Some candidates are trending up, while others trend down. There are debates over strategies and decisions. Are the plans working or do they need to be changed based on current trajectory? Is everyone doing what they need to do to get the critical win? The clock is ticking. Wait, what? There is an election Tuesday? Oh yeah, I forgot. I was referring to the college football landscape now that the first College Football Playoff committee rankings have been released. The primaries are over and each week’s appearance matters even more as we look at Week 10 of the college football season.
Week 10 College Football Preview
Texas A&M (7-1, 1-1) at Miss. State (3-5, 1-3); 12noon EDT, SECN
The Aggies are the insurgent candidate. Few expected to see them at #4 in the committee’s initial ranking this last week, but with a loss to Alabama being the only scar on the record, they will now spend each stop, each week in a place to justify their position. This week they face a Mississippi State team that is fighting to get bowl eligible. They have been right there most weeks, with their last four losses coming by a combined total of 13 points. The Bulldogs are getting 430 yards and 30 points per game, but their quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald is not only their leading passer but their leading rusher, (657 yards on the ground compared to 231 for Ashton Shumpert who is second), so balance is a problem. MSU also has a porous pass defense, and here comes Texas A&M and quarterback Trevor Knight who has thrown for more than 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. The Aggies are also giving him help with a viable running game. Trayveon Williams has 776 yards rushing in only 99 carries. If they get an early lead, expect the Aggies to keep the pedal down as a way to stump for votes next week.
Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2) at Northwestern (4-4, 3-2); 12noon EDT, ABC
This one has down ballot implications, because the conference has five teams in the CFP Top 10, and there are four teams still vying for the Big 10 West title, with two of them facing each other right here. Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox is still putting out one of the best defensive units in the country, but they are starting to show signs of wear from being on the field way too much. The Badgers cannot find a consistent offense, now averaging less than 20 points per game. The rotating quarterback agenda with Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook feels more like not being able to decide who should be on top of the party’s ticket. It isn’t working well. Northwestern is old style “campaigning;” grassroots and on the ground. The Wildcats are 4-0 when running back Justin Jackson has at least 26 carries. Northwestern showed a great run defense last week in losing by only four points to Ohio State. This game is going to be about campaign fundamentals.
Alabama (8-0, 5-0) at LSU (5-2, 3-1); 8pm EDT, CBS
The front runner, the prohibitive favorite has to go into a hostile precinct for a tough whistle stop, (youngsters can no go ask your grandparents what a whistle stop is). The Tide is leading in every poll, by every measure available with 20 straight wins. Their campaign has no vulnerabilities right now. Their defense leads the country in sacks with 32, and they have at least three in every game. The fourth ranked defense in the country is giving up only 274 yards per game, and they are well rested coming off last week’s bye. LSU is ready to throw its hat back in the ring for major bowl consideration. The Tigers fired “campaign manager” Les Miles earlier in the season and are now 3-0 under interim coach Ed Orgeron. Hey, that would make for an updateable campaign bumper sticker…”3-0 with Coach O.” Can they make it 4-0 under Coach O? The answer lies in the diversity of the offense. Leonard Fournette has played in only four games this season for the Bayou Bengals because of nagging injuries. His absence has forced Orgeron to get more creative with the offense, and quarterback Danny Etling has 1,129 yards passing and seven touchdowns as a result since taking over the starting spot mid-season. Fournette is relatively healthy now, but everyone remembers last season when the Bama defense held him to 31 yards on 19 carries and ended his Heisman Trophy bid in one afternoon. Cross platform campaigning is what is going to keep LSU in the game.
Nebraska (7-1, 4-1) at Ohio State (7-1, 4-1); 8PM EDT, ABC
This is like when you are watching a debate and can barely tell the difference between two candidates. Same record, similar strengths, similar weaknesses. The loss for each of them came within the last two weeks, and in both cases was by a touchdown or less. Both are led by dual threat quarterbacks who are finding it easier to run the ball than throw. Both starting quarterbacks are averaging less than eight-and-a-half yards per completion. Both teams started out with high octane offenses that are now finding I hard to find the end zone. Yet, there is a lot at stake in the conference race and the bigger picture. Ohio State is averaging only 26 points per game over the last three games after averaging 53 per game in the first five games, (albeit, against teams that would never make it to the big debate stage). They lost by three to Penn State two weeks ago and actually had home fans booing the lack of offensive imagination. In two of the last four games, quarterback J.T. Barrett has actually run more times than he has thrown and is averaging only seven yards per passing attempt. Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is averaging just over eight yards per attempt, and he completed just 38% of his passes in last week’s six point loss to Wisconsin. The difference could be Nebraska’s defense. It has given up 24 points or more just once this season. The canvassing plan seems simple for both teams; load the defensive box until your opponent proves they can go downfield on you. First one to complete a long range plan wins.
Washington (8-0, 5-0) at Cal (4-4, 2-3); 10:30pm EDT, ESPN
After you are done with the old school campaign fundamentals, you can tune in to this flame throwing contest. Washington cannot like the work of the “pollsters,” being undefeated but behind Texas A&M in the CFP rankings. They are going to have to hope the old folks can stay up late enough to see some of this. Washington quarterback Jake Browning was human last week in the win over Utah, but it does not happen often. He was 12 of 20 for 186 yards and two touchdowns. There have been only two games this season where he has thrown fewer than three touchdown passes. The offense is diverse as they are also getting 100 yards every game out of running back Myles Gaskin. Cal had a bye week after a loss to USC. However, even in the loss, Bears quarterback Davis Webb was 34 of 53 for 333 yards and three touchdowns. He is also getting back a healthy Khalfani Muhammad at running back, averaging just under seven yards per carry. After the traditional electioneering all day, this one will leave you wide eyed.
There is a lot of stumping going on this weekend. And oh yeah, that other voting thing that happens on Tuesday.