4-Down Territory: All-You-Can-Eat Feast of Fine Football Match-Ups
This weekend is a college football feast, an all-you-can-eat buffet of the really good stuff….prime rib, lobster mac and cheese, stone crab claws, pulled pork sandwiches with the slaw right on the sandwich and a big bowl of Pigskin Stew. It is a weekend of football gluttony with no less than 6 Top-25 matchups. If you’re not headed to a game this weekend, get your TV, iPad, and smartphone because you’ll need THREE-screen capabilities this weekend. Then put on the big sweatpants with the super-elastic waist and get ready to gorge….
First Down: Nooners on your Second Screen: We’ll get to the A-list first-screen game later but here are a bunch to keep an eye on at noon…..Minnesota (4-1) at #24 Illinois (4-1) Noon BTN: Brett Bielema has the Illini back in the Top 25 behind his run-first philosophy and on the legs of RB Chase Brown the nation’s leading rusher. This game comes down to the status of two injured marquee players, Illinois QB Tommy DeVito and Minnesota RB Mo Ibrahim. Ibrahim is 17th in the nation in total rushing yards (567) despite having played just 4 games and ranks 3rd in yards per game. This could be a classic Big Ten RB showdown……#19 Kansas (5-1) at Oklahoma (3-3) Noon ESPN2: The Jayhawks lost their first game last week, but they are still very much in the hunt for the Big 12 Title. Oklahoma is in the kind of freefall that hasn’t been seen in Norman in a long, long time. Kansas QB Jalon Daniels was hurt but back-up Jason Bean threw 4 TDS and played well. For Bean, this will be his 11th start, so he’s not new to this……Iowa State (3-3) at #22 Texas (4-2) Noon ABC: While Texas QB Quinn Ewers returned and lit up OU last week, the Iowa State defense will be a much, much sterner test for the Longhorns. Iowa State is a Top 10 defense and their 3 straight losses have all been by one score. That makes for a dangerous combination for a team coming off an epic confidence-boosting win…..Auburn (3-3) at #9 Ole Miss 12:00 ESPN: Auburn seems to be adrift this season after a tumultuous off-season. Ole Miss is now a balanced, some would even say run-first, offense. That should be very effective at home against a Tigers’ defense that has gone backwards from a year ago. Look for Ole Miss to add to their best-in-the-nation 21 rushing TDs.
Second Down: Mid-Afternoon Games on Your Third Screen: There are two marquee games in this time slot, so these games, while important, are likely third-screen fare…. #15 NC State (5-1) at #18 Syracuse (5-0) 3:30 ACC Network: For Syracuse, the next two weeks will tell the tale in their attempt to win the Atlantic Division as they play NC State and Clemson back-to-back. The biggest jump for Syracuse has been on defense. Last year they gave up 30 or more points 6 times, including in 3 straight losses to finish the year. The NC State offense will be a big step up in competition for them…….#25 James Madison (5-0) at Georgia Southern (3-3) ESPN+: In just their first year as a FBS team the Dukes have made the Top 25. With the nation’s #2 defense this is a team that suddenly finds new attention and new pressures as big things start to appear on the horizon. This could be the first of many trap games.…..Vanderbilt (3-3) at #1 Georgia (6-0) 3:30 SEC Network: Georgia defeated Auburn without much effort. If they can maintain that performance this week, they should roll again.
Third Down: First Screen Afternoon Games: These are the a-list games this week so get in front of the biggest screen you can……#10 Penn State (5-0) at #5 Michigan (6-0) Noon Fox: Neither team has beaten a ranked team this year. In the past 7 years Michigan is 8-5 at home against ranked teams. Penn State is 2-10 on the road against ranked teams and has yet to beat a top 10 on the road in the last 8 years. Michigan is playing old-school: run game, short passing, play-action with the #3 net punting unit in the country. Penn State’s defense is allowing yards but is playing well on 3rd downs and in the red zone. Until now, Penn State has played one-dimensional offenses, but Michigan is averaging over 200 yards on the ground and through the air. Conditioning for Penn State o-line will be important as Michigan will play a lot of guys on defense. Seven different Wolverines had a sack last week. Both of these teams are most comfortable in nickel defenses, so look for one or both of them to get more tight ends into the game to get the run game going. Penn State's average TD dribe the past two weeks is 38 yards with the longest being 59 yards. That makes turnovers critical--Penn State is +6 and Michigan is +4. The key for Penn State will be getting McCarthy to obvious passing downs, playing coverage and trying to force a mistake……..#8 Oklahoma State (5-0) at #13 TCU (5-0) 3:30 ABC: Two really good QBs square off in this one, two guys that have proven as dangerous with their feet as they are with their arms. Between runs and passes, Oklahoma State put the ball in QB Spencer Sanders 62 times. He hit less than 50% of his passes, a number that will have to improve in this upcoming 4-game stretch that starts at #13 TCU, at home against #22 Texas and finishes at #17 Kansas State and at #19 Kansas. TCU QB Max Duggan does not turn the ball over and is a big part of a very productive TCU rushing attack……#3 Alabama (6-0) at #6 Tennessee (5-0) 3:30 CBS: This is a big rivalry game, but win or lose, both teams will control their own path to the SEC Title game. Suddenly after struggles at Texas and at home against Texas A&M, everyone believes Alabama is vulnerable. The health of Alabama QB Bruce Young is critical. Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker continues to impress and has yet to throw an interception this year. Alabama’s ability to generate pass rush has been impressive, but at times teams have found success throwing the ball against the Tide’s defense. Tennessee can nullify the Tide pass rush with quick passes. For Alabama, the Tennessee defense is DB-heavy with a lot of nickel packages. That may mean the Alabama offense pounds the run game against a smaller lineup.
Fourth Down: Primetime Viewing: If you still have room for football after all those games…..#7 USC (6-0) at #20 Utah (4-2) 8:00 Fox: The Utah safety tandem of R.J. Hubert and Cole Bishop will have to be sure tacklers given the number of times USC will get people in the open field. They will also need to create some turnovers to steal a possession or two from the visiting Trojans. That will prove difficult as USC has just 1 turnover through 6 games. While USC’s offense has gotten a lot of hype nationally, this Trojan defense leads the country in Interceptions (12) and Sacks (24) led by D-lineman Tuli Tuipulotu’s 7 sacks. Utah QB Cameron Rising will be facing a USC defense that in the 210 pass plays they’ve faced has 24 sacks, 12 interceptions, 18 passes broken up and 11QB hurries. That means that 31% of the time the USC defense disrupts opponent’s pass plays. The Utah o-line has their work cut out for them……#16 Mississippi State (5-1) at #22 Kentucky (4-2) 7:30 SEC Network: Kentucky will need to run the ball against Mississippi State. Keeping Mississippi State QB Will Rogers on the bench and limiting his possessions will be vital. Is Mississippi State a viable SEC West contender? We’ll know a lot more after this one……#4 Clemson (6-0) at Florida State (4-2) 7:30 ABC: For the third straight week Clemson is on ABC Primetime. Clemson is starting to look like the perennial playoff team Clemson that we’re used to. That’s bad news for FSU. The Seminoles are 2-18 in their last 20 games against ranked teams……Stanford (1-4) at Notre Dame (3-2) 7:30 NBC Peacock: Notre Dame QB Drew Pyne will not remind anyone of Joe Montana any time soon but he is getting the job done and Notre Dame has won three in a row. Stanford has struggled all year with untimely turnovers and is not getting the big plays they need on offense…….UNC (#25 Coaches poll) (5-1) at Duke (4-2) 8:00 ACC: UNC is a serious ACC contender right now by virtue of being in the Atlantic Division and avoiding the dreaded crossover division game against Clemson. They’re prolific on offense but really need to shore up their defense. On the other hand, Duke has narrow losses to Kansas and Georgia Tech. They play solid defense but that will certainly be tested in this one.