PROVE IT – WEEK 7
Stanford at Notre Dame, 3:30pm, Saturday
PROVE IT CONTENDER: Which team is a legit threat to win their conference or receive a BCS bid?
Before the season started, not many people would have believed that this Stanford-Notre Dame matchup would have so much on the line. With Andrew Luck gone from the Cardinal program, Notre Dame has a good chance to beat Stanford this season. They enter the game as the favorites. Both teams are ranked heading into this weekend. It could prove to be a fun one.
Stanford has had about as good of a season as you can have when you’re all-everything quarterback graduates from the program. Josh Nunes has done a solid job of replacing Luck. The Cardinal score 31 points per game. Nunes and his teammates have done a great job protecting the ball and they lead the Pac-12 in turnover margin. That has been key to their success so far. Perhaps more surprising, their defense has been quite stout in the first half of the season. While their secondary is still a work in progress, they have a top-6 rushing defense, and they are stopping opponents behind the line of scrimmage. Stanford has a hiccup against Washington in a loss that hurts them in the Pac-12 North. But it remains to be seen just how good Washington is. Holding serve this weekend, and throughout the rest of the conference schedule, would position Stanford atop the division with hopes of Oregon somehow stumbling along the way. Most certainly it is a long shot for them to win the division. They will have to face Oregon head-to-head later on. Should they beat USC, Notre Dame, and Oregon in the same season, the BCS would have no choice but to give the Cardinal a long look.
Notre Dame might be a year ahead of where people thought they would be in Brian Kelly’s third season with the program. There was a lot of drama at the beginning of the season surrounding former starting quarterback Tommy Rees when he was demoted for disciplinary reasons. Everett Golson has taken the reigns of this offense and been firing on all cylinders. After being benched for the first part of the game last week (disciplinary reasons), Golson came out and torched an improved Miami team, 41-3. They are undefeated going into Week 6 for the first time since 2002. The Irish are really executing well. George Atkinson III and Theo Riddick are taking care of things on the ground. Mantei Te’o is living up to his high ranking as a recruit four years ago. He leads the defense in tackles per game. We know how much the BCS wants big matchups with big names. If Notre Dame, who has basically been irrelevant in the BCS era, is unbeaten (or nearly so) at the end of the year, the BCS will be licking its chops to invite the Irish to play in a premium postseason game.
It starts on Saturday against Stanford. A win would reinforce just how far the Irish have come the last three seasons. A win for Stanford would prove that they are not just a star quarterback but a football program that is here to stay. Going into South Bend and winning is not an easy task. Notre Dame has the better record, talent, and resume. Stanford was counted out against USC, and look what happened there. The gateway to the rest of the season for both of these schools begins on Saturday.
Florida at Vanderbilt, 6:00pm, Saturday
PROVE IT CONTENDER: Florida
Florida pulled off the ultimate victory against rival LSU last weekend in a game most thought LSU would win. The Gators have found a great formula for success under Will Muschamp. Jeff Driskel has played well after solidifying himself as the starter. So far the team MVP is Mike Gillislee. He has 548 yards on 103 carries. The team ranks top-25 in rushing at 214 yards per game.
The Gators are averaging 27 points per game, which is pretty good by SEC standards. They have been able to control the clock with their running game. Other teams have had a hard time throwing on the Gators. If you are playing from behind, it is tough to win when you cannot seem to throw the ball effectively. That has been vital to Florida’s success. Most importantly, the defense is not allowing many points. The unit looks like the Florida defenses of old as they only allow 103 yards rushing per game and a measly 11 points.
In beating LSU, Florida seems to have alleviated the logjam of LSU and Alabama at the SEC championship game. Alabama seems like it is in control of the West, but now the East becomes interesting. With a win against Vanderbilt, Florida would be undefeated going into consecutive weeks against highly ranked conference opponents South Carolina and Georgia. South Carolina has become the favorite since destroying Georgia last weekend. Right now it is impossible to discount Florida until they are upended by a conference opponent. That opponent cannot be Vanderbilt. A loss this weekend would almost assuredly derail any hope (or hype) for any sort of division crown. Plus, they need all the momentum they can get going into the South Carolina game. Muschamp has revitalized a program that sort of lost itself when Urban Meyer left. The Gators have come to play.