College Football Preview; Week 9

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From Last Word on College Football, by Tony Siracusa

In honor of the current election news cycle, the college football preview this week has maps. In fact, we are all over the map this weekend. We have red states and blue states. We have swing states and toss up states. We have original states and “newer” states. We have sunshine states, apple states, and frozen tundra states. We have border state battles and intrastate showdowns. We have states that have panthers and badgers as their official animals and somehow three have the same white tail deer as theirs, (he must be very popular…or a target…not sure which). Go take the map down off your kid’s bedroom wall, and follow us as we barnstorm the country with teams looking to improve their polling numbers.

College Football Preview; Week 9

Michigan (8-0, 4-0) @ Michigan State (2-5, 0-4); 12noon EDT, ESPN

On paper this looks like an electoral blowout, and it may be. However, in the run up to the game, Michigan has had to endure a week of every sports network replaying last year’s muffed punt that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for the Wolverines. Sparty is now wallowing in a five game losing streak having beaten only Furman and Notre Dame, (and since Furman could probably beat Notre Dame right now….), with an offense that cannot find consistency and a defense that cannot find a red zone stop, well, with a map. The Spartans are allowing points on a staggering 73.1% of red zone trips for opponents.

Their own offense, which is likely to use two quarterbacks this week, is not getting it done up front on first and second down and thus converting third down at only 37.1%. The Wolverines, on the other hand clearly like how they are trending. The #2 team in the current LWOS poll is controlling the line of scrimmage every game and as a result, quarterback Wilton Speight is coming off his most accurate game last week against Illinois, (16 of 23 passing for 253 yards and two touchdowns). They are also giving more work to Jabrill Peppers who has eight carries and one reception in the last two games.

Florida (5-1, 3-1) vs. Georgia (4-3, 2-3); 3:30pm EDT, CBS

This is the drunken state game. Hey, sorry, but to most people this is still known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. It’s not like the fans are tailgating with genteel vodka-gimlets. This is a hard-edged crowd. Both teams are coming off a bye week, so expect the intensity to be ramped up. Georgia is still trying to find its path under first year head coach Kirby Smart. Some in the Bulldog nation expected quicker results and the one point loss to Vanderbilt two weeks did nothing to calm the growling. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel combined for 68 yards rushing and no touchdowns in that game. That puts the offense in a position of relying too much on freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. They have lacked consistency and balance. I am sure there is a joke to be made here with the party and drinking element, but I digress. Florida controls its own destiny in the SEC East, but the Gators have not been too pretty to look at lately either. Quarterback Luke Del Rio’s first game back after injury was a three interception performance against Missouri two weeks ago. Look for the Gators’ defensive back tandem of Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson to be sitting all over Eason’s passes if Georgia cannot muster a running game.

Washington (7-0, 4-0) @ Utah (7-1, 4-1); 3:30pm EDT, Fox Sports 1

For Utah, the key state is the state of retirement, or in this case un-retirement. Running back Joe Williams left football because of injuries and overall football fatigue, but he stayed enrolled in school. When the Utes had a rash of running back injuries, they talked to Williams and he agreed to come back. The result is 511 yards rushing in two games, including 332 and four touchdowns in only 29 carries against UCLA last week. Utah is tied with Colorado for first place in the Pac 12 South, something no one saw coming from either school this season, so this game in prime time will be the Utes chance to make a statement. For Washington, it is a state of belief. Chris Petersen mocked the writers at Pac 12 Media Days for giving so much credence to his team. Now I get to state that we were right. While Oregon and Stanford are having down years, they have been the standard bearers for the Pac 12 in recent years, and the Huskies beat them by a combined score of 114-28 this season. Quarterback Jake Browning is completing 68% of his passes and 10 different players have caught touchdown passes. Washington has won eight of the last nine against Utah, and if the Huskies can make it nine of 10, their current state of affairs could be as a playoff team at the end of the season.

Nebraska (7-0, 4-0) @ Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2); 7pm EDT, ESPN

This is the battle for the Big 10 West title. Even though Wisconsin has two conference losses they are by a combined two touchdowns to Ohio State and Michigan, while Nebraska is just now getting into the hard part of its schedule. There is a state of connective themes that runs through this game. Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong is greatly improved over last year in taking care of the ball, and the Huskers as a team are plus-five in turnover margin. While Armstrong is also only throwing at a 55% completion rate, he has been most dangerous as a dual threat, throwing on the run, keeping plays alive and accounting for 380 yards rushing. Now he is going to meet a Badgers defense that has given up only four passing touchdowns all year and is allowing only 14.3 points per game. The only offense to convert on more than 30% of its third down conversions against this Wisconsin has been Ohio State and most of that came in the second half. This is most likely a cold, low-scoring game that will showcase state of the art work for the defenses.

Clemson (7-0, 4-0) @ Florida State (5-2, 2-2); 8pm EDT, ABC

This is for the state of the ACC Atlantic Division. Clemson is clearly the front runner and playing to get a step closer to the college football playoffs again. Florida State is out of the playoff hunt, but can still be a factor in the conference race. Clemson’s defense has been outstanding outside of one shaky half against Louisville, and they are likely to be camped out in the Florida State backfield quite a bit unless Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois can make them pay for their aggressiveness. Clemson’s challenge is a lack of consistent running attack. The Tigers are getting less than four yards per carry in half their games this season. Running back Wayne Gallman has had the bye week to recover from the concussion he suffered against North Carolina State two weeks ago. Florida State has its own running game challenges in that they are not getting Dalvin Cook into the offensive groove enough. He has 910 total yards on the season, but only six touchdowns and has been noticeably absent from the game plan at times.

The college football trending lines figure to be much more clear after this weekend.