Big Game Hunting: Buckeyes defense out to prove a ‘basic’ point
I’d prefer to believe Austin Kendall is a delightful young man. Alas, the Oklahoma freshman quarterback — merely a backup, mind you — has become one of the faces of Saturday’s huge game against Ohio State, and not in a good way.
It’s called bulletin-board material, and No. 3 Buckeyes at No. 14 Sooners (6:30 p.m., Fox-32) has a bunch of it after Kendall made the inexperienced mistake of disrespecting Ohio State’s defense during an on-camera interview. Kendall didn’t do starting quarterback Baker Mayfield any favors, either.
“I think they have a really basic defense,” he said. “I think we can go out there and, I mean, Baker will light them up. I’m really looking forward to it. If my number is called, I think I can do the same.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will use the quote in a big way, though it won’t come as news to his players. Several of them were quick to acknowledge Kendall’s remarks Thursday as this non-story of a story spread on social media.
It’s too soon to have a clear read on the Buckeyes (2-0) defensively; they allowed only 10 points to Bowling Green and three to Tulsa, but they have new starters all over the field and, of course, have yet to face a challenge like the one they’ll get from OU (1-1). Offensively, the Sooners are absolutely loaded.
One reason to buy into Urban Meyer’s defense is the school’s offseason hiring of Greg Schiano to run the unit along with Luke Fickell. This is an elite staff — second to none in college football — we’re talking about. Ohio State will surrender some touchdowns in this one as any Sooners opponent would, especially in Norman. The “D” rises in the end as the narrowly favored Bucks cover the 1½-point spread.
No. 2 Florida State at No. 10 Louisville (11 a.m., Ch. 7) is the first top-10 matchup of the college season. The anticipation level is sky-high for this one, due less to the rankings than to the meteoric rise of Cardinals dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson. Only a sophomore, Jackson is off to one of the best statistical starts in memory — yet the numbers only hint at his breathtaking athleticism.
“I did good, I guess,” Jackson said after piling up an ACC-record 610 total yards in a blowout victory at Syracuse, “but I still have room for improvement.”
He gives the Cardinals — two-point underdogs — a real shot to knock the ACC Atlantic division off its axis in this battle of 2-0 teams. The Ville gets one of the great wins in school history.
So much intrigue wrapped up in No. 1 Alabama at No. 19 Ole Miss (2:30 p.m., Ch. 2). Why? Simply because the Rebels have done the unthinkable in upsetting the Tide two years in a row. In spite of that, the spread this time is a hefty 11 points.
“I think the focus for us needs to be on better execution as a team,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
That’s Sabanese for “they’ll wish they were never born.” Tide all day.
What a tough call No. 22 Oregon at Nebraska (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7) is. The Ducks (2-0) haven’t been their old selves post-Marcus Mariota, not to mention post-Chip Kelly. Yet the Huskers (2-0) have struggled in close games for what feels like a long time now. Is second-year coach Mike Riley going to change that? Huskers are favored by a field goal, but I’ve got it going the other way.
Speaking of tough calls, what to do with No. 17 Texas A&M at Auburn (6 p.m., ESPN)? If the Tigers (1-1) play as well defensively as they did in their loss to Clemson, they’ll give the Aggies fits. But something about the direction of Gus Malzahn’s program just doesn’t feel right. Kevin Sumlin gets to 3-0 — and gets off the hot seat once and for all — as A&M pulls off the outright upset.
USC at No. 7 Stanford (7 p.m., Ch. 7) isn’t expected to be very close, judging by the 8½-point spread. Typically, though, this has been a throw-the-rankings-out-the-window sort of rivalry, with some extraordinarily exciting finishes. If the Trojans (1-1) can offset Stanford superstar Christian McCaffrey’s big plays with some long balls in the passing game, they’ll hang tight. Stanford gets beaten deep a couple of times but survives — barely — to get to 2-0.
My favorite favorite: No. 4 Michigan (-20½) vs. Colorado (2:30 p.m., BTN). Neither team put out an early depth chart this week. The difference: Michigan never does that, and Colorado — which typically does (as most programs do) share that info — mocked Jim Harbaugh’s policy by creating a hilarious fake depth chart that included such names as Austin Powers, Happy Gilmore and Vito Corleone. Harbaugh won’t stand for that kind of disrespect.
My favorite underdog: California (+8) vs. No. 11 Texas (9:30 p.m., ESPN). Late at night and a long way from home? The Bears can still put up points even without Jared Goff. Enjoy the fantastic finish.
Last week: 6-1 straight-up, 3-3-1 vs. the spread.
Season to date: 11-5 straight-up; 6-9-1 vs. the spread.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.
NO. 12 MICHIGAN STATE AT NO. 18 NOTRE DAME
The facts: 6:30 p.m., Ch. 5; 890-AM.
The records: Michigan State 1-0, Notre Dame 1-1.
The line: Irish by 7½.
The story line: It will be instant intensity. The Spartans will try to make it a slugfest. The Irish won’t necessarily shy from that, though they’ll open up MSU’s defense in the passing game if they can. “We are who we are,” quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “We do want to push the ball vertically down the field.” Kizer’s ability to run for first downs could be a key counter to the Spartans’ aggression on defense. Is new MSU quarterback Tyler O’Connor cut out for games like this? A loss would devastate Notre Dame’s playoff hopes.
Greenberg’s pick: Notre Dame, 24-20.
SAN DIEGO STATE AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS
The facts: 2:30 p.m., CBSSN; 560-AM.
The records: San Diego State 2-0, Northern Illinois 0-2.
The line: Aztecs by 10½.
The story line: NIU has been awful against the run. SDSU has merely the nation’s leading rusher in Donnel Pumphrey. You see where this is headed? But we should pump the brakes for a moment to mention the sad, likely career-ending leg injuries suffered by Huskies quarterback Drew Hare last weekend. Rough deal all the way around.
Greenberg’s pick: San Diego State, 41-20.
WESTERN MICHIGAN AT ILLINOIS
The facts: 3 p.m., ESPNews; 670-AM.
The records: Western Michigan 2-0, Illinois 1-1.
The line: Broncos by 3½.
The story line: Illinois is an underdog at home against a MAC team. And did I mention Illinois is an underdog at home against a MAC team? No matter how many times I say it, it just doesn’t sound like the way things ought to be. Lovie Smith was brought to the school to instill a football identity. Protecting the house with rugged defense against hot coach P.J. Fleck and the confident Broncos — who won at Northwestern in the opener — is awfully important.
Greenberg’s pick: Illinois, 27-20.
DUKE AT NORTHWESTERN
The facts: 7 p.m., BTN; 720-AM.
The records: Duke 1-1, Northwestern 0-2.
The line: Wildcats by 4
The story line: It’s a battle of the bad losses. Western Michigan and Illinois State are good teams, but they’re not supposed to win on a Big Ten field. Duke, meanwhile, lost at home to ACC bottom-feeder Wake Forest. Might this be the game in which the Wildcats’ alleged offense not only walks onto the field, but stays awake and actual engages in the sport of football? Duke’s defense is pretty good, but not that good.
Greenberg’s pick: Northwestern, 12-10.