2014 NCAAF Week 8 Weekend Preview

October 17, 2014

We’re at the midway point of the season, and that means that the intensity is sure to ramp up the rest of the way. The first rankings developed by the playoff committee will be released on October 28, essentially rendering the other polls useless. The polls are just about useless as it is, with so much shifting on a week to week basis that even Rain Man would have trouble keeping up with it all.

Last weekend I finally stopped the bleeding in the head-to-head prediction game, tying Sarah and preventing any further separation in the overall records. They now stand:

K. Becks: 17-13

Guests: 19-11

This week my brother Sean will try to put the guests back on the winning track. In prior years Sean has served as the honorary guest for the Army-Navy game, as he is in the Marines ROTC program in college. However, due to a lack of hustle on my end this week, I needed someone and he was kind enough to come through in a pinch. So thanks for that, bro…I’ll try not to beat you too badly, as I have with every other competition we’ve engaged in over the past 20 years.

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

#14 Kansas State at #11 Oklahoma (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

Saying that this is the biggest game on the Big 12 Conference calendar this season is sort of a slap in the face to the Baylor/TCU game, which featured two undefeated squads ranked in the Top 10. And it’ll be hard to top the excitement of that game as well, given that few other teams in the country would be able to score 61 points, let alone nearly lose a game in which it scored 61 points. But the importance of this game should still be noted. Oklahoma has had its troubles the past couple of weekends, but Bob Stoops has a way of finding himself in the thick of a conference title race come November. And Kansas State may be one of the most conservative squads in the country under Bill Snyder, but the Wildcats rarely play themselves out of games as a result.

Once heralded as one of the best units in the country, Oklahoma’s defense is what has been letting the Sooners down in October. After allowing fewer than 315 yards total in each of its first three games, Oklahoma has given up 450 yards the past three contests. Part of it is due to the competition, as West Virginia, TCU and Texas are much better offensively than Louisiana Tech, Tulsa and Tennessee. But the secondary has been particularly bad, allowing over 315 yards through the air against the Big 12 opponents. Kansas State is a well-balanced offense and will likely be able to take advantage of the pass defense issues just as Texas did last weekend. Jake Waters has established himself as the clear leader of the Wildcats offense and is more than capable of having a big day against the Sooners.

It’s hard to imagine Oklahoma dropping two straight games at home, but the reality is that Kansas State is too solid an opponent beat by playing the way the Sooners did last weekend against Texas. It’s easy to ask the question, “which Oklahoma team will show up?”, but there’s a more pressing issue at hand. Based on the out-of-conference schedule, were Oklahoma’s weaknesses, which now seem glaring, simply being masked? We’ll find out for sure on Saturday, but I suspect that the answer is yes.

My Pick: 30-28 Kansas State

Sean’s Take: Oklahoma 24-21

The Sooners have dominated on their home turf under Bob Stoops, but that only accounts for so much success. The Sooners have struggled in recent weeks on offense which will allow Kansas State the opportunity to keep this game close and make it a 4th quarter knock em’ down, drag out game.

#21 Texas A&M at #7 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

In a game where both teams seem to be headed in the wrong direction, something has got to give. The Aggies have come back to Earth since the opening Thursday night game against South Carolina, struggling against any team that can score as well. The Crimson Tide aren’t on a losing streak, but have looked particularly vulnerable offensively. In a game with contrasting coaching philosophies, this one should be interesting. Just be advised that if you’re prematurely calling the end of Alabama’s dynasty, you may have to kiss someone’s butt.

About a month ago, Blake Sims was making everyone in Tuscaloosa forget all about the name A.J. McCarron. Sims had been on a roll, throwing for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns through the first four games of the season, all Crimson Tide victories. Since that time, Sims has seemingly regressed, averaging less than 200 yards passing per game and completing just fewer than 56 percent of his passes in October. But it may not be entirely the senior quarterback’s fault. The rushing attack has cooled off significantly as well, gaining a paltry 66 yards on 32 attempts last weekend against SEC bottom dweller Arkansas. Similarly to Sims, freshman quarterback Kenny Hill was prompting Aggie fans to pop the “Johnny Who?” question left and right to begin the season. But back to back losses by Texas A&M in which Hill has thrown five interceptions has those same fans wondering if it was all smoke and mirrors. The SEC is a tough conference, ladies and gentlemen. These two teams are finding that out.

Although it remains to be seen whether Alabama’s issues in the running game are recurring, the Crimson Tide should have more luck against Texas A&M’s porous defense. The Aggies can keep things interesting if Hill returns to his early season form, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that Alabama still has one of the best defenses in the conference. I expect the Crimson Tide to give Hill problems for a third straight week and win this game by a couple of touchdowns. Perhaps the voters weren’t totally off base with Texas A&M in the preseason after all…

My Pick: 35-21 Alabama

Sean’s Take: Alabama 35-24

Alabama wins this one easily. A&M’s Kenny Hill has been chilly these past few weeks, throwing 5 interceptions in the last 2 games. This doubles the number of interceptions that he had thrown the rest of the season. Alabama’s defense will look to pressure Hill into making mistakes and disrupting the Aggies offense. The Crimson Tide takes this one easily.

#15 Oklahoma State at #12 TCU (Saturday, 4 PM ET)

The Horned Frogs were 11 minutes and change away from upsetting Baylor in Waco last weekend, but then Bryce Petty went to work. TCU allowed three touchdowns in those final minutes and were beaten on a last second field goal, capping what has to be one of the craziest fourth quarters of the season. Although it’s dangerous to say “never” in the Big 12 Conference when it comes to offensive feats, chances are that Oklahoma State won’t duplicate Baylor’s efforts this weekend. Rather, defense could play a major role in deciding the winner in this one.

TCU has slipped from being, statistically, one of the best defenses in the entire country to simply a solid one in the Big 12. But keep in mind that the Horned Frogs have faced ranked opponents the past two weekends, one of which happens to lead the country in total offensive yards per game (Baylor). This weekend Gary Patterson’s team has to stop Oklahoma’s Daxx Garman at quarterback, who is a far cry from Bryce Petty. Garman is actually on par with Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight statistically, whom the Horned Frogs forced into throwing two interceptions and just a 40 percent completion rate two weekends ago. Prompting Garman to make quick decisions should result in success for TCU, the conference leader in turnover margin per game.

If TCU can force a couple of turnovers on defense, things should go pretty well for the offense. Oklahoma State is No. 106 in the country in pass defense, allowing 267.3 yards per game through the air. Trevone Boykin makes good decisions in the pocket and could have a field day in this one. Unless TCU forgoes an obvious opportunity to cash in through the air and Oklahoma State is just humming offensively, I don’t see the Horned Frogs losing this one.

My Pick: 38-28 TCU

Sean’s Take: TCU 42-38

Both teams have just one loss this season. The winner of this game has the ability to contend for the Big 12 title. The Frogs dropped a game last week to Baylor and will likely enter into redemption mode in order to recover from a horrendous fourth quarter against Baylor. The Cowboys on the other hand have been rolling, winning their last five games. The Horned Frogs are able to pull this one out because of OSU’s offensive struggles and the determination to redeem themselves and stay in the hunt for a Big 12 title.

#5 Notre Dame at #2 Florida State (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

The golden helmets take center stage this weekend as Notre Dame and Florida State square off in Saturday’s marquee matchup. It’s going to be tremendously difficult for the loser of this game to climb back into the playoff mix, not only because we are already halfway through the season but because of the number of games left that each team has to actually prove something. This much is for sure; it’s been quite awhile since these two schools have played a meaningful matchup against one another, but college football benefits from a game like this.

The rumors swirling about Jameis Winston’s alleged autograph signings have dominated the headlines this week, and the only person who could have handled it worse with the media than Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher is Winston himself. However, that will likely have little effect on Winston’s play in this game. The reigning Heisman Trophy recipient hasn’t been spectacular this season, but he’s still leading the ACC in passing yards per game and completion percentage. But the lurking issue for the Seminoles this season has been the defensive secondary, which has on numerous occasions fallen asleep and allowed big plays. This is where the visiting team can take advantage. Everett Golson has the ability to make Florida State’s secondary pay, but he’s been inconsistent against quality competition. Other than Stanford, it’s hard to make the argument that the Fighting Irish have played a good opponent. In order for Notre Dame to have a chance in this one, Golson needs to step up in a big way.

Chances are that this game will see a lot of touchdowns. Winston plays his best on the biggest of stages, so expect him to come ready to play. Whether this is simply a wild ride with a lot of scoring or a game which comes down to the final few possessions depends on Golson’s ability to break Florida State’s shaky pass defense. It can be done, but the Fighting Irish will have to ignore the raucous crowd. This is Notre Dame’s first road test of the season, and I think that it will be the team’s first loss of the season as well.

My Pick: 36-27 Florida State

Sean’s Take: Florida St. 45-21

Both teams come out this week with no losses on their records and a lot to prove. The ‘Noles need to prove that they are the same power team that they were last year and the Irish come to prove that they are the real deal. ND’s Everett Golson has the most to win and lose in this week’s game. Is he the real deal and can he handle a top CFB program? My prediction is that the Irish will crumble under the intense pressure and physical ability of the Florida St. offense and defense. The Seminoles will win big and remain unbeaten for the time being. Jameis Winston’s off field actions will be more of a talking point than his on field success this week.

Washington at #9 Oregon (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

Although I had Oregon as my No. 1 team overall at the beginning of the season, I quickly wrote them off as national title contenders after back-to-back weeks of poor play, the second of which ended in a humbling defeat at the hands of Arizona. However, the Ducks regained my vote of confidence with a convincing win over UCLA, which has been as inconsistent as any team in the country. Still, Oregon is back in the playoff hunt after one week of uncertainty. Beating Washington won’t be easy, though, as Chris Petersen has already shown in Pac-12 play a willingness to bring to the table his bold play-calling that he employed at Boise State.

The Huskies are essentially a tale of two sides. On defense, Washington is one of the best in the Pac-12 and can bring a team like California to a screech halt offensively. On offense, the Huskies are confused, inexperienced and generally ineffective. Unfortunately, this information does little to paint a picture of how this game will play out. Contrarily, Oregon is powerful offensively (although not as powerful as in prior years) but is awful on defense. If you were to look at Oregon’s defensive numbers, it isn’t as surprising that Arizona was able to pick apart the Ducks’ secondary. However, the statistics are loaded for both teams. Oregon has had to face two of the top three offenses in the conference. Cal is decent offensively, but other than that Washington has had to stop offensive attacks that resemble its own. So it is entirely possible that Oregon’s defense is not as bad as it seems while Washington simply hasn’t had to face such dangerous squads on that side of the ball.

For Oregon, this game hinges on Marcus Mariota and the offensive line. If Mariota has time to work and isn’t pressured all game long, the Ducks will find ways to score even if Washington is the real deal on defense. The Huskies have a much more difficult agenda. In addition to playing well defensively, quarterback Cyler Miles must continue his string of games in which he has improved markedly. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that he will need to have a career night. The Huskies can keep this one close and probably will for awhile, but some real Petersen magic will need to happen to down the Ducks at Autzen Stadium.

My Pick: 28-17 Oregon

Sean’s Take: Oregon 31-24

The Ducks will be wearing some more traditional gear this weekend, making the game a little easier on the eyes. Oregon will win this game because of its defense. Washington has yet to face a defense as capable as Oregon. With a win in this game the Ducks will take on Stanford and a win against the Cardinal will set the Ducks up as a favorite to play for the Pac-12 championship.

5 Games to Flip To

#4 Baylor at West Virginia (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The Bears could suffer a letdown in Morgantown after the emotional high last weekend, but the Mountaineers are making a habit of coming up just a bit short in big opportunities.

Virginia at Duke (Saturday, 12:30 PM ET)

These schools are expensive and not known for football, but despite neither team having a number next to its name this is still an interesting contest. ACC title game ramifications exist here, too.

#10 Georgia at Arkansas (Saturday, 4 PM ET)

Every team that faces Arkansas for the rest of the season beware: this team wants a win so badly. Georgia is just the right mix of inconsistent where it’s possible.

Kentucky at LSU (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

Don’t look now, but the Wildcats are fighting for position near the top of the SEC East. This one should be entertaining.

#23 Stanford at #17 Arizona State (Saturday, 10:30 PM ET)

The Pac-12 as a whole is wide open, so this game is still very important for both teams. You won’t see either in this year’s playoff, but winning the Pac-12 title is absolutely a possibility for the Cardinal and Sun Devils.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Sean 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *