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What to watch this weekend – Big challenges and tough match-ups for playoff contenders

For the fourth week in a row, we saw an unbelievable finish to a game that will have a major impact on how the bowl season will play out.  Saturday left a bitter taste in the mouths of Ole Miss Rebel fans when Arkansas pulled off an upset win in overtime that left Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in stunned silence thanks to two wild plays.   The Razorbacks kept the game alive in overtime on fourth-and-25 when Brandon Allen completed a pass to Hunter Henry who simply flung the ball backwards as he was being tackled.  Alex Collins picked it up on the bounce and then ran it for a 31-yard gain.  Then, after Arkansas scored its overtime touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Allen to Drew Morgan, its first attempt at the 2-point conversion failed.  But they got another chance because Marquis Haynes was flagged for a face-mask penalty.   On his second attempt, Allen ran for the two-point conversion ending one of the craziest games this season.

The Oklahoma Sooners at 8-1 are in a position to decide who wins the Big 12 in the next three weeks.    A three-game sweep of ranked teams including Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State, will bring home the conference trophy to Norman, and should put the Sooners in the College Football Playoff.   An argument can be made that the Sooners are playing the best football in the conference at this time.   Since a loss to rival Texas, a four-game winning streak has given Sooner fans something to get excited about.   Both Baylor and Oklahoma State remain undefeated.

When the polls came out Monday, I was happy to see four teams from the American Athletic Conference ranked in the Top 25 – Houston, Navy, Temple and Memphis.  The AAC has more teams ranked than the ACC and PAC-12 (three each), and only  the Big 10, with six teams ranked, has more.   Last Saturday, Navy defeated Memphis 45-20 snapping the Tigers 15-game winning streak.  The Navy Midshipmen are the highest-ranked Group of 5 team, and based on Tuesday night’s CFP rankings, we’d see a Florida-Navy match-up in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Houston remains unbeaten at 9-0, but still has tough home games with Memphis and Navy.  Both Temple and Navy are sitting with one loss to Notre Dame ranked No. 4 in the College Football Playoff.

FUN FACTS ABOUT WEEK 10

  • After falling 31-26 at West Virginia, Texas Tech has now lost 17 consecutive games to Big 12 opponents not named Iowa State or Kansas.
  • Corey Coleman now has 20 receiving touchdowns, tied with Justin Blackmon for the third most in a single season in Big 12 history.   Coleman also set a new Big 12 record with his seventh consecutive game with two or more receiving touchdowns.
  • Marquise Williams threw for 404 of his school-record 494 yards by halftime and North Carolina put on a dominating show to beat rival Duke 66-31 on Saturday.
  • Florida State converted 2-of-12 third downs, tied for its second-lowest conversion percentage under Jimbo Fisher.   With three, the Seminoles got more penalties on third downs than first downs.
  • The Midshipmen beat a Top-15 team for the first time in more than 30 years, beating then-No. 2 South Carolina in 1984.  It was the first time they accomplished the feat on the road in 40 years, when they beat then-No. 8 Penn State in 1974.
  • Alabama has now won seven games against ranked Les Miles-coached teams, three more than any other school.
  • Nebraska improved to 1-3 this season in games decided by two points or less. No FBS team has played or lost more games by that margin this season.
  • The 777 offensive yards the Ducks racked up against Cal broke the previous school record set against Nicholls State in 2013.

TOP GAMES THIS WEEKEND

No. 2 ALABAMA (8-1)  AT No. 17 MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-2)      The Tide enters this game riding high on a six game winning streak, and off a dominating win over rival LSU.   The Tide now controls their own destiny in winning the SEC West.    Derrick Henry and a shut down defense have been the difference during the win streak.    The Bulldogs have been a major surprise all season.   In my SEC preview, I picked the Bulldogs to miss a bowl.    The fact is, this team has gotten better each week!  Quarterback Dak Prescott has one interception this year and has thrown for more than 300 yards in three straight games while totaling 10 touchdown passes. Prescott has added 198 yards and four TDs on the ground in that span.   Prescott has found a favorite target in Da’Runnya Wilson,  who has 360 yards and six touchdowns over the past four games.    The Tide have won seven straight in the series.    I have a funny feeling this game goes to the bitter end.   The cowbells will be ringing in Starkville, but will it be enough?    BULLDOGS COME UP JUST SHORT, TIDE 33-30.

No. 21 MEMPHIS (8-1)  AT No. 24 HOUSTON (9-0)      This first-ever meeting of ranked American Athletic Conference schools harbors major ramifications for the conference and nationally.   Each team is led by dynamic quarterbacks in Houston dual-threat Greg Ward Jr. and Memphis Paxton Lynch.   Houston added to its nation-leading total of 25 takeaways after producing three against Cincinnati on Saturday and also tops the FBS with a plus-16 turnover margin.   I believe both teams will light up the scoreboard in this one.    The biggest advantage in this game goes to the Cougars defense.    I am also concerned about the mental state of the Tigers, after being beat up by Navy.    COUGARS WIN THE BATTLE OF BIG CATS 44-35.

WASHINGTON STATE (6-3)  AT  No. 19 UCLA (7-2)      Something has to give in this big battle out west.    Cougar quarterback Luke Falk leads the nation with 415.1 passing yards per game and is tied for second with 33 touchdowns and ranks fifth nationally with a 70.2 completion percentage. He needs two touchdowns to break the school’s single-season record shared by Ryan Leaf (1997) and Connor Halliday (2013).   The Bruins lead  the Pac-12 with 199.4 passing yards allowed per game.  The Pac-12 South crown is still a possibility for the Bruins.   Next week they travel to Utah for a game that could decide the title.    Beating the Cougars won’t be easy, but the Bruins have what it takes to get the job done.    To beat the Cougars you need a powerful running game to control the clock.    Paul Perkins and SoSo Jamabo, provide that elixir.    This game will feature plenty of fireworks, but the Bruins get the win.    UCLA 49 WASHINGTON STATE 45.

No. 12 OKLAHOMA (8-1)  AT No. 6 BAYLOR (8-0)      This is my favorite game of the weekend.    Baylor leads the nation in scoring offense, total offense and passing efficiency, but has its share of doubters with a freshman suddenly thrust into the role of starting quarterback.   Jarrett Stidham shined in his first start, a victory over Kansas State last Thursday.    The freshman showed a lot of leadership and poise in that win.    The Sooners  defense leads the Big 12 in most categories, including rush defense, pass defense, total defense and scoring defense.    Baker Mayfield has been solid since that unexpected loss to Texas.    The Bears have blasted the Sooners two years in a row, but I don’t expect that to happen again. Home cooking should be too much for the Sooners to overcome.   BEARS OUTLAST SOONERS 38-31.

No. 10 UTAH (8-1)  AT  ARIZONA (5-5)      Just three games left for the Utes to hang on and claim their first ever Pac-12 South title.    Utah controls their own destiny, and if they win out, they will have met their first goal.    “They’ve had our number the last three years,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “There’s no chance of us overlooking these guys. We have to be at our best. They’ve beaten us three years in a row and they’re a team that’s very dangerous.”    This is a tough spot for the Utes, as they host UCLA next weekend.    The Utes have also been bitten by the injury bug over the last couple of weeks and will be missing a couple of key defensive performers.    The Wildcats have been a mystery to me all season.   They are in desperate need of a win here.    A loss might well keep them from attaining a bowl for the first time since 2011.   I think we get a focused bunch of Wildcats on Saturday.   WILDCATS SEND UTES BACK TO SALT LAKE WITH A LOSS 33-24.

UPSET EXPRESS

OREGON (6-3)  AT No.7 STANFORD (8-1)       The winner of the last five meetings between Stanford and Oregon has gone on to win the Pac-12, and that could be the case again.   Stanford  has won eight consecutive games by an average of 20.3 points since losing 16-6 at Northwestern in week one.   The Cardinal use a balanced offense and a physical defense to dominate their opponent.   Running back Christian McCaffrey leads the FBS with 241.6 all-purpose yards per game and is likely to become the league’s fifth player since 1978 to average at least 200 yards, and first for Stanford since Glyn Milburn in 1990.   The Ducks have won three straight, and that coincides with them getting healthy.    Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. is coming off a solid performance, in which the offense put up 777 yards against California.    “Efficiency is really important against Stanford,” offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “Their offense is going to try to keep our offense off the field, so we have to take advantage of drives.”   I think the Ducks will do just that.   DUCKS PULL ROAD UPSET 42-40.

PICK SIX—-SIX GAMES, SIX WORDS, SIX PICKS

GEORGIA AT AUBURN—–Tigers get win and bowl eligibility, AUBURN 32-28.

WASHINGTON AT ARIZONA STATE—– Bright Sun shines on the Devils, SPARKY34-27.

KENTUCKY AT VANDERBILT——Vandy has won last four meetings, CATS WIN 28-21.

UTAH STATE AT AIR FORCE—–Key game in the Mountain Division, FALCONS FLY HIGH 36-26.

KANSAS STATE AT TEXAS TECH—–Bowl game implications on the line, AIR RAID SINKS CATS 44-42.

TEMPLE AT SOUTH FLORIDA—–Owls are strong, Bulls aren’t soft, UPSET OWLS 31-24.

SEASON RESULTS TO DATE

KEY GAMES                    34-16

PICK SIX                          39-20

UPSET EXPRESS    STRAIGHT 5-5    SPREAD 6-4

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