Four Down Territory: Your Inside/TV Guide To A Huge Weekend's Biggest Games
This weekend if you’re not in a stadium at a game you will need your TV, your tablet and your smartphone to stay on top of all the action……
First Down: 3:30 Kickoffs: #6 Georgia at #9 Kentucky (CBS): This is the biggest home game for the Wildcats since…..who cares? It is so big that it may draw 'Cats fan Ashley Judd to town. This settles the SEC East Title--the winner punches their ticket to Atlanta. Kentucky’s defense has been stout allowing just 68 points in 6 SEC games. They rank #2 Nationally in scoring defense, #10 in Total Defense, #24 in Pass Defense and #17 in Run Defense. While Georgia ranks #27 nationally in total offense they are averaging a gaudy 7.07 yards per play—in the top 10 nationally. If Kentucky can limit the big plays and beat Georgia they'll truly have earned a wildly unexpected trip to the SEC Title game. #13 West Virginia at #17 Texas (FOX): Much has been written about how Texas re-vamped their home stadium student section and electrified what was once a stale home atmosphere. The Longhorns will need that electricity to stay alive in the Big 12 Title race. If the defense can regain their aggressive form and slow down WVU QB Will Grier the Horns will ride the wave of home field emotion to a win.
Second Down: 3:45 Kickoff: #14 Penn State at #5 Michigan (ESPN): This is the Michigan of old…dominant defense and ball control offense. In 5 Big Ten games the Wolverine’s opponents have been held to 3 and outs on nearly 50% of their drives. Penn State slot WR KJ Hamler will need to make plays on run downs before 3rd downs. In their nickel package Michigan will use their best CB on Hamler. With Michigan's man coverage, Penn State QB Trace McSorley may need to run for some key first downs. The PSU offense has converted just 15 of 60 third downs the last 4 games and for the season ranks 101st nationally. For Michigan’s first-team offense their touchdown drives in their last 4 games have averaged 8.5 plays, 75 yards and taken 4:29. That is serious ball control and it could wear down a Penn State defense that's averaged over 92 plays per game the last 3 weeks. Keep an eye on Michigan's first down run game--if they regularly pick up 4 or 5 yards on first down it could spell trouble for PSU. But if PSU's defense can keep Michigan off schedule the Wolverines will struggle.
Third Down: 7:15 Kickoff: #4 Notre Dame at Northwestern (ESPN): Do not sleep on the Wildcats. Northwestern owns the best record in the Big 10 over the last 13 games (12-1). Their lone loss was 4 games ago when they had Michigan down 17-0 before falling 20-17. Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson has finally gotten healthier and has shown flashes of really good play. In a 3-game stretch against Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska he threw for 1,002 yards and 6 TDs…but did turn it over 4 times. If he can avoid turnovers the Cats could beat the Irish. Northwestern’s defense will be challenged by Notre Dame’s offense but the Irish showed they are capable of struggling when a pedestrian Pitt defense gave them fits.
Fourth Down: 8:00 Kickoff: #1 Alabama at #3 LSU (CBS): This may not be as cut and dried as the experts think. LSU generally plays a two-safety high defense and relies on its front to handle the run game. That may take away easy passing windows and big pass plays for the Tide. If Alabama is forced to play patient methodical offense will they be comfortable winning that way? On the flip side if Alabama’s defense is forced to play all four quarters for the first time all season will they be in condition physically and mentally to handle a full sixty minutes against a team playing physical football? The Tigers are far more battle-tested. Alabama has only played one team currently in the Top 25 (#20 Texas A&M). LSU has played three and posted wins over the current #6 team (Georgia) and #18 team (Mississippi State) with their only loss being on the road at the current #11 team Florida. The key to that LSU loss was the 3 turnovers they coughed up. If LSU can avoid those mistakes they have a very real shot to pull the win at home.
OVERTIME: We Turn The Clocks Back This Weekend: 10:45 Kickoff: Cal at #8 Washington State (ESPN): The Pac-12 needs to do the country a favor and put Washington State on earlier on a national network. QB Gardner Minshew is putting up Heisman numbers, the Wazzu defense is very good and Head Coach Mike Leach is far and away the most interesting man in college football. Stay up and watch these guys...you get the extra hour of sleep back.