It’s over. We’re here. We’re OK. We’re mostly upright. Tennessee-Florida can’t hurt us anymore. Savannah State is off the FBS schedule. AQ conference teams are playing division rivals. Ranked teams are playing other ranked teams. There’s a top-10 cross-SEC matchup right in the middle of the schedule on Saturday, one featuring a cat mascot versus a dog mascot, that you don’t even need cable to watch.
Brothers and sisters, we’re through to Week 5. Side effects may include dizziness, nausea, and unquenchable bloodlust.
On Your Marquee
All times Eastern.
• No. 6 LSU at no. 9 Georgia. For unadulterated, all-American, knock-down, drag-out splendor, you can’t beat a horde of riotously inebriated Cajuns descending upon the finest college town in sports to see the serene dean of God’s own football league do battle with the mad Hat. Just ask the CBS headliner crew and the roving carnival of ESPN’s College GameDay, both of which are setting up shop in Athens this weekend. With LSU at 4-0 and Georgia at 2-1, and with the Bulldogs’ only loss coming early to now–no. 3 Clemson, both teams are still in national title contention. To even get to the game that gets them to Pasadena, however, they’re going to need varying amounts of luck and help.
Georgia’s yacht-rockin’ schedule has been a sore spot among sulky conference rivals for several years now. This season’s slate is tougher, but should the Dawgs get by LSU at home, they’ll face legitimate threats for a conference loss only from Florida and Auburn the rest of the way, and neither of those games is insurmountable. It’s not a cakewalk slate, but neither is it the balance of the Bayou Bengals’ schedule, which features a home date with Florida, potential trap games against Ole Miss and Arkansas, a trip to Alabama, and a visit from Texas A&M. Even with a loss here, Georgia could still take the East if it wins out, by virtue of a head-to-head advantage over South Carolina. The Tigers, racing with the Aggies and Tide for the West title, will find the going less fortunate.1
Les Miles is still the only SEC head coach who’s ever beaten Nick Saban more than once since his installation in Tuscaloosa. Could we be in for a version of that 2003 Florida-Georgia-Tennessee lobster-pot season, with the top three teams in the West each holding a loss to one of the others?
The marquee matchup within the marquee matchup is Georgia’s offense, the most potent and well-rounded LSU is likely to face this year outside of Johnny Football’s, versus the Tigers’ perennially stalwart defense. Aaron Murray passed the thousand-yard aerial mark last week against North Texas, and the ability to hand off to Todd Gurley or Keith Marshall is an enviable one. But don’t make a snack run just because LSU’s holding on to the football: Zach Mettenberger, who traded snaps with Murray in a long-ago Georgia spring game before getting himself banned from Valdosta and taking the long way around to an SEC starting gig of his own, leads a surprisingly potent attack; running back Jeremy Hill bullied his way through Auburn to the tune of 183 yards last week, and the Dawgs’ defenses have been a mite bedraggled this year.
Of particular concern should be the moments when the ball has left a Georgia player’s foot and is hurtling end over end toward one Odell Beckham. The Dawgs allowed a 99-yard kickoff return to North Texas last week,2 and Beckham is the guy who did this. (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS)
As well as a blocked punt recovered in the end zone for another Mean Green score.
Always appreciate perspective from @LSUCoachMiles. On the significance of the Georgia game. “It’s just one, but it’s an important one”
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) September 25, 2013
• No. 14 Oklahoma at no. 22 Notre Dame. Last year in Norman, the Irish blew open what had been a tight defensive struggle thanks to a 50-yard strike from Everett Golson that set up a go-ahead score and a diving interception by Manti Te’o that snuffed out the Sooners’ answering scoring opportunity. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, Golson and Te’o are both gone this year, though the Irish do retain most of the rest of the defensive core that stifled the Sooners to 15 net rushing yards last time.
But they’ll need every bit of defensive witchcraft they can summon to handle Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell. The “Belldozer” originally made a name for himself as the Sooners’ punishing short-yardage option, but it turns out the dude can throw a little, carpet-bombing Tulsa for 413 passing yards and four touchdowns in his first start at QB. A revenge win against the Irish would give OU a full head of steam as it enters the thick of a Big 12 conference race that’s as wide open as the Sooner State. (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., NBC)
• No. 23 Wisconsin at no. 4 Ohio State. Ohio State may possess the FBS’s longest active winning streak at 16 games, but there are probably more than a few Buckeyes fans who’d trade that for Wisconsin’s streak of three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. The Buckeyes get a chance to reimpose their will on an already partially deflated Big Ten when the Badgers pay a visit to the Horseshoe this weekend.
Wisconsin will field three running backs (Melvin Gordon, James White, and Corey Clement) on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards each; Ohio State, however, has not one but two quarterbacks (Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton) who are more than capable of giving the Badgers’ defense fits with both their arms and their legs. In theory, the “if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none” rule would apply here, were it not for the eye-popping stats (664 yards, 13 touchdowns, two picks) Guiton has run up while subbing for the injured Miller. Miller is expected to return to action this weekend; whoever gets the start will be leading a team that hopes to return to Pasadena not as the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl representative, but as a national title contender. (Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC)
Weeknight Football: Should I Bother?
• If 49ers-Rams doesn’t crank your tractor, sure, OK, it’s your life: Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN)
• ERROR — FILE NOT FOUND: Iowa State at Tulsa (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
• You like passing? We like passing: Utah State at San Jose State (Friday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
• Something really weird might happen here: Middle Tennessee State at BYU (Friday, 9 p.m., ESPNU)
A conversation with first-year Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, in advance of a Saturday Badgers-Buckeyes tilt that will shape what we are still apparently calling the Leaders divisional race.
What’s been the biggest adjustment for you, coming from Utah State to a place like Wisconsin?
The fast pace of recruiting. At Utah State, recruiting was obviously the most important thing, just like it is here, but it’s so amped up. The easiest way for me to explain that to you is, December, January, and February are just at a hectic pace of recruiting at Utah State. And that same pace is kept up [in Wisconsin] pretty much year-round. And we have more people, we have more support, so that obviously lessens the burden, but you’ve gotta be on cue, basically 24/7.
What’s been the most meaningful upgrade, in terms of resources?
I’ve never said that delegation is one of my strong traits, but the ability to be able to delegate here. The facilities are awesome. [But] the plan still stays in place. It’s the same plan, as far as dealing with the kids every day. That never changes. And our core beliefs in the program, that’s all there. It’s just when you add in recruiting all the time, and you add in the having to go out and speak, and be involved in the booster side of it, that’s up probably 400 percent from what I had to do at Utah State. Me structuring my time and making sure I keep the assistants headed in the right direction is a challenge every day.
How cathartic was that Purdue win, after the weirdness of the week before?
It was a big win, for a lot of reasons. Obvious ones — a Big Ten win, coming back home. But really, playing that well after you faced the kind of adversity those kids faced, because it was so unique and different. As a head coach, you have a lot of ways to explain what took place, and what you did good, and what you can do better. Why you didn’t win the game. That was not the case [in Tempe]. We did what we had to do on the last drive, and we believe we put ourselves in a spot and didn’t get a chance to execute. When the kids don’t get to decide the game, I’d never gone through that as a head coach. So that was very unique. And frankly, quite honestly, difficult for me to be able to deal with. But the kids ground right through it, they came back and did a nice job. It was definitely a big win, to come out and play that way.
So for their part, the kids were pretty resilient?
Oh, yeah. Unbelievably. Good teams are gonna be involved in close, tightly contested football games. There’s gonna be a winner and a loser. They walk on the field and expect they’re going to win every single week. When they didn’t, which we’ve experienced one time this year, they bounced back very well. Now, it’s a senior-laden team. There’s 24 very strong seniors that care a very great deal about this university and about their team, and they handled it very professionally and kind of took the lead, jumped ahead first and kind of demanded that the young guys bounce back and practice well, and that’s exactly what they did.
You guys have had a mostly favorable schedule, heading into your most difficult game of the year. What have you learned about the team, watching them operate in those low-pressure games?
Well, I think the third game was —
Right, except for that one.
We seem to be very level. Whether we’re up by 21 points or down by 10 points, we want to stay level-headed and keep playing. The other thing is we’ve gotten an opportunity to play a lot of young players. I like how hard they played. They’ve come in and played with tremendous effort, which is a great thing to see.
They also take coaching very well. Sideline adjustments have been made during the games, especially during critical times. That’s really a credit to all the coaches and the players.
What are your thoughts on the value of FCS opponents in general? What do you guys gain, besides the win, playing a school like Tennessee Tech?
Well, if you look at it on the flipside, a lot of those teams are winning. And if you lose, you’ve got a whole bunch to lose.
I don’t know its true place. I don’t have a feeling on what’s best in that situation. I think it’s important that the playing field is level as far as some people playing those games. On the other side, it’s great for college football as a whole, because it’s a great payday for those schools. And it keeps athletics, not just football, a lot of times, afloat at those other schools. I believe there’s a lot of positives that come out of it. But it is the great debate. I understand the debate of what fans want to see. That’s one of the reasons you saw the Big Ten move to nine regular-season games.
Ohio State has this bewildering array of offensive weapons, even more weapons than it had last year. As a defensive guy, coming in, where do you ground your game plan?
They have really upgraded themselves from a year ago in the skill area, in my opinion. The kids that were in the program have gotten better, and they’ve added young men that’re obviously very talented, and then they use them the right way. They’re well coached.
You start where you always start, in my opinion: You start on stopping the run. This is a team that can run the ball, and they’ve proven that, so you’d better account for the quarterback and the run game, which is another whole set of questions you’ve got to sit down and deal with. That’s the key. This offense starts unbelievably quick. 102-14, or whatever it is, in the first quarter? That stat is absolutely mind-boggling.
And then you just kinda build it from there. Hopefully you can get into some third downs, get a little creative on third down and cause some indecision in the quarterback; then when you have indecision in the quarterback, with an athletic quarterback, then you gotta be able to tackle him. So that’s the next set of problems.
You’re no stranger to playing overmatched teams. What lessons do you bring from the mid-majors that you’d like to apply to this game?
These kids believe they’re going to win. And that’s a great place to start when you’re walking into any game. It doesn’t matter where any of the young men on this team at Wisconsin walk into, they’re going to walk in and not think they can win. They’re going to walk in and expect to win. That’s something we had to work hard at at Utah State. [Ohio State is] legitimately the best team in the country, as far as I would be concerned. But we’re lucky, because our kids, they believe. And that’s all you can do is start there, and you prepare, and you prepare.
Ohio State’s gotten the best of them the past few years, obviously, but they’ve been tightly contested games, and that should give kids confidence walking in. They’re going to get a quality opponent. They believe that they’re a quality opponent for Ohio State. So it’s what college football should be. Two very good teams competing, different styles, especially on the offensive side of the football. It’ll be an interesting football game.
• Pointiest potential pointsplosion: No. 11 Oklahoma State at West Virginia. A year ago, we would’ve predicted a 150-point game here. A week after the Mountaineers got shut out 37-0 by Maryland, we’re thinking more like 75, with the vast majority of them scored by the ‘Pokes, and the couches of Morgantown refusing to flame, smoldering in sullen resistance instead. (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
• Most captivating undercard: No. 12 South Carolina at Central Florida. A thought:
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) September 25, 2013
Now, we’re not telling you where your cheering interests should lie here, because asking strangers to cheer for George O’Leary is asking a lot. We’re just saying #Bortlesball is fun to say. (Saturday, noon, ABC)
• Sarah McLachlan Specials of the Week: The good news is that out of the Temple-Idaho (Saturday, 5 p.m., local networks only) and San Diego State–New Mexico State (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN3) tilts, two previously oh-fer teams are guaranteed to emerge with something in the W column. The bad news is, there is no other good news.
• Most promising nightcap: The island home game comes through again, with no. 25 Fresno State vs. Hawaii getting the midnight kickoff nod. Several Pac-12 contests kick off at 10 p.m. or later, but our eye is drawn to Cal at no. 2 Oregon. When we say Oregon hasn’t had to do a whole lot to win, that makes Oregon sound lazy, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Ask Marcus Mariota’s limbs: 184 points in three weeks is a job. But the Ducks haven’t had to struggle. That’s not likely to change too much in Week 5; Oregon will win this one paddling away, but we’re interested to see the Ducks defend Sonny Dykes’s fledgling Bear Raid, and are already captivated by future Pac-12 North divisional matchups between these two.
• Wait, Ole Miss is ranked? In what, pant creasing? Don’t touch that dial:3 The Fightin’ Ackbars have, in fact, attained the no. 21 spot after a close win at Vanderbilt, a leisurely defeat of Southeast Missouri State, and a decisive pantsing of a little team known as the Texas Longhorns. In Week 5, Mississippi gets a crack at another plucky upstart going by the curious nickname “Crimson Tide.” Potentially diverting elements to watch for here: Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace versus Nick Saban’s evolving secondary, and the Rebs’ stingy run defense versus Bama’s ground attack. (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN)
• Hey, whatever happened to Alex Collins after that bizarro signing day? Arkansas’s true freshman tailback is the first player in SEC history to record three 100-yard games in his first three outings, so we can probably pretty safely say he’s doing OK for himself, considering? Enjoy whatever havoc he’s about to wreak on a Texas A&M defense that ranks 105th nationally against the run. (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
• What in the hell are we to make of Washington? Still too early to say, but lord have mercy, have the Huskies been fun to watch. A surprising dismantling of then–no. 19 Boise State in Week 1 and a close neutral-site win over Illinois in Week 2 hint at high entertainment to come. The Huskies will meet the Arizona Wildcats, fellow offensive enthusiasts from the other end of the Pac-12, at 7 on Saturday night. (Fox)
Arbitrary Power Rankings: Violent-Sounding, Fresh Produce–Based Nicknames
Marlon Humphrey, State thinks you’re great. We think you could do better, at least in the menace-exuding department.
- Melon Baller
- Pomegranate Bandit
- Killer Tomato
- Orange Crush
- Grape of Wrath
- Cherry Bomb
- Fruit Punch
- Garlic Press
- Kale Impale
- Lemon Fresh
“Make a few mil, beat Clemson like an old drum, drink Sprite with your pinky up, be the best college coach around … then you can.” —Kenny Miles on Steve Spurrier’s sartorial splendor