Welcome to the regular season’s home stretch. There are just three weeks to go before conference championship games and the announcement of the four entrants in the College Football Playoff. League races are starting to take shape as teams begin to clinch.
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Oklahoma at WVU (-7.5)
Oklahoma’s rocky up-and-down season continues after a three-point loss to Baylor last week. This game should be gettable for the Sooners as they likely won’t face a worse defense in league play all season … but this OU team is not one that you can simply ignore on a given Saturday because of what you think they should do.
Matchup to watch: Neal Brown vs. job security. This game could go a long way to determining Brown’s fate at the end of the season. The athletic department administration is in his corner, but that can change if the fanbase continues to be out on him, a problem that can get worse if the Sooners lay a beatdown.
Purdue at Illinois (-6.5)
This game isn’t a must-win for Illinois, but it makes life a whole lot easier on them if they do, as their hopes at a Big Ten championship remain in play. With a win here they’d own tiebreakers over many of their division foes and could go 1-1 in their remaining two games and still punch a ticket to Indianapolis. For a team that plays fine margin ball like they do, that cushion would be key.
Matchup to watch: Purdue WR Charlie Jones vs. Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon. You wanna talk about strength on strength? Jones accounts for about a third of Purdue’s target share by himself with 119. The next closest is tight end Payne Durham. Illinois plays a physical brand of coverage, and long strong Witherspoon is capable of taking Jones away.
LSU (-3.5) at Arkansas
Suddenly everybody’s favorite darling after beating Alabama, it’s clear that LSU is not the hapless unit that struggled through its opener against FSU or got smoked by Tennessee at home. But in comes Arkansas, a physical opponent that wants to drag this game into the muck and make the Tigers work for it with a run game.
Matchup to watch: LB Harold Perkins vs. QB KJ Jefferson. Perkins has come on in a serious way this season and is one of the bright spots for the LSU defense as one of its best young players. The way defensive coordinator Matt House sicked him on Alabama’s Bryce Young was interesting last week, and now he’s got another opportunity to shine.
Louisville at Clemson (-7), 3:30 p.m.
The Tigers were tamed at Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish physically whipped the Clemson defensive front in a way that was—frankly—shocking if you’ve followed the Tigers program through their rise to prominence in the last few years. DJ Uiagelele will start, but again the question is who will finish at the QB position for Clemson?
Matchup to watch: Clemson’s offensive line vs. Louisville pass rush. The Cardinals get after the quarterback at a high rate, and as Uiagelele and the Clemson offense has struggled enough when everything’s fine in the pocket, pressure would be a real death knell for the Clemson offense.
Wisconsin at Iowa (+1.5), 3:30 p.m.
We understand this is probably a jinxing situation, but Iowa has strung two fairly decent games on offense together. Now the competition turns up a notch with Wisconsin coming to town. The Badgers don’t have high expectations for Jim Leonhard for the balance of the season in order for him to keep the job permanently, and they’re one win away from bowl eligibility.
Matchup to watch: Wisconsin OL vs. Iowa’s front. The Badgers aren’t what they used to be on the offensive line, which is a much less dominant force than we’re used to. If there’s one thing Iowa actually is adept at, it’s efficient defense which starts up front. This game has the under written all over it.
Alabama (-11.5) at Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m.
The Tide won’t meet their lofty national championship goals this season, and now they have the very rare status as spoiler. Ole Miss is fighting for their first ever SEC West title, and it’s still within reach as long as they can keep winning. Questions abound about what’s gone wrong for Alabama and how things have gotten off the rails, a loss here would really raise some eyebrows about just how close to a crossroads Bama really is.
Matchup to watch: Alabama’s eyes vs. Ole Miss’ motion. The Rebels are built to mess with a defenses eye discipline. They employ myriad motion presnap to try to catch defenses looking at the wrong thing and the postsnap their counter run scheme features pulling linemen and rampant misdirection. The Tide must be ready to be in the right place.
Washington at Oregon (-13), 7 p.m.
Technically this is a rivalry game, but it’s more like an annual meeting of Pacific Northwest teams that Oregon wins basically every year. The Ducks have flown above the Huskies in every matchup since 2004 (besides 2006 and 2007.) As Oregon looks to stay in the Playoff race, they’ll have to keep their explosive offense rolling to outscore the Huskies.
Matchup to watch: Either defense vs. either offense. These teams are basically mirror images of each other with efficient offenses and defenses that do just enough. This is a game where you’re looking for a defense to break serve and get a few stops in what should be a high scoring affair.
Kansas State at Baylor (-2.5), 7 p.m.
The Big 12 championship game is far from set, and just who is going to make it there is anyone’s guess. With a logjam of two loss teams in the league, including these two, the nation’s most parity filled league is going to come down to the wire.
Matchup to watch: Richard Reese and Sqwirl Williams vs. Kansas State’s front. Baylor QB Blake Shapen is starting against the team in which he made his debut against last season, but the Bears could have a two-headed monster run game if Williams is needed to spell Reese like he was last week.
UNC at Wake Forest (-3.5), 7:30 p.m.
Expect points aplenty in this one. UNC’s defense had been abysmal early in the season, but over the last few weeks they have kept the lid on opponents. Don’t expect them to hold down the Demon Deacons though as a unit that can basically score on anyone. The Heels certainly have the offense to keep up, so this one should be fun.
Matchup to watch: Tar Heels WRs vs. Wake Forest DBs. Josh Downs and Antoine Green are perhaps the best receiver tandem in the country. The Deacons DBs are in a big spot here to stand up against stiff competition. Wake’s defense in general hasn’t been half bad in the last few weeks since being roasted by Clemson.
TCU at Texas (-7), 7:30 p.m.
TCU keeps on getting away with it. They didn’t even need impressive wide receiver Quientin Johnston last week, which is a big deal, as they leaned on the run game to win. But these are not your normal Texas team that folds at the first sign of adversity, but consider that the Frogs have battled back in plenty of tough spots this season.
Matchup to watch: Texas’ defense vs. TCU. The Horns are not the soft up front unit we’ve come to expect over the last few yearsl they’ve been salty in many tough spots. But this defense has an x-factor that may really come into play: longtime TCU coach Gary Patterson is an assistant to Steve Sarkisian. He knows this TCU team, he recruited and coached almost all of them before being fired last season. If you don’t think he’ll offer some helpful tips to the Texas defensive staff, and if you don’t think he feels some extra juice this week, you don’t know Gary.