2014 NCAAF Week 6 Weekend Preview

October 3, 2014

This is it. This is the weekend that college football fans across the country have been waiting for, even if they didn’t realize it. A plethora of games featuring two Top 25 squads await us on Saturday, and although it may make some cringe to know that many of those games pit two SEC squads against one another, it still makes for a solid weekend.

In addition, this is the time where the great teams begin to separate themselves from the fakes. You can skate through the non-conference schedule and work your way through the rankings by playing cupcakes, but the conference slate almost always weeds out the pretenders. This weekend we’ll see plenty of games where the pretender is sent packing, likely to the bottom of the Top 25 (or out of it completely).

This week my buddy Jack Otte joins the blog to give his picks. I’m a little concerned about my chances of beating him; he sent me a text with his picks, and included was a picture with extensive “notes” that he had been compiling throughout the week in order to make those predictions. That’s normally something only I do for the head-to-head prediction game.

Granted, it normally doesn’t help me all that much. Matt beat me last weekend with a perfect 5-0 mark and as a result the tie between the guests and I has been broken. The overall records now stand:

K. Becks: 11-9

Guests: 12-8

Here is a list of my 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

#6 Texas A&M at #12 Mississippi State (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

So you go to Death Valley and beat LSU for the first time at their place since 1991…and what do you get? The No. 12 national ranking, sure, but yet another major test to prove you’re actually for real. Such is life in the SEC and something that the Bulldogs, who normally don’t get a lot of unwarranted respect anyway, are used to dealing with. Texas A&M didn’t look its sharpest last Saturday in Jerry’s World, but Kevin Sumlin has proven himself as one of college football’s premier coaches. Don’t expect the Aggies to look as sloppy as they did last weekend, but do expect this game to be a great one.

Two of the SEC’s best quarterbacks square off against each other in this one, and that alone is reason to watch this game. Mississippi State is the team with the true dual threat option this season, as Dak Prescott is in the top ten in the conference in both passing yards per game (7th) and rushing per game (6th). The country now knows his name after an impressive performance against LSU, and Texas A&M isn’t nearly as stingy on that side of the ball as the Tigers. Prescott could very well go off again, but this time it may not be enough. The Bulldogs have the worst pass defense in the SEC, and this weekend they’ll have to contain the conference’s best passer in Kenny Hill. Johnny Manziel’s replacement is averaging an insane 349 yards per game through the air and also has a bit of speed to buy him some extra time. What LSU wanted to do matched up nicely with Mississippi State’s strengths on defense; Texas A&M’s gameplan does not.

I slowly became a fan of Prescott last season after I was called out for doubting him in a Bleacher Report article I wrote last year, and he’ll definitely give the Aggies trouble. But Hill will give the Bulldogs even more trouble with his arm and I just don’t know if Prescott will be able to keep pace with the amount of points Texas A&M is likely to score. I’m not sure that the Aggies are truly the No. 6 team in the nation, but they’ll silence some doubters this weekend by going into Starkville and taking care of the newest upstarts in the SEC.

My Pick: 41-33 Texas A&M

Jack’s Take: Mississippi State 34-24

#3 Alabama at #11 Mississippi (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

This is arguably the biggest game that has ever been played at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, but people were saying that the last time Alabama was ranked No. 3 in the nation and the Rebels were given a shot at beating the Crimson Tide. This time should be different, though. The Rebels are knocking on the Top 10’s door themselves and have looked very strong defensively all season. However, Alabama hasn’t failed to impress the voters either, making a case for why it should remain as one of the top four teams in the country all season. It would normally seem odd to call a contest between the third and eleventh ranked teams a David vs. Goliath matchup, but despite the success the Rebels have had this season, that’s exactly what it feels like.

Only Alabama allows fewer yards per game on defense than Ole Miss, which is a testament to the system that Hugh Freeze has developed in Oxford. The Rebels are aggressive defensively, forcing 11 turnovers this season, nine of which have been interceptions. Forcing timely turnovers could be difficult against the Crimson Tide, however, as Blake Sims has comfortably adjusted to being the starting quarterback for Alabama and has been very accurate in the passing game. No starter in the SEC bests his 73.2 percent completion rate, and Dak Prescott is a distant second in QB rating. Not many people would have predicted that Alabama would be better off without A.J. McCarron this season, but so far the results have been spectacular. Bo Wallace has been similarly impressive for Ole Miss, but still forces some throws and is prone to turnovers. As a senior quarterback, he must play smart for his team to have a chance to win. The two squads are just too even defensively for the Rebels to bail Wallace out of the messes he can sometimes create.

Ole Miss is good enough on offense for this game not to resemble the 22-3 statement that Alabama made in 2009 the last time the two teams were ranked and played each other in Mississippi. But Wallace could either be the hero or the goat here. This is a chance for him to step up as a leader of the team and have a career afternoon. If he doesn’t, it will be hard for the Rebels to rely solely on the defense to keep this one close. Alabama is just too good offensively this season.

My Pick: 27-17 Alabama

Jack’s Take: Alabama 38-20

#4 Oklahoma at #25 TCU (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

It took a few years for TCU to get used to the rigors of the Big 12, but if the non-conference slate is any indication then the Horned Frogs could finally be competitive in the conference this season. Gary Patterson’s team cracked the Top 25 this week and will take on another ranked team for the first time since joining the Big 12. In addition, the Horned Frogs are one of two teams (Alabama being the other) that rank in the top five nationally in total defense as well as the top 15 nationally in total offense. Oklahoma, like the Crimson Tide, is being anointed as one of the strongest squads in college football this season. But the Sooners are well aware of the havoc that the Horned Frogs can cause at Amon G. Carter Stadium, having lost there as the No. 5 team in the country in 2005.

The Horned Frogs are the second best defense in the country in terms of yards allowed per game, but what’s more impressive is that the team has given up just 21 points over three games this season. Competition be damned, if you’re still in the low 20s by October, you’re doing something right. Coach Patterson has to be pleasantly surprised with the way that the offense is humming, as well. Trevone Boykin has been known as more of a threat in the run game throughout most of his two years and change in Fort Worth, but has blossomed into a capable passer in 2014. His success through the air will be huge in determining whether TCU has a shot to win this one, because the secondary is the one area where Oklahoma’s defense struggles. Running on the Sooners will be much tougher, but between Boykin and running back B.J. Catalon the Horned Frogs will be a handful on the ground as well.

TCU nearly downed Oklahoma in Norman last season, albeit with Blake Bell quarterbacking the Sooners. Fans outside the state of Oklahoma just wait for a letdown from Bob Stoops’ team every year, however, because it’s not a question of “if” but rather “when”. The Horned Frogs have been unusually successful against top five squads recently, going 4-2 since 2005. This is an upset waiting to happen, and I’m going to pounce on the chance to call it. The game could undoubtedly go either way, which is why I feel comfortable taking the underdog in this one.

My Pick: 24-21 TCU

Jack’s Take: Oklahoma 31-10

#14 Stanford at #9 Notre Dame (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The more you look at Notre Dame’s schedule, the more it starts to look like the Fighting Irish may actually be able to sneak into the inaugural playoff. The Golden Domers still have to face current No. 1 Florida State, a tough USC squad and of course the Cardinal this weekend, but whereas at the beginning of the season that looked like an extreme gauntlet to run through unscathed now looks manageable for a playoff worthy team. The Cardinal won’t be easy, however, as previously undefeated Washington found out last weekend.

The Fighting Irish are playing well on both sides of the ball, but the reason Stanford should be worried is because the Notre Dame passing game is particularly dangerous. Everett Golson has exceeded my wildest expectations for him as a quarterback after returning from a year of absence, and that’s partly because I didn’t set the bar very high. But Golson has a command of Brian Kelly’s offense and runs it well, giving the Fighting Irish a solid presence when they have the football. Stanford has held most teams to unimpressive outings through the air this season, but only USC really had a quarterback capable of testing the Cardinal. The defense is still strong, yes, but Stanford looks a bit lost on the offensive side. Trouble in the red zone yet again will come back to bite the Cardinal in this one almost surely.

If you had asked me about this game before the season began, I would have told you that Stanford’s defense would expose Notre Dame’s offense for what it was; smoke and mirrors. But that clearly isn’t the case, and the Fighting Irish have a solid defense to boot. It wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world if Notre Dame let me down here, but I feel confident taking this team at home, especially considering Stanford’s recent offensive woes.

My Pick: 21-13 Notre Dame

Jack’s Take: Notre Dame 24-21

#15 LSU at #5 Auburn (Saturday, 7 PM ET)

If you’re an LSU fan, then this is the biggest game of the season thus far. Why? Not only would a loss to Auburn put you two games back in the SEC West (which is nearly a death sentence), but spending yet another season mired in the middle of the SEC pack could be enough to prompt Les Miles to pack his bags for colder weather. Michigan is about to be hiring, you know. Anyway, that’s talk for the future. This game should be a fun one, albeit a defensive showdown. If Kansas State can force Auburn to play at a certain pace, then so can LSU.

Les Miles has a bit of a conundrum on his hands. The defense and the running game are very strong, but the passing game is weak enough to make abandoning it a realistic option. Of course, that would make the Tigers a one dimensional offense, and it’s difficult enough to win in the SEC with a complete team. But if LSU wants to win this game, it needs to go back to the basics and attempt to win the way it knows best. Auburn is much better in the secondary this season and will eat true freshman Brandon Harris alive if he attempts to do too much. Rather than take risks through the air, it would be wise for LSU to slow things down and attempt to make this a defensive battle. Auburn will play to the pace of its opponent, which isn’t a compliment but simply a fact.

The home team is favored in this game, and for good reason. The offense is better, the defense is good enough to win and LSU’s weaknesses have already been revealed. But Coach Miles doesn’t want to end up two games in the hole in the SEC West, and I’m willing to bet that he’ll pull out all the stops to avoid that happening. Don’t be surprised if we see the Mad Hatter show up in this one, which may just tilt the balance in LSU’s favor.

My Pick: 21-20 LSU

Jack’s Take: Auburn 24-19

5 Games to Flip To

#20 Ohio State at Maryland (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The secondary issue that has plagued the Buckeyes for quite some time now has yet to be fixed, and the Terrapins can score. What a “Welcome to the Big Ten” moment it would be if Maryland could pull of the upset.

#17 Wisconsin at Northwestern (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Just as people were about to write off the Wildcats for a second straight season, they go and thrash previously unbeaten Penn State on the road. Beware Badger fans, Northwestern is seeing red now.

#7 Baylor at Texas (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Why not? If Charlie Strong can rally his players, an upset is a possibility. An unlikely one, but that’s the beauty of college football.

Miami (FL) at Georgia Tech (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

Teams in the ACC’s Coastal Division will play leapfrog with each other all season for first place, so this is actually a pretty important game.

#19 Nebraska at #10 Michigan State (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

One of the rare occasions where two Top 20 squads squaring off against one another doesn’t make the “5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend” section. Sorry Big Ten. Just barely missed the cut, honestly.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Jack 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.

– K. Becks

One Response to 2014 NCAAF Week 6 Weekend Preview

  1. […] what I said about Northwestern last week? This is another winnable game for the Wildcats, who are currently in […]

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