Saturday, October 17, 2009

Things aren't always as they appear

There are two classic rivalry games today (although USC-Notre Dame has been a little overshadowed), and at first glance, the outcomes seem fairly predictable. Texas and USC shouldn't have much trouble, right?

As Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend!"

Starting at the Cotton Bowl, people seem to have forgotten that Oklahoma was a preseason top-five team that's lost two games -- both without Sam Bradford (although he played the first half against BYU before hurting his shoulder) -- and that while Texas has been good, the 'Horns are far from unbeatable. Wyoming, Texas Tech and Colorado all have had no problem hanging with Texas for about 2 1/2 quarters, and Oklahoma has more talent than all those teams combined.

Bradford's rustiness last week against Baylor was concerning -- he'll have to be sharper this week, obviously -- but Texas hasn't faced a team that can run the ball with any sort of competency (seriously, look at the schedule), so I wouldn't be surprised at all if Oklahoma hangs in, puts up 30-plus points and pulls off the upset.

Texas also hasn't been as offensively dominant as last year: The running game is more of a threat with Vondrell McGee and Tre Newton, but Colt McCoy is averaging under 8 yards per attempt and has thrown almost as many interceptions (six) as he did all of last year (eight).

So do I have the guts to pick Oklahoma? Ehhh ... I was still leaning toward Texas when I started writing this, but the more I look at it, the more I think the Sooners can win. As long as Bradford and Ryan Broyles are really healthy enough to play like their usual selves, Oklahoma will be able to move the ball on the ground AND through the air, and I just don't know how good Texas' offense really is -- there have been some concerning struggles against an array of horrific defenses.

I'm probably dooming the Sooners to a series of epic disasters starting at 11:01 a.m., but let's do it: Oklahoma 31, Texas 27.

As for that other game -- the one nobody cares about in South Bend -- haven't we established that this isn't your typical USC juggernaut (offensively, anyway)? Since the opening blowout against San Jose State, Matt Barkley has completed just over 50% of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The running game is pretty good, even without Stafon Johnson, but this isn't your Carson Palmer/Matt Leinart/Mark Sanchez-led USC offense.

Jimmy Clausen, meanwhile, is leading the nation in pass efficiency. I thought Notre Dame would struggle without Michael Floyd just due to the nature of their offense, but the drop-off hasn't been as severe as I anticipated (having Golden Tate doesn't hurt). And don't discount the desperation factor: Notre Dame has been in must-win mode for the last three weeks, with Charlie Weis' career hanging in the balance the entire time. A blowout loss to USC probably gets him fired, while a win would be the biggest of his tenure. I think it's safe to say that he'll be pulling out all the stops for this one.

Here's the problem for the Irish: USC is fifth nationally in rush defense, 25th in pass defense, sixth in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. As good as Clausen has been this year, he still panics under pressure, and USC will get plenty.

This will be a lower-scoring game than most people are anticipating. USC just doesn't have the offense to blow out a good Notre Dame team on the road, and the Irish will do everything in their power to keep this close. Do I think they can? Sure. Do I think they can win? Probably not. Unlike Texas, USC has a dominant defense to fall back on, and I think that'll be the difference.

My prediction: USC 24, Notre Dame 20.

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