This weekend’s college football slate spotlights shrinking violets, Bermuda Triangles, and purple-necked rage.
Oklahoma vs. Tennessee
In most walks of life, if someone were to put the moniker “Big Game” in front of your name, it would probably be a compliment–a reference to your ability to close the big deal, or rise to the occasion. However, in the world of sports such a moniker is most assuredly applied for the opposite reason.
And so it is that after years of folding like a lawn chair on national television against teams the Sooners were favored to beat, “Big Game” Bob Stoops, head coach of the University of Oklahoma, has found himself the most notorious wearer of that most dubious title. Some OU fans have become so disillusioned with the primetime shrinking-violet routine that they’ve actually cut the title down to “Game Bob.”
Stoops did a lot to help shirk the indignity of that title last year by beating a motivationally-challenged Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl. But, the aura of collapsing high-expectations still lurks around the Sooner skipper.
However, Stoops will have a chance to at least put the “Big” back in “Big Game” Bob when the Sooners host the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday night in Norman.
I expect the Sooners to win this game. However, merely winning this game isn’t enough for Oklahoma. Bob Stoops has spent the lion’s share of the last year or so talking an immense amount of smack about the SEC. Everything from calling the media’s praise of the conference “propaganda,” to taunting Texas A&M for their weak out-of-conference schedule.
With that kind of verbal onslaught directed at CFB’s “conference of champions,” Stoops needs a very strong showing Saturday night. Especially considering that the team he’s playing, the Tennessee Volunteers, rank at most as the seventh best team in the SEC. It’s kind of hard to sit there squawking about the hype surrounding the SEC as being mere “propaganda” if you struggle with, or God-forbid lose to, the seventh or eighth best team in that conference.
As impressive as their dual annihilations of Louisiana Tech and Tulsa were in the first two weeks of the season, Oklahoma still plays as an unknown. They simply haven’t been tested. Tennessee, though a middling SEC team at best, is still much improved from where they were last year, and should give the Sooners a test at least.
Oklahoma also needs a big win to keep their position in the polls. Auburn, ranked right behind OU at #5, averages over 500 yards of offense and over 50 points a game, and goes to play Kansas State next Thursday.
Even if Oklahoma beats Tennessee, but does so in lackluster fashion, they could find themselves slipping behind Auburn in the polls if the Tigers go to Manhattan and roll K-State convincingly, which in all likelihood they will do.
The watchword in this game will be defense. The Sooners have allowed only three points in the first halves of their first two games. The competition hasn’t been great. Still, that’s impressive. For their part, the Volunteers defense had only 65 tackles for a loss all of last year. So far this year they’re on pace for 120, having amassed 15 already.
The Vols are also getting off the field on third down. They’ve sent the offense packing on the “money down” on 24 out of 31 opportunities. So, expect strong performances from the defenses of both teams. But in the end, the dual-threat of Trevor Knight, plus Keith Ford and Sterling Sheppard, will prove just a little too much for an improving but young Volunteer defense.
So I’ll give OU the win. However, stay tuned to this one, because should “Game Bob” show up on primetime again and OU fail to close the deal, Twitter will be glorious.
Sooners 31, Tennessee 14
Georgia vs. South Carolina
Every good team has a Bermuda Triangle, a place where they go after dominating the rest of their schedule, and face plant. When Peyton Manning was in the SEC, that place was “The Swamp.” For Georgia, that place is Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. Despite the many high-scoring and high-ranking teams Georgia has churned out, no Bulldog team has scored more than 20 points at Williams-Brice in 20 years.
It’s their Bermuda Triangle.
Does this mean I think South Carolina will win this weekend? Absolutely not. But it could mean that this game is going to be awfully close. What’s also interesting about this game is that it features two teams who have undergone a complete role reversal in the last two weeks.
South Carolina was a consensus favorite to win the SEC East at the start of the year, before Texas A&M bushwhacked them. Conversely, very few thought Georgia would be an Eastern division contender. Yet, after dismantling Clemson they’re now the sexy pick to do so.
Bob Stoops should really take a look at Georgia’s scheduling next time he wants to nitpick the SEC. UGA opens with two Top 25 opponents for the third time in the last four years. That’s impressive. What’s alarming, though, if you’re a Georgia fan, is that the Bulldogs have never won both of those opening games.
However, this may be their best chance to pull that off. Georgia is well-rested after having last week off. They also bring with them, arguably, the best player in college football in running back Todd Gurley. This is bad news for South Carolina’s defense, since they’re obviously not as good as they have been in recent years.
Long gone are the Jadeveon Clowneys and DJ Swearingers. Instead, South Carolina finds themselves in a similar position as Alabama, in that both schools have talent on the defense. But that talent is young, and not where it needs to be.
Gurley will draw a ton of attention from the Gamecock defense, but don’t be surprised if Georgia coach Mark Richt uses this game as an opportunity to challenge his QB Hutson Mason. South Carolina has given up huge gains in the air over the past few weeks, and with all the attention going to Gurley, Mason will have ample opportunities to stretch the field in play-action.
Look for heavy doses of running back Mike Davis from South Carolina to keep Gurley off the field, plus some deep shots from Dylan Thompson to Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd. But in the end, Georgia will make a straight line out of that triangle.
Bulldogs 34, Gamecocks 24
Kentucky vs. Florida
Normally, Kentucky vs. Florida makes for an awesome basketball game, and a dumpster-fire of a football game. This may be the one year where the pigskin side of this rivalry actually holds its own. Both of these teams are vastly improved from where they were a year ago.
Kentucky had a Top 25 recruiting haul from last year, and those players are already paying dividends. The Wildcats are top-40 in every major category except rushing defense, including No. 1 in turnover margin and No. 6 in scoring defense. Kentucky is also 28th in 3rd down conversions, as opposed to being 117th in that category last year.
The Gators stats skew due to the fact they were rained out in week one and have only one game under their belt. But we saw everything we could want to see in that opening game as the Gators dominated on both sides of the ball on their way to a 65-0 win over Eastern Michigan.
I think this game is a dogfight that will be closer than most people think. This game means something to Kentucky. They’ve had it circled on the calendar for months, and running back Jojo Kemp was even talking some smack this week. Despite that, the Gators will win. Their players are older, more experienced, and they’re at home.
For Florida this game is huge for a different reason. The Gators travel to Tuscaloosa next week to take on a suddenly vulnerable-looking Crimson Tide. Remember, Florida got rained out week one. They haven’t had the same time to gel as a team that Alabama has had.
So a plucky, upstart, and talented Kentucky team with something to prove works as the perfect tune-up to get the Gators ready for Nick Saban, and whoever is playing quarterback for him two weeks from now.
Florida 37, Kentucky 23
Games to Keep an Eye On
Alabama vs. Southern Miss
The Golden Eagles gave up seven touchdowns to Mississippi State. So, for Alabama the only difference between last week’s cakewalk and this week’s cakewalk will be the color of the uniforms. But in the end this game is important for one reason and one reason only: Alabama needs to decide on a quarterback.
As mentioned above, Alabama hosts Florida next week and this share-and-share-alike QB competition between Blake Sims and Jake Coker may work fine against the likes of the Owls of Florida Atlantic. But try that with the Gators and you could end up getting rolled.
Look for Sims and Coker to alternate, and for Saban to name a QB next week–probably Coker–based largely on how that competition plays out in this game.
Notre Dame vs. Purdue and USC vs. Boston College
No, I’m not predicting upsets here. I am, however, predicting some pretty upset coaches, at least in the first half. Both the Trojans and the Irish are coming off massive, emotional wins over rivals last week. It’s very hard to come down from beating a Stanford or Michigan, and get amped to take on a Boilermaker.
Therefore, it’s probably going to be at least 30 minutes and at least two full-blown purple-necked rages for Brian Kelly, and at least 2 panicky text messages from Steve Sarkisian before the Irish and Trojans dispatch their outmatched foes.