(Damn this job hunting...)
There's usually one or two of these weekends in the college football season where a bunch of ranked teams play each other. ESPN's Chris Fowler, who has given us such college football cliches as "upset saturday" and "woodshed game", describes these weekends as "Separation Saturdays." So, thanks to Fowler's employer, the name has stuck.
Usually these weekends happen during conference play, mainly because the top teams load up on patsies during the non-conference, and then they get into conference play, where they have to play all the ranked teams they avoided.
This year, partly because of the 12th game, and partly because of the quirks of preseason expectations, we have a "Separation Saturday" in September. And 3 of those matchups involve Big 12 teams.
So, for our first weekend preview of the year, we got a triple game of the week.
Big 12/Texas Game of the week #1
#17 Nebraska at #2 USC
7:00 PM ABC
(All Big 12 Markets)
This game is a lot more complex than it appears at first glance. Mainly because aside from the numbers attached to the two teams, we don't know what to make of their results so far. Yes, Nebraska is 2-0 and they are rated 11th in passing defense and 5th in total offense, but that was against Division I-AA Nicholls State, and middle-of-the-WAC Louisiana Tech. Neither of these teams is on USC's level of talent.
Conversely, it could also be argued that USC played a weak and overrated Arkansas team, who isn't on Nebraska's level of talent.
Still, Nebraska hasn't beaten a Top 10 team on the road since before most of the current Cornhuskers were even thinking about a college football scholarship (1997 at Washington). Plus, the game is in Los Angeles. Even though we're talking SoCal sports fans and not hardcore SEC fans, a road game is a road game, and in a close game like this one is shaping up to be, home field makes a difference.
Emmanuel Moody vs Nebraska's front 7
Everyone wants to talk about the recievers, but Moody, who steps in the slot vacated by Reggie Bush and LenDale White, needs to give USC at least 5 yard/carry on first and second down to keep the defense honest. Adam Carriker, Jay Moore, Bo Ruud, and company are a nightmare matchup for a lot of teams.
Key player for USC
John David Booty
Hard to believe, but Booty is making only his second collegiate start, and he hasn't seen a defense as fast as Nebraska's yet.
Key player for Nebraska
Lucky him, he gets to carry the offensive load for his whole team. If he doesn't have at least 100 yards, Nebraska is sunk.
Tale of the Tape
|USC offense vs. Nebraska defense||Push||Can Nebraska get enough pressure on Booty and shut down the run? Maybe for a while.|
|Nebraska offense vs. USC defense||USC||Now here's the million dollar question. Will Nebraska be able to run their offense effectively? Probably not. The defense is where the experience is on this team, and their DBs and LBs are faster than Nebraska's RBs and WRs.|
|Special Teams||Push||Neither unit stands out here.|
|Coaching||USC||Pete Carroll's has 1 1/2 national championships in the past 3 years, and his team played for the title last year. Bill Callahan is still an unproven commodity in the collegiate ranks.|
|Intangibles||USC||USC's players, even if they haven't played, have seen nothing but winning for the past 33 games. Also, USC's the home team, and Nebraska is 1-10 against top 25 competition the last 8 years.|
Big 12/Texas Game of the week #2
#18 Oklahoma at #16 Oregon
Saturday, 2:30 PM, ABC
(The only Big 12 market area not carrying this game will be KPOB in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, who will be carrying the Miami-Louisville game instead. Everyone else will get this game.)
Oklahoma has gotten off to a rocky start, and Oregon is feeling confident after beating Fresno State. However, OU has won the last 2 meetings against the Ducks.
Oregon backs vs Oklahoma run defense
Both UAB and Washington were able to run frequently on this team, though neither of them had the talent to sustain a running attack against a team like Oklahoma.
Key player for Oregon
Oklahoma had trouble with another mobile quarterback, Isaiah Stanback, last week, which bodes well for Dixon's chances this week.
Key player for Oklahoma
OU's big play threat must play well enough to get that 8th man out of the box and into the secondary.
Tale of the Tape
|Oregon offense vs. Oklahoma defense||Oregon||OU did not do well against Stanback and Louis Rankin. Now they face another mobile quarterback in Dennis Dixon and another star running back in Jonathan Stewart|
|Oklahoma offense vs. Oregon defense||Oklahoma||Kelly will have a breakout game against this secondary if Paul Thompson can find him.|
|Special Teams||Push||Dead even.|
|Coaching||Oklahoma||Bob Stoops has one national title and 2 championship game appearances.|
|Intangibles||Oregon||Oklahoma is the road team, and Autzen Stadium is a rough road game. Plus, the Sooners have been plagued by turnovers and inconsistencies.|
Big 12/Texas Game of the week #3
#23 Texas Tech at #21 TCU
Saturday, 4:30 PM, OLN
TCU is a tough team for anyone in any year, as Oklahoma found out last year. They recruit the Dallas-Fort Worth area well, their ball control offense keeps opponents' high powered offenses off the field, and their defense is tough to prepare for if you're not in their conference. Last time they played (in Lubbock) TCU jumped out to a lead before the Raiders roared back.
Combine that with Texas Tech's tendency under Mike Leach to play lousy on the road, and it's a bad situation for the Red Raiders.
Joel Filani vs Marvin White/Eric Buchanan
Whichever one draws inside reciever Joel Filani is likely to have their hands full.
Key player for TCU
Brown has been the leading rusher in both TCU victories so far. If TCU is to control the clock, it's up to Brown to have a 100 yard day
Key player for Texas Tech
True, Trlica hit the OT game winner last week. That obscured the fact that he missed both of his kicks in regulation. Trlica can not have another game like that.
Tale of the Tape
|TCU offense vs. Texas Tech defense||TCU||This is Texas Tech's first game against a run-first offense, and they've always had trouble stopping the run.|
|Texas Tech offense vs. TCU defense||Texas Tech||Even though the Horned Frogs roll 5 DBs in their base formation, Texas Tech has speed enough at all four wideouts to burn rovers.|
|Special Teams||TCU||Bears repeating: Trlica missed both regulation FG attempts against UTEP|
|Coaching||Push||I would give Mike Leach the edge here, except he usually has trouble with tough roadies.|
|Intangibles||Texas Tech||Yes, technically TCU is the home team here, but the Metroplex is home to many Red Raider alumni with cash, and they tend to pack the stadium when Tech plays any of the DFW area schools, effectively neutralizing any home field advantage.|
Big XII Games
Kansas at Toledo
Friday, 7:00 PM, ESPN
Teams who take games against MAC opponents for granted usually do so at their own peril. Let's hope Kansas takes this game seriously.
Iowa State at #13 Iowa
Saturday, 11:00 AM, ESPN
Iowa State should be encouraged that Syracuse took them to OT and the fact that they beat Drew Tate and company last year. Unfortunately that game was at home, and the Cyclones must travel to Iowa City this year.
Marshall at Kansas State
Saturday, 11:30 AM, FSN Southwest/Midwest/Rocky Mtn.
Last year, Kansas State needed a miracle to beat Marshall. This year? K-State is better overall, and they have a new coach and attitude
Texas at Rice
Saturday, 5:00 PM, ESPN2
Mack Brown and company get to take out their frustrations on Ex-Longhorn Major Applewhite, Rice's offensive coordinator.
Arizona State at Colorado
Saturday, 6:00 PM, TBS
A team in turmoil vs. A team that lost to Montana State and Colorado State. Take the Sun Devils.
Missouri at New Mexico
Saturday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV coverage
Rocky Long's unusual 3-3-5 Stack is tough to prepare for if you don't face it often, plus New Mexico beat Missouri in Columbia last year, and that was when Missouri had Brad Smith.
Army vs. Texas A&M
at Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN2
San Antonio is a military town, but all of Fort Sam Houston could show up to cheer on the Cadets and it wouldn't matter. Texas A&M should win this easily.
Baylor vs. Washington St.
at Qwest Field, Seattle
Saturday, 4:00 PM
This will be a tough neutral site game for the Bears as they, like Nebraska, have to cross 2 time zones to face a Pacific team.
Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma St.
Saturday, 6:00 PM
None of these games are going to tell us much, yet. OSU's first real test comes next week against Houston.
Other Texas Teams
Grambling at Houston
Saturday, 6:00 PM
Grambling may win the halftime, but Kevin Kolb and the Cougars will win the game easy.
North Texas at Tulsa
Saturday, 6:00 PM
Tulsa takes an easy home win against North Texas.
Sam Houston St. at SMU
SMU will probably win, but it will be close.
National Games of Note
|Miami at Louisville||2:30 PM||PPV||Louisville's chance to prove they are a top-10 program. Miami's chance to prove that they're not yesterday's news|
|Michigan at Notre Dame||2:30 PM||NBC||Michigan's recievers are the fastest that Notre Dame has faced to date, and Michigan's defense is better than last year.|
|LSU at Auburn||2:30 PM||CBS||In effect, this is the SEC West championship game, barring a complete collapse by the winner.|
|Florida at Tennessee||7:00 PM||CBS||While not as important to it's division as both teams still have to play Georgia, it's an important game for both coaches. Urban Meyer is still unproven at Florida, and Phil Fulmer is almost 10 years removed from his lone national title and starting to feel the heat. Plus, Tennessee's 2 wins are against a severely overrated Cal team and a squeaker against Air Force(?)|
|Clemson at Florida State||6:45 PM||ESPN||Yep, it's the Bowden Bowl once again. Both teams desperately need a win after lackluster performances last week.|
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
Sunday, Noon, CBS (KEYE 42)
Well, a few Texans fans thought I was crazy for giving their new offensive line an "F" grade in my preview. They quoted preseason stats, and tried their hardest to convince me how their O-line was better. They even questioned what reality I was living in. To them I say: Preseason stats don't matter, your pass protection collapsed last week against actual NFL blitz packages, and it's the reality where the Philadelphia Eagles got 5 sacks on David Carr last week and held the Texans to 70 yards rushing. Total.
The Texans now take on the Indianapolis Colts, who won last week against the New York Giants despite paltry rushing numbers
Charles Spencer vs Dwight Freeney
After getting his rookie initiation against the Philadelpha Eagles and Jevon Kearse, he now faces one of the NFL's better defensive ends in Dwight Freeney.
Key player for Houston
With Patrick Buchanon out with a foot injury, it's up to Sanders to step up and show he can play.
Key player for Indianapolis
Someone has to provide this team with a running game. Addai needs to justify his first round pick status. With the Texans giving up 4.3 yards/carry to Philly's tandem, this may be the game where Addai breaks out.
Tale of the Tape
|Texans offense vs. Colts defense||Colts||Offensive line still can't block well, now they are up against another good defense|
|Colts offense vs. Texans defense||Colts||Donte Stallworth had 141 yards in an unfamiliar offense. Now the Texans face Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. Without|
|Special Teams||Colts||Adam Vinatieri vs. Kris Brown. It doesn't get more obvious than that.|
|Coaching||Colts||Tony Dungy has the experience factor on Gary Kubiak.|
|Intangibles||Colts||Houston doesn't really seem to believe it can win yet. Besides, it's not January yet.|
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys
7:00 PM, NBC (KXAN 36)
Let's get one thing straight, Cowboys fans, Drew Bledsoe is the starter for the season, and if you think for one minute Tony Romo is going to save this franchise, you should be suspended for 4 games under the NFL's substance abuse policy. Furthermore, the offensive line can't hold their blocks, which makes things worse for everyone. Either Parcells is going to have to shorten the drops, or he's going to have to start running more screens and draws to get teams out of blitzing every time.
To make matters worse, the Washington Redskins, a team which swept the Cowboys last year, comes to town.
Dallas's O-Line vs Redskins' blitz
Gregg Williams is one of the best offensive coordinators out there, and he can give this Dallas line fits.
Key player for Dallas
If Bledsoe can stay upright and find his recievers, he can quiet the critics. That's a big "if"
Key player for Washington
Brunell is in a similar situation to Bledsoe in that Redskins fans will be calling for his head if he doesn't win this game.
Tale of the Tape
|Cowboys offense vs. Redskins defense||Redskins||Cowboys rolled up 10 early points on the Jags, and couldn't cash in. It's hard to see them faring any better against the 'Skins.|
|Redskins offense vs. Cowboys defense||Cowboys||Redskins offense coming off a lackluster performance against Minnesota.|
|Special Teams||Cowboys||If only because Mike Vanderjagt is healthy and Mat McBriar can boom it.|
|Coaching||Push||Gibbs and Parcells are both legends.|
|Intangibles||Push||Hard to tell who really has a mental edge here.|