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Saturday's Slate: A Bit of Relative Calm Before the Storm

Posted: Oct 25, 2008

Although you can't take a week off in college football, this week seems like a palate cleanser before some of the biggest homestretch games are played.  November will feature great game after great game and next week's Swampland-sponsored Florida-Georgia Weekend Bash kicks off the beginning to Tribal Fever's Furious Football Finish.

Although Georgia-Florida and Alabama-LSU will still be the games that likely decide who will be playing in Atlanta in December, this week's slate of SEC games feature some old hateful rivalries and some new ones that could play out in the coming years.

Georgia @ LSU - This is a game that most SEC fans had circled on their schedule going back to the beginning of the season.  LSU remains the defending national champion while Georgia started the year as the consensus number one.  Today, both teams have suffered substantial beatdowns by SEC elites (Florida over LSU and Alabama over Georgia).

The winner stays in the BCS chase.  The loser hopes to go to Florida (either Tampa or Orlando) over Atlanta and Tennessee (Nashville or Memphis) come bowl time.  It's a long way to fall over one loss, but that's SEC football.

Both teams also have their biggest division games (Alabama for LSU and Florida for Georgia) looming.  Although these teams want to say its a both/and situation, it might be either/or which raises a big question.  What's more important - going to a BCS bowl or beating your mortal rival? 

This game and the ones directly following will answer that question.

Alabama @ Tennessee - Do we call it Fulmer's last stand?  It may well be.  Phil Fulmer's domination of Alabama during his tenure remains one of his accomplishments at Tennessee, but Nick Saban also has a history of hurting Fulmer going back to his days as LSU's coach.  The Vols win against Miss St was important.  Is there any way they can keep that momentum against what appears to be an Alabama juggernaut?

Kentucky @ Florida - For Florida, this game is either a great tune-up for Georgia next weekend, or its a trap.  Florida is a great team, but their concerns rest with their offense this season, specifically its ability to sustain its effectiveness.  To many, these questions were answered in their blowout win over LSU.

Kentucky is a scrappy squad with a very good defense.  This might be a bigger test than the Gators think.

Ole Miss @ Arkansas - Houston Nutt returns to Arkansas.  This won't be quite as raw as Saban's return to Baton Rouge two weeks from now because many in Hog Nation weren't exactly sad to see Nutt go.

Had this game happened two or three weeks ago, sentiment might have been different.  At that time, Ole Miss and Nutt were riding high with their win over Florida while Arkansas looked lost under Bobby Petrino suffering blowout after blowout.  Since then, Ole Miss has come back to earth and Arkansas has looked a lot better.

TF expects that Nutt will get his revenge today, but this will only make this rivalry simmer and scald as long as these two coaches remain.

It's another great weekend in the Big 12.  This league came into conference play with 5 undefeated and ranked teams (Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State).  Now, there are only three undefeateds standing and two face off.

Oklahoma State @ Texas - This could be the biggest game in Mike Gundy's career at Oklahoma State.  Program benefactor Boone Pickens might be hurting right now, but the Cowboys are quietly on the brink of breaking into the big leagues.

Texas, like Alabama in the SEC, has been impressive knocking off Oklahoma and Missouri, the two formerly undefeateds who were ranked ahead of the Longhorns.  It could just be their year.

TF thinks that a Longhorn stumble may be inevitable because the Big 12 is deep and tough.  Too many offenses can bury you in a heartbeat.  Whether or not it will be Ok St will be determined by dinner time today. 

We can say for sure that no Big 12 team has trouble getting up for Texas so we expect the Cowboys' A game today.

Texas Tech @ Kansas - The Red Raiders need to keep taking care of business until November.  Like Ok State, Tech holds destiny in their hands.

Kansas is tough as Oklahoma found out.  Tech needs to score early and often to keep hope alive in Lubbock.

Regardless of what happens, Mike Leach deserves the Big 12's thanks for redefining the league as a passing conference.

Colorado @ Missouri - The Tigers have taken it on the chin this year.  After their lofty heights early in the season, they stumbled against Ok State and were blown out by Texas.

The test of a team's character is its ability to overcome adversity.  Colorado is no pushover.  Pinkel's Tigers must step up and decisively win this one.

Oklahoma @ Kansas State - With respect to K State, this game should be a rollover for Oklahoma.  The Sooners are still a top team and want to keep winning to keep themselves in contention for a BCS bid.

Baylor @ Nebraska - It's tough to be a worst team in the Big 12 South.  Every other team in that division has BCS hopes.  However, Baylor looks much, much better under first year coach Art Briles.

A Baylor win at Nebraska would further show the caverous difference between the Big 12's North and South divisions.

Texas A&M @ Iowa State - How far have the Aggies fallen?  They need to beat the bottom dwelling Cyclones to prove that they aren't the Big 12's worst team.  Better years may be ahead for Mike Sherman's time in College Station, but this year has been hard to take.

After a lackluster beginning, especially Clemson's beatdown by Bama, the ACC has shown itself to have a fine future, if not for 2008 then for 2009 and beyond.  An influx of talent, both on the field and on the sideline, look to bear fruit in the immediate future.

Despite being a decent coach, TF lauds Clemson for deciding that they deserve better than Tommy Bowden's career of mediocrity - even his brother Terry agrees.  Replacing him with a coach that can get the most out of the talent he recruited will do even more for the long term perception of ACC football.

Virginia Tech @ Florida State - Kudos to Bobby Bowden, the only Bowden left standing.  Like his aging coaching brother at Penn State, Bowden has hung around and quietly turned around his team this season.  After looking shaky early on, the Seminoles are in position for the BCS.

Virginia Tech deserves our collective scorn for letting Boston College slip away with a win last week after they lead them the entire game.  For shame, for shame.

The Hokies seem a year away.  It would be good for the ACC as a whole to see FSU step back into the national discussion.

Virginia @ Georgia Tech - Are the Cavs for real?  What got into them?  They are back winning games against legitimate ACC teams having beaten Maryland in a rout and UNC in overtime last week.

Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson has been feeding the Jacket beast by keeping a chip squarely on his shoulder all season.  If Tech hadn't slipped up in Blacksburg, they would be the toast of their home state - something that seemed impossible at the beginning of the season with Georgia's preseason ranking of #1.

The Jackets must stop the Virginia roll to keep what could be a transformational season alive for their program.

BC @ UNC - College football is so tough.  UNC was looking at the same transformational season that Georgia Tech is having, and one OT loss to Virginia derailed it.  It's unlikely that any team with 2 losses in the ACC will be playing in Tampa for the BCS bid.

UNC does need to do the right thing by stopping the BC train.  Enough already with these pesky Yankees!

Wake Forest @ Miami - We're calling it right now.  This game might decide Randy Shannon's career at Miami.  After Maryland beat up on Wake last week, Miami should do the same, especially at home.

Miami has already let potential home wins slip away against UNC and FSU, two schools who compete directly against the Hurricanes on the recruiting trail.  They can't lose to Wake at home.

If you think that we are being too tough on Shannon, remember that former Hurricane assistant and current Auburn HC Tommy Tuberville could be available by season's end.  Getting Tubs would be a coup at Miami which has shown itself to be a program that always has great success when run by experienced head coaches like Jimmy Johnson (coming from Oklahoma State) and Dennis Erickson (coming from Washington State).

TF would like to see Shannon succeed, but we can't make excuse for him.  He has the talent, but it still hasn't shown itself on the field or on the scoreboard yet.

NC State @ Maryland - The Terps beat down the Deacons last week.  What will they do this week?  Logic says it will be a big win for Maryland, but they been all over the map this season. 

Maryland is still in the ACC race.  They need this one to stay in the game.  Virginia Tech, UNC, FSU, and Boston College finish their season.  This is their last gimme.

The Big East remains a thorn in our side because of its odd geography and small numbers, but at least West Virginia seems to be finding their footing.  While we remain skeptical of WVU's Bill Stewart as their long term answer, he deserves credit for righting their season with their Thursday night win at Auburn.  Former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez gained his credibility by beating SEC teams.  That's why Alabama pursued him so heavily.

After a murky beginning to the season, the Big East has some key games this week with their TF teams playing to keep their BCS hopes alive.

USF @ Louisville - South Florida has gotten a lot of mileage from their Kansas win.  No top 20 team has done less to deserve their ranking than the Bulls.  Louisville seems to have settled down after their early season whipping by Kentucky.

This game will tell the story of not just this year's Big East race, but those in the coming years.

Cincinnati @ UConn - Despite have a great coach in Randy Edsall, UConn has been proven to be a lightweight this year.  Cincy has a legit shot at a BCS bid if they can run the Big East table.

Don't get too excited Bearcats fans.  You have the meat of the Big East to come after this week's game.  You must take care of business today.

Conference USA remains a sleeping giant in college football.  It has teams in great markets, and it plays like a little brother combo of the SEC (C-USA East) and the Big 12 (C-USA West).

The problem for the league is that it has been fairly balanced never allowing one team to run the table in recent years to give them a Top 25 fixture that might break into the BCS discussion.

UCF @ Tulsa - The Orlando Sentinel has it right - for C-USA to move forward, UCF needs to lose this game.  Tulsa is this season's only hope for C-USA after East Carolina stumbled mightily from their early season high.

Tulsa is a great story with their high-powered offense and how their success mirrors the rest of Oklahoma's college football programs.  With this as an ESPN primetime game, Tulsa should do their conference proud.

Rice @ Tulane - In another East vs West matchup, we shall see if Rice's potent offense can be stopped by an improving Tulane team.

So Miss @ Memphis - These two teams could become long term rivals if either could generate sustained success.  With Memphis having injury issues at QB and So Miss still grasping the nuances of Larry Fedora's offense, this one is a toss up.

FAU @ LA-Monroe - It's amazing to us here at TF that FAU hasn't won a conference game yet.  If they drop this week's game to Monroe, this represents a low point for this young program on their road to building a perennial conference power.

Troy @ North Texas - This should be a steam roll win.  Unlike FAU, Troy kept their domination of the 2007 Sun Belt going into 2008. 


Duke @ Vanderbilt - After decades of doormat dwelling, the South's best academic institutions have begun to find success on the football field.  Wake Forest and Rice are both great examples of this.

Vanderbilt has slowly risen in status under Bobby Johnson.  Johnson's approach has been different than many in his position.  He doesn't run a gimmick offense.  He has merely built a team that plays hard and smart.  His success is a testament to will over talent.

David Cutcliffe has given returns way ahead of schedule at Duke.  It started by him expecting better things from the beginning.  His kids have responded by having their record at an even 3-3.

All that aside, Johnson has to win this game.  Although his team sits at 5-2, Duke is the only easy win left on his schedule.  If the Dores lose this one, it isn't inconceivable to see them end up at 5-7 and out of a bowl berth yet again.

In fact, TF would like to see Vandy win emphatically against Duke just as Georgia Tech did.  They need this type of momentum to get them in position to win two of three reasonable games left on their schedule (either Wake, Tennessee, or Kentucky).

MTSU @ Miss St - We thought the Bulldogs had found new life after beating an undefeated Vandy team two weeks ago, but Tennessee handed it to them last week.  MTSU is no slouch having beaten Maryland and having led Louisville at halftime last week.

Miss State already dropped an embarrassing game to Louisiana Tech this season.  Will they do it again?

SMU @ Navy - SMU will turn the corner eventually under June Jones, but they still are in teh bottom half of C-USA.  A win against Navy would build confidence for next season.

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