USC game crucial for Notre Dame, Weis

Nobody has to remind Notre Dame’s players and head coach Charlie Weis what this Saturday means for the program. A win would serve as a stepping-stone for the school to get back among the nation’s elite. A blowout loss would send them spiraling backwards and might inevitably cost Weis his job.

“I said, Saturday night fellas, you’re going to be the lead story in the country, one way or another,” Weis said. “So which lead story do you want to be?”

Besides the fact that Charlie must not realize Oklahoma is also taking on Texas this weekend, his comments pinpoint the magnitude of Saturday’s game. This isn’t just another game for the Irish – it’s the game of the year.

The Trojans have beaten the Irish seven straight times. During that span, USC quarterbacks have averaged 323 passing yards and since October of 2002, the Trojans are 31-2 against ranked opponents.

Oh, and they also rank sixth in the nation in total defense.

But this is a different Notre Dame team, at least offensively. Jimmy Clausen ranks No. 1 in the country in passing efficiency and the Irish have the 10th best offense in college football. They’re averaging 470 yards per game and over 30 points per contest. Their ground game doesn’t get as much attention as their passing attack, but the Irish are averaging 148 rushing yards per game so they can beat you in a variety of ways.

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College Football Week 13 Primer

Top 25 vs. Top 25:

Sam Bradford
No. 2 Texas Tech at No. 5 Oklahoma, 8:00 PM ET ABC
Raise your hand if you don’t appreciate what the Big 12 has given us this year and I’ll come over and punch you square in the mouth. The Big 12 has handed us game of the year matchups virtually every week this season and this week is no exception. Many college football pundits have had this Saturday circled on their calendars as the day when Texas Tech finally falls. Oklahoma has stumbled only once this year (vs. previously top ranked Texas on October 11), but outside of that no other team has come close to knocking them off. The Sooners have averaged over 50 points a game, but they’ll take on a much-improved Red Raider defense this week in Norman. OU is going to score points, but can they stop Heisman hopefuls Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree? No defense in the nation (not even Texas) has slowed down the dynamic duo yet and it’s hard to believe that anyone will at this point. Still, the Sooners will be looking to avenge last year’s 34-27 loss to Tech in Lubbock. In that game, No. 4 ranked OU lost Sam Bradford early in the first half and allowed Crabtree to haul in 12 passes for 154 yards and one touchdown. Oddsmakers have established Oklahoma as a 7-point favorite, but one has to believe that this is going to go down to the wire.

No. 14 Brigham Young at No. 7 Utah, 6:00 PM ET
No love for the Mountain West – this one won’t even be shown on national TV despite huge ramifications for the Utes. A MWC title and a possible BCS at-large bid is on the line in this game as Utah has another opportunity to justify their high ranking. Before being upset by TCU, BYU expected to be where Utah currently is – ranked in the top 10. The Cougars will have to overcome a stingy Utes defense that is damn near impossible to run against, yielding just 3.0 yards per carry. The onus for BYU in this game will be on quarterback Max Hall to carry the offense, while the Cougar defense will have its hands full with Brian Johnson. Considering this will be yet another tightly contested game, the Utes should be prepared. They’ve got five wins this year by seven or fewer points, including their nail biting 13-10 win over TCU three weeks ago. Oddsmakers have made BYU a 6.5-point underdog.

No. 15 Michigan State at No. 8 Penn State, 3:30 PM ET ABC
How sad is it that in the same week of Ohio State-Michigan, this is the best matchup in the Big Ten. Penn State’s win over Indiana may have looked like a blowout, but the Lions struggled with Hoosiers in the first half. Truth be told, PSU’s offense hasn’t looked that impressive in weeks. After reaching the end zone 12 times threw the air in their first fives games, the Lions have managed just five touchdown passes in their last six contests. The Spartans struggled in their last Big Ten statement game (a 45-7 drubbing at the hands of Ohio State on October 18), but Brian Hoyer (548 yards, 5 TDs in two games vs. PSU) has really stepped up of late and is putting together a nice season. Of course, all eyes will be on RB Javon Ringer. Ringer is third in the nation in rushing and if MSU’s massive offensive line can open up holes for the small back, Sparty will have an opportunity to keep PSU’s spread offense off the field and possibly walk away with an upset. Penn State is a 14.5-point favorite at home.

No. 20 Pittsburgh at No. 19 Cincinnati, 7:00 PM ET ESPN2
The job head coach Brian Kelly (who I suggested should be a candidate to replace Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee) has done this year in Cincinnati despite losing three quarterbacks has been remarkable. To keep the Bearcats afloat in the Big East is outstanding it speaks volumes about Kelly being a true winner. Speaking of the Big East, first place is on the line in this game as Cincy will try to avenge its 24-17 loss to PITT last year by throwing early and often. The Panthers have struggled against teams with like to attack downfield and Tony Pike has played very well lately in Kelly’s offense. The mission is clear for Cincinnati: Win the next two games at home and claim the Big East title. PITT is a 5-point underdog.

Upset Watch:

Graham HarrellNo. 2 Texas Tech at No. 5 Oklahoma, 8:00 PM ET ABC
As previously mentioned, there’s a ton of folks waiting for the Red Raiders to fall this year, but I’ve already bought into the hype. No defense has even remotely slowed down Harrell or Crabtree and while Bradford and the OU offense can go toe to toe with anyone, I say Tech walks away with a straight up upset. Of course, they may need to score 60 points to win.

Other Notable Games:

Michigan at No. 10 Ohio State, 12:00 PM ET ABC
This could be the worst Michigan-Ohio State matchup in the history of this rivalry. If the Buckeyes don’t beat the Wolverines by more than four touchdowns, Jim Tressel should resign. Michigan has never found a way to stop a mobile quarterback, so Terrelle Pryor should find life pretty easy this week at the Horse Shoe.

Florida State at No. 25 Maryland, 7:45 PM ET
Does any team want to win the ACC? The Terps have provided some great upsets this season, but they don’t seem to fare well when favored. Still, their rushing attack matches up well against a solid Seminole front seven and this is one of the more underrated matchups of the week.

No. 21 Oregon State at Arizona, 7:00 PM ET
The Beavers can still punch a ticket to Pasadena this year, but they’ll need to get past a Wildcat team that gave USC fits a couple weeks ago.

No. 17 Ball State’s season on the line vs. Central Michigan

Nate DavisNo. 17 Ball State puts its season on the line Wednesday night in Mt. Pleasant when they take on MAC rival Central Michigan at 7:00PM ET.

I know, I know – it’s MAC football. Who cares right?

Most will look at this game and shrug it off as just another useless game in the middle of the week, but the ramifications for both teams are pretty high and it should make for an exciting game. First and foremost, Ball State is 10-0 and trying to prove that its an elite program, although if last week’s performance against Miami of Ohio was any indication, the Cardinals are who we think they are – a great MAC team, but one that would get destroyed by the likes of any team ranked ahead of them in the polls.

Meanwhile, the Chippewas are 8-2, but more importantly (at least to them), they’re 6-0 in the MAC. A CMU victory would not only be a huge upset, but it would also catapult the Chips into first place in the MAC West Division and a chance to win the conference for the third straight year. This isn’t just a MAC game – it’s the MAC game of the year.

The Cardinals have essentially steamrolled their competition this season, but also haven’t played any truly tough opponents, unless you consider Navy and Indiana as tough. They did crush Northern Illinois – who has vastly improved this season – 45-14 on November 5th, but the Huskies are still far from an elite team right now.

An upset might be in order tonight. At one point this season, CMU quarterback Dan LeFevour was considered a candidate for the Heisman Trophy but an ankle injury sidetracked his season. He led the Chips to win over NIU last week and appears to be healthy again.

The key in this game, however, will be whether or not CMU’s defense can slow down Nate Davis and the BSU offense, which is averaging close to 40 points a game. The Chips certainly have the offense to compete with the Cardinals, but their no-huddle approach only gets BSU’s explosive passing attack back on the field quicker. And CMU has been known to allow opponents to sneak back into ball games in the second half (see their game at Northern last week as proof), which certainly would spell disaster against a solid Cardinal team.

Either way, football is being played on a Wednesday night. And not only that, but a team is actually unbeaten and ranked…and is playing on Wednesday night. You can’t ask for more.

Is Notre Dame football back?

Jimmy ClausenA storyline is brewing in college football right now that makes some want to shout it from the rooftops. (While others want to jump off those very same rooftops at the thought of it.)

That storyline is none other than Notre Dame football.

A year ago, Charlie Weis’s program stumbled to a 3-9 record, which included six losses to unranked opponents and back-to-back defeats at the hands of Navy and Air Force. But the Irish are off to their best start in three years and are starting to get people excited about the program again.

After a sloppy win in their opener against San Diego State (a game in which one ignorant writer had the audacity to suggest Notre Dame hadn’t improved at all following last year’s debacle of a season), the Irish crushed longtime rivals Michigan, 35-17, before suffering their first defeat of the season – a 35-17 road loss to Michigan State. But ND has since won back-to-back games against Purdue and Stanford in rather convincing fashion, leading some to believe that Weis and sophomore QB Jimmy Clausen have the team back on the right track.

So are the Irish back? It’s hard to say. Clausen has developed nicely in his second season and in turn, the offense looks like a completely different unit than the one that took the field on most Saturdays last year. In his last two games, Clausen has throw for 622 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. His two main receivers, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd have also been fantastic, averaging over 15 yards a catch. The defense has improved as well, allowing just 19 points per game (17 PPG over the last six games dating back to last season), as opposed to the nearly 30 PPG they allowed a year ago.

But the Irish have benefited from playing four of their first five games at home this year and their only loss was on the road. They have also yet to play a ranked opponent, which changes this week when they travel to No. 22 North Carolina, another improving program out to prove they’re legit as well. And despite Clausen’s solid play, the Irish haven’t been able to run the ball outside of the Purdue game and prior to last week, only had one sack. (Of course, they had five sacks against Stanford last week, so getting to the quarterback might not be a problem in the long run.)

We should find out a lot about Clausen and Notre Dame this week. The Tar Heels have amassed 11 interceptions in their last four games and sophomore Shaun Draughn is emerging as a solid back to complement UNC’s already top-notch wide receiver corps. The ‘Heels also blocked three punts last week in their win over previously ranked Connecticut and if the Irish can’t run the ball to help take the pressure of Clausen, UNC’s ball hawking secondary could ruin the young quarterback’s afternoon.

Is Notre Dame football back? Stay tuned.

College Football Week 6 Primer

Time to check out the big games, top matchups and potential upsets as college football heads into Week 6.

Top 25 vs. Top 25:
Terrelle PryorNo. 14 Ohio State at No. 18 Wisconsin, 8:00 PM ET
This was supposed to be a matchup of the best two teams in the Big Ten, but after the Badgers were embarrassed last week in Ann Arbor, this game has lost a lot of it’s luster. Despite Michigan turning the ball over five times and spotting them a 19-0 lead, Wisconsin fell apart in the second half as the Wolverines pulled off a 27-25 upset. For the Buckeyes, they seem to be playing with a chip on their shoulder after losing to USC a few weeks back, especially freshman QB Terrelle Pryor, who is out to use this game as proof that he can play on a big stage. It’ll be interesting to see how the dazzlingly Pryor does in his first road start of his young collegiate career; OSU has not won back-to-back games vs. Wisconsin since 1995/1996. Oddsmakers have established the Buckeyes as 1.5-point favorites.

No. 13 Auburn at No. 19 Vanderbilt, 6:00 PM ET
Vandy is off to a surprising 4-0 start this season, but their record is a bit deceiving. The Commodores rank last in the SEC in total offense and defense, and have been out gained in 3 of their 4 games this season. But they sit undefeated largely due to their plus-nine turnover margin, which leads the nation. They’ll get their first real test of the season against Auburn, who crushed the Commodores 45-7 in their last trip to Vanderbilt Stadium in 2003. The Tigers also handed Vandy a 35-7 beat-down last year and are trying to build some momentum off of last week’s 14-12 win against Tennessee. Still, this is the first time Vanderbilt has been ranked since 1984, so the home crowd will noty doubt be psyched. And it’s not like Tommy Tummerville’s team has been that dominant this season. (See the Tigers’ 3-2 victory over Mississippi State as proof.) Vandy is a 4.5-point home underdog.

No. 23 Oregon at No. 9 USC, 8:00 PM ET
The Trojans try to bounce back from their humiliating 27-21 loss to Oregon State last week – a defeat that dropped them from the top spot in the rankings. When these two teams met last year in Eugene, the Ducks used an electrifying home crowd to knock off the Trojans 24-17 in USC QB Mark Sanchez’s first start. It would be wise for Oregon to borrow the blueprint left by the Beavers and attack the middle of the Trojans’ beat up defense on the ground. Head coach Pete Carroll is dying to use this game to show USC can still compete for a national title this season and will try to flatten the Ducks, but Oregon’s defense is good enough to keep them in the game. The Trojans are currently 17-point favorites.

Chase DanielUpset Watch: No. 4 Missouri at Nebraska, 9:00 PM ET
It’s hard to fathom that the Tigers would stumble this week in Lincoln coming off a bye week and with so much on the line. But Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Daniel has yet to see a decent defense outside of Illinois in the opener. And even though MIZZOU hammered the Huskers last year, Nebraska’s defense is a lot better than the unit that surrendered 41 points to Daniel and the Tigers last year. Missouri has better talent and the better overall team, but one thing to keep in mind is that the home team in this series has won the last six in a row. MIZZOU is an 11-point favorite.

Other notable games:
No. 1 Oklahoma at Baylor, 12:30 PM ET Saturday
The Sooners play their first game since being anointed the top ranked team in the nation. They get a decent opponent in the Bears, who have been a dramatically improved team with scrappy freshman Robert Griffin under center this year.

Kentucky at No. 2 Alabama, 3:30 PM ET Saturday
After crushing the Bulldogs in Athens last week, Nick Saban’s Tide can’t fall victims to the upset themselves this week against the unranked Wildcats.

No. 5 Texas at Colorado, 7:00 PM ET Saturday
Longhorns’ QB Colt McCoy will look to continue his bid to become this year’s Heisman Trophy winner, but he’ll face a decent Colorado team who is 3-0 at home this year.

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