The Dozen: Pac-12's South Show
October 12, 2017
By Tony Mejia
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The second Saturday in October delivered a pair of upsets few saw coming. Iowa State took down Oklahoma despite starting a quarterback that has been a backup all season, sprinkling in a backup who had previously switched to linebacker. Michigan falling to Michigan State wasn't as big a shocker given the rivalry factor, but the Wolverines saw their national title hopes go up in smoke against a young Spartans team nowhere near as polished as others Mark Dantonio has assembled in East Lansing. This week's top matchups feature dangerous games for national contenders.
1. Utah at USC: Both of these schools suffered their first loss last week, which means the Pac-12's only undefeated teams reside in the state of Washington and play in the North Division. These two remain the favorites to claim the South and ultimately get back to a conference championship game. Potentially, a spot in the four-team playoff remains possible for the Trojans despite their Friday night loss to Washington State two weeks ago.
Sam Darnold rebounded from a rough outing by throwing for 328 yards and three scores in a 38-10 rout of Oregon State where they were up double-digits for the final 53:11. The Utes squandered opportunities to really capture national attention by taking down Stanford to come into this one undefeated. Although Utah's defense did a nice job against Heisman hopeful Bryce Love, holding him to "just" 152 yards, its offense couldn't punch it in the end zone on an 11-play drive and a 15-play drive, paying for settling for field goals by losing 23-20. They now have to respond in the Los Angelses Coliseum as Utah plays its first game of the season outside its home state. Kyle Whittingham has defeated the Trojans in two of the last three seasons and will definitely have a great game plan in store for Darnold, who is under pressure to demonstrate he can continue to put up prolific numbers while taking better care of the football.
Utah QB Tyler Huntley will start if he's able to, but Whittingham called him a "maybe" on Wednesday and had senior Troy Williams and Alabama transfer Cooper Bateman vying to start in splitting practice reps. Huntley will likely be a game-time decision after leaving the Sept. 22 road game at Arizona and returning with is arm in a sling. Williams squandered a lot of chances last week, while Bateman has yet to play. USC should have right tackle Chuma Edoga back in the lineup.
2. Auburn at LSU: One of the projected games of the year isn't quite what it was expected to be due to the early losses LSU suffered and the fact Auburn was so soundly beaten soundly at Clemson. Both do come off victories and feature talented defenses filled with players who are going to proceed to the next level. This battle of Tigers also features at least one national title contender since Auburn gets to host Georgia and Alabama in November, which means it essentially controls its own destiny if it can avoid a second loss. After an uninspiring start that included a 24-10 home win against FCS lightweight Mercer, Gus Malzahn's team has beaten Mizzou, Mississippi State and Ole Miss by a combined margin of 144-47.
Head coach Ed Orgeron's seat in Baton Rouge grew scalding hot following a Homecoming loss to Troy, but his Tigers went on the road last week and pulled out a victory over Florida. This is definitely a crossroads game for his staff and young roster, who will now put their goods on display against the most talented opponent they've seen to date. The home team has won 15 of 17 in the series, so Auburn is going to have to overcome a rough history at Tiger Stadium to keep its championship dreams alive. It hasn't won there since 1999, but is favored in Baton Rouge for the first time this century. QB Jarrett Stidham has thrown five TD passes since throwing his last interception on Sept. 16. He threw for just 79 yards in the loss at Clemson, so getting him off to a strong start on the road should be a major focus. Kerryon Johnson, who has scored 11 TDs over the past three weeks, will remain Auburn's top RB ahead of the injured Kammryn Pettway, who has carried only once since injuring his ankle on Sept. 16.
3. Georgia Tech at Miami (FL): Malik Rosier found fellow junior Darrell Langham on the final pass he was going to throw in regulation against Florida State in Tallahassee. If it was incomplete, the plan was to send one of the nation's most effective kickers out for the game-tying field goal. Instead, Langham caught it, reached for the goal line and was ruled to have crossed it before his knee hit. Replays proved too inconclusive to overturn the ruling on the field, which rightfully prevailed and the touchdown was deemed good. Miami won and covered as a road favorite, snapping a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry as FSU's disastrous season continued.
This matchup was originally expected to be played on Thursday night, but the ACC moved it back to Saturday because the 'Canes would've been put at too great a disadvantage playing just days after what was originally scheduled to be a day off but instead wound up being the date for the matchup with the Seminoles to be rescheduled for following the Sept. 16 cancellation due to Hurricane Irma. The Yellow Jackets will still be the more rested team since they haven't played since dominating North Carolina on Sept. 30, but at least Miami won't have to turn around and play a mid-week game. Considering UM has to replace top rusher Mark Walton, who is now out for the season after ankle surgery, this is going to be a huge challenge given the lack of preparation time for the fairly unique offense Georgia Tech runs. Sophomore Travis Homer is expected to get the first crack at replacing Walton. Three other starters, OL Navaugh Donaldson, S Sheldrick Redwine and CB Dee Delaney will all miss this game for Miami, testing its depth.
Both teams top the ACC's Coastal Division at 2-0, so the winner here moves into the driver's seat to secure a spot opposite Clemson or N.C. State in December's conference championship game. Miami has won seven of eight meetings in the series, losing in Atlanta in 2014. This will be Georgia Tech's first true road game. It is 1-6 in these over the last two seasons. The 'Canes are beginning a stretch where they'll play five of six games at Hard Rock Stadium, with Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Virginia all coming to town next month.
4. Oklahoma vs. Texas: This year's installment of the Red River Rivalry would've topped this list if not for what transpired in Norman last Saturday. Iowa State had lost 18 consecutive games against the Sooners and was a 31-point underdog considering its starting QB had walked away from the team abruptly, citing medical reasons, before what promised to be their toughest road game of the season. There's no way to deny that Oklahoma was caught looking ahead to this annual showdown in Dallas, which is where they've grown most accustomed to blowing undefeated seasons, having dropped games to the unranked Longhorns in two of the last four years.
Texas has lost to Maryland and USC already and narrowly avoided coming into this one under .500 by rallying to hold off Kansas State in double-OT on Saturday night. This matchup will feature coaches tasting this rivalry game for the first time in the head seat with Tom Herman and Lincoln Riley squaring off. Two first-year head coaches haven't squared off in this series since 1947. Oklahoma dropped from third to No. 12 in the AP poll and has its work cut out for it to try and get back in the college football playoff mix. Former Heisman favorite Baker Mayfield had a rough second half against the Cyclones, contributing to OU's demise by leading only one drive that ended in a touchdown over the game's final 30 minutes. He's thrown 15 touchdown passes and has yet to be picked off this season, but failed to generate a play longer than 30 yards against Iowa State. The Austin native has only defeated the Longhorns once in three tries, losing as a true freshman at Texas Tech and splitting a pair of matchups while at OU. He accounted for four TDs in last season's 45-40 win.
Texas true freshman QB Sam Ehlinger passed for over 300 yards and ran for over 100 to spark the comeback win over K-State, continuing to separate himself in the race for snaps between the many talented options Texas has at the position. Although Shane Buechele was listed as a potential starter, look for Ehlinger to get the nod. A head-to-head matchup against Mayfield offers him an opportunity to remove all doubt, not to mention moving to 3-0 in Big 12 play before Oklahoma State arrives in Austin for another showdown.
5 TCU at Kansas State: With the Sooners favored over the Longhorns, there's a good chance that the Horned Frogs will be the only undefeated team in Big 12 play when Saturday's action is in the books. To make it happen, they'll need to find a way to survive this trip to Manhattan, something they managed to do in 2015 on a 55-yard score with 1:10 remaining to win 52-45. The Wildcats won in Fort Worth 30-6 in last year's regular-season finale and have prevailed in three of five games in the series since TCU joined the conference. Gary Patterson is a K-State alum who gets mentioned as a potential successor to the legendary Bill Snyder, but that doesn't seem likely given the success he's managed at TCU, especially since he survived a lull and appears headed for a third season with double-digit wins in four years.
K-State senior starter Jesse Ertz is dealing a knee issue that has lingered all season, so sophomore backup QB Alex Delton is expected to get the start. Ertz is tough and a solid field general, but the speedy Delton is a dynamic runner, coming off a two-touchdown game against Texas. He's not the passer Ertz is, so we'll see if the Horned Frogs can capitalize and force Kansas State to be one-dimensional. The Wildcats are hoping to take out a Top-10 team for the first time since '06. TCU senior QB Kenny Hill became the fourth player in Big 12 history to score TDs via pass, catch and run in Saturday's 31-24 win over West Virginia.
6. Oregon at Stanford: Love legitimately has a chance to win the Heisman trophy despite his Cardinal already having suffered a pair of losses. He's already run for 1,240 yards, but it's key that he performs well to help Stanford take care of business against the banged up Ducks here since a bye week is up next and immense games against Washington State, Washington and Notre Dame will keep him in the national spotlight in November. Stanford still controls its destiny in the North Division and can drop Oregon to 1-3. The Pac-12 is monitoring potential air quality issues due to the awful wildfires that have spread in the area.
If the game isn't affected, the Cardinal will have to overcome the absence of DT Harrison Phillips and LB Peter Kalambayi, who were each tossed in the final few minutes of the win at Utah. First-year Ducks head coach Willie Taggart, who came up as a Stanford assistant before leaving the conference for head coaching stints at WKU and USF, returns to the Farm with a true freshman starting quarterback making his road debut. With Justin Herbert out a few more weeks with a broken collarbone, Braxton Burmeister will get the call as he looks to improve from a rough first outing in a 33-10 home loss to Washington State. Getting top WR Charles Nelson back from an ankle injury should help his chances of finding a rhythm. Stanford won last season's game 52-27, snapping a two-game losing streak in the series.
7. Navy at Memphis: The Midshipmen avoided what would've been a devastating loss to Air Force, scoring on a Zach Abey TD pass to Tyler Carmona with 16 seconds left. Navy had led most of the afternoon before a stunning Falcons comeback in front of the largest crowd at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. There may be a hangover here given the emotion expended in the win, and it doesn't help that this will be the Academy's toughest road game to date.
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Abey ranks second in the country in rushing yards per game (174) behind Stanford's Love (206.7), racking up 870 yards, by far the most among quarterbacks. His ability to dominate running the triple option has been the driving force behind the 5-0 start, but the Middies are about to be tested through the air by Memphis' Riley Ferguson here and UCF's McKenzie Milton next week as they get the two most prolific passing attacks on their schedule back-to-back. Navy has won consecutive games in this series the past two years, scoring over 40 each time. The Middies spoiled the Tigers' 8-0 start on their last visit in '15 and have rushed for over 900 yards combined in the two wins.
Despite being winless against Navy since it joined the American, Memphis is favored. They've got a number of key defensive players out but hope to have LB Curtis Akins and DT O'Bryan Goodson available to help slow down the triple option.
8. Boise State at San Diego State: If the Aztecs win this one, an undefeated regular-season would be a near certainty if they stay healthy. Their remaining road games will come in Honolulu and San Jose, while the toughest team to come through town based on what we've seen so far will be New Mexico, which rolls in for the regular-season finale post-Thanksgiving. With wins over Arizona State, Stanford, Air Force and NIU already in their pocket, they could end up as the highest-ranked "Group of Five" team if the USF-UCF winner doesn't wind up undefeated.
These teams haven't played since 2014, and in that time San Diego State has won consecutive Mountain West Championship games, replacing the Broncos as the conference power. Boise State suffered only their second loss on the blue turf in a 43-game span back in 2012 and is just 2-2 against SDSU all-time. Center Mason Hampton missed the team's last game, adding to a lack of cohesion up front since the offensive line has had to juggle pieces all season. The defense will have to key on containing Aztecs star RB Rashaad Penny, who ranks second behind Love with 993 rushing yards, scoring nine touchdowns.
9. Texas Tech at West Virginia: These teams are each enjoying strong seasons and have played at an extremely high level. The Red Raiders are 4-0-1 against the number, while the Mountaineers have lost 31-24 decisions against Virginia Tech and TCU and scored 56 or more points in blowout wins against overmatched East Carolina, Delaware State and Kansas. The winner of this avoids a second Big 12 loss and gets to hang around in what looks like a wide open Big 12 race.
Kliff Kingsbury defeated West Virginia in Morgantown in his first season on the Red Raiders' first trip into town but hasn't beaten his old coach Dana Holgorsen's team since, dropping three straight. Holgorsen was on the offensive staff at Texas Tech when Kingsbury was the school's quarterback nearly two decades ago. It's Homecoming week for the Mountaineers, who will wear throwback gold uniforms as they aim to bounce back from their loss in Fort Worth. The Red Raiders are nationally-ranked for the first time since '13 but are a slight underdog on the road. Both offenses are capable of putting up big numbers, so look for the play of QBs Nic Shimonek and Will Grier to decide things.
10. Ohio State at Nebraska: For the second straight week, the 'Huskers are a dobule-digit home underdog, which is going over as well as you might expect around that proud program in Lincoln. The 24 points the Buckeyes are laying makes them the heaviest road favorite ever to take the field at Memorial Stadium. Whether that speaks more of what the books think of Nebraska's current team or their respect for the Buckeyes as a bully is a worthy debate topic but the facts are that NU is 0-4 against the spread at home this season, while Ohio State has defeated each of its five victims by 28 more points, dropping its last two, Rutgers and Maryland, by a combined margin of 118-14.
Nebraska lost 38-17 against Wisconsin, surrendering the final 21 points after wearing down on the defensive front. The Buckeyes won last season's game in Columbus 62-3 as a 17-point favorite, but this is only their second-ever trip to Lincoln, where the 'Huskers hadn't lost a home night game since 2008 prior to last week. Urban Meyer's Ohio State teams have averaged 62.5 points in their two victories over NU, which won 34-27 in 2011 the only time it hosted a game in this series.
11. Washington at Arizona State: The Huskies are right there with Penn State, Alabama, Georgia and Clemson among the country's top ranked scoring defenses, surrendering 10.2 points per game. They have won road games at Rutgers, Colorado and Oregon State, who are a combined 5-12 and have yet to win in conference play in its respective leagues. As a result, we won't really know how seriously to take this team until after their bye week.
This will be Washington's final game before it settles in for a season-defining stretch against the Pac-12's most talented teams not named USC. This also happens to be their next-to-last true road game, played against a Sun Devils team that had won 10 straight in the series before last season's 44-18 defeat. The Huskies haven't won in Tempe since 2001 and will count on their defense to hold down a speedy ASU offense that helped take down Oregon in its last home game on Sept. 23.
12. Clemson at Syracuse: Junior QB Kelly Bryant rolled his ankle in last Saturday's win over Wake Forest, and although there had been no update on his availability for Friday night's road game at the Carrier Dome until late in the week, he's finally been cleared to start. Bryant is the team's leading rusher and has accounted for 11 touchdowns.
Backups Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson each played against the Demon Deacons, with Johnson completing all five of his passes and throwing for a touchdown, but Dabo Swinney hopes to be able to rely on his veteran presence on the road. The Orange have already danced with a few big boys in losing on the road at LSU and NC State, covering each time by hanging within single-digits as a double-figure underdog. Coming off a 27-24 home win over Pitt, Syracuse is attempting to win consecutive games for only the second time under Dino Babers. It did upset nationally-ranked Virginia Tech at home last season as a 20-point 'dog.
Others: Purdue at Wisconsin, Washington State at Cal, NC State at Pittsburgh, Texas A&M at Florida, UCLA at Arizona, Michigan State at Minnesota, Florida State at Duke, Vanderbilt at Ole Miss, BYU at Mississippi State, Baylor at Oklahoma State, Arkansas at Alabama, Missouri at Georgia.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA
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