Lattimore's injury affects team, fans
Even opponents and complete strangers want successful return
I’m not ashamed to admit it: I had to battle to keep a tear or two at bay on Saturday.
Football is supposed to be our collective escape. For a few short hours, it’s supposed to extricate us from daily drudgery and rinse away the problems that muddy our thoughts. We’ve programmed ourselves to react to the ups and downs of our team, not necessarily the joys and pains of individuals. We cheer on armies of men that look like something more. Their humanity is buried somewhere under shoulder pads and helmets and dark visors. With their almost unfathomable physical strength, their machine-like appearance, the extra few inches of height joined with their cleats and helmets, they seem invincible -- they seem more than human.
But remember, under all of that armor, under all of those pounds of painstakingly sculpted muscle, these are college kids. These are young men.
Even for the most talented, their futures are murky and undecided. At 19, did you have a clue what your future held? But we forget that simple fact because it’s obscured by the school colors and the armor and the muscle and the speed. Yes, they get to play a game they love, that we love, and get to revel in a spotlight few of us can imagine, but in doing so, they put their bodies – their futures – at risk every Saturday.
Marcus Lattimore has been one of college football’s most captivating players. Even as a freshman – a kid a few months removed from high school – he stood out from many of those other armor-clad warriors on Saturdays. In his first season at South Carolina, he eclipsed 1,600 yards from scrimmage and had 19 total touchdowns in a conference littered with savage defenses.
Glory on Sunday – and financial security for himself and his family – seemed preordained. Then, on Oct. 15 last year, that changed when his left ACL snapped against Mississippi State. He endured a year of rehab behind the scenes that was more mentally and physically exhausting as anything he’d ever faced on a football field.
I went through that process to keep a less-than-mediocre high school basketball career alive, when the stakes were low, when I knew my future, or a college scholarship, or a career, weren’t tied to pushing myself through that painful process. And it was still the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And for the many of you out there who’ve gone through it, I’d imagine you’d say the same. But Lattimore, with so much more at stake, endured. He returned to the field in South Carolina’s first game this year and has since showed flashes of what thrilled us two years ago, going over 100 rushing yards three times and breaking the South Carolina career rushing touchdown record in only two seasons worth of games.
Then he took the field against Tennessee on Saturday. Then he planted his right leg as he attempted to shake off a tackle. Then a Tennessee defender fell into that firmly planted limb. Then his knee came unmoored and his lower leg flailed as if it wasn’t a part of the rest of him while he spun to the ground. Then his foot pointed in a direction no human’s should. And, immediately, as he tore his helmet off, you could see the panic, the unfiltered fear, the shock in his eyes, the realization that it had happened again, and that it was worse.
“I just tried to tell him to stay mentally strong; I saw the look in his eyes when he was on the ground and he was really heartbroken about his injury,” teammate Ace Sanders said after the game.
South Carolina trainers placed their hands on his chest as they straightened the mangled knee. Those hands seemed like they were trying to force the fear that was spilling out of him, in front of a full stadium and millions at home, back inside. But they couldn’t. And, suddenly, in that moment as he was lying on the field, the 6-foot tall, 220-pound mound of muscle that we were so accustomed to seeing buried under a wall of hard plastic and horizontal bars and scarlet and grey looked as vulnerable and scared as a lost child.
In that moment, he was no longer Marcus Lattimore, explosive athlete who we marvel at from afar. He was a scared young man – a frightened college kid – terrified not only for his physical well-being, but for his future. And we were right there with him. The helplessness in his face put anyone with even the slightest sense of empathy on that field next to him. He was not a machine built to carry a football. He was human. He looked like we might when we bombed the job interview, when the LSAT scores came back low, when a girlfriend coldly said goodbye.
As trainers worked to stabilize that knee and Lattimore’s emotions, his entire team encircled him in a show of solidarity. Half of the Tennessee players trickled onto the field to show their support amid the eerie silence of 80,000 hushed voices.
Once trainers were able to get him on a cart, a towel found its way over his head. Under its cover, he sobbed violently, but we all saw it. Watching that massive man – one with physical skills we can’t comprehend – reduced to a terrified kid, one who knew exactly how daunting the climb back would be because he’d just finished making that painful ascent, pulled my throat tight. Watching his teammates place hands on his head and shoulders and arms in hopes of conveying some sense of comfort, but failing, made my jaw clench. Watching that machine who was supposed to be one of the centerpieces of our collective Saturday diversion become human in the most jarring way possible, made my eyes slowly water.
I don’t know Marcus Lattimore. I’ve never met him or spoken with him and maybe I never will. But after seeing his eyes on Saturday, I know that he’s more than just a football player, more than just a passing distraction to discuss and dissect.
“He's such a good young man,” South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier said after the game. “Good things are going to happen for Marcus. I don't know exactly where or how, but good things are going to happen for Marcus Lattimore.”
After seeing what I saw on Saturday – after seeing that Marcus Lattimore is just a college kid with a broken heart – I certainly hope that they do.
Brent Musburger, in that voice that can make football feel as weighty as politics, best encapsulated what happened on Saturday night as the clock wound down to zero in Norman, Okla.: “Folks, let me say this loud and clear…Notre Dame is relevant again.” Despite the undefeated start, many – myself included – wondered if that was really the case. But Musburger is right, of course. He uttered that line when the Irish were wrapping up a 30-13 win against Oklahoma in a game that nearly no one outside the greater Chicago area thought they could win. The Irish, who had snuck by a few teams this year – Stanford, BYU and Purdue – had yet to prove they could impose their will against a quality opponent. Well, Oklahoma, despite an early loss to Kansas State, has looked like one of the best teams in the nation during the past month. Before Saturday, the Sooners defeated Texas Tech, Texas and Kansas by an average margin of 36 points. And prior to the game in Norman, the Irish’s only trip to an unfriendly stadium came in Week 3’s win against Michigan State. Plus, they have an identity crisis at quarterback. In short, an Oklahoma win seemed preordained. But that Notre Dame defense, which is the best outside of the SEC, did its job yet again by holding the Sooners to only 15 yards on the ground. And, fittingly, the win was sealed by Notre Dame’s best player – linebacker Manti Te’o – on a dramatic diving interception as the Sooners drove to tie the score in the fourth. Yes, Brent, the Irish are relevant – we’re all convinced. But can they parlay that long-lost-and-now-found relevance into a shot at the national title? Stay tuned.
Just in case I wasn’t clear, I’ll repeat what I said last week – Kansas State isn’t going to lose a game through the rest of the regular season. Texas Tech has the best defense in the Big 12 – it entered the game seventh nationally in total defense – so it posed the biggest threat to the Wildcats on their remaining schedule. Well, that defense, which had been giving up fewer than 300 yards and 21.6 points per game, yielded 426 yards and 55 points to the Collin Klein-led attack. Klein alone had four touchdowns, 83 rushing yards and passing 233 more through the air, further extending his lead in the long race to the Heisman Trophy. Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville – dubbed the “Giant Killer” by some – has made a name for himself knocking off top-five teams through his career. So how do you beat this team, coach? “We would have had to play perfect to have won today," he said after the game. Oh. So you only have to play perfect to beat them? No problem, right? Good luck, Big 12.
Before Saturday, Mississippi State had only turned the ball over five times through its first seven games – all wins. It was among the top five teams nationally in turnover margin (plus-16). It was winning games with a safe, conservative offense and a suffocating defense that truly belonged in the SEC West. Then it played Alabama. And the Crimson Tide was more than happy to show the up-and-coming Bulldogs just how far they still have to go. Mississippi State coughed the ball up three times; Alabama, of course, was turnover free. The Crimson Tide scored the game’s first 38 points before yielding a courtesy touchdown in the waning minutes – it would’ve been a shutout if the Tide wanted it to be. Quite simply, Alabama looks like it’s playing another sport. The Tide’s only true test this season will come this week in the Bayou. Survive Les Miles and his boys – all eager to avenge last year’s embarrassment in the national title game – and the Tide will likely repeat (don’t forget … I only said Kansas State would be undefeated through the regular season). Remember, Mississippi State came into this game undefeated and as the nation’s No. 11 team – the gulf between No. 1 and 11 is wider than I could’ve imagined. And something tells me the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is as well.
Despite the shadow cast over the football program this season, Penn State students and fans came out en masse and were in full throat for the kickoff against rival Ohio State in Happy Valley last weekend. More than 107,000 people – the first sellout of the season for Penn State – crammed into Beaver Stadium for a “white out”, which is annually one of the more impressive sights in all of college football. Given Penn State’s bowl ban, the game against undefeated Ohio State was essentially the Nittany Lions’ bowl game this season, so fans and players were drawn to an early frenzy. Unfortunately for them, though, there was very little time for revelry, as Ohio State took an 11-point lead late in the second quarter and extended it to 18 less than three minutes later. Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller, who was badly shaken up after being slammed to the turf against Purdue a week earlier, didn’t seem to be battling any lingering effects – he carried the ball 25 times for 134 yards and a pair of scores, yet again putting the entire Buckeye offense on his back. Penn State mustered a pair of fourth-quarter scores to keep it from being a blowout, but Ohio State didn’t really have to break a sweat in a game that once seemed like their biggest remaining impediment to an undefeated season.
Did you do as I advised and stay in on Friday night to watch a battle of undefeated Big East teams rather than go out and get a bunch of fake phone numbers? You didn’t? Well, I hope you were crushed when you tried to call her the next day and someone from Papa John’s asked to take your order – that’s what you get for shunning Munchie Legaux. Munchie had an unproductive Friday himself, tossing three interceptions against Louisville, but Legaux briefly atoned for his mistakes when he tossed a 26-yard touchdown strike with a minute left that forced the game to overtime. But Legaux’s third pick came on the Bearcats’ first possession of the extra period and Louisville needed only to hit a chip-shot field goal to preserve its undefeated season and put it firmly in control of the Big East. Sorry you missed it – hopefully you at least got a pizza out of your failed efforts.
We knew that Oregon-Colorado wouldn’t be pretty, but 70-14? Once again, Chip Kelly pulled his starters early in the game – Kenjon Barner didn’t touch the ball after the 13-minute mark in the second quarter and Marcus Mariota came out four minutes later. That might seem early, but Oregon was winning 42-0 at that point. (Shaking head in disbelief.) But, unlike a few other games this season, Kelly’s decision to put in the backups wasn’t akin to putting in regular fuel into an engine that thirsts for premium, as the subs were able to muster 28 more. Finally, Kelly decided shut the engine off and the Ducks didn’t score a point in the fourth quarter.
|COLORADO AT OREGON|
|Time of Possession||32:13||27:47|
It seems like Oregon’s biggest hurdle this season won’t be opponents – it’ll be poor conditioning. Spending the bulk of your Saturday relaxing on the sidelines can’t be good for your 40-time or body-fat-percentage. These games need to be a little bit closer so Oregon’s stars can stay in shape. Does Kelly make them run after games? As ridiculous as it sounds, it might be necessary. Like last week against Arizona State, the Ducks had 42 before the clock reached single-digits in the second quarter. Oh, and they had 56 at halftime. Ridiculous. And did you see De’Anthony Thomas’ punt return touchdown? South Carolina’s Ace Sanders might have competition for the “Turn the video game off; I want to watch the real game. Oh, wait, that was real? No way.” award. Thomas let the ball bounce in front of him, turned around toward his own end zone and picked it up while running in a full sprint in the wrong direction. (Because, why not?) He then ran horizontally for about 30 yards -- again, because, why not? -- until the left sideline compelled him to cut upfield and ran by everyone for a 73-yard score. During the return, it looked like every Buffalo in the herd had a shot at him and missed…twice.
Michigan State-Wisconsin was a classic Big Ten game – lots of three-yard plays and not a lot of points. But it came down to the wire, nonetheless. A year after the two played a pair of the best games we saw last season – Michigan State’s win on an improbable Hail Mary in the regular season matchup and Wisconsin’s come-from-behind 42-39 win in the inaugural Big Ten championship game – this contest didn’t quite live up to its predecessors. While those games were dominated by dynamic offenses, both quarterbacks – Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins – have moved on to the NFL, so the defenses took center stage on Saturday. The teams combined for fewer than 500 yards of offense and nine of the games 29 points came in overtime. Wisconsin controlled the entire game but yielded a Le’Veon Bell touchdown with a minute remaining that tied the game and a 12-yard Bennie Fowler touchdown pass in overtime that sealed it for the Spartans. While it wasn’t pretty, this is quietly evolving into one of the nation’s most compelling rivalries – each of the last three contests has been decided by a score or less.
Welcome back, Wes. After getting injured in Oklahoma State’s third game of the season, starting quarterback Wes Lunt returned to the field against TCU on Saturday. While fellow freshman J.W. Walsh performed well in Lunt’s stead – he tossed 10 touchdowns and only three picks – the Cowboys hit another gear with their starter back under center and beat the tough-but-young Horned Frogs 36-14. TCU jumped out to a 14-point lead, so the Cowboys had to ask Lunt to dig them out of the early hole. He obliged, throwing for 324 yards, a touchdown and put the team in position for kicker Quinn Sharp’s five field goals – none were longer than 34 yards. Lunt and Co. will need to finish those drives when they hit the meat of their schedule. Starting next week, Oklahoma State has to square off against Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma consecutively. It’s sure to be a trial-by-fire for the young signalcaller.
Not much was at stake when UCLA and Arizona State met last Saturday, but that didn’t prevent it from being one of the day’s most exciting games. The Bruins pulled out a 45-43 win on a Ka'imi Fairbairn 33-yard field goal with time expiring. But the most stirring part of this game? That’d be Jim Mora Jr.’s extremely energetic and positive reaction after his star tailback Johnathan Franklin finished his powerful 7-yard run to set up the chip-shot game-winning field goal. After letting Arizona State make up a nine-point fourth quarter deficit in less than four minutes, it’s understandable that the emotions were running high on the sideline. ... After watching that fourth-quarter, you’ll never hear me say that Mora doesn’t care about his job.
Given that it’s October, it’s fitting that Mack Brown had to go to the bullpen to pull out a close win against Kansas. Starter David Ash, who entered the game as the nation’s 20th-ranked passer, tossed a pair of picks and was unable to move the ball against a Jayhawk defense that has let quite a few teams do just that. The Jayhawks led for the entire third quarter and almost half of the fourth, but were unable to keep the heavily favored Longhorns at bay when Brown turned to Case McCoy, brother of Longhorn semi-legend Colt. The younger McCoy tossed a touchdown pass to D.J. Grant with 12 seconds remaining at the tail end of a nine-play, 70-yard drive to put Texas up 21-17 and secure a victory that caused chest pains throughout the Lone Star State. By the way, the McCoy brothers’ parents must’ve been pretty confident that their sons would become signal-callers. You wouldn’t have the audacity to name your kids Colt and Case – great quarterback names – unless you were certain that they’d one day find themselves under center. “I’m Case, I’ll be leading the dramatic fourth-quarter game-winning touchdown drive,” sounds just right.
The World’s Largest Outdoor Gathering of Responsible Young Adults started with a pregame tussle along the Georgia sideline – a few coaches even let the usual vitriol that flows in Jacksonville take hold. Though the skirmish got broken up, the fight continued for three more hours. Florida and Georgia played in one of the sloppiest games you’ll see – nine turnovers and 227 penalty yards – because the adrenaline was flowing all evening, leading to a slew of taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and a bevy of brutal hits. Georgia hadn’t won back-to-back games against Florida since 1988-89, but Florida coach Will Muschamp, who once played at Georgia, has never been on the winning side when the two sides clash. That trend continued on Saturday – after Georgia’s shocking 17-9 win, Muschamp is now 0-6 in the games as a player and coach. The Gators were driving late for what would’ve been the tying touchdown, but UGA superhuman linebacker Jarvis Jones poked the ball loose from Jordan Reed at the 5 and the ball, Florida’s undefeated season and likely its national title hopes trickled into the end zone where the Bulldogs recovered for a touchback and the win. Jones forced two fumbles, recovered a pair and had five tackles for a loss, which included three sacks. It’s tough for a linebacker to single-handedly win a game – especially against an opponent as good as Florida – but without Jones, Georgia doesn’t leave Jacksonville with a victory and in the driver’s seat for the SEC East crown.
Will Matt Barkley take his Christmas ornament back? Is it too late to declare for the 2012 NFL Draft? The star quarterback returned to USC to chase a national title and the Heisman Trophy – after the Trojans fell to Arizona on Saturday and suffered their second loss of the season, it looks like he’ll get neither. Arizona looks better than it has in years with RichRod now on the sidelines, but hadn’t recorded a win this season that would catch the attention of anyone outside the nation’s westernmost time zone. The 39-36 win against the Trojans did just that. The Wildcats won not just because of their potent offensive attack, but because they were able to pick off Barkley twice, essentially nullifying his 493-yard day. Marqise Lee was responsible for quite a few of those yards – more on him in a minute. The Wildcats just wanted this one bad, evidenced by the performance of quarterback Matt Scott. Before he was knocked out of the game with concussion-like symptoms in the fourth quarter, Scott threw for 369 yards, ran for 100 more and had four total touchdowns – his most impressive play of the day came when he hurdled a befuddled Trojan defender in the same manner that Vince Carter once leapt over a large Frenchman. It was a huge win for a program trying to earn respect and a bad loss for a program chasing a national title.
When Boise State lost to Michigan State in Week 1, it also lost the “Hey, they’re undefeated, why can’t they get a national title shot?” buzz that has surrounded it through much of the last five seasons. But that buzz had to go somewhere, didn’t it? Well, it landed in Athens, Ohio. (Ohio gets all of the attention in election years.) After the Bobcats knocked off Penn State in Week 1, a few pundits looked at their schedule and determined that they’d be this year’s Boise State, sans Technicolor turf. And through the season’s first two months, said pundits looked brilliant as the Bobcats rolled through an easy schedule to a 7-0 record. But, as pundits should all know by now, Ohio is tough to predict in an election year. On Saturday, that proved true when Ohio fell to its cousin three hours to the west – Miami (Ohio). Rather than kick the field goal that would tie the game after reaching the 7 on their final drive, the Bobcats elected to go for the kill. Boise State’s undefeated runs were undone by missed field goals in recent years, so, in a way, I can’t say I blame the Bobcats. But quarterback Tyler Tettleton was sacked as the clock ticked down to zero in Miami’s 23-20 win. It was nice while it lasted, Ohio, but you’ve got a presidential race to decide – Boise, the buzz is yours to reclaim next year.
Speaking of under-the-radar undefeated teams running squarely into a brick wall – Rutgers fell to Kent State on Saturday. Yes, Rutgers was undefeated. No, I didn’t expect you to know that. And this wasn’t a last-second shocker – the Golden Flashes (no, I didn’t expect you to know that either) led for all but 10 minutes. The Scarlet Knights (you better have known that one) outgained Kent State by 50 yards, so how did they manage to lose by 12 at home? They coughed the ball up seven times. Seven! Six of them came on interceptions tossed by quarterback Gary Nova, who only had three interceptions in the seven games that preceded this one. I didn’t realize they handed out footballs instead of candy for Halloween in New Jersey – I would’ve guessed Springsteen cassette tapes. The loss leaves Louisville as the lone undefeated team in the Big East, though the conference title will still probably be decided when Rutgers hosts the Cardinals in the final week of the season.
America’s unlikeliest undefeated team is now America’s that’s-surprising-but-I’m-not-stunned one-loss team. Oregon State fell to Washington, which added its second victory against an undefeated top-10 conference foe to its more-confusing-than-Inception résumé. The Huskies knocked off Stanford in Week 5 after the Cardinal beat USC and leapt to No. 8. On Saturday, they ruined the Beavers’ dream season by picking off Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion four times en route to a 20-17 win. Mannion was back under center for the Beavers after missing a pair of games while recovering from surgery to repair his torn meniscus. The injury was still clearly bothering Mannion – he’d only tossed four picks all season before Saturday. After the quarterback tossed his third and fourth picks early in the fourth quarter, Beavers’ head coach Mike Riley turned to backup Cody Vaz, who had preserved the undefeated record in Mannion’s stead. Vaz impressed, completing seven of his 11 attempts for 97 yards and a score, but it was too-little-too-late, as Huskies kicker Travis Coons nailed a chip-shot field goal with a minute left to seal the win.
|PLAYER, TEAM, YEAR||YARDS|
|Troy Edwards, La. Tech, 1998||405|
|Randy Gatewood, UNLV, 1994||363|
|Chuch Hughes, UTEP, 1965||349|
|Donnie Avery, Houston, 2007||346|
|Marqise Lee, USC, 2012||345|
1. Thanks for making me look smart, Marqise! If you read my midseason awards, you’ll remember that I picked Marqise Lee as the darkhorse for the season’s best receiver despite a good-but-not-spectacular first few games. (If you didn’t read it, then does that mean you were actually doing work while at work? That’s just madness.) Well, on Saturday, Marqise lived up to my educated-guess-based expectations. Though the Trojans lost and Arizona snatched away their dreams of a national title, Lee was the star of the show. He caught 16 balls for 345 yards and a pair of scores. I’ll let that marinate for a moment. Have you wrapped your mind around that yet? I’m still struggling. Only a sophomore, he looked like a grown man on the field, taking what he wanted all afternoon long. He shattered the old USC single-game receiving yardage record – impressive given the litany of stars who have donned the Trojans condiment-colored uniforms – and broke the Pac-12 record to boot. The old record was held by Oregon State’s Mike Hass, of course, who hauled in 12 balls for 293 yards in a 2004 game against Boise State. Just kidding on the “of course”, as I doubt anyone outside of Corvallis or Mike Hass’s immediate family knew that one. In fact, Lee’s total was the fifth-highest mark in FBS history.
2. Mizzou is off the SEC schneid. Ugh, sorry I wrote that; it’s just a terrible phrase that makes my skin crawl every time I hear it uttered on a certain network. And its origin makes absolutely no sense – look it up, it has to do with Germans who cut cloth. I’m not kidding. Let’s try again – Missouri won its first SEC game on Saturday. The Tigers never trailed in their 33-10 home win against Kentucky after losing their first four SEC clashes. It’s not a monumental win that will change the course of the program, but it has to be a relief for school officials who decided to jump to the SEC that their team won’t go winless through its first season in the nation’s toughest conference. Plus, it was the Tigers’ last conference home game of the year, so the Columbia locals had to be appreciative. Tough road trips to Florida, Tennessee and fellow newbie Texas A&M remain, so this might’ve been the Tigers only chance to get off of the…uh, I mean to get a conference win.
3. Much has been made of LSU’s dominance in home night games, as it should given the Tigers remarkable record under the lights. But they’re not the only team who seems to rise to the occasion in primetime in front of its home fans. Nebraska has quietly built an 11-game home win streak during night games – Michigan was the11th victim on Saturday night. Despite tailback Rex Burkhead’s absence, the Huskers were never really tested by the Wolverines and went on to win 23-9. They’ve got 24 more wins to go to match LSU, so it might be too early to call Nebraska’s streak remarkable, but 11 in a row is nothing to scoff at. Given a few more years, the cornfields might start to be as feared again as the bayou.
As the sun begins to set on Saturday, I fully expect you to have Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” blaring on repeat in order to put yourself in the proper emotional mindset for an intense evening of football.
No. 1 Alabama
at No. 5 LSU
8 p.m. ET
Lynyrd Skynyrd 8-track? Check. Old bathtub full of Crawfish? Check. Full-body armor? Check. It’s Bama-LSU, lady and gentlemen; you’ve got to come prepared. For the last few seasons, this has been my favorite contest of the year. You can see wide-open high scoring offenses every single week. How often do we get to see a pair of brilliant coaches engage in a chess match for field position, while wielding two of the more athletic, brutal defenses that have ever set foot on a college gridiron? Any plays of more than 10 yards feel like touchdowns and touchdowns feel like, well, I don’t know what those feel like; neither team scored one in last year’s regular-season clash. Alabama looks invincible after beating then-No. 11 Mississippi State by 31. But LSU is playing at night and they’ve only lost under the Baton Rouge lights once in Les Miles’ tenure. Plus the Bayou Bengals will enter the game after an off week. No matter how unbeatable you seem, traveling to Baton Rouge at night after the Tigers have had two weeks to prepare is a near-impossible task. A Bama win leaves no doubt in my mind that the national championship is heading to Tuscaloosa. If it can’t lose amid those conditions, it’s not losing at all. But a Tide loss and the national title picture gets muddier than a crawfish pond.
No. 18 Southern Cal
at No. 2 Oregon
7 p.m. ET
Earlier, I said that Marqise Lee made me look smart, but as a whole, the Trojans made me look dumb. In the midseason column, I picked this weekend’s clash between Oregon and USC as one of the best three games of the second-half. Well, the Trojans second loss took quite a bit of the air out of this one. Remember, Oregon beat Arizona 49-0 and it could’ve been worse than that had Caesar Chip Kelly not given the Wildcats the thumbs-up for mercy. That same Arizona team just knocked off USC. That doesn’t bode well for the Trojans, even though the game will be played in the Coliseum. Still, USC stunned Oregon last year and many of the pieces from that Trojan team are still in place. If you’ve only got one TV in your living room – you poor, deprived soul – it should be on Bama-LSU, but don’t forget to change back to this one between punts (which means you’ll have quite a few opportunities to check in).
No. 16 Texas A&M
at No. 17 Mississippi St.
This is a delicious afternoon appetizer for the evening’s SEC West main course (both meals will be heavily battered and fried, of course.) While LSU and Alabama are unquestionably the best teams in the division – and, probably, the conference – A&M and Mississippi State have proven that the division is deeper than just those two juggernauts. Though the Bulldogs struggled against Alabama, they’ve had an impressive season. As have the Aggies, who couldn’t hang with SEC heavyweights LSU and Florida, but have more than held their own against lesser foes – on Saturday, they went to Auburn and hung a 63 on the Tigers. This game will help determine the SEC pecking order and could tell us which of these up-and-coming teams is poised for big things in years to come.
at No. 23 West Virginia
3 p.m. ET
After losing its last two games by a combined score of 104-28, West Virginia needed a week off more than anyone and they got it. Coming off a bye and playing at home, the Mountaineers will look to regain the early season form that had the nation buzzing about Geno Smith’s Heisman chances and Dana Holgorsen’s exquisite mane. Their opponent, TCU, has played tough all season, but has struggled since the departure of quarterback Casey Pachall. If West Virginia is going to recover, this week presents a prime opportunity, though the TCU defense is littered with playmakers who will try to take advantage of Smith’s aggressive play. Not much is at stake here – the Big 12 title is out of reach for both teams – but I have a sneaking suspicion that this game will be more exciting than expected.
Views and opinions expressed here are soley those of the writer.
Follow Brian Burnsed on Twitter at @brianburnsed