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4-Down Territory: From Happy Valley to Rocky Top an Elite Weekend of College Football

First Down: Undercard Fights: Notre Dame (4-3) at #16 Syracuse (6-1) Noon ABC: With #16 Syracuse, #5 Clemson and a season-ending trip to #10 USC, this feels like a must-win for Notre Dame. Had it not been for a few bad calls they probably could’ve won at Clemson last week. The Syracuse defense is really good, even forcing Clemson to make a QB switch.,,,Florida (4-3) vs #1 Georgia (7-0) in Jacksonville 3:30 CBS: Florida has had 2 weeks to prepare for this game. In that time they hope they’ve eliminated the mistakes from QB Anthony Richardson’s pass game. He is a dynamic player, but his 7 INTs have proven costly. He may be a key to running the ball against Georgia’s defense……#8 Oregon at Cal (3-4) 3:30 FS1: Oregon QB Bo Nix continues to impress as the Ducks stay hot. In fact, Nix’s numbers are comparable (some slightly ahead, some slightly below) to the numbers that Heisman Winner Marcus Mariota posted his senior year. If he stays sharp they should leave with a big win……#10 Wake Forest (6-1) at Louisville (4-3) 3:30 ACC Network: Wake Forest seems like a soft #10 team right now. But Louisville has a dynamic QB that played well enough to beat Pitt last week. To win their division Wake needs to win out and hope that Clemson loses the only 2 ACC games they have left……#7 TCU (7-0) at West Virginia (3-4) Noon ESPN: TCU QB Max Duggan will be a big problem for a WVU defense that has had troubles stopping anyone this year. The key to this game will be WVU’s ability to run the ball, and get plays from QB JT Daniels. They know they will need to score a lot to keep pace.

Second Down: Intriguing Match-ups: #17 Illinois (6-1) at Nebraska (3-4) 3:30 ABC: Illinois’ defense is putting up great numbers yielding just 221 yards per game, and just 3.78 yards per play. Both of those numbers lead the country. They also lead the nation in pass efficiency defense. They’ve gotten a lot of help from a power run game with the nation’s leading rusher Chase Brown helping their ball-control offense. That has meant that the Illini defense is averaging just 58 plays per game, keeping their defense fresh. Nebraska will have to stop the run to even have a chance here……Pitt at #21 UNC 8:00 ACC Network: Pitt’s defense will have their work cut out for them playing UNC’s high-powered offense. The good news is that Pitt should be able to run the ball against a UNC defense that has allowed teams to find a lot of success. With a sold-out primetime audience in picturesque Kenan Stadium, Pitt will need to get running early to keep the crowd out of it and keep UNC’s offense on the sideline…….

3rd Down: Big Games: #9 Oklahoma State (6-1) at #22 Kansas State (5-2) 3:30 FOX: After rebounding to beat Texas, Oklahoma State is right back in the playoff hunt. Kansas State’s defense is playing solid football, but can they slow the Cowboy attack enough to win? If K-State QB Adrian Martinez gets a hot hand throwing the ball they could pull this win at home….#19 Kentucky (5-2) at #3 Tennessee (7-0) 7:00 ESPN: If Kentucky has a fully healthy Will Levis to go with a healthy run game, they will have the ability to move the ball and score points against Tennessee. The problem for Kentucky will be Tennessee's ability to score a lot of points as well. Once you get to this point in the season a team like Tennessee has gone from being the hunter to being the target. It is a different kind of pressure for teams to deal with. The question for the Vols will be to focus in and zone out all the new attention and distractions and keep this all about the game that occurs with the lines of the playing fields…..Michigan State (3-4) at #4 Michigan (7-0) ABC: Playing for Paul Bunyan seems to bring out the best in Sparty the past few years. Michigan State's vulnerable defense seems to have steadied some--not quite the standards they’re used to, but still better. As for the offense, the run game that was a strength last year has been absent. To have a chance this week MSU QB Payton Thorne will need to summon his best game and make some big plays. Michigan’s offense continues to be efficient and relentless with a focus on a punishing ground game. That could be big trouble for Sparty…..#10 USC (6-1) at Arizona (3-4) 6:00 Pac 12 Network: Look for USC to bounce back in this one. The Trojans are better in most every aspect of the game than Arizona. Turnovers continue to be the biggest edge USC has with a defense that has yielded yardage but leads the nation in getting turnovers…..#15 Ole Miss (7-1) at Texas A&M (3-4) 7:30 SEC Network: Ole Miss looked like they were cruising to a win over LSU before the Tigers’ offense erupted. Texas A&M does not look capable of that kind of offensive production, so this will come down to the Aggie defense stopping the Ole Miss run game……Stanford (3-4) at #12 UCLA (6-1) 10:30 ESPN: UCLA’s offense should prove to be too much for Stanford. If you’re staying up late on the East Coast, you may be able to get to bed by midnight with this one.

4th Down: HIGH NOON SHOWDOWN: #2 Ohio State (7-0) at #13 Penn State (6-1) Noon FOX: For Penn State, this is essentially a division elimination game. Ohio State is much improved on defense from last year. But they look vulnerable at CB, so Penn State will have to find WRs that can win the outside matchups. If not, OSU will be able to have safety help on PSU’s tight ends. As for the run game, just once in the last 10 years has a Penn State RB topped 100 yards against Ohio State. They will need that run game. Against OSU's offense, Notre Dame had some success by making OSU play patient football, while Iowa frustrated the Buckeyes in the Red Zone. If Penn State can stop the run with the front seven it changes the dynamic of the game immensely. That is possible as the Buckeye O-line is still not at the level the Buckeyes want to see. When Ohio State has the ball, the key is getting pass rush without blitzing. Ohio State’s WR corps is dangerous and sadly for PSU fans it is partly home grown with two of the top four WRs coming from Pennsylvania including Marvin Harrison. This is a WR-dependent offense with 78.9% of all completions going to the WRs. The wildcard in the OSU arsenal is Tight End Cade Stover who is a legitimate threat in his own right. One trend to watch will be how effectively PSU tackles the OSU receivers. A gaudy 41.9% of the receiving yards for the Top 3 receivers and their tight end have come after the catch, an average of 7.5 yards after every catch.


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