Posts by Alex Koslow

SQ Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Preview

In a game that will be mostly overshadowed by the two CFP games being played the same day, the Peach Bowl should be a terrific matchup. Florida State and Houston play each other for the 17th time in their history, but the first since 1978. Houston is riding high after winning the American Athletic Conference, but

In a game that will be mostly overshadowed by the two CFP games being played the same day, the Peach Bowl should be a terrific matchup. Florida State and Houston play each other for the 17th time in their history, but the first since 1978. Houston is riding high after winning the American Athletic Conference, but FSU has to be disappointed after having a lackluster year by their standards. Here’s what to expect from this year’s matchup: 

Major Storylines 

No Everett Golson: Upon his arrival at Florida State, quarterback Everett Golson was supposed to be the bridge between former star Jameis Winston and the future. However, Golson wasn’t able to duplicate the success he had from Notre Dame, and due to personal reasons, he will not play in the Peach Bowl. 

Golson started eight of the first ten games this season, throwing for 1,778 yards and 11 touchdowns. After starting off well, key turnovers and a head injury hindered Golson’s play. Incumbent backup Sean Maguire took over starting duties late in the season due to poor performances from Golson and will start against Houston.  

The Cougars Are Looking for National Respect: Houston is having the best season for an American Athletic team since UCF won the Fiesta Bowl in 2014. That might not sound like an accomplishment, but the American Athletic Conference was much improved this year with three teams winning at least ten games, up from only one the previous season. Houston is also the best Group of 5 team, ranked 18th in the CFP rankings. The Cougars are looking at this game as a shot to show everyone how good they are. With a win over Florida State, Houston can also put themselves in position to be considered as the Group of 5’s best chance at making the next College Playoff.  

Key Stats 

40.6 – Points per game scored by Houston this season. The Cougars have one of the nation’s top offenses, and not many know about it. Ranked 11th nationally in scoring offense, Houston has scored over 50 points four times while being held to 24 or less on only two occasions, one being their lone loss to Connecticut. If the Cougars offense is running on all cylinders, they can compete with practically anyone, especially FSU.  

15.8 – Average number of points given up by Florida State’s defense. This game will come down to the matchup between Houston’s high-octance offense and Florida State’s stout defense. Talk all year focused on FSU’s offense, especially Golson and running back Dalvin Cook, but their defense is where they shined and the main reason that they’ve been successful. While they don’t force many turnovers, only 14 on the year, they definitely stop their opponents from scoring. Ranked fifth in least points allowed per game, the Seminoles are anchored by a NFL-caliber defensive back in Jalen Ramsey, who should be matched up with Houston’s best receiver Demarcus Ayers. This game will be a classic bout of power offense verses power defense. 

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

31– Total rushing touchdowns for Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (19) and running-back Kenneth Farrow (12). Houston’s offense has already been mentioned, but special attention should be put on the Cougars’ rushing attack. While Ward Jr. leads the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, he’ll be glad to have Farrow in the backfield. Farrow is second on Houston with 949 yards and 12 touchdowns, but missed the final two games of the season with an injury. Farrow is expected to return for the Peach Bowl and the running game will be relied on to exploit the Seminoles’ weakness on defense. FSU gives up 180.9 rushing yards a game, 53rd in the nation.  

Key Players 

Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston: After being recruited to Houston as a defensive back and starting his career at wide receiver, Ward Jr. has turned into one of the most exciting players in college football as a quarterback. His unique style of play has only been seen by this FSU team last season when going up against Marcus Mariota in the Rose Bowl. Ward Jr. has 19 rushing touchdowns, 16 through the air and is the only quarterback to both run and pass for over 1,000 yards. The Seminoles will need to be on their toes to try and defend both aspects of Ward Jr’s game. 

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Dalvin Cook, RB, FSU: Cook is one of the best running backs in the country, and some would even argue that he is the best. Many thought it was a joke that Cook wasn’t in the top five of Heisman voting, especially when looking at his stats. Rushing for 1,658 yards with a 7.9 yards per carry average and 18 touchdowns, Cook was in the top ten among running backs in all these statistics. Cook accounted for almost 37% of the Seminoles’ total offense and almost 40% of their touchdowns. It’s safe to say that Cook makes the Seminole offense move.

Prediction 

Houston has the advantage on offense and FSU has the advantage on defense. The real deciding factor will be the Cougars’ defense against the Seminoles’ offense, where there’s a distinct advantage for FSU. Neither should be able to pull away enough to make this game a blowout. Betting against Greg Ward Jr. is hard, but the old adage of defense wins championships could apply here in the end.

FSU def. Houston 24-21

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Best of the Rest: A Look At The Best Non-CFP Bowl Games

Bowl season is here once again, and all eyes are on the semi-final match-ups. However, dismissing the other bowl games would a disservice to those teams involved. While not all games are going to be nail-biters, some of the other major bowl games feature teams that were close to playing on New Years.  

Though the Cotton Bowl

Bowl season is here once again, and all eyes are on the semi-final match-ups. However, dismissing the other bowl games would a disservice to those teams involved. While not all games are going to be nail-biters, some of the other major bowl games feature teams that were close to playing on New Years.  

Though the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl are perennially the best bowl games to watch, here are a few others for your viewing pleasure:

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl  

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2) vs Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1)

Facing against each other for the first time since the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame and Ohio State play in a bowl that seems to be a consolation prize for those that just missed out on glory. The Buckeyes had visions of a repeat visit to the CFP while the Irish blew their chance at a berth by losing to Stanford in their final game.  

The biggest matchup in this game will be the two juggernaut offenses against their respective opposing defenses. Both Ohio State and Notre Dame average over 34 points a game, but Ohio State has the definite edge on defense. The Buckeyes will most likely rely heavily on running back Ezekiel Elliott, especially since the Irish give up just over 166 rushing yards on the ground per game.  

Notre Dame will have a tough time moving the ball on Ohio State, who ranks in the Top 25 in both rushing and passing yards given up per game. Deshone Kizer has played very well at quarterback since Malik Zaire went down with an injury earlier in the season, but the Buckeyes will be the best defense Kizer will face all year. The Irish offense will have to have their best game of the year to have a shot at taking down the former champs.  

Valero Alamo Bowl  

Oregon Ducks (9-3) vs TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) 

Oregon and TCU have similar philosophies, which feature high octane offenses while sacrificing defense. TCU Quarterback Trevone Boykin started the season as the country’s best QB and a Heisman front-runner, but fell off near the end due to injury and a tough Big 12 schedule. For the Ducks, Vernon Adams was the complete opposite. Injuring his thumb early in the season and struggling to win games raised the question if Adams was in over his head jumping from FCS Eastern Washington. However, Adams and the Ducks regrouped and finished the season strong at 9-3, a record which included a big win over conference champion Stanford.  

This match-up has all the signs of being a shootout. The Horned Frogs rank fourth in total offense with 6,772 yards and the Ducks are ninth with 6,578. Both squads also average over 40 points a game. As good as their offenses are, their defenses are equally as bad. Oregon gave up the 14th most yards at 5764. TCU on the other hand has given up 4,760 total yards, 66th most in the country. 

This game could be what TCU-Baylor was last season, and has all the potential of being one of the most exciting bowl games of the year.  

Russell Athletic Bowl  

Baylor Bears (9-3) vs UNC Tar Heels (11-2)

Talk about two teams that had completely different journeys on the way to their bowl game. Baylor was seen as a CFP contender from the start of the season. UNC on the other hand, fought their way to an 11-2 record and an appearance in the ACC Championship Game.  

All year, everyone expected Baylor to compete for a playoff spot. Quarterback Seth Russell was leading one of the best offenses in the country before he went down with a neck injury. Freshman Jarrett Stidham stepped in, but he also went down with an ankle injury. Chris Johnson then filled in, but in the final game against Texas, he left with a concussion. Despite this, Jake Trotter of ESPN announced earlier this week that Johnson will be the starter for the Athletic Bowl. We’ll have to see how Johnson leads such a high profile offense against a mediocre UNC defense.  

North Carolina has a stellar offense, ranked 11th with 6,330 yards, lead by quarterback Marquise Williams. The Tar Heels had won 11 games in a  row before a close loss to No. 1 ranked Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. That finale showed off the skill that the Tar Heels have and showed the rest of the country that UNC isn’t just a basketball school. UNC has the skills on offense to compete with any team in the country, but their 100th ranked defense holds them back from being a dominant team. 

If Stidham were playing, this game could come out differently, but like fellow SQ writer Christopher Pashal wrote in his preview, a lot of Baylor’s success hinges on which quarterback in under center. Expect this game, like the Oregon-TCU match-up, to be a shootout. 

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Mountain West Conference Championship Preview

The only meeting this season between San Diego State and Air Force will hold more weight than any other matchup before. While the Falcons lead the overall series 19 to 14, the Aztecs are 4.5 point favorites in the title game. Both teams are coming in hot, with Air Force winning five of their last six, and

The only meeting this season between San Diego State and Air Force will hold more weight than any other matchup before. While the Falcons lead the overall series 19 to 14, the Aztecs are 4.5 point favorites in the title game. Both teams are coming in hot, with Air Force winning five of their last six, and SDSU currently on an eight game winning streak. 

Key Storylines 

No Boise State-There’s no denying that Boise State is the face of the Mountain West Conference. Coming into this year the Broncos were the clear-cut favorite to win the conference, especially after winning the title last season. Not only were they projected to win the conference, Boise State was seen as the non-power 5 conference team with the best shot at making the CFP playoffs. However, Boise State went 5-3 in conference play, including a 37-30 loss to Air Force which clinched the division for the Falcons. 

Air Force is looking for fourth conference title, first since 1998– Outside of Navy, the military academies aren’t known for having much football success. Air Force is looking to change that. The Falcons are attempting to win their first Mountain West championship and fourth conference championship in school history. Before joining the MWC in 1999, Air Force was a member of the Western Athletic Conference, where they won championships in 19985, 1995, and 1998.  

San Diego State Quarterback Maxwell Smith out with torn MCL- The Aztecs don’t have the most dynamic passing game, only averaging 138 yards per game, but losing a senior quarterback is going to hurt. In the first quarter of last week’s game against Nevada, Smith went down with an apparent knee injury. The injury is believed to be an ACL injury, but the extent is not know. Redshirt-freshman Christian Chapman will take over at QB for the championship game and possibly the Aztecs’ bowl game.

Key Stats

3,403-total yards given up by San Diego State this season. The Aztecs rely on two things: running the ball and defense. The Aztecs rank fifth in total opponent yards at 3,403, an average of only 284 per game. That’s going to make a big difference, considering Air Force has the 27th most total yards in the country, second most in the MW. San Diego State is going to have to depend on its defense, especially with their quarterback out.  

323.2-Air Force rushing yards per game. Like most academies, Air Force is known for their rushing attack. Even with no player having 1,000 rushing yards on the year, the Falcons still rank third nationally in rushing yards per game. Jacobi Owens is the leading running back with 853 yards. Typical of any option offense, the quarterback is a big part of the running game and quarterback Karson Roberts is no different. Roberts is the second leading rusher on the team with 591 yards on top of nine rushing touchdowns. Air Force has virtually no aerial attack, which doesn’t bode well against a stout defense. 

+20-turnover margin for San Diego State. Limiting turnovers and forcing your opponents into mistakes is a recipe for success, and no team does it better than San Diego State. The Aztec defense has intercepted 20 passes this year, returning three of them for touchdowns. Their offense is also very safe with the football, turning the ball over only 11 times, 8 fumbles and 3 interceptions. In a game that could come down to the final few possessions, turnovers will most likely be the difference. 

Key Players 

San Diego State Running Back Donnel Pumphrey 

The Aztec offense revolves around junior running back Donnell Pumphrey. Ranked in the top 15 in both rushing yards with 1,464 and touchdowns with 16, Pumphrey was named MWC Offensive Player of the Year earlier this week, the first Aztec to win the award. Not only is he having a great year for the Aztecs, Pumphrey trails only NFL Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk for most rushing yards in a career at San Diego State by just over 500. Pumphrey will have to carry an even bigger load for San Diego State in order for them to be successful

Air Force Defensive Lineman Alex Hansen 

The Falcons’ defense ranks 20th in the country, giving up 329 yards per game. While three players were named First-Team All-Conference on defense, Hansen is going to have the biggest impact on this matchup. Hansen is third on the team with 59 total tackles, but leads the team in sacks (7.5). More importantly, Hansen leads the team in tackles for loss with 14.5. If Hansen can break into the backfield and contain Pumphrey and any other running back, Air Force has to like their chances of staying in the game, and possibly winning.   

Prediction 

San Diego State def. Air Force 24-17 

This game has the potential to be a low scoring affair. SDSU and Air Force are running teams and both head coaches are sure to game plan for it. Having a redshirt-freshman at quarterback hurts the Aztec offense even more; luckily Pumphrey is up to the task. I give San Diego State the slight edge due to their defense, despite going up against the Falcons’ triple option offense. Giving up only 16.6 points per game is no small task and the Aztecs also have the MWC Defensive Player of the Year in cornerback Damontae Kazee. With a playmaker like Pumphrey and one of the nations top defenses, the Aztecs should come away with their first outright MWC title. 

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Each Playoff Team’s Biggest Upset Threat

The CFP picture is coming into focus each week. Top teams are trying to hold their position in the top four, while everyone else is hoping for a slip up. For a select few, the CFP is a very real possibility. 

No one is just going to roll over and give these teams the satisfaction

The CFP picture is coming into focus each week. Top teams are trying to hold their position in the top four, while everyone else is hoping for a slip up. For a select few, the CFP is a very real possibility. 

No one is just going to roll over and give these teams the satisfaction of walking into the playoffs without trouble. Listed are the biggest upset threats to the CFP hopefuls.  

No. 1 Clemson Tigers 10-0 (7-0) 

Biggest Threat: North Carolina Tarheels-ACC Championship Game 

ImaBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Currently ranked 17th in the CFP rankings, UNC would be the lone ranked team on Clemson’s schedule. UNC hasn’t clinched the Coastal division, but with games against lowly Virginia Tech and North Carolina State, the Tar Heels can win the division with a victory over either team.  

UNC averages 42 points a game and will be a test for a Tiger’s defense that only lets up 18.1 points per game and only allowed 40-plus points once this season. Clemson’s offense won’t have it easy either; UNC has only allowed 18.8 points per game, with no team scoring more than 31 points on them. The ACC Championship game could have a lot riding on it.  

No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide 9-1 (6-1)  

Biggest Threat: Florida Gators-SEC Championship Game 

Considering Charleston Southern and Auburn will not beat Alabama, the Florida Gators are the only team that has a legitimate shot at beating Alabama, which will lead to an SEC Championship game between the Gators and Tide. 

The eighth ranked Gators have one of the best defenses in the country, giving up only 280 total yards per game and 14.5 points per game. They’ll need that defense to step up and smother Heisman-candidate Derrick Henry, who is currently second in rushing yards at 1,458.

Florida leaves a lot to be desired on the offensive side of the football, ranked 87th in total yards per game, which will be trouble against a formidable ‘Bama defense. In order to win the SEC and most likely a spot in the CFP, Florida will need to play much better than they have the last two weeks and figure things out on offense.  

No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes 10-0 (6-0) 

Biggest Threat: Michigan Wolverine 

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The Buckeyes may still be undefeated, but are not seen as the best team in the country. Having faced only one team with a winning record in conference play, Ohio State hasn’t truly been tested. That all changes in the final two weeks of the season when Urban Meyer’s team hosts ninth ranked Michigan State this week. The true upset threat comes next week when Ohio State travels to Ann Arbor to take on No. 12 Michigan.  

Ever since J.T Barrett was named starting quarterback, the Buckeyes’ offense has looked the part of defending champs. However, the Wolverines’ defense might be the one to slow them down, having given up only 269 total yards per game. Don’t expect Ohio State to be held that low, but do expect Michigan to frustrate Barrett and running back Ezekiel Elliott.  

No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish 9-1 

Biggest Threat: Stanford Cardinal  

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With no conference affiliation, Notre Dame won’t play a conference championship game. So with two games left on their schedule before the bowl games, teams looking to upset the Irish are few. However, the last game of the year against Stanford means so much to Notre Dame.  

Before Stanford lost to Oregon last week, the Notre Dame-Stanford game was pegged as a game that could determine one semi-final spot. The game will probably not have that kind of impact now that Stanford is ranked 11th and more than likely out of the playoff race. Nonetheless, Notre Dame still needs to end their season on a high note against a ranked team before sitting back and waiting for the rest of the pieces to fall. With a convincing win over the Cardinal, Notre Dame might be able to punch their ticket for the CFP.  

No. 6 Oklahoma State Cowboys 10-0 (6-0) 

Biggest Threat: Oklahoma Sooners

Both Baylor and Oklahoma are upset threats for the Cowboys, but the Sooners get the nod due to their recent level of play and the stakes of the game. Oklahoma is the most complete team in the Big 12, ranked in the Top 25 in offense and defense. The Cowboys have a good offense, scoring 43 points per game, but their defense gives up chucks of yards and 24.5 points on average. Oklahoma could either stay strong on defense and manhandle the Cowboys, or this game could be a typical Big 12 shootout. 

Not only is Oklahoma-Oklahoma State a huge rivalry, it has the potential to determine the Big 12. If Oklahoma wins and both end up with only one loss, we could however see a repeat of last season. The Big 12 Conference named both one-loss TCU and Baylor co-champions last year. Will the Big 12 name co-champions again if it happens? If so, the conference might be left out of the CFP again. 

Iowa was left off this list for one reason, they don’t play a winning team until the Big 10 Championship game. Neither Purdue nor Nebraska are threats to the Hawkeyes from remaining unbeaten.

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Oklahoma State Deserves More Recognition

Don’t look now, but the Oklahoma State Cowboys are leading the Big 12 conference. Starting the year unranked, the Cowboys have fought their way into the CFP Top 10 after a convincing 49-29 win over TCU. If they didn’t have national attention before, they sure do now.

Don’t look now, but the Oklahoma State Cowboys are leading the Big 12 conference. Starting the year unranked, the Cowboys have fought their way into the CFP Top 10 after a convincing 49-29 win over TCU. If they didn’t have national attention before, they sure do now.

Like many of the other Big 12 teams, the Cowboys have had the most success on the offensive side of the ball. Oklahoma State is ranked seventh in the country in scoring at 44.6 points per game. But due to other high powered teams in the conference, the Cowboys rank fifth in the category.  

The Cowboys’ offense revolves around a top tier passing game, lead by sophomore quarterback Mason Rudolph. After starting only three games his freshman year, Rudolph has started every game this season and currently ranks 12th nationally in passing yards, at 2,834. While not always the most consistent quarterback with a 2.125 touchdown to interception ratio, Rudolph had his best game in the most important one yet. Against TCU, Rudolph threw a career-best five touchdowns and no interceptions. 

It’s apparent that defense isn’t a priority for teams in this conference, and that can’t be overlooked when evaluating Oklahoma State. The highest ranked defensive team is Oklahoma at 17th nationally. The Cowboys, second in defense in the Big 12, ranks 46th nationally in opponent points per game. This being said, they also have one of the best defensive players in the country in junior defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. Ranked fifth in the country this season with 9.5 sacks, Ogbah is the anchor of the Cowboys’ defense. Like the rest of Oklahoma State’s team, Ogbah isn’t getting the recognition he deserves.

So why hasn’t Oklahoma State been talked about before the win against TCU? Their schedule didn’t have pundits believing that they deserved to be in the CFP conversation. Starting the year, they had the 39th hardest schedule, but that was primarily based on the final four weeks where they’re slated to play TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma. After beating TCU, Oklahoma State currently has the 11th hardest schedule.  

The Cowboy’s early season schedule, especially the non-conference schedule, left a lot to be desired. Before jumping into conference play, Oklahoma State played Central Michigan, Central Arkansas, and Texas-San Antonio. The Cowboys outscored those teams 125 to 35, but their opponents currently combine for a 12-15 record in non-power conferences. Oklahoma State has only faced three teams with a current winning record, even in conference play. A weak Big 12 isn’t the Cowboys’ fault, but it hurts them in the eyes of the public, and more importantly, the eyes of the selection committee.  

Beating TCU finally showed the rest of the country what everyone in Stillwater, Oklahoma already knew: the Cowboys are a CFP contender. Not only did they show off their offensive prowess, but they showed what their defense is capable of. They may have given up 663 total yards, but they forced Heisman contending quarterback Trevone Boykin into throwing four interceptions.  

Interestingly, while the yards given up by the Cowboys are a concern to most, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer thinks that the large numbers misrepresent the skill of his defense. In a recent article on NewsOK.com, Kyle Fredrickson talked with Spencer about the stats that matter to him. Spencer pointed out that Oklahoma State only gave up 1.7 points per possession. 

“Some teams will play 55 snaps today…I think we defended 17 possessions, 110 (snaps), so we just played two ball games compared to what some people do. That’s why the yardage thing is so irrelevant. People of influence have got to figure this out how to evaluate defense.” 

Oklahoma State ends the season with a gauntlet of tough games. They’ve already played No. 8 TCU, but the real challenge may only just be starting. They can’t stumble now that expectations are high. They’ll visit Iowa State this week before hosting No. 6 Baylor and rival Oklahoma, ranked 12th, to end the year. Either of the final two games against the Bears or Sooners could determine both the fate of the Big 12 and of the CFP. Even if they end the season with only one loss, that might be enough to keep the Cowboys out of the Playoff — Oklahoma State may need to win out to finally prove that they are worthy.

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Three Games That Will Effect The College Football Playoffs

With the initial CFP rankings recently released, fans all over the country are wondering what their team can do to rise in the polls and enter the Top 4.  

The majority of teams with a legitimate shot at making the CFP are going to start entering the most important stretches in their schedule. Listed below

With the initial CFP rankings recently released, fans all over the country are wondering what their team can do to rise in the polls and enter the Top 4.  

The majority of teams with a legitimate shot at making the CFP are going to start entering the most important stretches in their schedule. Listed below are three games that will have the greatest impact on determining how the rankings play out, and what teams can salvage a spot in the playoffs.  

No. 2 LSU at No. 4 Alabama,November 7th

One of the best rivalries in the SEC is between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide. In the past 10 meetings, Alabama leads the series 6-4. This shows you how close these teams are to each other each year. Last years matchup was your typical grind it out battle that we’ve come to expect, with Alabama winning, 20-13, in overtime.   

This year, LSU is the higher ranked team and open as 6.5-point favorites. Last year, Alabama was the underdog and they obliterated Georgia. Don’t expect the same thing to happen. Leonard Fournette is healthy and leads the country in rushing yards. The Tide have their own bruising back in Derrick Henry. This game will come down to the quarterbacks, Jake Coker for Alabama and Brandon Harris for the Tigers.  

The winner this year puts themselves in a great position for the CFP. If LSU wins, they control their own destiny to win the SEC West. If Alabama wins, they still need Ole Miss to lose in order to control the West, despite a top five ranking. No matter the outcome, this game should be fun to watch and leave a lasting impact on the outcome of the final CFP rankings.  

No. 7 Michigan State at No. 3 Ohio State, November  21st

Ohio State has dominated this rivalry lately, winning eight of the last 10 games against the Spartans, including a 49-37 victory last season in East Lansing.   

Both teams have struggled this year against lesser opponents, but remain undefeated. Michigan State’s quarterback Connor Cook continues to lead the Spartan offense. J.T Barrett has taken over the starter quarterback position for the Buckeyes and the offense has been solid for the time being.  

Ohio State and Michigan State aren’t just in the Top 10 — they are the remaining unbeaten teams in the Big 10 East. OSU would still have a tough game against Michigan the next week, but the winner controls the East division, and the winner will likely secure a spot for the Big 10 championship game.  

No. 6 Baylor at No. 8 TCU, November 27th

Last year’s match-up between the Bears and Horned Frogs was an absolute barnburner, with Baylor edging out a 61-58 victory. Since 2005, these teams have played each other seven times, with TCU winning the series four to three, but Baylor has won the last two.  

This season’s game should be no different than last year’s, high scoring and not a lot of defense. Baylor and TCU are the top scoring teams in the country, scoring 61.1 and 48.9 points per game respectively. However, their defenses are mediocre. TCU gives up 24.5 points per game, 53rd in the country, and Baylor gives up 25.1, 59th in the country.  

There’s still a lot of top tier games to be played in the Big 12, but this matchup is considered to be the makeshift Big 12 Championship game. If both teams come into the game undefeated, the matchup takes on another level of importance. Both teams got spurned by the CFP selection committee because they were both named co-Big 12 champ. That shouldn’t happen this year. Winner of this game wins the BIG 12, and claims a spot in the Top 4. Loser, while still great with what should be one loss, gets spurned again, but at least for a good reason this season.  

– 

These games all feature teams currently in the top 10. By the time they actually play each other, the rankings could look very different, but as of right now these are some big games to watch. These teams are so closely bunched together that it makes for not only a better game to watch as a fan,  but a loss for any of them  almost guarantees a fallout from contention.

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Jarrett Stidham Keeps Baylor’s Playoff Hopes Alive

The Baylor Bears are riding high in the AP polls and are the most dominate offensive team in the country, ranked first in total yards with 4,803 (686 per game) and first in scoring, averaging 61.1 points. Currently ranked second in the polls, Baylor is seen as the favorite to win the BIG 12 Conference

The Baylor Bears are riding high in the AP polls and are the most dominate offensive team in the country, ranked first in total yards with 4,803 (686 per game) and first in scoring, averaging 61.1 points. Currently ranked second in the polls, Baylor is seen as the favorite to win the BIG 12 Conference and have the second best odds to win the 2016 National Championship at 5 to 1 according to Vegas Insider.com. 

Junior quarterback Seth Russell is a big part of the Bears’ success. He leads the country in passer rating and touchdowns and is being talked about as being the best Baylor quarterback in history, even better than Robert Griffin III.  

However, Baylor’s playoff chances may have suffered a setback after Saturday’s game against Iowa State. Late in the fourth quarter, Russell took a hit and was immediately taken out of the game. No one seemed to notice at the time, but it’s now known that Russell broke a bone in his neck and is out for the remainder of the season.  

How is Baylor going to compete without a proven quarterback running their high-powered offense? Enter freshman Jarrett Stidham. 

Stidham steps into the starting role as a true freshman, but don’t let that fool you. Coming out of Stephenville High School in Texas, ESPN had Stidham as the 38th overall recruit and second rated duel-threat quarterback. He accounted for almost 4,000 total yards and 50 touchdowns during his time at Stephenville.   

But how well does he actually fit into Baylor’s offense? Coach Art Briles has been known for running a spread offense and some of his quarterbacks have been given the label of a ‘system quarterback’. Guys like Griffin and Bryce Petty ran the offense to perfection, but Russell may be the best of the bunch. Luckily, Stidham has the skill set to step right in and pick up where Russell left off. 

Stidham won’t be going into the game against Kansas State in a few weeks completely inexperienced. Thanks to Baylor scoring points in bunches and essentially wrapping up games early, Stidham has seen playing time. So far this year, he has completed 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards and 6 touchdowns. He saw the majority of snaps against Kansas in Week 5 where he went 9 of 10 for 117 yards and two touchdowns. 

The young quarterback won’t have to do it all on his own either. Baylor has the athletes on offense to help ease the transition. Corey Coleman is arguably the best receiver in the country, leading the nation with 18 touchdowns, which is also a Baylor single-season record. Having a top rated receiver as the primary target for a freshman is only going to make things easier. Running back Shock Linwood takes pressure off the passing game accounting for 974 yards and adding 9 touchdowns as part of Baylor’s rushing attack which has gained 2,368 yards on the ground, second in the country.

Baylor could easily struggle with the hardest part of their schedule coming up. Luckily, the Bears have a bye week to get Stidham up to speed and comfortable with the offense before heading to Kansas State. Three of the last five games are on the road, including trips to No. 12 Oklahoma State and No. 5 TCU. Baylor’s biggest test will be TCU whose offense is just as lethal as the Bears’. Stidham and Coleman could have a rough time keeping pace with TCU quarterback Treveon Boykin and wide receiver Josh Doctson, both of whom are on Heisman watch. 

No true freshman quarterback has led their team to a national championship since 1985, when Jamelle Holieway lead the Oklahoma Sooners to a title, but Stidham could easily be the next. In a quarterback-friendly system, he should be able to quickly find success and lead Baylor into the CFP.

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Oregon Ducks No Longer Flying High

Last season’s Oregon Ducks were a well-oiled machine. Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota lead a fast-paced offense that averaged 547 yards a game, and the defense had a bend-but-don’t-break mentality anchored by an experienced defensive line and secondary. 

This year, however, the results have been drastically different. After posting a 13-and-2 record last season, Oregon is 3-and-3 this

Last season’s Oregon Ducks were a well-oiled machine. Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota lead a fast-paced offense that averaged 547 yards a game, and the defense had a bend-but-don’t-break mentality anchored by an experienced defensive line and secondary. 

This year, however, the results have been drastically different. After posting a 13-and-2 record last season, Oregon is 3-and-3 this season. The last time the Ducks lost three games this early in the season was 2004 when they finished 5-6, also their last losing season. 

Oregon was predicted to struggle, but not like this. The Duck’s woes can be explained by looking at both sides of the football. Offensively, things are not “Oregon-esque,” as quarterback problems have lead to inconsistent play. Defensively, young players don’t step up and give up big plays.

Offense  

Oregon’s minor offensive problems come down to two issues: injuries and inexperienced quarterbacks. Losing three starters from the previous year to the NFL is hard, especially when two of them played offensive line: tackle Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu.

Vernon Adams was brought in from FCS Eastern Washington to fill the shoes left by Mariota. With experience running the spread offense, Oregon immediately named Adams the starter and expected him to lead the offense with no problem. He hasn’t been that savior for the Ducks, and due to a nagging finger injury sustained in Week 1, long time backup Jeff Lockie has been the starter since the game against Georgia State, but he hasn’t fared much better. 

2015 Oregon Quarterback Stats

Attempts Completions Passing Percentage Passing Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
Jeff Lockie 54 84 64.3 544 5 4
Vernon Adams 43 71 60.6 581 4 2

Oregon relies on quick high-percentage passing and quick decision making from the quarterback position, which they have not gotten this season. 

There isn’t a lack of weapons for the quarterback to rely on, but some key players have suffered serious injuries. Junior running back Thomas Tyner had shoulder surgery before the season and isn’t expected to be back. Senior wide receiver/running back Byron Marshall was carted off the field in the game against Utah with a leg injury and is out for the remainder of the season. Marshall was 4th in rushing and 1st in receptions and receiving yards while Tyner was 3rd in rushing yards last season.

These injuries have lead to sophomore running back Royce Freeman taking a bigger load in the running game and forced the Ducks to play true freshman Taj Griffin more than they would like.

Oregon has the pieces in place to overcome injuries to receivers and running backs, but not with poor quarterback play as well.

This season, Oregon averages 529 total yards per game, 10th in the country, but down from 547 total yards per game last year. Scoring isn’t the problem either, as they average 41.5 points per game, good enough for 9th. 

Defense

Oregon has never been known as a strong defensive team, but this season they take that reputation to a whole new level. Last year, the Ducks gave up 414 yards per game, but were able to hold opponents to only 22.5 points per game. This season, the Ducks are giving up the fourth most passing yards at 323.5 per game. On top of that, they are giving up 38.7 points per game, 13th highest in the country. 

The secondary causes many of this year’s problems. Oregon lost three starting defensive backs: cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill, and free safety Erick Dargan. The team also lost starting outside linebacker Tony Washington and defensive end Arik Armstead to the NFL.

In the Duck’s secondary, 5 underclassmen have started in different games this season. Safety Reggie Daniels is the only returning starter in the secondary, with sophomore cornerback Chris Seisay being the only experienced cornerback. Unfortunately, Daniels missed both the Utah and Washington State games for unknown reasons.  

To make matters worse, the injury bug bit Seisay as well, sidelining him for the Utah game. This left Oregon to rely on two freshmen as their starting corners, Ugo Amadi and Glen Ihenacho. The results, as expected, did not end up pretty. Utah’s offense carved up Oregon for 530 yards and accounted for 62 points. Neither freshman has played well (only one interception between the two of them) and the defense has suffered drastically. 

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a high ranking in the preseason, Oregon expected to struggle. Coach Mark Helfrich brought in Adams to soften the blow of losing so many key players, but he hasn’t paid off. While offense is not the main issue, their quarterbacks need to step up. Without a proper defense, it doesn’t matter how good the offense is; the other team will score in bunches on the Ducks. The only positive to come out of this season so far for Oregon is that young players are getting much needed experience for next season.

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Will Any One-Loss Team Climb Back Into Playoff Contention?

Since 1998, when the BCS championship game began, seven teams, including last year's Ohio State team in the first year of the College Football Playoffs, had at least one loss. In fact, seven of the last nine national championship games featured a team with at least one loss. While it makes the path a bit

Since 1998, when the BCS championship game began, seven teams, including last year’s Ohio State team in the first year of the College Football Playoffs, had at least one loss. In fact, seven of the last nine national championship games featured a team with at least one loss. While it makes the path a bit harder, losing one game doesn’t mean the end of the world in college football.

There are nine teams in the Top 25 that have dropped a game so far. However, not all one-loss teams have an equal shot of cracking the Top Four to claim a spot in the playoffs. So, what teams still have hope of making it to the top despite their setback?

Here are three one-loss teams that have the best shot at coming back, followed by others that will have a harder time. My criteria includes current standing in the polls, opponents played thus far and opponents left on the schedule. The following list is based on the assumption that each team will win out, as a second loss will almost certainly derail them from making the CFP.

No. 14 Ole Miss Rebels 4-1 (2-1 SEC)

The Rebels went into last week ranked 3rd and playing some of the best football in the country. However, Gainesville is a hostile environment and the 25th ranked Florida Gators upset Ole Miss, 38-10. Florida is now 11th, while the Rebels dropped to 14. 

Ole Miss is 1-and-1 against ranked opponents. Their only win was on the road at Alabama by a score of 43-37. Beating Alabama is no small task and will look good to the committee when is comes time to vote. 

Currently ranked 3rd in the SEC West, the Rebels have a chance to move up by beating the two teams sitting ahead of them, No. 7 LSU and No. 9 Texas A&M. If Ole Miss upsets these two, they win the West and, as of right now, get a rematch with an undefeated Gators team in the title game. That would give the Rebels three more ranked SEC opponents on their win list, which looks good on any resume. 

No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide 4-1 (1-1 in SEC)

Can we ever count Alabama out of the championship picture, even with one loss? The Tide seem to always claw back into the picture. Last year, they were in the playoffs with a loss and were even ranked No. 1. Their championship teams of 2011 and 2012 each had a loss too. 

Bama suffered a brutal defeat at the hands of Ole Miss and dropped from 2nd to 13th just a few weeks ago, but, in typical Alabama fashion, they’ve bounced right back. Nick Saban’s team was the underdog this past week against Georgia for the first time since 2009. Alabama didn’t take too kindly to that fact and beat up on the Bulldogs, 38-10, accounting for 379 yards of offense. The win was Alabama’s second against a Top-25 team, their first being against No. 20 Wisconsin in Week 1. 

So why isn’t Alabama, who is ranked six spots ahead of Ole Miss in the polls, put above the Rebels as the best one-loss team? They both play LSU and Texas A&M, and Alabama has the tougher schedule. But most importantly, Ole Miss beat the Tide and control their own destiny. Alabama must win out and have the Rebels drop at least one more game to have a shot to compete in the SEC title game. A non-SEC winning Alabama team is still good, just not good enough to get into the Top Four. 

No. 18 Michigan 4-1 (1-0 in BIG 10)

My surprise choice for one of the best one-loss teams, Michigan started off the year unranked under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. His debut didn’t go as planned, losing to Utah 24-17. But looking back, that loss doesn’t seem so bad. Utah was unranked, but has now  jumped to 5th overall and is looking like a front runner for the PAC-12 and a team that could sneak into the playoffs. 

Sine they lost, the Wolverines have been nothing short of spectacular. They have outscored their opponents 122 to 14, including a 31-0 win over 22nd ranked BYU. Overall, Michigan has only given up 7.6 points and 184 yards per game, both second-best in the country. 

Michigan has the 51st hardest schedule, but the three ranked teams that they have left to play against, No. 13 Northwestern, No. 4 Michigan State and No. 1 Ohio State, give them a terrific shot at skyrocketing up the polls. If Michigan beats these three, wins the Big 10, and goes undefeated the rest of the way, the Wolverines should be seriously considered for the playoffs. 

Honorable Mentions

No. 17 USC 3-1 (1-1 in PAC-12) 

Losing to then-unranked Stanford 41-31 plus owning no wins against a Top-25 team hurts the Trojans. With games against No. 15 Notre Dame, No. 5 Utah, No. 23 Cal, and No. 20 UCLA, USC can make a run at the playoffs, but will need tons of help. 

No. 16 Stanford 4-1 (3-0 in PAC-12)

Stanford lost to then-unranked Northwestern (currently 13th) but have come roaring back looking like a strong football team. With a win against No. 6 USC, if they can handle teams like UCLA, Cal, and Notre Dame, Stanford could be a dark horse to make the playoffs. Like USC, though, they will also need some help

There are a number of factors that could lead to these teams having zero shot at the Playoff. A loss will almost guarantee no appearance, a currently ranked team could lose in the coming weeks making a win look less impressive, or even a previously ranked team they beat dropping out of the Top 25 will make matters worse for teams on the bubble. Only time will tell. We’re almost half-way through the season, and headed what’s sure to be a wild finish in college football. 

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Has Notre Dame Emerged As A Playoff Threat?

Rising in the AP Poll and getting a shot at a national championship requires a combination of luck and winning. This year's Notre Dame team is no different. 

The Irish have been able to start the season with a perfect 3-0 record, but have suffered major injuries along the way. Starting running back Tarean Folston

Rising in the AP Poll and getting a shot at a national championship requires a combination of luck and winning. This year’s Notre Dame team is no different. 

The Irish have been able to start the season with a perfect 3-0 record, but have suffered major injuries along the way. Starting running back Tarean Folston was injured Week 1 against Texas, and star quarterback Malik Zaire broke his ankle late in the Week 2 game at Virginia.

Those injuries have allowed senior C.J. Prosise to take over running back duties and sophomore Deshone Kizer to step in at quarterback. Prosise has turned into one of the better running back in the country, finding himself in the top 5 in rushing yards. And Kizer made a name for himself with one of the greatest plays we’ll see all season. 

In order to rise quickly, Notre Dame also needed teams ranked above them to lose, and they got just that. Four teams ranked above the Irish in the preseason have dropped due to early losses: Auburn, Alabama, Oregon, and Southern Cal. 

Notre Dame started off the year ranked 11th with the 33rd hardest schedule in the country, which could hurt them in the long run. So far though, its allowed the Irish to move up the polls. Texas was the first team on the slate, and Notre Dame dominated. Zaire looked like an elite college QB and the Irish defense held the Longhorns to just 163 total yards of offense in a 38-3 home victory. The win looked good to pundits, as they ranked Notre Dame at No. 9, jumping Georgia and Florida State who both beat lesser opponents. 

Things looked bleak after Zaire went down with a broken ankle in the third quarter in a close game at Virginia. Notre Dame was up 19-14 when Zaire went down, which left the Irish relying on an inexperienced sophomore in Kizer to run the offense. He held his own and finished 8-for-12 with two touchdowns, one being the game-winning throw with 12 seconds left to receiver Will Fuller. Beating a mediocre Virginia squad isn’t going to look good in the long run, but thanks to Auburn’s narrow victory over FCS Jacksonville State and Oregon losing to Michigan State, Notre Dame rose one spot to No. 8 in Week 3. 

Georgia Tech went into South Bend ranked 14th in the AP Poll and was suppose to pose as a huge test for Notre Dame. Tech’s triple-option offense was projected to run havoc on the Irish defense. Coming into the game, the Yellow Jackets averaged 457.5 yards per game on the ground. However, those gaudy numbers came against Alcorn State and Tulane. Notre Dame held Georgia Tech to only 216 yards rushing, 337 total. Prosise lead the way with 198 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a solid 30-22 victory. 

Beating a ranked team would have been enough to rise in the polls on its own, but Coach Brian Kelly’s team caught a break with the two higher-ranked teams also losing; Alabama to Ole Miss and USC to Stanford. Ole Miss with their big road win jumped over Notre Dame, but the Irish rose two spots to No. 6. 

UMass was no contest for the Irish, as they beat the Minutemen 62-27 in Week 4. Pollsters had no reason to lift the Irish higher and they stayed at No. 6 for another week.

Notre Dame could essentially have played anyone and moved up in the polls. Simply winning would propel them at least three spots. The Irish jumped over Georgia and Florida State however, thanks to having one ranked opponent on their schedule, while the others played easier teams thus far.

While the past is promising, what does the future have in store for Notre Dame? It looks like an uphill battle in order to make the playoffs. The Irish have three game against ranked opponents remaining on their schedule. They’ll head to No. 12 Clemson on October 3rd, host No. 17 USC two weeks later, and finish the regular season at No. 18 Stanford. Notre Dame needs these teams to stay ranked prior to their meeting, and obviously need to win as well, to have a better shot at breaking into the top-four.

Winning might not be enough though. Georgia Tech dropped out of the Top 25 this week and that hurts Notre Dame in the long run. Other teams also have their toughest schedules ahead of them. No. 8 Georgia has two ranked opponents left, while No. 13 Alabama, No. 9 LSU, and No. 7 UCLA have four ranked opponents left on the season. This could lead to any one of these teams jumping the Irish in the polls and preventing them from becoming contenders for the postseason. 

Last season, Notre Dame started off 6-0 and looked to be headed to the inaugural college playoffs. They were ranked 5th before heading into FSU, and suffering their first loss. Notre Dame lost five of their last seven games, and finished unranked with an 8-5 record. 

If Notre Dame can run the table and remain undefeated this season, they have a great shot at getting into the College Football Playoffs. They’ll need help, but anything is possible with the Luck of the Irish. 

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Can A Running Back Really Win The Heisman Trophy?

College football's biggest award seems to have turned into a question of who's the best quarterback in the country. Quarterbacks hold on a five-year reign on the trophy; the last non-quarterback to nab the Heisman Trophy was running back Mark Ingram of Alabama, back in 2009. 

This year, there's reason to be optimistic that a running

College football’s biggest award seems to have turned into a question of who’s the best quarterback in the country. Quarterbacks hold on a five-year reign on the trophy; the last non-quarterback to nab the Heisman Trophy was running back Mark Ingram of Alabama, back in 2009. 

This year, there’s reason to be optimistic that a running back will emerge successful in a Heisman bid. With a plethora of elite runners building off of impressive campaigns last season, many of whom were only freshmen then, the quarterback Heisman reign might finally end. 

Last season was the start of the push towards a break in the trend. We saw two backs, Toddy Gurley and Melvin Gordon, begin the year as serious contenders. 

Pre-season, Gurley’s chances seemed to be strong. He had been Georgia’s star the past three seasons, gaining 3,285 yards in only 30 games. Unfortunately, he only played six games his senior year, due to a suspension and torn ACL.

While Gurley’s Heisman prospects were derailed by suspension and injury, Gordon’s actual bid for the Heisman was particularly strong. Gordon took over running back duties for Wisconsin when Montee Ball went to the NFL in 2013, and ran for 2,587 yards, including a 408-yard game against Nebraska, and scored 29 touchdowns his senior year. Gordon finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, highest for a running back since Ingram.   

Derrick Henry from Alabama, Dalvin Cook from Florida State, Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette from LSU, and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott are thought of as potential Heisman candidates this year. Cook, Chubb, and Fournette are putting up big numbers in only their sophomore seasons, while both Henry and Elliott are juniors. 

While Ohio State was busy trying to decide who their starting quarterback was going to be, many forgot about Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield. Elliott made a name for himself at the same time as quarterback Cardale Jones, during the Big Ten Conference Championship and two playoff games.

Against Wisconsin, Elliott ran for 220 yards and two touchdowns. He topped that performance with 230 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama in the semi-finals, and 246 yards and four touchdowns in the championship against Oregon. Elliott won’t catch attention like the quarterbacks in Columbus, but that may be because there’s no question marks about his play.

Alabama has been known to use a duo at running back ever since Ingram and Trent Richardson were together in 2010. Last season was no different, with TJ Yeldon and Henry splitting carries. Henry had 990 yards on 172 carries, while Yeldon had 979 yards on 194 carries. Even with the presence of Kenyan Drake in the backfield this season, Henry should be seen as the bell cow for the Tide offense. At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, Henry is a bruising back and should be able to have similar, if not better, production than he had last year in an offensive system that thrives on the run game. 

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Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the three then-freshman runners captured attention playing for top tier colleges, even though at the beginning of last season they were seldom used. 

Cook at FSU was overshadowed by the former Heisman winner Winston in 2014. The Seminoles’ offense was designed around the quarterback, but Cook made his mark when given the chance. His breakout game was Week 7 against Syracuse, when he ran for 122 yards and a touchdown, his first hundred-yard game of the year. Cook still managed an impressive 1,008 yards with eight touchdowns in his freshman year. 

Fournette was the No. 1 overall player coming out of high school in 2014 and had high expectations coming to LSU. He didn’t have the start many wanted, only averaging 50 yards per game the first four weeks. His production picked up, and he rushed over 100 yards five times on the season, finishing with 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns. 

Chubb’s situation at Georgia last season was an interesting one. Everyone expected Gurley to be the lead back, and even compete for a Heisman Trophy. Gurley carried the load through the first five weeks, but Chubb took over as Gurley served a four-game suspension, and then tore his ACL in his first game back. After not running for more than 78 yards in a game as a backup, Chubb ran for more than 110 yards every game the rest of the season. He finished the year ranked 17th in the NCAA for rushing yards with 1,547 and 14 touchdowns. 

2015 Rushing Stats after Week 3
Carries Rushing Yards Yards/Carry Touchdowns
Dalvin Cook-FSU 64 476     7.5 5
Nick Chubb-Georgia  56 468 8.4 4
Leonard Fournette-LSU 47 387 8.2 6
Derrick Henry-Alabama 54 370 6.9 7
Ezekiel Elliott-OSU 61 331 5.4 4

After Week 3 of the season, all five running backs are in the top-25 for rushing yards. Andrew Sharp of Grantland wrote that ‘the running back race is the best debate in college football.’ It’s hard to argue with this statement. These guys look like the ones to break the recent streak of quarterbacks winning the Heisman Trophy. The only quarterbacks that seem to be serious contenders are TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly. However, the running backs, especially Chubb and Fournette, are in the spotlight and pulling ahead as favorites. 

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