2015 Week 7 NCAAF Weekend Preview

October 15, 2015
By K. Becks

Well, it’s over.

All three of my former roommates have guest picked on ATC this season, and all three of them came away victorious. So I suppose the only logical explanation is that they should be the ones writing blogs. I’ll be waiting, fellas.

Thanks to Matt sticking with the favorites in the TCU and Florida games, the guests have closed the gap entirely in the overall standings. The head-to-head standings now look like this:

K. Becks: 16-14

Guests: 16-14

This weekend, my buddy Andrew will join the blog to try and keep the momentum going for the guests. If the conversation we had at the first bar on campus last weekend is any indication, this could get interesting. There are plenty of good matchups to make this weekend’s slate worth watching and the five I’ve chosen for picks are all between ranked teams.

It’s also the portion of the season where the true contenders are separated from the pretenders. Just ask Oklahoma, or as much as it pains me to say this, Northwestern.

Here is a list of ATC’s top five games to watch this weekend, as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#18 UCLA at #15 Stanford (Thursday, 10:30 PM ET)

The entire Pac-12 Conference has been fun to watch thus far in 2015, but it’s the Stanford Cardinal that are giving the North Division a good name. Despite Oregon’s slump, David Shaw has Stanford looking strong on both sides of the football. The Cardinal may finally meet their match on Thursday night, however, when UCLA visits boasting similar numbers and an identical record.

The return of the power run game has sparked the entire offense for Stanford this season. Not only has it complemented Stanford’s smashmouth style, but it has allowed Kevin Hogan to flourish as a game manager. It’s not a slight on the senior, who is second in the Pac-12 in QB rating behind Cody Kessler. Rather, it is a testament to just how difficult Stanford is to stop when Hogan can let his skill players carry their weight instead of make up for weaknesses around him. UCLA will have its hands full slowing down the Cardinal on offense, but the Bruins better find a way to do it. Josh Rosen has impressed as a freshman, but he has been noticeably better against weaker defenses. Stanford is anything but that.

The Bruins are coming off of a bye week, but also a loss to Arizona State. The Sun Devils were the best defense UCLA had faced when the game was played and it showed, as the Bruins were held to their lowest point output of the season. Stanford will be similarly difficult to score against and the Cardinal will also be tough on the offensive end. Lastly, the consistency factor clearly favors the home team in this one. If you’re up late enough to watch in the Eastern time zone, this one will be interesting. But if you’re expecting to read about an upset come Friday morning, look elsewhere.

My Pick: 34-26 Stanford

Andrew’s Take: After losing to Northwestern in week 1 Stanford has had one of the hottest offenses in the country. I think Stanford’s home field advantage tonight will be too much for UCLA and freshman Josh Rosen.

#17 Iowa at #20 Northwestern (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

Northwestern finally began to receive some attention at the beginning of last week, only to be thumped by Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats will look to bounce back at home against another team slowly but surely receiving national interest in Iowa. If the Hawkeyes can take down Northwestern on the road, Kirk Ferentz may actually be on his way to another fat raise. For those of you wondering, that will be an ongoing joke for as long as it’s applicable (a.k.a. the Hawkeyes staying undefeated).

The Hawkeyes have been getting it done with the run, both offensively and defending it. There isn’t anything particularly flashy about this squad, but they make it difficult to score and keep possession of the football longer than anyone in the Big Ten except Michigan. Northwestern won’t have to worry about a team putting up five touchdowns in this game, because it won’t happen. The Wildcats do, however, need to get more creative on the offensive end themselves. Michigan was all over the heavy run scheme, limiting Northwestern to a paltry 1.52 yards per rush. The passing game has only produced over 160 yards once this season, and that was against Ball State’s Swiss cheese secondary.

Chances are good that there won’t be a lot of touchdowns in this one. But when it does happen, it’ll be a result of long, sustained drives that will need to be balanced to keep the opposing defense on its toes. As much as I like Northwestern, its lopsided defeat last week will serve as a blueprint for how to beat the team. Iowa may not be the most interesting team to watch, but the Hawkeyes have already fared well in close games. The undefeated streak just barely survives.

My Pick: 20-17 Iowa

Andrew’s Take: Kirk Ferentz seems to have his best seasons when his job appears to be the most in question. I think Northwestern will still be too hungover from the thumping they received in Ann Arbor and the Hawkeyes improve to a surprising 7-0. Iowa wins in a low scoring game.

#7 Michigan State at #12 Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

If you had predicted seven weeks ago that these two teams would be ranked so close to each other by the time this game rolled around, raise your hand. Now put it down, because you’re lying. The country was already burning Michigan at the stake after its season opening loss to Utah, but since then the Wolverines have looked as dominant as…well, Utah. As a result, this game has positioned itself as the game of the weekend and a major determinant in the Big Ten’s playoff contenders.

Michigan’s three consecutive shutouts are nowhere close to the all-time record (which is 17 by the great Tennessee teams of the late 1930s), but it is still extremely impressive nonetheless. Most figured that Jim Harbaugh would turn the program around in due time, but not many expected that the Wolverines could be a title contender in Harbaugh’s first year. But with a win over the Spartans in this one, Michigan could be headed in that direction. The one area of concern for the Wolverines has been the passing game, which has broken the 200 yard barrier just once this season. Michigan State has struggled mightily to stop the run at times this season, though, so it may not matter that Jake Rudock hasn’t been as advertised.

If the Spartans want to win, then Connor Cook will need to be at his absolute best. Not many teams have figured out how to move the ball against Michigan this season, and the Spartans haven’t been particularly strong on the offensive end. Add the fact that the home fans and team are riding a huge wave of momentum after the surprising dominance, and you’ve got a deadly combination. This was supposed to be Michigan State’s year to finally finish the job, but the Spartans aren’t playing well enough right now to beat their in-state rivals. The shutout streak will end this week, but the winning one won’t for the Wolverines.

My Pick: 27-20 Michigan

Andrew’s Take: The Wolverines put a shellacking on Northwestern last week while Michigan State squeaked one out against Rutgers in New Jersey. You can analyze each team’s statistics over this season but when it comes down to it rivalry games are just simply different than any other game on the schedule. I admit that I was a tad nervous after realizing that this game was being held in Ann Arbor this week, but Michigan State is one of those teams that has a habit of playing both up and down to competition. I believe this is going to be a close game that is going to come down to quarterback play, and as a result I’m going to have to pick senior quarterback Connor Cook and the Spartans.

PS- Ann Arbor is a whore.

#10 Alabama at #9 Texas A&M (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The name of the game for the Aggies this year? Survive and advance. Texas A&M hasn’t looked like the greatest team in the country or even in its own conference, but Kevin Sumlin’s squad is simply taking care of business, which is something that a lot of teams can’t say. One of those teams is Alabama, which already has an upset loss on its resume and cannot afford another. You won’t find a seemingly more even matchup on paper, but we’ll find out if it looks that way on the field Saturday afternoon.

The one thing you can always count on with Nick Saban coached teams is that it will take a hell of an effort to beat them twice in the same fashion. Since allowing 341 passing yards in the loss to Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide has given up fewer than 200 yards through the air in its last three games. This against Georgia and Arkansas, which ranks fourth in the SEC in passing offense. The Aggies have the most potent offense in the conference after Ole Miss, which would seem to bode well for the Aggies seeing as how Alabama struggled to contain the high powered Rebels. But whereas the Crimson Tide appeared to be going through the motions before their loss, a sense of urgency and newfound focus has been adopted by the defense. Texas A&M was sloppy against Arkansas two weeks ago, a team that resembles Alabama far more than Mississippi State does.

This game won’t be defensively dominated, so expect the fewer than 200 yard passing streak by the Alabama secondary to come to an end. But Texas A&M won’t be able to rely on a “survive and advance” mentality to win this game. The Aggies will need to force and take advantage of turnovers to keep the Crimson Tide from getting into a groove. If that doesn’t happen, Saban’s take no prisoners style will keep Sumlin from putting any real pressure on Alabama to score quickly. If the Crimson Tide plays within itself, they will win this game.

My Pick: 37-31 Alabama

Andrew’s Take: This has been one of the most entertaining matchups in the SEC the last couple years. Kyle Allen leads a young and talented undefeated A&M team against the team that has been the standard at the top of the SEC since Nick Saban began his tenure at Alabama. Several members of the media began to doubt the Crimson Tide after their loss in the shootout against Ole Miss a, but Alabama has been able to rebound by posting back to back victories against conference foes Georgia and Arkansas the last 2 weeks. I think Bama continues their momentum and leaves College Station with a win.

#8 Florida at #6 LSU (Saturday, 7 PM ET)

It has been a few years since both of these teams have been inside the top 10 when playing each other, but it’s my opinion that college football is better off when that happens. The Florida-LSU rivalry has always been intense, but this year’s battle could resemble some of the classics in this storied series. Both schools are riding undefeated records and are decent bets to make it to the SEC title game with a victory in this game. One team will be dealing with some recent adversity, however, so it will be interesting to see the response from them in this one.

Florida is amidst a surprising undefeated start, but unfortunately the bigger story for the Gators is the loss of their quarterback, Will Grier. The freshman sensation was suspended one year for violating the NCAA’s performance enhancing drug policy and will need to be replaced by sophomore Treon Harris. According to head coach Jim McElwain, Harris will do just fine in place of Grier, but the rest of Gator Nation waits will bated breath. The green backup will be going up against the SEC’s third best overall defense, which has looked strong alongside Leonard Fournette and the imposing LSU offense. If Harris is to lead the Gators to a victory, he may not just need to play well but rather great. The Tigers have been one of the most complete teams in the country thus far.

If this game was at The Swamp, it may be a different story. But Harris will be making his first start since the season opener and has not seen the field much since then. The first couple of drives will be extremely important for the Gators on offense. If Harris finds his rhythm early, he may settle in and keep this one tight. But if the Tigers get the best of him on those first set of possessions, it could be a long and humbling return back as the starter. Something tells me that reality will fall somewhere in the middle, but the Tigers will get enough from Fournette to win anyway.

My Pick: 24-16 LSU

Andrew’s Take: Florida has been one of the surprise teams this year. Their defense has been consistently one of the best in the SEC the last couple years. Unfortunately their quarterback is out for the remainder of the season as well as one of their defensive backs being kicked off the team for felony allegations. Even without considering the drama swirling around the Florida program, it’s difficult to bet against Leonard Fournette and the LSU Tigers in a night game at Death Valley. Look for LSU to send a message to the rest of the country by beating Florida big.

5 Games to Flip To

#21 Boise State at Utah State (Friday, 9 PM ET)

The Aggies are underrated at 3-2 and tough to beat at home. Boise State will have its hands full trying to stay within spitting distance of a chance at a New Year’s Six bowl.

#13 Mississippi at Memphis (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The undefeated Tigers welcome one of the SEC’s best in their quest to remain unbeaten. This one should be a barn burner.

#19 Oklahoma at Kansas State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The Wildcats have played everyone tough this season, so expect nothing less in this game. Oklahoma will have to play well to rebound from last weekend’s letdown.

Southern Cal at #14 Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

Now a much maligned program, Southern Cal would do well just to stay competitive in this one.

Penn State at #1 Ohio State (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

The Buckeyes will debut a new set of black jerseys for this game, which makes them the Evil Empire against the all whites of Penn State. This one will be interesting.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Andrew did this week, please let me know in one of the following ways: email me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, send me a message on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, post a comment under this article or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. Opportunities to become a guest prognosticator will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Thanks everyone.

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