#18 UCLA (4-1) at #15 Stanford (4-1) Thursday at 10:30 PM on ESPN
It’s rare to have a game featuring two teams coming off their bye week, but that’s exactly what we’ve got here. UCLA badly needed that week off to get healthy and regroup after taking their first loss of the season two weeks ago against Arizona State. Last time we saw Stanford they were pounding Arizona back into their place and looking more like the team we expect them to be.
I’ll be interested to see how the Bruins plan to stop a Cardinal offense that is unlike any other in the conference. Being able to run the ball consistently with Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders (not THE, but his son) has made life much easier for Kevin Hogan whose completion rate is north of 67 percent.
The Bruins have a whole fleet of backs led by Paul Perkins, whose reliability has been a stabilizer for freshman quarterback Josh Rosen. The kid came out guns blazing, looking like he was ready to set the world on fire, but has since reminded us that he is less than a year removed from playing high school football.
Tune in to find out which Pac-12 contender will be the first to take its second loss this season. It’s something to watch late Thursday night, and Fridays seem to take care of themselves anyway.
#17 Iowa (6-0) at #20 Northwestern (5-1) Saturday at 12:00 PM on ABC / ESPN2
You’re going to turn this game on for three main reasons. First of all, like me, you probably haven’t seen Iowa play yet. And why would we have? Kirk Ferentz never has what you’d consider an exciting team. But every few years his Hawkeyes rattle off a bunch of wins and end up factoring into the Big Ten discussion. This is starting to look like one of those seasons and a second win over a ranked conference opponent would obviously boost their resume.
Secondly, you’ll want to see how Northwestern rebounds from getting shutout by Michigan last week. The Wildcats’ hopes were high just a week ago, but the 38-0 drubbing sent them crashing back down to earth even faster than you’d expect. This game is crucial for their morale going forward.
Lastly, as is often the case, there is no better option in the noon timeslot. I mean, sure, you could watch Baylor roll up another 50-spot, or witness Florida State’s weekly routine of squeaking by an inferior ACC opponent, but those games aren’t real football. What you need is a hearty helping of Big Ten football, and lucky for you we’ve got that on tap.
#10 Alabama (5-1) at #9 Texas A&M (5-0) Saturday at 3:30 PM on CBS
This game, like so many others, will be won, or lost, in the trenches. The offensive lines will have to lead the way and here’s why:
Alabama needs to run the ball in order to move down the field consistently. Derrick Henry is a tank of a running back with a nose for the goal line, having rushed for at least one touchdown in each of the Tide’s six games. However, most of his big runs come on plays where his offensive line opens up a canyon for him to rumble through. If that doesn’t happen enough and Alabama has to rely on Jake Coker to convert third and longs, it could be a long day.
That’s because one of the nation’s top pass rushes will be lined up on the other side. Can’t-miss NFL prospect Myles Garrett already has 7.5 sacks on the young season. He’s the type of player you have to gameplan around or you’ll pay for it.
On the other side, A&M needs to figure out how to occupy the Alabama front seven which has allowed fewer than 78 yards rushing per game, good for fourth in the country. My guess is that quarterback Kyle Allen, whose shown flashes of being a capable runner, will have an increased role in the rushing attack for the Aggies.
Settle in. This is going to be quite the clash of SEC titans.
#7 Michigan State (6-0) at #12 Michigan (5-1) Saturday at 3:30 PM on ESPN
You like defense? Good, cause that’s what we’ve got in the great state of Michigan. The Wolverines are led by their corners. Jeremy Clark has three interceptions already. And Jourdan Lewis, who’s near the top of the leaderboard in passes defended, has a couple picks of his own. These two have been Michigan’s best players. They’ve kept opposing receivers on complete lockdown which has allowed the safeties and linebackers to step up and fill the holes to stop the run. This, more than anything else, has been the key to the Wolverines’ success.
Interestingly, Jim Harbaugh seems to be testing out the same formula the Spartans have been working on perfecting for years now. Nobody was better at single man coverage with no help over the top than State was the past several years. Now, whether it’s related to Pat Narduzzi’s departure or not, I don’t know. But the Spartans are struggling a bit with continuing that tradition. When they get beat, it’s the corners who’ve failed. It’s not exactly fair because they’re asked to do the bulk of the work, but that’s the system they play.
Shilique Calhoun has five sacks and is another pass rusher you’ll see playing on Sundays soon enough. There are only a handful of guys in the country who have racked up more tackles than junior linebacker Riley Bullough so far this fall. The rest of the defense is still just as ferocious as it’s always been under Mark Dantonio.
So, what’s going to break this game open? Quarterback play. Connor Cook and Jake Rudock are going to have to challenge those corners when they see the defense setting up in single man coverage. Whichever one is more successful doing so will provide his team with a distinct advantage. You do not want to miss this sibling rivalry.
#8 Florida (6-0) at #6 LSU (5-0) Saturday at 7:00 PM on ESPN
All of a sudden Florida’s promising season is up in the air. This week the Gators found out they will be without their quarterback Will Grier for a calendar year due to a failed drug test that found some kind of NCAA-banned substance. There are still questions about whether or not Grier knowingly took this PED, but frankly it doesn’t matter we’re here to talk about the game.
Thankfully, the Gator defense is still intact. They’ll need to step up and carry an even bigger load now. Charged with the task of slowing Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette, that’s the last thing the Gator defense needed to hear. At 14.3 points per game, Florida ranks eleventh in the nation in scoring defense. Staying true to that mark will be essential to winning this game.
You really can’t say enough about what Fournette has done in five games. He’s tied for the FBS-lead in rushing scores with 12. The sophomore (that’s right he’s got one more year before hitting the NFL) has run for almost 150 more yards than anyone else in the country despite playing one less game. Fournette is averaging 204 yards on the ground per game. I’ll repeat that. He is averaging 204 yards per game. That’s superhuman. The dude has been incredibly fun to watch and I can’t wait to see how he does against the best defense the Tigers have come across this fall.
LSU loves playing at home in primetime. For some reason the team gets a major boost when the lights are on. Florida certainly has their work cut out for them here, but I would not count them out.
Basically, this is as good as it gets in college football. We’ve got two top ten teams set to beat the tar out of each other until one of them breaks. As Mike Wilson would say, “Get your popcorn ready.”
The “Better as a Basketball Game” of the Week
Purdue (1-5) at Wisconsin (4-2) Saturday at 12:00 PM on Big Ten Network
You don’t want to watch this game do you? I didn’t think so. Wisconsin isn’t a bad team, but they’re not as good as they have been in recent years. At this point, I think the Badgers are better hoopers than they are footballers. Purdue, on the other hand, is miserable on the gridiron so their basketball team has no choice but to be better. Don’t worry Boilermaker fans; it’s almost time to tip-off your favorite season. Until then, enjoy getting bowled over on a weekly basis.