Georgia Tech at North Carolina (12:00 ET)
THE LINE: North Carolina -2
THE PLOT: That neither team is ranked is beyond the point; this game is huge in terms of respect for either team. The outcome of this game will send waves throughout the ACC for the remainder of the year.
Both teams could use a win right now. The ACC could use a win right now.
North Carolina has played just one game so far this year, a six-point loss to then-No. 21 LSU in Atlanta. The Butch Davis-led group found themselves down 20 at halftime, but battled back for the one-score loss. The Tar Heels played competitively without thirteen of their better players.
North Carolina could really rebound from all the negative attention they added this offseason by defeating a solid Georgia Tech squad in Chapel Hill. What might be a bigger obstacle than actually playing the Yellow Jackets? That would be the fact that UNC has lost their last nine conference openers.
Georgia Tech is coming off a truly embarrassing loss to Kansas in Lawrence. At that point, the Yellow Jackets were ranked No. 15 in the nation. Right now, they do not own an identity.
While the Tar Heels’ defense is one of the best in the ACC, maybe even the country, the Yellow Jacket offense is extremely hard to contain. Last season, Georgia Tech put up 24 points on 406 yards of offense. Oh, and they held UNC to just 154 total yards.
Who will win?
THE PICK: During their respective tenures at their school, Davis is 8-8 coming off a loss while Paul Johnson is undefeated in five games, four of those victories coming against ranked opponents. In the two head-to-head games they have been a part of, the two have split victories.
I expect Georgia Tech to defeat the Tar Heels Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill. I think Georgia Tech’s defense will show up and smother UNC’s quarterback TJ Yates, who had a monster performance in the Tar Heels’ only game this season.
THE SCORE: Georgia Tech 28, North Carolina 7
Maryland at No. 21 West Virginia (12:00 ET)
THE LINE: West Virginia -10
THE PLOT: Like the ACC, the Big East has had a poor showing thus far on the year.
Cincinnati has already lost as many games this year as they did in 2009. Pittsburgh lost a tough season opener in a hostile environment at Utah. South Florida was recently embarrassed by a poor-playing Florida team. Connecticut shellacked Texas Southern by 59 points, but lost to an inexperienced Michigan team by 20 the week prior. Rutgers beat a Florida International team that has not won more than five games in a year since coming up to the FBS level, 19-14 last weekend. Syracuse and Louisville both dropped important games already that would have sent the program in a direction for the better.
That leaves West Virginia. The Mountaineers are now the frontrunners to win the Big East, but might find some struggles along the way. They opened the year in convincing fashion with a 31-0 win over Coastal Carolina. But the following week, WVU needed a last second touchdown and an overtime field goal to beat Marshall.
Maryland, on the other hand, has proved to be a solid and consistent team. The Terrapins were not supposed to beat Navy in Baltimore on September 6th, but they did. They shut down Heisman darkhorse and rushing touchdown record-setting quarterback Ricky Dobbs impressively. Last Friday, the Terps degraded Morgan State 62-3 and scored the most points in 35 years.
THE PICK: Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen is 12-19 against top 25 schools in his 10 years with the Terrapins, but is just 3-7 since 2004 against non-conference BCS opponents.
If Maryland’s defense can play as well as it has the first two games, they can easily shut down Mountaineer running back Noel Devine, the last Heisman hopeful from the Big East. Limiting what Devine can do will put all the pressure on inexperienced starting quarterback Geno Smith.
West Virginia has little room for mistake here.
Their flat win over Marshall moved them up two spots in the rankings, but down any and every other list.
The Mountaineers are still looking for a dominating performance from Devine, who has just 26 total touchdowns in 40 career games. If West Virginia can avoid an offensive collapse, then they should be able to outscore Maryland in Morgantown on Saturday.
THE SCORE: West Virginia 27, Maryland 24
No. 1 Alabama at Duke (3:30 ET)
THE LINE: Alabama -24
THE PLOT: Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is an Alabama man himself. If anyone from Duke knows a thing about the Crimson Tide, it’s Cutcliffe.
Alabama is the best team in the country. Very few people outside of Durham think Duke even has a chance. If the Blue Devils, who are a notoriously awful football program, wish to stay in this game, they will need to follow their coach more than ever.
Both Alabama’s offense and defense have looked great so far. They killed the only cupcake so far on their schedule in San Jose State 48-3, and beat a ranked team in Penn State 24-3. It would have to be a full team collapse for the Crimson Tide to drop this one.
THE PICK: If the Crimson Tide fail to win this game, this college football season might be crazier than that of 2007—yes, the year that saw LSU, California, South Florida, Boston College, Oregon, Kansas, West Virginia, and Georgia all ranked No. 2 in the nation at one point.
But that is a colossal if.
The last time Duke beat a ranked opponent—and I had to dig deep to find this—was a 28-25 victory over Virginia in 1994.
Alabama should take this game, but it will not be as easy as everyone is imagining. The last time Alabama left the state for a non-conference game against a BCS opponent was in 2002, where the Crimson Tide suffered a 37-27 loss at Oklahoma.
We know who has the offensive, defensive, special teams, and coaching edge in this game. By the looks of it, Alabama might have the fan support edge, too.
But if the Crimson Tide finds itself looking forward to next weekend’s matchup with Arkansas, this could be a close game heading into the fourth quarter, especially with Duke’s fast and often scoring offense.
THE SCORE: Alabama 34, Duke 20
Clemson at No. 16 Auburn (7:00 ET)
THE LINE: Auburn -7
THE PLOT: This matchup has been all Auburn.
The battle between these Tigers has resulted in an Auburn win the past 13 games, the most recent being a 23-20 overtime win in the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Clemson will enter this game arguably the highest rated ACC team behind Miami. With an offense that averaged over 46 points through the first two games, the Clemson Tigers will look to exploit Auburn’s defensive backs with their excellent passing game, something they have not needed to do yet this year.
Quarterback Kyle Parker will need his best performance of the young season to be in this game.
As for the Auburn Tigers, they have a pretty good offense too. Quarterback Cam Newton has been electric thus far, scoring seven total touchdowns through the first two games. Clemson’s defense will need to know where Newton is every second of the game, seeing as he leads Auburn in rushing with 241 yards on 33 carries.
THE PICK: Auburn’s defensive line sacked Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf four times in the Tigers’ 17-14 win in Starkville last Thursday. If Auburn can replicate that type of pressure, then Clemson will crumble.
The Tigers from South Carolina rely heavily on their powerful offense to stay in games. If Clemson cannot score early, then the Southeastern Conference Tigers will easily prevail.
THE SCORE: Auburn 30, Clemson 21
(Odds courtesy of SportsBook.com by way of our friends at NBCSports.com.)