Tom Layberger

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Sooners, FSU headline Week 3

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The schedule does not feature as many marquee games this week as the first two weeks, which provided some heavy-hitting conference and non-conference battles. Still, there are a couple of haymakers, including a highly-anticipated matchup in Tallahassee.

(3) LSU at (25) Mississippi State
It’s one thing to prepare for a short week. It’s another to prepare for a short week when coming off a gut-wrenching loss to a conference opponent . That is the case with Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs, who came oh-so-close to forcing overtime at Auburn last week. Now, they have had to quickly prepare for another SEC West opponent, LSU. The Tigers had a cakewalk against Northwestern State of the FCS on Saturday and should be much more fresh and ready for the quick turnaround. It surprises me the point spread (3.5 as of Wednesday) has not grown.

(1) Oklahoma at (5) Florida State
It was no contest in Norman a year ago when the Sooners rolled by 30 points. Florida State first-year starting QB EJ Manuel, who is off to an exceptional start, will not face an Oklahoma defense that was as strong as what Christian Ponder went up against last year. It’s not exactly a paper-thin defense, either, so Manuel will be challenged. The Seminoles defense will be challenged as well by OU quarterback Landry Jones, who can make an early-season Heisman statement in prime time. But standout receiver Ryan Broyles may have his hands full trying to break loose in a very tough and quick FSU secondary.  

(18) West Virginia at Maryland
The Terps have not played since their Labor Day win over Miami and will be eager to not only take the field, but also snap a five-game skid at the hands of the Mountaineers. This will be a quarterback matchup worth watching with Maryland’s Danny O’Brien against WVU’s Geno Smith, who was a popular pre-season selection for Big East Offensive Player of the Year. O’Brien, the ACC’s Rookie of the Year last season, threw for 348 yards against Miami and Smith is off to a hot start (620 yards and 6 TDs), albeit against lesser opposition. No doubt WVU coach Dale Holgersen would like to get some semblance of a running game going Saturday, an area that has been a disappointment to date.

Tennessee at (16) Florida
If it’s the third Saturday in September, it must be Vols and Gators. From the Vols’ standpoint, it must also be a turning of the tables as they have lost six straight in the series, the last four by at least 10 points. It’s a chance for Tennessee sophomore QB Tyler Bray to announce himself as a big-time player in the SEC and for the Vols to make the East Division a tossup. It’s also the first taste of SEC action for Florida coach Will Muschamp as a head coach. This game will give him a much better idea of what he has to work with after facing little resistance in the first two weeks.

Penn State at Temple
Joe Paterno was a teenager the last time the Owls topped the Nittany Lions. Many fans on both sides of this in-state matchup feel this is Temple’s best chance to finally beat Penn State. The last time that happened was 1941 and the streak is 28 entering Saturday’s game in Philadelphia. If it’s going to happen, then Bernard Pierce will likely have a lot to do with it. The junior running back has 297 yards (7.8 per tote) and 6 touchdowns in about six quarters of action this season. Temple coach Steve Adazzio faced the Nittany Lions last season in the Outback Bowl when he was Florida’s offensive coordinator.

(15) Michigan State at Notre Dame
Mark Dantonio had a heart attack following the Spartans’ OT win in East Lansing last year. Should Notre Dame fall to 0-3, a health watch may be issued for Irish coach Brian Kelly. Kidding aside – and it was great to see Dantonio recover and get back on the sideline last season --  the angst building up around the Irish would be unbearable during a season that was expected to be a strong one. Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees will challenge an MSU pass defense that ranks third nationally, but the Spartans know they have yet to go up against anything the caliber of Rees and WR Michael Floyd.

(22) Arizona State at Illinois
This could be a lot of fun – and one team will move to 3-0. Behind QB Brock Osweiler, the Sun Devils are boasting big numbers through the air while Illinois is averaging 283 yards per game on the ground. ASU is middle of the pack against the run, so it will be interesting to see if LB Vontaze Burfict and the Sun Devils’ defense can at least slow the Fighting Illini running game.

(17) Ohio State at Miami
Okay, get all the late-night talk show jokes out of your system. Al Golden has had a couple of weeks to get his players ready, including the return of quarterback Jacory Harris, who will be under a considerable spotlight as he starts his first game since the middle of last season. The Buckeyes get a few players back from NCAA suspensions, including running back Jordan Hall, giving coach Luke Fickell a little more to work with than he has the first two games. It’s a good thing because Miami is at home and the ‘Canes still have plenty of speed.

(6) Stanford at Arizona
The thumping Arizona took at Oklahoma State last week takes a little luster off this game. However, it is a Pac-12 opener pitting two outstanding quarterbacks: Stanford’s Heisman candidate Andrew Luck and the Wildcats’ Nick Foles. Arizona coach Mike Stoops has spent this week imploring his defense to pick up the pace from the opening series, something that did not happen in Stillwater.

Utah at BYU
Strange seeing this one on the schedule in September, no? When the Utes opted to leave the MWC for what would become the Pac-12, that left both athletic directors searching for a date to keep the rivalry alive. The traditional season-ending spot on the schedule would not work anymore because of Utah’s new conference structure. Then, BYU went independent. Indeed, much has changed. The intensity of the rivalry, however, most assuredly has not. 

Saturday on Versus, 2:30 ET
Texas Tech at New Mexico

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