Wednesday, September 10, 2008

From The Horse’s Mouth: Week 3 Spotlight games

Two weeks is hardly enough time to clarify the overall picture for 119 programs. But as we enter week three, we should start separating true contenders from preseason pretenders. After some lackluster performances in the second week, there are quite a few programs that need this coming weekend for image repair. The most spotlighted game for week 3 is Ohio State and USC, which is already previewed here. But there are several other games of interest that will make for another exciting weekend of fantastic finishes and upsets.

(13) Kansas at (19) South Florida

The Horse’s must see rating: 10

Quickie: This game is a perfect indication of how much college football has changed in the last 4 years. 4 years ago, this match up doesn’t even get a mention. If it did, it would be viewed as the often underachieving Jayhawks selecting a cupcake for automatic victory, and would probably be played in Kansas.

Last Week: W- Louisiana Tech

I spent the majority of 2007 projecting the Jayhawks to lose games. And at the end of each week, they served up a new plate of crow. The fighting Manginos finished 12-1 with a BCS bowl victory, but I still remain skeptical. Yes, the program has showed major improvement, but there's a question of whether or not the one loss was a reflection of power or scheduling. They can provide further proof of their arrival, by showing the same success this season as last.

Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing is one of the most underrated players in college football, at any position. Somehow, his 33 touchdown passes in 2007 were overshadowed by passers from more prominent football programs. Someone says “Kansas” and the brain registers “hoops, but this program has the opportunity redirect our way of thinking. JayHawk receiver Dezmon Briscoe has been one of the most productive in the nation after just two games played. In two contests, be it against lesser opponents, Briscoe has over 200 yards receiving, while finding the end zone 4 times.

The Jayhawks defense has power on the defensive ends. Both Russell Brorsen and John Larson are on the Lott Trophy watch list. The secondary took a hit with the loss of Aqib Talib, but they still have Chris Harris, who was named Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year in 2007. Starting 10 games as a true freshman, Harris is now alone in the spotlight. They also return a linebacking unit that ranked second in the Big 12 against the run in 2007.

BULLS (2-0)
Last week: W-UCF

By now, everyone should know the story of South Florida. As little as 3 years ago, they were the FBS cupcake, but is hardly the meal to fulfill your sweet tooth today. Upset kings East Carolina are the early talk of 2008. But what some don’t realize is the South Florida Bulls are looking to upset their 4th consecutive ranked opponent, going back to last year.

The Bulls’ offense is all about quarterback Matt Grothe. Last week they barely survived in overtime against UCF, with Grothe not only passing for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns, but also adding another 54 on the ground. The ground work should be no surprise, seeing that he has led the Bulls in rushing the past 2 seasons.

South Florida’s 2007 upsets of Auburn and West Virginia came on the might of their defense, and they’ll be challenged against this Jayhawks offense once more. NFL prospect George Selvie becomes the biggest name, with cornerback Mike Jenkins now employed by the Dallas Cowboys.

Xtra Points: Is this going to be my Kansas “proof” game? I don’t think so. South Florida isn’t as balanced offensively as the majority of their Big 12 powers. They could very well walk away with this victory, and though the Bulls are ranked, it still wouldn’t be enough to make me slot them among the more serious contenders.

All Time Series: Only one meeting recorded. Kansas 13, South Florida 7. September 23, 2006.

Michigan at Notre Dame

The Horse’s must see rating: 6

Quickie: Okay, I’ll admit this game is spotlighted on name alone. Neither team is ranked, and the expectations on the season aren’t that great. But it is Michigan and Notre Dame, two of the most storied programs in college football.

Last Week: W- San Diego State

The Domers’ performance against San Diego State is inexcusable. This was easily an athletic mismatch on paper, but took on the semblance of the Irish battling for their lives against a heavyweight. I was anxious to see if 2008 would be the awakening in South Bend, but the offense appeared to be slumbering, as Rip Van Winkle begins year two of his nap. I’ve watched Notre Dame football for many years, but to see a team that lost to an FCS school in week one stay on the field, and in the game, in Notre Dame’s HOUSE, was clearly a new experience.

Whatever it is that Charlie Weis' Irish are trying to do with the offense isn’t working. I’m not going to blame the athletes, unless you can name a single 5 star player on that Aztec team. Okay, I’ll even settle for a 4 star. If I had to point to an area, it would be the offensive line. You’ll never see the full potential of Jimmy Clausen if you can’t protect him or support him with a decent running game. The Irish managed only 105 rushing yards against the Aztecs. In comparison, FCS Cal Poly rushed for 263 against that same opponent. Jimmy Clausen had more completions (21) than Cal Poly had pass attempts (20) in their victory. If you can’t run the ball, you’ll always struggle to win games, regardless of the quality of the opponent. And when you include 4 turnovers with everything already said, you can see why last week’s game became such a fight when it shouldn’t have been.

Last Week- W- Miami (Ohio)

Michigan also had their hands full last weekend, but theirs is a different problem. Unlike Notre Dame, who has consistency in the coaching staff and system they play, Michigan is in transition. The roster was gutted by graduation, early NFL entry, and transfers. It’s a program rebuilding from scratch, and going from a pro style offense to a spread. The greatest disadvantage in making such a drastic change in an offensive system, compared to one more gradual, is that it takes more than a year to recruit the proper personnel to run it.

But Michigan is still very strong on the defensive side of the ball, which will allow them to stay in most games. But even the best defenses perform less than average, when inept offenses lean on them repeatedly, leaving them to tire on the field.

Xtra Points: May the best offense win. Or should it be, “may the best defense win?” This one has all the makings of a defensive battle, with the aforementioned struggles of both offenses. Regardless of the winner, the losing coach is sure to get the most heat. And if that coach is Charlie Weis, the leash is shortened to the effect of a choke chain.

All Time Series: Michigan leads 20-14-1
Streak: Michigan has won 2

(2) Georgia at South Carolina: Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford face their first stiff test of 2008. Steve Spurrier is desperately in need of wins, and taking down this SEC Eastern foe will bring an immediate boost in team confidence.

Arkansas at (8) Texas: An old rivalry renewed. This game may be impacted by Hurricane Ike, making for sloppy conditions and limited performances.

(16) Oregon at Purdue: Another Pac 10/Big 10 match for the weekend. Oregon’s offense has appeared unstoppable, though their opening opponents won’t teeter on the top of any power rankings.

UCLA at (18) BYU: At 12 games, BYU owns the longest winning streak in the country. UCLA fell from the rankings without playing a game, providing more proof that voters have short term memory.

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech: ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit has been perfect in predicting upsets this season. This week he picks the Jackets to upset the Hokies.

(10) Wisconsin at (21) Fresno State: This would be my pick as a likely upset for the weekend. Pat Hill has played so many BCS conference contenders over the years that his program is hardly viewed as a mid-major.

Don’t forget, Kansas/South Florida is a Friday night prime time game on ESPN. Enjoy!

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