Written by: John Stocco
To all my friends out there who I made plans with ahead of time, my apologies, I’m cancelling on you this week. It’s week 4 of the college football season, and it’s the best one yet. We have four spotlight games for you this weekend and they all have something to do with championship implications. Enough with the intro, let’s get this thing started out west.
Friday Night Lights: #10 Utah vs. USC
USC is coming off a heartbreaking loss, and honestly it pretty much sums up the entire USC football program. It’s heartbreaking because they should be Alabama. They are a historic program in one of the most amazing campuses in the country. Which teenager wouldn’t want to go to Southern California? I hate the beach, and I’m not a surfer dude, but if USC came calling my name, peace. I’m out of here. USC has an uphill battle. Keldon Slovis played extremely well, but then he hit that freshman wall by throwing three interceptions. He was sluggish against BYU, and now this week is going to be the week where we find out if Slovis is legit. We’re going to see how he can bounce back. He has the arm strength, and the confidence which is great, but can also be his worst enemy. Slovis has two receivers that he can throw to deep down the field to in Michael Pittman and Tyler Vaughns. With Utah being one of the best run defenses in the nation, all the pressure will be put on Slovis’ arm if they want to stay in this game and pull off the upset. On the other hand, Utah has to show up, and play like their lives are on the line every week. After Auburn beating Oregon, and the rest of the Pac 12 having underwhelming seasons, the Utes are a team that has to go undefeated because the committee is not going to show an ounce of respect to the Pac 12 conference. If Utah goes undefeated and wins the Pac 12 conference they’re going to force the committee’s hand by putting themselves in the College Football Playoff. It’s right there for the taking, and like I previously stated, the best run defense, along with one of the best running backs in college, Zack Moss, have their shot and making history. That starts this Friday night.
The B1G Showdown: #11 Michigan vs. #13 Wisconsin
Look I’m not going to lie to my readers, it hasn’t been pretty for Michigan this season, and I’m seriously starting to worry about Michigan’s chances of walking out as Big Ten Champions. The Wolverines have a great foundation on defense, but on offense there just hasn’t been anything. The offensive line has been inconsistent, the running game hasn’t been as dominant as we’ve seen from years previous, Shea Patterson doesn’t look like he’s improving, and the play calling by Jim Gattis so far hasn’t been any better than what people were hating from Jim Harbaugh’s play sheet. This is a huge test. Winning at Camp Randall is never easy. Wisconsin has looked incredible so far this season on both offense and defense, and even though their first two games were cake walks, they’ve slammed on the gas by dominating South Florida and crushing Central Michigan. While Michigan looks to show that they are legit, and that they can win the Big Ten, Wisconsin is trying to establish themselves as a team, that everyone counted out after a disappointing season last year. The Badgers are going to rely heavily on Heisman Trophy hopeful Jonathan Taylor in a game that I’m expecting to be a defensive slugfest. Typical Big Ten football. Both teams are fighting for a spot to make the Big Ten Championship game, both teams are looking to make a statement. Michigan wants to show the doubters that they can win the big game, and make a real run at the National Title, and Wisconsin is looking to make the statement that it doesn’t matter who their opponent is, they’re real, they can beat the best of the Big Ten and they can beat the best of college football.
SEC: #8 Auburn vs. #17 Texas A&M
Some people might just look at this as another SEC top 25 showdown, but this is a game with major implications for these programs. Both teams have already faced top 10 competition, as Auburn beat Oregon in week 1, and Texas A&M lost to Clemson in week 2. I believe Texas A&M is a lot better than what they showed against Clemson. Kellen Mond wasn’t right that game. Was it the weather? Was it Clemson’s defense? Was it just a bad day? All of those could be true. Mond looked sluggish, and his performance is why Clemson wiped the floor with the Aggies. I’m fully expecting Kellen Mond to come back home and play much better. Auburn played a great game against Oregon. Their defense locked down Justin Herbert, the Oregon Ducks’ offensive line, and true freshman quarterback Bo Nix put himself on the map with a great game winning drive. Since then, Bo Nix has seen some struggles. Throwing for only 545 yards, 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and 64.9 QBR which is 50th in the country. Bo is going to be a great college quarterback, but he’s been thrown into the Lion’s Den so to speak at Auburn. Another challenge for Bo Nix is underway. This is Bo’s first road game of his college career. I don’t want to count Oregon in Dallas as a road game for Bo Nix, but for the first time, Bo Nix is going to be in hostile territory, and he will have to be the one who leads the way if Auburn is going to walk out as the winner because of Texas A&M being so dominant against the run. They shut down Travis Etienne a couple weeks ago, and going back to last year the Aggies shut down the top backs in the SEC like Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, and Benny Snell. Watch for Auburn to show a lot more trust in Bo Nix this weekend, and the freshman quarterback will have to win this game with his arm. Both of these teams are facing uphill challenges from now until the end of the season. Auburn’s remaining key games: @ Florida, @ LSU, Georgia, and the finale against Alabama. Texas A&M’s key games: Alabama, Mississippi State, @ Georgia, and @ LSU. Whoever loses this game could be looking 8-4 or 7-5 in the face. Go ask an Auburn or Texas A&M fan if they’re happy with that record.
The Biggest Non Conference Game of the Year: #7 Notre Dame vs. #3 Georgia
The game of the week will be in Athens, Georgia. Notre Dame on the road against Georgia and this one is going to be electric. Notre Dame can’t walk into Georgia with a chip on their shoulder, they have to walk into Georgia with logs on their shoulders. They have to play pissed off. Everyone laughed at Notre Dame last year when they were humiliated by Clemson, and people are still laughing at them now. Everyone is expecting the Irish to get destroyed this Saturday. Paul Finebaum pretty much laughed out loud when the idea of Notre Dame beating Georgia was suggested. The folks on twitter mocking the Irish chances. Go even ask Vegas, and the line is set at Notre Dame being two touchdown underdogs. Notre Dame is given zero respect by everyone in college football and that is why this is a must win game. Georgia on the flip side is looked at as the only team who can beat Alabama or Clemson. Georgia cannot afford to lose this game because the committee will put them in if they have one loss, but if they have two losses, their chances are gone. Being in the SEC, and being the team that’s bound to face Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, everyone is expecting Georgia to have at least one loss. Kirby Smart has built a well oiled machine down in Georgia, and it’s starting with junior quarterback Jake Fromm, a terrific offensive line, and the most under appreciated running back in college, DeAndre Swift. I said it before and I’ll say it again, I believe Jake Fromm is the best quarterback in this upcoming draft class. Since he’s been a freshman he’s done nothing but play consistently great against the best competition college football has to offer in the biggest games. In his career, 5,977 yards, 59 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. 65.7% completion rating, and an average total QBR of 168.3. Nothing but steady good football and he’s only going to improve at the next level, but Jake Fromm doesn’t have to be the reason why Georgia is looking to win this game. Notre Dame this season hasn’t been very good against the run. I suspect Georgia will hand the ball off to Swift and beat Notre Dame on the ground, and big on big. Notre Dame has to mix up their coverages, and they have to put pressure on the line of scrimmage to stop the Bulldogs. From the Irish side, they need Ian Book to have his best game. I really like Ian Book in college, and I like his chances in the NFL. If I give the Irish any edge this weekend, it’s their receiving core. Ian Book has to be mobile and quick on his feet to get out of the pocket, and Notre Dame must spread the field with deep passes to Chase Claypool, Chris Finke, and Javon McKinley. You can already feel the big game atmosphere.
A weekend of playoffs and conference championship implications. It’s the biggest weekend of the college football season. Get your popcorn ready.