4-Down Territory: Halloween: Big 10 Handing out Full Size Treats, But Fun Size Treats Are Good Too
First Down: Contenders Face Tricky Treats: Colorado at #7 Oregon: Oregon escaped again but with that win at OSU, winning is enough. The Ducks’ pass rush led by Kayvon Thibodeaux was a relentless force against UCLA and will be again this week. The Ducks should handle the Buffs but in the Pac 12 anything can happen…..#2 Cincinnati at Tulane: Cincinnati played down to a Navy’s “C-level” game last week but the Coach’s poll did not penalize them. But that could change and they will have to show more dominant results in a game like this Tulane match-up……Texas Tech at #4 Oklahoma: Speaking of great escapes, OU made one last week at Kansas. Texas Tech comes to Norman as a wildly inconsistent team that yields over 30 points per game and with an uncertain coaching future. OU should look to start fast and pull away in the second half.
Second Down: Title Treats: A number of surprise teams are looking to gather wins and treats in seasons that have them contending for conference titles…….Miami at #17 Pitt: In late 2017 Miami was 10-0 ranked #2 and riding the turnover chain swagger. It all ended there. From that moment, they lost to a young freshman Pitt quarterback named Kenny Pickett. Starting with that day Miami has a record of 24-23 (Pitt is 28-18 in that span). That freshman QB is now a strong and confident senior playing at a very high level. With an impressive group of WRs and DBs Pitt now finds themselves in the driver’s seat in the ACC. But they must avoid the distractions that come with their new national profile…….#19 SMU at Houston: This is an under the radar game with SMU at 7-0 and Houston with a 6-1 record. No matter who wins, someone will emerge as the leading contender to derail Cincinnati’s title hopes……#9 Iowa at Wisconsin: Don’t look now folks but Wisconsin is one game back in the west and plays both of the teams ahead of them starting with Iowa at home (Minnesota is later). Wisconsin had planned to ride the arm of QB Graham Mertz this year, but here we are at the end of October and they’re back running the rock. Iowa thrived on turnovers for 6 weeks and then gave the ball away to Purdue. These are two great defenses playing two offenses not known for scoring in bunches. An old-time Big Ten slugfest may ensue……Duke at #13 Wake Forest: Midway through the 3rd quarter Wake and Army were tied at 28……final score Wake 70 Army 56. The Demon Deacons can score in bunches. On Halloween it only seems fitting that the Demon Deacons will look to exorcise the Blue Devils.
Third Down: Those Treats at the Bottom of The Bag: While everyone is focused on the full size candy bars in the trick-or-treat bag these are some of those candies (like Baby Ruths and Mallo Cups) that are over-looked but are really tasty…….Texas at #16 Baylor: One of the things that has been consistent at Texas of late has been a need for better defense. The emphasis has been on the offensive side of the ball. RB Bijan Robinson continues to impress for the Longhorns. Baylor’s offensive balance is a thing of beauty with 1,675 yards rushing and 1,629 yards passing. That balance poses real problems for Texas who will need to make the Bears’ attack one-dimensional……UVA at #25 BYU: Virginia may be the best unranked team and have the best under-the-radar QB no one is talking about Nationally. They have been pouring on the points of late averaging 40 per game on their current 4-game win streak. BYU will welcome UVA to the altitude of Provo in a homecoming for current UVA (and former BYU) Coach Bronco Mendenhall……#10 Ole Miss at #18 Auburn: Ole Miss has grand ambitions as they travel to Auburn. Auburn’s defense is still a bit of a work in progress and that could spell trouble against Ole MIss QB Matt Carroll and a speedy Ole Miss offense. Bo Nix will need to reach into his bag of tricks to open up the run game that Auburn wants to establish…..#12 Kentucky at Mississippi State: By now everyone knows that Mississippi State coach Mike Leach hates Candy Corn and loves all Gummy candies. Kentucky QB Will Levis is now more than ever, fondly remembered at his old school Penn State. The Bulldog defense will try to slow Kentucky, while a very underrated Kentucky defense seeks to gum up the Miss State offense.
Fourth Down: Big Ten Gives Out Full Size Candy Bars: This weekend the Big Ten is THE house that is giving out the full-sized candy bars…….#6 Michigan at #8 Michigan State: The hate is back to the levels last seen when MSU's Mark Dantonio turned this rivalry on its head. Paul Bunyan will be the most popular guy in the stadium, the guy everyone wants to bring home to the post-game party. Because the Big 10 backloaded the schedule no one is completely sure how good these two teams are yet But no matter who you play, getting to 7-0 is a big deal. MSU’s offense was rolling with 3 big-time WRs, a big-time RB and a QB playing very well until Indiana's defense slowed them down. This will be the sternest test so far for the UM defense and one suspects UM will look at that film closely. On offense Michigan has what may be their best running attack of the Harbaugh era and has recaptured the ghosts of Wolverines past. Big backs slashing through the line and play-action passing are back in Ann Arbor. They are throwing the ball well enough to keep people off balance and are effectively using two quarterbacks--which in the age of the transfer portal may be a necessary wave of the future. UM QB JJ McCarthy comes in for Cade McNamara as a change-up pitch for opposing defenses so a defensive coordinator needs to have two plans ready. This game will be won up front on both sides of the ball and isn’t that how monster Big Ten games are supposed to be? …………………. #20 Penn State at #5 Ohio State: The health and mobility of Sean Clifford is THE factor for Penn State’s offense. Prior to getting hurt at Iowa, Clifford was making a lot of plays on scrambles, but that ability was almost non-existent against Illinois. Ohio State’s defense has started to settle in and improve. Of the Buckeyes’ 24 sacks this year (2nd in the Big Ten), twenty-two of them have come from their DTs and DEs---a very high percentage. If they can get to the QB without blitzing that lessens the ability for PSU to get WR Jahan Dotson into one-on-one match-ups. As for OSU’s offense, when PSU has played them well, they were able to pressure the OSU QB with a four-man rush. OSU’s offensive line is better than they’ve been recently, and freshmen RB TreVeyon Henderson is explosive (averaging 8.8 yards per carry). This is a big-play offense with 14.7% of every OSU play going for 20 or more yards. Those big plays have helped the Bucks’ make long drive after long drive with 19 scoring drives of 75 or more yards and an average scoring drive of 66 yards. And that OSU offense is not turnover-dependent as only one of their 48 offensive scoring drives came as a result of a turnover. PSU can steal a page from the Illini defense last week--make OSU play a patient game and continue the dominant PSU red zone defense (#2 in the country). And some critical turnovers would be a big plus too. This is how crazy things are right now. With the 4 Big Ten East contenders PSU, OSU, MSU and Michigan having to play what is essentially a round-robin tourney the next few weeks--if PSU wins out and there is a 4-way tie with those teams all having 2 conference losses......PSU goes to the Big Ten title game.