Thursday, October 15, 2015

Your College Football Weekend Primer: Week 7

Jim Harbaugh may be the king of the sideline tirade, but the man knows how to build a defense.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Here at SuiteSports, we've really been lacking on the college football coverage, instead choosing to focus on the NFL and, of course, Massachusetts high school football.

But that (sorta) ends today with our first NCAA football weekend primer of the year, and what a week to start.

A pair of huge matchups loom in the SEC, playoff contenders are emerging across the country, and several teams will play what amounts to CFP elimination games this weekend. Let's not waste any more time and get to all of the action.

College Football Playoff Elimination Games

18. UCLA at 15. Stanford- Thursday at 10:30 pm

We don't have to wait long, as tonight's late game between these California rivals presents not only a massive midseason game in the Pac 12, but also a knockout game for the College Football Playoff.

Since looking like zombies in a loss to Northwestern in Week 1, Stanford has bounced back to win at USC and Oregon State, both by double digits, and blow out Arizona at home. In all, the Cardinal have averaged 45 points per game after scoring just six against the Wildcats in the opener, and quarterback Kevin Hogan has bounced back to throw nine touchdowns to just one interception in that span.

UCLA, meanwhile, is coming off a 15-point home loss to Arizona State, and can ill-afford another loss if it wants to keep its slim playoff hopes alive. The Bruins probably aren't thinking national championship with Stanford and 23rd ranked Cal on the horizon, they're probably just hoping to emerge from October still in the Pac 12 South race.

A win tonight will ensure that's the case, though the loss to ASU, and quick start of Utah, have put UCLA behind the 8-ball.

13. Ole Miss at Memphis- Saturday at Noon

It's hard to think of Ole Miss as a true national title contender after watching what Florida did to them a few weeks back, but this is still the team that upset Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and is in the thick of an SEC West title race.

The Rebels will take a break from SEC play to travel to undefeated Memphis, a trickier non-conference game than anyone could have predicted when it was scheduled. The Tigers are 5-0, while scoring in the 50s in three of those games (once in the 60s) and four times in the 40s.

It's hard to call the Tigers are playoff contender, but with an undefeated record, the chance to knock off an SEC power, and a decent American Athletic Conference schedule remaining, you can't totally write them off either.

Memphis has been powered by star quarterback Paxton Lynch, who is putting up absolute video game numbers at 70 percent completion, 10.5 yards per attempt, 10 touchdowns and zero interception. He's basically the best quarterback in the country you've never heard of.

Lynch will be working inside the friendly confines of the Liberty Bowl, but with a nasty Ole Miss defense coming to town, how will the 6-foot-7 future NFL signal caller fare?

17. Iowa at 20. Northwestern- Saturday at Noon

Iowa is a surprise unbeaten, while Northwestern has a blemish, but also a signature win against Stanford on its resume. Neither of these teams is a serious playoff contender, but by Saturday's end, one will be totally eliminated from the conversation in the Big Ten.

Iowa, a team that has stumbled early in recent years, got past rival Iowa State, Pitt and physical Wisconsin to get to this point, but it remains to be seen if anybody the Hawkeyes have beaten is actually any good. A trip to Evanston could be their biggest test thus far (a weird thing to say considering they've already won in Madison, but Wisconsin is down this year), and the Wildcats want to prove they're not a one-hit wonder, and can be viable contender in the Big Ten.

Oh yeah, and did I mention the winner grabs first-place in the wide-open Big Ten West?

No. 7 Michigan State at No. 12 Michigan- Saturday at 3:30 pm

But it's all about the Big Ten East, where defending national champion Ohio State, reigning Cotton Bowl champion Michigan State and suddenly red-hot Michigan all reside alongside resurgent Penn State and upstart Indiana.

Now that's a division.

One of these Michigan squads will grab control of it, for the moment, with a win, and head into their respective matchups with Ohio State controlling their own destiny. Michigan State came in with more hype, but to this point the Spartans have underwhelmed, nearly losing to bottom-dwellers Purdue and  Rutgers the last two weeks.

With a trip to Ann Arbor on tap, expect MSU to bring its A-game in a rivalry that has seen the Spartans win the last two, and six of the last seven.

But it may not be enough against a Wolverine defense that has gone from laughingstock to powerhouse seemingly over night under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Michigan is riding a three-game shutout streak, and has won five in a row, outscoring opponents 160-14 since a season opening loss to current No. 4 Utah.

Michigan is a highly regarded one-loss team (with a "good loss"), but the Wolverines can't afford another defeat to stay in the playoff conversation. Meanwhile, Michigan State's "signature win" against Oregon is looking worse by the day, and its performance against two of the Big Ten's worst teams the last two weeks has been troubling.

Game(s) of the Week

10. Alabama at 9. Texas A&M- Saturday at 3:30 pm
8. Florida at 6. LSU- Saturday at 7 pm

Let's stay in the SEC with a pair of games between Top-10 opponents. First, the Crimson Tide head to college station for what will serve as a must-win for them in terms of the College Football Playoff, and the SEC West. Bama has bounced back nicely since losing to Ole Miss, throttling Georgia and comfortably taking out Arkansas.

There are still some questions of consistency at the quarterback position, where Jake Coker has been up and down, but running back Derrick Henry is a legitimate Heisman candidate, racking up an average of 133 yards and two touchdowns on the ground each week.

The seemingly corrected Tide defense will face off with sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen, who has made some huge strides in his second season for the Aggies. Allen's 9.2 yards per attempt ranks second in the conference, only to Ole Miss' Chad Kelly (who torched the Tide earlier this year), and his 13/2 touchdown to interception ration and 169 passer rating are both tops in the SEC.

Not saying that will be enough to beat Bama, but the Nick Saban's group did struggle with the one efficient quarterback it faced this season.

Onto Baton Rouge, where LSU and Heisman hopeful running back Leonard Fournette (the most exciting man in college football this season) welcome Florida.

In case you didn't know, Florida is back. Under new coach Jim McElwain, the Gators have started 5-0, 4-0 in the SEC, and are getting back to the criminal ways that made them so successful under old boss Urban Meyer.

As soon as things started going well, star quarterback Will Grier was busted for using PEDs (and if you actually believe he was taking them to get over the flu…), and it just came out that freshman DB Deiondre Porter was arrested and suspended indefinitely for allegedly firing a gun at his pregnant girlfriend.

Judging by these two incidents, the Gators will be back to winning national titles in no time, as whichever big Florida teams behaves the worst off the field usually enjoys the most success on it. Don't believe me? Remember the U in the 80s? Bobby Bowden's Seminoles and Steve Spurrier's Gators in the 90s? The U Part 2 in the early 2000s? Urban Meyer's Gators in the mid to late 2000s?

Yes, I think it's safe to say that performance enhancers and firearm assaults are just what this program needs to get back on track, but it may not be enough this week, as the short-handed Gators will turn to inconsistent quarterback Treon Harris against a good LSU defense and brutal Tiger ground game.

Upset Pick of the Week

USC (+7) over 14. NOTRE DAME

Wouldn't it just be the most Notre Dame thing ever to lose at home to a team that just fired its coach, has lost two of its last three, and seems to be in total disarray? Yes, yes it would.

Also, if all the allegations against Steve Sarkisian are true, then the Trojans have nowhere to go but up. If interim coach Clay Helton is merely sober, he'll be an upgrade.

Also, lest we forget that USC boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Cody Kessler, and that the Irish defense has been ravaged by injury. Plus, USC did put a whooping on a pretty good Arizona State team two weeks back, so we know the potential is there for the Trojans to be very good.

It's just a matter of focus and motivation, and it's hard to see USC being more focused or motivated than it will be for one of its biggest rivals, in prime time, just after the highly-publicized firing of Sarkisian.

Stone Cold Lock of the Week!

But first, here's your Stone Cold video of the week.

Ok, now onto the pick. Home team in CAPS. 

Pittsburgh (+3.5) over GEORGIA TECH

Ok, riddle me this: How is 2-4 Georgia Tech, a team riding a four-game losing streak that has yet to defeat a Power-5 opponent, and whose only FBS win came against Tulane, GIVING points against a decent Pitt squad?

Beats me, so I'm just going to say Vegas is overrating the Yellow Jackets based on preseason projections, and giving their home field advantage a little too much credit. Look, Pitt isn't great, but GT has given up at least 30 points to every major conference team its faced, so if nothing else, the Panthers will be able to score enough to keep this close.

Plus, coach Pat Narduzzi's defenses are always disciplined, and if there's one thing you need to defend GT's triple-option, it's discipline. Hard to see why Pitt isn't the favorite here, so I'll grab the points.

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