Stoops, Arizona look for big-time program win

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Coach Mike Stoops of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates with cornerback Mike Turner #2 after beating the USC Trojans 21-17 in the NCAA college football game at the Los Angeles Coliseum on December 5, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Under the direction of Mike Stoops, Arizona has won some very big games. The Wildcats knocked off a top 10 team three years in a row from 2005-07, with UCLA, California and Oregon all being their victims. This past year, Arizona even knocked off the Pac 10’s Goliath in USC.

But those wins all came late in the season, when Arizona had already piled up a handful of losses. One thing the Wildcats — who seem to perennially be thought of as a sleeper team — have not done, is capitalize on any preseason hype with a big-time early-season win.

They have the chance to do that tonight, though, when they play host to No. 9 Iowa. A win moves the Wildcats to 3-0 and gives them some serious national respect. It would also be a huge victory for the Pac 10, which is trying to assert itself as a top conference, even with a lethargic, and penalized, USC.

Can Stoops and Arizona pull it off? Click through for that prediction, and more from today’s games.

Last week I was a Dayne Crist eye injury away from going 5-0, so clearly there was something strange in the air. Let’s see if I can’t repeat — or beat — that this week.

No. 12 Arkansas at Georgia, noon: This is the first real test of the season for Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks’ offense, and I’d expect that to show, at least early on. The problem for Georgia will be staying on the field offensively, as again they’re without A.J. Green, who is still serving an NCAA suspension. That means freshman Aaron Murray is going to have to find a way to get it done in the passing game without him, which he was unable to do consistently a week ago. I’d expect the Razorbacks to load up the line of scrimmage and force Murray to beat them. At least if they’re smart, because I don’t think he can out-gun Mallett, even with a defensive advantage. Pick: Arkansas 23-17.

No. 8 Nebraska at Washington, 3:30 p.m.: The good news for Washington is that it’s at home, and Steve Sarkisian has already proven he can pull off a big upset in his own building. The bad news is Nebraska has faced Western Kentucky and Idaho so far, and gets South Dakota State next week. I’d venture a guess that the Cornhuskers have spent a little bit of time over the past few weeks working in a gameplan to stop Jake Locker. Ndamukong Suh might be gone, but the Huskers still have one of the more dominant defenses in the country. Add that to the fact Locker still doesn’t have the weapons necessary to beat a team like that, and really hasn’t looked all that sharp to begin with (which hasn’t stopped Todd McShay from camping out outside of his apartment, however), and I think it might be a tough day for the Huskies. Pick: Nebraska 20-14.

No. 10 Florida at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m.: There’s a rule when you write a college football picks column/blog/diary/manifesto that you have to pick the Florida/Tennessee game. It’s unwritten, but it’s still there. So even in a year where Tennessee looks light years away from competing in the SEC again, and Florida’s offense is actually tougher to watch than its perp walk, I’m forced to pick a winner. The key to this game is whether or not John Brantley can get over the Neyland Stadium crowd. Tennessee is far less talented, but will come out strong (kind of like it did against Oregon, but I’d expect even more passion in a huge rivalry). The Gators defense should be enough to stomp out any emotional fires in the early going, but that’s if Brantley can at least manage the game during that time. If he struggles and turns the ball over, we could have a ballgame on our hands. If he takes care of it, Florida should roll. I’ll go with some combination of both (if that’s even possible). Pick: Florida 24-13.

Notre Dame at Michigan State, 8 p.m.: Since I’m from the Midwest, I’ve got to give the region some love this weekend. If history tells us anything, this will be one heck of a game, and it probably won’t be decided until the final whistle. I live about an hour and a half away from East Lansing, and I have no clue what to expect from Michigan State. I have multiple friends who are either going to school there or have graduated from there that don’t know either. That’s what happens when a team opens with Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic (in an away game, in Detroit). The Spartans look to still be a little soft defensively, especially in coverage. Offensively, their run game has been great, and the pass game has been pretty vanilla. Notre Dame, meanwhile, is just happy it doesn’t have to see Denard Robinson for another year. And offensively, looks alright when Crist can see out of both of his eyes. It’s tough to predict the unpredictable (which this game often is), but I’ll go with what I think I know, and that’s Notre Dame is a better overall team. Pick: Notre Dame 34-30.

No. 9 Iowa at No. 24 Arizona, 10:30 p.m.: This is easily the game of the night (at least on paper). As I mentioned earlier, Arizona has a chance to put itself into the national conversation, while Iowa can solidify itself as a serious title contender with a tough road win. The Hawkeyes have looked sharp to start this season, and that starts with their quarterback, Ricky Stanzi. He earned a reputation a year ago for orchestrating late comebacks, but a lot of that was necessary because of the 15 interceptions he threw. If he’s over that, Arizona is in trouble, and so is the rest of the Big Ten. Arizona has a solid signal-caller of its own in Nick Foles, but he’s going to be dealing with a very good Iowa defensive front all night, led by Adrian Clayborn. I think that defensive front makes the difference in a very tight game. Pick: Iowa 23-20.

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