alabama at mississippi state (SATURDAY 3:30et, Cbs)
The dynasty has once again flexed its muscles and established its dominance as Alabama left no doubt against LSU on Saturday night. The Tide simply outclassed the Tigers in every facet; was it a result of enhanced focus under the bright lights or is this team figuring out its identity? Either way, it will be a daunting challenge for the Bulldogs, who have fallen off from last year, but not quite as far as some thought heading into 2015.
Dan Mullen’s team has won four straight, including last week’s decisive victory over a solid Missouri team. Dak Prescott has flown under the radar as Mississippi State has largely stayed out of the national spotlight, but is having an even better season than last year when he spent the majority of the season in the Heisman discussion. However, if the Bulldogs can win on Saturday, Prescott could re-assert himself in the 2015 discussion—especially considering the blows that Leonard Fournette and Trevone Boykin’s Heisman campaigns took last week. Prescott is considerably more efficient this year as he has improved his completion percentage by 5% and has only thrown one pick (he had 6 at this point last year). While this game isn’t being as hyped as Alabama/LSU, the Bulldogs present a greater challenge.
The Alabama defense is very good. That much is obvious. However, the front seven and run defense is elite. If LSU couldn’t overpower Alabama with its rushing attack, nobody will. But the Bulldogs are a more versatile offense and a more physical defense than the Tigers. And while the Crimson Tide secondary has vastly improved since last year, it has been susceptible to bigger receivers; De’Runnya Wilson has the potential to go off like West Virginia’s Kevin White did last.
I hate predicting a team’s emotional state, but Alabama will not be quite as turned up for this game one week after the “game of the century.” And after Mississippi State’s best season since 1998 was spoiled by Alabama last year, November 14th, 2015 has been circled on the calendar for a while now. It’s safe to say the Bulldogs will be sufficiently amped up. More cowbell…
MISSISSIPPI STATE 28 ALABAMA 24
Miami AT NORTH CAROLINA (SaturDAY 3:30ET, ESPNu)
The Tar Heels played like they had something to prove last week...like a team that was inexplicably left out of the initial College Football Playoff Committee rankings. For some people, the Duke game was a surprise, but the Tar Heel offense has proven capable of offensive onslaughts like this during the Larry Fedora era. Duke’s defense is solid, but its numbers were inflated from a fluffed up schedule heading into last week. The Blue Devils have a pair of talented safeties, but even Jeremy Cash lacks speed and the entire Blue Devil secondary was exposed against a well-oiled passing attack. Marquise Williams can be very hit-or-miss, but this season he has been more hit than miss.
Miami has had a very hit-or-miss type season as well, but for the Hurricanes it's been more miss. However, Brad Kaaya has looked promising, and against solid teams like Nebraska, Florida State, and Duke, this team has looked pretty decent. While this defensive front has missed Denzel Perryman, Raphael Kirby and Jermaine Grace are two of the better ACC linebackers in pass coverage. Still North Carolina has run the ball very well this year, which has set up the big play in the passing game, and Miami will allow points if Kaaya and the offense cannot get off the field. While I am picking the Heels in this one, North Carolina is not Clemson, and this will be no cakewalk like it was last week.
NORTH CAROLINA 33 MIAMI 26
ARKANSAS AT LSU (SATURDAY 7:15ET, ESPN)
Forget the fact that Arkansas needed a miracle to beat Ole Miss. Forget the fact that Arkansas needed a facemask call on the last play of the game to beat Ole Miss. Forget it all. A win is a win, especially when it comes against a talented opponent on the road. And all that matters now is that the Razorbacks are playing pretty decent football, and the snowball may have begun rolling down the hill. Alex Collins is running the ball well, the offensive line seems to be gelling, and Brandon Allen has been playing remarkably well. Aside from the unexpected Jonathan Williams injury, this offense is playing as well as anyone could have hoped. Unfortunately, as we predicted in the preseason, the Razorback defense has dropped off in a big way after losing Martrell Spaight, Trey Flowers, and Darius Philon. The power running game received a lot of praise last year, but it was a top 10 defense that carried Arkansas last year.
The Razorback pass defense has been dreadful, and fortunately LSU's strength is certainly Leonard Fournette and the rushing attack. Unfortunately, the run defense hasn't been stellar either, and Fournette will most likely "get his." LSU is scoring 71% of its touchdowns on the ground so if Arkansas' fledgling pass defense can limit LSU's fledgling pass offense, thus making Fournette the de facto offense, Arkansas will have a great chance to win.
However, with this game being played in Baton Rouge directly after a disheartening loss, the Tigers will be looking to restore their pride. LSU runs away late, and Fournette regains control of the Heisman race.
LSU 38 ARKANSAS 26
oklahoma at baylor (Saturday 8:00ET, abc)
Baylor remains ranked 6th in the College Football Playoff rankings, and while most people are screaming about how the Committee hates Baylor – relax, everybody. This was the expected course, as the November gauntlet finally heats up this week for Baylor. Three straight top-15 opponents will provide the national stage to impress the Committee and improve the strength-of-schedule. Honestly, the team that should feel slighted by these latest rankings is fellow undefeated Big 12 member Oklahoma State, who actually went out and dominated then-#8 TCU 49-29, but only rose to #8. I understand that the Big 12 teams have the next few weeks to truly prove themselves, but the point that troubles me is the Committee ranking IOWA 5th, above both.
In his starting debut, Jarrett Stidham impressed to the tune of 23-33 for 419 yards, 4 TD. You would think with stats like that from the true freshman quarterback, that Baylor rolled to another blowout win. But the Bears were unable to establish a rushing attack…at all. They were a Top-5 rushing team, but were held to just 103 yards on 34 carries. This will become a much bigger issue in the coming weeks if they are unable to establish that ground game. The other problem came on the defensive side in the 4th quarter, as they allowed a glorified wildcat QB to continually run the delay-draw successfully. They let Kansas State back into the game late. These problems need to be fixed before Saturday.
The 8-1 Oklahoma Sooners come to Waco, along with ESPN’s College Gameday. Many feel that Oklahoma is the best “off-the-radar” team that has a shot to boost itself into the Playoff with a late surge. With the weak October schedule, Stoops had his Crimson and Cream Machine in cruise control. This 4-0 stretch comes off of the inexplicable loss to (4-5) Texas. That loss, along with Stanford’s loss to Northwestern will be the two most puzzling games when we look back on the 2015 regular season. But this season, Baker Mayfield has been extremely efficient with the ball, and is not receiving enough national attention. He is completing over 70% of his passes with a 28-4 TD-INT ratio. Oklahoma is the 3rd highest scoring team in the nation (46.3 per game), and this November will also provide him the national stage to gain Heisman attention.
It’s mid-November, and the preseason is finally over in the Big 12. The national spotlight is here, and it’s time to put up or shut up. The way the CFP Committee is acting, this might just be an elimination game for both teams, even 8-0 Baylor. He played nearly perfect in his debut, but I expect the offense as a unit to improve from Stidham’s first start to his second. This one will be a true Big 12 shootout, and I am calling for Briles and his hometown squad, our preseason pick to win the league, to come out on top.
BAYLOR 48 OKLAHOMA 44
oregon at stanford (SATURDAY 7:30ET, fox)
Stanford checks in at #7 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings, up from #11 in the initial poll. They are the 3rd highest 1-loss team and are even above undefeated Oklahoma State who just whipped #8 TCU. The Committee is behind this Stanford team, and they even cited the early kickoff time (noon ET, 9am PT) as an excuse for their loss to Northwestern. I find this as terrible reasoning considering it was the season opener and they had all month/week to prepare for the kickoff time.
With that mini-rant behind me, I must say that Stanford has impressed enough in their 8 consecutive wins that they have positioned themselves to be a strong contender for a spot. The Pac-12 is not receiving as much credit as this deep league deserves. But before the possible Playoff-elimination games against Notre Dame and Utah, the Ducks stand in the Cardinal’s path. This game has decided the North Division every season since the expansion – and the two programs have won the overall league every season since 2009.
Towards the end of last season, Kevin Hogan elevated his game and has kept that pace into 2015, completing 67% of his passes, and tossing 16 TD’s to 6 INT’s. While the Stanford offense tended to be a traditional ball-control, double-tight, ground attack, there is a new spark this year. Christian McCaffrey leads the nation in all-purpose yardage per game, and is already at 1,207 yards rushing (6.1 average). He gives the offense another dimension that may have been lacking in 2014. Austin Hooper is putting up an all-conference season at the tight end spot, and is Hogan’s top target besides the versatile McCaffrey. Stanford is fresh off of a 42-10 beatdown of Colorado, in which they doubled the Buffs in total yards and time of possession.
The Oregon offense is back! After some lackluster performances, the Ducks put up 61 vs. Arizona State and 44 last week against Cal (what a difference having an index finger makes). The ground game is picking up behind the “Rolls” Royce Freeman, and Stanford’s usual stout defense is actually only ranked 44th in yards per carry. However, on the other side of the ball, Oregon’s pass defense is ranked 126th (of 128) meaning that Stanford’s lethal play-action package should thrive. Stanford holds the nation’s longest streak of consecutive home night wins – and it will continue Saturday night on the Farm.
STANFORD 31 OREGON 20
washington state at ucla (Saturday 10:45ET, espn)
I honestly never thought I’d be writing this as one of our six weekly marquee matchups, much less featuring Wazzou twice in 3 weeks. But after an inexplicable opening loss to FCS Portland State, Washington State has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise. The Cougars have clinched bowl eligibility, sit in 2nd place in the North Division, and their two conference losses are by a combined 8 points. Speaking of surprises, UCLA has gone the other direction, once again falling from high preseason expectations. Yes, it is certainly tough to overcome injuries to stars at each level of the defense, but with the roster talent and deep experience, there is no explanation for the defensive collapses in the early October losses (56 allowed to Stanford, 38 allowed to ASU). We knew it would be tough to win the league with a true freshman quarterback – even with 19 returning starters around him. And to this point, Josh Rosen has actually played well enough to give his team a shot – it’s been the defense. Still, in a wild Pac-12 South, UCLA controls its own destiny to win the division and get a rematch with Stanford. But before that opportunity presents itself, UCLA must focus on a dangerous WSU team that already knocked off Oregon and Arizona State. Luke Falk is shining in Mike Leach’s air-raid attack, and leads the nation in passing yards (3736) and passing yards per game (415.1). As prolific as the passing attack is, this is literally the definition of a one-dimensional offense, as the Cougars rank dead last in FBS in rushing attempts. Leach doesn’t even pretend to try to establish a run game. This is pass first, pass second (and pass third).
The key to the game is in the UCLA backfield, and it’s not Rosen. Paul Perkins is one of the hardest runners in the nation, and if you East Coasters haven’t been able to watch UCLA much, he is a must-see. Washington State’s rushing defense is allowing over 200 yards per game, ranking them 109th. Look for Mora to target that deficiency and feed Perkins the ball 25+ times. I trust UCLA’s secondary to make enough stops to slow Falk.
UCLA 38 WASHINGTON STATE 30