2016 Week 4 NCAAF Weekend Preview

September 24, 2016
By K. Becks

Who would have guessed that three of the Top 5 teams in the preseason AP poll would already have a loss three weeks into the season?

Keep your hand raised if you also guessed that of the two SEC teams currently ranked in the Top 10 (put your hand down if you figured more would be there), Texas A&M would be one of them. And finally, take your hand and pat yourself on the back if you correctly predicted that the SEC would have as many teams in the Top 10 as both the Big Ten and the Pac-12.

The reason for these pointless questions is to highlight just how crazy the first three weekends of the college football season have been. And the scary part is that the season doesn’t typically heat up like this until mid-October or so.

That being said, neither side in the head-to-head prediction game has suffered too terribly from the multitude of upsets that have already ensued this year. Zach tied me last week, and this week one of my other old college roommates, Trent, will look to break the stalemate.

I don’t think Trent really cares about college football, but his picks help fill a week. Thanks, buddy.

Here are the records as of Week 3:

K. Becks: 10-5

Guests: 10-5

This week is a very difficult one to predict winners for, as conference play begins for several schools. Here’s a list of the top five to watch this weekend, as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#12 Georgia at #23 Mississippi (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

Kirby Smart was part of the Alabama coaching staff the last two times Ole Miss beat the Crimson Tide, so he is as aware of anyone just how dangerous the Rebels can be for Nick Saban-esque defenses. The Bulldogs barely survived Missouri last weekend and will need to play more sound football on Saturday if they hope to drop the Rebels to 1-3 on their home turf.

It’s really not fair to compare the records of these two teams and make a decision about them solely based on that piece of information. While Georgia is 3-0, it has struggled to beat three unranked teams, needing a game-winning drive to best Missouri last weekend and surviving a stiff test against…wait for it…Nicholls State. The offense has been slow at times and is relying quite heavily on Nick Chubb to keep drives going. Meanwhile, Ole Miss is 1-2 but has been competitive against Florida State at a neutral site and nearly beat Alabama last weekend. The Rebels were even the better team for a half in both of those games. Quite frankly, if Ole Miss could put together a good second half of football, they’d be a Top 5 team right now.

The Bulldogs aren’t the most intimidating defense in the SEC right now, so don’t expect Ole Miss to slow down much on the offensive end. If the Rebels can focus for 60 minutes, they have the chance to make a statement in this game. I think they’re angry about what could have been the past few weeks and will come out fired up for this one. Don’t put too much faith in Georgia in this one.

My Pick: 38-23 Mississippi

Trent’s Take: Quarter Chubb, Half Chubb, Full Chubb, Give me the Bulldogs!!

Georgia – 42 Mississippi – 35

#11 Wisconsin at #8 Michigan State (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

This matchup, despite being very good in recent years, was not supposed to be as high-profile this season as it has turned out to be. Wisconsin’s victory over LSU has set the tone for the Badgers thus far, although the team did avoid a scare against Georgia State just the other weekend. Michigan State shook off its sluggish start to the year with a statement victory over Notre Dame last Saturday, but it could also be considered a tale of two halves. To win this one, a strong performance for four quarters will almost surely be needed.

Watching Michigan State play under Mark Dantonio is a lot like watching Ohio State under Jim Tressel (which isn’t surprising, considering Dantonio’s lineage). The Spartans amassed a 36-7 lead over Notre Dame with under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, only to see that lead dwindle to eight points in the course of about a quarter’s time. The problem with that is that for as good as the offense can be, Dantonio is content to let the defense sew games up. This works a lot of the time, but the Badgers have the best defense in the Big Ten through three games and won’t be as easy to score on as the Fighting Irish were. The same will be true for the Badgers as well. In fact, Michigan State and Wisconsin rank No. 1 and 2 in the Big Ten, respectively, in rush defense so it should be a classic, low scoring Big Ten battle.

Going to East Lansing as the visiting team and coming out of there a winner isn’t easy. And there is very little separating these two teams at this point. In fact, other than the colors on their uniforms you could facetiously say that they are the same team. That being said, it’s difficult to go against the home team in a game that is essentially a toss up.

My Pick: 23-21 Michigan State

Trent’s Take: I heard Hailie is going out with LJ Scott. They will be dancing in East Lansing. Eminem is not pleased. MSU – 24 Wisconsin – 17

#19 Florida at #14 Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Here’s your surprising statistic of the week: it has been 12 years since Tennessee has beaten Florida in college football. Despite the revival of the Vols program under Butch Jones, it has yet to best the Gators under the head man. This year’s Tennessee team appears to have the ability to finally end the losing streak, but the jury is still out on whether the Volunteers are for real this season. We’re about to find out on Saturday afternoon.

It should come as no surprise that Jim McElwain has turned the Gators into a decent offensive football team in less than two seasons. However, thus far the offensive outbursts in 2016 have come against competition much less capable than Tennessee’s defense, so this game will be a good litmus test for Florida. Tennessee was supposed to be the team with the powerful offense this season, but the Volunteers have been wildly underwhelming in that category. Gone are any talks of Joshua Dobbs as a dark horse Heisman contender. The senior is completing just 60 percent of his passes and has thrown just six touchdowns to his three interceptions. Without Jalen Hurd, Tennessee probably wouldn’t be unbeaten right now.

As much of a disappointment as Tennessee has been, the team is still unbeaten and this is a crucial battle with regards to the SEC East Division title race. The Volunteers have shown the ability to play well at times, destroying Virginia Tech in the only marquee matchup they have played in this season. I think that the opportunity to end a long losing streak against an SEC rival will spur the “good” Tennessee to show up in Knoxville and do enough to slow down the Gators in this one.

My Pick: 30-21 Tennessee

Trent’s Take: Harambe spoke to me. He predicts Florida over Tennessee.

Florida – 19 Tennessee – 14

#18 LSU at Auburn (Saturday, 6 PM ET)

This is the second time in three weeks that it will be Tigers versus Tigers for Auburn. It’s hard to believe (and quite comical, in my opinion) that the losing coach in this game will more than likely be on the hot seat entering Week 5. Expectations were high for LSU and from the start the Tigers were not able to deliver. While Auburn wasn’t expected to compete for a title this season, Gus Malzahn has been feeling the heat just as much as Les Miles over the past year.

Leonard Fournette destroyed Auburn’s defense last season, rushing for 228 yards and three touchdowns and making defenders look like high school players the way he muscled them out of the way on several occasions. Auburn’s defense has improved a bit against the run compared with last season’s statistics, but will it be enough to contain Fournette? Unlikely, but if Malzahn’s defense can do any better than the 411 total rushing yards it gave up in 2015 to LSU, it’s a start. Danny Etling has been brought in as the starter at quarterback in place of the highly ineffective Brandon Harris, and Auburn may be the first team to make Etling actually make some plays. To this point, he has not been relied on to really take control of LSU’s offense, but with Auburn sure to key on Fournette, Etling will have opportunities to do so.

If you go back and look at Auburn’s losses to Clemson and Texas A&M this season, the Tigers were never out of either game. It has been a trying start to the year for Malzahn, but this isn’t a team that is incapable of winning in the SEC. Meanwhile, LSU has been a major disappointment this season and has been in tight games that few would have predicted would be that way. I think that Auburn understands this and will be ready to avenge their poor performance against Fournette in 2015. Expect the talks about Les Miles’s job security at LSU to ensue on Sunday morning.

My Pick: 30-28 Auburn

Trent’s Take: Both coaches are on the hot seat. Expect Gus to crash and Auburn.

LSU – 42 Auburn – 17

#17 Arkansas vs. #10 Texas A&M [game in Arlington, TX] (Saturday, 9 PM ET)

Neither one of these teams were ranked at the beginning of the season but have emerged as pleasant surprises for the SEC, which overall has been struggling somewhat to begin the year. A contrast of styles with definitely be on display in this game, with Bret Bielema’s defense looking to slow down one of the most potent offenses in the country.

Texas A&M’s offensive statistics have been skewed heavily by a 67-0 drubbing of FCS opponent Prairie View A&M, but the Aggies have added an extra wrinkle to the scheme this season that makes them even more difficult to gameplan against. Between freshman Trayveon Williams, junior Keith Ford and quarterback Trevor Knight, the Aggies have scored seven touchdowns on the ground, two more than Texas A&M has through the air. Arkansas is capable of putting an end to this surprise party, allowing just over 98 yards on the ground per game. However, Kevin Sumlin’s offense has always been predicated on the pass, so this is the time for Knight to step up as a leader. His completion rate has been sub-par this season but has been buoyed by the rushing attack, something that may not be as effective this weekend.

The Aggies have been known to play much better at home than on the road, but in this case I’m not sure that it matters. The game being played in Jerry’s World hardly affected my decision to pick Texas A&M to win this one. Arkansas may be undefeated, but it is four points from being 1-2. The Razorbacks are winning the close games that they’ve lost so many times over the past three seasons. Some of it is bound to be luck, and I think it runs out in College Station on Saturday evening.

My Pick: 31-24 Texas A&M

Trent’s Take: They have a field named after you?!?!

Arkansas – 35 Texas A&M – 28

5 Games to Flip To

Penn State at #4 Michigan (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

If Penn State’s 39 points against Pittsburgh is repeatable, this one would be highly entertaining.

#20 Nebraska at Northwestern (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

The Wildcats have had a rough start to the beginning of their campaign but aren’t a bad team. Nebraska stay in the Top 25 could be a short one.

Oklahoma State at #16 Baylor (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

If not for a controversial call in favor of Central Michigan two weekends ago, this would be one of the most watched games of the week.

#7 Stanford at UCLA (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

The beginning of a brutal Pac-12 stretch for the Cardinals begins Saturday evening with UCLA.

#9 Washington at Arizona (Saturday, 10:30 PM ET)

This is a potential trap game for the Huskies, which could be one of the Pac-12′s best this season but must prove they can win on the road to be taken seriously as a College Football Playoff contender.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Trent 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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