Forty names, games, teams, and minutiae making headlines in college football, where coaches keep getting hit and it’s not even November:
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THIRD QUARTER: BIG TEN EASTAPALOOZA IS HERE
The sport’s most exciting division kicks off this weekend and will remain a national focal point until the end of November. the East Division of the Big Ten (21) The round robin is here: four teams, six games, four different Saturdays. There are championship aspirations at the division, conference and college football playoff levels at stake. May the best team win. The lineup is as follows:
Saturday: Michigan (7-0) at Michigan State (7-0) Saturday at noon ET, Wolverines favorite 4 1/2; Penn State (5–2) at Ohio State (6–1) at 7:30 pm ET, the Buckeyes are the 18 1/2 favorite.
Nov. 13: Michigan at Penn State, time to be determined.
November 20: Michigan State at Ohio State, time to be determined.
Nov. 27: Ohio State at Michigan at noon; Penn State at Michigan State, time to be determined.
The Nittany Lions certainly did their part to undermine the drama by losing at home to Illinois on Saturday in one of the most absurd games of the season. But they still have a chance to at least play spoiler, and maybe still win the division if they win and get some help. So let’s not rule them out just yet.
But for now, the focus is on the other three teams. A quick breakdown of each:
Ohio State (22) It is the hottest team in the country, defeating the last three members of the division (Rutgers, Indiana and Maryland) by an average margin of 44 points. The Buckeyes have racked up seven straight games averaging at least seven yards per play, and six straight games averaging more than 500 yards. If you want to know how impressive that is, consider: Neither of the last two national champions and their giant offenses (Alabama 2020 and LSU 2019) put together such long streaks in either category. (Oklahoma 2018 had 10 straight games averaging more than seven yards per play and nine straight games with more than 500 yards. The Sooners also played in the big 12 when the league was anti-defensive.) rotation, dating back to the third quarter against Akron on September 25.
Weakness: The defense has been touchy through the air, ranking in the middle of the Big Ten group in passing efficiency defense. Before facing the quarterback-exhausted Indiana in a bad-weather game Saturday, the Buckeyes were giving up 256 passing yards per game. They have been particularly susceptible to backtracking in the Red Zone, with opponents racking up a 220.3 passing efficiency rating in that area of the field.
Michigan is averaging its most points (37.7) and allowing the fewest (14.3) since the 2016 JT Barrett One Inch season. A defense led by the senior wing Aidan Hutchinson (23 years old) leads the conference in the fewest points allowed. An offense led by running backs Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins leads the conference in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Having played ahead most of the season, the Wolverines have been able to harness their strength and hit the ground in the second half, rushing the ball 23.7 times per game in the third and fourth quarters.
Weakness: The Wolverines have thrown it much more frequently in October, up to 33.7 attempts per game, more than double the September 16.3, but not with great success. The efficiency rating has dropped from 168.2 to 124 month-over-month; If Michigan has to pitch to win big games, can it do it?
The state of Michigan has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, scoring 16.3 points per game more than last year and allowing 16.4 fewer. With 6.95 yards per play, the Spartans are eighth nationally. They are also the only team in the Power 5 with four away wins, with only two away games left. Kenneth Walker III (24 years old) He continues to lead the nation in rushing (142 yards per game) and has the highest average per carry of anyone with 150 or more attempts (6.56).
Weakness: Michigan State is last in the Big Ten in penalties and penalty yards, the kinds of things that can thwart an unexpected offer in a tight game. The Spartans’ offense largely shut down in their two closest games of the season, against Nebraska and Indiana, but they still found ways to win. (Special teams against the Cornhuskers, defense against the Hoosiers). Will they be able to rediscover their great playing ability on Saturday and in the weeks to come?
Quick prediction of how Big Ten Eastapalooza develops: Ohio State 3–0, Michigan 2–1, Michigan State 1–2, Penn State 0–3. If the Buckeyes take the division, do the Wolverines still have a chance of making the playoffs?
OTHER IMPORTANT GAMES THIS WEEK:
The cocktail (25). Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville is the Red River Shootout of the southeast, with the same wildness and fan excitement. This version comes with divergent stories: the Gators trying to save a 4-3 season, the Bulldogs trying to extend their run to a SEC East title and playoff offer. The line: Georgia by 14. (That line, if it holds, would be the biggest in the series since 2009, when the Gators were favored by 14 1/2). Can Dan Mullen put together a team that seemed to be worn out on the pros after a home loss to LSU? And even if it can, does Florida really have a chance of winning? Board pick: Georgia 27, Florida 14.
SMU-Houston (26). The competition to be Cincinnati’s top plague in the American Athletic Conference will largely be decided here. The line: Houston for one. The Mustangs are undefeated, but have played the 128th toughest schedule out of 130, in terms of opponents’ winning percentage. Cougars with a loss aren’t much better at No. 118. This is a classic force-on-force matchup, in which SMU owns the best offense in the AAC and Houston owns the best defense. (Dana Holgorsen, defensive mastermind; who knew?) Dash pick: SMU 38, Houston 35.
Iowa-Wisconsin (27). This will go a long way in deciding how and who will win the Big Ten West. (Minnesota is in the mix too, and maybe Purdue if things get weird.) The line: Wisconsin by 3 1/2. If you’re looking for the art of a quarterback, don’t let your TV remote find this game. The Badgers are so limited in throwing the ball that this was their passing line when they beat Purdue on Saturday: 5 of 8 for 52 yards. They have become a service academy. The Hawkeyes lost their final game largely by throwing four interceptions. I have no idea how either team will score. Board pick: Iowa 14, Wisconsin 13.
Mississippi-Auburn (28). The winner of this game will remain tied in the loss column with Alabama in the SEC West, and if that winner is the Tigers, they will continue to control their own destiny. The line: Auburn by 2 1/2. Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin may has to deal with some vaccination dramaBut this is not yet a Nick Rolovich situation and it may never become one. (In fact, it’s rare when Lane Kiffin enters a game as the less controversial head coach, but here we are.) Despite all the fanfare about Ole Miss’s passing game, the Rebels have run more yards than they have gained through the air in five of their seven games, including the last three. The team that runs the most successful will win this one. Dash Pick: Mississippi 35, Auburn 31.
Fresno State-San Diego State (29). The Aztecs are trying to maintain their perfect record with the best Mountain West defense against the best Mountain West offense. The line: San Diego State for one. San Diego State likes methodical and physical running games; Fresno State prefers more pace and more passing. Board Pick: San Diego State 28, Fresno State 24.
Texas Tech-Oklahoma (30 years old). Is this really an important game? Just from this point of view: At 5-3, the Red Raiders have the best record of any FBS opponent Oklahoma has played thus far. Combined record of previous opponents: 20-29, worst of any Power 5 team. The line: Oklahoma by 20. Texas Tech just fired coach Matt Wells on Monday. Three Power 5 teams have had their coach fired this season and two of them covered the difference in the next game (USC and Washington State) while one did not (LSU). Oklahoma hasn’t been very good against the spread this season. Board pick: Oklahoma 51, Texas Tech 35.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.