Now that we've had a near-upset (Auburn vs Utah State) and an actual upset (Sacramento State over Oregon State), college football has officially begun. This week, we've identified five games that could be ripe for an upset because anything can (and will) happen in college football.
Missouri at Arizona State (-8)
Tigers starting running back Kendial Lawrence suffered a broken leg (fibula) last week and will miss a game in which the Sun Devils are favored by a touchdown and are a popular pick to represent the South in the first Pac-12 championship.
Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson is sitting on a toasty warm seat —- expectations have been high since he came to Tempe five years ago and so far, he hasn't pushed Arizona State to the next level. Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel has been on the verge of winning the Big 12 a few times ('07 and '08) but hasn't been able to take the next step as well.
While both coaches are similar in that one respect, they differ in another. Pinkel tends to reload at skill positions very well -— specifically at quarterback, which is something Erickson has had problems with in the past.
Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler went 19 of 26 for 262 yards in his first game against U.C. Davis, so while his numbers were good, the Tigers pose a significant upgrade in terms of defensive talent the Sun Devils will be facing. Tigers quarterback James Franklin had decent numbers against Miami (OH) going 17 of 26 for 129 yards, but there is still some work to be done -— the offense only managed a paltry 290 total yards.
The last time the Sun Devils beat a ranked team was in 2007 (No. 18 Cal) and Missouri comes into Friday's game ranked No. 21. Whichever team's quarterback has the better day should point to the winner of this game.
Cincinnati at Tennessee (-5)
Butch Jones has been reportedly blaring "Rocky Top" at practices to get his Bearcats used to the sounds they'll be hearing when they take on the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. If his Bearcats score early and often, that may be enough to quiet down the orange-and-white faithful, but the Bearcats' defense will still have to shut down quarterback Tyler Bray, who had a fantastic first game.
Bray is currently ranked as the No. 15 FBS quarterback in passing productivity after posting some very impressive numbers (193 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions) against the Montana Grizzlies. Yes, Montana is an FCS team but a very good one at that. Bray will be facing a stingy pass defense this Saturday —- the Bearcats only allowed 150 passing yards against Austin Peay.
So which team was more impressive against its respective FCS opponent and how do you use that answer in analyzing this week's game? You really can't answer that but scoring 72 points on Austin Peay is impressive -- albeit against a defense that only featured one senior starter -- while giving up 346 yards (235 yards in passing) against Montana is not.
The Volunteers are going to have to find a way to stop running back Isaiah Pead. The Bearcats are going to have to adjust from playing in front of 24,000 friendly fans to playing in a hostile atmosphere of over 100,000.
Hawaii at Washington (-6)
The Washington Huskies, a team that struggled to beat Eastern Washington last week, play a Warrior team that is riding a nice 34-17 win over the Pac-12's Colorado Buffaloes. Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian should be very worried about this game for several reasons, but the biggest reason is that the Huskies are ranked dead last in passing defense (473 yards) after playing an FCS school.
Hawaii can both run and pass the ball, but when you have the most prolific quarterback of 2010 returning (5,040 yards, 340 yards per game average in 2010), Hawaii's game plan for quarterback Bryant Moniz should be obvious -- pass the ball against the country's worst pass defense.
Sarkisian will undoubtedly try to run the ball and keep Hawaii's offense off the field, but here's another reason to keep Sarkisian up all night: Hawaii's defense gave up only 17 rushing yards to Colorado.
Middle Tennessee State v Georgia Tech (-11)
Georgia Tech beat Western Carolina 63-21 while Middle Tennessee State lost 27-24 to Purdue. In other words, an average Atlantic Coast Conference team beat up on an FCS team while a Sun Belt team (returning only three starters on defense) gave a rebuilding Big Ten team a heck of a game.
It's hard to get a good grasp of how this game will pan out, but we do know that the Yellow Jackets' record on the road last year wasn't pretty—they sputtered to a 2-4 road record including a loss to an eventual 3-9 Kansas team. Blue Jackets get the home field advantage here.
Blue Raiders quarterback Logan Kilgore passed for 330 yards against Purdue, so this could get dicey for Georgia Tech's new secondary, but a more pressing concern for the Yellow Jackets is their sloppy play against the Catamounts last Saturday -- Tech lost two of their six fumbles and had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown.
Utah at USC (-9)
While USC quarterback Matt Barkley lit up his stats columns (304 yards, 3 touchdowns) last Saturday, the Trojans' running game suffered in an uninspiring 19-17 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers. To put it bluntly, the Trojans' offense was a no-show in the second half.
Utah, on the other hand, didn't exactly bowl anyone over with their 27-10 win over Montana State. Both USC and Utah looked a little tentative on offense with Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn going 15 of 23 for 101 yards while USC running back D.J. Morgan was the Trojans' top rusher with only 70 yards.
If Barkley starts connecting with receiver Robert Woods (17 passes, 177 yards last week) things could get out of hand for the Utes, but USC's offensive line hasn't faced a front seven like Utah's—Barkley will not have as much time to throw the ball. Utah will be testing USC's offensive line while USC will be testing Jordan Wynn's poise under pressure. If this becomes somewhat of a snooze fest offensively, the Utes are in the game.
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