Texas v Kansas State

Weekend Preview: Red River Rivalry remains a tradition like no other

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No sport does tradition quite like college football, at least in this admittedly biased college football writer’s opinion. This weekend we get a glimpse of one of the great traditions in the sport with a side of deep-fried, well anything probably. The Texas State Fair is on my bucket list and is highlighted by the annual meeting between Oklahoma and Texas. The fanfare that surrounds the game may only be rivaled by a few others in the sport. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and the Army-Navy Game are two that quickly come to mind.

Neutral site games may not be quite the novelty they once were, thanks to multiple games played in Atlanta and Arlington purely for a big-ticket event to please television partners, but the Red River Rivalry is something else that brings everything back to pure basics. The venue is the historic Cotton Bowl, full of history and lacking the modern-day luxuries many fans seem to take for granted. Yet, it is the perfect setting for one of college football’s classic rivalries.

The Red River Rivalry highlights the action this weekend, but so much for the focus on what it could mean in the Big 12 race. Instead the narrative will focus on the future of head coach Mack Brown.

Mack’s last stand?

The annual Red River Rivalry game remains one of the top traditions the college football regular season has to offer, and thankfully it managed to survive the wreck left by realignment over the past few seasons. But the big question this year will be whether or not Texas head coach Mack Brown can manage to save his job with a win against the Sooners. Oklahoma has roughed up the rival Longhorns each of the past two seasons and bring a three-game winning streak in to the early afternoon Big 12 clash. Since 2000, the Longhorns have lost nine out of 13 meetings. Although Texas enters this year’s edition with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play, there is much speculation that Brown could be coaching in his final Red River Rivalry game.

Texas may need to win to help save Brown’s job for next year, but a hard-fought contest with the Sooners is all most Texas fans hope to see given the recent history in this series. That could be a realistic expectation. Oklahoma seems to have turned a corner with Blake Bell taking over at quarterback, starting with a win at Notre Dame, but this Oklahoma team may not be as strong as they have been so Texas should manage to prove they at least belong on the same field. Proving that should start with protecting the football. Texas has had 10 turnovers in the last three meetings at the Texas State Fair.

Is Georgia ripe for an upset?

Georgia looks to be one of the top one-loss teams in the country, having only been defeated by an undefeated Clemson team currently sitting in the top five of the rankings on the road in the first game of the year. Since then the Bulldogs have come through in the clutch to beat South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee. In those times of need Georgia has been able to turn to quarterback Aaron Murray, who has delivered when needed time and time again and earned a spot in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy. This week, however, will Murray be able to rally Georgia to another SEC win with a number of players out of action?

Running back Todd Gurley is expected to be back for the Bulldogs as they host Missouri, who comes to Sanford Stadium with a perfect 5-0 record. His running mate, Keith Marshall, suffered an ACL injury last weekend and is done for the year. Receivers Michael Bennett (knee) and Justin Scott-Wesley (ACL) are also out of the mix this weekend. The injuries have been piling up for Georgia but they have managed to get by. Could Missouri be the team who end that winning streak? Missouri should be able to put up some points. The Tigers have scored at least 40 points in all but one game this season, and they scored 38 points the one game they did not.

Big road test for Oregon 

One of the more bitter rivalries that few seem to recognize is the one between Washington and Oregon. Fortunately this game will receive an afternoon time slot, so everyone can get a chance to check out the animosity for themselves. Oregon has certainly been piling up points this season but they face their first real test when they visit Washington Saturday afternoon. The Huskies are coming off their first loss of the season but put up a respectable fight against Stanford on the road last weekend. Returning home to what should be a raucous crowd thirsty for a win against Oregon should be a good setting for Washington. Oregon has won each of their last three trips to Seattle, and the Ducks have won nine straight in the series for the longest winning streak in the series.

Who should be on upset alert?

Other than the teams already mentioned above, who else might want to be on high alert this weekend?

LSU: You could make a case that LSU is the best one loss team in the country, if not for Georgia. The Tigers host the Florida Gators this weekend. Florida’s defense may be capable of giving LSU some problems, and if LSU’s offense is sluggish at any point, Florida could steal a rare victory for a road team in Baton Rouge.

South Carolina: The constant question regarding the status of Jadeveon Clowney is a bit overdone at this point, but his impact on the field is still respectable even if the numbers suggest otherwise. The Gamecocks are on the road this weekend at Arkansas for the first of three straight road games.The Razorbacks are in the midst of a brutal stretch of their schedule but pack a running game that could make things interesting.

Northwestern: After hanging with Ohio State last weekend, the Wildcats are on the road for another tough Big Ten match-up. Northwestern travels to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. The only games Wisconsin has lost this season have come on the road, at Ohio State and Arizona State (who could forget that cray ending?). As usual, the Badgers can run the football very well with sophomore Melvin Gordon rushing for nearly 700 yards and seven touchdowns so far.

Michigan: The Wolverines have struggled at times this season, including in games against Akron and Connecticut. Could Michigan be walking in to the lion’s den this weekend in Beaver Stadium? Well, technically, probably. Penn State was roughed up by Indiana, of all teams, last week and look to bounce back in a strong way. The depth concerns at Penn State may get a lift from one of the top crowds in Beaver Stadium in the Bill O’Brien era, but will it be enough to rattle Michigan?

USC’s Max Tuerk already questionable for Notre Dame game

TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 11:  Center Max Tuerk #75 of the USC Trojans prepares to snap the football during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona.  The Trojans defeatred the Wildcats 28-26.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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As if the questions about the head coach’s future aren’t enough, now USC could have a rather significant issue in the middle of its offensive line to deal with as well.

Early in the first quarter of what would turn out to be an embarrassing loss to Washington Thursday night, Max Tuerk sustained a sprained knee. Upon further examination, it was determined that the veteran center would be unable to return to the game.

Not only that, Tuerk, who was wearing a brace on his right knee following the loss, is already labeled as questionable for what it in every sense of the phrase a must-win game for Steve Sarkisian against Notre Dame eight days from now.

With Tuerk sidelined for the remainder of the game, he was replaced by Toa Lobendahn. It’s unclear which direction the Trojans would go if Tuerk is a no-go this weekend, although Khaliel Rodgers, who had been dealing with a personal issue, has been Tuerk’s backup.

Tuerk has started 38 games in his Trojan career — 18 at center, 14 at left guard, five at left tackle, one at right tackle. Lobendahn started all 13 games as a true freshman last season, the first eight at left guard and then five at right tackle.

Was Washington loss the beginning of the end of the Steve Sarkisian era at USC?

Steve Sarkisian

Steve Sarkisian’s win totals in his six previous seasons are both a positive and a negative.

On one hand, he resurrected a moribund Washington program that went 0-12 under Ty Willingham in 2008 and took them to four consecutive bowl games from 2010-2013. He won nine games his last year in Seattle, then led a talented-yet-thin USC team to a nine-win season and AP No. 20 finish in 2014.

Those are good accomplishments. But the flip side of the argument is Sarkisian has never won double-digit games in a season, something that’s a necessity to keep one’s job at USC. The Trojans’ 17-12 loss to Washington last night — at home, no less — means the road to 10 wins and a Pac-12 title will be awfully difficult.

And worse yet, there are plenty of arguments to be made Sarkisian doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt and a little more time in Los Angeles to turn things around (#SarkAfterDark, his drunken rant at a booster event, certainly doesn’t help). The reaction from national media to last night’s loss looked like this:

Mandel, in his column, argued USC is right where it was two years ago with Lane Kiffin as its coach. And there’s this embarrassing thought, that looks more and more like a truth, for Pat Haden:

This one, however, was the most damning by far for many reasons, most notably that it came at the hands of Sarkisian’s old team. The sense among many Washington fans nearly two years ago was that the Huskies managed to upgrade coaches when the school lured Chris Petersen from Boise State upon Sarkisian’s departure to USC.

They were right.

USA Today’s Dan Wolken similarly wrote that USC needs to drop Sarkisian and bring in Chip Kelly from the Philadelphia Eagles.

This is the state of USC, and it may not get better. The Trojans start a brutal three-game stretch next Saturday at Notre Dame in primetime, then welcome Utah to Los Angeles the next week. A Halloween trip to Berkeley to face Jared Goff and Cal finishes it up. There’s a very real chance USC, for all its talent and all its hype, limps into November with a 4-4 or 3-5 record.

Sarkisian will have to engineer and sustain a major turnaround in these coming weeks, otherwise he’ll give Haden all the ammo he needs to unceremoniously jettison him after two years.