The Black Bears of Maine will make their first trip to the Southeastern Conference when they visit Starkville this weekend. While many may view this game as a rent-a-win, recent history would suggest there are no guarantees when the Bulldogs take to the gridiron.
Maine is led by RB Marcus Williams, who, barring injury, will become the school's all-time leading rusher before season's end. Williams is the first back in the school's history to run for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Auburn's Carnell Williams saw good play from his offensive line a week ago against MSU. Williams remarked in the postgame that he had never seen holes so big in the SEC as he did that game. Hopefully the holes will be a little harder to find for the Black Bears this week.
The starting offensive line for Maine is fairly experienced and will feature two senior and three juniors. The second team line is filled mostly with underclassmen. The Maine offensive line starters average just under 293 pounds. This should be a battle that MSU wins, but with more shuffling on the defensive line it may not happen early.
A quick start would be helpful for the Bulldogs, but if recent trends are any indicator you probably won't see it. MSU has yet to score in the first quarter in 2004 and Maine has held both early season opponents off the scoreboard in the first period.
Montana, one of the tops teams in 1-AA, managed just 117 yards rushing against the Bears and Northern Colorado squeaked out a mere 28 yards. I understand there is supposed to be a gap in talent between the divisions, but it may be more difficult to run on the Bears than one might think.
On paper this game should be one the Bulldogs win easily, but nothing has come easy for the Bulldogs the past three years, namely wins. The difference in the conditioning programs as well as experience in the humidity and other elements of the south should give the Dogs a sizeable advantage.
The Bulldogs need to take care of the football and get their legs underneath them before resuming SEC play. I like MSU's chances to pull away in the second half and leave little doubt as to the outcome before the 4th quarter is half over.
MSU 38 Maine 10
Elsewhere around the league...
UL-Monroe vs. Arkansas
Arkansas let its upset bid of Texas slip away on bad play-calling. Trailing 22-20, Arkansas had the ball inside the Texas 15-yard line with just minutes to play. On 3rd down, the Hogs Matt Jones dropped back to pass and had the ball punched away by a Texas defender. Seasons are made on such plays and that play-all could be one Hog coaches and players end up lamenting.
The Hogs get to take out their frustrations on a patsy of sorts in UL-Monroe. The Hogs running game and suddenly potent passing game will be far more than the Indians can handle. The Hogs are the only team in the SEC averaging over 300 yards in passing offense, which isn't too shabby for a running school.
Arkansas 49 ULM 7
Perhaps the surprise of the young SEC schedule is the play of South Carolina. The Gamecocks nearly pulled the upset of national championship contender Georgia thanks in large part to stellar play from a much-improved defense. Despite giving up some yards between the 20s, the Cocks D put their team in a position to win the game.
This week, South Carolina will face off with South Florida for the first time. The Bulls could only manage 21 points versus lowly Tennessee Tech. They'll be lucky to get that much this week.
SC 28 USF 13
Former LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo's Hoosiers marched into Eugene, Oregon and pulled the upset over nationally ranked Oregon last week. The Hoosiers have found their offense despite not being very efficient in the passing game. They shouldn't have much trouble getting their rhythm against a Wildcat defense that looked horrid in week one.
The Cats had an additional week to prepare for this week's home opener, but you have to think Indiana will be playing with some confidence. Last year the Wildcats pretty much dominated the Hoosiers in Bloomington and former Notre Dame QB Matt LoVecchio. Revenge will be on the hearts and minds of the Hoosiers as well as their first 3-0 start since 1994.
Indiana 27 UK 21
Marshall vs. Georgia
Marshall has had an interesting non-conference slate so far. They lost in week one to upstart Troy and then lost a heartbreaker to Ohio State on a last second field goal in week two. The Herd needs a win in the worst way to salvage a game in a very ambitious non-conference slate.
Georgia has been a bit if a disappointment despite winning the first two contests. 2-0 is still 2-0, but the Dawgs have been less than impressive. They gave up a country mile in rushing to Georgia Southern and beat South Carolina despite not playing well. This is a test for Georgia and you have to believe Marshall will be playing some inspired football to try and jump-start their season. The game should be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. I look for another nip and tick outcome with Georgia pounding it out late on the ground.
Georgia 28 Marshall 20
Western Carolina vs. Alabama
Hats off to Coach Mike Shula and staff. They have their team playing some good football especially on the defensive side of the ball. Alabama is the top defense in the conference based on the numbers at this point in the season. The argument could be made that Alabama hasn't really played anyone with a real potent offense and this week won't change that.
The Catamounts will basically play for pay this week as they have very little chance of winning. Alabama should have no problem padding their stats on either side of the ball as well as develop some more cohesion on offense. The Hudson/Darby running game has been impressive both weeks and that has taken tons of pressure of Brodie Croyle.
Alabama 42 W. Carolina 3
Florida vs. Tennessee
This is a very interesting match-up as it always seems to be. The biggest problem Florida has is game-planning for two different types of quarterbacks. The Vols showed off their two freshmen QBs in week one and both were impressive. Schaeffer brings the rolling pocket and a howitzer for an arm. Ainge is a traditional dropback QB who can make all the throws.
Florida will counter with perhaps the best skill people in the Eastern division, namely potential All-SEC QB Chris Leak. The Florida defense will be much more formidable than the UNLV defense the Vols saw in week one. This is nearly an even match-up and could go either way, but I think Florida will be able to exploit the Tennessee secondary as well as provide some confusion for the UT QB merry-go-round.
Florida 27 UT 24
Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi
The Rebels have been horrible on offense no matter how you slice it. The Rebs are 111th in total offense and 104th in scoring offense in the national rankings. They are 103rd in the country on 3rd down conversions, which has kept Cody Ridgeway busy. Ridgeway has punted 16 times which is 3rd most in the Division 1.
Something had to be done to shake things up, so David Cutcliffe pulled QB Michael Spurlock in favor of Ethan Flatt. While Flatt's completion numbers were similar to Spurlock's against Alabama, he did get the ball into the endzone. The Reb offense did seem to have a little more spark under Flatt, so he's scheduled to start this week versus Vanderbilt.
Vandy has had two weeks to prepare. The Dores always fight Mississippi tooth, and nail and this year should be no exception. The Reb offensive situation is unsettled and the team was hit again this week with another off-the-field distraction. A self-reported violation to the NCAA involving improper contact between LB Patrick Willis and an unnamed booster will result in a one-game suspension. This should be Vandy's best chance to beat the Rebs in quite some time.
Vanderbilt 31 Mississippi 27
LSU vs. Auburn
If this game is played this weekend it should be one of the best games around the country. Some reports are that LSU would prefer to postpone the game until November 6th. Everyone is concerned about the safety of the participants and fans traveling to the game under poor conditions associated with Hurricane Ivan. I am sure that's the case, but I would venture to guess LSU would love to play Auburn later in the season after the Bengal Tigers get their QB situation resolved. There's always a silver lining and a postponement would be just that for LSU.
Marcus Randall is not making the QB decision easy on anyone. He played well last week and the Tigers scored on every drive while he was in. JaMarcus Russell played exceptionally well and appears to be the more talented of the two. Russell will more than likely take over as the starter before the season is over, but probably not this week.
Jordan-Hare Stadium has become the place where new LSU Quarterbacks go to die. From Jamie Howard's interceptions to Josh Booty's meltdown, to Marcus Randall reverting back to a high school QB before our very eyes, LSU QBs making their first visits to the Plains have had a tough time escaping with their hides still in tact.
Teams that spread it out won't make a living against LSU, but teams that can run between the tackles have a chance to make some hay. At this point in the season there is no question Auburn is playing better football. A wet track only favors Auburn that much more. I like the Tigers, the AU version, in the upset.
AU 21 LSU 17
Well, that's the week as I see it. Hopefully the remnants of Hurricane Ivan will clear out and we can all enjoy some great games this weekend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this storm.
Until next week,
Steve Robertson writes The Robertson Report for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Steve's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.