Kind of a light week in college football this week before we gear up for a monster week on October 3. Just to wet your whistle a little bit for next week, here are some of the games on tap:
WOW. Five huge games there that either have huge implications on major programs (ND, Michigan) or potential national championship implications (Miami, Cal, USC, OU, LSU). It doesn't get much better than the month of October for college football.
Until then, let's take a look at the big games of week four.
Thursday September 24, 2009
Mississippi -3.5 at South Carolina (ESPN 7:30pm)
Jeremy: South Carolina (+3.5)
Ole Miss has run through the typical slate of tomato cans thus far while the Gamecocks have already played a few tough games. This is exactly the type of game that Houston Nutt has no business losing, but will anyway. Jevan Snead is a Heisman candidate? I guess all you have to do is start for an SEC school and have a big upset win over Florida. Carolina ices this one with a late FG.
South Carolina 31 Ole Miss 24
Dan: Mississippi -3.5
3.5 points is an odd line for the number 4 team in the country playing an unranked team. It just exemplifies how odd the Top 25 is in college football this year. Outside of Florida, Alabama, Texas, and potentially Oklahoma when Bradford is healthy, does anyone know what to expect out of any of these teams? I had been confident in USC, but then last week showed that even they aren’t to be trusted. This game presents an interesting match-up of under-matched O-Lines against strong D-Lines. I expect Snead to handle the pressure better than Garcia and for Ole Miss to pull away late.
Ole Miss 31 South Carolina 24
Matt: South Carolina +3.5
I don’t really pay attention to rankings this early in the season. I check out who is #1, where ND is and maybe a few upcoming opponents, but other than that, I don’t really get into it until October rolls around. So you can imagine my surprise when I looked this week and saw Ole Miss at #4. What??!! Are you kidding me? I mean, they haven’t played anyone! I think they straight up lose this game and go on to a Cotton / Citrus Bowl type year. Nice team, but let’s not go crazy here.
South Carolina 24 Ole Miss 21
Mike: South Carolina (+3.5):
Ole Miss, like Oklahoma State, is a program that must deal with unusually lofty expectations this year. Although I think that the Rebels are a sound football team, both offensively and defensively, they draw a very difficult assignment for their first true test of the season. Despite a tough loss at Georgia, the Gamecocks are athletic on defense, improved on offense and, unlike Ole Miss, battle-tested. Throw in a jacked-up Williams-Brice Stadium crowd that will be ready to watch their home team defeat a top 10 team and you have a recipe for disaster for the visiting Rebs.
South Carolina 26 Mississippi 21
Doug: South Carolina +3.5
First real big test for Ole Miss here. I can't believe I'm staring at the AP Top 25 and seeing Ole Miss at #4 right now. Fourth in the country!! Houston Nutt is doing a great job, but credit to Ed Orgeron for recruiting some serious talent to Oxford. Then again, they haven't played anyone yet. College football polls get more and more ridiculous every year. Why not just wait until October 1 to unveil the polls??
It's a Thursday night though, and I'm saying the Ole Ball Coach has one last magic trick in him. South Carolina is no joke this year. They've already played two really tough games to start the year and might be a little more battled tested than Ole Miss. South Carolina has the right mix to be an 8 win type team this year.
I see South Carolina pulling the shocker and winning this game. They'll be ranked on Monday if that happens. Deservedly so.
South Carolina 24 Ole Miss 21
Saturday September 26, 2009
North Carolina +2.5 at Georgia Tech (Raycom Sports 12pm)
Jeremy: Georgia Tech (-2.5)
Couple of head-scratching teams here. Last week’s game against Miami must have been a bit nerve-wracking for the Tech faithful. A physically superior team dominated Paul Johnson’s option attack and showed that when forced to rely on the pass, the Yellow Jackets are going to struggle mightily. Carolina doesn’t have the team speed of Miami on defense, but I expect Butch Davis will have a few wrinkles up his sleeve to slow down the option. But the Tar Heels haven’t looked terribly impressive yet this year. Their effort against UCONN was surprisingly poor – lots of penalties, mental mistakes, etc. I don’t think they’re quite ready to take the leap into the elite of the ACC.
GT 27 UNC 21
Dan: GT -2.5
Despite the fact that Georgia Tech looked lost against against the Canes on Thursday, I’m not ready to hop off the Paul Johnson bandwagon quite yet. Georgia Tech is still averaging over 240 yards a game on the ground. However, UNC is holding opponents to about 50 yards per game rushing. But the Tarheels haven’t played a potent attack like GT. If Dwyer is able to play at 100%, and he claims he is, look for GT to control the tempo and avenge the prior year loss at UNC.
GT 31 UNC 27
Matt: UNC +2.5
Have opposing defenses started to catch up with Paul Johnson’s offense? That game against Miami was probably more a testament to that athletes that are back on the U than GT’s ineffectiveness, but I will say this. If you can slow down their rushing, get a lead, and make them play from behind, Josh Nesbitt has not proven to be an effective passer yet. The last 6 quarters have been ugly. Meanwhile, UNC has been a total mystery. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and predict a mini-upset in Atlanta.
UNC 27 GT 20
Mike: Georgia Tech (-2.5):
Georgia Tech has been disappointing on both sides of the ball this year, but I have not abandoned the Paul Johnson bandwagon just yet. Johnson is just too accomplished to allow for the Jackets’ offensive malaise to continue, even against a tough Tar Heels defense and irrespective of whether Jonathan Dwyer is able to play. Likewise, a visit from a North Carolina offense that is bereft of explosive skill position players will be the elixir for the struggling Georgia Tech secondary. In an important early season tilt, the Yellow Jackets will survive and remain in the ACC Coastal Division race.
Georgia Tech 24 North Carolina 21
Doug: Georgia Tech -2.5 - LOCK OF THE WEEK
Big game to create a little separation in the ACC logjam. Georgia Tech is a better team than we saw against Miami. Their defense is a little shaky, but it's a home game against a North Carolina team that might be a little overrated. I think North Carolina might have been better last year.
One question I have about Georgia Tech though. How does Paul Johnson recruit players for that offense?? Does he just load up on tailbacks?? Seems like most high school recruits would shy away from that offense because they'd be afraid that it wouldn't prepare them for an NFL style offense. If you were a linemen, you wouldn't really even learn how to pass block. Wouldn't that hurt your draft stock?? I know Georgia Tech is a good academic school, and most players just want to go to college to win and don't really think about an NFL future. But I'm curious to see if their recruiting tails off at all under Paul Johnson.
By the way, speaking of North Carolina, why is Michael Jordan getting so much heat for his Hall of Fame speech?? I watched it on Youtube, and it wasn't that bad. If anything, it was hilarious to see MJ up there still wearing a hoop earring and trying to pronounce "championship" and "trials and tribulations." Nobody turns "championship" into a three syllable word like Michael Jordan. So he took a couple friendly jabs at Byron Russell?? People acted like Jordan still has this chip on his shoulder, but I didn't get that vibe at all. He was really just telling the audience what inspired him. I thought the whole thing was harmless.
Georgia Tech 27 UNC 10
Miami (FL) -2 at Virginia Tech (ABC 3:30pm)
Jeremy: Miami (+2) – LOCK OF THE WEEK
The “I Believe in Randy Shannon” 2009 Tour rolls on this week. Didn’t watch much of their game against the Huskers last week, but it sounds like the Hokies were not impressive at all. The Canes will force Tech to score this week, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to keep up with Jacory and the boys.
By the way, shouldn’t the rest of the college football world be downright terrified that Miami appears to be back? Yikes.
Miami 31 Va Tech 17
Dan: VT +2
Three weeks ago, no one would have predicted VT to be home dogs to Miami come week three. However, after two very impressive performances by the Canes, and some mediocre showings by Beamer’s bunch, here we are. I envision Beamer coming up with some creative schemes to slow down Jacory Harris. The sophomore has been playing out of his mind in the first two games, and I think he has a little regression in him. Look for a couple mistakes from him that help VT pull out a closeone.
VT 21 Miami 20
Matt: Miami -2
Game of the weekend! In the ACC! Who would have thought it. Virginia Tech needed a miracle drive to beat Nebraska at home last weekend. Miami has a better defense than Nebraska. I don’t think Ty Taylor gets anything going through the air, and I expect Miami to crowd the box to shut down true freshman Ryan Williams and put the game in Taylor’s hands. I’m calling for a low scoring game, similar to last week in Blacksburg.
Miami 17 VT 10
Mike: Miami (-2)
Virginia Tech received an absolute gift from the referees in its narrow escape against Nebraska last week, but the Hokies are struggling badly on offense. While Bud Foster’s defense should create more of a hurdle for Jacory Harris than the Canes’ first two foes, I expect Miami to make enough plays in the passing game to force Virginia Tech’s offense to put up some points this week. Look for another big road win for the “U,” which will set the stage for a huge showdown against Oklahoma next week in Miami.
Miami 24 Virginia Tech 17
Doug: Virginia Tech +2
I have no idea what to make of this game. On paper, I really see no reason why I shouldn't take Miami. They're playing great ball, they look like the better team than Va. Tech, and Virginia Tech is muddling through and winning ugly like they always do. I really should just pick the Canes and root for them since I'd like to see them have a great year. If they win this game, I think they should be #1 in the country on Monday morning.
But this just feels like one of those games where everyone has been telling Miami all week how great they are, and then they lay an egg at Virginia Tech. It's Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Do they ever lose these types of games at home?? Frank Beamer wins ballgames, especially in the ACC. He's been doing it for 20 years, and I see no reason why I should suddenly bet against him. Unless Miami is truly an elite team this year (which let's be honest has not been settled yet), they probably aren't walking out of Lane Stadium with a win. Virginia Tech just somehow finds a way. It's in the culture there.
Everyone is on the Miami bandwagon right now. I think there's good reason to do so, but that typically makes me cautious. When everyone is going one way, it's not a bad idea to go the other way. Teams are never as good as they looked the week before, and also never as bad. VT struggled against Nebraska, but they may show up and look great against The U.
This is a tough game for me to call. Miami has a higher ceiling than Virginia Tech, but VT probably still has a higher floor. As long as the Hokies do what they always do (run the ball, tough D, good special teams), you have to play a spectacular game to beat them. I know they almost lost to Nebraska, but that's what we always say about Virginia Tech. They almost lose. Those still count as wins though in the record books.
Give me the Hokes in a straight up win. I still think Miami has a very bright future though.
Virginia Tech 17 Miami 14
TCU +3 at Clemson (ESPN360 3:30pm)
Jeremy: Clemson (-3)
If this game were on the road, I would expect the Tigers to have a bit more trouble. But CJ Spiller and Co. will be too much for Gary Patterson’s boys in Death Valley. Another BCS pretender bites the dust.
Clemson 24 TCU 13
Dan: TCU +3
After last weekend’s poor showing by the Mid-Majors, this has bounce back game written all over it.TCU already shellacked one ACC team on the road. Expect their stifling defense to cause Clemson difficulties, while Joseph Turner continues to have success on the ground.
TCU 21 Clemson 17
Matt: Clemson -3
A lot of people I know are nervous about this game for Clemson, but I think last week proved a few things about these mid majors. Of course they’re capable of the upsets, as countless of them have proven in the past. But if a Clemson or FSU or Oregon shows up ready to play, the talent advantage is still overwhelming. I know TCU has a good defense, and I don’t feel great backing Kyle Parker in a big game, but I just don’t think TCU has the speed to keep up with CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford. You know that Dabo has been preparing for this game after all the whining coming out of the Mountain West recently, so I think they come out ready to play and win big.
Clemson 31 TCU 17
Mike: Clemson (-3) - Lock of the Week:
Although it is early in the season, I assume that TCU will have a strong defense given Gary Patterson’s track record. Nonetheless, Clemson appears to have an equally formidable defense and the Tigers should be more explosive on offense than the Horned Frogs. The combination of an overall talent edge and the Death Valley crowd will be sufficient to allow Clemson to win somewhat comfortably, thereby exiling another team with BCS-busting ambitions to its rightful place on the Isle of Misfit Toys.
Clemson 27 TCU 14
Doug: Clemson -3
Maybe I should watch what I say since the TCU fans will probably come over here again and burn us up, but I like Clemson in this game. Home game for the Tigers against a mid-major with less talent. TCU has a good defense, but is there anyone in the Mountain West with Clemson's talent?? As long as Clemson shows up ready to play, I like them to win this one.
I'm rooting for a loss out of Boise and TCU to get them out of the BCS conversation. Heavyweights only please.
Clemson 24 TCU 14
Cal -7 at Oregon (ABC 3:30pm)
Jeremy: Cal (-7)
Jahvid Best is a stud. Chip Kelly appears to be a dud. Must say I’m a bit surprised – of all the “coaches-in-waiting” I figured he would be able to make a fairly seamless transition at Oregon. Unfortunately for him, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Do the Duck faithful start preparing the pitchforks if he catches a beating in this game? Cal rolls, even on the road.
Cal 38 Oregon 23
Dan: Cal -7 -- LOCK OF THE WEEK
Autzen Stadium may be one of the most intimidating places in the country to play, but Jahvid Best is legit. Combine his incredible play with the steady performance of Cal QB Kevin Riley, and this could be the year Cal unseats USC atop the Pac-10. On top of that Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli has struggled so far this year, throwing no TDs and 2 interceptions. While Oregon should benefit from having faced some decent competition so far (Boise, Purdue, and Utah), the Cal offense will be too much.
Cal 34 Oregon 17
Matt: Cal -7
I actually watched a good bit of Cal’s game at Minnesota last week and they were really impressive. Jahvid Best is the real deal. He went for 5 td’s last week, and honestly I wouldn’t be shocked if he does it again. I can’t get that image of Oregon’s incompetence against Boise out of my head.
Totally unrelated side note – ESPN.com has become practically unbearable. I’m sitting here listening to music trying to look up team records and schedules and I can’t click anywhere on that site without some sort of advertisement playing or stupid highlight package going on. There are 4 things that keep me coming back – Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Beano Cook chats and Bill Simmons. Wading through the clutter to find a Gammons notes column or Beano dropping a World War II reference almost makes it worth it.
Cal 38 Oregon 20
Mike: California (-7)
Oregon looked better last week than its first two games, but they still appear to have some warts, particularly in the passing game. This week, the Ducks will have their hands full with the explosive Jahvid Best and Cal’s talented defensive front seven. For some reason, Best inexplicably spent a good portion of the second half on the bench against Minnesota in favor of Shane Vereen, although I presume that Best will be ready to carry the full load against Oregon. I give the Ducks a puncher’s chance (get it?) since the game is at Autzen Stadium, but I expect Cal to score another big road win to set the stage for a home showdown with USC next week.
California 38 Oregon 28
Doug: Cal -7
Big opportunity for the Cal football program this year. Probably the best chance they will ever get to break up the USC dynasty and play in the Rose Bowl. They have a mature team with the Trojans at home this year, and Jahvid Best is the Adrian Peterson of college fantasy football. If they can't get it done this year, I don't see them ever really getting past USC for the conference title. Cal has been the second best program in the Pac 10 for years, but I don't think they've ever played in a BCS bowl game. Gotta make it happen this year.
Oregon is struggling this year, but my only concern for the Bears in this game is that they'll be looking ahead to the USC game on October 3. Those "look ahead" games always seem to happen, especially when the team is on the road. Going to Oregon is no easy bargain.
My general rule on handicapping is to take home dogs all day long, but the Pac 10 never seems to play out that way. My theory is that Pac 10 stadiums and crowds are sort of lackluster compared to the rest of the college football world, so you're probably better off just taking the team you think will win the game. There are home upsets of course, but there are usually factors beyond homefield advantage that play a role. In the Big Ten or the SEC, home field really makes a bigger difference in performance. In the Pac 10, I feel like I've been burned several times picking intriguing home dogs and then they get blown by a superior team.
Cal is motivated and hungry, they have a veteran coach, and Oregon seems a little disjointed at this point. I think I'll go with the Bears to win and cover.
Cal 31 Oregon 17
Notre Dame -8.5 at Purdue (ESPN 8pm)
Jeremy: Notre Dame
Weis has handled the Boilermakers with quite a bit of ease during his tenure. Even the 2007 team managed to give Purdue a scare on the road. I must say I’m a bit nervous about Clausen’s foot injury, particularly since its his plant foot, but I really think that even if Dayne Crist gets the majority of snaps in this game, the Irish should win handily.
Purdue has been running the ball fairly well so far this year, so it will be interesting to see how the Irish fare against a team that tries to beat them on the ground. Look for Manti Te’o to see more action on Saturday.
Who’s going to step up for Michael Floyd? Robby Parris is a fairly well-known quantity, and Duval Kamara doesn’t seem able to replicate his freshman season, so it appears the brunt of the production will have to come from someone among Shaq Evans, Deion Walker and John Goodman. Scary thought.
But behind some strong running from Allen, Gray and Hughes, the Irish can put off their passing worries for another day as they win easily in West Lafayette.
ND 38 Purdue 21
Dan: Notre Dame (no spread)
This game, for some reason, really feels a lot like the 2005 Purdue game to me. Obviously people are more confident in the 2009 offense. But it’s a night game, in West Lafayette, with a high powered offense and a questionable defense against a Purdue team that just isn’t very good. I’ll let Doug ponder on all the specific details, but expect ND to run away with this one.
Matt: Notre Dame
Would I be surprised if Notre Dame won this game 42-10? No. Would I be surprised if ND won 42-40? No. Would I be surprised if ND lost 42-40? Nope. I guess that means in my mind the only constant with this team is that the offense will show up. And now even that might be in question with Floyd out and Clausen and Allen hobbled. Let’s not kid anyone though. ND should be able to win this game if Dayne Crist and Jonas Gray had to start. Purdue has MAC talent leftover from the end of the Tiller era. I know they have been a potent offense so far, but they lost to freaking Northern Illinois. At home! There are no excuses here for both a big win and marked improvement on defense.
Here are a few things I’ll be looking for:
1) Who steps up to replace Floyd. At this point, we know what Kamara, Goodman and Parris are. 3rd or 4th receivers at best. I’m more interested to see what Walker and Evans can offer. I think all Irish fans are hoping that Shaq rises up and snatches this opportunity. We need another consistent threat to make sure Golden doesn’t start getting doubled.
2) The D-line. I know both Doug and Jeremy have been asking for Ethan Johnson to be moved back outside, and I couldn’t agree more. His talent is being wasted inside. I know the coaches philosophy is to get the best players on the field, but if he’s playing out of position what good is it doing. It’s not like KLM and Kerry Neal have been tearing it up.
3) Manti. Time to get him in the starting lineup. You watch a team like Miami or FSU and there are freshman all over the two deep making plays. Manti needs to get on the field. He might be a little raw, but I think Toryan needs to become a reserve. The LB’s have been invisible since the Nevada game.
4) Harry Smith. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the only time I hear Smith’s name is if he is getting burned in pass coverage or getting a personal foul. Time to start giving McCarthy some help back there, or else see what Ray Herring or Zeke Motta have.
5) CB’s. This was supposed to be a strength and they’ve been getting torched. I suspect it’s a combo of lack of a pass rush and soft coverage by design, but gotta get it turned around. Blanton and Walls have not been impact players, and that is putting it nicely.
ND 37 Purdue 30
Mike: Purdue (outright)
Thanks to Kirk Cousins’s late-game brain lock, Notre Dame barely avoided the ignominy of a seventh consecutive loss to Michigan State, which would have been the deathblow to Charlie Weis’s tenure under the Golden Dome. Weis must stave off another potential job upset as the Irish travel to Ross-Ade Stadium to take on a Purdue team that suffered an embarrassing home loss to Northern Illinois last week. Notre Dame, as usual, is far more talented than the Boilermakers, but questions abound for the visiting Irish. As seen last year, Notre Dame’s offensive production dropped precipitously in the absence of Michael Floyd, who is likely out for the season, so others must emerge to fill the void. Unfortunately, Jimmy Clausen and Armando Allen are also banged up, thus complicating the task for Weis’s offense. On defense, the Irish have been terrible, which suggests that they will have problems handling Purdue’s elusive tailback, Ralph Bolden. In front of a frenzied evening crowd in West Lafayette, the cardiac Irish will, yet again, allow an inferior foe to hang around. Unlike last week, however, Notre Dame will fall short this time, so stay tuned for my discussions of potential replacement coaches.
Purdue 30 Notre Dame 28
Doug: Notre Dame
Before getting into the ND-Purdue game, I wanted to comment on all of the negativity that we've seen this week surrounding the ND football program. I gotta say that I am shocked at how down people are on this program. At the moment, I feel the complete opposite way. I actually feel BETTER about Charlie Weis and the direction of the program than I've felt in 2-3 years. Just when everyone seems to be ready to throw in the towel, I find myself seeing great signs of progress and a team that may even be on the verge of a breakthrough.
Up until this season, I was concerned that the performances of the last couple years were what we would come to expect from a Charlie Weis team. Lots of grab-bagging, smoke and mirrors, jump balls every other play, no intensity, talking about running it and then not running it at all, finesse attitude, no mental toughness, bad line play. That's the type of stuff we saw in 2007 and 2008. A team in complete disarray. Most of the time, we couldn't sustain anything for more than a series. And even when things were going well, we'd fold as soon as anything went wrong. Just bad football teams.
But now?? I see a team that actually looks well-coached in a lot of areas. Look at how crisp this offense looks. Look at what we have been doing on our opening drives this year. Just marching it down the field. Isn't that coaching from Charlie Weis?? Look at how well the offensive line is playing. Isn't that coaching from Frank Verducci?? Look at how well Armando Allen is playing. Shouldn't Coach Alford be getting credit for that development?? I think this offense is better than the offense we had in 2005. It's a balanced attack that can quick strike down the field but also can pick up short yardage on the ground when we need it. I don't even worry about running the football anymore. We can move it on the ground. A year ago, we were coming off a 20 yard rushing output against Sparty where we couldn't do anything on the ground.
Shouldn't Charlie Weis get a lot of credit for how good this offense has looked?? He has eradicated all of the inconsistencies of the 2007 and 2008 teams (and even 2006 for that matter) and might finally be coming into his own as an offensive coach for a college team. If the line keeps playing this well, this offense will put up points on every team left on this schedule.
And yet now people are "done" with Weis?? Huh?? You've supported the guy for all these years, and now you're done with him when this team actually looks like it's on the verge of breaking out?? Because we lost a heartbreaker at Michigan?? The team came right back the following week and made it happen against a Michigan State team that was jacked up out of its mind and playing for a coach who demands a lot out of them in Mark Dantonio. Michigan State might go on to win 7 games, but they played that ND game like it was the Super Bowl. And yet we got it done and came back with a great drive to take the lead (note: people only seem to be focusing on MSU's blown last drive, but we did some great things offensively to get the lead in the first place).
Sure, the defense looks shaky, and I'll get to that below. But there is a level of toughness and maturity to this team that we haven't seen in a few years. This offense is determined to score on every single drive, and not many teams are going to be able to keep up with that.
The perception from our own fanbase is that the Weis era is nearly over, but the perception nationally from the Ivan Maisels and Pat Fordes and Kirk Herbstreits of the world is that the arrow is pointing up on this program. People are watching our team and seeing a dynamic offense that looks awfully tough to stop. If the defense can mature a little bit and stiffen up, look out.
If you've thrown in the towel on Charlie Weis, fine. You may even turn out to be right if this team loses to Purdue or fades late in the year. There's nothing I can say that will probably persuade you back into the tent, but I do think this team's play on the field might take care of that for me. We are a lot better than people are giving us credit for, and I have a feeling that this team might prove that over the next few weeks. I think this team might end up being Charlie Weis' best team at Notre Dame.
ND has a good team this year. Seriously. It's time to get off the ledge and start buying in.
On to some keys to the game:
1) Talent: As is always the case in the ND-Purdue game, the biggest factor in this game is talent. This is what this game comes down to every year. It's freaking Purdue!! I think this line should be like ND -13.5. Purdue is probably about the 8th/9th most talented program in the Big Ten, and even that spot is borderline generous for them. Purdue steadily has brought in recruiting classes ranked in the 50s and 60s on Rivals.com over the last 4-5 years. People like to compare them to Michigan State, but they aren't anywhere near as talented as Michigan State (who usually is getting top 30ish type classes). Purdue doesn't stop the run, and they can't stop the pass. Their line play on both sides of the ball is at the mid-major level. They have a couple decent skill players and Elliot seems like he might be decent, but everything about Purdue is MAC level. Heck, they might not even be MAC level considering that they lost to Northern Illinois at home.
The 2007 ND team was probably the worst ND team in school history, and even that team was moving the ball against Purdue fairly easily throughout the game. Purdue is like Nevada or Hawaii or....well...Purdue. We whipped Purdue last year, and we were mediocre. They are only marginally better this year (if at all), and we are demonstrably better.
Every year, I read stuff on the web from fans who have worked themselves into a tizzy about Purdue and are worried that we'll lose to them, and then the game starts and we shove them all over the field and dominate the game. By the end of the first quarter, all doubt has usually been erased as to who the better team is. It happened in 2005, 2006, and 2008. We blow their doors off in the first quarter, and cruise from there.
Charlie Weis has proven one thing definitively in his time at ND. He OWNS Purdue. When we go up against teams with smallish lines that aren't overly quick or physical, we dominate those teams. The Nevadas and Purdues of the world have no answers for our offense because they can't get to the quarterback and can't cover our receivers.
There is no one on Purdue's roster who can hang around with Golden Tate or put any pressure on Jimmy Clausen. The last time there was this big of a disparity between ND and Purdue was in 2005, and we all remember what happened in that game. It's 49-21, sweetheart.
2) ND Defense: The only way I could see this game even being remotely competitive is if our defense completely lays down against Purdue. Purdue will move the football against us, but we just have to clamp down in the red zone and keep them out of the end zone. If we can hold them to three points or get some turnovers in the early stages of the game, we can blow them out of the building.
I know there are a lot of concerns about the Irish defense this year, and most of them are well-founded complaints. The only thing I would encourage people to do is to at least consider the possibility that this defense will improve over the course of the season. It might not become a top unit, but we really just need it to be serviceable to win against this schedule.
In some ways, I think our defense is where our offense was a year ago. There is talent, but it's young and inconsistent. Other than Ian Williams and Brian Smith, every guy in the front seven is basically in his first year starting/playing a new position. KLM hasn't played a down until this year, Te'o is new, Fleming is new, Ethan Johnson is in a new position, and Neal is playing 4-3 end this year. Right now, the front seven is still unsettled. Some of these guys might not even be starting or playing the same position later in the year.
Take a look at what is going on at Georgia right now with their defense. Georgia has had good defenses in the Mark Richt era, but they're really struggling right now. Does that mean Richt and his DC are suddenly bad coaches?? No, sometimes it takes awhile for things to jell. I'd be willing to bet that Georgia's defense will get much better as the season goes along.
Tenuta has a good track record. Perhaps he will turn out to be a bust, but maybe he's still sorting through his personnel and looking for the right combinations. The good news for him is that he has a great offense to bail him out while he figures things out.
I'm putting down an "Incomplete" grade on the ND defense through the first quarter of the season. That may end up being a D or an F if the defense costs us another game or two in the next month, but it's too early to write this defense off.
3) The psychological game -- From what I'm reading, this game will be a "Blackout" game for Purdue. It's a night game in West Lafayette, and we will probably get their best shot. One thing I've noticed through the years about night games at Purdue is that they usually come out flying all over the place in the early going. Once that initial surge is over, they usually have nothing left and good teams pounce all over them.
ND has to come out like gang busters in this game and look to put it away early. We have the talent to bury Purdue. If we sleepwalk through the first two quarters, we'll have a game on our hands and the crowd will keep them in the game. If we blow this game wide open in the first quarter, they'll deflate and the crowd will pack it in.
The key stretch in this game will be from late in the first quarter until halftime. Purdue will give us their best shot early, and it may take a bit for ND to settle in. The key for ND will be to regroup and impose our will on them.
4) Moustaches - It's Purdue week, so someone's gotta bust out the page of Purdue coaching moustaches. It still kills me every time, especially the strengths and weaknesses. Where else can you read that about a "hard-working, God-fearing" moustache or a moustache that causes dogs to bark viciously. The Private Eye!! Forgot about that one.
Purdue is a BAD football team. ND is a good football team. Ultimately, that is what this game boils down to. I think this game will be very similar to the 2005 ND-Purdue game. We jump all over them, put on an offensive fireworks show, Armando Allen runs for 175+ yards (if not more), and the defense does just enough to slow them down and keep them out of the end zone more often than not.
I might even go on record and say that Armando Allen ends up with 250 all-purpose yards in this game. 2-3 big screens and 175+ yards on the ground for #5 gives him the MVP award against the Boilmakers.
ND 45 Purdue 24
Mike: Iowa (+9.5)
This matchup always reminds me of one of my all-time favorite games: Iowa’s 6-4 victory over Penn State in Happy Valley in 2004. There should be some more firepower this year, but Penn State has been unimpressive against its home “gauntlet” of Akron, Syracuse and Temple. Despite the loss of Jewel Hampton, Iowa seems to have discovered a credible rushing offense with Adam Robinson and true freshman Brandon Wegher. In addition, Iowa’s solid defense should be able to slow the Spread HD attack of Penn State, thereby allowing the Hawkeyes to score the outright upset.
Iowa 17 Penn State 14
Missouri -7.5 at Nevada -- Nevada could be 0-3 after the game. I never bought into that Nevada hype from Swarbrick and others. They are a mid-major for a reason. I have no problem with tuning up with a Nevada type team every year, but a team like Nevada should never be considered a marquee opponent on the schedule.
Fresno State +15 at Cincinnati - Bearcat fans, you are a JOKE. How was this game not sold out weeks ago?? You can sell out the freaking Bengals (who have treated you like garbage for 20 years) and not a top 15 UC team?? It's a 35,000 seat stadium with very reasonable ticket prices. And you wonder why Brian Kelly is going to leave as soon as he gets a better job.
BC +2.5 over Wake -- BC might have the worst offense in the nation. Curious to see what they do leading up to the ND game. They always bring their best against ND, but it sounds like BC is a bad football team this year.
NC State -1 over Pitt -- If Pitt wins this game, they probably should be ranked on Monday. Not sure what to make of Pitt. They are probably the toughest game we have left other than USC, but it's still Pitt with Dave Wannstedt. I think the Wolfpack will win that game though.
Arkansas +15.5 at Alabama - Wow, who is actually taking Alabama -15.5 here?? That line is absurdly high.
Kentucky +22.5 against Florida - Man, why am I not driving down to Lexington this week to go to this game?? Would love to watch Tim Tebow in person one time.
Stanford -7 over Washington -- Bold prediction here, but I think the "Washington is back" bandwagon deflates significantly this week.
Iowa +10 at Penn State -- Let's go Hawkeyes! Do America a favor again this year and knock out the Nittany Lions.
Locks of the Week: