College Essentials - Week 4
September 22, 2018
By Tony Mejia
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The major upsets we hadn’t seen through the first two weekends in September arrived minutes apart last Saturday, decided by 42-yard field goals on the final play. LSU’s Cole Tracy made his, knocking off Auburn. The Big Ten’s top kicker, Wisconsin’s Rafael Gaglianone, misfired on his attempt, failing to force overtime as the Badgers fell victim at home to 23.5-point underdog BYU.
Both can still get back in the national title picture since they’ve lost early enough to recover. The Tigers can skyrocket up the rankings in November but would have to win at Georgia and Alabama. The Badgers play at Michigan and Penn State in addition to a Big Ten Championship date with the East champ if they hold serve as the West favorite.
This coming week features a number of excellent SEC matchups, but Saturday’s best game will supply the Pac-12’s top national title contender. Here are the games to watch.
Stanford at Oregon, 8 p.m. ET, ABC: This one may come down to the wire since the books appear undecided, favoring the Ducks at home by 1.5/2 points when this line was unveiled before swinging in the Cardinal’s direction. Stanford RB Bryce Love sat out last week’s win against UC-Davis in order to ensure he’d be fresh and ready for this one, while the Ducks went through the motions against San Jose State, failing to cover a spread of over 40 points after taking an early lead.
ESPN’s popular College Gameday program will originate from Eugene, where the home team will look to complete a return to relevance following a few down seasons. In QB Justin Herbert, Oregon has perhaps the best QB prospect in college football, so this might end up as his national coming out party since the Stanford secondary is about to be tested in a way it hasn’t been in impressive wins over San Diego State and USC. New Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal will be at the helm for the biggest game of his career, which means David Shaw and his staff could give the Cardinal an edge given their experience. On the road, that can’t hurt. Oregon looks like it will be closer to full strength with WR Brenden Schooler likely to return from concussion protocol and kicker Adam Stack returning from a leg issue. Stanford must overcome the loss of starting outside linebacker Casey Toohill, who will miss about a month due to a broken arm and will be replaced by redshirt sophomore Jordan Fox. Love, however, has been declared “100 percent.” Rain in expected throughout the day but isn’t likely to be a factor come kickoff.
Georgia at Missouri, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN: Although Kentucky has emerged as a factor, these teams were expected to be the SEC East’s beasts when the season began and have lived up to billing. Although the Tigers frustrated backers last week by squeaking out a win at Purdue on a field goal when they could’ve punched in a touchdown that would’ve secured a cover, QB Drew Lock has his team unbeaten and is putting up big numbers despite the fact last year’s offensive coordinator, Josh Heupel, replaced Scott Frost at UCF. Mizzou has flourished despite the change and looks to test a Dawgs secondary that had their way with South Carolina’s Jake Bentley in the team’s first true test. With a No. 1 WR in Emanuel Hall, a strong slot threat in Johnathan Johnson and an x-factor at tight end in Albert Okwuegbunam, Lock has options to test Georgia with. Hall, who aggravated a groin injury at Purdue but should be fine here, leads the SEC in yards per route run (5.97). Left tackle Yasir Durant (ankle) and corner DeMarkus Acy (concussion) are likely to play.
Georgia won last year’s meeting by scoring 26 consecutive points to snap a 21-21 tie and raked up almost 700 yards in Athens. Missouri has only beaten Georgia once in eight career meetings and surrendered a ridiculous 572 passing yards against Boilermakers QB David Blough, the second largest total in Big Ten history. It is hoping to hold its own against UGa’s Jake Fromm and will have to deal with top Dawgs WR Terry Godwin, who is working through a shin contusion. Left tackle Andrew Thomas (ankle) is also a go.
Wisconsin at Iowa, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX: Some of the shine wore off this matchup as a result of the Badgers going down against BYU, but this is still the Big Ten opener for both West Division powers and the winner will be in the driver’s seat to wind up playing in the conference title game. The Hawkeyes have been remarkably stingy this season, ranking among the national leaders in many defensive categories while not allowing only three touchdowns scored in garbage time with the game already decided in the fourth quarter through the first three games. Over the course of the first three quarters of their first three games, Iowa has surrendered just three points.
The Badgers haven’t been terribly productive but will try and make things happen by pounding Iowa with their Jonathan Taylor-led rushing attack. Last year’s game produced a 38-14 Wisconsin blowout for its fifth series win in six tries. Iowa was held to season lows in rushing yards, passing yards and first downs, producing only 66 yards of total offense despite coming off a 55-24 upset of Ohio State. Iowa hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown in the series since 2015 but faces a defense that isn’t as deep as usual due to a number of injuries, suspensions and even a few defections. LB Andrew Van Ginkel missed last week’s game against BYU and may not play in Iowa City, though he did travel.
Texas Tech at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. ET, FS1: After an impressive win over Boise State, the Cowboys will look to pull off a fourth straight home conquest in their Big 12 opener. These games against the Red Raiders are typically shootouts, having produced at least 72 points in every meeting since 2011. Oklahoma State prevailed each time and will look to continue its dominance by securing a 10th straight win, extending a series record. Patrick Mahomes couldn’t beat Mason Rudolph despite playing games that finished with scores of 70-53 and 45-44, so Mike Gundy has to feel good about his chances of getting the better of young Alan Bowman, who broke Mahomes’ Big 12 single-game freshman passing record with 605 yards and five TDs in beating Houston last week. He connected with Antoine Weasley for 261 of the yards and withstood an Ed Oliver-led pass rush to post prolific numbers, but will have to prove he can get it done on the road now. He should have Travis Bruffy and Madison Akamnonu, the starters alongside the left side of his o-line, available after getting banged up last week. RB Da’Leon Ward remains out, so look for more work from Ta’Zahwn Henry. Safety Jah’Shawn Johnson is still not 100 percent back from a shoulder injury that renders him a game-time decision.
OSU’s Taylor Cornelius had his finest outing last week despite not having eye-popping numbers, coming into his own for the Cowboys by showing off his leadership skills, sacrificing his body and leading his team in carries against the Broncos. Texas Tech has really struggled giving up big plays against Ole Miss and Houston, so this is a great spot to see if Tyron Johnson can get going since he’s largely struggled. Tylan Wallace, Dillon Stoner and Jalen McCleskey will also have to step up if they’re going to keep the workload for star RB Justice Hill down where they want it this early in the season.
Texas A&M at Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: The Crimson Tide obliterated Ole Miss in Oxford, cruising 62-7. Nick Saban’s team has now defeated Louisville, Arkansas State and the Rebels by a combined total of 170-28, dominating games from start to finish to cover large spreads rather easily. Tua Tagovailoa has toyed with defenses to live up to the hype as preseason Heisman favorite despite not having officially been awarded the starting job before the early numbers were announced. A defense that had to replace a number of current pros has excelled, but this next challenge features an Aggies squad coached by the very competent Jimbo Fisher, who just arrived in College Station but already put together one of the season’s most memorable performances in a near-upset of Clemson that featured the emergence of QB Kellen Mond. Considering Ole Miss has elite talent at receiver, QB Jordan Ta’amu completing only seven passes out of 22 against the Tide defense last week provides a reminder of just how miserable the they can make life for opposing quarterbacks. Mond’s ability to make plays with his legs and his experience against Clemson could serve the Aggies well in Tuscaloosa.
A&M was a two-point conversion away of tying Clemson in the final minute and could’ve stunned the country had it recovered a last-ditch onside kick. Alabama lost at home to Texas A&M in 2012 against Johnny Manziel but have since won five straight in the series and are heavily favored to come through once again. The Aggies have to establish the run with Trayveon Williams, who leads the SEC with 133 rushing yards per game, good for sixth in the country. If they can hang around like they did against the Tigers, the Ags can hope game pressure helps lead to some mistakes. It probably wouldn’t hurt if this game gets sloppy due to weather, perhaps slowing up the suddenly machine-like Tide offense, but early reports of thunderstorms potentially wreaking havoc here appear to be inaccurate since the weather is now expected to be clear.
Arizona State at Washington, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Sun Devils suffered their first loss of the Herm Edwards era after losing at San Diego State and have no time to dwell on the defeat with arguably their toughest remaining game. Although they still have to go to USC, Oregon and into Tucson for this year’s Territorial Cup, venturing into Seattle on the heels of physical games against Michigan State and the Aztecs is a daunting chore. To make matters worse, rain could factor in since it’s all they’ve seen since touching down at Sea-Tac.
The Huskies took a hit with Auburn faltering at home against LSU, so their Week 1 loss to the Tigers won’t be looked at the way they hoped it would. On the bright side, next week’s opponent won at Wisconsin, so hosting BYU in their lone remaining non-conference game should aid the cause. This first league home game comes against an ASU squad they’ve struggled against over the last decade, losing 10 of 11 matchups. The lone win came in the last meeting at Husky Stadium back in ’16, but Jake Browning has seemingly regressed and success in this one will likely hinge more one whether the Myles Gaskin-led ground game can take advantage of the Sun Devils’ run defense the way San Diego State did, imposing their will by racking up 311 rushing yards. Safety Dasmond Tautalatasi was definitely missed last week and is considered a game-time decision. Arizona State also made a switch along the offensive line according to The Athletic, inserting Zach Robertson at left tackle and moving Casey Tucker to guard. Browning was sacked five times in last year’s 13-7 loss.
TCU at Texas, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX: These teams were each playing nationally televised games at the same time last week, winding up with different results. Although the Longhorns ran away from USC and the Horned Frogs blew a second-half lead to Ohio State, TCU was more impressive, hanging with a national title contender as opposed to beating up on a perennial power going through a rebuilding year. That’s why It’s not really surprising to see the visitors favored in Austin, especially since they’ve won five of six since joining the Big 12. Everyone knows Texas didn’t want another little brother in the pool, so Gary Patterson takes great pleasure in how he’s been able to impact the balance of power in-state as he approaches completing a second decade. Tom Herman is just getting to work on trying to bring the ‘Horns back and comes off one of his most important wins since taking over the program.
Sam Ehlinger threw for a pair of scores and ran for another as his grip on the starting job continues to strengthen, but he's nowhere near as dynamic as TCU counterpart Shawn Robinson. Texas RB Keaontay Ingram missed last week's game with a heel injury and will be a game-time decision, so Cal transfer Tre Watson and Daniel Young will continue to split the bulk of the carries. Darius Anderson broke off a 93-yard TD run against Ohio State and looks like he's picking up his level to become among the country's top backs. Texas came out of the USC game far more banged up than the Frogs did after facing the Buckeyes and won't have LB Malcolm Roach (foot) for the next six weeks. Center Zach Shackleford remains out.
Mississippi State at Kentucky, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: One of these SEC teams is getting to 4-0 and both have big games next week, so the winner here will have an elevated national profile entering the final weekend of September. The Wildcats didn’t cover due to a late cosmetic score from Murray State, but they didn’t let the upset of Florida interfere with their preparation. It now remains to be seen whether the ‘Cats can handle another of the big boys as they open a crucial two-game home stretch against Mississippi State and South Carolina. Both games are winnable, but Kentucky must now deal with expectations in addition to teams no longer looking past them. A national ranking awaits if they pull off a victory here.
The Bulldogs have beaten UK in eight of their nine meetings as SEC members, suffering a 40-38 loss in Lexington the last time they came into town. QB Nick Fitzgerald will be playing his third game since returning from a one-game suspension and has helped MSU beat Kansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette by a combined margin of 87-10. They’ve covered in every game but may struggle to do so on the road without standout safety Jamal Peters, who is considered doubtful with a knee injury.
Others to watch: Clemson at Georgia Tech, Nebraska at Michigan, Notre Dame at Wake Forest, Boston College at Purdue, Minnesota at Maryland, Louisville at Virginia, Kansas State at West Virginia, South Carolina at Vanderbilt, Florida at Tennessee, Army at Oklahoma, Michigan State at Indiana, N.C. State at Marshall
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at email@example.com
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