4-Down Territory: Unbeatens, Contenders and All The Action as The Season Heads to the Stretch Run
First Down: Unbeatens and Contenders: SMU at #5 Cincinnati: The hill gets steeper for the Bearcats when SMU comes calling. Since Cincinnati’s win at Notre Dame they have run off 6-straight wins against teams with a combined 18-41 record. SMU comes to town with an 8-2 record and a passing attack averaging over 27 completions per game with three different WRs with 45 or more catches. This will be a good test of the across-the-board strength of a Cincinnati secondary that boasts some NFL talent at Corner……Charleston Southern at #1 Georgia: The nation’s #1 team hosts an FCS-level team with a losing record? This one should be over by….kickoff……UAB at #22 UTSA: The Roadrunners of UTSA just keep winning and how do they do it? They play solid defense and have an offense that boasts a 2300+ yard passer and a running back with 1150 yards and a WR corps that is at least two-deep in terms of threats. That said, UAB poses a real threat to UTSA in this game…….Georgia Tech at #8 Notre Dame: The Rambling Wreck ends a 3-7 campaign looking down the barrel of games against Notre Dame and Georgia. The Irish are still in the playoff picture and without a conference title game they have to play at a level that gets the committee’s attention the last two weeks….Vanderbilt at #12 Ole Miss: Maybe the only way this game gets interesting is if Ole Miss jumps on them early and gives their coach Lane Kiffin access to his phone to tweet during the second half.
Second Down: Win and You’re In: (Not the College Football playoff but in the conference championship game): Virginia at #18 Pitt: If the Panthers win they are in the ACC Title game. Kenny Pickett continues what may be the best 6th season any college player has ever had. Pitt’s defense will need to know one and only one thing---is Brennan Armstrong playing for UVA and if so is he at full strength? If so this game turns into a shootout between two of the best ACC QBs. If he doesn’t play or is slowed by his injuries UVA will be hard pressed to score. Pitt’s defense has shown flashes of strong play at times, and at other times has allowed teams to pick them apart……#3 Oregon at #23 Utah: For both teams, a win clinches their respective North/South Division titles. The stakes for Oregon are much bigger with a berth in the College playoff hanging out there. For Oregon the Utah offense is the best and most balanced offense they’ve seen since that September win at Ohio State. Utah has a productive pass rush that may test the athleticism of Oregon QB Anthony Brown. And no matter who wins this game they’ll need to keep good notes because these teams will likely face off again in two weeks for the Pac-12 Title…….#21 Arkansas at #2 Alabama: The Razorbacks are 3-2 against ranked teams this year including a win over Texas A&M 20-10 (the same team that beat Alabama). Arkansas’ offense leads with the run game and including their quarterback KJ Jefferson they have 4 different ball carriers over 450 yards. But they are running into one of the best run defenses in the country. Since the loss to Texas A&M, Alabama’s defense has played much, much better. LB Will Anderson is an active and disruptive player whose 12.5 sacks lead the country……#10 Wake Forest at Clemson: The Demon Deacons have two road trips to finish the season and just need to win one of the two. However, they can clinch by beating Clemson in Death Valley for the first time since 1998. To beat Clemson, Wake will need to beat a good Clemson defense. This year the problems for the Tigers have come on the offensive side of the ball. If Wake can score, the question will be whether or not the Tigers can keep up.
Third Down: Big 12 And Beyond: There is no messier conference title game scenario than the Big 12 where a 3-way tie for the top 2 spots is a very real possibility……..#9 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech: The Cowboys obliterated TCU last week and look to be really hitting their stride and peaking in November. That could spell real trouble for Texas Tech’s porous defense that has surrendered 50 or more points three times this season…….Iowa State at #13 Oklahoma: Many folks believed this would be a precursor to the Big 12 title game before the season started. But a funny thing happened on the road from Ames to Arlington. But before anyone pencils this in as a “W” for an OU team that lost at Baylor last week, remember that Iowa State was the team who beat Oklahoma State this year and upset the Sooners last year. Iowa State still has Brock Purdy at QB and the exceptional Mike Rose at LB………#11 Baylor at Kansas State: Kansas State has won four straight games and is playing an 8th home game this year. That could make things interesting on Saturday. The biggest threat to Baylor may be overconfidence following a dominating defensive performance against Oklahoma. If they maintain that level of play they should leave with a big win……FRIDAY: #19 San Diego State at UNLV: UNLV is struggling and San Diego State is coming off a big win over division contender Nevada last week. SDSU will not wow you with statistics on either side of the ball, but they have played well enough to win every game but one. For most people on the East coast they are a forgotten team that just keeps finding ways to win.
Fourth Down: The Big Ten’s Big Day: Illinois at #17 Iowa: Illinois likes to run the ball and Iowa’s defense is great at stopping the run. If Illinois can’t find a way to throw the ball against a secondary with 19 INTs it will be a long game……Nebraska at #15 Wisconsin: Do not be surprised if Nebraska takes the Badgers to the edge or even wins. The Huskers have played well enough to throw serious scares into Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oklahoma losing by a combined 22 points in those four games. Wisconsin has been rolling of late winning 6 straight by an average of 24 points per game. But in the clutch the Badger defense looks like it will be too much for the visitors…….#6 Michigan at Maryland: Michigan used a punishing ground attack to beat Penn State last week. Look for more of the same this week against the Terps. To have a chance Maryland will need to do a great job protecting the quarterback and getting the ball thrown quickly to offset a relentless Wolverine pass rush…….Rutgers at Penn State: The name of the game this year for Rutgers has been turnovers and a solid defense that has been very good on third downs. In the 5 Rutgers wins they are +14 in turnover margin and in the 5 losses they are -6. And if you want to see a clinic in punting this is your game. These are the top two teams in net punting in the country. Rutgers punter Adam Korsak’s touch around the green is fantastic with 108 straight punts without a touchback and 25% of his kicks being downed inside the 10. Both team’s are looking for better offensive production and both teams have been leaning heavily on their defensive units (which could lead to the aforementioned punting clinic)…….#7 Michigan State at #4 Ohio State: This is the game of the year in the Big Ten….until maybe next week. Ohio State’s defense has had trouble with teams that have balanced attacks and that is certainly what the Spartans’ bring to the Shoe on Saturday. Can Ohio State cover the MSU receivers AND stop Heisman front-runner Kenneth Walker at running back? On the other side the Spartan secondary has had trouble stopping the pass and with the OSU stable of receivers they will need to show dramatic improvement. If the offenses control the game, this game may very well come down to a critical turnover, much like MSU got in their win over Michigan.