This week is “Step Up or Step Off” time for the College Football Preview. There are some teams that have been right there at the forefront of the college football playoff race, but have stumbled recently. This is a week for them to prove they still belong in the conversation. There are others that have been hanging around the periphery for the first half of the season, and some others that perhaps we did not see coming and it is time for them to make a statement going into the back half of the schedule.
College Football Preview; Week 7
TCU (5-0, 3-0) @ Kansas State (3-2, 1-1); Sat., 12 noon ET FS1
Look who is sitting atop the Big XII as the only undefeated team left in the conference. The stepping here is going to need to be in the trenches. The TCU front seven has recorded 13 sacks so far this season. The Kansas State offensive line has only allowed seven over the first five games. The battle in the bulge will matter as TCU is averaging nearly 33 minutes per game in time of possession. Kansas State is not going to get a lot of opportunities and they are not a quick strike offense. Get behind early, and the game gets a lot tougher.
The Wildcats have a quarterback issue as well. Starter Jesse Ertz was injured in the double overtime loss to Texas last week. Head coach Bill Snyder is not announcing ahead of time if Ertz can play or if it will be backup Alex Delton, who is much more of a runner than a thrower. TCU’s Kenny Hill has finally learned to cut down on his mistakes with 10 touchdown passes and only three interceptions so far. Just know where you are stepping. Kansas State is undefeated at home this season.
Auburn (5-1, 3-0) @ LSU (4-2, 1-1); Sat., 3:30pm ET CBS
Don’t look now but the Tigers, (the Auburn version) are right there with Alabama at the top of the SEC West. Their only loss remains that forgivable bust in the season opener at Clemson. Since then, they have grown and matured, primarily on offense and specifically on the offensive line. Now that quarterback Jarrett Stidham has more time to run the offense, he has gotten better as the games have gotten more important during the season. He has thrown for 1,345 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. It will help to have a healthy triumvirate of running backs. Kerryon Johnson, Kam Pettway and Kam Martin have combined for nearly 1,000 in varying degrees of health this season. If they are all back, as the reports are now, Auburn could be stepping up.
LSU has to watch its step. After a stunning loss to Troy, the Bayou Bengals got a nice win over Florida, even with gaining 50 yards on 17 carries. The LSU defense has been stingy, but at some point Derrius Guice is going to have to get his yards and quarterback Danny Etling is going to have to be better than average.
Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-0) @ Miami (4-0, 2-0); Sat., 3:30pm ET ABC
Hey, look at what we have here. A battle for the top run of the ACC Coastal Division ladder. The Canes will be without starting running back Mark Walton. He has been playing for weeks with an injured ankle and finally had to have season-ending surgery. Travis Homer has a little over 200 yards rushing in a backup role, but he is going to have to get used to carrying the ball 30 times a game. Quarterback Malik Rosier has stepped up nicely into the starting role for Miami with nearly 1,100 yards passing to go with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. The challenge will be keeping Georgia Tech’s running game in check. No one really has yet.
The Yellow Jackets are quick to step with the triple option offense and are second in the nation in rushing with a 396 yards per game average. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall is even getting 131 per game himself. Both teams are coming off big wins. Georgia Tech hammered a once-good North Carolina team. Miami ended Florida State’s win streak over the Canes with a last-minute touchdown. But come Saturday night, only one of these two will still have a Coastal Division bounce in their step.
Oklahoma (4-1, 1-1) vs. Texas (3-2, 2-0); Sat., 3:30pm ET ESPN
This feels like a lopsided game even though it very much is not. Even if it were, as the great announcer Keith Jackson used to say, “Whoa Nelly, you throw out the records when these two meet.” It is one of the great rivalries and settings in all of college football going back to the days of the Big 8 and Southwest Conferences. Our Jason Rhea covered the history in a great series over the last two weeks. In the here and now, the talk is that Oklahoma can still win the conference title and be a contender for the playoffs. But the reality is, as we walk in the current, that Texas has a better conference record. Is Texas a better team than the Sooners? No. Can they compete with Oklahoma for 60 minutes Saturday? You bet.
The Sooners are coming off a shocking loss to Iowa State, but you can put that on the defense. Quarterback Baker Mayfield did his job. He was 24-of-33 for 306 yards and two touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception this season. Not much else the guy can do. The defense for Oklahoma needs to step up to the level it had when it played Ohio State earlier in the season. They limited Ohio State quarterback to 240 yards of offense that game. The opportunity is there Saturday.
Texas head coach Tom Herman has been wobbly in his quarterback decisions. Neither Sam Ehlinger or Shane Buechele are going to light up the scoreboard, but it seems clear that Ehlinger gives them the better chance to win. The Longhorns defense should be able to keep it close. They looked absurd against Maryland in week one but held USC’s offense in check two weeks later. It’s a classic match-up. Get off your feet and sit for a while.
Ohio State (5-1, 3-0) @ Nebraska (3-3, 2-1); Sat., 7:30pm ET FS1
Ohio State was given up for nationally dead by many after getting manhandled by Oklahoma in week two. But the Buckeyes have quietly stepped right and taken care of business. True, the path has not been difficult with wins over Army, Rutgers, UNLV and Maryland since the Oklahoma loss. But that has given quarterback J.T. Barrett time to up his game. Rarely has a quarterback with so much skill been seen by so many as a detriment to the team because of his lack of downfield throwing ability. Still, his yards and touchdowns are ahead of last season’s pace and the Buckeyes are running up 568 yards per game on offense.
Nebraska’s step is to-be-determined. Walking upright would be good. Rarely has a team with a winning conference record been in so much turmoil over the direction of the program. Head coach Mike Riley is presumed gone at the end of the season, particularly with his old job in Corvallis suddenly open. The famed black shirts are not living up to the legend on defense. The Huskers gave up 353 yards rushing in a blowout loss to Wisconsin this week. But note this…if Nebraska can pull itself together for one game…60 minutes…it then gets a bye, followed by very winnable games against Northwestern, Purdue and Minnesota. Get this one game and the season could be off and running again.
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