4-Down Territory: Pigskin Stew Has Championship Quick Hits For a Football Frenzy
First Down: If At First You Don’t Succeed Try, Try Again: A couple of rematches await us this weekend, Friday Night Pac 12 Championship #10 Oregon vs #17 Utah in Las Vegas: These two teams met just two weeks ago in Salt Lake City in a game that was dominated by the Utes 38-7. If Oregon wants to avoid a similar fate they will need a much better effort in the run game—both running the ball and stopping Utah’s ground game. One of the best ways to slow a pass rusher like Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux is to run the ball and stay out of obvious passing situations. That allowed Utah to finish that game 11 of 14 on 3rd down conversions, an incredible number. If Utah can run the ball again and control the clock they will win this rematch. For Oregon they will need to find that balanced offense that has made them so dangerous all year. Keep an eye on Utah LB #0 Devin Lloyd who is as productive as any linebacker in the country and is a lot of fun to watch………The Big 12 Championship #5 Oklahoma State vs #9 Baylor in Arlington, Texas: The Big 12 will have a new champion for the first time in a while, but will they have a playoff team when the dust settles? The Big 12’s best hope is with Oklahoma State getting the season sweep in this rematch. These two played on October 2nd in Stillwater with the host Cowboys beating Baylor 24-14. In 2021 in the Big 12 the name of the game is defense. These two teams are in the top 20 in scoring defense and Oklahoma State is in the national top 12 in the 5 major statistical categories. The Cowboy defense helped them overcome a 9-point deficit to win Bedlam last week against Oklahoma. As for Baylor they’ve played solid defense, bring a balanced offensive attack and thrive on a +8 turnover margin. But in the loss to Oklahoma State even a +3 turnover margin was not enough to help them as the Cowboy defense bottled them up almost all game. For Baylor, the status of QB Gerry Bohanon is unclear. If he can go he gives the running dimension to that position that would be a big help against a really good defense.
Second Down: Crowning New Champions Part 1: Just as the Big 12 will see a new champion for the first time in several years, both the ACC and Big Ten are also breaking title streaks held by Clemson and Ohio State. The ACC Championship: #15 Pittsburgh vs #16 Wake Forest in Charlotte, NC: It is doubtful that anyone predicted Pitt and Wake playing for the conference title before the season started. But these two teams rode the wave of extreme offense to their respective division titles. Expect to see the ball in the air early and often in this one. Pitt and Wake are among the top scoring and passing offenses in the country. And both defenses have been susceptible to the pass. Pitt’s Kenny Pickett has emerged as a Heisman contender and a fearless leader of the resurgent Panthers who are making their second appearance in the title game in four years. WR Jordan Addison has posted insane receiving numbers (85 catches for 1,353 yards and 17 TDs) and is a matchup problem for everyone. To bring this one home they will have to avoid turnovers and try to force Wake to run the ball against one of the top run defenses in the country. Wake QB Sam Hartman has also been impressive throwing the ball and the Demon Deacon have not one, but two thousand-yard receivers. And you best stay on your toes because Hartman has 10 rushing TDs as well. He may need to use his legs to avoid Pitt’s pass rush which ranks #2 nationally with 46 sacks.
Third Down: Crowning New Champions Part 2: The Big Ten Championship: #2 Michigan vs #13 Iowa in Indianapolis: Michigan and Jim Harbaugh exorcised one demon with an impressive win over Ohio State that left little doubt as to which team was the best one on the field that day. That win will lose some shine if they cannot end the longest Big Ten title drought in school history with their first title since 2004. This is old school Michigan football. They’re playing excellent defense, boast a set of relentless defensive ends with mad pass rush skills and have an offense that loves the power run and play-action pass game. They have the look of a team on a mission. And then there is Iowa. They are like the goofy guy at the party who hangs around and inexplicably leaves with the best-looking girl in the place. How do they do it? A top run defense, the 3rd-best pass efficiency defense in the country and a nation’s best 22 interceptions. Turnovers drive their scoring unlike any other team you’ve seen. Speedster Michigan running back Blake Corum returned to play some against Ohio State but in Corum’s absence Hassan Haskins emerged as a workhorse that opposing defense got tired of tackling. In a the final four-game stretch he notched 106 carries for 569 yards and 8 TDs. When throwing the ball the Wolverines have utilized their tight ends, receivers and backs to keep teams off balance. But if there is one thing that you know when you play Iowa’s defense, they will be lined up, they will not be out of position and they will make you play patient football and pounce on your mistakes. They will need to force turnovers to win this one.
Fourth Down: Big Playoff Implications: The AAC Championship: #21 Houston at #4 Cincinnati: The playoff committee’s job would be made much easier if Houston could pull the upset here. But most of the country seems to be pulling for the Bearcats to break the Power-5 conference’s hold on the playoff. That would be good for the sport—at least in this guy’s opinion. Luke Fickell’s Cincinnati team is a unit that can smother opponents and take the ball away. The secondary can play with anyone as evidenced by their 17 interceptions and ability to break up many of the passes they don’t steal. Houston likes to throw the ball and they do it well, so this will be a big test for the Bearcats. Look for matchups between Houston WR Nathaniel Dell and corners Coby Bryant and Ahmad Gardner. If Cincinnati wins, the only question remains is if the committee thinks it is good enough to hold off an Oklahoma State win over Baylor if Alabama beats Georgia. And that brings us to……..The SEC Championship: #1 Georgia vs #3 Alabama in Atlanta: Everyone knows about Georgia’s defense and the incredible numbers they’ve put up including 3 shutouts (and there would have been a 4th had the Dawgs’ 3rd-string QB not thrown a pick-six against UAB). Only 4 of their 12 opponents have even scored 10 or more points. How have they done it? They have dominant players up front, at linebacker and in the secondary. There is speed everywhere, so even if you fool them or break into the open, they catch and tackle you before you can do any real damage. So how will they hold up against Alabama’s pass attack? Bama’s Freshman QB Bryce Young has not seen a defense like this yet. Georgia’s pass rush is certain to harass him and try to make him turn the ball over. Alabama’s run game has not been what they’re used to, but they will likely need some balance to move the ball. As for the Georgia offense, they have been overlooked as they’ve posted good numbers most of the year. But if there is an Achilles heel for this team it has been the 10 INTs and 14 total turnovers they’ve had on the season. No one has been able to take advantage of that yet, but Alabama may be just the team that can do it. And while all the attention has been on Georgia’s defense, the Tide defense has been quietly meeting Saban-level expectations most of the year. Where people have moved the ball against them has been through the air, but only when they’ve been able to keep LB Will Anderson from getting to the QB. This one figures to go down to the wire with the winner emerging as the #1 seed for the playoff.