Saturday Storylines: Week 4
SEC matchups should shed some more light on the conference pecking order
History says Boise State is about to stick it to the establishment one more time
Irish need some luck; JoePa on upset alert; T-Magic casts a spell and more
The 10 things we're buzzing about as Oregon State puts a fresh coat of paint on its practice field:
Seeking SEC clarity: Two things we know for sure: There is one truly excellent team in the SEC (Alabama) and one truly atrocious team (Ole Miss). It gets a bit hazy after that, but Week 4 should reveal a more definitive conference pecking order. No. 1 Alabama heads to No. 10 Arkansas in the game of the week -- and the biggest game in Fayetteville since 1979, the last time top 10 teams met. Alabama will almost certainly win this game, but we can learn plenty about Arkansas' defense and running game even in defeat. Then there's the matchup between No. 12 South Carolina and No. 17 Auburn, an inter-divisional faceoff that won't seal either team's SEC fate, but could go a long way toward proving these two deserve to be in the BCS conversation. South Carolina looked like the real deal in a Week 2 win over Georgia, but it turns out Georgia's not very good. Auburn keeps winning, but only just; the Tigers have won three of their last four games by a field goal. And then there's Florida, which must make offensive progress against an improved Kentucky team if it hopes to contend with Alabama in Week 5 -- or remain a top 10 team. As for LSU? Keep reading...
Do or die for Boise State: Any card-carrying BCS proponent will tell you that above all else, one reality makes college football great: Every week counts. Well, now the establishment has one more reason to hate Boise State. The Broncos face their day of reckoning not in the season's final week, but in a Sept. 25 home date with Oregon State, the last BCS opponent on their schedule. The conventional thinking goes something like this: If the Broncos, currently No. 3 in the polls, beat the Beavers, they'll remain in the national championship discussion until the end. Now of course, there's no guarantee Kellen Moore and Co. will run the table in conference play -- Nevada and Fresno State have both impressed -- but it's a pretty good bet. Still, first things first: The Broncos haven't lost a regular season game on the Smurf Turf in more than nine years, and they're not likely to do so now with so much on the line. Oregon State has a trio of studs -- tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, receiver James Rodgers and defensive tackle Stephen Paea -- but a defense that has allowed 453 total yards in each of its first two games won't be able to slow a Boise offense averaging nearly 530 yards per.
Irish need some luck: Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly to do one thing: win football games. And so neither Kelly nor the Irish brass can be too thrilled with the team's 1-2 start. But if leading Notre Dame to BCS glory was as simple as fastening one's chin strap, the Domers wouldn't have needed to hire Kelly in the first place. And really, Kelly and Co. are two plays from being 3-0. Michigan beat Notre Dame on a Denard Robinson touchdown with 27 seconds remaining, and Michigan State beat the Irish on an instantly infamous fake field goal in overtime one week later. It's not like Notre Dame is getting whipped. But here's the rub: Stanford comes to South Bend this week, and this Cardinal squad is a whole lot better than the ones Notre Dame has dominated in recent years. Stanford had lost seven straight to Notre Dame before notching a 45-38 win in Palo Alto last season, and has never beaten the Irish in back-to-back seasons. And while the Irish currently rank 102nd nationally in total defense (443.7 yards per game), Stanford ranks third nationally with 51.7 points scored per game. All those numbers could add up to one thing: a 1-3 start to Kelly's Irish tenure.
Can Temple pull the upset?: Penn State begins Big Ten play against Iowa next weekend, and JoePa's crew has plenty to fix between now and then. But the Nittany Lions can't afford to view Saturday's meeting with Temple as a chance to work out their kinks. The Owls are 3-0 for the first time since 1979, and though they've been outscored 76-9 in their last two meetings with Penn State, they're fully capable of pulling the upset. The biggest reason: the respective rushing attacks. After struggling in his first two games, a healthy Bernard Pierce broke through for Temple in Week 3, notching 169 rushing yards and two scores against Connecticut. Meanwhile, former stud Evan Royster has yet to exceed the 40-yard mark for Penn State. This is about as one-sided as a "rivalry" can be -- Penn State hasn't lost to Temple since 1941 -- but there would be something fitting about Owls coach Al Golden marching into his alma mater and notching the biggest win of his career.
Les Miles' hot seat keeps getting cooler: Very quietly, LSU has moved into the top 15. That didn't seem likely after an offseason full of hot-seat talk and an eyebrow-raising opener in which the Tigers barely held off UNC, but Miles' squad has crawled up the polls after dominating Vandy and Mississippi State in back-to-back weeks. The Tigers' SEC slate resumes against Tennessee on Oct. 2, but first comes an intermission against No. 22 West Virginia, the only Big East team currently worth discussing. On a week when the other ranked SEC teams are beating up on each other, the Tigers have a chance to rise further with a strong showing against the Mountaineers. WVU freshman Tavon Austin is the Big East's leading receiver on the season, and first-year starter Geno Smith is the league's top-rated QB, but the pair should get a rude awakening on Saturday in the form of LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Arizona looks to avoid a letdown: Arizona is coming off an upset win over then No. 9 Iowa, a marquee victory that could help propel the Wildcats to their first Rose Bowl season. Cal is coming off a 52-31 loss to Nevada, an embarrassing setback consistent with Cal's traditional see-saw tendencies. Can you say: "Trap game?" The Iowa win will only continue to matter if Arizona continues to win, which means the 'Cats need to channel the character and toughness they displayed against the Hawkeyes to avoid a letdown against the Bears. That said, with a defense as dominant as Arizona's has been (11.7 points per game allowed), the 'Cats can afford to come out a bit flat. (But only a bit.)
T-Magic casts his spell: Perhaps you've been too busy fawning over Denard Robinson to notice, but Nebraska has a game-breaking first-year starting QB of its own. Three weeks ago, true freshman Taylor Martinez didn't even know he was going to be the Cornhuskers' starter. Since then, he's passed for 392 yards and a touchdown , rushed for 421 yards and eight scores and sparked a heated online debate over an appropriately awesome nickname. (Not everyone likes T-Magic. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Stew.) He's also led Nebraska to a 3-0 start and No. 6 ranking. But while Michigan's success depends almost solely on Robinson's ability to slice up defenders, Martinez is just one cog in a well-oiled Nebraska machine. Albeit an important cog -- the quarterback position was Nebraska's only real question mark this preseason, and the 'Huskers look like a true national-title contender now that they've found some magic.
Michigan State soldiers on: Don Treadwell is the coach of a top 25 team. That wasn't the case last week, because Treadwell was filling his usual role as offensive coordinator, and Michigan State hadn't yet pulled off the stunning overtime win over Notre Dame that would send it into the rankings. The euphoria was short-lived; just hours after making the most daring call of his career, head coach Mark Dantonio suffered a mild heart attack. Dantonio was released from the hospital Tuesday and even swung by Spartans practice on Friday to visit with the team. But he'll be watching Saturday's game from home, not the sidelines. Northern Colorado shouldn't be too stiff of a challenge talent-wise, but the Spartans' real task will be staying focused after such a tumultuous week.
Wolfpack on the prowl: Is it time to start paying attention to NC State? Sure, the 'Pack have faced the very manageable slate of Western Carolina, UCF and Cincinnati, but they've still done what no other ACC team has: started 3-0. This week Tom O'Brien's squad, which has been a rare bright spot for the beleaguered league, faces defending champ Georgia Tech, which has not. The Yellow Jackets followed a loss to Kansas by scraping out an uninspiring win against suspension-depleted North Carolina and have allowed a 100-yard rusher in six-straight games. But freshman NC State running back Mustafa "Moose" Greene won't be as tricky to contain as QB Russell Wilson, who returned to form against Cincy (333 passing yards, three TDs) after struggling against UCF.
More mascot mayhem?: Was there a more shocking occurrence in Week 3 than the Ohio University Bobcat's premeditated attack on Brutus Buckeye? No, there was not. In an effort to provide perspective and answers, SI.com's intrepid team perused the annals of costumed clashes and reached out to those most affected by this scandalous display -- the mascots themselves. The takeaway is clear: The next instance of non-scripted mascot-on-mascot violence will not end so peacefully.
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