These two teams met last year in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio and it wasn't even close. The Cowboys manhandled the Wildcats from jump and were clearly the better team on that night. Now, these are two different squads, but the result may be the same. The Cowboys can score on anyone, even though the offense was far from crisp in the debut for offensive coordinator Todd Monken. Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden threw three picks against La-Lafayette, which isn't going to a BCS bowl any time soon. Regardless, the Wildcats defense took some serious graduation hits, but suffered more hits during the spring when it lost safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer to torn ACLs. Add those losses to the graduation of DE Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore and it could spell trouble for an Arizona defense got blitzed last year by Weeden and company in San Antonio. Arizona QB Nick Foles was brilliant in game one, but that was against FCS opponent Northern Arizona. Foles threw for over 400 yards and may need to do the same against OSU to have a shot to win. Wait, what am I saying, he must replicate that feat. The question for him is whether his All-World wide receiver Juron Criner will be ready to go. He's been sick or suffering from an illness this week and it's not clear whether he'll be in the lineup. His absence will be a killer for Foles and the Cats, but this isn't the one that Arizona HAS to win. The Cats have Stanford, Oregon (both at home) and USC on the road the succeeding three weeks, so it's more important that Criner is healthy for those three Pac-12 matchups. As such, it may not even matter because the Cowboys will be primed to make a statement, a top 10 statement, on Thursday night in front of a nationally televised audience.
In my college football preview this summer, I circled this game as one of the key games of the season for both teams. It's not often that we, as college football fans, get a chance to see Pac-12 v. Big 12, not once but twice, in back-to-back nights, but that's what we get with this matchup in Tempe. But, back to this being a key game for this season. It's not a conference matchup. It's early in the season and each team can bounce back. Neither one has any true designs to win the national championship. So, why is it such a key matchup? For Missouri, it's season will go as QB James Franklin goes. As such, this is the most difficult test for him against an athletic defense, led by stud LB Vontaze Burfict. Franklin didn't look great throwing the football against Miami (OH), but he was solid on the ground. However, if he leaves the pocket, he's going to be met with violence by Burfict. As I said, Franklin is the key to the entire season for the Tigers and he has to take the next step in his improvement for Missouri to have a chance to win this game and have a memorable season. For Arizona State, can it take that step against a good, bowl bound program early in the season to find the momentum it needs to make a run at the Pac-12 championship? Can QB Brock Osweiler take the next step, ala Franklin, in his development under center? Can Burfict keep his cool in a big game in which he has to star? We may know more of what to expect from Missouri, but we have no idea whether the talented Sun Devils will play up to their talent week in and week out. Arizona State is the big unknown and a dangerous one at that. With Jacquies Smith and Will Ebner both out for Missouri's defense, I'm going with the Sun Devils to win a big one for the Pac-12, or is it the Pac-16 or 14 or, well, whatever. Arizona State wins.
USF helped take a little luster off this matchup with its win over Notre Dame in South Bend in last weekend's opener. But, that being said, not even that loss can eliminate the luster of a Notre Dame-Michigan matchup, especially with it being the first night game at the Big House. To quote Marty Schottenheimer, if that doesn't light the fire, the pilot light is out. We all know what Denard Robinson did to Notre Dame last year in South Bend, but don't expect him to light it up on the ground that way in this game or any other game this year. He MUST stay healthy as he's the most valuable component on this team and he doesn't do Michigan any good if he's banged up after running the football 20 to 25 times in a game. But, he'll still get his carries - he had eight carries in about three quarters in the opener against Western Michigan, but Michigan's running backs - Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw - can shoulder the load to take the pressure off of Shoelace. Regardless of Robinson's impact, though, Michigan's defense took some nice steps, but can it replicate USF's performance turning Notre Dame over five times, especially down inside the ten-yard line? I'd lean toward no. Sure, Michigan LB Brandon Herron did finish the game with not one, but two defensive touchdowns and the Wolverines did show much more in the way of scheme, games, twists, stunts, blitz packages etc…but if Notre Dame doesn't turn the ball over, its offense is that much more dynamic than Michigan's D. Don't think Michigan won't be jacked up to sport the retro unis and run out of the tunnel on a Saturday night, but Notre Dame is a desperate team and will play like it.