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A weekly primer.
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Trying something different Saturday: an open thread. I’m not the biggest pusher of community or forums, but a gameday presence on the site can be nothing but positive, even if the initial participation isn’t smashing records. We’ll grow it over time. (Not that readers shouldn’t try to break records. Absolutely, by all means, do. Set your mind to become the Maris of open threads at SMQ). Feel free to come by during the games and drop your thoughts, and stay a while to see what other people are thinking, and call them idiots. It’s already a weekly tradition at the best team-specific sites, and we can rock it just as hard and just as insulting here at SMQ. If not harder. And vulgarer. All hail the open thread.


Finall, We’ll Learn About...
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I wrote Wednesday about the "prove it" weekend on tap for four undefeated question marks: Purdue, Cincinnati, Kansas and Missouri each have a game with a ranked conference opponent to atone for the weak sisters of September. Missouri got by Illinois when the Illini was missing its starting quarterback, and otherwise the trophy case here is a barren one. More on each game below.

Fulmer: also shot, if Tennessee falls to 0-3.
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Most to Gain
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Purdue and Illinois are coming from slightly different places – I criticize Purdue for its lack of anything like a big win over the last three years, but at least they’ve, you know, won some – but they’re headed to the same rare, monumental place if they can manage wins in home games against the Big Ten’s current gatekeepers, Ohio State and Wisconsin. That magical land: the top of the standings.

Most to Lose
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Florida and Tennessee are on opposite ends of the SEC East right now, but both are facing must-win games: the Gators for their chance not only of remaining alive for another shot at the mythical championship, but, with one conference loss already, also staying out of the corner where the SEC East is concerned. Tennessee, meanwhile, just wants to hang on to decent bowl hopes, which are shot if Georgia drops the Vols to 0-3 in the conference.

In the miserable realm of blowouts and other morbid curiosities.
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Inevitable Massacre of the Week, in conjunction with the Walk of Shame
USC-Stanford is the highest line (the Cardinal are getting 38.5, which might be generous, all things considered), but we’re nothing if not economical here at SMQ, so this week’s grisly approximation of inhumane civilian massacre is joined with the weekly "Walk of Shame," where Arkansas goes for scheduling Chattanooga, the only I-AA team on any serious Bowl Subdivision schedule Saturday. You may know the Mocs from the Championship Subdivision’s 101st-ranked run defense, one that allowed 468 total yards and 41 points last week to The Citadel at the same time Arkansas was logging 446 on the ground against North Texas. North Texas and Chattanooga back-to-back? Double the massacre, double the shame, then triple it if the Hogs can’t remember what a real opponent looks like by the time Auburn comes in looking to drop them to 0-3 in the SEC next week.

Buffalo Line Watch
Since it joined Division I-A in 1999, Buffalo has been favored to win just once, against Temple to open the 2006 season. This week, after allowing 6.1 per carry in a 49-14 home loss to Ball State, the Bulls are 4.5-point underdogs at home against Ohio U. of Ohio.

Lame Game of the Week
The worst, Jerry.
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North Texas at UL-Lafayette will be broadcast on ESPN Gameplan and a variety of local networks from an undisclosed location across the street my aunt and uncle’s house, and I encourage everyone to consider watching it. A fan of a much larger, richer program told me this week, "I like talking to fans of Southern Miss, because it helps me keep in perspective how good we have it." I can’t argue with that, along the same lines, I couldn’t recommend any game that would send a stronger wake-up call to your relative prosperity than the Sun Belt showdown between ULL and UNT, the starving African children of the "big time" college football world:

Record 0-4 0-5
Avg. Margin of Defeat 38 pts. 16.4 pts.
Closest Loss 30-20 (Fla. Atl.) 31-23 (Ohio U.)
Worst Loss 79-10 (Okla.) 37-19 (UCF)
Avg. Stat Rank* 93.5 85.5

* - NCAA avg. of 8 major categories (run, pass, total, scoring offense/defense)
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It’s a contrast of styles: North Texas does rank ninth in the country in passing offense at 330 yards per game, and Lafayette is ninth in rushing offense. And both offenses will succeed; UNT is dead last nationally at 55 points and 580 yards allowed, 70 yards more per game than the worst season-long defensive effort of the decade (Louisiana Tech, 2003). Keep reaching for the stars, guys.

Bouncing back.
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Michigan State: Once you’ve come from 31 points down to beat a team on the road, that team is forever your bitch. Which would probably describe Northwestern’s fate in East Lansing, anyway.
West Virginia: Oh, Syracuse. Oh...oh, my god, I am so sorry.
Ole Miss: Breather against Louisiana Tech gets a few notches on the energy meter before a long, inevitable stretch of SEC-inflicted pain.
Mississippi State: I wouldn’t have considered UAB automatic for the Bulldogs at the start of the season, but beat Auburn, however flimsy the pretext, and C-USA doormats slide into the ‘patsy’ column. Them’s the rules, and hell if my ignorance of the name of MSU’ starting quarterback is going to undermine the whole system.


The fateful night of the Tebow Child is at hand.
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Florida at LSU

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What’s at Stake: Lives, although I don’t know of any specifically. But I’ve lived in South Louisiana and spent virtually my entire life in "SEC Country," and I have no doubt this is true. There is SEC dominance, and labrynthine mythical championship implications, as discussed elsewhere, and the ghost of Harry Lee must be avenged! Florida Wants: I usually prescribe a slow-down, possession-oriented game for underdogs (LSU is favored by nine), the kind Auburn executed to perfection against the Gators last week, but Florida is a fast, big play-oriented team and wants to be able to get its athletes in space, not pound away in the trenches, where LSU is likely to have its biggest advantage. It’s guaranteed you’ll hear an awful lot about the speed of both teams, and certainly about the speed of LSU’s defense, but Florida is at heart a very good misdirection/draw/screen/reverse/bootleg team, the kind of attack that requires disciplined, assignment football to defend and can wreak havoc on defenses that overpursue or take a lot of risks. It will probably be tougher to establish Tebow here than in any other game in two years, but the longer he’s a viable threat to do damage inside as a runner, the whole offense will be open to attacking anywhere on the field. Percy Harvin will have to make plays as a runner or the Tigers will be swarming Tebow. The only other really special threat on the UF offense at the moment is Cornelius Ingram.

Defensively, I think the idea is easy: put the game on Matt Flynn. His ankle may not be 100 percent, and he hasn’t had to do anything except guide the ship with the lopsided success of the rest of the team.
LSU Wants: Easier said than done, with the Tigers’ offensive line. There was a hint against Tulane, of all teams, that LSU might have a little trouble with edge-rushing speed on obvious passing downs (who doesn’t?), but in general, the Tiger line was its usual overwhelming success. For the season, excluding Matt Flynn and Colt David, LSU is averaging a little more than 5.9 per carry behind a front that averages 316 pounds. There’s plenty of big-play ability at receiver, but patience in methodical, physical running against a defense with plenty of questions on its back still will open up downfield later.
Constants: The entire UF offense runs through Tebow and depends on him to be a quarterback and carry its power running game. The going against this version of the LSU defense will likely be the toughest of his career to date.
Variables: How will Florida’s front four hold up physically? How will Percy Harvin and Trindon Holliday be involved? It will be the first time either sleek, speeding bullet has faced such a blatant or effective doppelganger on the other side. Can either offense function for any length of time without them?
The Pick: I do see some potential in forcing Flynn or Ryan Perrilloux into mistakes by clamping down on the running game, creating predictable down-and-distance (i.e., third-and-long) and bringing some heat. LSU’s defense, though, is plainly the best in the country over the first month and has a better chance of corralling Tebow before he can do much damage downfield than Florida’s young defense does of consistently slowing LSU’s backs, whoever they are in any given situation. Physically, I have the idea that the Tigers’ lines will take control, try to drag the game down into the swamp and then sneak in a couple big plays to win at home.

LSU 27 Florida22

Oklahoma vs. Texas
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If there is an intangible "it" of the variety that I try so diligently (and ineffectively) to avoid, Texas is yet to demonstrate it, and Oklahoma is in danger of losing it permanently after what I will call the Sooners’ worst loss since Oklahoma State in 2002 (OU has been blown out a couple times since, but every loss from 2003-06 save Onsidegate in Oregon was to a team that finished with at least ten wins or, in Texas Tech’s case in 2005 - another game that ended on a dubious call – at least a New Year’s Day berth. I don’t think that’s going to be the case with these Buffaloes). Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford were significantly outplayed by Josh Freeman and Cody Hawkins. "It" is missing from the Shootout for the first time since the earliest days of the Brown-Stoops era.
The Pick: As I said Thursday, even off two bad, conceivably debilitating losses, it’s better to bring some positive experiences to the table than to still be searching for your identity a month into the season, and even at 4-1, I don’t know what Texas is pointing to right now as a positive. Oklahoma, on the other hand, was counting everything as a plus this time a week ago. The Longhorns have better than a fighting chance with their run defense and an example, finally, of how to bring Bradford to earth. But am I willing to gamble on Colt McCoy right now against OU’s sixth-ranked, high-pressure defense? I am not.

Oklahoma 30 Texas 19

Georgia at Tennessee
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I admit, it was a little stunning to see Tennessee listed as a small favorite in this game, even at home, which goes to show how much further being smoked by two of the country’s five or six best teams can drop a team in some minds than in others. I’m still struggling with the Vols’ pass defense, which has been burned in three of four games, and their one-dimensionality on offense - that is, if Erik Ainge can be considered a dimension by himself. The running numbers are not good (75th nationally per game), and are actually inflated: against Cal and Florida, the Vols have averaged 74 yards on 3.1 per carry, and UGA’s defense has been a better all-around unit that either the Bears’ or Gators’. Ainge may do some damage if he has time, but if the Bulldogs settle down with Knowshon Moreno and Thomas Brown against the SEC’s worst statistical defense (9th against the run, 11th in total, dead last in pass efficiency and scoring D), the crowd is probably trending toward impatience and probably won’t be an issue. Mark Richt’s SEC road record, anyway: 18-4. That doesn’t include Florida, of course, but none of the losses include Tennessee, either.

Georgia 34 Tennessee 23

Gentlemen, set your phasers to ‘baffle.’
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Virginia Tech at Clemson
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I imagine it must be so incredibly frustrating to be a Clemson fan, to have talent like James Davis and C.J. Spiller in your possession, and come away with such maddening results. A gangbusters first half against Florida State melts into a tepid blob that oozes dangerously close to an epic choke job in the second; a dominant 340-yard rushing performance in a 42-20 rout over NC State one week gives way to a humbling 34-yard effort at Georgia Tech in a 13-3 loss the next. Immediately after Spiller and Davis broke out on the national stage last year against the Yellow Jackets in Clemson, they were run over and nearly shut out the following Thursday at Virginia Tech, a two-loss team on the brink of collapse at Boston College a couple weeks earlier. Bizarro property holds, then, that the Tigers are destined for a mirror image of their rout over Georgia Tech. If you’re not easily swayed by the ludicrous vagaries of superstition, there’s this: the Hokie offense is 112th in total yards per game and Tyrod Taylor is making his first road start.
Clemson 20 Virginia Tech 13

Ohio State at Purdue
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I hate to keep carping on this, but Purdue deserves eternal skepticism until it beats a team with a pulse. The Boilers haven’t beaten a ranked team since 2003, and hadn’t beaten any team in the polls in years prior to that. The last "quality win" to its name is unranked Ohio State in 2004, in the earliest days of the Troy Smith era. Missing OSU and Michigan the last two years, Purdue has lost 12 straight to winning teams and last year scored three points in two weeks in consecutive losses against the only respectable defenses it faced (Penn State and Wisconsin). By all appearances, this team is better, and obviously still dangerous (and less mistake-prone, so far) on offense, but it doesn’t help matters that Ohio State has been playing with a ruthless consistency no one expected from a "rebuilding" unit, and no-hope Notre Dame broke out of its shell on offense last week in West Lafayette. Purdue may move the ball some, but it won’t stop Beanie Wells and I see no reason whatsoever the Boilers should be expected to win this game.

Ohio State 37 Purdue 17

Wisconsin at Illinois
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Illinois is a favorite here, barely (-2.5), which makes sense if you’re operating under the assumption that Penn State is any good. Not so fast, my friend: Wisconsin gave up a bank vault of yardage to Michigan State, including some unseemly totals on the ground (Javon Ringer ran for 140 yards on 14 per carry, a disgrace) that Rashard Mendenhall could easily replicate. I’m not a fan on one-dimensionality, though, and if any offense is that, it’s Illinois’: sixth nationally in rushing, 108th in passing. Then again, there’s Arrelious Benn. Then again, it’s Illinois. Juice Williams and Ron Zook against a coach who’s 17-1 in his career. Then again, who can deny Wisconsin’s blatant deficit against the run, clearly the Illini strength? Am I? I’m not...really? No. I can’t...god help me.

Illinois 31 Wisconsin 29

Nebraska at Missouri
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Missouri is a thoroughly average team in my mind, no matter the year, destined for 4-4 and second place at best in the Big 12 North at best until it actually accomplishes something more. That doesn’t hold for beating Nebraska, though: the Tigers have taken two straight from the Huskers in Columbia, and catch them at the right time, with a defense that couldn’t stop Wake Forest or Ball State and was most recently outgained (significantly: 415-369) by Iowa State in a turnover-aided win. Nebraska is currently ninety-second against the run, which, against Chase Daniel and Tony Temple, is pretty strong recommendation on the application for also-ran status. If they’re not already there, I mean.

Missouri 34 Nebraska 28

Kansas at Kansas State
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There is no functional difference between Kansas and Purdue, who have played and destroyed the same pair of teams from the MAC (Central Michigan and Toledo) by roughly equal margins. The Jayhawks are playing better defense, though, for what it’s worth against a schedule that’s 3-11 to date against the rest of the Bowl Subdivision, and if Kansas State is clearly on the rise, it doesn’t have the aura of the inpenetrable fortress Ohio State is constructing around itself. Kansas has beaten the holy hell out of the softest September schedule in the country, but what is that worth? Where is the scale? Is that adequate for scrapping the summer projections of mediocrity? The Jayhawks have the potential to make skeptics look foolish, I think, but until further notice, there aren’t enough creampuffs in the MAC to put next to a three-touchdown win in Austin.

Kansas State 35 Kansas 27

Cincinnati at Rutgers
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The Bearcats are the fourth in a row of unbeaten, untested teams I have no idea what to think of, though they’ve been terrific on the stat sheet. What bothers me most about UC, actually, is one of the elements it’s proven best at: turnover margin. Cincinnati is number one in the nation so far, but is that necessarily a positive if opposing offenses are still moving the ball? Rutgers comes in a much more balanced offense than it was a year ago, when Mike Teel threw four picks in an embarrassing, streak-breaking loss in Cincinnati. Since that game, the Knights have opened up the offense and Teel has nearly doubled his production over the first eight games of last season. If Rutgers hadn’t somehow fallen last week to Maryland, I wouldn’t think twice about pulling the trigger here, but even with that disappointment, Ray Rice is an ace Cincinnati won’t be able to trump without sacrificing too much to an improved, big play passing game.

Rutgers 26 Cincinnati 20

Iowa at Penn State
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I questioned Penn State earlier, and rightly, I think, but Iowa’s offense has been a true disaster:

Iowa, huh? That’s JoPa’s kinda team.
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vs. Northern Illinois: 16 points
vs. Syracuse: 35 points
at Iowa State: 13 points (loss)
at Wisconsin: 13 points (loss)
vs. Indiana: 20 points (loss)

The defense was giving up an average of about nine per game before coming unravelled against the Hoosiers, and there couldn’t be a team more willing to get into the kind of solemn, hearty punt-fest that led to the infamous 6-4 game the last time PSU and Iowa played. If there’s going to be any more offense than that, it won’t be much. And both, teams, honestly, are probably cool with that.

Penn State 9 Iowa 7

Georgia Tech at Maryland
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You have to pay attention to these teams, because both have winning records, even if neither of them interests you in the slightest. Both stormed out last week with big, surprising home wins that will serve as a catalyst for the winner here. As their first turn in fortune coincided with his departure from the every-down lineup, and immediately flipped back upon Tashard Choice’s return, I think that will be the Yellow Jackets.

Georgia Tech 18 Maryland 13

Oklahoma State at Texas A&M
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I’m writing a screenplay for a feature-length film on the coaching meltdowns here over the last two weeks, a hilarious and heartbreaking tale that turns on the dramatic, trick play finish in College Station. Oklahoma State lost at Troy, which I’m going to go ahead and take as a sign of a bad road team, among other things. I’m not anxious to vouch for Texas A&M, bu the Aggies are at home, where they typically play well, and are playing better defense. Jorvorskie Lane would actually like some touches, por favor.

Texas A&M 35 Oklahoma State 31

Remember: weekly thread. Sturday. Rawked. Visualize it, and it's already happened.