#2 Alababma (8-1) at #17 Mississippi State (7-2) Saturday 3:30pm on CBS
Alabama made a loud statement last week by shutting down LSU completely. Mississippi State, who’s lost to those Tigers and the Aggies of A&M, has since rattled off four straight wins during the midseason lull in their schedule. Winning here would give them, Ole Miss and LSU new life in the crowded SEC West race.
This game features two of my favorite offensive players in the country. Alabama running back Derrick Henry, fresh off a 210-yard, three-touchdown performance, is finally getting some Heisman hype of his own. Most everyone was focused on Leo Fournette this time last week, but by out-rushing the former frontrunner by 179 yards, Henry has shifted the attention to him. It’s time for him to follow it up with another stellar game on the ground to let everyone know he’s for real.
On the other side, watch out for (who else) quarterback Dak Prescott. He’s really the only hope the Bulldogs have in this game. The senior leads his team in passing and rushing yards, and I’m sure he would lead in receiving too if they had someone who could throw it to him consistently. He’s also been responsible for 25 touchdowns this season. For his team to have a chance in this one, Prescott has to go off.
This is the best chance all you Alabama haters have to see the Tide slip up again. Tune in to hear Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson on the call.
#21 Memphis (8-1) at #24 Houston (9-0) Saturday 7:00pm on ESPN 2
Memphis ruined any shot they had at the playoff by losing to Navy last week. Meanwhile, Houston’s 20-point win over SMU was much closer than the score suggests. This matchup will likely be a battle of two great junior quarterbacks.
Memphis’ Paxton Lynch is getting some mention as a top QB in this year’s draft class if he decides to declare. It’s hard to argue that based on his body of work. He’s one of eight guys in the country who’ve thrown for more than 3000 yards. He’s ninth in completion percentage at 68.9. And with 19 touchdowns on just two interceptions he takes care of the ball too. A signature game in front of a national audience would validate his high draft stock.
Greg Ward Jr. is just as prolific, though his game is much different. Ward is that dual-threat that we’ve seen open up the NFL to new possibilities. At 70.4 percent, he ranks second in completion rate. He’s the top rushing quarterback in the nation outside of Navy’s Keenan Reynolds who has an unfair advantage, running the triple option. To average 92 yards per game on the ground as a QB is just sick. The Tiger defense is going to have to keep a spy on Ward all night if they hope to hold him in check.
All of a sudden Memphis finds itself third in the division, needing a win here and a Navy loss to have a shot at the AAC West crown. Houston, on the other hand, still has dreams of an undefeated season and a playoff spot. This is easily the biggest game in the AAC’s brief history.
Oregon (6-3) at #7 Stanford (8-1) Saturday 7:30pm on Fox
Oregon is finally playing well. They’ve won three in a row, but a fourth will be difficult. Stanford is really good.
The Cardinal calling card has always been a stout defense. Now that they’ve added offensive firepower to their arsenal they’re an absolute nightmare of an opponent. They can, and will, pound you between the tackles with Christian McCaffrey who averages 134 yards per game. That’s made life so much easier for Kevin Hogan who’s completing 66 percent of his passes now that most of them come off a play action fake.
The Ducks are finally getting the production they need from Vernon Adams, which is good news because they’re going to have to outscore the Cardinal to win this one. In the last three games he’s thrown 10 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. Like McCaffrey does for Hogan, Royce Freeman opens up opposing defenses for Adams. The sophomore standout has rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of nine games this fall, with a pair of touchdowns in four of those seven.
It’s been a disappointing season for the Ducks but they’ve still got a chance to spoil Stanford’s playoff party plans. There should be a fair amount of bad blood in Palo Alto.
#12 Oklahoma (8-1) at #6 Baylor (8-0) Saturday 8:00pm on ABC
The Baylor Bears have been waiting to prove themselves all season, but the Sooners have needed to prove themselves since taking a terrible loss to Texas.
This is the first of three gauntlet games that round out Oklahoma’s schedule. They’ve got TCU coming to town next week and they’re headed to Stillwater for Bedlam against Oklahoma State in two weeks. All three are huge obviously, but a loss here would significantly detract from the next two. A quick note on quarterback Baker Mayfield: he’s completing 70 percent of his passes and averaging 10 yards per attempt. That combination is astounding and needless to say, no one else is even close to that sort of production.
Baylor’s offensive machine is now operating with a backup quarterback. Freshman Jarrett Stidham has the keys now after Seth Russell was injured two weeks ago. He exceeded expectations last week against a formidable Kansas State defense. He’ll need to be even better against hands down the best defense the Bears have seen all season.
Baylor also has a bumpy road ahead with trips to Oklahoma State and TCU, and a game against Texas on conference championship weekend that looks like the perfect opportunity to trip them up if they’re somehow still standing. The odds are stacked against them, but that’s pretty much what they asked for. Let’s see how they handle it.
Washington State (6-3) at #19 UCLA (7-2) Saturday 10:45pm on ESPN
Don’t pass out early. The nightcap should be fun too.
Washington State has been entertaining this year. At an astronomical 56.9 attempts and 417.3 yards a game, nobody throws it around the lot like the Cougars. What else would you expect from a Mike Leach offense? Luke Falk is another one of those guys completing passes at a 70 percent clip, but when you air it out 56 times a game it brings a whole new meaning to the stat. UCLA’s defense has been banged up all season. Falk and company will be aiming to take advantage.
UCLA is still alive despite back-to-back losses to Arizona State and Stanford. They still control their own destiny with games at Utah and at USC after Wazoo. Sure it’s tough to ask them to go out and win those last two, but that’s what championship teams do.
Josh Rosen has become a must-watch player for me. He can make all the throws. It’s clear he’s got the talent. Now it’s a matter of him progressing as a quarterback, not just a thrower. He has to learn how to diagnose defensive schemes and figure out how to consistently move his team down the field in order to take that next step. I’m excited to see if he can do it.
Do the Bruins come out flat and fall on their faces again, or have they gotten their act together? Stay up late to find out.