2015 Week 8 NCAAF Weekend Preview

October 22, 2015

By way of perhaps the most incredible and unpredictable final nine seconds of a football game that you will ever see, the guests have taken a slim lead in the head-to-head prediction game.

I feel for the Michigan punter, quite frankly. And I’ve been the Michigan kid. Not on national television, where a rival can take my face and plaster it onto a marketable t-shirt, but I still know the feeling. Boise State vs. Nevada, 2010. My closest friends can attest to this, as they saw me drop to the floor in disbelief when Nevada stunned Boise State after Broncos kicker Kyle Brotzman shanked not one, but two seemingly easy field goals late in the game.

The overall standings after Andrew’s perfect weekend look like this:

K. Becks: 20-15

Guests: 21-14

As we creep closer to November and the first College Football Playoff rankings, the games will continue to be more difficult to predict with every passing week. This weekend, my buddy Neil will join the blog as guest analyst. I’m really interested to see how this weekend will go, as Neil is a bit of a wildcard when it comes to these type of things. A worthy adversary, to say the least.

Let’s take a look at ATC’s top five games to watch during college football’s regular season midpoint, as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#20 California at UCLA (Thursday, 9 PM ET)

In less than a month, the Bruins have gone from College Football Playoff contender to Pac-12 afterthought. Such is life in the ultra-competitive Pac-12 South, but even a freshman quarterback and difficult schedule aren’t entirely to blame for UCLA’s recent struggles. The Bruins need to find an answer quickly, because the high flying Golden Bears visit Los Angeles on Thursday evening looking to do exactly what UCLA’s last two opponents have done.

Whether or not Cal is truly for real in 2015 (the jury is still out on that), the Golden Bears have done all the right things to be regarded as a serious threat by other Pac-12 South opponents. It’s no surprise that Jared Goff and the offense has been humming, but the resurgence of a perpetually weak defense has been the turning point for the squad this season. Cal has allowed more than 30 points just once this season compared to the five times the Golden Bears gave up more than that by this point in 2014. What’s more impressive is that they have done it against the Pac-12’s No. 2 and 3 rated pass defenses in Washington State and Washington. UCLA has the distinction of being the top ranked defense in the conference, but Goff is by far the best quarterback the Bruins will have faced thus far.

UCLA is not going to be bailed out by its defense in this one. Instead, we will learn just how resilient young Josh Rosen is in his first collegiate season. The freshman’s completion percentage has dropped in each of his past three games, but is consistently throwing for over 250 yards and hasn’t thrown more picks than touchdowns since the BYU game. If the Bruins are to stop the downward spiral, Rosen will need to be the player of the game. That will be tough to do with Goff on the other sideline, but it is possible. Cal knows how to win close games, which I believe this one will be.

My Pick: 37-33 California

Neil’s Take: UCLA was hot and now they’re not. Cal was not and now they’re so hot they could be a poster on Kyle’s bedroom wall. Well, at least Jared Goff. UCLA has only scored 20 points in 3rd quarters I’m taking the QB with a 157 passer rating with a stable of productive running backs to cover the spread and win 34-20.

#6 Clemson at Miami (FL) (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

If this one doesn’t scream “trap game” for the Tigers, I don’t know what does. Miami has been playing well as of late despite dropping two of its last three games and the Hurricanes are undefeated at home this season. Clemson has been rolling through the ACC schedule, but the Louisville game last month is proof that the Tigers are not invincible. Both of these teams have confidence and a belief in themselves that have stemmed from very different results. But those two things are key to a team’s success in late October. so this one should be good.

As well as Clemson has been playing on the offensive end, it’s Miami that leads the ACC in passing yards per game. Brad Kaaya has transformed into one of the game’s most feared threats in the pocket, giving the Hurricanes an offensive presence that hasn’t been seen for the better part of the last decade in Coral Gables. He has the potential to make every defense in the ACC look pedestrian, including Clemson’s. But while Miami may be able to hang with the Tigers on the offensive end, it’s the defense that will dictate whether this game could end with the home team celebrating. The Hurricanes have had trouble stopping the pass this season, allowing over 275 yards through the air three times already. Deshaun Watson can and will have a field day with that.

A chance to check out Brad Kaaya alone makes this game worth watching, but the Hurricanes have a shot at making this one close. The issue is the defense, which plays to give up just as many points as Miami’s offense scores. The quick strike threat will keep the Hurricanes in the game for the majority of the 60 minutes, but a big stop or turnover in the second half could shift the momentum in favor of the home team. I see this one staying within 10 points throughout, but Clemson will once again squeak by with a close victory. The Tigers take care of business against unranked teams under Dabo Swinney and won’t take this one lightly.

My Pick: 34-30 Clemson

Neil’s Take: The word “hot” wouldn’t describe Clemson, but they’ve managed to win every game so far. None of their wins have been particularly impressive, but they’ve found a way. I think Miami’s close loss at Florida State says a lot about the team, hanging with a highly ranked team and Brad Kaaya putting up 405 yards passing. Boldly, I’ll pick an upset where Al Golden motivates the Canes to save his job and further devalue Notre Dame’s “quality loss” to the Tigers. 32-24, because its all about the U.

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

After last weekend’s thrilling ending, it will be almost impossible to take the Spartans by surprise for the rest of the 2015 regular season. Mark Dantonio’s team has been consistently getting pushed closer and closer to the brink, and Indiana has already proven it is good enough to hang with the best in the Big Ten. But whether the Hoosiers will be able to rattle a Michigan State squad that almost surely got scared straight after last Saturday remains to be seen.

As close as the game was to going the other way, keep in mind that the Spartans did beat a Michigan team that was confident and playing as well as anyone in the country up to that point. This was a welcome change in East Lansing after the team struggled to beat Purdue (at home) and Rutgers in consecutive weekends leading up to the in-state showdown. Unlike Ohio State, the Spartans will play all four quarters with a quarterback capable of taking full advantage of one of the Big Ten’s worst pass defenses. Whether Michigan State’s defense, which has struggled this season, will fare any better than the Buckeyes did against Indiana’s surprisingly potent offense is unclear. I don’t think it will, but the Spartans won’t be relying on one player to carry the offense, either.

Indiana is better than both Purdue and Rutgers, which should be a slight concern for the Spartans. But assuming that the near loss last weekend woke up anyone in Michigan State’s locker room still floating through the season, Coach Dantonio’s should be reinvigorated and focused for this one. I expect a healthy dose of offense from both sides, but the Spartans won’t ever feel like they aren’t in control of this game.

My Pick: 35-24 Michigan State

Neil’s Take: It’s a slow Saturday when the fighting Hoosiers are included on this venerated list. Seriously can’t get too much closer to the corn, but I guess they’re almost relevant. The Hoosiers had a glimmer that was put out pretty definitively by losing to Rutgers, and Michigan State has an opportunity to put up video game numbers to silence some haters (seriously, Cardale tossed for 250 against this Indiana defense so Connor Cook should be able to have a field day). 52-17 State in East Lansing.

#15 Texas A&M at #24 Mississippi (Saturday, 7 PM ET)

Both of these teams suffered losses last weekend, but it feels as though only the Rebels are reeling at this point. Dropping a game to Alabama is one thing, but losing to AAC foe Memphis, which hasn’t been this good since the early 1960s, is nearly inconceivable for an SEC team. The somewhat humorous irony is that Ole Miss, which did in fact lose to Memphis on the road last weekend, actually beat the Crimson Tide earlier this season. I think that this game has the potential to be a very entertaining one.

The fact that Memphis put up 37 points on the Rebels’ defense is not as much a testament to the strength of the Tigers’ offense as it is the weakness on Mississippi’s defense. It wasn’t as if the Rebels totally shut down Alabama’s passing game, and the argument can be made that the Crimson Tide were still finding their footing in that department at the time. Ole Miss simply made it a point to outscore opponents early in the season and now it isn’t working. Most of the time it looks as if Texas A&M does the same thing, but this year has been different. The Aggies are actually decent defensively and also have a pretty good offense. The problem against Alabama were the four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns and a third which resulted in a field goal for the Crimson Tide. Statistically, the Aggies aren’t going to have such bad luck again in a long time.

It is almost as if the Rebels showed their hand after the first two games of the season by racking up so many points in those games. Everyone seems to have their number as of late, and one thing I cannot deny is that Kevin Sumlin is a smart coach. He understands that Ole Miss is a strong football team at home and will try to do what is necessary to take the crowd out of the game early. If that can be done, then the losing streak will continue for the Rebels. It will be a battle, however.

My Pick: 38-31 Texas A&M

Neil’s Take: Finally, Kyle, a game. #15 vs #24 AND from God’s own conference. The South will truly rise again. But the SEC West powerhouse Ole Miss doesn’t look too powerful coming off of a convincing loss to Memphis. A loss to Alabama is a better setup game, so I favor TA&M in what will be a high scoring offensive affair. 48-41 Aggies.

#3 Utah at Southern California (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

The Utes have climbed to No. 3 in the most recent AP poll, proof that while the Pac-12 South is still a strong conference, the pundits had it entirely wrong at the beginning of the season. Utah will put everything on the line this Saturday evening against one of the two Los Angeles schools, both of which were picked to finish ahead of the Utes in the South division.

Utah has proven capable to win in multiple ways this season. Score over 60 points on the road against a top 10 team? Check. Hold one of the Pac-12’s best offenses to fewer than 500 yards and 24 points? Check. This variance in style makes it very difficult to game plan for the Utes. While they aren’t statistically the most dominant offense in the country, versatile quarterback Travis Wilson complements the smashmouth running style of Devontae Booker. There is no shortage of talent on Southern Cal’s offense, either. When they want to be, the Trojans are nearly unstoppable on the offensive end. Cody Kessler is so composed in the pocket and can pick even good defenses apart. If there is one knock on Utah, it is that the pass defense is not very good. This showed in the Cal game two weekends ago and will play a major factor in this one as well.

As balanced as Utah has looked this season, I believe that it’s just a matter of time before the Pac-12 South sends a bullet the Utes way that they cannot dodge. Southern Cal is loaded with talent, and it may not be such a bad thing that someone like Steve Sarkisian is out of the picture. This was one of my preseason CFB Playoff teams, after all. I’m going with the men of Troy at home to send the Utes home with their first loss of the season.

My Pick: 33-31 Southern Cal

Neil’s Take: Utah vs USC has a lot of story lines, sure. A champion of yesteryear chock full of talent, but with no leadership. An old mid-major turned into a heavy hitter who a lot of people think should be #1. USC won’t get it together during their string of ranked opponents playing in primetime, and Utah will give the pollsters another flash of brilliance to praise. 55-23 Utes.

5 Games to Flip To

Auburn at Arkansas (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

Despite this game not being nearly as big as some thought it would be eight weeks ago, these two are evenly matched.

#23 Duke at Virginia Tech (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The return of Michael Brewer for the Hokies could not be more welcome with the No. 23 Blue Devils coming to Blacksburg.

Wisconsin at Illinois (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

The Illini have fared much better this season than I thought they would without Tim Beckman, so I think that Illinois will have a chance in this one.

Tennessee at #8 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

Obligatory “put Tennessee on this list in case they finally play well against a good team” status.

#9 Florida State at Georgia Tech (Saturday, 7 PM ET)

The Yellow Jackets have had all kinds of trouble stopping the run this season, but may still give the Seminoles a run for their money anyway.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Neil 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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