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The Week That Will Be: Turf War

LSU vs. Texas. How much more hype do you need?

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Last Week: 4-2 ATS 3-3 SU

For the Year: 4-2 (.667) ($160) ATS 3-3 (.500) SU

Quick Thoughts From Last Week:

Get Yourself a True Freshman QB 1.0 Quarterback Sam Howell (245 passing yards and 3 touchdowns) led North Carolina to a win despite being down double digits in the fourth quarter. We talked about Jake Bentley’s propensity to throw an interception on you last week and sure enough he threw two in the final minutes of Saturday’s contest. South Carolina lost to the team that went 2-10 last season and now face five currently ranked Top 12 teams the rest of the season, including Alabama, Georgia and Clemson.

Get Yourself a True Freshman QB 2.0 Auburn led Oregon for all of nine seconds on Saturday night, but it was the most important nine seconds. Quarterback Bo Nix’s 26-yard touchdown pass when the Tigers were already in field goal range took guts – or desperation from Gus Malzahn, but it worked.

Get Yourself a True Freshman QB 3.0 According to ESPN Stats & Info, Florida State is now 80-2 when leading by 18 points or more in the last 15 years – with both losses coming in the Willie Taggert era. There was a lot to like (at least in the first half) for Florida State fans on Saturday, but the second half looked awfully like 2018. Quarterback Hank Bachmeier had more than 400 yards of total offense.

Plug and Play 1.0 Oklahoma State plugs in another quarterback – this time redshirt freshman Spencer Sanders – and he has more than 300 total yards and three touchdowns. The best performance of the weekend you heard nothing about was OSU’s Chuba Hubbard, who rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns.

Plug and Play 2.0 Another Oklahoma quarterback with an outstanding performance in his Sooner debut – stop this movie, I have seen it and it is the worst.

Almost Perfect for Texas It was an efficient, business-like performance for the Longhorns against Louisiana Tech. The game was never in doubt, they didn’t have to show too much but there was still enough there to yell at the players this week – but the loss of Jordan Whittington is a devasting blow to the running back depth chart, if there is one at this point.

When #6 LSU and #9 Texas Saturday night in Austin, it will be the first meeting between the two teams since the 2003 Cotton Bowl, a 35-20 Texas victory. To this day they say that if you look hard enough you can see Corey Webster still chasing Roy Williams around those hallowed grounds.

Of course the head coaches in that game were Nick Saban for LSU (with special appearances from defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher) and Mack Brown for Texas.

All of those characters are long gone, in fact the headline for this one is the matchup between Texas head coach Tom Herman and LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, the first or second or third choices for the LSU head coach vacancy when it came open in 2016, depending on what report you want to believe. The general feeling is that Herman was headed to LSU before Texas swooped in at the last second, but there are those that believe on both sides that the LSU/Herman flirtation was nothing but a means of forcing Texas’s hand into making a decision to move on from Charlie Strong.

Whatever the case, neither head coach will step onto the field during the action on Saturday, a game that likely will start with the Tigers as a betting favorite.

It is hard to deny the recent success of LSU. They haven’t won less than 8 games this century. They have more 10 win seasons this century than they don’t. They won a national championship and played for another since Texas won their last one. And last year’s team finished 10-3, which included a victory over Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl, ending their long winning streak.

But, and you can put this in three-inch headlines – Texas beats LSU on Saturday, and the Tigers will be lucky if it is even close.

You can take Ed Orgeron and Joe Burrow and a brand new offense in the second game of the season and I’ll take Tom Herman (and his 8-2 ATS record as an underdog at Texas) and Sam Ehlinger with a chip on their shoulder in front of a crowd of 100,000 hungry Longhorn fans that bought season tickets for these types of games, the type they haven’t seen around these parts for a long time.

Despite what Tom Herman might say, you know that Texas has been pointing to this game since the Sugar Bowl ended last January. They heard the idiotic rumblings about Georgia not caring about that game. They heard the nit picking about their record in one score games and how that will even out this year. They saw the computer rankings that didn’t even have them in the Top 25.

And they hear the same naysayers this week, saying that Texas doesn’t have a chance against mighty LSU, that Texas won’t be able to handle the physical nature of the dominating squad from the SEC, where it just means more. That their defense is too young and for heaven’s sake they don’t even have any running backs.

Okay they might have a point on that last part.

Lose this game on Saturday night and the season will go on – in fact it will go on with all the team goals still intact. But win this game on Saturday night, and not only will it send Texas vaulting up the rankings – it will validate the progress this program has achieved since walking off the damp turf in Lawrence, Kansas three years ago.

With all due respect to teams like Rice, games like this is why I write this column. It is why you are reading this column and not the Harvard Business Review, it is why Tom Herman comes to Austin and why the players come to Texas. It is why we have our own television network. It is why Chris Del Conte is here and not Rice (again, sorry Owls fans), it is why we’re burning up the asphalt up and down I-35 if we’re not burning airline miles and it is why we get to the tailgating spot hours and hours before game time come blistering weather, rain sleet or snow. And it is why we’ve been doing all of that for years or decades.

This is what we’ve been thirsting for going on a decade now.

Soak it all in this weekend – seize the opportunity to be part of something bigger, own the chance to be part of college football’s elite again, own this brand, own the DBU nickname, own this atmosphere, own this stadium, own this conference, own this state.

This is our house.

Come and take it.

“Nobody in the free world is giving you a chance to win this game outside of this room” – Tom Herman’s address to the team before Sugar Bowl

North Texas @ SMU -3.5:

You find yourself picking games like North Texas and SMU when the week’s slate is residing in Strugglesville, but it is collegiate football, so here we go. North Texas snapped a three-game losing streak to SMU last year in Denton, routing the Mustangs 46-23 behind 444 yards passing from Mason Fine, the leader passer in school history.

Fine is back this year and is poised to have another statistically superior year because Mean Green head coach Seth Littrell is back as well, despite flirting with Kansas State and Texas Tech this off-season. Littrell took North Texas from one win the year before he arrived to three straight bowl appearances, which explains why earlier this year he received his third contract extension in as many years, as unstable as that sounds.

The Mustangs have a familiar name under center this year, as Shane Buechele transferred from Texas upon his graduation in May. Buechele, who impressed SMU head coach Sonny Dykes when Texas played at Cal in 2016, has done enough good will in his short stint as a Mustang (he would travel to Dallas on weekends to hang out with his future coaches and teammates) that he was named a captain before the season.

Buechele had 360 yards passing last week in a win against Arkansas State, while Fine had 383 yards in a win over Abilene Christian. It should be a fun one to watch.

SMU 41 North Texas 34



Nebraska -4 @ Colorado:

Nebraska entered this season ranked in many pre-season polls despite back to back 4-8 seasons, and they looked closer to 4-8 than a ranked team in their opener against South Alabama. At first glance the 35-21 score appears to be a disappointment, but you can write it off as a bad effort and they’ll bounce back next week.

Then you dig a little deeper into the game and you see that the Cornhuskers scored touchdowns on an interception return, a punt return and a fumble recovery and feel less optimistic about their chances of losing less than four games for the first time since 2003.

Just a couple of more Huskers notes – they haven’t finished a season ranked since 2012, and haven’t finished ranked in the top 10 since 2001. Incredible.

Colorado, meanwhile, surrendered 500 total yards in a win over Colorado State in their annual showdown. Their defense redeemed themselves a bit by forcing four turnovers that were converted into 17 CU points, but former Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was probably hoping for a little better effort in his head coaching debut.

When in doubt, go with the home team.

Colorado 31 Nebraska 24

ATS – Colorado

SU – Colorado

Cincinnati @ Ohio State -16

If you were thinking that Urban Meyer stepping down might have an effect on the Ohio State train, you would be mistaken as new quarterback Justin Fields had four touchdowns in the first thirteen snaps of his collegiate career as Ohio State rolled in Ryan Day’s debut.

The man many thought would take over for Meyer one day was current Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, formerly a long-time defensive assistant (and former player) in Columbus. Cincinatti went from 4-8 two years ago to 11-2 last season.

Fickell’s defense was able to get six sacks against UCLA last week – Ohio State isn’t UCLA, but if they can get similar pressure against Fields, then that changes things.

The Bearcats won’t be intimidated by the Buckeyes, but they don’t have the offense to catch up or keep pace if Fields continues at any sort of pace that he had last week.

Ohio State 38 Cincinnati 16

ATS – Ohio State

SU – Ohio State

Stanford @ USC -1.5:

Both of these teams suffered an injury to their starting quarterback last week, both in the closing minutes of the first halves of their respective games.

USC’s J.T. Daniels suffered the more catastrophic injury, as he will be out for the remainder of the season after suffering a torn ACL and meniscus. Backing him up is true freshman Kedon Slovis, who only managed 57 yards passing and tossed an interception in relief of Daniels last week. You might be thinking it is USC, they’ll just plug in another handsome star recruit quarterback, but Slovis is a former three-star recruit who only had offers from N.C. State and Oregon State amongst Power Five teams.

The Trojans have a very front-loaded schedule. Even if they get past this one, they travel to BYU, Washington and Notre Dame while hosting Utah in the next four games.

It doesn’t look good for Clay Helton.

Stanford’s K.J. Costello was lost to injury in a win over Northwestern. Costello took a brutal hit to the head on a play that wasn’t even ruled a penalty. If he isn’t able to go, it will be junior Davis Mills for the Cardinal. Mills completed 7 out of 14 passes for 81 yards and a fumble in relief of Costello last week.

Both of these teams are desperate. We discussed USC’s schedule above, but Stanford has a trip to Central Florida and a home game against Oregon in their next two ballgames, so they need the win as well.

Stanford 27 USC 20

ATS – Stanford

SU – Stanford

Texas A&M @ Clemson -17.5:

Losing by two to Clemson in College Station was Texas A&M’s shining moment last season amongst games that they did not give up 72 points in the contest. This year they travel to Clemson, where the Tigers have lost only one game since 2013.

Last year’s game saw Aggie quarterback Kellen Mond throw for 430 yards and 3 touchdowns, the best marks for any quarterback against Clemson last season. Kelly Bryant (last seen this past weekend losing to Wyoming as Missouri’s new starting quarterback) was still the Tigers’s starting quarterback at the time and threw for 205 yards. Trevor Lawrence did play limited minutes but was ineffective.

A week ago, we saw Clemson take down Georgia Tech 52-14 for their 11th consecutive victory of 20 or more points. The combined scores in that time period? Clemson 526, Opponents 127, an average score of 48-12. Their opponents included four ranked opponents including both games of the College Football Playoff.

The Aggies will always have their “Two Point Loss to the National Champion” moment, but this year the deficit will be a little larger.

Clemson 38 Texas A&M 24

ATS – Texas A&M

SU – Clemson

LSU -6.5 @ Texas:

Everyone in the Bayou is excited because it finally appears that the Tigers have discovered the forward pass here on the 150th anniversary of college football. LSU brought in former New Orleans Saints offensive assistant Joe Brady as passing game coordinator to transform their offense, focusing on short quick passes early and going over the top late, involving the tight end and spreading the field...or the offense that every Big 12 team (and Texas high school team) has been running going on about 10 years now.

Leading the offense is former Ohio State quarterback Joe Burrow (once recruited to Columbus by Tom Herman), a coaches son who was the first LSU quarterback to throw for 2,500 yards and run for 350 yards in a single season last year. After a slow start he finished the 2018 season strong, completing 67% of his passes in the last four games of the season. Last week against Georgia Southern was a continuation of that trend, as Burrow threw for five touchdowns in a half of football.

Long story short, LSU has an actual quarterback this year. It took Texas ten years, it took LSU 150.

The Tigers defense is where they make their brand, as they employ the highest paid coordinator in the country on that side of the football. Dave Aranda, a former college roommate of Tom Herman (drink), has impressed every step of the way in his career, from Hawaii to Utah State to Wisconsin to LSU. How he doesn’t have a head coaching job by now is beyond me.

LSU always has the defense, and now their offense is the best in the land now (outside of Tuscaloosa of course), so how can Texas possibly win on Saturday?

The offensive line was a sore spot for the Tigers last year, as they ranked 81st in rushing efficiency and 101st in sack rate (they allowed the most sacks in the SEC with 35). Four starters return on that line, but that isn’t always a good thing, as they led an offense that finished 87th in adjusted offense last season. No matter how many strides one makes in a single off-season, it takes time to implement offenses, and there is little chance they are where they want to be yet four quarters into the season. Put some pressure on Burrow and the offense tends to fold.

If you are looking for holes in their defense, they did finish outside of the Top 30 in adjusted yards per rush in 2018, and only finished middle of the pack in the SEC in sacks. They do return some from injury this season, but if there is a vulnerability, the lack of pass rush might be it. Don’t look for holes in the secondary because there are none.

Long known for their proficiency in Baton Rouge, LSU only had three true road games last season, defeating a bad Arkansas team by 7 in Fayetteville, beating a five-loss Auburn team by 1 and losing that ridiculous game to Texas A&M to close out the regular season. This trip to Austin is their first true road game against an out-of-conference opponent since 2015 when they traveled to Syracuse.

Texas must tackle better than they did against Louisiana Tech, especially on the perimeter as LSU will try to kill them with passes to the running backs. On offense, they must be more explosive – if LSU fails to generate a pass rush, Ehlinger must hit on the big shots that he missed last week and missed for most of 2018.

I’ve had this feeling all summer, and I just can’t shake that Texas handles LSU handily. With the home crowd amped up, a better quarterback, a head coaching advantage and some doubts about whether LSU’s offense is on all cylinders, I think it adds up to a Texas win.

Texas 35 LSU 21

ATS – Texas

SU – Texas

For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for post-game drinks at the Silent Disco.