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4-Down Territory: Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign....

All signs point to a great weekend of football.

1st Down: On Ramps and Off-Ramps: Your noon kickoffs provide a nice on-ramp for the day and the late games are your off ramps. But the ranked teams playing in these games better not slow down or they risk losing pace with the playoff pack…….#4 Florida State (7-0) at Wake Forest 12:00 ABC: With no ranked teams left on the schedule it would be easy to think FSU is on cruise control to the ACC title game. But Wake gave Clemson everything they could handle in Death Valley…..Indiana (2-5) at #10 Penn State (6-1) 12:00 CBS: Penn State’s defense is ranked in the top 5 nationally in every major category. They’ve benefitted by playing a collection of poor offensive teams. This week the beat goes on as IU ranks 100th or worse (out of 130 teams) in every major offensive category. But they do have some good receivers and an explosive speedster in RB Jaylin Lucas who is a threat as a runner, receiver, and returner. IU’s defense faces a Penn State offense that has struggled to make big plays and with consistency when needed. Penn State needs to stay away from 3rd and long where Indiana has shown an ability to mix up blitzes and coverages and have some success…..#6 Oklahoma (7-0) at Kansas (5-2) 12:00 FOX: After a close call last week, it would seem unlikely that OU would get caught coasting again this week. Kansas RB Devin Neil has rushed for over 2400 career yards at 5.7 yards a carry. In 428 carries he’s never lost a fumble. Kansas will need that ground attack and find a way to get some talented receivers involved in this one. This is a dangerous road game for the Sooners……#11 Oregon State (6-1) at Arizona (4-3) 10:30 ESPN: This is the off-ramp game of the day and for Oregon State a trip to Tucson will be no easy exit. Arizona’s 3 losses are by a combined 16 points against Mississippi State, Washington and USC. Last time out they left #19 Washington State in the dust 44-6 (WSU beat Oregon State). Arizona QB Noah Fifita has been a spark for them the past three weeks. Oregon State has won three straight by 12 or more points over #11 Utah, Cal and #23 UCLA. Oregon State likes to run the ball, but Arizona is a top 15-run defense. As for the Arizona pass attack their top four receivers are two wide receivers, a tight end and running back. This is an under-the-radar game worth staying up for and is a fitting off-ramp to your college football day.

2nd-Down: No Stopping or Standing: These ranked teams better not stop or stand or they could get blindsided by an inspired performance from an underdog……Pitt (2-5) at #14 Notre Dame (6-2) 3:30 NBC: Notre Dame’s defense is set up to take away the run-first mentality of Pitt’s offense. Pitt’s defense is set up to take away the run game, get after the quarterback and get turnovers. But Notre Dame’s combination of experience at QB and the powerful running of RB Audric Estime presents their biggest challenge of the year so far. This is a dangerous game, because this Pitt team has shown an ability to rise to a big challenge as they did with a 38-21 win over #14 Louisville……#24 USC at Cal 4:00 Pac 12 Network: The challenge for USC will be attitude, not necessarily inside the program but from people outside and around the program. The Pac 12 Title is still there and the program has a lot it can still prove before season’s end. Inconsistency at QB for Cal should allow the Trojans defense to focus on stopping a Cal run game that averages 40 carries per game. Cal ranks 66th in net punting, and below 100th in punt return yards allowed. USC Freshman speedster Zachariah Branch averages 21.6 yards per return--best in the country……Vanderbilt (2-6) at #12 Ole Miss (6-1) 7:30 SEC Network: Vanderbilt has lost six straight which is exactly why Ole Miss needs to be on alert. These are the kinds of games that short-circuit promising seasons. The Ole Miss WR trio averages a combined 201 yards per game and 16.6 yards per catch. Against the Vandy defense they should be open early and often…..#17 UNC (6-1) at Georgia Tech (3-4) 8:00 ACC: If there is any team that should understand the importance of playing week in and week out now it is UNC. They looked like a playoff contender a week ago before losing to 1-5 UVA. The UNC defense has been a potential Achilles Heel all year and Georgia Tech’s offense will be good enough to test them. Given Tech’s problems on defense, this may be a shootout……#5 Washington (7-0) at Stanford (2-5) 7:00 FS1: The Huskies should be on red (Cardinal) alert Saturday night. Colorado took Stanford lightly and got stunned. Washington looked like they were sleep-walking against Arizona State last week too committing four turnovers. An 89-yard Pick-6 was the only touchdown the Huskies could muster in a 15-7 win. Don’t expect another day like that one……..

3rd Down: No Passing Zone: In the non-power-5 race for a New Year’s-6 Bowl there are seemingly three leaders as we wind down October. Air Force, Tulane and JMU will all try to keep from getting passed. BUT the NCAA does not allow JMU to be bowl eligible because they must go through two full years at the FBS level to be eligible…..#19 Air Force (7-0) at Colorado State (3-4) 7:00 CBS Sports Network: Air Force is clearly an example of “No Passing.” While they lead the nation in rushing, did you know they also lead the nation in yards per pass attempt (18.76) and yards per completion (25.79)? When you hit a 94-yard TD pass and you’ve only thrown 33 passes all year your stats get skewed slightly. Air Force is the shining example of “complementary football.” Because the Falcons are 4th in the country in time of possession, they are #2 nationally in total defense because their opponents only get to run 55 plays per game. The Falcons also hold foes to just 4.05 yards per play (3rd in the country). You cannot give Air Force extra possessions, and Colorado State will have to reverse a turnover trend that has seen them lose 17 this season….#22 Tulane at Rice (4-3) 4:00 ESPN 2: Rice QB J.T. Daniels has done a lot of passing in starting for a 4th school in 6 years. He’s playing at a level that will pose a real threat to Tulane. For Tulane the emergence of freshman running back Makhi Hughes has given them a dangerous balance. Hughes has three straight 100 yard games…..Old Dominion (4-3) at #25 JMU (7-0) 8:00 ESPNU: In another archaic NCAA rule, JMU is not listed in the national statistical leaders. They'd lead the country in run defense (36.1 ypg), Sacks (34) and DE Jalen Green would lead the nation with 13 sacks. The Dukes are holding conference opponents under 15 points per game and have won at Virginia and at Utah State. Old Dominion is coming off wins over Southern Miss and Appalachian State and would love to pay back a 37-3 loss to JMU from a year ago……..Colorado (4-3) at #23 UCLA (5-2) 7:30 ABC: Colorado has had a long time to ponder the collapse to Stanford as they take their show to LA. UCLA is one of the best defensive teams in the country and that would seem to give them an edge in this one. As for Colorado, at 4-3 their remaining slate is at #23 UCLA, home against #11 Oregon State and a dangerous Arizona team, before closing at Washington State and at #13 Utah. There may not be any team that faces a tougher stretch to get to six wins and bowl eligibility…..#21 Tennessee (5-2) at Kentucky (5-2) 7:00 ESPN: A loss by either team here kills the slim SEC East title hopes they have. Tennessee has played really well at times and in other stretches has been completely outclassed like the 29-16 loss to Florida and the 27-0 run they allowed Alabama in their 34-20 loss last Saturday. Kentucky easily handled Florida but has lost two to Missouri and Georgia. This game will say a lot about where these two teams are as we head into November. Tennessee QB Joe Milton’s running and throwing could be the difference in this one.

4th Down: Lanes Merge: The biggest match-ups of the weekend force teams to merge and fight for the one lane forward……#20 Duke (5-2) at #18 Louisville (6-1) 3:30 ESPN: The winner moves into the upper echelon of ACC contenders, the loser falls back in the pack. Without QB Riley Leonard Duke’s offense struggles to move the ball consistently. Louisville has had two weeks to ponder the upset loss to Pitt. In that game they gave up too many sacks and turned the ball over. Duke’s defense is more than capable of creating the same kind of disruption…..BYU (5-2) at #7 Texas (6-1) 3:30 ABC: With the injury to Quinn Ewers all eyes will be on the QB position for Texas. It be Maalik Murphy but might we also see Arch Manning? As for BYU their QB Kedon Slovis is a 5th year guy at his 3rd school. The good news for Texas is that they have a good run game to lean on to help their young QB. Look for RB Jonathan Brooks to be a big factor……#1 Georgia (7-0) vs Florida (5-2) CBS: Florida’s 5th-year Quarterback Graham Mertz is playing at the highest level of his career. One of the big keys has been the elimination of turnovers and a big jump in his completion percentage. Georgia is a dominant defensive unit so Mertz will have to take some chances. As for Georgia, tight end Brock Bowers changes their offense because he was such a dominant player. They will need to lean on their wide receivers to get the job done against Florida’s top 20 defense……#8 Oregon (6-1) at #13 Utah (6-1) 3:30 FOX: There are 5 power-5 teams with a Top-20 defense and a QB who has started more than 18 career games. Oregon is one of those teams (Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Florida are the others). Utah would be one of those teams if QB Cam Rising could play, but he’s been shut down for the year with a knee injury. QB Bryson Barnes grew up on a big pig farm and the last two weeks he’s rooted around and led Utah to wins over Cal and a game-winning drive to beat USC. Utah is going to show up on defense, but Oregon will make plays. The key for Utah will rest on Barnes’ ability to score enough against Oregon’s stout defense ……#3 Ohio State (7-0) at Wisconsin (5-2) 7:30 NBC: Strange things can happen at night at Camp Randall Stadium. Ohio State will need to start fast. One of the keys for Wisconsin will be getting the run game going. RB Braelon Allen averages 100 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry. Once again, the injury report for Ohio State will make for important reading. Last week without their top running back and without WR Emeka Egbuka they became very reliant on Marvin Harrison and tight end Cade Stover. If the Buckeyes can get the whole band back together they will become a really dangerous unit.

5th Down: Pit Stops: Before the stretch run four ranked teams are in the pit stops for a bye week. #9 Alabama and #15 LSU are on bye week’s before they face off on November 4th for control of the SEC West. #16 Missouri is 6-1 and has a bye week before they play Georgia in a game that could decide the SEC East. And finally the team that inspired this sign-themed column, #2 Michigan is off before their stretch run against Purdue, at Penn State, at Maryland and the home finale against Ohio State.

And Finally...the ultimate sign stealing challenge? Try swiping one of these in daylight in Anchorage, Alaska on a major road. It's probably not too easy.....


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