By Jonathan Lowe
November 24, 2016
Here’s to turkey. Here’s to side dishes. Here’s to four-day weekends. Here’s to time for family. Here’s to arguments, awkward, political, and otherwise. And, of course, here’s to pigskin. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Now, on to the games!
The Big Ten West Showdowns: The last few weeks, this division has been very muddled. Wisconsin controls its own fate. Nebraska is hoping for one Badger slip-up. Iowa and Minnesota are out of the running, but they could make things very confusing.
The Hawkeyes and Huskers take the stage first (Friday afternoon). The Gophers and Badgers get a night to sleep on the results from Lincoln (they play Saturday afternoon). If the road team’s can pull off upsets, we’ll see a four-way tie for the division title. That would do wonders for Nebraska, whom would win a trip to Indianapolis. It would also close out Wisconsin’s slim chances for a national semifinal spot.
Florida at Florida State: The Gators are hoping this will be a positive tune-up for next week’s SEC Championship Game. Next Saturday, the offense will probably face the stiffer test of the two sides of the ball. This week, that appears to be the defense’s issue. Deondre Francois isn’t as dynamic a freshman quarterback as Jameis Winston was, but he still presents a ton of problems for opposing defenders. And that’s before even taking Dalvin Cook into account. The junior tailback now tops the Seminoles’ all-time rushing list. He can also be a threat in the pass game, averaging more than 14 yards for he catch he makes.
While the Gators have bigger stakes on the line next week, the Seminoles have a lot of pride in their camp. Funny fact I learned this week (from sources other than my brain; ahem, thank you Worldwide Leader)…if FSU wins this game, it will be the first time that a four-year senior class has defeated both Miami and Florida all four seasons (a combined 8-0 record).
Auburn at Alabama: Thanks to Georgia, the Iron Bowl has lost a bit of its sizzle. Now, I wouldn’t tell that to the face of anyone from the Heart of Dixie. However, what appeared to be another battle for an SEC West crown has turned into a shot to provide one-half of the ultimate spoiler. The Tigers would love nothing better than to end the Tide’s repeat hopes, but they can’t. If ‘Bama loses Saturday, they should still get into the CFP by beating Florida in a week.
I don’t believe that would matter to Tigers fans. They would have bragging rights for the next year. They would have overwhelming faith in coach Gus Malzahn and the direction of the program. And the result may sew up a spot in one of the other New Years’ Six contests. Larger goals might have been tossed out of the window, but, for some, nothing’s better than successfully pulling your rival’s goals out along with yours.
Wyoming at New Mexico: Since the beginning of the season, it was a foregone conclusion that Boise State and San Diego State would meet in the Mountain West title game. That conclusion is still a possibility, but the foregone portion could be forbidden if Craig Bohl’s team can squeak out one more victory. The road has been this team’s bug-a-boo, though. All three losses have come from outside of Laramie, and Albuquerque doesn’t intend to be a friendly host to the Cowboys.
The Lobos know they’ll have to a step above to defeat a squad that has victories over EACH of the conference’s division favorites. However, they may like the fact that Wyoming allows more yards (455.9) than they gain (447.1) on average. The stakes all depend on Friday afternoon. By Saturday’s kickoff, Bob Davie’s team will know if they even have a pulse for a share of the Mountain Division. But for a team that struggled to a 2-3 start, that pulse has to feel pretty strong at this point.
Washington at Washington State (Friday): There have been some important Apple Cup matchups. The 2001 game is still the last time both teams were ranked going into that contest (Wazzu fell out of this week’s rankings after losing to Colorado). The 1992 game was the second-to-last in the college career of Cougar QB Drew Bledsoe. The 1983 Cougars denied that year’s Huskies a shot to go to the Rose Bowl, stunning UW in Seattle.
The most important edition of this long-standing rivalry? That could have occurred in 1936, when the sixth-ranked Huskies shutout the twentieth-ranked Cougars, 40-0. It turned out to be the only time in conference history that these two schools finished first and second, respectively, in the league standings. It was the Pac-10 at that time…with the membership roster including Montana and Idaho. With a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game at stake, this could be the biggest renewal of the series in 80 years (minus one day, to be exact).
Toledo at Western Michigan (Friday): Sometimes, the schedules just work out perfectly. Sometimes, there’s no letdown from the schools favored to meet in a season-ending showdown. The MAC West title comes down to these two teams. The Rockets are one touchdown (five-point loss to Ohio) and one field goal (two-point loss at BYU) away from being where WMU is currently at. The undefeated Broncos know that a loss in either of the next two weeks will end any shot they have at a New Years’ Six bowl bid.
With weather conditions expected to be fairly tame for Friday afternoon’s kickoff, I believe this matchup is headed for a shootout. The Broncos are extremely balanced in their surge to 508.9 yards (262.7 passing, 246.2 rushing) and 43.8 points per game. WMU’s Zach Terrell should top 3,000 passing yards for the season. He has 27 TD throws to accompany 1 (ONE) interception. And he may not be the better QB in this matchup. Toledo’s Logan Woodside can reach 4,000 passing yards in this game and add to his 40 TD total (with only 7 INTs to boot). What a way to decide a division title.
Michigan at Ohio State: There’s no way to avoid this game. Really, there hasn’t been any way to avoid this game since Labor Day. It’s probably more of a surprise that these two teams have each lost a game rather than rolled into this contest unblemished. The squads have some things in common. The Buckeyes are a little better getting up and down the field (493.1 ypg to 451.1). They each rank highly when it comes to changing the scoreboard. Ohio State shares the fifth-best spot when it comes to scoring offense (43.8 ppg). Michigan stands at 11th-best (42.3 ppg).
However, it’s on defense where both of these teams shine. Both are in the top four when it comes to stuffing opponents’ driving abilities (Wolverines lead the nation at 245.6 yapg; Buckeyes are 4th with 279.8 yapg). The same holds true in respect to keeping scores down (Wolverines top the game with 10.9 papg; Buckeyes tied for third at 13.0 papg). Michigan will need to rely on that “D” with questions surrounding the health of starting QB Wilton Speight.
The Buckeyes have the better, healthier offense. They have the home-field advantage. They have the series momentum (have won the last four straight and, technically*, 11 of the last 12). Those are just the kind of odds that Jim Harbaugh relishes.
*Ohio State’s 2010 win vacated due to ‘Salegate’ sanctions.