Two weeks ago, the story of the college football world was West Virginia and Baylor combining for 133 points in a 70-63 Mountaineers victory. The offensive explosion was simply astounding as each defense acted as a sieve.
Quarterback Geno Smith asserted himself as front runner for the Heisman Trophy by throwing for an otherworldly 656 yards and eight touchdowns. Wide receiver Stedman Bailey had about as good a game as a wide receiver can possibly have with 13 receptions for 303 yards and five touchdowns. (My fantasy football opponent that week had Bailey on his team. You guessed it, I lost.)
No one quite knew what to make of West Virginia, however. It was known that Baylor had a poor defense coming into the game. The jury would still be out until the Mountaineers played a better team and a defense that had pulse.
Last weekend, West Virginia traveled to Texas to take on a ranked Longhorns team in a difficult environment. With NFL-caliber talent on the Texas defense, it was thought that the Moutaineers’ offense would be put to the test.
The ‘Eers came away with a 48-45 victory, but still, not everyone is buying what coach Dana Holgorsen is selling. There’s talk that Texas has one of the most underachieving defenses in America and is not getting adequate effort out of its highly-recruited players.
There’s no doubt that West Virginia’s offense is impressive, but its defense sure isn’t going to stop anyone. The question is, how long can it keep outscoring opponents? Good defenses exist in the Big XII, but maybe they’re not SEC-level good.
It could be a case where West Virginia is good enough to run the table all the way to the BCS National Championship and then finally meet its match when it faces an Alabama or South Carolina or Florida defense that really packs a a punch and has athletes as good or better than the Mountaineer offense.
It’s happened to Oregon under Chip Kelly with a pinball-like offense racking up big-time points and blowing through the defenseless Pac-12 Conference. The poor Duck mascot can barely keep up doing all those push-ups.
But Oregon has met its match out of conference, frequently in the postseason, as pointed out by Pete Fiutak of CollegeFootballNews.com.
“The gimmick has been great at turning Oregon a national powerhouse,” writes Fiutak, “but there’s a rock-hard ceiling that the team will never get through unless it plays an offensive-minded team for the national title and avoids an experienced defense team like LSU in 2011, Auburn in the 2011 BCS championship, Boise State in the 2009 opener and Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl. The Ducks can get to Wally World with this offense, but sorry folks, park’s closed. The moose out front is telling you.”
West Virginia travels to Texas Tech on Saturday to take on Red Raiders defense that’s ranked second in the nation in total defense by giving up only 210 yards per game. There’s reason to think that West Texas defense is an imposter, however, as they’re only 22nd in scoring defense after giving up 41 points to Oklahoma last week.
At some point, whether it’s this week or not, the Mountaineers are going to meet their match. But that time might not come until January.
The Wisconsin Connection
After an ugly, ugly start to the season, Wisconsin has quietly been getting better every week. The Badgers probably should have lost to Northern Iowa and Utah State and did versus Oregon State.
But since that time, they got past UTEP, played well in a loss to Nebraska on the road and finally outmuscled an opponent by punishing Illinois.
This week the Badgers travel to Purdue in what could be the most important game of the season. Seriously. It’s the de facto Big Ten Leaders division championship.
Because Ohio State and Penn State are both ineligible for the postseason, and Illinois and Indiana are just plain poor, that leaves Wisconsin and Purdue duking it out for Leaders division supremacy. As sad as that might be, it’s reality.
The winner of Saturday’s game has the inside track to the Big Ten championship game and a shot at the Rose Bowl. Neither Wisconsin nor Purdue is particularly deserving of that honor, but one of them will receive it anyway.
The challenge this week for the Badgers will not only be taking on Purdue on the road, but facing Boilermakers defensive lineman Kawaan Short who’s sure to be an early-round NFL Draft choice.
The Wisconsin offensive line has struggled all season, and now they’ll face the best player they’ve taken on all year. But the Badgers have hope, because Short and his defensive teammates sure didn’t do very much last week when they couldn’t corral Denard Robinson and gave up 44 points to Michigan.
Prediction: Wisconsin will come away with an ugly win at Purdue, but a win is a win. They keep momentum on their side, and there’s a possibility they can turn the season around if they can just keep plugging away and pick off the opponents they’re supposed to beat. Badgers win 24-21.
Where College Gameday Is At
The ESPN College Gameday crew travels to South Bend, Ind. for its first visit to Notre Dame since 2005 as they’re in town to watch the Fighting Irish take on the Stanford Cardinal.
First team to score twice wins!
It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out slobberknocker as both teams are mirror images of each other. Both have tough defenses and inconsistent offenses.
The linebackers will be the stars of the show. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o is one of the best, if not the best, defensive player in the nation this year with 48 tackles and three interceptions from his middle linebacker position. Stanford, meanwhile has one of the best collections of linebackers in America with Chase Thomas, Shayne Skove and Trent Murphy.
Stanford can’t get frustrated with their running game. Stepfan Taylor isn’t going to find much running room against the stout Irish front seven, but the coaches are going to have to keep banging Taylor and let him grind out as much as possible, because the Cardinal passing game isn’t very good.
Only be committing to Taylor will the play-action passing game open up and maybe Josh Nunes will finally find big tight end targets Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz downfield.
Notre Dame can counter with a tight end of their own, Tyler Eifert, who’s one of the best in the country. It will be up to quarterback Everett Golson, however, to put the ball on the money and deliver it to Eifert and company, which has been easier said than done this season.
Prediction: There will be at least one defensive touchdown scored this game, probably by Notre Dame. Irish win 17-10.
What Happened Before Saturday
With a 51-17 win at Colorado Thursday evening, Arizona State has set itself up as a contender in the Pac-12 South.
At this point, though, they are still a contender and nothing more. They still haven’t earned the status as “favorite.”
Even though they’re 3-0 in conference play, the Sun Devils haven’t really beaten anyone all that impressive. By getting past Colorado, California and Utah, they’ve basically beaten the bottom feeders of the Pac-12.
More will be learned about Arizona State in a hurry with their next four games against Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and USC in order.
Coach Todd Graham has done a nice job with the Sun Devils so far, and without doubt, it’s a team worthy of going to a bowl game. But whether they can actually challenge USC and UCLA to represent the South division will be determined over the course of the next month.
***To see which NFL teams are sending scouts to college football games this weekend, check out the website of NFL Draft analyst Chris Steuber.***
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.