College Football Preview; Week 11

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 05: Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Jehu Chesson (86) runs with the ball after catching a pass during game action between the Maryland Terrapins and the Michigan Wolverines on November 5, 2016, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, MI. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

That sure was a crazy Tuesday night; the polling, the voting, waiting for the results. Then of course you get the people who are angry with the results. They figure the whole thing was somehow rigged, and they want answers. It has created an overwhelming amount of social media chatter and analysis and arguing this week.

Wait. What? What presidential election Tuesday night? I was talking about Tuesday’s release of week 2 of the college football playoff poll. Texas A&M got bumped after losing last week and Washington is in, as they probably should have been anyway, but the folks in Columbus, Ohio say UW has not done the campaign work and they believe the Buckeyes should be there. You can see how this has been a volatile week as we head into Week 11 of what would otherwise be a pedestrian schedule of games.

College Football Preview

Mississippi State (4-5, 2-3) at Alabama (9-0, 6-0) 12noon EST, ESPN

The Crimson Tide are still the front runner, but it did not come easy last week. LSU played the best defense anyone has played against Bama this season, but you still have to score points to win. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts had Alabama’s lone touchdown to go with 114 yards rushing, but the Tide needs more throwing and less running. They need better balance, and this is the game to find it in.

Mississippi State is ranked #104 in the nation in passing defense. The Bulldogs are going to need chances to get on Bama early and hold on for a wild ride. Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is the reason there is a chance. In last week’s win against Texas A&M, he provided a mere 209 yards passing with two touchdowns to go with 182 yards rushing and two more touchdowns. The game rests with Fitzgerald versus Alabama’s uber athletic defense. Likely? No. Possible? Of course, or I wouldn’t have spent the time as your campaign media staff writing about it.

Penn State  (7-2, 5-1) at Indiana (5-4, 3-3) 12 noon EST, ABC

This is just as surprising for me that I am writing about this game this far into the campaign season as it is for you. No one expected Penn State to be sitting at #10 in this week’s LWOS Top 25 poll, but the Nittany Lions may be the best two-loss team in the country. Running back Saquon Barkley is averaging just over seven yards per carry over the last four games, as Penn State’s running game has learned to go wide and fast and not just run it up the gut, traditional Big 10 style.

Meanwhile, Indiana is on the verge of being bowl eligible for the second straight year, and few had those projections correct. The Hoosiers have the third best offense in the Big 10 thanks mostly to quarterback Richard Lagow. He has already thrown for more than 2,500 yards this season at a 61% completion clip. The downside is he also has 13 interceptions. Turning the ball over to Penn State’s ground attack offense is going to kill the clock and the game for Indiana. They are going to need more from running back Devine Redding who has sufficient yards this season, if not touchdowns.

Auburn (7-2, 5-1) at Georgia (5-4, 3-4); 3:30pm EST, CBS

Look, when this season started Gus Malzahn was looking at potential “impeachment” for crimes against the Auburn nation. Heck, some college football writer here, who shall remain nameless other than the byline on this column, even had him taking over at Texas A&M after the Aggies’ coach got canned. Now none of that is happening…

My career an employment pundit has been stunted, and the Tigers are breathing down Bama’s neck in the SEC West. Auburn has six straight wins, but that includes a couple of shaky, one-score margin wins over LSU and Vanderbilt when the running game struggled. Tigers running back Kam Pettaway left last week’s game with hamstring issues, and his return this week is critical for Auburn. He has four straight games of at least 169 yards rushing, and it helps keep the pressure of inconsistent quarterback Sean White. You know what else helps? Scoring touchdowns. Auburn is only converting 51% of its red zone opportunities into touchdowns. That is “good” enough for #115 n the country.

Meet the Georgia defense which is giving up red zone touchdowns at a 75% pace. The Bulldogs have got to pound the ball first and foremost. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have been slowed by nagging injuries and nagging defenses and have the combined stats of one outstanding running back. But with Jacob Eason converting only 25% of 3rd downs with at least seven yards to go, the duo has to perform for Georgia to remain a real bowl candidate.

USC (6-3, 5-2) at Washington (9-0, 6-0) 7:30pm EST, Fox

The Huskies are finally getting the love they feel they deserve from voting precincts across the nation. Of course “some” west coast correspondents from “some” college football publications saw this coming three months ago.  Quarterback Jake Browning torched Cal’s defense for 19 of 28 passing for 378 yards and six touchdowns. He is getting multiple threats at the receiver position with both John Ross and Dante Petis and multiple threats with the running game in Lavon Coleman and Myles Gaskin who have 1,552 yards rushing combined.

The Trojans did not know what to think of the early campaign returns. Clay Helton was the choice of virtually no SC fans as the head coach, and they started the season 1-3. Many are saying the difference was made when they pulled Max Browne as their quarterback and went to freshman Sam Darnold. Reality says the difference is their running game was averaging 143 yards per game in that 1-3 stretch and Browne was running for his life. Justin Davis and Ronald Jones are now averaging 267 rushing per game, and the offensive line has only given up nine quarterback sacks in the same period.

Michigan (9-0, 6-0) at Iowa (5-4, 3-3) 8pm EST, ABC

The Wolverines are making a rare campaign stop. This is only their second game out of the state of Michigan this entire season. They are the complete candidate. They take care of the ball. Quarterback Wilson Speight has only three interceptions all year, and the offense has only fumbled the ball away three times. The defense is Harbaugh-tough and tops in the nation for fewest red zone trips allowed by an opposing offense. Whether it is this week or next or the week after that, Michigan is going to have back to back 10-win seasons for the first time in 13 years.

Perhaps Jim Harbaugh has a future in this game. Iowa is going to need to take risks and open the offense more in this game. Quarterback C.J. Beathard has 1,584 yards passing but only 13 touchdowns. The Hawkeyes are not going to win on field goals and are going to have to improve on their 72% touchdown rate inside the red zone for this game. And for those that despise political correctness, this is the game for you. As tough guy Harbaugh has to have his Wolverines use the visitors’ locker room at Kinnck Stadium…..the one that is painted wall to wall pink.
Hey, political and football campaigns are a rough and tumble business.

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