The Dozen: Rematches Galore
September 12, 2017
By Tony Mejia
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The ACC was set to dominate this week's festivities, packing by far the best 1-2 punch that any league has supplied in the same week this early in the season. Due to Hurricane Irma's vast impact, the annual Miami-Florida State showdown that is undoubtedly the conference's top rivalry and promises to be tremendous this year has been postponed until Oct . 7.
Georgia Tech's visit to UCF in Orlando was also canceled, so the slate for the third full week of the college football season is a few dollars short due to a heinous storm that interrupted the seasons for four of Florida's top five teams. There will still be plenty to track, beginning with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner looking to cement his favorite status for a second consecutive award.
Clemson at Louisville: Lamar Jackson topped the latest Heisman odds posted by Westgate SuperBook , coming in at 9/5 ahead of Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, who made the jump to 5/1 after helping post an emphatic win at Ohio State. Sam Darnold shined in helping humble Stanford, so he's stepped to the forefront and is considered to be in the top-three at 6/1. While there are a couple standouts at Penn State and others scattered throughout the country who can realistically compete for the award, Jackson could make it difficult for anyone to consider another option while he's still working his magic. No one will be able to question his dominance if he's able to lead of the Cards past a Clemson defense that just devastated Auburn by surrendering just 117 total yards and logging 11 sacks. In fairness, although Jackson looks sharper throwing the ball and just as elusive and explosive as he was last season, he's come up with over a thousand yards of total offense against defenses at Purdue and North Carolina that appear to have major issues. Dropping Clemson would likely make the 'Ville the ACC's top-ranked team, leaving only a visit to FSU in Tallahassee as the primary obstacle between it and a berth in the College Football playoffs. Clemson won last season's classic in Death Valley 42-36 after a Jackson pass on 4th & 12 gained just 11 inside the 5-yard line. Louisville has never beaten the Tigers, dropping three straight one-possession games by a combined margin of 15 points. Last year's win provided Clemson its first cover in the series and it has been made a slight road favorite here.
Texas at USC: The Longhorns getting blitzed by Maryland in Tom Herman's head coaching debut takes some of the shine off of this one, but he did get his new group to respond this past weekend after starting QB Shane Buechele was held out due to a shoulder injury. Maybe his pixie dust was just off in Week 1. True freshman Sam Ehlinger and wide receiver Jerrod Heard led the way under center in a 55-0 annihilation of San Jose State, but the hope is that Buechele can return to give the team a fighting chance in L.A. Darnold brought the goods against Stanford and has everyone in the NFL excited following a first weekend that featured some brutal performances from pros, so he can continue to build a buzz by excelling against a defense filled with elite recruits who were lit up by the Terps to open the month. Texas hasn't played against the Trojans since the Rose Bowl National Championship back in '06, undeniably one of the best college football games ever. For this want to be even a fraction as exciting, Buechele would have to be effective in returning to the lineup.
Tennessee at Florida: The Gators canceled their home opener against Northern Colorado due to Irma, so there's going to be no dress rehearsal before the lights come on for conference play in a big game for both programs. The days when both were realistically competing for national titles are over a decade old, which is a major reason why the head coaches are on the hot seat entering this SEC opener. The Vols barely survived against Georgia Tech in their opener on a national Labor Day stage, failing to come up with a cover but surviving in OT after rallying in the fourth quarter, so Butch Jones has already bore the brunt of heavy scrutiny this season. Meanwhile, Florida's Jim McElwain has alienated his fan base after running his record to 3-8 against ranked opponents in an embarrassing 33-17 loss to Michigan where it managed just 164 yards of total offense. Neither team has chosen a quarterback they can truly trust, which makes for an interesting atmosphere in Gainesville since there is a possibility the Swamp will turn against these Gators if they start poorly. Tennessee hasn't defeated Florida in consecutive years since '04 and has won just five of the last 24 meetings between these East Division rivals.
LSU at Mississippi State: Ed Orgeron's Tigers have made things look easy thus far, beating BYU and FCS member Chattanooga by a combined score of 72-10. If recent history is any indication, the Bayou Bengals will certainly be tested here, even though a 16-1 record in Starkville would appear misleading. Mississippi State lost last year's game 23-20 despite being literally run over by Leonard Fournette, fighting until the final seconds to secure a cover after falling behind 20-3. The comebacks are also a trend since the Bulldogs fell a field goal short of an upset despite trailing 21-6 entering the fourth. Mississippi State won outright in Baton Rouge in '14, so Dan Mullen's team will certainly believe they can take advantage of their cowbells and compete effectively enough to win outright. Dual threat QB Nick Fitzgerald is experienced enough that he shouldn't be overwhelmed by the LSU defense, but he'll need help.
Kansas State at Vanderbilt: The Commodores went to Middle Tennessee and muffled an offense that produced a win at Syracuse this past weekend, but we'll know just how seriously to take this group after this one. With Alabama coming to Nashville next week, Vandy can put itself in position to be taken into account with the big boys on the heels of a win over and nationally-ranked opponent. K-State has other ideas and will be looking to prove to itself that it can compete for a Big 12 title since the competition level it has experienced thus far can't be taken seriously. Who is legitimate? Both teams are well-coached and feature effective weapons, making this a game that should absolutely be on your radar. If Wildcats QB Jesse Ertz can gain chunk yardage and prove he can beat an above-average SEC defense with his run-pass, ball-control act, it could go a long way into guys buying in against the heavyweights within their own league.
Stanford at San Diego State: The Cardinal followed up last year's loss to USC with an impressive effort at UCLA and seek a similar bounce-back game here. David Shaw's team had major issues stopping the pass against the Trojans, but face a different type of challenge in San Diego since the Aztecs rely heavily on the ground game, although they've proven creative in manufacturing wigs to get running back Rashaad Penny the ball. He scored on a 95-yard TD run and scored on a 99-yard kickoff return and a reception to fuel Saturday's road win at Arizona State, so he won't be catching Stanford by surprise. Is there enough Talent on board at San Diego State to take advantage of the extra attention he'll command? This is a Super Bowl-type game for SDSU, at home and facing the prestigious school from Palo Alto for the first time since 1988. The Aztecs are 24-6 over their last 30 games, which is identical to Stanford's record. They've won 33 consecutive games when rushing for over 200 yards and are 41-2 under head coach Rocky Long when they get that accomplished, so look for what happens at the line of scrimmage to decide this. For obvious reasons,that favors the Cardinal.
Wisconsin at BYU: The Badgers got a tougher game last weekend than anyone expected, especially since Florida Atlantic QB De'Andre Johnson didn't make the trip to Madison due to medical issue. Despite the absence of their high-profile addition, fresh off serving as one of the driving forces for the latest season of Last Chance U., the Owls managed to be productive against a Badgers defense that had looked especially stingy in holding Utah State to 10 points in their opener. We'll be able to tell whether they just had an off week against FAU since this week's opponent has had an awful time offensively in dropping games to LSU and Utah, managing just 13 points in losing both. The Cougs have gone 5-3 following their last eight "Holy Wars," but have dropped two of the last three and also started slowly under second-year head coach Kalani Sitake last season, dropping three of their first four. These teams will be playing in Provo for the first time. This series is split 1-1, but BYU's last win came in 1980.
Ole Miss at California: Cal received devastating news when Tre Watson's knee injury was confirmed to be a season-ender, leaving the Bears without a senior running back who accounted for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns last year as a versatile backfield threat. Considering they struggled with FCS member Weber State after pulling off an upset at North Carolina last week, holding serve against a visitor from the SEC will require the team's most resilient outing of the season and will tell us a lot about the impact Justin Wilcox has had in his first few months since taking over in Berkeley. Cal hosts USC next week before visiting Oregon and Washington in the two weeks after that, so it's going to be interesting to see how they fare here since a win could ultimately make the difference between making or missing a bowl game. The Rebels have defeated South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin in Oxford to open the Matt Luke era as interim head coach, but this one will decide just how successful the transition will be. Win at Cal, you're 3-0 entering a bye week. Lose at Cal, you're 2-1, with road trips to Alabama and Auburn up next.
Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh: The Cowboys look even more like a national title contender after rival Oklahoma dominated in winning at Ohio State. The Sooners are favored to be undefeated when they travel to Stillwater on Nov. 4, which means that both rivals being perfect offers the Big 12 an opportunity to capture the nation's attendance. Even though Penn State didn't cover against Pittsburgh, they took care of business against a team that has the look of a .50 team, which means Oklahoma State has to shoot for style points here. QB Mason Rudolph has been as good as advertised thus far, and although the Panthers are probably better than they're given credit for defensively, they did lose a ton of talent currently residing on NFL rosters, which means Mike Gundy's team needs to escape this game unscathed if they don't want to forfeit their national title dreams. Oklahoma State held serve against Pittsburgh last year as a 3-point favorite, winning 45-38.
UCLA at Memphis: The Tigers were unable to play last week after Florida's governor closed schools throughout the state. Memphis arrived in Orlando but then departed quickly following that announcement. If nothing else, they'll be fresh for this matchup against the visting Bruins, who have seen QB Josh Rosen dominate thus far. The Tigers replaed the fantastic Justin Fuente with offensive guru Mike Norvell, who has a pro prospect in place thanks to senior Riley Ferguson, who threw for nearly 3,700 and 32 touchdowns in replacing first-round pick Paxton Lynch. The Tigers defeated Houston in last year's regular-season finale and will be salivating at the thought of pulling off this upset. Conversely, if Jim Mora somehow loses this game against an American Athletic Conference team, he's fried chicken. It remains to be seen whether Memphis can use the fact it has nothing to lose to its advantage since UCLA faces a ton of pressure as it looks to emerge victorious from this one.
Oregon at Wyoming: Future first-round NFL draft pick Josh Allen had a dreadful first outing against Iowa, but that was on the road against a strong Big Ten defense. Even though the Ducks pulled out a home win over Nebraska last week, they didn't exactly inspire confidence in surving a 42-35 win after leading by 28 at the break. Oregon not only went scoreless in the second half, but also let up far too many big plays in the passing game, so keep an eye on this one as a proving ground for both parties. Willie Taggart's Ducks look formidable, but they'll be playing their first game on the road under his watch and are coming off a near collapse while facing an elite passer. Oregon won the only meeting to date back in 2014, but that was with Marcus Mariota lined up under center. If this is interesting, Allen could solidify his legacy in Laramie.
Notre Dame at Boston College: Brian Kelly is the worst after losses. He berates media and throws players under the bus, so his defensive act after a terrible home setback against Georgia should come as now surprise. The Fighting Irish's head coach has helped lose nine of the last 14 games, but Brandon Wimbush does look like the real deal under center. He just needs polish. The Eagles fell behind Wake Forest quickly last week and have lost five straight against Notre Dame, but three of those games have been decided by four points or less. Don't write off Steve Addazio's BC squad, but they do face an uphill battle personnel-wise.
Others: Tulsa at Toledo, Kentucky at South Carolina, Arizona State at Texas Tech, Purdue at Missouri, Baylor at Duke; Army at Ohio State; Northern Illinois at Nebraska; Colorado State at Alabama; Tulane at Oklahoma.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA
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