The Top Ten Measuring Stick Games of the Weekend (with predictions)
1. Alabama at Texas A&M (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): There's no measuring stick quite like the defending national champions and winners of three of the past four. Beat the Crimson Tide and Kevin Sumlin's program takes a deserved spot at the front of the line of national championship contenders in 2013 and places itself on the short list of SEC championship favorites every season for the forseeable future. Lose, and Texas A&M falls back in line with every other power program nipping at Nick Saban's heels.
Zach: When playing anyone other than LSU, Nick Saban is 11-0 since 2009 with more than a week to prepare. I'll take the Tide, 34-24.
Scott: I think Kevin Sumlin and his staff will have a great plan for this one. To beat Alabama, your offense has to be able to extend plays and find an eventual breakdown. A&M's QB is pretty good at that. I like A&M to find a way to get the W.
2. Wisconsin at Arizona State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Of all the teams we know next to nothing about through two weeks of the season, we know the least about the Badgers and Sun Devils. This is a game pitting teams who have yet to surrender a point through three combined games, games which happened to occur against Massachusetts, Tennessee Tech and Sacramento State.
Zach: Big Ten teams are 6-20 in true road games against the Pac-12 since 2000. I'll side with the home team here.
Scott: Gary Andersen will bring his team down south with a blue collar mentality. He will have them prepared. I could see Wisconsin pulling away in the 4th quarter.
3. UCLA at Nebraska (12 p.m. ET, ABC): Bruins quarterback measured quite nicely against Nebraska's defense last season, connecting on 21-of-33 passes for 305 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions while adding 12 rushes for 53 yards in a 36-30 UCLA upset. Nebraska's defense took some steps forward last week against Southern Miss, but that was Southern Miss. If Bo Pelini hopes to break the four-loss cycle his program has lived in the past five years, this is a must-win.
Zach: I can see this game going either way, but I'll side with the Bruins.
Scott: I really don't have a strong feel on this one. UCLA will be playing with some heavy hearts. I believe a loss would be crushing to Nebraska and feel they have more to lose...thus, I'm going with the Big Red in this one.
4. TCU at Texas Tech (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Thursday): What do the Horned Frogs' first two games against LSU and Southern Louisiana (has any team's schedule swung more violently from Week 1 to Week 2?) say about how they'll handle the spread attack of a Big 12 opponent? And how will true freshman quarterback Baker Mayfield handle real adversity? For all we don't know, here's something we do: neither team has a realistic shot at the Big 12 title if they lose this game.
Zach: I think TCU's overall talent level is above Texas Tech's at this point, and I think Trevone Boykin presents problems for which the Red Raiders' defense doesn't have a good answer.
Scott: I'm riding the Kliff Kingsbury express until it has a breakdown. Think a bigger, more physical team would pose more problems for Tech's defense, but I don't think TCU is that team. Red Raiders.
5. Texas at Ole Miss (8 p.m. ET, LHN): Any semblance of a successful season for a program that sorely needs one relies on the repair ability of a defensive coordinator who watched last week's game from his couch in southern California. By the way, Texas quarterback David Ash hasn't practiced this week. That said, from an Ole Miss perspective Hugh Freeze needs to start winning these types of games. The Vanderbilt win was great, now it's time to build on it.
Zach: Mack Brown has a talent for getting Texas ready to play quickly following emotional games, a category in which the BYU debacle certainly fits. But there's just too much negative juju in Austin right now for me to pick the Horns.
Scott: This would be a huge victory for Hugh Freeze. With all of the changes this week at Texas, I'm going with the Rebels to pull this one out.
6. Vanderbilt at South Carolina (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): For all the good James Franklin has accomplished in his short time at Vanderbilt, he's yet to beat Florida, Georgia or South Carolina. Needless to say, the Commodores won't get where Franklin wants to take them until that changes. Catching the Gamecocks in a circle-the-wagons week following a TKO in Athens is as good a time as any.
Zach: I think South Carolina is better than it showed in the second half against Georgia, and reminds us again Saturday night.
Scott: Having seen Vanderbilt in person, I know they are better than most people understand; however South Carolina is a big physical team. I think South Carolina grinds out a well fought victory; but not by a big margin.
7. Oregon State at Utah (10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): A four-quarter win over Utah State and a 63-point mauling of Weber State finds Kyle Whittingham's team liking where it sits entering Pac-12 play. If you're Oregon State, can you really afford to drop this game when your final seven contests fall in the toss-up (at Washington State, at Cal, vs. USC) or heavy underdog (vs. Stanford, at Oregon) file?
Zach: Like the Utah State win, I think it takes Utah until the final possession to secure a win.
Scott: I like Utah at home. Could see Whittingham's guys by a wider margin than expected.
8. Mississippi State at Auburn (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Auburn can look to its 28-10 loss to Starkville as the day the fatal tailspin of 2012 began. Avenging that loss is a necessary step toward recovery. For Dan Mullen's team, if you can't win this game, where are your other five victories coming from with a schedule that features five games against top 25 opponents?
Zach: I think Auburn wins and pulls a reverse-Lee Corso in the process: not as close as the experts think.
Scott: I haven't seen that Auburn has the talent to compete for four quarters with the upper echelon of the SEC, but I also don't think this year's Mississippi State team is in that upper echelon. If, and this is a big if, Auburn's offensive line can keep their quarterback clean, I can see Auburn finding just enough points to win a close one.
9. Iowa at Iowa State (6 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Iowa has already lost to Northern Illinois, was in a one-score game with Missouri State in the fourth quarter and has dropped two in a row to the Cyclones. With a heavily backloaded schedule (five ranked foes in the final six games), this game is all kinds of must-win for any hope at avoiding a repeat of 2012. Meanwhile, Iowa State has already lost to Northern Iowa and faces nine 2012 bowl teams in its final 10 games. Yeesh.
Zach: No matter who wins, for the love of God let's hope both teams can better last year's 9-6 final score. I'll take the Cyclones.
Scott: For no other reason than I think Paul Rhodes is a great coach at home, I'm going with State.
10. Troy at Arkansas State (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU Thursday): Arkansas State's first challenge in defending its two consecutive Sun Belt titles comes in the form of a quarterback with more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four) through two games. The Red Wolves will hope to duplicate a Week 1 effort in which they registered nearly as many rushing touchdowns (eight) as Arkansas-Pine Bluff had rushing yards (12).
Zach: I think this is one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. Give me Arkansas State, 34-30.
Scott: I haven't seen Troy play yet this season; but am looking forward to this one. They are hot. I'm going with the Trojans.