is some uncertainty there as well after Wood missed the first two weeks due to suspension. He, George Atkinson and Theo Riddick evenly shared the load against the Spartans.
For the last three years, Michigan’s offense has been all about QB Denard Robinson and that continues. Robinson already has a staggering 1,050 total yards and 10 TDs. He is the team’s leading rusher (351 vs. Fitzgerald Toussaint’s 92) and probably could start at WR too. I say that because the Wolverines have experimented with moving backup QB Devin Gardner to WR and have had some success. Gardner is a great athlete with good size and so far leads the team in all receiving stats (eight receptions, 155 yards, three TDs). This game will come down to which offense has the most possessions, and I give that edge to Michigan and their ability to move the ball with Robinson. Michigan 41, Notre Dame 39
#10 Clemson at #4 Florida State, 8pm ABC
More than likely, this is the game that will decide who plays in the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech (my ACC Coastal pick). Clemson has two headliners on offense in QB Tajh Boyd and RB Andre Ellington.
Boyd is a second year starter who tossed 33 TDs and rushed for five more last season. He is quick and physical, but isn’t your typical rush-first QB. In 2011, Boyd only averaged 1.5 yards per carry, so he’s not much of a breakaway threat, but he can certainly convert on a short 3rd down. Ellington has NFL-caliber skills and packs a punch in his small 5’9″ 190lb body. In 2011, Ellington rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 TDs and is on pace for an even greater season in 2012. After the first three games, Ellington has 328 yards and four TDs. He hasn’t been involved in the passing game yet this season, but he can also be a factor out of the backfield.
WR DeAndre Hopkins is the clear #1 target for Boyd; he has 26 receptions in 2012, while the next closest WR has nine. Florida State QB E.J. Manuel came into both 2011 and 2012 with Heisman talk, but he has not taken the next step as expected. He is accurate (65.3 completion percentage in 2011, 71.2% so far in 2012 against inferior competition) and in a similar mold to Boyd who is athletic but not a run-first QB. Through the first three games, FSU has had a very balanced rushing attack (six players have a rushing TD and five have 10+ carries) but they need to decide who will take the majority of their carries. Senior Chris Thompson is small (5’8″ 187 lbs) and sophomore James Wilder Jr. is the bruiser (6’2″ 226lbs), and together they do form a formidable duo, but one needs to emerge as the clear starter. The depth of Florida State, which got plenty of playing time in their first three blowout wins (combined 176-3), will be their advantage. Florida State 24, Clemson 14
#22 Arizona at #3 Oregon, 10:30pm ESPN
The Oregon defense is not very good. They allowed 34 points by the Sun Belt’s Arkansas State, 25 by Fresno State and 14 by FCS squad Tennessee Tech. That doesn’t matter, though.
Oregon famously runs their Usain Bolt-esque offense, which earns them more plays than their opponent. The rushing stats through three games are gaudy: 6.2 yards per carry, 987 yards, 14 TDs. RBs Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas are the best one-two punch in the nation, no question, but I still don’t trust freshman QB Marcus Mariota.
Their philosophy is that with their stellar athletes, more plays will lead to more points. It’s tough to argue with their success lately (they finished atop the Pac-12 the last three seasons), but at some point their luck must run out. Arizona won a close game in its first tilt this season against Toledo, but followed it with a convincing 59-38 win over Oklahoma State (similarly, they are known for a blazing spread offense with little defense). Arizona scored 22 points in the 4th quarter as they put away the Cowboys. RB Ka’Deem Carey starred in the game with 154 total yards and four TDs. QB Matt Scott passed for 320 yards and two TDs and added 55 yards and a TD on the ground. I expect similar numbers against the Ducks’ suspect defense. I’m calling for the upset. Arizona 44, Oregon 40