Last Week: 17-6
This Season: 57-19
Thursday, September 27
Arkansas State vs. Memphis - 7:00 PM - ESPN GamePlan
Behold the power of the Sun Belt. Arkansas State showed some weaponry on offense against the Vols, and are a tough 1-2 with competitive performances against Texas and Tennessee. As for Memphis...well, it's been better. The 56-20 blowout at the hands of Central Florida, coupled with the opening weekend loss to Ole Miss and a throwaway win over Jacksonville State, the Tigers are 1-2 and Tommy West has a long season in front of him. The schedule will offer some opportunities for easier wins down the road, but right now Memphis has no offense, and Arkansas State has players in Corey Leonard and Reggie Arnold. The misery continues for Memphis.
Arkansas State 38 - Memphis 17
Boise State vs. Southern Miss - 7:30 PM - ESPN
An interesting and tough call here...it's usually disastrous to pick against Boise on the blue turf, but the question for 07 is are these the same Boise State Broncos? After the loss at UDub, the Broncs got it done in a tough 24-14 home win over a fairly decent Wyoming team. But the offense isn't the machine it used to be, apparently - 10 points at Washington, who just gave up 44 to UCLA, who scored 6 against Utah. The 24 against Wyoming also isn't overly impressive. It's hard to blame it all on new QB Taylor Tharp, but that's what inquiring minds are going to do. Washington and Wyoming had some success jamming up against Ian Johnson - 44 carries, 144 yards in the two games combined, for 3.7 yards per carry which is way south of what he's used to - but we've seen that Southern Miss isn't the world's greatest at stopping the run.
More importantly, can the Eagles score enough points on the road against an underrated defense? The Boise offense and coaching staff got all the praise and recognition over this most recent run, but it's been the defense that's kept them alive so far this year. Can USM exploit them enough to get/stay in front of the Broncos? I like the USM weapons in a mid-major showdown like this, but I think Boise's defense shows up big again, and protects the Blue Turf. Southern Miss was the mid-major team of the 90s, but Boise will show here that they've taken that mantle this decade, whatever that's worth.
Boise State 20 - Southern Miss 16
Friday, September 28
#18 South Florida vs. #5 West Virginia - 8:00 PM - ESPN2
Forget Louisville, at this point. This may end up being the game that decides the Big East Championship. And there's none of that "South Florida doesn't have what it takes to win" talk - the Bulls beat West Virginia in Morgantown last year, then turned around and won at Auburn this year. This team is good, experienced, and will be ready to trade blows with the Mountaineers on Friday night.
Nobody's played with West Virginia for the duration so far this year - they've had one sleepy half against Marshall and another to a lesser degree with Maryland, but over the course of sixty minutes they've had way too much offense for everyone they've played so far. But there's the rub - South Florida beat them with defensive excellence last year, in a 24-19 game that featured bending but not breaking. You'll need more of the same, but again, it's nothing they haven't already done before. This to me is an even matchup - if you pick West Virginia, it has to be because you simply think they're better, not because USF hasn't proven something or can't do this or that.
The Bulls came back from the Auburn win to smoke UNC 37-10 last week. Matt Grothe may not be a superstar at QB, but he is efficient, and once again he won't be facing the best defense in the world in the Mountaineers. One potential problem is that no consistent credible running threat has been established in the USF backfield to this point - the Bulls are yet to have a 100 yard rusher this year - and so even with their limitations, West Virginia may not have to overcommit to the run, and thus can force Grothe to beat them. He'll need and Auburn-esque performance, with no turnovers. South Florida will need to Delbert Alvarado not to miss multiple field goals, especially if this turns into a shootout.
On the other side, Pat White has been throwing the ball better than we've ever seen, which is the compliment needed to go with Steve Slaton and the rest of the horses in the WV attack. South Florida is once again likely to challenge that and try to gear up to stop Slaton first, but running the spread option forces a defense to be accountable for everything all at once, and should open up holes for White, Slaton, or Devine.
If both teams play their best football, West Virginia will win because they've got more talent, plain and simple. I think West Virginia's great offense will have an easier time scoring on South Florida's great defense than South Florida's average offense will have scoring on West Virginia's average defense. I think Rich Rodriguez will have them in revenge mode, and especially now that there's not an Armageddon game with Louisville out there lurking on the horizon, there's no need to focus anywhere else than this one. South Florida is good, but West Virginia is special. And championship teams get it done on the road - if West Virginia wants to be in that USC-LSU-OU-UF conversation, this is the game that can get them in it.
West Virginia 27 - South Florida 24