College football has hit full stride and teams now face the meat of their conference schedules. October, as it often does, will go a long way in separating the contenders from the pretenders.
Can West Virginia's defense contribute something, anything at all, and help the team make a run at the BCS championship? Does LSU's recent poor play signal trouble? Will USC bounce back from an early season loss at Stanford and make an impact in the Top 10?
Many of these questions will be answered this Saturday, where a trio of games is sure to provide several more pieces to the college football puzzle.
USC vs. Utah (Thursday)
The skepticism about a possible upset in this game is understandable. Utah is coming off a 37-7 defeat at the hands of Arizona State, while the Trojans rebounded from their road loss to Stanford with a dominant 27-9 victory against Cal at the Coliseum.
But anyone who watched the Cardinal upset the Trojans saw the formula for stopping their prolific offense: Get to Matt Barkley early and often. This is the goal for every defense, but it's especially important when going up against a USC team with so much talent at the skill positions. And while Matt Barkley may not be a leading Heisman candidate anymore, he's still as dangerous as ever with time to throw.
That's where the Utes' defense comes in. They feature one of the premier defensive lineman in the game in DT Star Lotulelei and an aggressive defense that has played much better at home than on the road.
With the game being played at Rice-Eccles Stadium, you can be sure that Barkley and his offensive line are practicing communication this week. And it's no secret that wacky things can happen on Thursday nights in the Pac-12.
While it may be a long shot, I predict the Utes to give Kiffin's crew all they can handle and by the end of the night, USC's already slim chances at a title run may be dead in the water.
West Virginia vs. Texas
This must be a fun time for West Virginia fans. The offense is putting up video game numbers and Geno Smith appears to be the front-runner for the Heisman trophy at this point in the season.
The only problem for the Mountaineers is that football requires coaches to field an 11-man defense when their offense doesn't have the ball, and no one is really sure if Dana Holgorsen understands this. Because while seeing 70 points put up against Baylor had to be thrilling, the other side of the scoreboard read 63. Here's a guess that West Virginia won't win another game giving up 63 points. Or even 50.
This week, the Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey show makes its way to Austin where a hungry Longhorns team eager to jump into the fray awaits.
They are led by QB David Ash, who has thrown just one interception this year after tossing eight last season while splitting duties with Case McCoy. But it's the defense, with preseason Big-12 defensive player of the year Alex Okafor, that gives them a chance in this one.
In the highlights against Baylor, Geno Smith can be seen numerous times standing around in the pocket with ample time to throw. We're talking seven or eight seconds on some occasions. But Texas won't give him those chances, which will force Smith to make quicker decisions under pressure.
West Virginia is going to score a lot of points against every team they play. But if Mack Brown's defense can force Smith into a couple turnovers, the Mountaineers' record won't stay perfect beyond Saturday.
LSU vs. Florida
Sorry Tiger fans, but your party might be over soon. Without a regular season loss in almost two years, at least it's been a long one. But after scraping by Auburn 12-10 and sleepwalking through a 38-22 victory over Towson, things don't look good for Les Miles and co. as they head into The Swamp.
Zach Mettenberger was supposed to be the offensive savior after a year of ineptitude under Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. This hasn't been the case, but the offense has survived behind the power rushing attack of Kenny Hilliard, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford.
Florida, meanwhile, entered the season with a quarterback controversy and little confidence in either candidate. But Jeff Driskel quickly separated himself from Jacoby Brissett by flashing playmaking ability and good decisions in the passing game. Driskel is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes while running for almost five yards a carry.
I suspect the LSU defense will give Driskel everything he can handle, but his dual-threat ability makes him dangerous against any defense. And with Florida gaining momentum from road wins at Texas A&M (who is suddenly looking better and better each week) and Tennessee (who gave Georgia a few headaches last Saturday), the Gators appear ready to break through in a major way.
It's highly unlikely that we'll see the same, sluggish LSU team from the past couple weekends. Still, a trip to The Swamp is always difficult. And without any real momentum to speak of, the Tigers appear headed for a rare regular season loss.
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