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Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Friday's Essentials

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Unless you're reading this while standing in line to buy some frivolous piece of electronics, congratulations for winning on Black Friday by committing yourself to a full day of watching football. Consider this preview of the day's best games your reward:

Oklahoma (-3.5/85) at West Virginia, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Mountaineers were upset in a shootout at Oklahoma State last Saturday but remain in control of their Big 12 Championship game destiny with the Sooners coming into town. Unlike last season’s regular-season finale, West Virginia will have its leader and Heisman Trophy candidate available with Will Grier healthy and ready to play. Without him, the Mountaineers were held to just 137 passing yards in a 59-31 loss. Dana Holgorsen’s team has scored 40 or more points in four straight games, but the defense has surrendered more than 40 twice in the past three games after not allowing more than 34 in any of the first seven. Although snow can often be a factor in West Virginia this time of year, conditions are expected to be mild other than temperatures in the high 30s.

That should set the stage for both Grier and Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray to light up the defenses in this matchup, so it’s no surprise this total has been set where it lies. The Sooners have scored at least 45 points in each of the past seven outings, topping 50 five times. They lead the nation in scoring offense and rank second-worst defensively in the red zone, which is one reason the ‘under’ has cashed only once through their first 11 games. We could see most of OU’s rushing attack hinge on Murray’s legs since projected starter Trey Sermon is questionable with an ankle injury. Kennedy Brooks may be the Sooners’ lone scholarship running back available. Injuries have decimated Oklahoma on both sides of the ball, so we’ll see who suits up for a defense that has been particularly plagued on that end. Not having safety Kahlil Haughton would really hurt. The Mountaineers were accused of faking injuries to slow down Oklahoma State’s offense in Stillwater, so look for the Sooners to similarly employ an up-tempo approach. West Virginia has only defeated the Sooners twice over their last 10 meetings.

Washington at Washington State (-2.5/50.5), 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX: The Huskies have dominated the Apple Cup since Chris Petersen took the helm in Seattle, winning all four meetings decisively. Last season’s 41-14 loss marked the closest Washington State has come since a 27-17 loss in 2013, Steve Sarkisian’s final season. Mike Leach won his first rivalry game in this series at home in a road upset back in 2012 and hasn’t won since. To date, that’s Washington State’s only victory since ’08 in this annual series where its margin of defeat has regularly topped three touchdowns. None of that matters to this year’s dream team of course, since the easy answer to why Cougar Nation can be so confident this time around is that Gardner Minshew has never taken the field in one of these. The graduate transfer from East Carolina will be looking to cement an invite to New York for the Heisman ceremony and needs four touchdown passes to get to 40 for the season, having already thrown for over 4,300 yards.




Of course, no one has thrown for that many touchdowns against a Huskies secondary considered to be among the country’s best. The Washington defense hasn’t surrendered more than 24 points in regulation in any of its games this season, while Washington State has only been held under 28 once. The team often ignores running the football altogether, playing to their strengths in riding Minshew’s accurate arm and decision-making in addition to an extremely talented receiving corps. The Huskies have held Mike Leach’s offense to at least 16 points below their season average in each of the last three Apple Cups. Snow flurries are expected to make an appearance in Pullman, so we’ll see who handles inclement weather best, although the snowfall isn’t expected to be too intrusive. Washington will be healthier than its been in weeks on the offensive end with Myles Gaskin’s ankle feeling better, so we’ll see if he and record-setting QB John Browning can ride out with a perfect record over their in-state rivals, stealing a spot in the Pac-12 Championship in the process.

UCF (-14/69.5) at USF, 4:15 p.m. ET, ESPN: The “War on I-4” is certainly a new-school rivalry lacking in tradition, but there’s plenty of venom involved. Not only are the two schools separated by less than hour’s drive on the interstate, there’s a history of vitriol that extends throughout multiple decades as the two programs have attempted to one-up the other amid their ascent. In South Florida’s case, that included snubbing playing this as an annual rivalry game back when they played football in the Big East. Riding an undefeated record into this contest for the second straight Black Friday, it’s Central Florida that has now become the driving force behind creating national intrigue for this matchup since it has elevated itself as the Sunshine State’s most decorated program over the past 24 months, complete with a Top-10 ranking from a begrudging College Football Playoff selection committee.

USF nearly spoiled last year’s perfect run in Orlando, taking a late fourth-quarter lead before future NFL first-round pick Mike Hughes took back a kickoff 95 yards to snap a 42-42 tie with less than two minutes remaining. UCF won one of college football’s most dramatic games last season and then went on to upset Auburn in the Peach Bowl, ultimately earning the distinction of being “national champions” from the Colley Matrix as the lone undefeated FBS school in 2017. While that claim as co-champs next to Alabama sparks much debate, no one can question that the Knights have surpassed the Bulls as the program to beat in the American, having already secured a berth in the conference title game regardless of what happens here. First-year head coach Josh Heupel has navigated QB McKenzie Milton being banged up and has still produced an offense that has averaged 43.6 points per game, which includes an output of 42.4 in conference games.

Charlie Strong’s defense will be tasked with containing the high-octane attack featuring dynamic running backs, speedy, sure-handed receivers and a pace that is often devastating with Milton at the controls. South Florida ranks 107th of 130 in allowing 61 plays of over 20 yards, while the Knights’ 72 “explosive” plays are tied for seventh in the country. UCF finished off a Saturday in which it hosted ESPN’s College Gameday by crushing Cincinnati 38-13 and has covered in six of its last eight games, which includes a 5-1 run as a double-digit favorite. Weather in Tampa is expected to be terrific and Knights fans travel well, so look for any homefield edge at Raymond James Stadium, home of the NFL’s Bucs, to be mitigated. USF seeks to reach .500 in league play with an upset but is just 1-3 (SU and ATS) as an underdog this season, defeating Georgia Tech while falling to Memphis, Temple and Cincinnati. All of the losses came on the road. The Bulls come in the more banged-up group, although QB Blake Barnett (shoulder) and tight end Mitch Wilcox (ankle) should play.

Houston at Memphis (-7.5/76.5), 12 p.m. ET, ABC: The identity of UCF’s American Championship game foe will be determined by this outcome. Although the Cougars are currently ahead of the 4-3 pace of Memphis, SMU and Tulane, the Tigers would qualify with a victory here, setting up a rematch of a 31-30 outcome against the Knights on Oct. 13. Memphis surrendered 65 points the next week at Missouri but hasn’t lost since, carrying a three-game streak of double-digit wins into this one. Memphis has won its past four home finales and has helped third-year head coach Mike Norvell to a perfect 2-0 mark over Houston, posting a pair of four-point wins that required topping the 40-point mark to secure. Another shootout is likely here as Cougs head coach Major Applewhite looks to get on the board after losing last season’s game 42-38 despite a 17-point third-quarter lead. The winning touchdown in the last three contests between these West Division rivals has been scored in the final 90 seconds, and any heroics on the Houston side will have to be led by true freshman Clayton Tune, who as forced to take over under center against Tulane last week when prolific junior starter D’Eriq King was lost to a knee injury. Tune threw two TD passes and was picked up once in wrapping up a 48-17 win over the Green Wave, but this will be a completely new experience since he’ll be taking snaps on the road against a defense that will be game-planning for him. For the season, he’s 20-for-42 with 4 TDs and the one pick, throwing for 309 yards.

The Cougs rank fourth nationally in total offense, while Memphis comes in seventh. In order to make life easier on King, expect a heavy emphasis on the Patrick Carr-led ground game. Both teams are likely to attack via the run since rain is expected to impact action at the Liberty Bowl in addition gusting winds. Houston’s defense would get a significant boost if All-American Ed Oliver returns from a knee injury that has kept him out all month. Expectations are that he’ll be out there after practicing on Tuesday, although he’s been scratched as a game-time decision earlier this month. Safety Garrett Davis and DEs Isaiah Chambers, Jerard Carter and Payton Turner have been ruled out for Houston, which is also dealing with multiple injuries on the offensive side that may complicate Tune’s transition, although he’ll have some experience working with players that have co-existed alongside him as backups and will now be getting their chance.

Nebraska at Iowa (-8/53.5), 12 p.m. ET, FOX: This Midwestern rivalry went dormant until the ‘Huskers moved into the Big Ten earlier this decade but is back in full swing, complete with a little hardware known as the Heroes Trophy going to the winner. The Hawkeyes have won in each of the last three seasons and will be looking for a fourth consecutive victory in the series for the first time ever. Last season’s game was a complete embarrassment for Nebraska, which lost 56-14 in Lincoln. The bat signal sent out to then-UCF head coach Scott Frost didn’t grow brighter last Nov. 24, but you would believe it if I wrote that it probably did. Mike Riley was fired afterward but was headed out the door as is. At any rate, it’s now Frost’s job to end Iowa’s dominance despite the fact that he was never touched by the rivalry as a player during his tenure nor as a grad assistant on the coaching staff back in ’02 since the schools played just twice between 1983 and the continuation of the rivalry in ’11.

For Frost, this becomes the ‘Huskers bowl game since they lack the winning record required to continue practicing and playing another few weeks. It will be the first time since 1967-68 that Nebraska fails to play in a bowl in consecutive seasons. It has already guaranteed itself consecutive losing seasons for the first time since ’60-’61. Despite all that, the team is a dangerous foe for Iowa since it is focused on avoiding a carbon copy of last year’s 4-8 finish and intent on closing Frost’s first run with a three-game winning streak and victories in five of six. Iowa destroyed Illinois 63-0 on Saturday to snap a three-game skid that derailed its West Division title hopes, so it will be looking to close its home schedule out with a victory that would be a tremendous source of pride to the locals. Inclement weather is almost certain to be a factor with heavy winds and rain expected in Iowa City, which could slow down dual threat QB Adrian Martinez and the pace in which Frost’s offense can operate. Of course, it could also hinder Iowa QB Nate Stanley’s effectiveness on third down, which has been an area of strength for the Hawkeyes.

Others to watch: Oregon at Oregon State, Texas at Kansas, Virginia at Virginia Tech, Arkansas at Missouri, East Carolina at Cincinnati, Buffalo at Bowling Green, Coastal Carolina at South Alabama, Akron at Ohio U., Central Michigan at Toledo, Eastern Michigan at Kent State

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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