As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.
- Ohio State @ Minnesota (ABC): With last week’s solid win over Michigan State, Ohio State is now solidly a contender. The loss to Virginia Tech will continue to dog them, though. However, they should have no such issues with the Gophers.
- Clemson @ Georgia Tech (ESPN): The first time we play Clemson at home since 2011 and it’s… at noon? I mainly don’t like it because that means it starts at 9:00am out here on the west coast, but still, I never much cared for noon starts as a student either. If this were a night game, I bet it’d be sold out.
At any rate, let’s analyze the game itself. By most measures, this appears to be a tossup. Vegas has the visitors by three and the advanced stats have us by by around a touchdown. The average score in this series over 77 games has a margin of about 6 points. Of course, last year Clemson won by 24 (and it wasn’t really that close), and the year before by 15, which arguably has much more of a bearing on this year’s result. For starters, last year’s Clemson defense that forced 6 punts is largely back, especially in the all-important defensive line. Even though I don’t think it makes a difference, but Clemson this year didn’t get a lot of extra time to prepare for the offense (just an extra day, basically). The main key for us that we’re much more efficient offensively this year. Last year, we only rushed for 248 yards, due partially to the talented defensive line of the Tigers but also simply because we were in a 20-0 hole in the 2nd quarter and started throwing the ball. That said, if we rush for less than 300 yards again, we’ll probably lose again.
And then there’s the defensive side. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the defense has improved over the course of the season, but they really haven’t. Our defense at this point has pretty much started relying entirely on generating turnovers. Interceptions are a matter of skill, but fumbles are a matter of luck. This defense still has trouble generating pressure, and still has trouble covering anyone. As usual, our hopes are pinned on the offense, which will be praying for the defense to generate just one stop, in all likelihood. (One or two defensive stops was basically the balance in the Carolina game, as you might recall.) The defense’s job will be that much tougher with Clemson’s dynamic freshman QB (Deshaun Watson) back in the mix after an injury.
Really the only thing I’ve seen over the past six years that really stops this offense other than itself is elite defensive line talent. Our offensive line does not employ the beefiest men, valuing some measure of agility over the portly run blockers of a traditional offense. They can block most of the guys they face, and since we do run the option, that means they can leave a guy unblocked and either scamper up to the second level to block a linebacker or defensive back, or they can throw a double-team on a particularly troublesome guy. Problem is when you have elite talent, event the usual refrain of “just option the guy” (i.e., just don’t block him and use him as the option key) has problems because these guys can be fast enough to either chase the play from behind or blow up both options at the point of attack.
This is a fun game (well, in retrospect usually) and a fun rivalry, usually, although it seems like we always win close in this series and lose big. Let’s hope it approximates something closer to the former tomorrow.
- Temple @ Pennsylvania State (ESPN2): I think Penn State’s got this one.
- Virginia Tech @ Duke (ESPNU): We need Duke to lose this one very badly, but I just don’t see how it will happen.
- Army @ Western Kentucky (CBSS): It’s not a good year for Army when they’re not the favorite against the Western Kentuckys of the world.
- Iowa @ Illinois (BTN): Iowa, probably?
- South Carolina @ Florida (SEC): Florida has put together by far the best two games of their season the past two weeks. The first, the rout over Georgia, was a genuine surprise; the win over Vanderbilt, less so. That said, this has been something of a lost season for the Gamecocks, with people even starting to whisper about Spurrier’s job security. I really have my doubts about that, but what I thought was a sure South Carolina win a few weeks is now completely up in the air after last week’s overtime loss to Tennessee. I don’t think this one will be very high scoring, but I will give a very, tiny slight edge to the Gators.
12:30: Pittsburgh @ North Carolina (ACC): Pitt is back after a bye week but still sitting on two straight losses to us and Duke. Pitt is probably the better overall team, but if that Carolina offense gets rolling Pitt may not be able to stop them. I’ll take Pitt though.
2:30: Rice @ Marshall (FSN): Marshall should still remain undefeated, though this will instantly be their best win of the season. With East Carolina’s loss to Cincy, the race for that non-Power 5 spot is now wide open.
- Texas Christian @ Kansas (FS1): I fear for Kansas in this one. TCU are 29 point favorites. I would probably still pick them.
- Wake Forest @ North Carolina State (ACC/RSN): NC State may have less trouble with Wake than Clemson did last week, if I had to guess.
- Washington @ Arizona (FOX): Thanks to an extra home game due to the Hawaii Rule, UDub is not bowl eligible yet at 6-4. They probably won’t get it here.
- Northwestern @ Notre Dame (NBC): Notre Dame finally did the courtesy of picking up their second loss, and even to Arizona State like I had predicted. That was nice of them. They will probably be pretty ready to vent some frustration on Northwestern, though.
- Mississippi State @ Alabama (CBS): Well, the rubber meets the road here. I’ve been calling for Alabama to be #1 in the Playoff, and it hinges a lot on getting this victory. Miss State’s defense is good, but Alabama should find a little more breathing room for their attack than they had last week at LSU. I think this game will actually be relatively wide open, but in the end the Tide defense will make more stops and gut out the win.
- Nebraska @ Wisconsin (ABC): Nebraska is the 1-loss team no one is talking about, unless they’re talking about teams that no one is talking about. Others have also presciently pointed out over the past few weeks that Nebraska may regret the conference move a bit in hindsight, after all, TCU and Baylor are generating way more national buzz than Nebraska or anyone else in the Big Ten for that matter. What would really help the Huskers though is to get a win here. They’re slight underdogs but I’ve had them winning here in the bowl predictions for a while now.
- Oklahoma @ Texas Tech (ESPN): Texas Tech sports one of the worst defenses in the country. This… may get ugly.
- Memphis @ Tulane (ESPNU): Memphis is poised to be one of the American’s co-champions, and I suspect Tulane will be able to do little to stop them.
- Georgia Southern @ Navy (CBSS): Folks, I think Georgia Southern is pretty legit. They’re going to win the Sun Belt this year, except that they’re technically still in transition and thus not even bowl eligible unless there aren’t enough teams. They will almost certainly give Navy a run for their money but I’m not sure I can quite pull the trigger on saying they’ll win.
- Indiana @ Rutgers (BTN): These are two extremely mediocre teams. I’m go with Rutgers by a nose.
- New Mexico @ Utah State (ESPNEWS): When he was a broadcaster, Bob Davie said he would run an option offense, and by golly if he isn’t running an option scheme out of the pistol formation, Chris Ault-style. Utah State is probably going to beat them, though.
- Kentucky @ Tennessee (SEC): This seems like a good occasion to give a quick shoutout to my Mom, who waited in line in unseasonably bitterly cold temperatures for a chance to get some extremely rare products of Kentucky on my brother and I’s behalf. Even worse, it didn’t work out. Sorry. At any rate, I actually have Kentucky in this one, but these teams are pretty even I think.
6:00: Utah @ Stanford (Pac12): I think Stanford’s lack of offense will let them down again in this one.
7:00: Nevada-Las Vegas @ Brigham Young (ESPNU): Not a lot of hope for UNLV in this one.
7:15: Auburn @ Georgia (ESPN): The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry is back. Who will win? I have no idea, really. Both these teams can move the ball, that’s not really the issue. Georgia’s defense was solid all year until the nigh-inexplicable collapse against Florida, while Auburn hasn’t really slowed anyone down since September. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Georgia has yet to face any of the elite offenses in the SEC, and they did give up 70 points in two weeks against teams that ran the ball down their throats (Arkansas and Florida). Auburn’s attack is the strongest and most well-rounded they’ve faced all year, so I’m giving a slight edge to the Tigers.
- Texas @ Oklahoma State (FOX): Speaking of things I didn’t imagine a few weeks ago, I’ve actually got Texas here.
- Missouri @ Texas Agricultural and Mechanical (SEC): Mizzou’s best win of the year is still the not-as-good-as-it-looked at the time win over South Carolina. TAMU beat Auburn last week, but it wasn’t a sure thing. The key for these Tigers, as it was for the Tigers before them, will be trying to exploit TAMU’s woeful defense, but it’s not clear to me that they can. I’ve actually got A&M in this one.
- Florida State @ Miami (ABC): All Miami has done since losing to us is, well, look like Miami, really. They’ve dominated their opposition since, and in 9 games Duke Johnson has over 1200 yards rushing. (I still think he was sorely underutilized against us.) I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: this is not last year’s Florida State team. I still think they’re going to win, though.
- Louisiana State @ Arkansas (ESPN2): I still say Arkansas is going to beat someone they shouldn’t this year, but I lack the guts to actually make that call.
- South Florida @ Southern Methodist (CBSS): SMU is bad enough to even lose to the USFs of the world.
- Michigan State @ Maryland (BTN): Sparty will be out for blood against the halfway-decent Terps, and I suspect they’ll get it.
10:00: North Texas @ Texas-El Paso (FS1): A national audience? Sure, why not, it’ll give you some live football during the half-time of FSU-Miami. Also, I have UTEP.
10:15: San Diego State @ Boise State (ESPNU): Boise gets a chance to continue to make their case for the Other 5 spot.
10:45: Arizona State @ Oregon State (ESPN): The Beavers aren’t really very good this year. I would definitely think Arizona State covers the nine points here.