TCU at SMU, 8:00 p.m. Friday
[a Broadway fanfare erupts]
Running round the field
And makin' noise!
June Jones will pass the ball
With no regard at all
For running or protecting his QB!
You're looking fine!
Until Dalton takes the field
And breaks your spine...
NC State at Georgia Tech, 12:00 p.m.
Quite the study in contrasts we have here. Tom O'Brien, a coach who finds black pepper spicy, has a decent defense and a genuine weapon in the form of QB Russell Wilson at his disposal. On the other side stands Paul Johnson, an aggressive, sharp-tongued oldschool hardass who uses a railroad spike as a toothpick and has to make his option attack run with Josh Nesbitt, a quarterback with spotty passing ability on his best days, and a sketchy defense behind him.
The two have to play a football game with their teams, then stop the Pakistani mafia from buying a nuke from a rogue Soviet operative. A thrilling buddy movie/caper ensues, because one would win by forty points a game if he could, and the other courteously hits the brakes whenever his team gets up by two TDs and sends a well-written thank you note to the opposite sideline immediately after the final whistle blows. An odd couple out to save the world! Seriously, we could get this made, and it would lose thousands of dollars! INVEST NOW HOLLYWOOD.
If you have to lean one way here for no reason in particular, embrace the option and your inner Luddite who has a suspicion of phones without cords, cars from anywhere but the U.S. of A., and football teams that throw the ball more than ten times a game.
Lean: Georgia Tech
Stanford at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m.
Notre Dame's been kicked in the teeth late in games two weeks in a row, but for a refreshing change of pace they'll probably get a refreshing early kick in the teeth from a far superior Stanford team. This means the Irish play the part of underdogs in theory, but following the divine retribution handed out to Mark Dantonio for calling a fake field goal to beat Notre Dame, consider: do you really want to watch Jim Harbaugh turned into a pillar of salt for beating the Irish by thirty on their home field? You do? That's...that's pretty gangster of you, actually. Respect to the iciness, and to your Hammurabian, Old Testament-steezy vengeance kick. You're clearly an emotionally mature person, which you'll have to be to handle the number of losses Notre Dame is going to take early this year.
Lean: Notre Dame
UCLA at Texas, 3:30 p.m.
Scene: 1997. Cade McNown looks at the man in the goatee. "So, I just sign this paper and we beat the crap out of Texas today?" "Yes, that's exactly how it works," says the man, smiling a smile one might call devilish for reasons this brief narrative really, really wants to make obviously clear. "What am I giving up in return?"
"Your soul, young man, but there's an additional back-end bonus of an additional win over Texas next year, and then the pro contract and bonus. I'm afraid I'm going to put you on the bears and give you Gary Crowton as your offensive coordinator."
"Whatever, man. I can ball through that."
[The man spits out his bourbon.]
"Ha. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh, your confidence is charming, but no man survives that. So yes, and for style purposes I determine the score of the game here."
"Lemme guess. 66-6?"
"No, no, that's too obvious. I'll probably just let them have a field goal. Looks worse that way. Oh, and one more thing: following you, every UCLA quarterback will suffer a curse of grievous or nagging injury."
"But not me, right?"
"Oh, playing quarterback in Chicago will be injury enough, son."
"And will Texas ever lose to us again?"
"No, son. Never."
"Pfft. Let's sign this and rock, dude."
[AND CADE MCNOWN DOOMS UCLA FOREVER IN THE PROCESS. The devil here has been played by Danny McBride, because the devil wears Oakleys and has a splendid greasy mullet. Fortunately for UCLA, we like the doomed.]
Alabama at Arkansas, 3:30 p.m.
This is purely a fanbase pick, so let's examine the variables. Alabama fans enjoy exalting the dead ghosts of their program almost as much as Notre Dame fans, commit their violence in a largely abstract way, and have a habit of erecting statues all over the place like Easter Islanders. When their society collapses due to lack of resources wasted on erecting monuments to even minor deities of Alabama football, Jared Diamond will write a four hundred page NYT Bestseller ostensibly about this, but we'll all know it's really about how impossibly smart he is.
Arkansas fans, on the other hand, will file Freedom of Information Act requests to find out if you're cheating on your wife, write mass emails to writers who've aggrieved them, and like to commit their violence face to face. A Razorback fan might stab you, but look at it this way: a stabbing has that personal touch a shooting lacks, and that has to count for something.
Nevada at BYU, 6:00 p.m.
Oh sure, you could go the easy route and balance out the "Reno, City of Sin" versus "Provo, City of Virtue" route, but we'd prefer to just point out that Nevada's ¡La Pistola! is one of the more amusing offenses to watch no matter what city it's in, and that it's run by the one and only Fire Ostrich himself Colin Kaepernick. Prepare yourself for Mel Kiper's inevitable referencing of his "linth" and "strinth" in the NFL draft, and for Todd McShay to hate him because he hates everything but Jake Locker and teeth whitening strips.
Georgia at Mississippi State, 7:00 p.m.
Likability isn't in short supply here, but the schools can be differentiated best on the basis of their mascots, which are the same and aren't, really. UGA's bulldog is an all-white aristocrat with severe genetic defects, an inability to walk more than a few steps at a time without panting, and his own ridiculously large house. Bully, the brown and white bulldog of Mississippi State, is the people's bulldog, a robust, actually functional animal who is nowhere near as iconic as UGA, but who also does not make Mississippi State fans nervous with the prospect of actually dying on the sidelines. We're a slave to function first, y'all.
Lean: Mississippi State
South Carolina at Auburn, 7:45 p.m.
Noise should largely be an organic thing in football: the band, the crowd, occasionally the noisemakers brought by said crowd into the equation. Autzen Stadium, Beaver Stadium, and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium are all loud because fans begin Tibetan circular breathing and make hellacious noise for four quarters, not because someone cranks up the opening riff to "Welcome to the Jungle" over the PA. It's not that it's cheating, per se: it's that it's as outright NFL-ish as playing to win by a 52 yard field goal, and just as distasteful to the college football palate. Are we talking about Auburn's habit of doing this? Does this unfairly influence our thinking here? Are we leaning toward South Carolina because of it, and also because we want to see Steve Spurrier offer an awkward fist bump to his long-maligned quarterback Stephen Garcia? You're damn right we are.
Lean: South Carolina
Oregon State at Boise State, 8:00 p.m.
Boise's really only got one more chance to impress people, which is why phasers will be set to "incinerate" for the Broncos. It's an odd role for Boise, America's sweetheart, something akin to Sandra Bullock, the perpetual underdog in every rom-com ever known, turning heel and suddenly unveiling herself as a female Dexter once she gets the masculine-but-not-threatening protagonist home. This probably will be plotline for the night as a formerly adorable Boise team goes brutal on Oregon State, and the results will be just as awkward for Musburger and Herbstreit. "They're just so likable, this team, and...my god, the blood, Kirk...the blood." A female Dexter would still be quite sexy, which is why I was a horrible single person who needed marriage to protect me from myself.
West Virginia at LSU, 9:00 p.m.
Well-managed games really are horrendously overrated, and fortunately for you this is not one of them. Les Miles will open with his usual array of gambits: allowing Gary Crowton to run an offense, taking time-outs whenever his imaginary parrot Frederick whispers the command to do so in his right ear, and generally making a mockery of clock management as we know it. Bill Stewart will smile, wink, and then counter by ensuring that his first-year starter Geno Smith throws the ball 35 times while Noel Devine gets exactly five carries in the first half because that's the exact opposite of what you think we'd do. I'm going to this game primarily to watch these two fanbases collide, but the prospect of watching these two coaches attempt to land their respective planes on the pitching deck of the U.S.S. Victory is too delicious to resist. There's a lean here, but it transcends a preference for one team or another.
Lean: The Universal Forces of Mayhem, Disorder, and Chaos