Game of the Week: #11 UCLA at #15 Arizona State
Arizona State comes into this game, which will go a long way towards determining the winner of the Pac-12 South, as a four-point underdog. Both teams come into this game with an injured quarterback, with the Sun Devils’ Taylor Kelly out with a foot injury, and the Bruins’ Brett Hundley a game-time decision with an elbow injury. This game will be played late tonight, as it is on the west coast, and is the only matchup of ranked teams this weekend, meaning there will be none on Saturday. The game will be the first between two ranked opponents in Tempe since 2007, and one of these two teams has represented the Pac-12 South in each year since the conference began hosting a championship game (in 2011). On paper, the teams are fairly even, but there is one exception. Arizona State will be playing inexperienced backup Mike Bercovici at quarterback, so if Hundley plays (and most expect him to), the Bruins will have a big advantage at that position. In addition to that, while it’s not by much, the Bruins should be the better team, although Arizona State will keep the game close at home.
UCLA 24, Arizona State 21.
Big Game Guarantee: Missouri at #13 South Carolina
South Carolina is a six-point home favorite as these two teams compete for the “Mayor’s Cup”, the trophy created by the mayor’s in each teams locale (both hail from a city of Columbia). A year ago, the Tigers led at home 17-0 going to the fourth quarter before Connor Shaw, who had not started due to injury, came off the bench to lead his team to an improbable, 27-24 win in double overtime. After South Carolina’s win over Georgia, it looked like the winner of this game would have the inside track to the SEC East division title. But after Missouri’s loss to Indiana, although that was not in a conference game, there is certainly doubt over whether or not they will be contenders in the SEC East. South Carolina isn’t playing their best either, coming off a 48-34 win at Vanderbilt in which they allowed a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns. With both teams coming in struggling, South Carolina is at home, and they found a way to win last week while Missouri did not; expect a similar narrative to play out this week.
South Carolina 34, Missouri 27.
Upset of the Week: Duke at Miami
Duke travels to Miami to take on the Hurricanes as seven-point underdogs in this matchup in the wide open ACC Coastal Division. I’m led to believe that spread is a case of name recognition for Miami’s national brand (and the stereotype that somehow still exists that Duke isn’t good), for a couple of reasons. A year ago, Duke beat Miami 48-30 on their way to the division title, in a game in which they trailed 30-28 late in the third quarter and scored 20 unanswered points. This year, after rushing for 358 yards on the ‘Canes last year, Duke’s offense is better, particularly in the run game, with the emergence of freshman Shaun Wilson. Wilson has run for 404 yards on the season in four games, averaging 14.4 yards per attempt. Last week at Nebraska, Miami’s run defense struggled, allowing Ameer Abdullah to run for 229 yards, so against Wilson and the Blue Devils, they may be in for more of the same.
Duke 38, Miami 24.
Closer Than The Experts Think: #1 Florida State at NC State
Simply put, on paper the Seminoles are better than the Wolfpack. There’s a reason, after all, that even though both are undefeated, Florida State is ranked #1 in both polls and NC State is not ranked in either. Florida State survived a scare last week, beating Clemson in overtime without suspended quarterback Jameis Winston. This week, Winston is back, and looking to lead the Seminoles offense back to the form that allowed them to go undefeated a year ago. The Wolfpack have improved every game they have played, starting with a 24-23 win over Georgia Southern, and culminating with 49-17 and 42-0 wins the last two weeks over South Florida and Presbyterian. This series tends to produce very competitive games, particularly in Raleigh, with the Wolfpack winning three out of the last four at home against the ‘Noles, and five of the last seven at home when Florida State is ranked, including a come-from-behind, 17-16, last second victory in 2012. Last year, Florida State beat NC State, 49-17, but the Wolfpack have never done well in Tallahassee. NC State has never beaten a top-ranked team, but has never hosted one either. While I don’t think the Wolfpack can quite pull the upset, this game won’t be over at halftime like last year, and will be closer than people think.
Florida State 27, NC State 17.
NFL Game of the Week: Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are three-point home favorites in a game that is, in essence, the Steve Smith Bowl. Smith played for the Panthers for 13 seasons, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Despite that, on March 13 he was released by the Panthers, the only team he had ever played for professionally, and the next day he signed with the Ravens. And, it would seem, he immediately circled September 28 on his calendar. He was even seen in a sideline video during week one, which has since gone viral, shouting “Hey, if you (expletive) think I can’t play, you’ll find out week four, (expletive),” clearly aiming the comment at his former team. He also said in an interview with a Charlotte radio station back in March there would be “blood and guts” if the day ever came that he would play the Panthers. Well, the day is here, and in response to the comment, Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams answered media questions this week wearing goggles. Panther fans, who admired Smith for so long, are in a tough spot as their team now faces one of their heroes, and I’ve heard several say they hope Smith has a big game, but in a Panther win. The overall matchup features two good football teams, both at 2-1. The Ravens’ lone loss was by a touchdown at home against Cincinnati, one of the best two or three teams in the game right now, and they are coming off a 23-21 win at Cleveland. The Panthers are coming off an embarrassing 37-19 home loss to the Steelers in primetime on Sunday; the same Steelers were embarassed themselves the week before–by the Ravens, 26-6. That, in addition to Smith’s motivation and the Ravens playing on their home field, gives the Ravens a slight edge in what should be a very competitive game between two defensive-minded teams.
Baltimore 17, Carolina 16.