2014 NCAAF Week 9 Weekend Preview

October 24, 2014

It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen enough to keep me from shutting down this blog altogether. I went a perfect 5-0 in the head-to-head prediction game last weekend, besting my brother Sean by one game. Of all the weeks to pull it off, Week 8 was a good one.

The overall records now stand:

K. Becks: 22-13

Guests: 23-12

This week my buddy Andrew Buening will try to help the guests get back to their winning ways. This is Andrew’s first time as the guest prognosticator on ATC, and when that became apparent it shocked both him and me. Andrew is one of those guys, anonymously referenced, that fits the category of “loyal readers” I often refer to when I begin to think that no one is reading my work. He was one of the fifth period classmates senior year of high school who would always ask me about the blog and Boise State; thus, he truly is a driving factor in the continuation of Around The Corn.

This weekend, however, I’m aiming to take him down and at least pull even with the guests for the season.

Next week we’ll be introduced to the first ever college football rankings as determined by the Playoff Committee. Teams currently in the top four, beware; this weekend may not look dangerous, but every week spent at the top gets more difficult.

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 Oregon at California (Friday, 10 PM ET)

The Ducks bounced back in a big way last Saturday evening, trouncing Washington at home and reestablishing itself as the odds-on favorite to win the Pac-12 Conference. California has been headed in the other direction for a few weeks now, dropping its past two games, both at home. The Golden Bears will get a third consecutive chance to impress the Cal faithful, but something is going to have to change on the defensive end if Sonny Dykes wants to secure his first big victory as head coach in Berkeley.

Unfortunately for the Golden Bears, it was just a matter of time before teams in the Pac-12 figured out the strategy Sonny Dykes has been employing his entire head coaching career. While California is great at slinging the ball around (second in the conference in passing yards per game) and has a very capable quarterback to do so in Jared Goff, the Golden Bears simply can’t stop anyone through the air when they’re on defense. And as good as Goff is at directing an aerial attack, Cal is woefully one-dimensional offensively. Essentially, the gameplan for this team is to simply out-throw the opposition. Unfortunately, Oregon is led by a Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback, so outscoring the Ducks isn’t going to be easy. However, Oregon’s supposed defensive reinvention last weekend could be exposed by Goff, who is much better through the air than Cyler Miles of Washington.

In order for the Golden Bears to put a real scare into the Ducks, Goff is going to have to be near perfect and Oregon’s defense can’t play as well as it did last weekend. A shootout favors California because the team has been in so many; Oregon hasn’t played particularly well this year when not in total control of the game’s pace. The problem for the Golden Bears is that I don’t believe this one will reach the 50s in points per team. This one will be worth watching and the potential for a major upset is present, but I just don’t see Cal’s defense able to force enough stops to seal the deal.

My Pick: 38-31 Oregon

Andrew’s Take: Both teams are ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense and outside of the top 100 in scoring defense, so there’s no surprise that this is going to be a high scoring game. This will be yet another Pac-12 game this year where home field doesn’t appear to be much of an advantage. Look for Oregon to put this game away in the first half and for Cal to score a couple touchdowns on blown coverage late in the game against the second string.

Oregon 52, Cal 31

#22 West Virginia at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

West Virginia’s upset over Baylor last weekend gave college football fans who didn’t believe in the Waco hype something to cheer about, but the Mountaineers have little time to celebrate. Stillwater is about the only place that the Cowboys have played well this season, but most years that’ll still land them somewhere in the middle of the Big 12 pack. More specific to this game, it means that Oklahoma State is fully capable of pulling off a minor upset over the now ranked Mountaineers squad.

Last week’s victory over Baylor may be just the thing that West Virginia needed to propel the team to greater heights. Statistically this is a team worth talking about, as the Mountaineers have a top 10 offense thanks in large part to senior quarterback Clint Trickett. What is most surprising, however, is the defense. West Virginia is third in the Big 12 in passing defense, ahead of TCU and just behind Baylor. The secondary will play a key role for both sides in this game, and the Mountaineers definitely have the advantage. Oklahoma State gives up just over 288 yards per game through the air and aren’t nearly as powerful offensively as West Virginia. Add on the fact that the Mountaineers have been on the road in big games a few times already this season, and you’ve got a battle-tested team with a veteran signal-caller that wants to continue to climb in the rankings.

The Cowboys are not a team to take lightly, and it is possible that Dana Holgorsen’s squad could suffer from a slight sense of entitlement after the big win. But West Virginia has earned its No. 22 ranking; both the results and the statistics support that. Oklahoma State plays well at home, but it is going to be difficult to stop Trickett on offense unless the Cowboys suddenly start playing better in the secondary. If West Virginia scores at least 35 points, it wins.

My Pick: 38-28 West Virginia

Andrew’s Take: Oklahoma State is looking to bounce back from the trashing they received at TCU last week while West Virginia is riding high from their win last week over No. 4 Baylor. I think that the TCU loss was exactly the wake-up call that the Cowboys need to get back on track and to start playing like the team that almost upset Florida State in Week 1. Oklahoma State in a close one.

Oklahoma State 37, West Virginia 31

#3 Mississippi at #24 LSU (Saturday, 7:15 PM ET)

The game of the weekend takes place in Death Valley, but on this rare occasion the Tigers aren’t the favored team to win. Ole Miss has surprised nearly everyone in the college football world by making it past the midway point in the season without a blemish on its record, but life in the SEC is tough. A win over Alabama only ensures that you’ll get the best from every team thereafter, which in the Rebels case meant Texas A&M and LSU in succession. The Tigers have had a bumpy ride so far this season, but nothing would turn it around faster than a victory over the No. 3 team in the country.

Every year there is a quarterback who I don’t really believe in, then makes me pay dearly for writing that his team will suffer as a result of his play. This year, that quarterback is Bo Wallace. The senior has been terrific in 2014, but generally has been overshadowed by Dak Prescott and Kenny Hill. But like Hill, Wallace is primarily responsible for the success of his offense as there is a much greater pass presence than rushing attack for the Rebels. Fortunately for LSU, whose defense hasn’t been up to par overall this season, pass defense is still a strength. The Tigers lead the SEC in yards allowed through the air and completely shut down Kentucky’s pass happy offense last weekend. However, Ole Miss is likely to give Les Miles a lot of trouble calling plays as well. The Rebels allow just 97 yards per game on the ground, and it isn’t incorrect to say that LSU still has the training wheels on Anthony Jennings at quarterback.

Defense will rule this game, and when it really comes down to it this is a classic SEC football game. The offense that makes more plays and takes a couple more gutsy chances that pay off will win this game. Both defenses are set up nicely to contain the opponent’s offensive strengths, so don’t expect to see a ton of points scored. Although LSU was unable to get it done the last time a team from Mississippi entered Death Valley, I think that the Tigers still have the ability to hang with the country’s elite teams. I like a shaky LSU offense to do just enough at home to knock off the Rebels in an upset that will shift the balance of power in the SEC West.

My Pick: 20-17 LSU

Andrew’s Take: It is no minor task to march into Baton Rouge and win a night game in Death Valley. LSU will have to establish their running game early with Fournette if they want to have any chance in this game. Ole Miss is a second half team though and I expect Bo Wallace and the Rebels to pull it out and hand LSU its first home night game loss since 2012.

Ole Miss 24, LSU 13

#20 Southern California at #19 Utah (Saturday, 10 PM ET)

Anyone who thought that Utah would be this good in 2014 give yourself a pat on the back. Not only have the Utes impressed most pundits in college football with their solid efforts on both sides on the football, but they’ve managed to do it very quietly. Few other than Week 6 of the 2014-2015 season would a victory over UCLA in Los Angeles have gone relatively unnoticed by the casual observer. No worries in Salt Lake, however. Kyle Whittingham’s team knows that as long as it keeps winning the chance at a Pac-12 Championship Game berth is still alive. This game is huge with regards to the South Division race.

If you’re looking for a flashy football team with lots of stars at key positions, Utah is your worst enemy. The Utes aren’t gaudy and don’t have a lot of household names with the exception of running back Devontae Booker, but collectively get things done. A run first approach on offense would seem to mean that the Utes value ball control, but in reality only Washington and Oregon hold onto the football for less time per game than Utah in the Pac-12. What the Utes do better than anyone in the conference is get to the quarterback. Utah has 33 sacks on the year and will need to put that kind of pressure on Cody Kessler in order to win this game. Southern Cal’s gunslinger has amassed an incredible 18-t0-1 touchdown to interception ratio and has become increasingly difficult to rattle. He will be the key to the success of the Trojans in this one, despite the team being balanced offensively.

Both of these teams have proved that they can win close games, and both of these teams have proved that a blowout victory is also a possibility. But what these teams haven’t done is separate themselves from the South Division pack. Four teams have just one loss in conference play, Southern Cal and Utah included. Things can get rowdy in Salt Lake City, so don’t expect the Trojans to come in and throw their weight around in this one. This will be an entertaining nightcap for those on the East Coast, but when all is said and done I think that men of Troy will survive a close contest.

My Pick: 23-21 Southern California

Andrew’s Take: Utah

#14 Arizona State at Washington (Saturday, 10:45 PM ET)

In case you didn’t already get your Pac-12 fix, this is the third game from the conference to be featured in this week’s 5 to Watch section. The Huskies were humbled last weekend in Eugene, but Arizona State presents a much more manageable challenge for the oft offensively challenged Washington team. The Sun Devils are making out pretty well since losing Taylor Kelly to an injury, but the good news for Arizona State fans is that the senior will return to the action in this one. I made sure I did my homework on him this time. Just another up-for-grabs Pac-12 contest worth watching into the wee hours of the morning in the Eastern time zone.

The name Mike Bercovici probably isn’t familiar to most people outside of Tempe, but he will be in a couple of years. The redshirt sophomore showed off his skills in big games against UCLA, Southern Cal and Stanford, winning two of them and passing for over 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns. He’ll step aside to let Taylor Kelly back in, but that might actually be of benefit to the Huskies. Washington is awful against the pass this season, but is generally pretty tough against the run. Kelly is a smart quarterback and I’m a big fan of his decision making, but part of his value is in his legs. As much as I want to see him back in the game for the Sun Devils, trading a big arm for scrambling skills isn’t exactly a trade-up against Washington.

As such, expect a closer game than if Bercovici were still the starter. I don’t see Arizona State losing this one, but it’s possible that Todd Graham’s squad won’t put as many points up on the board. D.J. Foster and Kelly are a dangerous combination on the ground and it is one of the things that gets the passing game working. But Washington should be able to keep this one entertaining if the Sun Devils try to mess with what has been successful over the past few weeks.

My Pick: 27-20 Arizona State

Andrew’s Take: Arizona State is coming off of 2 straight wins over Top 25 teams and I think they’re going to be able to ride that momentum at Washington in a close win.

Arizona State 35 Washington 31

5 Games to Flip To

BYU at Boise State (Friday, 9 PM ET)

More of a primer to the Cal/Oregon game, but a lot of points could be scored in this one.

#1 Mississippi State at Kentucky (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

LSU embarrassed the upstart Wildcats last weekend, so expect Mark Stoops to have his team angry and ready to take on the country’s top ranked team in Lexington. I don’t see another blowout for Kentucky.

Michigan at #8 Michigan State (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

A trap game for the Spartans because of the rivalry, but it’ll be hard for Michigan to win this one on the road.

#15 Arizona at Washington State (Saturday, 6 PM ET)

Because Washington State can beat anyone on any given night. The wildcard of the nation.

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

Perhaps a better question than “will Ohio State win this game?” is “will Ohio State fail to score 50 points for the first time this month?”

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.

– K. Becks

Leave a Reply

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