Welcome to a weekly in-season series looking at the coming weekend slate of college football games with observations and prognostications of varying degrees. This week, the SEC-SoConn Challenge is back…and it’s not ruining the week?
5 Reasons ‘Bama and Auburn Should Stop Playing SoConn Teams
The Iron Bowl As opposed to taking a bye week before their massive rivalry game, the Tigers and the Tide like to get a light scrimmage in. But why not challenge yourself so that your team knows the level of competition ahead and is playing big games in the most important time of year?
Talk the talk, walk the walk Nick Saban has railed against light non-conference schedules before. But while he challenges his team year in and year out, he tends to frontload his schedule, meaning he can sneak in a game against a nobody in November. The rest of the nation seems to have heard him, but maybe he needs to take his own advice.
Playoff last impressions While the Tigers and Tide basically get a week off, Ohio State can build on its already-impressive resume with a top-10 win over Penn State, and Georgia can beat a solid conference opponent in Texas A&M. We’ve seen with teams like Ohio State in ’14 that the last thing the committee sees can mean a lot. Especially for Alabama this year, it keeps you from getting behind the 8-ball to have your best opponents at the end.
Pulling an ACC What if, somewhere down the line, your conference stunk? Oregon seems to have been preparing for this with tougher non-conference schedules. While both Auburn and Alabama schedule well outside the SEC, you can always make it a little more challenging, or at least move the easier games to when the spotlight’s not as bright if you have to have one.
Take on the best in the FCS Elites in I-AA like North Dakota State, South Dakota State and James Madison have shown they’ll play anyone, anywhere. So why not welcome them in late in the season as opposed to 3-8 Western Carolina or 5-6 Samford? There’s nothing wrong with playing the little guys. But play the little guys that will make you work for it.
The 5 Best CFP Unranked Teams
Texas A&M This is the easy call. Few teams have played a tougher schedule, and the Aggies have bounced back from early losses to Clemson, Auburn and Alabama with 4 straight wins. If they keep rolling and upset Georgia, they won’t stay unranked.
Indiana Even with their backup quarterback, they nearly knocked off Penn State. Beating Michigan should get them inside the committee’s rankings, but #9WINDIANA would be enough of an accomplishment.
Navy Despite getting stomped by Notre Dame, the Midshipmen can still win the American and perhaps make it to the Cotton Bowl.
San Diego St It might not be pleasing to watch, but Rocky Long has the Aztecs still in play for the Mountain West.
Air Force Another Mountain West team that’s surprised so far, the Falcons keep on rolling, using the nation’s second-best rushing attack to get to 8-2. They’d need 2 big Boise upset losses, but they’re not out of it in the Mountain division.
5 Stats that Prove Pat Freiermuth and Kyle Pitts Should Be Mackey Award Finalists
7 Freiermuth’s touchdown catches, tied for fifth-best in the Big Ten among all receivers and the leader among B1G tight ends. Only 3 tight ends in the country have more TDs.
12.5 Freiermuth’s yards per reception, best among Big Ten tight ends. While there are tight ends that get used more, Freiermuth makes big plays with the chances he gets.
17/251 The catches and yards for Pitts against Florida’s 3 ranked opponents this season. Just because he doesn’t always get in the end zone doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a huge security blanket for Kyle Trask.
566 Total receiving yards for Pitts, leading a Gators offense that is 22nd in the nation in passing offense and trails only LSU and Alabama in the SEC.
8 & 11 The current rankings for their 2 teams. No other player who was actually named a semifinalist for the nation’s top tight-end award is on a ranked team. You can talk me into Brycen Hopkins, Hunter Bryant, Brevin Jordan and Harrison Bryant being on the list, but Freiermuth and Pitts have been studs who play on great teams as well.
The 5 Outcomes that Lead to Total Playoff Chaos
Clemson loses a game It would take an all-time upset for the Tigers to find a way to lose to the ACC championship game, and it would still be quite a stunner for South Carolina to win next week. But if they do get tripped up, the committee has shown it’s not too fond of the Tigers’ schedule. They might hate it enough that, even with just one loss, the reigning champions are out.
The Pac-12 has a multi-loss champion If Oregon or Utah loses over the next 2 weeks but still wins in Santa Clara, the league is likely out. They’d need a Georgia loss and the Big 12 to have a similar collapse to get back in.
Multi-loss Minnesota wins the Big Ten Should the Gophers be beaten in the next 2 weeks but then still make it to Indianapolis and stun Ohio State, the Buckeyes and Alabama could be stuck in a debate for the last spot. Or they both get in and snub both the Pac-12 and Big-12.
Georgia wins the SEC If LSU gets to 12-0, their spot in the playoff is likely secure, meaning the ‘Dawgs are either stealing a spot or going to the Sugar Bowl. But if they steal that spot and join the Bayou Bengals and Clemson, what happens to the fourth slot?
The Big 12 poisons the water Ohio State beats Penn State but loses to Michigan and 10-2 Wisconsin. Alabama loses the Iron Bowl. Texas A&M beats both Georgia and LSU, and the ‘Dawgs win the SEC at 11-2. The Pac-12 champion has 2 or more losses. Clemson suddenly can afford a loss so it doesn’t matter. The point of this madness is, after the defending champs, the next up…is likely a one-loss Big 12 title-holder. While they don’t need that level of chaos, Oklahoma and Baylor might waltz into the playoff if they got it.
5 (or More) Stone-Cold Locks for Week Thirteen
Record last week – Straight up: 20-4; ATS: 9-14-1
Kansas (+24.5) at Iowa State How do the Jayhawks keep running into ranked teams? Is it to help poor schmucks like me who can’t beat the spread? Maybe. Oklahoma State got it done just barely last week, but the Cyclones have shown you can’t ever fully trust them. KU scraps but never truly threatens. Iowa St 38, Kansas 17
Illinois (+16) at Iowa The Hawkeyes served up a Ferentz Special against Minnesota, but what happens when traditional underdogs come to Kinnick? A close game, at least this time around. Iowa 24, Illinois 17
Oklahoma State (-6) at West Virginia The Cowboys are a solid team, but they’ve also been the most confusing team to be consistently ranked by the playoff committee. Regardless of a lack of big wins, Chuba Hubbard is more than enough this week. Oklahoma St 38, West Virginia 24
Minnesota (-13.5) at Northwestern Whether or not starting quarterback Tanner Morgan plays, the Wildcats have been so bad on offense that you only need a few scores to win. The Gophers will refocus after their first loss. Minnesota 24, Northwestern 7
Central Florida (-6) at Tulane Do not sleep on the great job Willie Fritz has done in New Orleans. In a year where the American wasn’t so absurdly talented, the Green Wave might have a shot at 8 wins. But they’ll be bowling nonetheless, and they’ll have to be a victim once more. UCF 41, Tulane 28
Penn State (+18) at Ohio State If this is the biggest game of the weekend, why does it have that large a spread? The Buckeyes have been that good, and the Nittany Lions suffer if KJ Hamler is still hurting from a lack of weapons out wide and problems in the secondary. Even if has to be with his arm, Justin Fields will make the plays needed. Ohio St 34, Penn St 14
Texas State (+29) at Appalachian State It’s hard to go to Boone and win if you’re a good team. Virtually impossible for the 3-7 Bobcats. App St 49, Texas St 17
Boston College (+19) at Notre Dame The Irish didn’t seem like they’re going to blow out anybody, but then they wrecked Navy. Not sure I trust them to do it 2 weeks in a row. Notre Dame 31, Boston College 21
Louisiana Tech (-6.5) at Alabama-Birmingham The Blazers seem to have taken a step back from ruling Conference USA, and the Bulldogs emerged in their wake. But then Marshall dispatched of them easily. They might not win the division, but Bill Clark’s team is going to show how good they still are at home. UAB 37, LA Tech 34
Pittsburgh (+4) at Virginia Tech The ACC Coastal comes down to this game and the Commonwealth Cup. Justin Fuente has the Hokies humming, but in a year when they’re not as good and the conference has been nothing but comical, nothing better encapsulates the ACC in 2019 than back-to-back division champ PITT. LONG LIVE THE SUPERWEAPON. Pitt 27, Virginia Tech 24
Southern Methodist (+3.5) at Navy A monster game in the American, as either the Mustangs or the Midshipmen could win their way out into the Cotton Bowl. The Corps will be stinging from Notre Dame and will make it interesting, but I think Shane Buechele has more weapons around him. If Reggie Roberson is back from injury, wideout James Proche and tight end Kylen Granson have stepped up enough that there’s too much to slow down with the Ponies. SMU 38, Navy 35
California-Los Angeles (+14) at Southern California The Battle for L.A. went the Bruins’ way last year, but despite their recent surge in the Pac-12 South, they are not the better team in the City of Angels. USC 45, UCLA 35
Michigan (-9.5) at Indiana The Wolverines are on a roll, but they’ve done so without really making changes to their offense. That’s going to bite them down the stretch, and I think that includes this week. We didn’t get the upset we needed for #9WINDIANA last week, but it happens this go-around because Harbaugh. Indiana 27, Michigan 24
Texas (+5.5) at Baylor The Longhorn defense summoned one of its better performances of the season last week, and still UT fell to Iowa State. It’s hard to be confident that the Bears will stay in the playoff race, though. I think a shootout is coming, and this time Sam Ehlinger is on the right side of it. Texas 41, Baylor 38
Texas A&M (+13.5) at Georgia If the ‘Dawgs can finally get some consistency on offense, Kirby Smart’s defense is playing great. Not sure they have figured it out moving the ball, but they’ll do enough. Georgia 28, Texas A&M 27
California (+2.5) at Stanford It’s the Big Game, and there’s lots of great history. You should go read it instead of watching this version. Cal 17, Stanford 16
Memphis (-14.5) at South Florida The Bulls have made things tough the last 2 weeks on Temple and Cincinnati, and the Tigers started slow last week against Houston. But the way they closed showed Mike Norvell’s team will take care of business when it’s all said and done in Tampa. Memphis 38, USF 21
Purdue (+25) at Wisconsin It would be completely in character for the Badgers to suffer a rough day on offense and struggle with the Boilermakers. But the defense didn’t let Northwestern truly threaten in a similar game earlier this season. Same situation. Wisconsin 35, Purdue 7
Temple (+10) at Cincinnati An enormous game in the American’s East division. The Owls still have a shot to win the division with a head-to-head victory and the Bearcats’ Black Friday showdown with Memphis. But UC captures the East with a win on Senior Night. It hasn’t been pretty the last few weeks for Luke Fickell, but they just need to win out to get to the Cotton Bowl at this point. I think we get something similar. Cincinnati 28, Temple 24
Arkansas (+43.5) at Louisiana State Nothing would better sum up this rivalry, or Razorback football in general, than if the Hogs found a way to make this a close game. But the Bayou Bengal offense is humming to where, if you don’t score on every possession, you’re likely getting pummeled. LSU 56, Arkansas 21
Oregon (-14.5) at Arizona State The Ducks have settled into a groove and started hammering away at Pac-12 opponents. Not sure that, in a big spotlight, the Sun Devils will bend so easily, but the Big O’s going to keep on winning. Oregon 35, Arizona St 21
Texas Christian (+18) at Oklahoma The Sooners are alive and well, even if CeeDee Lamb sits out once again. Hopefully the defense avoids the slow start against Baylor. Oklahoma 49, TCU 28
Boise State (-9) at Utah State The Aggies have recovered from a slow middle patch to find themselves with a chance to still win the Mountain West. Jordan Love is a great quarterback, but the Broncos seem to have found a way to gut out games. Boise St 31, Utah St 28
Utah (-22.5) at Arizona Going to the desert late in the season with championship hopes often doesn’t end well. But the Utes are zeroed in. If they can wallop UCLA, they can roll in Tuscon. Utah 38, Arizona 10
San Diego State (+3) at Hawai’i Not only is this one of your last chances to stay up unreasonably late and watch weird football, but this game will likely decide a spot in the Mountain West championship game. The Rainbow Warriors are so much fun, while the Aztecs are quite the opposite. I’m going with my heart, not my head. Hawaii 31, San Diego St 30