Texas A&M next test for No.1 Crimson Tide
October 03, 2017 3:04 AM
by Tony Mejia
Much like last week, top teams will be looking to avoid upsets as the first Saturday in October unfolds. Here are the games that should most command your attention:
Washington State at Oregon: The Cougs have the juice now, having held off USC in a battle of unbeatens that now sets up a potentially special season for Mike Leach’s program. Washington State hasn’t thrived nationally in 15 years, but have a manageable schedule in October that gives it a chance to enter a Nov. 4 home date with Stanford 9-0. Of course, getting through this game in Eugene will be the major obstacle, and no line was available early in the week due to the uncertain status of Ducks running back Royce Freeman.
It was a rough Saturday night for Oregon in spite of it pulling away to rout Cal because QB Justin Herbert was lost for the remainder of the season after breaking his clavicle and Freeman suffered what looked like a shoulder injury that may sideline him beyond this week. WR Charles Nelson is out with an ankle and there are numerous other concerns entering this one, including backup QB Taylor Alie also being questionable. True freshman Braxton Burmeister, a top recruit, might make his first career start. Washington State had lost eight consecutive games against Oregon before an OT win in Eugene in ‘15 and pulled out a 51-33 rout in Pullman last season.
Alabama at Texas A&M: There don’t appear many worthy challengers for the Crimson Tide to roll through in the SEC this season. They’ve humiliated previously unbeaten Vanderbilt and the team that has had the most success against them over the past few seasons, Ole Miss, by a combined margin of 125-3. After holding off Florida State in the season opener, the Crimson Tide left themselves open to criticism by failing to cover in home games against Fresno State and Colorado State, having the audacity to look less than dominant. No one is calling them out anymore.
The Aggies, undefeated themselves through two conference games, are next up to take their shot at ‘Bama, which has won 12 on consecutive SEC road trips. A&M could use a 12th man on the field as opposed to in the stands, but will look to make inroads behind talented true freshman dual threat Kellen Mond, who was pressed into duty when redshirt freshman Nick Starkel hurt his ankle. Mond has proven clutch in getting the job done down the stretch in wins over Arkansas and South Carolina, but will obviously face a different animal in an imposing Tide defense. Since Johnny Manziel helped the Ags win in Tuscaloosa back in 2012, Alabama has won four straight by a combined margin of 182-79.
Miami at Florida State: Rescheduled due to the effects of Hurricane Irma, the optics look far different on October’s first Saturday than they would have if this game had been played as originally scheduled on Sept. 16. While the ‘Noles had already lost to Alabama, they were still the team in position to be the favorite, looking to battle back and run the table in order to get a rematch will the Crimson Tide in the national playoffs.
As things stand now, they’re a home underdog against the unbeaten ‘Canes, FSU comes off a fortunate win at Wake Forest after a home loss to N.C. State. True freshman James Blackman is talented, but has shown he’s going to have to go through growing pains as he replaces injured sophomore Deondre Francois, who underwent season-ending surgery following the season opener.
The focus is now on the impressive-looking ‘Canes, who dominated previously unbeaten Duke on a national stage last Friday night and impressively surged past Toledo in their first game following a two-week layoff due to the storms. If Miami wins this game, it will be favored in every game going forward barring any key injuries, setting up a clear path to the national semifinals provided it beats likely Atlantic Division rep Clemson in the ACC Championship.
QB Malik Rosier has looked composed, while a defense stocked with athletes will look to take advantage of Blackman’s inexperience in the latest chapter of one of the country’s fiercest rivalries. The Hurricanes haven’t defeated the ‘Noles since 2009, but 13 of the last 15 games have all been decided by seven points or less. FSU will look to win its eight consecutive game over UM, which would clinch an all-time high in this series.
Michigan State at Michigan: Speaking of unfriendly in-state feuds, the Spartans will play their Super Bowl as they take the field on the road for the first time in ‘17. Although they fell at home to Notre Dame and are in reloading mode, Sparty does come off an impressive win over Iowa and have nostalgia on their side given what happened on their last visit to Ann Arbor. Everyone remembers the walk-off punt block TD that rescued a 27-23 result for Michigan State as Mark Dantonio ruined Jim Harbargh’s debut in this rivalry.
The Wolverines got revenge in East Lansing last year, 32-23, controlling the action but failing to cover as a 25-point favorite. After opening as an 11-point chalk, the number has moved closer to two touchdowns early in the week. Wilton Speight, who entered the season as the starter but was knocked out of the Purdue game, will miss the contest. Houston transfer John O’Korn, who played well in the second half to help overcome the Boilermakers, gets another start, his second at Michigan. He struggled against Indiana in his only previous appearance as the starter,.
Others: West Virginia at TCU, Louisville at NC State, Penn State at Northwestern, Wisconsin at Nebraska, Stanford at Utah, Georgia at Vanderbilt, Wake Forest at Clemson, LSU at Florida, Kansas State at Texas, Maryland at Ohio State, Cal at Washington, Air Force at Navy.