Four Down Territory: The Title Chase Continues For Conference Titles and Playoff Spots......
First Down: Playoff Contenders Part 1: Missouri at #1 Georgia: Georgia clinched the SEC East title before Halloween. UGA’s offense got a tad sloppy last week being careless with some turnovers against Florida. When you’ve got the kind of defense that the Dawgs have does it really matter? It didn’t against Florida and likely wouldn’t matter against the visiting Tigers…….Tulsa at #6 Cincinnati: Cincinnati will be in the game of compare and contrast of how they performed against common opponents that played other playoff contenders. This will be Tulsa’s 2nd trip to the Buckeye state to play a playoff contender. In September Tulsa QB Davis Brin was slinging the ball around the Shoe for over 400 yards. Last week Cincinnati successfully outperformed Oklahoma’s result vs Tulane. The inevitable comparisons to the OSU/Tulsa game will be made after this one…….#5 Ohio State at Nebraska: The Buckeyes head to Lincoln after outdistancing Penn State. Opponents have successfully stressed OSU's LBs in pass coverage. Expect OSU to jump on the Huskers early and put doubt in the minds of a Nebraska team that is clinging to the slimmest of bowl hopes…..#3 Michigan State at Purdue: MSU RB Kenneth Walker has 1194 yards rushing after 8 games. That is more than 48 teams have managed this year. MSU WR Jalen Nailor had a cast on his hand after an injury versus Michigan, but that still leaves MSU with 2 scary WRs. This Purdue game is anything but a given. They handed Iowa a 24-7 loss right after their win over Penn State. The Boilermakers play solid and aggressive defense…….#4 Oregon at Washington: Ducks’ fans favorite four words right now are “We Beat Ohio State.” None of that will matter if they trip up down the stretch. With a national primetime ABC telecast, the Ducks will have a chance to make a statement on the road.
Second Down: On The Rebound: A number of these teams are looking to rebound after tough losses. Tennessee at #18 Kentucky: The Wildcats have been eliminated from the SEC Title chase but beating Tennessee would be an excellent consolation prize this week. #25 Pitt at Duke: The Panthers are still in first place in their division and control their own destiny in the chase for a first-ever ACC title. The defense should rebound against a Duke team that has struggled to score lately…….Indiana at #7 Michigan: An unforced error last week (a fumbled handoff) set up the game-winning score for MSU, otherwise we might be talking about the Spartans needing to rebound. Michigan’s pro-style run/pass offense mix is built for November. What began as a promising season at Indiana has turned into a nightmare, but a win over Michigan could certainly help…….Penn State at Maryland: The Lions are on a three-game skid and need a win desperately at Maryland. The Terps could become bowl eligible by recording a win in this lopsided series (PSU leads 40-3-1 but two of those Maryland wins came in the last 7 years –including last years 35-19 romp at PSU). Penn State threw the ball well against Ohio State’s zone coverage schemes by mostly throwing underneath. Roughly 60% of QB Sean Clifford’s passes were either screens behind the line or thrown less than 10 yards downfield (only 2 were thrown deeper than 25 yards—one incomplete and one intercepted). Look for Maryland to challenge the PSU WRs with the entire secondary back that held PSU to just 47% completions in their win last year. Two of Maryland’s top three WRs are out for the season but last week Senior WR Carlos Carriere emerged vs IU and QB Taulia Tagovailoa had a career day. PSU will need to defend WR Rakim Jarrett who snared 5 passes for 144 yards and 2 long TDs against them last year. Both teams are also good preventing red zone TDs.
Third Down: Looking For Love—Playoff Contenders Part 2: #9 Wake Forest at UNC: Wake Forest is undefeated and perhaps feeling unloved by the playoff committee. If you looked at this match-up three months ago, few would’ve predicted that Wake would be the one controlling their ACC title destiny and contending for a playoff spot. This is a team that scores quickly, and scores often…….#11 Oklahoma State at West Virginia: The Cowboys are hanging at the edge of the playoff discussion but this is a tricky trip to WVU. The Mountaineers derailed Iowa State last week and have shown flashes of great play at times. Besides the win over Iowa State, they also took Oklahoma to the wire. They have some talented skill players that will keep Oklahoma State on their toes….#12 Baylor at TCU: Gary Patterson will no longer coach TCU. The Patterson era was defined by defense but this year they have not fared as well there. Baylor’s balanced attack creates problems for coordinators trying to lock down one aspect of a team’s attack……Navy at #10 Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish will need to lock in on Navy’s run game because Navy beat Tulsa last week with zero passing yards. In Navy’s other win they only completed 2 passes.
Fourth Down: Conference Title Contenders: This is not a week for the big playoff contender match-ups, but there are still some appetizing games in conference title races to digest. #21 Wisconsin at Rutgers: The Badgers used a stifling defense to wallop Iowa last week and are in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten West. Rutgers shut down the Illinois running attack in last Saturday's win. If they can do that to the Badgers they have a chance in this one……Illinois at #20 Minnesota: Staying within the Big Ten West, Minnesota is also in the division title mix. A third Minnesota RB has been lost for the season but it seems that the Gopher O-Line has been capable of opening holes for anyone who lines up at running back for them…..LSU at #2 Alabama: Ten years ago this was an epic showdown, one that ended up with a rematch in the National Title game (before the playoff). This year LSU is winding down the Orgeron era while Nick Saban just passed his 70th birthday with his foot on the accelerator. Alabama QB Bryce Young continues an impressive freshmen season. Alabama cannot afford a stumble here. While Georgia has clinched the SEC East, Alabama could be fighting this one down to the season-ending Iron Bowl against Auburn which brings up……..#13 Auburn at #14 Texas A&M: This is the best match-up between ranked teams this week. Auburn controls their own destiny in the SEC West. This team has gotten better and better and Bo Nix has elevated his game. The Auburn defense showed a toughness and resiliency in shutting down a potent Ole Miss offense. Texas A&M presents a sterner test for the Auburn offense than Ole Miss did. Texas A& M is just one game back in he SEC West and is still alive. A win here would give them a tie breaker over Auburn and Alabama should the Tide lose another game.