Week 7 Saturday Six-Pack: Shoelaces, Horror Films and Explosive Showdowns

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Friend of the Blog Aaron Torres had suggested tagline for Week 7: “Oh my God, maybe I’ll actually hang out with my family, Saturday.”

It’s doubtful the Worldwide Leader adds this moniker to its rotation alongside “Road Test,” “Rivalry,” and “Showdown Saturday,” but he may be onto something. Perhaps previous weeks of five-plus top 25 pairings spoiled us. The slate isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just not the smorgasbord of greatness that was becoming the norm — not in the Bowl Subdivision, at least. There’s plenty of potential playoff-defining match-ups in the Championship Subdivision. Great week to give FCS a shot, eh?

For those insistent on FBS or bust though, there are games worthy of the Six-Pack, and more than a few with their own conference championship implications. In fact, most score quite highly on my completely arbitrary and made-up rating scale. So read on, won’t you?

Michigan at Michigan State

The least prominent of Michigan’s rivalry games may in fact be the most important to the Wolverines’ season. The Wolverines appear to have a very legitimate shot at winning the Legends division in its, and head coach Brady Hoke’s, first season. Then again, Stephen Sipple of HuskerExtra.com has a compelling case for why just about every one of the Legends could play in the inaugural Big Ten championship in Indianapolis. Among those candidates is Michigan State, a team that won a share of last season’s Big Ten championship yet has flown well below the radar all season.

Sparty’s lack of attention may be due partially to relying more on defense than an exciting offense. MSU ranks atop the FBS in yards allowed, a stat that should garner more attention given the Spartans have been better than Alabama, LSU, and Penn State in that regard. An imposing rush defense poses serious issues for Heisman-flirting Denard Robinson.

MSU had one of its great defensive showings in what is the Spartans’ most significant test to date against Notre Dame, yet the Irish dominated on the scoreboard, 31-13. UND used its own stout defense to shut down the Spartan offense, in particular the running game. Michigan State’s offense hasn’t quite got going yet this season, perhaps in part because of facing strong defenses like the Irish’s, and Ohio State’s. Kirk Cousins has shown an ability to click simultaneously with Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker, it just hasn’t come this season with last year’s offensive coordinator Don Treadwell gone.

This week, MSU will need both facets of its offense to click. While Michigan’s defense is vastly improved under Greg Mattison from what it was under Greg Robinson, the Wolverines are still vulnerable. Notre Dame and Northwestern were both able to exploit that vulnerability for stretches, before Mattison made the necessary adjustments, or in the case of UND, UM capitalized on turnovers. A war of attrition betters uits MSU than UM, so Al Borges will need to go deep into his bag of tricks to get Shoelaces going enough to get a few scores on the Spartan defense. Three touchdowns would seemingly do the trick.

    Rating: Five Brews

The major implications of this rivalry contest make it must-see television, even more so than every other time Denard Robinson takes the field. Shoelaces’ Heisman candidacy could be made or broken against this powerful Spartan defense. This game would be higher rated, if not for the anemia MSU’s offense has suffered from. Sparty must keep the score low in order to win, which doesn’t always make for the most viewer-friendly football.

Baylor at Texas A&M

Playing the role of Bill Murray’s Phil Connors from the 1992 film Groundhog Day is Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. Like Connors, DeRuyter is stuck in the same day over and over again, preparing week-in-and-out for a new offense that is essentially the same offense. In order, the Aggies have seen Oklahoma State (Brandon Weeden), Arkansas (Tyler Wilson), Texas Tech (Seth Doege) and now Baylor (Robert Griffin III). It’s one spread offense after another, run by some of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football. This week comes arguably the best of the bunch in RG3. The Baylor assassin adds a dynamic to the spread DeRuyter’s Aggie defense has yet to see. A track star in addition to a golden arm QB, Griffin can scramble with the best of ’em. Cue an enraged DeRuyter waking to “I Got You Babe.”

Of course, A&M has shown an ability to keep pace with high tempo offenses, even outperform them for stretches. Unfortunately for the Ags, part of their Groundhog Day included jumping to a big lead, only to falter as was the case vs. OSU and Arkansas. Last week, the curse began to snap when A&M held off Texas Tech long enough to get the W.

The Aggies can score in bunches, courtesy of a multifaceted rushing attack. Ryan Tannehill’s passing has left something to be desired (five interceptions and just seven touchdowns), but he’s rushed for nearly 200 yards to complement halfway-to-1000 rushers Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael. Mike Sherman’s getting away from the run was A&M’s undoing against Okie State and Arkansas, and if the Bears establish tempo early he may be forced into passing whether he wants to or not.

    Rating: Six Brews

The Big 12 has certainly been exciting, and while it’s only been on the winning end of such contests once, A&M has been good for exciting finishes. The Aggies’ struggles to contain spread offenses suggests RG3 will have yet another big day, which for unabashed Griffin lovers like myself is a very good thing. Expect a high scoring shootout as the A&M Farewell Tour rolls on.

Arizona State at Oregon

GameDay is in Eugene and wraps up a full 10 hours before kickoff of this potential Pac-12 Championship game preview. That’s a lot of time for Duck fans to tailgate and get *ahem* ready for the Sun Devils. Autzen Stadium will be a madhouse. While the stock put into homefield advantages is sometimes overstated. Not at Autzen. The Ducks are completely different team in their home confines, playing with a swagger and intimidation level seen in very few other locales on the football landscape.

Disrupting Brock Osweiler’s playcalling might be the best defense Oregon poses. The Ducks have looked every bit as youthful defensively as they in fact are. Arizona moved the ball with relative ease on the Duck defense, an inept Cal offense looked amazingly compotent against it for one half last week, and LSU outright abused UO. The Sun Devils have shown a nice balance between Osweiler and the emerging Cameron Marshall. That one-two punch should force a shootout, because heaven knowns UO will score.

LaMichael James may be sidelined after suffering a gruesome-looking dislocation, but DeAnthony Thomas looked ready to slide comfortably into the featured back role last Thursday. Expect Thomas on a lot of swing passes, as the short stuff has been Darron Thomas’ best bet. Thomas’ worst bet is hanging quails in the vicinity of Vontaze Burfict. The Human Horror Film Burfict stalks the field with the cold-blooded ferocity of Jason Voorhees, Leatherface and Michael Myers rolled into one. If Thomas gets too bold on a scramble, or leaves a receiver vulnerable, Halloween will come early in Eugene.

Keeping the atmosphere raucous early will be critical for the Ducks. High emotions tend to work against ASU’s favor, an Achilles’ heel of Dennis Erickson-coached teams. In its last high-emotion game vs. USC, the Sun Devils were not too heavily impacted, but only because in Lane Kiffin’s Trojans they were facing a unit with less discipline than their own.

    Rating: Six Brews

Big games have not been Erickson’s, or Arizona State’s, fortay in the last decade-plus. A-State already faltered once in such a test, losing to Illinois a few weeks ago. But this has been a season of baby steps in the right direction for ASU. The Sun Devils showed gravitas in holding off Missouri for a nationally televised win, then snapped the conference’s longest losing streak to USC to follow. Oregon might still be a step quicker, but the Sun Devils will bring the fight.

Kansas State at Texas Tech

Talk about polar opposites: Kansas State has started 5-0 as the result of a slow tempo, ball control style. K-State is using a top 20 defense to stifle opponents at a sub-300 ypg pace, then use a nation’s best 35:57 time of possession differential as the proverbial water torture to force them into submission. It isn’t the prettiest style, but it’s certainly effective. The Wildcats took the air completely out of the ball last week vs. Missouri, a high tempo offensive foe. But the Tigers aren’t quite the offensive powder keg of Texas Tech, which boasts the nation’s seventh best passing attack behind Seth Doege. The Red Raider QB is following in the footsteps of so many stat-munching Tech passers, winging the ball around the field at a nearly 72 percent complete rate.

Tech may be glad to surrender time of possession, if it means the Red Raider passing attack is getting quick points. The Wildcats’ rush-centric style can’t keep pace if that’s the direction this game goes.

    Rating: Three Brews

Is Kansas State for real? Is Texas Tech’s start the byproduct of bad competition? How will these styles clash? Can Doege and the high scoring Red Raiders prove that K-State’s style is in the past for a reason? Many questions form the plot of this game, but above all is this: will it be any good?

UCF at SMU


Another contrast of very different styles, defensive-minded, rush-heavy UCF’s C-USA crown could be on the line in Dallas. The Golden Knights have not broken the 20-point threshold since walloping Boston College 30-3 on Sept. 10 — but, also haven’t surrendered more than 17 all season. Contrast that with SMU, which since the same Sept. 10 date hasn’t scored fewer than 40 points and something has to give.

The Golden Knights stifled SMU in last season’s C-USA title game, allowing just seven points. This UCF defense may actually be better than last season’s version, but so is the SMU offense. That’s because June Jones has created an environment in which the potent passer-receiver tandem of J.J. McDermott and Darius Johnson can flourish. If the Mustangs’ ability to air it out wasn’t challenging enough for defenses, add Zach Line to the mix. Line is among the top rushers in all of college football, and has scored more TDs on the ground than anyone but Montee Ball or Bernard Pierce — and his 11 have come in five games, compared to their 13 and 15 in six respectively.

UCF packs its own rushing punch. Quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey is a capable ball carrier, whose place in the offense gets a boost with the return of Brynn Harvey. Harvey went off for 180 yards a week ago. Taking the air out of the ball is paramount to the Golden Knights’ success, as the last time they gave up more than 20 (Nov. 13 vs. Southern Miss), they lost.

    Rating: Three Brews

Since getting trounced by Texas A&M in Week 1, SMU has played like the class of C-USA. June Jones’ offense is firing on all cylinders thanks to McDermott, Johnson and Line. This is the best offense UCF has faced this season, and may be the best it sees the entire campaign. Containing the Mustangs will be difficult

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest

The only thing more surprising than Wake Forest’s 4-1 start is that the Demon Deacons’ sole loss is to Syracuse. Since faltering in the fourth quarter of Week 1, Wake has won four straight including just its sixth ever defeat of Florida State.

Clemson had previously pulled off the back-to-back clip of FSU and Va. Tech. Can Wake do the same? It will be an uphill battle, but one the Deacs can win. The Hokie secondary is typically the best in the ACC, but thus far is an uncharacteristically so-so 41st overall. Quarterback Tanner Price is one-half of my Top 10 QB-WR combos, and last week picked apart a Florida State secondary ranked in the nation’s top 20. That doesn’t bode well for the young VPI pass defense.

Going heavily on defensive backs won’t necessarily be the answer for Bud Foster’s defense either. While it may slow Chris Givens and Terence Davis, the Hokies must also worry about running back Josh Harris. His presence gives Wake that extra wrinkle on offense to be just dangerous enough for a surprise ACC title run.

On the flip side, Tech should be able to move the ball. Logan Thomas looked comfortable carrying the ball against Miami, and last week vs. FSU the Demon Deacons struggled most when E.J. Manuel was on the field as opposed to the more pocket style quarterback Clint Trickett.

    Rating: Four Brews

The magnitude of this win, should Wake pull it off, does lose some of its impact. However, it would elevate the Demon Deacons very realistically into the ACC championship conversation, and Jim Grobe potentially into national coach of the year talk. But when it comes to great coaching, Frank Beamer is at the top of the list and will have a young VTech team prepared. There will be no taking the Deacs lightly for these Hokies. Saturday should provide a real insight into just how legitimate Price and Co. is.


FCS Bonus

Everyone knows Coastal Carolina for head coach David Bennett and his “be a dog,” monologue. But did you know the Chanticleers are the reigning Big South Conference champions, and currently 4-1 on the 2011 season? CCU’s quest for a second straight NCAA Playoff appearance faces perhaps its highest hurdle this week with Liberty coming to town. The Flames’ offense features one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the subdivision, Mike Brown. Brown is the reigning two-time Big South Offensive Player of the Year, a feat impressive enough without considering he accomplished it at two different positions: wideout and QB. Stony Brook appears to have rebounded from an 0-3 start and should factor into the mix, but the league’s automatic playoff bid could emerge from this game.

In the FCS answer to the SEC, the Colonial, there’s a trio of big games: UMass at Delaware, New Hampshire at William & Mary and surprising upstart Old Dominion at surprisingly resurgent Towson. Of course, just about every week there’s a trio of postseason-shaping contest in the CAA, which is why Joe Suhoski checks in with his breakdown as he does each week.

The consistency of the CAA has only been surpassed by that of Montana, but the Grizzlies hit an unexpected snag a season ago. At 4-2, the Griz appear to be back but their return to the postseason could be predicated on this Saturday’s game. Montana hosts Portland State, one of the most dangerous rushing offenses in the FCS and a team coming off a heartbreaking 38-35 loss to reigning Big Sky champion Montana State a week ago. PSU’s playoff life just might be on the line in one of the rowdiest, most challenging venues for opponents anywhere in college football. Fire up the laptop while you have FBS on the tube and follow this game for free via America One.

Orwin Smith, Football’s James Spader

“The Office” was among my favorite shows its first few seasons, e.g. when the American writers had source material to lift and repackage from Ricky Gervais’s original but I digress. By about 2008, it had grown stale and repetitive and I had given up paying attention to it. That stretch mirrors Georgia Tech, which early in the Paul Johnson era was among my favorite teams to watch. In their Orange Bowl season, the Jonathan Dwyer/Josh Nesbitt/Demaryius Thomas combination had made the Yellow Jackets a top tier team. But in 2010, Tech was floundering and rather uninteresting.

Against North Carolina and Maryland, I gave Tech another shot. There were still some apparent flaws, but not enough to turn me off what the Wreck has going. Similarly I saw my first “Office” episode in a few years Thursday night. While some of the eyerolling and out-of-place slapstick that turned me off previously still existed, there were enough glimmers of brilliance to peak my interest. For “The Office,” it was James Spader. Spader’s long had outstanding comedic presence, but been underappreciated (see: “Boston Legal”). His time on “The Office” was excellent, but all-too brief. Georgia Tech’s parallel is Orwin Smith.

Smith is the kind of back that makes the option offense a joy to watch when run properly. He’s explosive, to the tune of eight touchdowns and 14.5 yards per carry. But he’s only carried the ball 32 times.

Perhaps both need to be used sparingly in order to make them that much more effective. Perhaps this comparison is far too convoluted, as my tendency to make every mundane detail of life analogous to college football sometimes proves debilitating.

On the topic of television analogies, you may want to skip ahead to the week’s beverage selection if you are a current or potential “Breaking Bad” viewer who has yet to see Sunday’s season finale as spoilers are contained within.

Admiral Ackbar Trap Game a.k.a. Tio Salamanca Bomb Game


The always-prevalent Trap Game may await someone in Week 7, but the Rebel Force’s Mon Calamari commander gets a break for this Saturday. “Breaking Bad” wrapped up Season 4 last Sunday, and unless you are a total troll the penultimate season’s conclusion left you on the edge of your seat, shocked. With the program seemingly headed to a final season showdown of Walter White and Gus Fring, a man so bad-ass the Cartel wouldn’t take him down, Vince Gilligan threw us for a loop. Wheelchair-and-oxygen tank-bound Hector Salamanca derailed what most thought was the inevitable final face-off in explosive fashion. Each college football season, the unlikeliest of candidates blows up the BCS aspirations of more powerful foes.

Clemson is 6-0 with wins over the ACC’s own cartel of powerhouses, Florida State and Virginia Tech. Maryland has languished to a 2-3 start, in many ways battered and beat down. Yet Dabo Swinney should avoid pulling a Gus by assuming this week’s foe is easily disposed of. There are plenty of potential bombs still on the Terrapin roser.

UM showed that in the second half against Georgia Tech. The Terrapins actually dominated the final 30 minutes. Quarterback C.J. Brown proved himself an unexpected gem, filling in for the struggling Danny O’Brien. Brown rushed for over 120 yards on just nine carries. His passing left something to be desired, but those wheels do provide the Terrapins an element they lacked with O’Brien. The Terps’ defense shutting down one of the most dangerous offenses of this season’s first half through the final two quarters was also a statement UM had yet to make.

Saturday night is Homecoming for the Terps, so the Tigers certainly won’t be entering the most “Tranquila” of environments /awfulpun.

Though the Casa Tranquila incident changed the course of “Breaking Bad”‘s final season, it makes the finale no less exciting than an upset does the BCS Championship picture. What is disappointing about both is how eagerly the seasons of both college football and “Bad” are anticipated in the eight or nine months they’re on hiatus, and how rapidly they fly by once in-season.

Saturday’s Six-Pack: Maui Brewing Big Swell IPA

For the beer connoisseur who enjoys a hoppy brew, the always-outstanding Maui Brewing Co. has its Big Swell IPA. The Big Swell IPA has that bitter bite expected of an IPA, but without the oftentimes overwhelming heaviness of other IPAs. And like all of Maui’s beverages, it comes in a can, which makes for easier tailgating.