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4 Down Territory: Playoff Contenders, Dark Horses & Teams to Keep an Eye on.....

First Down: Playoff Contenders: A funny thing happened on the way to Iowa’s easy street to the Big Ten West title as they were upset by unranked Purdue. That being said on paper these games should go the way of the contenders…..#2 Cincinnati at Navy: Cincinnati keeps rolling and given Navy’s struggles they should continue unless Navy finds a way to sink their hopes…..#3 Oklahoma at Kansas: OU Freshman QB Caleb Williams unseated a Heisman favorite Spencer Rattler against Texas and lit it up last week as well. The Jayhawks continue to struggle and unless they can rattle the freshman, expect the Sooners to keep rolling…..#5 Ohio State at Indiana: While this season has been disappointing for Indiana, the defense has played well. Last week they gave Michigan State’s offense all they could handle. They will have to match that performance to have a chance to stay in this game. Indiana has a solid WR corps and tight end that could challenge Ohio State’s defense—which has improved almost every week of late…..Illinois at #7 Penn State: After an off week the health at QB is THE big question for Penn State. Illinois has a veteran offensive line and two good running backs. If they can attack the void left by Penn State’s injured DT PJ Mustipher they may have a chance to keep this one interesting. But without a deep threat at WR Illinois may not be able to make PSU pay if they crowd the run game.

Second Down: Rivalry Games: LSU at #12 Ole Miss: With LSU’s Ed Orgeron agreeing to leave at the end of the season LSU has found the best way to complete a transition. The Tiger offense exploded last week. This is a rivalry with great folklore and has the chance to be a high-scoring shoot-out. Ole Miss QB Matt Carroll will like the opportunities that a banged-up LSU defense presents to him, but he will have to avoid the turnovers that killed Florida last week. LSU’s run game was dominant last week and that may be their best path towards vistory. At least in Oxford, Ole Miss will not have to worry about objects being thrown at them as they did in Knoxville which brings us to…….Tennessee at #4 Alabama: The Vols go on the road to Alabama, a team that looked like they’d regained focus and composure last week. That renewed focus could spell real trouble for the Vols……USC at #13 Notre Dame: After the Irish lost to Cincinnati, they have been largely forgotten nationally. USC is adrift and looks vulnerable here as most of the talk about the Trojans has centered on the next coach.

Third Down: Keep and Eye On: Wisconsin at #25 Purdue: Coming into their road trip to Iowa Purdue’s defense was playing at a high level and was largely unnoticed beyond West Lafayette. That anonymity is gone after a 24-7 win at Iowa. Purdue now looks like a contender in the Big Ten West and this should be a gauge of how serious a contender they are. Statistically, across a number of categories they are the best defense in the conference. Wisconsin still continues to struggle on offense and this one could be a low-scoring affair. It is a far cry from the 1998 Purdue—Wisconsin matchup where Drew Brees completed 55 of 83 passes but still lost……Clemson at #23 Pitt: While Clemson is struggling (by Clemson standards) this is still a critical game for Pitt to show they are ready to step up. Clemson has been the ACC King and until you can defeat the king, can you really ascend the throne? Pitt’s defense has found its stride with their secondary breaking up and contesting a number of Virginia Tech passes last week. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett is having a terrific year and now has a chance to start showing a broader audience……#18 NC State at Miami: Before the season most people felt UNC was Clemson’s biggest threat, but that mantle may have moved a few miles away to Raleigh. Miami appears to be a program in freefall with many calling for head coach Manny Diaz to be fired. But given the marketplace and high-profile openings Miami may be best served waiting a year……Georgia Tech at Virginia: After falling to 3-2 Virginia has quietly eked out road wins against Miami and Louisville before dismantling Duke 48-0. The Hoos are scoring at a high rate and will have to win out to have a shot at winning their division. Their Quarterback Brennan Armstrong (Arm-Strong being a great name for a QB) is averaging 414.6 yards per game. Expect that success to continue…..South Carolina at #17 Texas A&M: After yielding 38 points to Alabama in that win, the A&M defense returned to form holding Mizzou to 14 points. Expect that to continue against a team that barely escaped Vanderbilt.

Fourth Down: Playoff Lurkers: There is a long way to go before the end of the season and there are a few dark horse teams lurking in the wings. If some of these teams keep winning and things ahead of them fall in place, they can contend…….#16 Wake Forest at Army: Who is the only undefeated team left in the ACC? If you said Wake Forest then you’ve been paying attention. Each week they keep winning and now have a lead in their division. Army is the kind of game that ADs like to schedule because everyone loves the tradition of the service academies. But defensive coaches hate playing Army because their offensive system is very difficult to get ready for in a week. Will that be enough for Army? We’ll see……#10 Oregon at UCLA: Oregon is the Pac 12’s lone playoff hope right now. They made a great escape last week against Cal. The Oregon offense has fallen off after the hot start. The challenge for the Ducks will be contending with UCLA’s physical running game…….#8 Oklahoma State at Iowa State: The Cowboys came back from a double-digit deficit to win at Texas. The pollsters were impressed enough to jump them several spots. Iowa State got two early losses and have been largely forgotten. This is the kind of win that could re-ignite their Big 12 title hopes.


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