College Football: Three Games, Two Views
The weekend is here, and as we progress deeper into the month of November the national title race begins to take shape. But there are also conference (and divisional) championships to determine, and the three games that Billy and I have chosen will have a direct effect on who wins the Pac-10, SEC West and Big 12 South. But in the case of Alabama's trip to Baton Rouge, division bragging rights may take a backseat to some pure old-fashioned hatred as an old friend returns to the place he once called home. Also we've got a bonus selection thanks to the showdown between Joe Calzaghe and Roy Jones Jr. taking place at Madison Square Garden. Enjoy!
#1 Alabama @ #15 LSU 3:30 PM EST on CBS
Billy Palmer: Alabama is having a magical season, no doubt about that. LSU is having a down season, no doubt about that either. However, I do have doubts about both teams. It's really hard to say an undefeated team at this point in the year is overrated. I think Alabama is just that though, overrated. That Clemson win to open the year was rather impressive at the time. Clemson has since tanked. The win against Georgia was quite impressive too, but there's something about the Bulldogs that leaves me believing they are an overhyped team that's been lackluster many times this year. I get the same impression from Alabama every week.
They win, but they sure look lackluster in doing so (i.e. Kentucky and Ole Miss). They are scoring at a pretty high average but a couple of games have skewed the struggles their offense seems to have every other week. I do have doubts about LSU too though. That same Georgia team I called unimpressive beat the snot out of the Tigers. LSU's defense has been un-Tiger like and their offense has been like Bama's, very inconsistent. I had a hard time picking a key to this game because the teams really are so much a like. So I'm just going to keep it simple. Whichever teams manages to sustain a couple of offensive drives will come out on top and a huge turnover or special teams play will decide the game.
Raphielle Johnson: You know, Billy, I do somewhat agree with you about the true strength of Alabama's best wins. Clemson has a hard enough time keeping its program stable, much less actually win football games, and Georgia's many injuries and inability to avoid foolish penalties have made them a shell of what many thought them to be back in August. But in thinking of Alabama as overrated is to ignore the progression of QB John Parker Wilson. On a team as young as Nick Saban's group, you can't ignore the leadership that Wilson has brought to the table this season. His decision-making with the football has been better as well, going without an interception in four games away from Bryant-Denny Stadium. And in an environment as hostile as Tiger Stadium (it could be even worse than for a night game due to the return of Nick Saban) Wilson will need to stay cool under pressure due to the relative experience of his teammates.
As for the Tigers, this season has been a disappointment thus far. Two marquee games...twice their defense gets "half-a-hundred" (thank you, Barry Switzer) hung on them. Not to mention an offense that has lacked consistency throughout the season. If not for RB Charles Scott, Les Miles' team could be in much worse shape that they currently are in the SEC West. And unfortunately for their running game, "Mount Cody" is back after missing the last two weeks with a sprained knee. Terrence Cody, who they say is 365 pounds, is the perfect fit for Coach Saban's defense since he prefers the 3-4 scheme. If LSU can't establish anything on the ground they're in serious danger of watching Alabama celebrate an SEC West title on their field.
Key to the Game
BP: The offensive consistency of both teams
RJ: LSU offensive line vs. Alabama defensive line
BP: LSU and Bama slug it out for all 4 quarters. Both teams run the ball fairly well and neither team will pass the ball well this game. Jarrett Lee throws 2 interceptions on a 12-27 day passing. So Alabama wins right? Nope! Alabama won't capitalize on the Lee turnovers and LSU will score a defensive touchdown to dethrone #1 by a score of 24-20.
RJ: As much as Tiger fans would love to see LSU blow out Alabama (good luck getting into the stadium, by the way), it's just not going to happen. I see the Crimson Tide weathering the storm early, then pulling away for a 24-13 win. Just don't see either Lee or Andrew Hatch making enough plays to keep the Alabama defense honest.
#21 California @ #7 USC 8 PM EST on ABC (regional)
BP: The USC defense has been absolutely on fire shutting out 3 of the last 4 opponents. The Trojan offense on the other hand has been efficient and ball controlling. Man, the people in Los Angeles have to be absolutely still befuddled by the Oregon State game. USC hasn't really played a schedule to brag about (including overrated Ohio State) but they are playing as well as anybody right now.
California, on other hand has been a very good in every game this year, every game at home that is. Both of Cal's losses have come on the road to Maryland and Arizona. They've scored well in both of the road losses so you can't blame the offense for those. The Bear defense has given up an average of 38.5 points in the road losses while in every other game they've given up an average of 15 points a game. So the key to this game is rather simple. Can the Cal defense show up and slow down a rolling Trojan attack, or will they fade on the road like they've done this year against quality opponents?
RJ: The Golden Bears have a pair of solid quarterbacks in Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley, but the fact that who starts under center is still such a touchy subject for their fans is an indicator of how inconsistent the two have been this season. Of course, losing RB Jahvid Best to injury at different points in the season hasn't helped, but this is a team that should have shown up for the first half of their game at Maryland and put up more of a second-half fight in their loss to Arizona. There's also the mental aspect of this series of late: Cal hasn't been able to get over the hump and beat the Trojans with a championship (or at the least inside track to it) on the line.
As for the Trojans, we've heard their head coach's thoughts (once again) on the BCS and I frankly agree with them. But how much can you be rewarded for beating Washington and Washington State? The only good that came out of those two wins was the fact that a lot of guys who were lost in the shuffle early on got a chance to get some game reps. Even since that loss at Oregon State the Trojans have failed to do the one thing they've been criticized for in recent years: take inferior opponents lightly. It's hard to peg which member of "The Stable" will take control of the ground game for USC, but the fact that they have so many options is both the gift and the curse (thank you, Jay-Z). Does Cal really have enough to slow the Trojans down on the road? I'm not sure that they do.
Key to the Game
BP: Cal's defense
RJ: The consistency of Nate Longshore and (if called upon) Kevin Riley
BP: The California defense will keep the USC scoring attack down for a couple of quarters but only because of the ability of their offense and the running game sustaining a couple of long drives with their good running game. Eventually the USC defense will tee off on the run game and shut down the California offensive attack. This will force the Bear defense to be on the field a lot in the second half. They will tire and USC will run away with a victory 37-21.
RJ: Billy believes in the Golden Bears more than I do, for their slow starts throughout the season have been a serious issue although they only have two losses. I see the Trojans taking control of this game quite early and winning 42-17.
#9 Oklahoma State @ #2 Texas Tech 8 PM EST on ABC (regional)
BP: This is a game I've been salivating over for several weeks. Last years tilt between these two teams gave us 94 points and over 1300 yards of offense. Both teams have been surprise teams this year and both still have shots at the Big 12 South title. Both teams score a lot but in different ways. Oklahoma State is a run-first team. They've run the ball 432 times out of the 629 offensive plays. They use the run to setup their efficient vertical passing game. Texas Tech on the other hand has thrown the ball a majority of the time. They've thrown 444 passes this year compared to the 232 run plays. They are the opposite of OSU; they use their passing to setup their running.
Ok, so we know both teams are going to score. Let's look at what has made the two teams much better this year though, defense. Texas Tech is giving up 22 points a game and OSU is giving up around 21 a game. Yeah I know, those aren't the greatest defensive numbers but both defenses are greatly improved over last year. All that being said, I believe the key to this game is which defense shows up. Both defenses shut down the Texas offense as well as anybody has all year but which D can be most brickwallish in this game?
RJ: Yes, these are two of the nation's most explosive offenses, but I think they're going to have a hard time living up the fireworks of last year's game. All the points and yards were a mere appetizer for the postgame pressers for the head coaches. And for all the talk about Oklahoma State running game (and rightfully so), Tech's Baron Batch is the conference's eighth-leading rusher and the Red Raiders have the best rushing attack of the Mike Leach era. Three of the league's ten best rushers will be on display in this one, meaning that despite the aerial attacks whichever team stops the run has the best chance to win this game.
But when the two teams become one-dimensional, which one is better? That would be Texas Tech, led by Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. If Oklahoma State can't run, one of the nation's most balanced offenses drops a notch. These are two of the top four offenses in the Big 12 and shockingly two of the top three defenses in the league, so this is a game that should be every bit as exciting at Tech's win over Texas last Saturday night.
Key to the Game
BP: Which defense is more effective
RJ: Oklahoma State's pass defense
BP: Oklahoma State comes out running the ball very well and gets on the board quickly. Texas Tech will do the same via the pass. The game will be tied 28-28 at the half. The second half will be vastly different from the first with far fewer offensive numbers. Texas Tech's defense will dominate the line of scrimmage and the Red Raiders get a couple of second half TD's from Eric Morris to win this game 45-35.
RJ: This game could be every bit the toss-up that last week's thriller provided, given how close these two teams are in many of the major statistical categories. But I see the Red Raiders making it to their grudge match with Oklahoma next weekend undefeated. And why not match last year's score: 49-45.
Roy Jones Jr. vs. Joe Calzaghe HBO PPV
BP: Raphielle, you're my boy! Okay readers, Raphielle approached me about writing a little about this boxing match that will take place Saturday night. He didn't know that I'm a former youth boxer. I went 11-2 in my brief youth boxing career. A good punch in the nose in my last bout made me wisely give up a sport that is for manly men. I fought in my youth but both of these sweet science swingers are ages 39 (Jones) and 36 (Calzaghe) respectively.
Jones seemed to be on a high note in 2003 after he moved up to heavyweight and defeated Ruiz. He dropped like a rock from that high point by getting hammered by Antonio Tarver and stunning being put on his back against Glen Johnson. However, all wasn't lost as Jones beat Felix Trinidad recently.
Calzaghe isn't well known or respected in America. Most boxing enthusiasts think that he's been protected by mostly fighting against inferior opponents. So I think this is his chance to go out on a high note getting a little bit of respect from the boxing media.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Calzaghe knocks out Jones in 7 or 8 rounds. I think Jones is still a good fighter but he doesn't have the speed he used to. Calzaghe is still a little bit younger and still is a rapid fire lefty. He will wear out Jones and catch him with a big left hook to end the fight.
On a side note to this Pay Per View HBO fight, Zab Judah is fighting on the undercard and he's always worth watching!
RJ: I did some boxing back in my youth as well, but the prospect of having to spar the coach every few days (due to my height) combined with having to choose between boxing and the trio of basketball/baseball/soccer ended my fledgling career before it even began. But I still love the sweet science, despite it's warts (how does Don King even have a job? He can't even comb his hair!).
Yeah, Judah was definitely worth watching when he insisted that Kostya Tsyzu didn't hurt him in that fight a few years ago (that noodle-legged dance around the ring says otherwise), and when Mayweather fans chanted "whoop that trick" towards the end of their one-sided bout (but seriously, Zab is a guy to watch). But back to this fight, one that will define the legacy of one Joe Calzaghe. He hasn't fought on this side of the pond very often, and the majority of his fights leading up to this one have been against subpar competition.
Which leads me to believe, despite Jones Jr.'s issues in his last few fights (two knockouts suffered), we're looking at a fight similar to the Hopkins/Pavlik bout last month. But it won't be as ugly as that one ended up, for there's no denying the skill that Calzaghe possesses. But I think Jones has a few tricks up his sleeve, allowing the wily vet to steal a decision and set up the Hopkins/Jones Jr. fight that should send both out into the sunset early in 2009.