The calendar flips and, well, lookie there, things just got a whole lot more serious in the world of college football. With apologies to the few good matchups, some nice upsets and many great individual efforts thus far, the slate and the possibilities tied to it this weekend haven’t been this enticing since the previous bowl season.
No shock that the Southeastern Conference leads the way in the big-time activity with not one, but two pairings of top-10 squads facing off. However, if you can step away from that for a second and let the mind “breathe” a bit, try to wrap your head around this:
Penn State has a chance to make a statement on Saturday. A big-time, positive, knock-your-socks-off statement that just might get a few wondering, can the Nittany Lions, these same Nittany Lions who have been dealing with issues unlike any other in the history of the sport, actually be the best team in the Big Ten?
State College will be the site for that little enlightening, when the Lions host 24th-ranked Northwestern. While the Wildcats present a host of problems, most notably in the form of multi-talented Kain Colter lining up pretty much anywhere on offense and wreaking havoc, Penn State seems to have turned the corner rather quickly.
Unsteady and uneasy after enduring such a tumultuous 10 months, the entire program seems to have gained some footing, stabilized and is prepared to unleash some damage on the opposition. Make no mistake, if the returns of the last three weekends are any indication, Penn State made a fabulous choice in hiring Bill O’Brien as head coach … and the cupboard he inherited, even after player defections, is anything but bare.
For years, reports had recruiting as being on the decline for the Lions. That they just couldn’t get the same kind of top-flight prospect to come to central Pennsylvania, or at least the same amount of those blue-chippers. More likely, they got the players. They just misused them, or didn’t use them at all.
Now, under O’Brien, that has changed.
Frankly, the Lions are loaded on defense, they have an emerging star in wide receiver Allen Robinson and quarterback Matt McGloin’s toughness, tenacity and vastly underrated talent are being utilized. Funny thing is, the big concern was the roster being depleted after the Sandusky scandal.
If anything, the most striking quality about Penn State is its depth, quality depth. Take a look at running back. Silas Redd bolts for Southern California and O’Brien opts to move receiver Bill Belton to tailback. He gets hurt, and trouble certainly loomed. Only now, the reality is he has three solid options at the position with Belton’s return, with sophomore Zach Zwinak and senior Michael Zordich offering big, powerful alternatives to the explosive Belton.
Put it this way, do not be surprised if the Lions knock Northwestern off its unbeaten perch and then take aim at Ohio State as the conference’s top dog.
In the weekend’s top matchups:
No. 5 Georgia at No. 6 South Carolina – Thus begins the Gamecocks’ possible road to greatness, this contest marking the first of three straight against top-10 SEC foes. They better get this one because it’s the only one at home. They got the talent, headlined by RB Marcus Lattimore, to win ’em all. Unfortunately, they’ll be facing talent that could knock them out of the top 25, too.
No. 4 LSU at No. 10 Florida – It wouldn’t be shocking if this matched the ACC’s version of a 4-10 battle from two weeks ago when Clemson visited Florida State. The vibe here is that Gators QB Jeff Driskell is the latest name to join the Heisman hype machine once this one is over.
No. 8 West Virginia at No. 11 Texas – Speaking of Heisman hype, Mountaineers QB Geno Smith has earned every bit of his. But the competition level just jumped exponentially, and he won’t be performing before a partisan crowd in Morgantown, W.Va., this time around, either.
No. 21 Nebraska at No. 12 Ohio State – Who knew that donning the scarlet and grey would bring out the inner Woody Hayes in Urban Meyer. Woof, talk about winning ugly. Can the Buckeyes scratch out another “snatch victory from the jaws of defeat” drama this week?
No. 23 Washington at No. 2 Oregon – Enjoy last week’s upset of Stanford, Huskies. Facing the Ducks is another matter altogether. Speed, speed, speed … it really does kill.