BAYLOR AT TCU (FRIDAY 7:30ET, ESPN) - By Zach Kinder
Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham is out for Friday’s rivalry matchup at TCU. Without Stidham, the Bears will rely on third string quarterback and converted wide receiver Chris Johnson. Johnson lit up the Oklahoma State secondary in the third quarter of Saturday’s win, but Art Briles relied heavily on his run game most of the half. There has been no word on whether TCU quarterback and Heisman contender Trevone Boykin will play and leading receiver Josh Doctson is out for the season. Boykin is a game changer, but without him the TCU offense has proven lifeless (less than 400 yards in the loss at Oklahoma and nearly losing at home to Kansas). It will be interesting to see how Baylor attacks the TCU defense without Stidham and running back Shock Linwood, who’s also nursing an injury he sustained against Oklahoma State. Unfortunately, TCU just doesn’t have the defensive strength to stall Baylor or, without Boykin, the offensive ability to keep pace.
BAYLOR 41 TCU 23
OHIO STATE at MICHIGAN (SATURDAY NOON, ABC)
The rivalry is back. Jim Harbaugh wasted no time in reviving the Michigan football program, and has his alma mater back in the Top 10 for the first time since the 2012 preseason. But for this series to reclaim its place atop the college football world, Michigan needs to start winning some games. Ohio State has won 3 straight over 'the team up north,' as well as 10 of the last 11.
But its the Buckeyes who are in rare form right now, fresh off of its first regular season Big Ten loss since 2011. Ezekiel Elliott spoke out about the playcalling, and if you've been following along with us you know that I have expressed similar sentiments this season. Where is the Buckeye offensive style that used to thrive on spreading the ball around to dynamic playmakers, stretching the field vertically and horizontally? Well, its down in Houston, Texas with former OC Todd Herman. I expect Urban Meyer to take back some control (although I am shocked it took him 11 games to do so), and look for a more spread out attack.
In terms of the Big Ten championship race and the Playoff picture, this game is all or nothing. For this game to become the de facto Big Ten East title game, 11-point underdog Penn State needs to upset #5 Michigan State. Should MSU take care of their Land Grant rivals, OSU-Michigan will mean nothing to the outsider, but don't tell these fans, because to these states it's life or death regardless of record or rank.
OHIO STATE 31 MICHIGAN 27
FLORIDA STATE at FLORIDA (SATURDAY 3:30ET, ESPN)
These teams have eerily similar resumes leading up to this final regular season game. Neither offense inspires a lot of fear: FSU is ranked 41st in total offense; Florida is ranked 100th. But both defenses have looked dominant at times: FSU is ranked 20th; Florida is ranked 6th. This game could look a lot like the 2011 matchup in which only 279 yards were gained, combined.
As indicated by their national rankings, Florida’s offense is the most painful offense to watch, especially since its loss of QB Will Grier. The offensive line has faced an uphill battle all year, and as a result, the running game has never been there. But Will Grier was able to make due with the shorthanded personnel and play efficiently. His play against Ole Miss exemplified his style perfectly as he completed 83% of his passes for 4 TDs and 0 INTs and blew open an otherwise evenly-matched game. And while the Florida offense was far from a juggernaut under Grier, it was competent enough to complement the top-10 Gator defense.
Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, we have also seen a new face at quarterback as Jimbo Fisher has decided to go with Sean Maguire over Everett Golson. Maguire has not provided much of a change—good or bad—since taking over as the starter; both quarterbacks’ ratings have been hovering around 150. However, the difference between these two offenses is Dalvin Cook. The former Gator commit easily turns 3 yard runs into 60 yard runs and should eclipse 1,500 yards this week. In a defensive battle, Cook will be the difference even if he struggles to rack up yards like he usually does.
FLORIDA STATE 23 FLORIDA 13
OLE MISS AT MISSISSIPPI STATE (Saturday 7:15 ET, ESPN2)
At times, both of these schools have proven to be among the best teams in the nation. Ole Miss, of course, beat up on the Crimson Tide, while Mississippi State’s offense has been dynamic for most of the year—and the defense shows flashes of greatness as well. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, their moments have not resulted in a landmark victory thus far. However, if there is one game on the schedule that they have circled, it’s the egg bowl. After losing to the Rebels last year as the season unraveled, Mississippi State will be looking to claim the title of top dog in the state of Mississippi’s ongoing college football renaissance.
Dak Prescott has not had quite the same acclaim as he did last year despite having a better season. Prescott has stayed in the pocket more this year, and delivered the ball with better efficiency. He has eclipsed 300 yards passing in five straight games as he and receivers De’Runnya Wilson and Fred Ross have been as dominant as any aerial attack in the country. Wilson and Ross are almost unfair at the collegiate level for as big and athletic as they are. And while the rushing attack is averaging about a yard less per carry this year, it is Mississippi’s 100th ranked pass defense that the Bulldogs will want to exploit.
MISSISSIPPI STATE 33 OLE MISS 27
NOTRE DAME AT STANFORD (Saturday 7:30ET, FOX)
Much like the infamous "Harvard BEATS Yale, 29-29", it feels like Boston College actually beat #6 Notre Dame. The ugly win forced the Irish out of the Playoff Top 4, and their championship path looks much more cloudy heading into the final game. Tomorrow's game at Stanford will be their final chance to impress the committee since they lack a conference championship game opportunity. I have been against having ND that high in the polls because what we originally thought was a gauntlet has turned out softer. The fact holds that their 2 best resume wins are against AAC teams. Still, this team is loaded with NFL talent on both sides of the ball.
Stanford enters with 2 losses - both to ranked teams. The Pac-12 may just be the deepest league in America, and is the only one with 9 conference games plus a title game. Should Stanford prevail as an 11-2 P12 champ, their case is strong enough to approach the topic of a 2-loss team making the Playoff. Kevin Hogan is well versed in these huge games, and his senior leadership will help the Cardinal in more ways than one. But the true x-factor in this one is Stanford's do-it-all Christian McCaffrey who leads the nation in several major stat categories. He will breakout for multiple scores and earn a ticket to the Heisman ceremony in NYC.
STANFORD 30 NOTRE DAME 17
OKLAHOMA AT OKLAHOMA STATE (SATURDAY 8:00ET, ABC) - BY ZAch Kinder
There’s a little bit of uncertainty heading into this year’s edition of what has become an entertaining Bedlam series in recent years. Mason Rudolph is possibly suffering from a broken bone in his foot and Baker Mayfield is recovering from a concussion he suffered in the first half against TCU. There are also several other injuries, including Oklahoma State’s Blake Jarwin and OU’s Samaje Perine. In 2013, OU went into Stillwater and knocked off the Cowboys who were one play away from their second conference title in three years. A year ago, the Cowboys returned the favor in Norman (although OU was not in a position to win the conference). With a win, OU would claim its eighth Big 12 title under Bob Stoops. Oklahoma State hasn’t been eliminated from the title conversation, but needs Baylor to lose Friday at TCU or against Texas next weekend. Of course, the Cowboys can still play spoiler. As of Tuesday evening, OU was 3rd in the playoff rankings. Win and they’re very likely in. The Cowboys are almost assuredly out of it (barring some crazy circumstance) and have an opportunity to keep their archrival out of contention. Playing in Stillwater certainly gives the Pokes an edge, especially a night game with ESPN’s College Gameday in attendance. This is what college football is about, and it should be an exciting game.
Ciancia's Pick: OKLAHOMA 23 OKLAHOMA STATE 20