This is a weekly series of five lists of essential information for the coming college football weekend. This week, the conference games are here and booooooy are they good.
Five Reasons Lamar Jackson Can Keep Putting Up Ridiculous Numbers
He’s a better runner than passer The numbers that matter most to the Louisville quarterback’s torrid start: 318, 9.9 and six. That’s the rushing yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns Jackson has amassed in the first two games, fresh off a freshman season where he ran for 980 yards and 11 touchdowns in part-time duty. Jackson’s still learning how to beat defenses with his arm, so the fact that no one has slowed his legs down is a good sign.
He catches defense sleeping on early downs On first downs with an average distance of eight to 10 yards or more, Jackson has completed 21 of 30 passes (an even 70%) for 468 yards and five touchdowns while also rushing for 210 yards and an average of just over 13 yards per carry. Defenders have to be aware that the playbook is wide open for Jackson on first down, and the ball could end up anywhere with big-play results.
He has two of the most underrated tackles in the nation Florida State proved against Ole Miss it has more than enough athletes to attack a mobile quarterback, led by pass-rushing menace Demarcus Walker. But Jackson will have left tackle Geron Christian to protect his blind side. The 6’6″, 314-pound sophomore has started all 15 games of his college career and has proven to be much better than anyone could have expected, earning All-ACC honorable mention after having just two years of high school ball under his belt. Throw in 6’6″, 316-lb redshirt sophomore Lukayus McNeil at right tackle, and pass rushers will have an even tougher time catching the already-elusive Jackson (read this great profile of McNeil by ESPN.com’s Jared Shanker here).
ACC defenses look a little suspect Only two teams-Boston College and Miami-are allowing less than 200 yards per game, and the conference as a whole is surrendering an average of 306 yards per game. Jackson will only see one or two truly elite defenses like the Seminoles the rest of the season, so he has a chance to put up bigger numbers as he progresses throughout the year.
He doesn’t make costly decisions Jackson’s completion percentage is on the rise, up five points from last year, and he’s only thrown nine interceptions in 14 college games and 309 career pass attempts. He also doesn’t fumble much as a runner, so game-changing turnovers will be hard to come by for opposing defenses.
Five Things Oklahoma Has to Do to Beat Ohio State
Don’t turn the ball over Ohio State leads the nation with seven interceptions and a +7 turnover margin through the first two games. Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker have proven to be feisty ball hawks for the Buckeyes, so QB Baker Mayfield has to be careful with where he puts the ball.
Get Joe Mixon more involved One safe way to avoid turnovers is to hand the ball off, and one Sooner who needs to see the ball more often is the 6’1″, 226-lb sophomore. He does lead OU in rushing yards with 157 and is averaging 15 yards per reception, but most of those touches came in the first half of the loss to Houston. If offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley wants to beat the Buckeye defense, he needs to use Mixon’s potential to the fullest.
Know where Curtis Samuel is at all times The versatile junior not only leads Ohio State in receiving with 239 yards (17 yards per catch), but he’s also rushed for 162 yards and is averaging just under 8 yards a carry. Urban Meyer has used dynamic players with world-class speed all over the field before, going back to his Florida days with Percy Harvin and more recently with Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall, and Samuel is the next X-factor defenses have to find if they don’t want to get burned.
Watch out for the pass over the top Of J.T. Barrett’s six touchdown passes, five have traveled at least 25 yards. Barrett is averaging just over nine yards per pass attempt, so the Bucks are more than capable of going deep off of play action.
Make the game come down to a field goal kick Senior Tyler Durbin is a first-time kicker who’s yet to attempt a field goal from outside of 29 yards. Forcing him to take his first long kick on the road in a hostile environment with the game on the line heavily favors the Sooners.
Five Teams that Need to Play Better This Week
Clemson You can excuse the lack of fireworks to open the season on the road against an improved Auburn defense, but Troy? Really, Tigers? Deshaun Watson issued a public apology for the team’s performance through the first two weeks, which might be a bit too much, but the offense does need to pick it up, especially rushing the ball, where their 136.5-yards-per-game average is tied for 92nd in the country.
Tennessee The Volunteers spotted Virginia Tech a 14-0 lead one week after escaping Appalachian State in overtime. If Ohio gives them trouble, you might want to think about putting some money on Florida making it 12 in a row.
LSU The defense has been quietly solid, but the offense’s woes for the last year finally reached a breaking point for Les Miles, as quarterback Brandon Harris was benched for Purdue transfer Danny Etling last week against Jacksonville State. Leonard Fournette is back, and Derrius Guice had a stellar game in his place a week ago, but unless Etling can help the passing game take the next step, even this week’s home date with Mississippi State might be a tall task.
Georgia Kirby Smart can’t pick a quarterback heading into the first true road game of the season. Not great. Whether it’s Jacob Eason or Greyson Lambert under center, the Bulldogs have to do better than only beating Nicholls State by two if they want to come out of Missouri unscathed.
Arizona An opening-week loss at the horn to BYU was followed up by a lackluster effort against Grambling State. If Hawaii comes to Tuscon and makes some noise, Rich Rodriguez might want to start looking over his shoulder.
Five Players That Will Be Crucial to Their Team’s Success This Week
Matt VandeBerg, WR, Iowa North Dakota State remains the class of the FCS, so the Hawkeyes don’t have it easy this week. C.J. Beathard needs to continue to play smart, which means continuing to find his security blanket VandeBerg, whose 11 catches is five more than any other Iowa receiver.
A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss The 6’1″ freshman has big-play potential, exactly what Chad Kelly and the Rebels need to if they want to make it three straight against Alabama.
Devonte Fields, OLB, Louisville Last time the junior pass rusher saw a young pocket passer like Deondre Francois, he had three sacks in the Music City Bowl versus Texas A&M. The Cardinals need the pass rush to rattle Francois the way it did in the first half of FSU’s win over Ole Miss.
Torii Hunter Jr., WR, Notre Dame The most experienced target for the Fighting Irish is back from a concussion suffered versus Texas and will need to get open if Deshone Kizer wants to move the ball against the always-stingy defense of Michigan State.
Darreus Rogers, WR, USC JuJu Smith-Schuster gets all the attention at receiver for the Trojans, and rightfully so, but Rogers proved last week against Utah State he can be an excellent second option. He will need to get loose to help the Men of Troy sling it around The Farm against Stanford.
Five (or More) Stone-Cold Locks
Record on the Season: 17-5
Houston (-7.5) at Cincinnati Greg Ward Jr.’s back, which means the Cougars will be running at full speed. Hayden Moore will sling it enough for the Bearcats to score some points and make this fun for a while, but Tom Herman has too good a team this year for a let down. Houston 45, Cincinnati 24
North Dakota State at Iowa The Bison always come to play for their annual FBS road trip, but the Hawkeyes have looked better than many expected to start the year. Iowa 27, North Dakota St 17
Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State (-6) The last-second loss that never should have been against Central Michigan was a just a precursor of things to come. The Cowboys don’t have what it takes to slow down James Conner and the Panthers’ multifaceted run game Pitt 31, Oklahoma St 17
Miami FL (-3.5) at Appalachian State The Hurricanes have blown away their first two opponents, led by RB Mark Walton’s five TDs. But this is easily the biggest home game in program history for the Mountaineers. Kidd Brewer Stadium, AKA “The Rock,” will be rocking, and App State will get the upset they missed out on against Tennessee. App St 31, Miami 28
Florida State (-2) at Louisville Jackson will put on a show, but the ‘Noles are just too talented. It was enough to get out of a 22-point hole in Week One, and it will be just enough here, with Dalvin Cook having his first big game of the year to remind you he’s still a legitimate Heisman candidate. Florida St 34, Louisville 31
Alabama (-10.5) at Ole Miss Jalen Hurts’ first career road game is something to ponder, as is Hugh Freeze’s success against Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide are also stacked with the best roster in the country, which is a thing you should ponder more. Alabama 38, Ole Miss 21
Oregon at Nebraska (-3) That the Ducks are road ‘dogs according to Vegas is a little surprising. Dakota Prukop has looked solid leading the high-powered offense in Eugene to 97 points in the first two games. What’s not surprising is the development of Huskers signal-caller Tommy Armstrong, who looks much more comfortable as a passer this year and should have enough tricks up his sleeve to win a shootout. Nebraska 41, Oregon 34
Texas A&M vs Auburn (-3) The Tigers look improved, but the big challenge now comes when Myles Garrett and a ferocious Aggie defense roll into town. Throw in a good start to the year for QB Trevor Knight, and Kevin Sumlin has a team that can make some noise in the SEC West. Texas A&M 35, Auburn 21
Mississippi State at LSU (-14) The Bulldogs so far have lost to South Alabama and hung on at the end to beat South Carolina. Relief is on the way, Bayou Bengals. LSU 31, Miss St 7
UCLA (-3) at BYU Josh Rosen has already faced one tough road test this year and come up short. A second would seriously damage any playoff hopes the Bruins still hold to. Sadly, Taysom Hill has a flair for making that sort of damage occur. BYU 28, UCLA 24
Georgia (-6.5) at Missouri Tigers QB Drew Lock absolutetly torched Eastern Michigan last week, but he’ll need some help in the trenches. Mizzou has to run the ball better and stop the run if they want to knock off UGA, and that’s something Nick Chubb won’t let happen easily…unless Lock goes off again 😉 Mizzou 31, Georgia 24
Texas (-8) at California Texas road games matter again! Davis Webb can sure spin that magic bean, but the Golden Bears’ defense is bad enough to lose a shootout with grind-it-out San Diego State. Why can’t Shane Buechele and the Longhorns come to Berkeley and light it up as well? Texas 45, Cal 31
USC at Stanford (-8.5) Clay Helton needs a statement win to prove the Trojans are a program to be reckoned with again. It’s not coming against Christian McCaffrey, especially when he’s looking to do better than his 206 all-purpose yards against Kansas State. Stanford 31, USC 14
Michigan State at Notre Dame (-8) The Irish look right again with Kizer taking the snaps, and Sparty looked mighty suspect in a close home win against Furman Notre Dame 34, Michigan St 17
Ohio State (-1.5) at Oklahoma The closest line of the week should also provide the best game. Mayfield and Barrett will duel in a heck of a matchup, but the Buckeyes have a more talented defense, which will get just enough stops to earn a win. Ohio State 31, Oklahoma 28