Saturday Storylines: Week 3
Weekends devoid of marquee games tend to be full of upsets and surprises
With nine nonconference games vs. BCS foes, Pac-10 can make statement
Boise State needs to wallop Wyoming after off week and Va. Tech loss
The 10 things we're buzzing about this week:
Expect the unexpected: Week 3 features just one matchup between Top 25 teams (No. 9 Iowa at No. 24 Arizona), and so it's been labeled a subpar slate bound to bore. But lest we forget, the Week 2 gems we were all drooling over (Miami-Ohio State, Penn State-Alabama, Florida State-Oklahoma) wound up being largely one-sided affairs. By their very nature, weeks like this often end up being some of the most surprising and exciting of the season, because anything other than straight chalk results means someone, somewhere slipped up big. Texas Tech over Texas is the most popular upset pick of the week, and for good reason. The Longhorns play ferocious defense, but Garrett Gilbert has yet to hit his stride and a starting tailback has yet to stick. And of course there's the matter of how Texas fared the last time it traveled to Lubbock. But this is hardly the only game with upset potential. Some questions to ponder before conducting your own Weekend Pickoff: How will Nebraska freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez fare in front of the raucous Washington faithful? Can West Virginia, the only ranked Big East team, avoid sending the conference into utter irrelevance by losing to speedy Maryland? Will Notre Dame's defense contain Michigan State's rushing attack and prevent the Brian Kelly era from a sub-.500 start? Is Tennessee capable of playing four quarters of winning football instead of two? Can Oklahoma contain the nation's most productive rushing attack? Does it still count as an upset if Virginia Tech loses? Etc., etc., etc. See, not so bad after all ...
Packed weekend for Pac-10: With the notable exception of Oregon, which plays FCS team Portland State, every Pac-10 team faces a nonconference BCS foe this weekend. For a league openly seeking to become more of a national brand, this is a golden opportunity. Because heavy favorites Stanford (vs. Wake), USC (at Minnesota) and Oregon State (vs. Louisville) will likely win, and because heavy underdogs UCLA (vs. Houston) and Washington State (at SMU) will likely lose, it's up to Arizona, Arizona State and Washington to help Larry Scott take over the world. Doing so this weekend will require upsetting a top 11 team. The best bet: No. 24 Arizona, which can put up points and which is capable of forcing Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi to relapse to his mistake-prone ways. The worst bet: Arizona State, which must go to the (un)friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium to face No. 11 Wisconsin. Somewhere in between: Washington, which hosts a No. 8 Nebraska team eager to silence the Jake Locker Heisman hype for good.
Hogs and Dawgs: Arkansas is 2-0 and ranked 12th in the nation. Georgia is 1-1 and outside of the Top 25. So why is all the pressure on the Razorbacks? Let us count the ways: 1) Arkansas has lost six straight to Georgia. 2) The Hogs are dealing with the "huge loss" (running backs coach Tim Horton's words) of tailback and kick returner Dennis Johnson, who's out indefinitely after suffering a "bowel injury" that required surgery last week. 3) While Arkansas' offense has certainly earned that No. 12 ranking, the defense has not. The Hogs have surrendered only 10 points this season, but when you're an SEC contender, results against Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe don't count. What did count: allowing Georgia to post 52 points in last year's meeting.
What will Denard do next? Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has been the unquestioned star of this young season, breaking records, leading the Wolverines to a Top 20 ranking and gaining fame for the Adidas Superfly, his cleat of choice. But while Big Blue needed a last-minute touchdown from Robinson to put away Notre Dame in Week 2, the upcoming game against Massachusetts should be well in hand long before the fourth quarter. Coach Rich Rodriguez hasn't said Robinson will see a reduced workload ("We'll do whatever we have to do to win the game"), but considering the one concern surrounding the budding superstar has been durability, it's hard to imagine Michigan letting Robinson take too many hits. Of course, Robinson only needs a couple of snaps to make his way to a highlight reel near you.
Boise's back in action: It's been less than two weeks since Boise's statement win against Virginia Tech in the opener. It feels like much, much longer. While the Broncos enjoyed an early off week, the Hokies put a serious wrench in Boise's ultimate BCS-busting agenda by losing to FCS opponent James Madison. It was already debatable whether Boise's two games against BCS competition would be enough to placate the anti-Bronco contingent, but Virginia Tech's Week 2 transformation into Virginia Commonwealth (yes, we're aware VCU doesn't field a football team ...) removes any wiggle room. Boise has to be perfect the rest of the way, and that begins Saturday night against a Wyoming team that last week hung with Texas for a half before falling 34-7. The voters will be watching. So will TCU and Houston, who face BCS competitors Baylor and UCLA.
Calling all ACC contenders: Week 2 was a bad one for the ACC. A really bad one. The top four contenders (Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech) all lost. Three of them (Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia Tech) were embarrassed. Lowly Virginia, which nearly upset USC, was arguably the conference's most impressive squad. What fresh horror will this week bring? It's almost unthinkable that the Hokies could be 0-3, but they lost to Week 3 opponent East Carolina just two seasons ago. The Seminoles mauled Week 3 foe BYU in last year's meeting, but Jimbo Fisher's squad is already displaying the same bipolar tendencies that plagued it in 2009. But let's not forget about Georgia Tech-North Carolina, which could wind up being a big one in the Coastal Division. The transitive property tells us North Dakota State, which beat Kansas, is better than Georgia Tech, which did not. North Carolina, meanwhile, is still fielding a skeleton crew in the wake of NCAA suspensions, but the return of tailback Shaun Draughn should take pressure off a Heels' passing attack that impressed in a Week 1 heartbreaker to LSU.
America's next top freshman: Last week South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore introduced himself to the masses with a 182-yard, two-touchdown performance against Georgia. Of course, recruitniks were already very familiar with the Duncan, S.C., product, who broke plenty of hearts on the Plains when he picked his hometown team over Auburn. The Tigers would have been even more miffed to lose out on Lattimore, the nation's No. 1 running back recruit according to Rivals and Scout, if they hadn't already landed Michael Dyer, the nation's No. 1 RB according to ESPN. Dyer hasn't found instant stardom like Lattimore, but his moment may have arrived. Auburn coach Gene Chizik has made it clear he wants his tailbacks and not quarterback Cam Newton to lead the team in rushing. With starter Mario Fannin nursing a bum shoulder, look for Auburn to hand off more to Dyer, who's averaging 6.2 yards per carry in 23 attempts.
Gators look to make statement: The Florida Gators are ranked seventh in the coaches' poll, 10th in the AP poll and 11th in SI.com's Power Rankings, which makes it slightly puzzling that so much of the coverage of Urban Meyer's team this season has ranged from concerned to downright alarmed. Luckily for Florida, Tennessee did just enough against Oregon last week (despite what the final score indicated) to make a Gators win this weekend mean something. Vols RB Tauren Poole might break off a few big runs, but on the whole Florida's defense will have no trouble handling Tennessee. And while John Brantley, Jeff Demps and the Gators can certainly get away with starting slow against a unit that allowed Oregon to score 35 second-half points, it shouldn't come to that. With offensive coordinator Steve Addazio emphasizing the importance of playing power football, look for running back Mike Gillislee to become a bigger factor in Florida's success.
The Tide roll at full-strength: Facing the defending champions is tough enough, but Duke has the real pleasure of drawing Alabama on the week when Mark Ingram (knee) and Marcell Dareus (suspension) return to action. How very fortunate the Blue Devils are. Tide coach Nick Saban said Ingram is "ready to go," but it remains to be seen how many carries the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner will get. Alabama will want to get Ingram in game shape heading into a big Week 4 showdown with Arkansas, but won't want to push him, especially with a "backup" as capable as Trent Richardson at its disposal.
No stopping the Ducks: On average, Oregon is scoring 60 points per game and allowing 6.5. On average, Portland State is scoring 25 per and allowing 43.5. Only Houston (122) has scored more points than the Ducks. Only Nevada (1,184) has notched more yards than Oregon's 1,167. Portland State is allowing 442 yards per game. Anyone else excited? This could be a bloodbath worthy of the arena.