4-Down Territory: From Happy Valley to Between the Hedges & Every Big Game in Between......
This is the age of analytics and among the games this week we’ll see leaders in a number of categories on both sides of the ball. For context we’ll turn the clock back, as we did last Saturday. But we’re going a lot further back than one hour. From the pages of the official 1949 college football guide we’ll see the statistical leaders from the 1948 season—75 years ago. Among the teams with the best records that year: Oregon (9-1), Michigan (9-0), Georgia (9-1), Ole Miss (8-1) and Penn State at (7-1-1). The more things change…….
1st Down: Defense Wins Championships: #8 Alabama (8-1) at Kentucky (6-3) 12:00 ESPN: All season long Nick Saban has talked about simplifying their schemes so they can play faster and make easier adjustments on game days. It appears to have worked as the Tide has outscored opponents 154-63 after the break. They've come back from halftime deficits against USF, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. QB Jalen Milroe is a legitimate run threat and that impacts the ability of opposing defenses to play complex coverage schemes.…..UConn (1-8) at (AP #21) James Madison (9-0) 2:00 ESPN+: The highest ranked team in Virginia in the AP Poll is none other than JMU. They’ve been dominant defensively and their schedule includes a Power-5 win over Virginia. In 1994 UConn and JMU teams were 1-AA opponents in the Yankee Conference. Late in that game JMU ran a fake field goal for a TD. One year later an assistant coach brought that fake to Penn State where it was the play of the game in an epic Snow Bowl win over Michigan….. Michigan State (3-6) at #1 Ohio State (9-0) 7:30 NBC: The Spartans may have just 3 wins on the season, but they have improved defensively this year from last year. Ohio State has taken methodical approaches to winning games with defense. Expect a patient OSU attack to protect the football and get the playmakers involved on offense. When Henderson is at RB and WRs Egbuka, Harrison line up with Stover at TE this is a tough group to defend. The OSU faithful just want to see a sharper Kyle McCord at QB who has the unenviable burden of living up to the ghost of CJ Stroud.....
2nd Down: Offense Sells Tickets: Texas Tech (4-5) at #16 Kansas (7-2) 12:00 FS1: Kansas QB Jason Bean has passed for over 900 yards the past three weeks. If he plays at that level he may be the edge that keeps the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title hopes alive. One key to slowing him down may rest with the Texas Tech run game led by RB Tajh Brooks who is 7th in the country in rushing and has gained 1033 yards. He’ll face a KU defense that is 91st in stopping the run……#15 Oklahoma State (7-2) at UCF (4-5) 3:30 ESPN: UCF has been able to score this year, but they’ve had trouble stopping others from scoring. Oklahoma State RB Ollie Gordon had a busy day (33 carries) against an Oklahoma defense determined to stop him. OSU QB Alan Bowman showed last week he can give the Cowboys the balance to attack teams loading up to stop Gordon…..Tulsa (3-6) at #23 Tulane (8-1) 12:00 ESPN2: Tulane eked out a closer than expected win at ECU last week. That certainly got their attention, and the focus is sure to be there when Tulsa’s Golden Hurricanes blow into town….#21 Arizona (6-3) at Colorado (4-5) 2:00 PAC 12 Network: The Pigskin Stew has been talking up Arizona for a few weeks. We’ve believed the Wildcats were better than their record and after a win over UCLA it seems everyone else is catching on. For Colorado they are in danger of failing to make a bowl game. Over time the inconsistent play along the lines has been a real problem. They’ll need to find the turnovers and explosive plays that fueled their early-season success……#7 Texas (8-1) at TCU (4-5) 7:30 ABC: Topic number one: Texas QB Quinn Ewers is listed as Day to Day. Given that TCU is sliding of late, it may not matter if Ewers makes it back this week. Watch for two productive RBs in this one. TCU RB Emani Bailey has 908 yards on the season and averages over 8 yards per carry at home. Texas RB Jonathan Brooks has already hit the 1,000-yard mark and has snagged 22 passes for another 200+ yards. Back-up Texas RB CJ Baxter was a spark off the bench last week racking up 90 yards on 10 carries. No Matter which QB lines up for the Longhorns he’ll have a two best friends in the backfield. The Texas defense had moments when they were vulnerable last week, but when the game was on the line they were able to get the pressure up front that they needed……..Florida (5-4) at #19 LSU 7:30 SEC Network: The LSU defense continues to yield big points in big games. In losses to FSU, Ole Miss and Alabama they’ve allowed 142 points. Luckily for them Florida is not a team that is likely to rip off that kind of offense. Florida has been solid protecting the ball, but LSU has been even more careful. A lot here will depend on if LSU QB Jayden Daniels. He makes the LSU one of the most dangerous in the country….
3rd Down: Every Week Matters: Miami (6-3) at #4 Florida State (9-0) 3:30 ABC: Miami has lost three of their last five with the two wins being OT wins against Clemson & UVA. Miami invented the turnover chain and has netted 15 this year. But they’ve given up 19 and THAT is a core root to their struggles this fall. Florida State has been prone to some slow starts (Pitt) and close calls (BC) but the intensity for this rivalry game is sure to be there…... Stanford (5-4) at #12 Oregon State (7-2) 5:30 Pac 12 Network: The Cardinal have been the model of inconsistency. Putting a scare into Washington, beating WSU 10-7 and then losing by 35 and 36 to UCLA and Oregon. Oregon State is two plays from being unbeaten. Their consistency all year is the difference in this one…..West Virginia (6-3) at #17 Oklahoma (7-2) 7:00 FOX: WVU will lean on a run game that utilizes mobile QB Garrett Greene. Expect OU to force WVU to win through the air and make Greene beat them throwing. The health of OU LB Danny Stutsman is something to watch. He warmed up before the OSU game but did not play. When he is healthy, he is one of the most active LBs in the country. For WVU’s defense Safety Marcus Floyd and CB Beanie Bishop had good days against pass-happy BYU last week. They’ll need to have big days again to beat OU and QB Dillon Gabriel……Baylor (3-6) at #25 Kansas State (6-3) 3:00 ESPN+: Kansas State was four yards from derailing Texas. They rallied by throwing the ball effectively in the second half. If they come out firing they can get their first win at home against Baylor in six years….Duke (6-3) at #24 North Carolina (7-2) 8:00 ACC Network: Duke’s defense has been a strength all year, but this will be a big test for them as they face potential first-round pick Drake Maye.
4th Down: The Best Offense is a Good Defense?: #18 Utah (7-2) at #5 Washington (9-0) 3:30 FOX: Expect this one to be wild. Utah’s offense exploded against ASU last week for over 500 yards and 55 points, while their defense limited the Sun Devils to 83 total yards. Utah clearly has the better defense. UW’s QB Michael Penix is the best player on the field. But before you hand this one to the Huskies, remember that USC QB Caleb Williams was the best player on the field but Utah beat the Trojans. Utah will want to make this a physical game, emphasizing time of possession, the run game and pressuring Penix into mistakes. But they will be facing a group of WRs that can score from anywhere on the field so blitzes will have to get home or they risk big plays…..#13 Tennessee (7-2) at #14 Missouri (7-2) 3:30 CBS: Missouri played Georgia step for step last week. While the Tigers’ offensive trio at QB, RB and WR has gotten a lot of attention, The Tigers’ defense was able to get real pressure on UGA QB Carson Beck. Tennessee’s offense offers a more diverse array of threats and balance having topped 2000 yards on the season both running and passing. Three different UT back have gained over 400 yards, and QB Joe Milton has even added over 250 yards and can make long runs to move the chains. Watch for UT’s pass rush (30 sacks on the year) to get after Missouri….#9 Ole Miss (8-1) at #2 Georgia (9-0) 7:00 ESPN: This may be the must-watch game of the day. For Ole Miss, winning this one is a national statement. The Rebs’ offense wants to push the ball down the field. Among teams with over 150 pass attempts they lead the country in yards per completion (15.4) and are 3rd in yards per attempt (10.03). They collide with a UGA defense that is 6th best in the country allowing a miserly 5.47 yards per attempt. The wildcard here is the running ability of Ole Miss QB Jaxson Dart who can break for big gains if you ignore him on pass downs. UGA TE Brock Bowers is unlikely to play this week, but in the two games he’s been absent the WRs have emerged in the pass game and the Bulldogs defense has gotten a +3 turnover margin and timely big plays. This will be a big test for them…….USC (7-3) at #6 Oregon (8-1) 10:30 FOX: USC fired defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch this week with just two games left before going on the road to face the top scoring offense in the country. USC is the #2 scoring offense in the country. The biggest statistical edge is on defense where Oregon is a top 20 defense (#18) while USC is 101 spots below them coming in at #119 out of 130 teams. Therein lies the difference between these two teams. They both have excellent skill guys on offense and they have Heisman candidate level QBs in Oregon’s Bo Nix and USC’s Caleb Williams. But Oregon’s defense comes at you in waves, playing over 30 guys per game and pressuring you.
5th Down: Happy Valley High Noon Showdown: #3 Michigan (9-0) at #10 Penn State (8-1) 12:00 FOX: All signs indicate that the defenses should set the tone. Michigan’s plan has been to patiently wear teams down in the first half and punish them after halftime. The Wolverines are outscoring opponents 173-24 in the 2nd half including a 114-0 mark in the third quarter. Not to be outdone, PSU has yet to yield any points in the 3rd quarter too. Last year that UM formula worked as they outscored PSU 25-3 in the 2nd half behind 418 yards rushing in a 41-17 win. Eight starters from that game return on both offense and defense for Michigan. For Penn State, red zone possessions will be critical. Michigan has allowed just 11 red zone possessions holding teams to just 4 field goals and one TD. In fact no one has started an offensive play inside the Michigan ten. Neither defense has faced any great offensive teams as yet. Michigan faced UNLV (ranked 16th in scoring and 41st in yardage) and Penn State’s highest rated opponent was Ohio State who ranks 45th in scoring and 32nd in total yardage. The defense’s biggest challenge for PSU will be facing a veteran o-line that has a combined 158 starts, as well as a top WR, excellent TEs, and a RB that leads the nation in TDs. RB Donovan Edwards is matchup problem as a great route runner that can line up as a RB or WR. JJ McCarthy is playing at a high level and gives Michigan an experience and production advantage at the most important position heading into kickoff. PSU defense has a combined 29 turnovers and 4th down stops. Those 29 possessions started for the PSU offense on the opponents' 41-yard line and have led to almost 40% of PSU's total points. Turnovers may be critical here as PSU is +16 in turnover and Michigan is +9. A punt return could also tilt the field or produce points for either team too.
Penn State's 1912 team
Michigan's 1901 team.