Welcome to The Crossroads, which is my weekly look at the teams, players, coaches, etc. that are under the most pressure for this week’s game. I’ll be dropping in every Wednesday since that is the crossroads of the week and I couldn’t come up with a family-friendly title with “Hump” in it.
Let’s dive in, shall we? The list is in no particular order because it’s more interesting that way.
It seems very odd to say a 21-point underdog is facing pressure but such is life when you’re a former SEC power struggling to attain any shred of relevancy. Last year, Butch Jones and company received a pass when its road trip to Oregon went horribly awry. Frankly, the scheduling at Tennessee should be both commended and ridiculed – who goes to Oregon and Oklahoma in back-to-back years? That’s cruel to the best of teams.
As for this game, no one is expecting Tennessee to win. I mean, I did in the preseason, but I like to be different. The goal here for the Volunteers is to be competitive. It’s becoming hard to believe that Tennessee has been so bad for so long. The SEC East could potentially be much, much easier than in years past with South Carolina seemingly down and Florida a giant question mark. At some point, Tennessee has to start competing against top quality teams.
Remember, they took Georgia to overtime and beat South Carolina last year at home. It’s time to take that show on the road.
There has been talk that the Tennessee game is a no-win proposition for Bob Stoops, who spent the summer with his chest pumped out after thumping Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. If it’s a close win or, heaven forbid, a loss, that proves the SEC is better than he said. If it’s a blowout, it simply proves the SEC is weak and it won’t help the Sooners in the long-run.
Well, that second part is hogwash – Oklahoma has to wipe the floor with Tennessee. This is what Stoops get for opening his mouth. We saw what Oregon did a year ago to the Volunteers. Stoops and the Sooners need to do something similar.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco should send the Big Ten a Thank You card for its performance last week, which completely obscured the truly putrid day the AAC had. After a successful year one, the conference appears to be nose-diving in year two. Every team that has played has lost. Tulsa was wiped out by Oklahoma. USF couldn’t beat Maryland despite being plus-five in the turnover margin. SMU just lost its coach. The lone bright spot was a close Memphis loss.
If the conference wants to remain as the top non-power conference, they need a huge weekend. Thankfully for the conference, they have multiple opportunities. Houston travels to BYU, UCF travels to Missouri, East Carolina travels to Virginia, UConn hosts Boise State and USF hosts N.C. State. The two most important of these games are UCF and East Carolina, as they are likely to be battling for the conference title with Cincinnati.
The bottom line is the conference needs to start winning some non-conference games soon or it’s going to be a terrible year.
South Carolina’s Defense
Pretty self-explanatory, right? They were torched by Texas A&M in week one and looked extremely shaky against East Carolina last week. Now they face a Georgia team boasting the sport’s best running back and early Heisman frontrunner in Todd Gurley.
Of every team playing this week, none has more on the line than South Carolina, who could see its season be destroyed within three games. They have to win and the only way they do that is if they stop Todd Gurley.
In Las Vegas, the biggest stunner of the week took place far from the spotlight. Louisiana-Lafayette was a 16-point favorite that got smoked 48-20 by Louisiana Tech. In response, coach Mark Hudspeth moved the players off-limits for media following the game and took the blame all by himself.
The next opponent is Ole Miss so ULL may not get a victory but I’d be stunned if they don’t put up one helluva fight.
I bought two tickets to a Maryland game in 2012 – my UConn Huskies were in town to face their old coach Randy Edsall. That one purchase led to a barrage of flyers, e-mails and letters from Maryland all summer as they desperately tried to sell tickets. There are very real fears that Maryland’s terrible stadium will be overrun with opposing fans all season as they join the Big Ten.
This week, Maryland welcomes West Virginia, not a Big Ten foe but a traditional rival. Will Terp fans finally stand up and support their currently undefeated team?
Speaking of my UConn team – and boy did they win an ugly game last week – they welcome Boise State. This game is an absolute must-win on every level for Boise State. UConn is at least a year away from being very competitive. The Broncos got crunched by Ole Miss on opening night but are making their second cross-country trip for a noon start that will feel like 10 a.m. to the players.
UCLA gave up 469 total yards last week at home to a Memphis team that went 3-9 last year. It was a pathetic performance, assuming that Memphis has not suddenly become an offensive juggernaut.
This week, UCLA heads to JerryWorld to take on a reeling Texas team that is coming off of a complete evisceration at the hands of BYU. The defense needs to play way better.
Here it is Rutgers – your moment of Big Ten glory has finally arrived. Your welcome present? A 2-0 Penn State team that is going to enter the field like bats unleashed from hell after the news they are now eligible for the Big Ten title and a bowl game. The place will be packed. It’s a primetime game on the Big Ten Network.
Many pegged Rutgers for a poor season in the preseason but the opening night win against Washington State recalibrated things. The Scarlet Knights need to capitalize on this momentum now.
It’s pretty obvious Mike London got to hang around for another year because he lucked into having two five-star Virginia recruits stay in-state. The opener against UCLA provided some cause for optimism but, in the end, it was still another loss.
Louisville comes to town as a ranked team following its Labor Day beatdown of Miami. Mike London needs a big win at some point this year to validate his tenure and get him another year. Next week’s game is a road trip to BYU. Yikes. Virginia needs to win this game.