Week 10 NCAAF preview: The Whole Nine Yards with Mia O'Brien
College Contributor Network
Hear the Tigers roar
...and I'm talking the Tigers of both the LSU and Clemson variety.
The biggest upset of Week 9, Louisiana State University proved that even when you think the SEC West has finally shaken out... it hasn't. The Tigers may not be featured in the inaugural, CFB Playoffs, but that doesn't mean they won't be able to compete with the remaining teams on their schedule -- and play spoiler to more than one.
It was expected that Ole Miss, who've only given up an average of 10.6 points per game -- still, at the time of this writing, good for first in the nation -- would put on a defensive showcase. Knowing that lighting up the scoreboard was far from realistic, the Tigers (who, by the way, are sixth in the nation in points against average with 15.9) stuck to their D and were able to shut down Bo Wallace and the Rebels' offense (for the record: Wallace's numbers have seen a consistent drop since Week 3 in which he threw for four touchdowns and an 82.1% completion percentage).
What does the game mean in the grand scheme of things? Unless the mighty continue to fall, LSU most likely won't be making the playoffs, but hitting their stride and making the AP Top Ten (especially with big games against Alabama and Texas A&M still to come) could very well happen. As for Ole Miss, they've got a monster matchup with No. 3 Auburn this weekend and No. 1 Mississippi State the final weekend of the regular season. Play as they did against the Tigers, and they could fall from the CFB Playoff Committee's first playoff poll.
Kudos, as this headline mentions, to the Clemson Tigers as well, who remain in the AP Top 25 and put away ACC rival Syracuse last weekend. If they played in any other conference, we would not still be hearing from the Tigers. But, alas, they play in the Florida State Conference -- I mean, the ACC. They've got smooth sailing the rest of the way, and a win over the SEC's South Carolina in the final week of the regular season could propel them to more national recognition.
Why play just four quarters when you can play six?
The UCLA Bruins and Ohio State Buckeyes were sure grateful for double-overtime this past weekend, as things got a little too close for comfort in State College, PA., and out in Colorado.
Both teams were on the road this weekend and both needed big wins to remain in the conversation the for playoffs -- and to simply be ranked. I actually predicted last week the Braxton Miller-less Buckeyes would crack the AP Top Ten with a big weekend. But then they blew a 17-point lead and escaped only thanks to freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett's two touchdown runs in overtime.
Is Penn State a quality opponent? The Nittany Lions do only give up an average of 17.4 points a game. But when you've only scored 15 touchdowns as a team through Week 9, you're not going to win football games; to give some context, Barrett has 21 touchdowns of his own this season. Which is why, if Ohio State plays like this again next week against Illinois -- or, worse, the following week against Michigan State -- the clock will not be their friend any longer.
Similar sentiments could be felt in Utah, where the Utes escaped No. 20 USC on a last-minute touchdown -- but more on that later.
Who's here to stay?
As mentioned in last week's column, Oregon and Alabama have had to battle their way back into the postseason conversation, but did their wins this weekend over sub-par opponents solidify their position as "contenders?"
Marcus Mariota threw for five touchdowns once again Friday night and the Ducks scored 59 points, but they also gave up 41. Granted, Cal's been averaging 41.5 points a game, but if Oregon is to pull ahead of the competition in the Pac-12, then the defense will need to step up.
Similarly, Alabama's Amari Cooper set a school record with 224 yards receiving last week, but the Crimson let Tennessee (3-5) put 20 points on the board. Not sure if this was Lane Kiffin trying to rest his defense in preparation for LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn, but, regardless, a team can't afford to allow one of those three latter teams to score 20 points -- because then they'll just keep scoring.
Speaking of No. 1 Mississippi State, they also had a close call with Kentucky last weekend. Granted, the Wildcats have a history of giving Mississippi State a hard time (four of the last six meetings between the two have been decided by a touchdown or less), but, similar to Alabama, if these squads are to be considered the "teams to beat," then they cannot allow opponents like Kentucky to put 31 points on the board. After all... it's defense that wins championships.
This is Sparta -- or, rather, Lansing
Even with the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers' stock "rising," Michigan State remains on a near cake-walk to the finish line in the race for the Big Ten title.
The Spartans trounced the neighboring Michigan Wolverines by a 35-11 score, and, after their loss to Oregon and close call with Nebraksa a few weeks ago, appear to have hit their stride. Are they "outstanding" at any particular position? Not particularly -- although they are putting 45.5 points on the board. But, similar to good ol' Florida State, the lack of serious competition on their conference schedule will prove to be the feather in their cap.
They're off this week, but next weekend's matchup with Ohio State will most certainly be a marquee game (even if neither team plays in the SEC).
What to watch for
The obvious: No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Ole Miss. Need I say more?
The not-so-obvious: TCU-West Virginia. Not a conference matchup, but, following the Mountaineers' big win over TCU's fellow Big 12 member Baylor a few weeks back, you can bet they will be pumped for the possibility of another upset.
Also not so obvious are two Pac-12 matchups that, by the end of the weekend, will perhaps finally allow one or two of these teams to emerge as "big time." Following a lackluster win last weekend, No. 22 UCLA takes on No. 12 Arizona; should the 6-2 Bruins lose, they can bid farewell to any conference title hopes. Elsewhere, No. 14 Arizona State takes on the rising, No. 17 Utah Utes. After a close-call with USC last week, the Utes are embarking on what many a tween-popstar might call "The Climb."
They've got the Sun Devils this week, No. 5 Oregon next week, and then a trio of quality opponents to end the season (Stanford, Arizona, and Colorado). If they continue to build off each performance, they could sneak into the conference title conversation -- although they will need to improve their passing game, currently ranked 99th in the country in passing yards per game.
Who to watch for
Is it because he's been flying under the radar or that his team is (somehow) only in third place in the Big 12? Either way, every college football fan in the country should know Trevone Boykin's name after his seven touchdowns and over 400 yards passing last Saturday.
The TCU junior has now thrown 21 touchdowns this season (meaning, yes, last week was one-third of his season total) but, perhaps more impressively, he's only thrown three picks. As mentioned above, he'll have a big stage to prove himself on once again -- and don't be surprised that, if some of the other big names like Mariota and Prescott should falter, this guy's name is mentioned in the Heisman conversation.
How strong is the Pac-12?
If this week's games of the week didn't prove the point enough... the Pac-12 is a pretty tight race right now.
Five teams in the College Football Playoff Rankings hail from the Pac-12, as do three of the eight teams receiving votes in the AP Top 25. Do the math, and eight of the 12 teams in this conference are vying for some type of postseason appearance -- the only conference with more teams in this conversation is, you guessed it, the SEC.
As much as analysts have talked about "what would happen if LSU or Arkansas played in a different conference?" they should also be asking the same question about the likes of Washington, Oregon State, and even last-place Colorado. The Buffaloes, after all, are averaging 31.9 points a game and over 300 yards in the air -- and have brought two of their Pac-12 opponents into double overtime.
Yes, the likes of these three teams -- and a lot of those still ranked -- won't be playing in a bowl game this winter. But a different story may have been written had they played a different crop of competition.
For your reading pleasure
Great read from D3Football.com's Ryan Tipps about the freshman phenom's in NCAA Division III.
The last laugh
A Happy Halloween from your Top Ten Fan Bases in College Football!
Mia O'Brien is a senior at Ithaca College's Roy H. Park School of Communications, where basically everyone calls her "Mobrien." She's a fan of country music, a good debate, and French dressing -- in no particular order. For sports updates, random musings, and many a creative hashtag, follow her on Twitter: @OBSportsLive16