This is the week to burn your TV tubes out with constant football viewing (plus watching some baseball playoff games). There are games on four different days this week, as the Tuesday night Sun Belt package begins tomorrow.
Let’s take a look at the four excellent days and why you will want to watch a plethora of games this week.
There is just one game this night, but it is meaningful. Two Sun Belt Conference contenders, Arkansas State and South Alabama, face off in Mobile, where the winner will be 2-0 in league play and in good shape to go on to claim one of the league’s four bowl bids. You have two excellent coaches in Joey Jones at USA and Blake Anderson at ASU, both of whom could be on multiple short lists in December.
Auburn at Kentucky: This game is a bowl elimination game plain and simple. We cannot see a way either team can make it to six wins if they do not win this game. If Kentucky can move to 3-1/5-1 with an impressive win, then the Wildcats could see a way to get to nine wins if things go their way. At 9-3, the Big Blue could move into contention for a Belk, Taxslayer, Liberty, or Music City Bowl berth rather than look square in the face at a Birmingham or Independence Bowl berth. For Auburn, there is no margin of error. The Tigers figure to be considerable underdogs in games against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Auburn, and Georgia, and with two losses, AU must win the other three games just to go 6-6.
UCLA at Stanford: This could be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game, although Utah, Arizona St., Cal, and the two Washington schools all believe they still have a good shot. The Bruins have not fared well against the Cardinal power teams in recent years. Stanford has won the last seven games between these two teams, including back-to-back wins to close the regular season and in the conference title game in 2012. Last year at the Rose Bowl, SU held then 9th-ranked UCLA to 282 total yards and 10 points while topping 200 yards on the ground and through the air. The loss knocked the Bruins out of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Cincinnati at BYU: Both teams are going to go bowling, and this game will not affect conference standings, but it should be an exciting game, if for no other reason than to see which quarterbacks play for the two teams. For BYU, it could be freshman Beau Hoge, son of ESPN analyst Merril Hoge. Hoge comes from a Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati. For the Bearcats, Gunner Kiel may be recovered enough from a neck injury suffered against Memphis two weeks ago to see action, but his backup freshman Hayden Moore looked like Greg Cook from the 1960’s in Kiel’s stead.
Boise St. at Utah St.: This is probably the de facto division championship game in the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division. The Broncos have dominated this series winning the last 12 times against USU.
Houston at Tulane: The Cougars should win this game with relative ease, but this gives UH a chance to display their skills to a national audience. The only Group of 5 team ahead of the Cougars in the standings is Boise St., who will be playing on Friday night as well. Cougar coach Tom Herman is just in his first year, but we are hearing chirps that he could be at the top of the wish list at multiple Power 6 Conference schools where there will be openings aplenty in 2016.
There are about 25 excellent matchups on Saturday, but we have isolated a baker’s dozen that really intrigue us.
Ole Miss at Memphis: This backyard brawl has been hard-fought even in years where one or both teams were mediocre or worse. Now that both teams are quite good, we expect this game to be high-scoring and close. If Memphis wants to jump to the head of the Group of 5 leaders for the New Year’s 6 at-large bowl bid, they are close to being in a must-win situation here. Ole Miss still holds out slim hopes of making the College Football Playoffs this year, but the Rebels must win out.
Louisville at Florida St.: A few weeks ago, this game did not look all that appetizing, but the Cardinals catch the Seminoles at the perfect time. UL enjoyed a bye week, while FSU had to play a tough game against rival Miami. Look for this game to be surprisingly close.
West Virginia at Baylor: Our PiRate Ratings elevated Baylor to the top of the charts this week, and the Bears look to be stronger this year than last. Last year, WVU upset BU in Morgantown, knocking the Bears out of a certain playoff spot in the process. With BU averaging 64 points per game, and the Mountaineers giving up 38.5 in their two Big 12 games, this could be a week where WVU scores 30 points and still loses by more than four touchdowns. Baylor currently averages better than 350 yards on the ground and through the air. No team has ever approached offensive numbers like this. They are in number two nationally in rushing and number eight nationally in passing, and their 725 total yards a game is almost 100 yards better than the number two total offense team. That’s just crazy!
Iowa at Northwestern: Northwestern got their hats handed to them in A2 on Saturday. If Iowa wants any respect, the Hawkeyes must win in Evanston this Saturday. If NU recovers and knocks off the undefeated Hawkeyes, they immediately return to the top of the Big Ten West standings.
Alabama at Texas A&M: Alabama looked vulnerable Saturday night against Arkansas. The Crimson Tide must bring the same performance against the Aggies this week that they brought to Athens, GA, two weeks ago. A&M had a bye week, and defensive coordinator John Chavis has had decent success stopping good Alabama offenses. With an extra week to prepare, the Aggies could be poised to stop this mediocre Tide attack. Last year in Tuscaloosa, the Tide humiliated the Aggies 59-0 just after looking terrible against Arkansas the week before. Is lightning prepared to strike in the same place twice? We don’t think so. We believe this will be a top heavyweight fight with a relatively low score in the neighborhood of 21-20. It’s can’t miss football watching. If Texas A&M can pull out this game, they really only have two more difficult games in their way of the SEC Championship Game.
Syracuse at Virginia: Why did we pick this game, since on the surface, it looks like one to toss out? There’s one simple reason. Last week, the Arizona Bowl finally became official for this season, meaning 41 bowls will require 80 bowl eligible teams, since two teams will play two postseason games. As of today, we believe that the 80th bowl eligible team will come from a group of multiple contenders from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Boston College, Georgia Tech, North Carolina St., Syracuse, and Wake Forest could all finish at 5-7. We don’t see Virginia in that mix, and we feel almost certain that head coach Mike London is making his swan song this season in Charlottesville. However, UVA has just enough talent to knock off the Orangemen at Scott Stadium this week, making it almost a certainty that Syracuse will not make it to 6-6.
Oklahoma at Kansas St.: The Sooners laid another egg last week against Texas in the Red River Rivalry game. Under Bob Stoops in recent years, they have come up with stinkers like this one, but they always followed it up with wins. Oklahoma has not dropped back-to-back regular season games since Stoops’ first season in Norman (1999 to Notre Dame and Texas), but it could happen again this week. Kansas State took TCU to the final minutes of the game Saturday night, and the Wildcats last lost home games in consecutive weeks 10 seasons ago.
Michigan St. at Michigan: There’s no getting around it: this is the real game of the week. It will be a brutal, hard-fought game, and it wouldn’t surprise us if 60 minutes are not enough to decide the outcome. Michigan is doing wonders on the defensive side, producing results that have not been duplicated on the field in over 20 years. Their three consecutive shutouts were last performed by Kansas State in 1995, but those three blankings came against Akron, Northern Illinois, and Missouri who combined to go 8-25 that season. The Wolverines have shut out two ranked teams in this streak, and that hasn’t happened in 67 years! Oh, that team that last did it in 1948 was Michigan, when they bested Oregon, Northwestern, and Purdue in successive weeks. Northwestern and Purdue were ranked at the time.
Michigan State is getting no love, even though the Spartans are 6-0. Their wins have not been impressive, and they could have lost three of those six games. Still, this is a backyard brawl, and the two teams have not both been ranked this high before facing off since 1999, when then 11th-ranked State knocked off #3 Michigan 34-31 in East Lansing. This game is in the Big House.
Florida at LSU: Normally, this game would be the top contest of the week. You have two undefeated SEC teams both ranked in the top 10. However, CBS didn’t even choose this game as their nationally televised game, forcing it to be the 7:00 PM EDT ESPN game. The winner will almost assuredly move into the top 5 on Sunday morning, while the loser still keeps playoff hopes alive. Florida might have smooth sailing all the way to a regular season finale against Florida State, if they can pull off the mild upset.
Last week, LSU showed the makings of a decent passing game, when South Carolina tried their darndest to force the Tigers to throw the ball. Brandon Harris completed 18 of 28 passes for 228 yards and a couple of touchdowns. If he can put up numbers in this range the rest of the year, with Leonard Fournette continuing to flash Heisman Trophy numbers, LSU can finish 11-1 or even 12-0 in the regular season.
USC at Notre Dame: Our thoughts go to USC Coach Steve Sarkisian, who has been placed on leave so he can receive help for his alcohol-related health issues. We doubt he will ever coach another game for the Trojans. For the second time in three years, USC finishes the season with an interim head coach in Clay Helton. Helton was the second of two interim coaches for USC in 2013, and he led the Trojans to a 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl win over Fresno State in his only other game as a head coach. Oddly, because of the timing, this will be the fourth different head coach in four years for USC in their game against the Irish.
Notre Dame is still a work in progress on both sides of the ball this year, but the Irish keep fighting for four quarters. The coaches don’t know exactly what to expect against USC, as the Trojans could have a large bag of tricks on hand for this game. They have nothing to lose now, and with games against Utah, Cal, and Arizona to follow, their season is in dire emergency of going south to the bad side of .500 in what could become a seven-game losing streak.
Penn St. at Ohio St.: Neither team is living up to expectations, which is really comical, since the Buckeyes remain number one in the nation, and the Nittany Lions are 5-1 with a loss to Temple that does not look so bad now. Penn State was the last Big Ten team to beat Ohio State in Columbus, coming in 2011 when interim OSU coach Luke Fickell squared off against interim PSU coach Tom Bradley.
If the Buckeyes come out a little flat like they did in three of their previous four games, this game could become quite interesting. The Buckeyes have yet to face a star quarterback this year, and Lion Christian Hackenberg is starting to come around with a 141.7 QB Rating in his last three games, including a 6/0 TD/Int ratio.
Arizona St. at Utah: It would not shock us at all, if this game determines the Pac-12 South representative in the conference title game. The Utes are coming off an emotional key nationally-televised win over California, and a win this week would leave the Utes in clear control of the division race, especially if UCLA loses to Stanford.
Utah back Devontae Booker does not get the publicity of an Ezekiel Elliott or Leonard Fournette, but the senior combines both power and speed, and he has a better pair of hands than either of his two more famous counterparts. Booker leads the Utes in both rushing and passing, and against Oregon, the southpaw went wide left on a sweep and pulled up to complete a 25-yard touchdown pass to Britain Covey.
Arizona State could be without its top offensive weapon in running back Demario Richard. Richard is questionable for this game, and former starting back D. J. Foster may have to move back from his wide receiver spot for this game. Foster led the Sun Devils with more than 1,000 rushing yards last year, but he is ASU’s leading receiver as a wideout this year.
San Diego St. at San Jose St.: This is an interesting Mountain West thriller, where the winner of this game has a heavy chance of taking the MWC West Division title. These two teams have a long history of facing off on the gridiron with San Jose State holding a slim 19-17-2 margin over the Aztecs. Aztec coach Rocky Long and Spartan coach Ron Carragher were both on the UCLA football staff in the 1990’s. Both have incredibly talented assistants for a non Power-6 school.
This Week’s Ratings
|40||North Carolina St.|
|91||San Jose St.|
|95||San Diego St.|
|127||New Mexico St.|
|36||North Carolina St.||109.7||110.9||108.6||109.7|
|75||San Diego St.||95.0||100.0||96.1||97.0|
|82||San Jose St.||93.7||96.7||93.8||94.7|
|124||New Mexico St.||73.8||74.9||74.0||74.2|
PiRate Ratings By Conference
|American Athletic Conference|
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|North Carolina St.||0-2||4-2||109.7||110.9||108.6||109.7|
|Big 12 Conference|
|Big 12 Averages||110.6||105.1||110.3||108.7|
|Big Ten Conference|
|Big Ten Averages||107.0||105.7||106.5||106.4|
|Mountain West Conference|
|San Diego St.||2-0||3-3||95.0||100.0||96.1||97.0|
|San Jose St.||2-1||3-3||93.7||96.7||93.8||94.7|
|New Mexico St.||0-1||0-5||73.8||74.9||74.0||74.2|
|Sun Belt Averages||81.6||83.9||82.3||82.6|
|PiRate Ratings By Conference|
Group of 5 Contenders For Automatic New Year’s Six Bowl Bid
Power 5 Conferences Bottom 10
|FCS Top 10|
|2||North Dakota St.||95.8|
|5||South Dakota St.||90.8|
|New Mexico||MWC||CUSA||Utah St.||vs.||Middle Tennessee|
|Camellia||MAC||SBC||Northern Illinois||vs.||South Alabama|
|New Orleans||CUSA||SBC||Louisiana Tech||vs.||Appalachian St.|
|Idaho Potato||MAC||MWC||Akron||vs.||Colorado St.|
|Boca Raton||AAC||MAC||UL-Lafayette *||vs.||Toledo|
|Poinsettia||MWC||Army||San Diego St.||vs.||Syracuse *|
|GoDaddy||MAC||SBC||Bowling Green||vs.||Georgia Southern|
|Bahamas||CUSA||MAC||Western Kentucky||vs.||Ohio U|
|St. Petersburg||AAC||CUSA||East Carolina||vs.||Florida Int’l.|
|Sun||ACC||Pac-12||North Carolina||vs.||Arizona St.|
|Heart of Dallas||Big 12||CUSA||Kansas St.||vs.||Rice|
|Independence||SEC||ACC||Old Dominion *||vs.||Miami|
|Foster Farms||Big Ten||Pac-12||Minnesota||vs.||Washington|
|Military||ACC||AAC||Navy||vs.||North Carolina St.|
|Quick Lane||ACC||Big Ten||Pittsburgh||vs.||Indiana|
|Armed Forces||Big Ten||MWC||Illinois||vs.||Air Force|
|Russell Athletic||ACC||Big 12||Notre Dame||vs.||Oklahoma St.|
|Arizona||CUSA||MWC||Southern Miss.||vs.||San Jose St.|
|Texas||Big 12||SEC||Texas Tech||vs.||Kentucky|
|Music City||ACC/Big Ten||SEC||Louisville||vs.||Mississippi St.|
|Peach||N. Y. 6||N. Y. 6||Alabama||vs.||Florida St.|
|Ouback||Big Ten||SEC||Michigan St.||vs.||Texas A&M|
|Citrus||Big Ten||SEC||Iowa||vs.||Ole Miss|
|Rose||Big Ten||Pac-12||Ohio St.||vs.||Stanford|
|Fiesta||N. Y. 6||N. Y. 6||LSU||vs.||Houston|
|TaxSlayer||ACC/Big Ten||SEC||Penn St.||vs.||Georgia|
|Liberty||Big 12||SEC||West Virginia||vs.||Arkansas|
|* = At-large selection due to contracted conference not having an eligible team for this slot|
|This Week’s Games|
|Tuesday, October 13|
|South Alabama||Arkansas St.||-10.0||-2.8||-8.9|
|Thursday, October 15|
|North Texas||Western Kentucky||-32.1||-25.9||-33.6|
|Friday, October 16|
|Utah St.||Boise St.||-15.7||-11.1||-15.4|
|Saturday, October 17|
|Middle Tennessee||Florida Int’l.||6.9||3.1||4.8|
|Mississippi St.||Louisiana Tech||16.3||13.8||15.2|
|Ohio U||Western Michigan||0.8||6.0||1.6|
|Miami (O)||Northern Illinois||-16.7||-14.9||-17.5|
|Ball St.||Georgia St.||14.2||17.8||15.2|
|Colorado St.||Air Force||1.3||-6.1||0.1|
|Miami (FL)||Virginia Tech||-1.1||0.8||-0.9|
|Washington St.||Oregon St.||13.7||12.0||14.8|
|Georgia Southern||New Mexico St.||26.0||27.2||26.6|
|North Carolina||Wake Forest||22.0||17.7||22.5|
|Southern Miss.||Texas-San Antonio||10.7||8.7||8.4|
|Ohio St.||Penn St.||24.9||14.8||25.0|
|San Jose St.||San Diego St.||1.2||-0.8||0.2|
|FBS vs. FCS||Week 7||PiRate|