Preseason Top 25 rankings create a perception. Some programs have yet to play anyone. So, the initial perception lingers. Other teams have faced live opposition and lost. Those facing lesser teams dropped oodles of points on someone – Wofford? Tennessee-Martin? Google to be sure. – and drift up the rankings.
Can we trust these princes of August, these kings of talking season? Four of them play this weekend against (relatively) battle tested opponents.
The No. 6 USC Trojans trounced Arkansas State and Idaho by a combined score of 114-15. Cody Kessler has completed 79 percent of his passes for 11.4 yards/attempt. USC’s top three RBs have combined for 385 yards and 7 TD on 38 carries. That Clay Helton offense has achieved remarkable balance, perhaps because it has not encountered a defense. This week’s opponent, Stanford, has one of those. Despite the new starters, opponents (of the reasonably competent variety) are completing 43 percent of passes and averaging 4.2 yards/att.
Clemson sits at No. 11, after conquering Wofford and Appalachian State 90-20. DeShaun Watson is healthy and on Heisman pace. Who needs Chad Morris? That defense that was gutted up front and everything? It has 21 tackles for loss through the first two games. What does it all mean? No clue. But we’ll see what they’re made of on a short week against a ticked off, 0-2 Louisville team on a Thursday night.
No. 14 Georgia Tech has outscored opponents 134-16. Through two weeks, the Yellow Jacket rushing attack has produced 915 yards and 15 touchdowns. Replacing everyone besides Justin Thomas who touched the ball? Plug and play, baby. Defense that was suspect as hell last year? Has not been an issue. Opponents: Alcorn State and Tulane. Oh. Tech heads to South Bend to face No. 8 Notre Dame, as a favorite.
Ole Miss has sidled up to No. 15, with back-to-back 70-point showings against Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State. They lead the nation in yards/play with 9.33. Problem child Chad Kelly is now the 7th quarterback on the Heisman odds board. The Rebels threw a touchdown pass to a defensive tackle, out of apparent boredom. Other teams want Bama. Ole Miss gets Bama on the road where they have won once, ever.
Who is legit? Who is going to get exposed? We’re about to find out.
It should be a quiet narrative week. SEC teams face each other. So some will emerge from that grueling test victorious. There is the Big Ten vs. ACC showdown, with five inter-conference matchups. The winner will attain bragging rights. Because, we’re told, aggregate conference records are a thing people should brag about. Nebraska vs. Miami has nostalgia. Northwestern heading on the road to Duke may be the best game competitively. Handle Illinois vs. North Carolina with tongs. Guessing Memphis vs. Bowling Green provides more entertainment than any of the five.
COACH WHO MOST NEEDS A WIN
Al Golden. The Hurricanes have a gristly five-game stretch ahead – Nebraska, at Cincinnati, at Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson. How those games go may determine whether Golden makes it to 2016 (or the end of 2015). Beating a formidable name in Nebraska could buoy him and the team. A bad loss could start the unravelling.
We bounced back in Week 2 with a 4-1 mark. Our picks are 6-4 ATS on the season.
Air Force (+26.5) at Michigan State: This was on our trap games list. It’s a natural letdown spot for the Spartans, after the big Oregon win. A potent, cut blocking triple option offense may prove a rough transition for the defense. Spartans win comfortably, but not by a blowout margin.
Stanford (+10) at USC: Stanford is physical. They have played two real opponents, suggesting their defensive numbers against the pass are legit. They aren’t as bad as they looked against Northwestern. USC has not played anyone. These teams are closer than perception would indicate.
Georgia (-16.5) vs. South Carolina: South Carolina is a mess, and down a starting quarterback. Georgia is one of the nation’s best rushing teams. The Gamecocks feature one of the nation’s worst rushing defenses. Spurrier wizardry is the only reason to bet South Carolina. He’s been using every bit of it to keep teams in games.
Notre Dame (+2.5) vs. Georgia Tech: Notre Dame has a quality defensive front. They play the triple-option every year. They also have a very good offensive line and very good receivers. We know nothing about Georgia Tech yet. We’ll take the points and the home dog.
Pittsburgh (+5.5) at Iowa: Pitt’s defense tightened up in Week 2 in Akron. Pat Narduzzi has a lot of experience shutting down Iowa. Tyler Boyd will be the best player on the field. Advanced metrics entering the season had Pitt as a significantly better team. Not all of that is James Conner. We’ll take the points.