College Football Preview; Week 4

From Last Word on College Football, Tony Siracusa

Sitting in the pews at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, one is often taught about the virtues of giving, about the importance of helping those in need, offering to your community, imparting of yourself to others, and certainly, advocacy for a cause. Those are all important ideals, and certainly few would argue against the merits of altruism and magnanimity. But as I gaze upon the college football landscape this week, I see a plethora of teams that have been giving too much! Indeed, my fellow CFB parishioners, they have been too kind, too free with the gifts of generosity! It is time for some teams to rise up! To rise up and take back some of what they have given away, so as not to fall into college football purgatory! Now, I implore you, my fellow CFB parishioners, to stand up….to stand up and shout hallelujah! Good. Now sit back down before you make a scene at work, and let’s get ready for Week Four of the college football season:

USC (1-2, 0-1) @ Utah (3-0, 0-0); Friday 9pm EDT, Fox Sports 1

USC is trying to get back its “Trojan-ness.” Losing two games to top 10 teams is understandable, but they didn’t compete well in either. Now, Max Browne, who waited years behind Cody Kessler, is being replaced at quarterback by red-shirt freshman Sam Darnold, because apparently the unimaginative play calling was Browne’s fault. There is disgruntlement in the locker room, a reserve offensive lineman transferring, rumors of offensive coordinator Tee Martin being stripped of play calling duties and a general lack of Southern Cal swagger. Utah has yet to be tested in any significant way, and the Utes lost much of their offensive production from last year. They have yet to show a consistent offense, but the defense is strong and aggressive, recording 10 sacks by eight players in last week’s win over San Jose State. A 1-3 start for USC would have us suggest Clay Helton avoid the team bus on the tarmac at LA Airport.

Wisconsin (3-0, 0-0) @ Michigan State (2-0, 0-0); 12Noon EDT, BTN

These two are taking back tradition. The two Big 10 powers have not met in four years thanks to staggered conference schedules. Shameful. Expect Wisconsin to try to ground it out. Freshman Alex Hornibrook is likely to get the call at quarterback for Wisconsin after fifth year senior Bart Houston got yanked in the win over Georgia State last week. That means the Badgers are going to need to rely on the return of running back Corey Clement who sat out last week with an ankle injury. Michigan State is riding a high after dominating Notre Dame in South Bend last week. Quarterback Tyler O’Connor has five touchdown passes and a 73% completion rate. The Sparty story, however is the defense, which held Notre Dame to 57 yards on 25 carries last week. Hey, Big 10, give us back this game every year.

Florida (3-0, 1-0) @ Tennessee (3-0, 0-0); 3:30pm EDT, CBS

Tennessee is trying to take back its respectability in this game. The Vols have lost the last 11 in a row to Florida, but for two years now you could see things getting better in Knoxville. Now, many have picked them to win the SEC East. They have more talent and more experience. First they have to get over not only the hurdles on the field but the mental fortitude in what has become a bit of a helmet game. Florida comes in very vulnerable. Sure, the defense has given up less than 400 yards total and only 14 points but that was to the likes of UMass, Kentucky and North Texas. The Gators have yet to be tested. Furthermore starting quarterback Luke Del Rio is out with an injury and Austin Appleby will replace him; the same Austin Appleby who couldn’t crack the two-deep chart  at Purdue.

My colleague Mike Loveall provides some depth on this game.

Oklahoma State (2-1, 0-0) @ Baylor (3-0, 0-0); 7:30pm EDT, Fox

Oklahoma State is trying to take back its season after an official-botched loss against Central Michigan two weeks ago, and Baylor is trying to take back….well, Baylor is trying to take back the headlines that steer people towards football on the field and the not the debacle off-the-field, (keeping Art Briles and Shawn Oakman away for now would help). Oklahoma State is getting its offense where you would expect it. Quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for a school record 540 yards last week in a win over Pitt. The problem for the Cowboys is on the other side of the ball. The pass defense can’t stop a fly with a can of raid and seven fly swatters. They couldn’t contain Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush, and they have given up four pass plays of 50 yards or more, which places them next to last in the country. Baylor is getting plenty of offense as well with quarterback Seth Russell who is averaging more than 253 yards per game passing. The Bears are averaging 44 points per game, but it has been against Northwestern State, Rice and SMU. Saturday is true test time for both schools.

Stanford (3-0, 1-0) @ UCLA (2-1, 0-0); 8pm EDT, ABC

UCLA is trying to retrieve the hope that it gives away each year in this game. The Bruins have lost to Stanford eight times in seven years, covering all or part of two coaching eras in Westwood.  Stanford has become much more physical than UCLA. Jim Mora has improved the Bruins in his four-plus years and vowed to address the physical inequities this season. The defense has played very physical football and gotten better week by week. Josh Rosen is being very Josh Rosen…300 yards per game passing and four touchdowns to go with four interceptions. He has yet to have a full roster with him, because Mora has quietly suspended players every week this season for unannounced team rules issues. The offensive line continues to be a concern.  Stanford has nothing to prove. They are a top 10 team with the best all-around player in the country in Christian McCaffrey who has more than 200 all-purpose yards for eight straight games. Here is where the toughness comes into play. Last week in its win over USC, Stanford ran 37 plays from under center. They rushed the ball on 36 of them, and averaged six yards doing it. If UCLA can’t slow that down, Mora is going to hear about it from an increasingly restless choir/fan base.

Arkansas (3-0, 0-0) vs. Texas A&M (3-0, 1-0); 9pm EDT, ESPN

What are these teams trying to take back? Respectability in the SEC. Bret Bielema is in his fourth year at Arkansas, and every year we hear how he is close to putting the Razorbacks on the cusp of competing for the conference title. His teams get better year by year but stumble in the critical games. On the other sideline, we all know that Kevin Sumlin must feel like he goes into every game playing for his job. If it helps Sumlin to think about it this week, Bielema has yet to beat him. Razorback quarterback Austin Allen is having a good enough start to the season with a 67% completion rate and seven touchdown passes.  Arkansas, though, is having a tough time protecting him, and he has been sacked six times already. The offensive line job doesn’t figure to be any easier this week with Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett coming in. The Aggies have the best defensive end in the game and a defense that leads the nation in tackles for loss. Someone is going to get a big step towards viability. On the other hand, the game is at “Jerry’s World” in Arlington so if you mess up, it will only be seen on the largest LED monitor in the world. Hallelujah!

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