4 Down Territory: Conference Races Closing Fast and a Border Battle in Happy Valley
This November stretch run is where the teams forged in the hot furnaces of August preseason camps have their mettle tested. The leaves have fallen from the trees in the North and the weather trends are turning towards “The Gales Of November come slashin,” (thank you Gordon Lightfoot). With that Gordon Lightfoot reference let’s use his song titles to get us through this column.
First Down: Carefree Highway: Colorado (1-8) at #8 USC (8-1) Friday 9:30 FS1: This should be a romp for USC before they get ready to finish at #12 UCLA and against Notre Dame. USC has the tools and production on offense. The defense is incredible getting turnovers, but consistency play in and play out on defense will determine the ceiling for this team……Indiana (3-6) at #2 Ohio State (9-0) Noon Fox: For those OSU fans who thought OSU had retooled to handle a physical Michigan team last Saturday was a bit troubling. Indiana has trouble running the ball and protecting their quarterback. At the same time they’ve had trouble stopping the pass. That’s a recipe for a tough day in Columbus…..Purdue (5-4) at #21 Illinois (7-2) Noon ESPN 2: Illinois stubbed their toe last week but they still lead the Big 10 West. Illinois loves to run the ball but Purdue is better against the run than people realize with a top 25 run defense. The goal will be to make the Illini throw the ball to win and avoid feeding the turnover machine that is the Illini defense…..Missouri (4-5) at #5 Tennessee (8-1) Noon CBS: This is the first of 3 games against unranked opponents that Tennessee has left between them and the playoff committee having to decide if an 11-1 Tennessee team belongs in the playoff. Tennessee’s defense has had their problems, but Mizzou’s offense is averaging just 17.4 points per game against power-5 opponents with a 2-5 record in those games…..#7 LSU (7-2) at Arkansas (5-4) 12:00 ESPN: There should not be any post-Alabama game hangover for LSU because the fans in Baton Rouge have probably not stopped partying yet. Remember folks you only get a hangover when you stop and go to bed. The LSU defense will have to ready for a physical game.
Second Down: If You Could Read My Mind: #20 Notre Dame (6-3) vs Navy (3-6) in Baltimore Noon ABC: The Irish have dominated this series but over the years there have been a number of close calls. A ray of hope for Navy is that getting ready for the Navy offense in one week is not easy. If the Irish start to pull away, let’s hope that Notre Dame honors Military Appreciation Week…….Nebraska (3-6) at #3 Michigan (9-0) 3:30 ABC: Michigan’s formula is simple; patience on offense and defense and pull away in the 2nd half. There is no panic in this team and even in games that are surprisingly close at the half (Indiana, Rutgers, Penn State, Maryland, Michigan State). In the first halves of those 5 games only 6 total points separated Michigan from those teams. In the 2nd halves of those games Michigan outscored their opponents 120-17. Michigan has rebuilt that culture of confidence that borders on arrogance……#22 UCF (7-2) at #17 Tulane (8-1) 3:30 ESPN: This is a potential conference title preview game. Tulane’s defense continues to pace the Green Wave, while UCF’s offense has struggled in their losses to East Carolina and Louisville……Boston College (2-7) at #16 NC State (7-2) 3:30 ACC Network: NC State got a bump from beating Wake Forest last week and it showed how they’ve adjusted and leaned on their defense…..#9 Alabama (7-2) at #11 Ole Miss (8-1) 3:30 CBS: The SEC Title and the playoff are already likely done for the Tide in early November. Now we see how deep Alabama pride runs when the usual goals are gone. While the Ole Miss offense is run heavy with 267 yards per game rushing, they also rack up 227 yards per game passing and convert 51% on 3rd downs. That balance could be a problem for an Alabama defense that has lost leads late in games…..Louisville (6-3) at #10 Clemson (8-1) 3:30 ESPN: Watch the QB position in this game. At times Clemson has struggled there. Louisville probably has the advantage with QB Malik Cunningham producing 11 TDs on the ground.
Third Down: Sundown: #25 Washington (7-2) at #6 Oregon (8-1) 7:00 Fox: This could be the most entertaining game of the weekend. Washington QB Michael Penix has sparked the Huskies’ offense all year long. Oregon QB Bo Nix promises to put up a lot of points. And in something that certainly irks fans at his former school Auburn, Nix has been incredibly careful with the football……#19 Kansas State (6-3) at Baylor (6-3) 7:00 FS1: Kansas State is just 2 weeks removed from a 48-0 beatdown of a Top Ten opponent and now they are a road underdog at Baylor. For the Big 12 race, this is a must-win game for both teams…….#1 Georgia (9-0) at Mississippi State (6-3) 7:00 ESPN: Georgia’s defense has a track record of shutting down potent offenses holding the #2 and #3 scoring offenses (Tennessee and Oregon) to 13 and 3 points respectively. Mississippi State likes the quick pass game, but Georgia has the athletes to make the open-field tackles in space. Mississippi State’s defense will have their hands full with an offense that is efficient in balancing run and pass…..#23 Florida State (6-3) at Syracuse (6-3) 8:00 ACC: Syracuse has lost 3 straight. If FSU brings the same intensity they showed in their rout of Miami, the Syracuse streak could go to 4-straight losses.
Fourth Down: Stay Loose: #15 UNC (8-1) at Wake Forest (6-3) 7:30 ESPN2: Wake has been struggling the past few weeks after reaching as high as #10 in the rankings. Can they change the trend? Wake will need to get that delayed read run/pass option game going against a UNC defense that has been vulnerable. For UNC a #15 ranking with an 8-1 record should be seen as a slight, but they have to keep winning and hope Clemson keeps winning to get a big ACC Title match-up. But it starts with wining this one…..#4 TCU (9-0) at #18 Texas (6-3) 7:30 ABC: Expect an old-fashioned Big 12 shootout in this one. Both teams are tilted towards their offenses and TCU’s Max Duggan gives TCU an advantage at the QB position over Texas youngster QB Quinn Ewers. But, in the run game Texas RB Bijan Robinson could be the man who ultimately determines the pace of the game. He is a legitimate big play threat in the pass game and has 7-straight 100-yard games. For both teams, getting to the ball and limiting big plays will be critical on defense. Watch to see who does the best job in the Red Zone where Texas scores TDs only 62.5% of the time and TCU scores TDs at only a 66.7% clip…… Arizona (3-6) at #12 UCLA (7-2) 10:30 Fox: This one comes down to UCLA’s defense. If Arizona can move the ball and score they’ll stretch the game all four quarters. In the end UCLA should have too much offense for the Wildcats to handle. A UCLA win combined with a USC win sets up one of the biggest cross-town rivalry games in a number of years…..Stanford (3-6) at #13 Utah (7-2) 10:00 ESPN: Stanford looks to be outclassed in this one, while Utah needs to win to stay on track for a Pac-12 title game berth. With #6 Oregon looming next week, having a laser-focus and getting up big early would be a nice way to get ready for that one.
Fifth Down: Go-Go Round: Maryland (6-3) at #14 Penn State (7-2) 3:30 Fox: While this may not be a rivalry game for Penn State fans, for Maryland proximity breeds contempt. Penn State will have to match that intensity. Up until 2014 when Maryland joined the Big Ten the Terps were 0-21 in Happy Valley. Since joining the Big 10 they are 2-2 at Penn State. These players know each other with Penn State having 57 players from Pennsylvania, Maryland and DC while the Terps have 68. Many of the players in key positions will be playing against each other for the 3rd straight year and they’ve spilt the previous two games. Across the board these teams are similar statistically on both sides of the ball. Against 4 common opponents (Michigan, Purdue, Indiana and Purdue) Penn State is 3-1 with a 21-point differential while Maryland is 2-2 with a 7-point differential. And both teams feature freshman running backs. For Penn State Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen have gained 1237 yards on the ground at a 5.6 per carry rate, while Maryland’s redshirt freshman duo Roman Hemby and Antwain Littleton have gained 1015 at a 5.9 per carry clip. In the trenches Maryland is experienced on both sides of the ball. Keeping the QBs clean will be vital to the success of both offenses, because both teams have talented tight ends and receivers.