When you are dealing with young people, you get used to a lot of eye rolling if you say something that is a little off kilter. Likewise, when we were putting together the list of games to keep an eye on this weekend, we imagined plenty of eyes being rolled. It even happened here. But hold your eyes in check, for while some of these may not be the traditional college football blockbusters, there I some must-see-TV in here.
College Football Preview; Week 4
Alabama (3-0) @ Vanderbilt (3-0); Sat., 3:30pm ET, CBS
Yes, Alabama at Vanderbilt is one of our highlights. Vandy has earned it. In 2014, the Commodores were outscored by Top 25 opponents 184-54. For 2015, the margin was 91-37. In 2016, it was 70-67. So far, in 2017, they have beaten the one Top 25 opponent they have faced, then-#18, Kansas State. Vandy does not have an explosive offense, (quarterback Kyle Shurmur has thrown for all 703 yards and running back Ralph Webb has only 149 yards rushing), but the team has been solid, relatively mistake-free and the defense has been more than solid. Alabama is still Alabama, but not without question marks. Quarterback Jalen Hurts still needs to grow as a passer, though he does have 784 yards of total offense. Tide coach Nick Saban says Vanderbilt belongs in the Top 25. Others are not so sure. In previewing the game, the Alabama page for SEC Country said the reason for Bama fans to go to the game was because Nashville has a great bar scene.
USC (3-0) @ Cal (3-0); Sat., 3:30pm ET, ABC
Another one that makes you do a double take, right? Cal is undefeated, having gone on the road for a win at North Carolina and beating Ole Miss at home. They have trailed at the half in every game this season, but have outscored opponents 57-13 in the second half. That includes a 20-0 run against Ole Miss last week. The offense is averaging only 400 yards per game, but the new 3-4 defense behind linebacker Cameron Goode and defensive back Camryn Bynum has been very good. They face a USC team that is a bit of an enigma. The Trojans needed a fourth quarter comeback to beat Western Michigan, physically manhandled Stanford, and then needed double overtime to beat a Texas team that has no offense, all at home. Quarterback Sam Darnold has lived up to the hype, when he is on. But he also has been prone to bad decisions and has thrown two interceptions in each game. Still, the USC offense is out-gaining opponents by an average of 182 yards per game, going into the match-up against the tough Cal defense.
TCU (3-0) @Oklahoma State (3-0); Sat., 3:30pm ET, ESPN
This one has one quarterback who has proven himself every week this season, and another who is still trying to overcome his mistakes that extend back to last year. The Cowboys Mason Rudolph is appropriately in the Heisman conversation. He has thrown for 1,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception, despite not taking a snap yet in the fourth quarter this season, as Oklahoma State has blown out all three opponents. The Cowboys are averaging a 35-point margin of victory thus far. TCU’s Kenny Hill has always had potential. He just has not gotten out of his own way yet. Hill threw a staggering 13 interceptions last season, so coach Gary Patterson has tried to diversify the offense a little more this year. The Horned Frogs are running back by committee to the tune of 127 carries and 691 yards. The result is asking less of Hill, who has eight touchdown passes and “only” two interceptions.
Mississippi State (3-0) @ Georgia (3-0); Sat., 7pm ET, ESPN
Mississippi State, along with the aforementioned Vanderbilt, make up 2/3’s of a trivia question to be addressed later. This is the first time these two have played each other while both are in the Top 25. Of course, due to the hinkyness of SEC scheduling, they also have not played each other since 2011. MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has been more than good enough thus far. He has only thrown 70 passes, but has seven touchdowns against only one interception. In a 30-point blowout of LSU last week, he threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another two. The Georgia quarterback story has yet to be written. Starter Jacob Eason has yet to play due to injuries and true freshman Jake Fromm has been steady if not Eason-esque. He has five touchdown passes, but three of those were against Samford last week. Georgia is still waiting for its bust game from running back tandem Nick Chubb and Sony Michel who are averaging a combined 150 yards per game.
Florida (1-1) @ Kentucky (3-0); Sat., 7:30pm ET, SECN
Kentucky is the final piece in the previously mentioned trivia piece. The last time Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State were 3-0, William Howard Taft was in the Oval Office, (1911). The Wildcats have not beaten the Gators since 1986, but the folks in Lexington are wild with anticipation over this game. Florida’s offense, to put it bluntly, has been terrible for the first seven-and-a-half quarters of its season. If quarterback Feleipe Franks does not throw the last second touchdown against Tennessee last week, there is no telling how ugly things would be in Gainesville this week. The defense has kept the Gators close each week with six sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Conversely, the Kentucky offense has not been terrible….it just is not fully developed. Quarterback Stephen Johnson has two passing and two rushing touchdowns on the season and Benny Snell, Jr. is leading a modest ground game 272 yards rushing for the entire season. What gives Kentucky hope for ending the 31-year long drought is a defense that is giving up only 57 yards rushing per game, against a Florida offense that is struggling, to put it kindly.
UCLA (2-1) @ Stanford (1-2); Sat., 10:30pm ET, ESPN
Yes, these are not your typical records for this game, but if you live outside the west coast and are an insomniac, it is worth checking out. This is a strange numbers game. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is averaging 427 yards passing per game. Some teams don’t have that for the season yet. He has 13 touchdowns against only two interceptions, but it is those two picks in a 48-45 loss to Memphis that is all anyone is talking about for him. The Bruins are better at running the ball than last year, albeit with a pedestrian 127 yard per game average. That brings us to Stanford. The Cardinal were physically dominated on both sides of the line by USC two weeks ago. They were shocked in the closing minute by San Diego State last week. Quarterback Keller Chryst has thrown for 70 more yards on the season than Rosen averages per game. BUT, Cardinal running back Bryce Love has already rushed for 524 yards on the season. That is more than the entire UCLA backfield combined. The real number for UCLA fans; the Bruins have not beaten Stanford in this annual showdown since 2008. If they cannot do it this year, when can they?