By: Nate Gatter, KCOU Sports
The ever-eloquent Jim Mora foresaw the chaotic 2014 college football season more than a decade before it came to pass. Despite Coach Mora’s protests, however, it is time to get serious about the playoffs. Of the 23 ranked teams in action last week, 11 were defeated, five at the hands of unranked opponents. The victors are reveling in their success while many of the losers slink away into irrelevance. But there is no rest for playoff contenders, as five Week 7 matchups pit ranked foes against one another, including two clashes in the top 10. Last week, Nebraska’s Jake Cotton blessed fans with the greatest false start of all-time, Washington State’s Connor Halliday considered quitting football after throwing for an FBS-record 734 yards in a 60-59 loss to Cal (if he hasn’t, he will be when Mike Leach is done with him), and Ole Miss began building new goal posts. And we’re not even halfway through the season.
What to Watch
(13) Georgia @ (23) Missouri
UPDATED: Prediction revised to account for suspension of Georgia RB Todd Gurley.
The Missouri Tigers have gotten quite a few breaks over the past two seasons. After an improbable run to the SEC title game a year ago and an eventual Cotton Bowl championship, Missouri has been handed another gift, this time by the Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia’s star running back Todd Gurley, the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy at this point in time, was suspended indefinitely Thursday afternoon, as announced by the Georgia athletics website. Missouri has managed to lose once already this season despite playing an embarrassingly easy schedule, one that only looks easier after South Carolina’s 45-38 loss to Kentucky made the case that Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks are near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference. Missouri’s time-honored strategy of standing idly by while its SEC opponents beat one another into submission appears to be on its way to success once again. While SEC West teams cling to playoff hopes, the Tigers were set to face their first true test against Georgia this week. While quarterback Hutson Mason (687 yards, 7 TDs, and 3 INTs) is among the 16 FBS quarterbacks whose season passing totals were eclipsed by Conner Halliday’s awe-inspiring effort on Saturday night, the ‘Dawgs looked to be in good shape as long as they could hand the ball to Gurley 30 times. Gurley’s rushing numbers (94 carries, 773 yards, 8 TDs) are more than enough to place him in the thick of the Heisman conversation, not to mention he is also credited with Georgia’s longest pass of the season, a 50 yard toss against Vanderbilt. His loss is a big one for the Bulldogs, but it will allow fans to see the underrated depth of the Georgia backfield. Freshman backup Nick Chubb, considered the future in the UGA backfield, has good numbers in his own right so far this season (31 carries, 224 yards, 3 total TDs) and is capable of doing the job. In addition, sophomore Brandon Douglas stepped in and played well against Missouri last season under similar circumstances and will get carries as well. This tightens the game, but if Mason can avoid big mistakes, the ‘Dawgs still escape Columbia with the victory.
Final Score: Georgia 23, Missouri 21
(9) Texas Christian @ (5) Baylor
Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs look primed for a return to national relevancy, but they face another tough Saturday as they travel to Waco to meet Bryce Petty and the high-flying Baylor offense. The Bears are averaging 51 points per game and allowing only 12.4 per game. Their competition has been weak, to say the least. Their five opponents hold a combined record of 8-18, and all but one are below .500. TCU has played only three games, its only road game a 56-0 spanking of Southern Methodist. Expect high energy from both sides as Baylor tries to prove its contention is real, while TCU plays its biggest game since the 2011 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.
Final Score: Texas Christian 38, Baylor 37
(2) Auburn @ (T-3) Mississippi State
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott vaulted himself into the Heisman discussion with his strong performance (345 total yards, 5 TDs, 0 turnovers) in State’s commanding 48-31 win over Texas A&M. Now, the defending national runner-up Auburn Tigers visit the Cowbell capital of the world, seen on maps as Starkville, Miss. The loser of this game is still very much in national title contention, but the winner solidifies itself atop the SEC West, perhaps the most prestigious position in college football. Auburn’s defense looks much stronger than in years past, and the Tigers have shown their ability to win the turnover battle, outscoring opponents 102-0 on points off of turnovers so far this season. The team – mainly the quarterback – that better takes care of the ball will be the one that walks away with the victory, top spot in the division, and a clear shot to Atlanta for the SEC title game. Don’t be surprised if Mississippi State’s miserable kicking game costs it late in the game.
Final Score: Auburn 31, Mississippi State 28
(12) Oregon @ (18) UCLA
What was shaping up to be the biggest Pac-12 game since Oregon hosted Stanford in 2012 has managed to become even more intriguing. While the contest no longer features even one undefeated squad, the loser is virtually eliminated from the playoff race. Two teams with legitimate playoff aspirations in the preseason find themselves in a must-win October game, and it is sure to leave Gus Johnson hoarse. The Oregon defensive line should be salivating for a chance at UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, whose offensive linemen seem to have been educated at The Jake Cotton University of Blocking (Or Not, If You Don’t Feel Like It). That video cannot be contained to a single appearance. In all seriousness, Hundley figures to be in for another long afternoon. The UCLA offensive line has allowed the fourth-most sacks of any team in the FBS, behind only SMU, Idaho, and Wake Forest (a combined 2-14). Somehow, the Bruins have held themselves in title contention. But an Oregon defensive line that ranks in the FBS top 20 in sacks might change that. Don’t be surprised if Jerry Neuheisel finishes the game at quarterback for UCLA.
Final Score: Oregon 45, UCLA 27
(T-3) Mississippi @ (14) Texas A&M
Both teams are coming off of emotional games, the Aggies having suffered their first setback in the Kenny Hill era and the Rebels riding high after an upset over Alabama in Oxford. In the SEC West, there are no off weeks, and Bo Wallace will be under the microscope again, despite having just turned in one of the most impressive games of his career (251 yards, 3 TDs, 0 turnovers). Kevin Sumlin’s A&M team leads the nation in total yards and total points (583 yards and 47.8 points per game, respectively). Ole Miss ranks in the top 40 in its own right, and could be even more offensively-inclined as Hugh Freeze will look to increase the tempo from last week’s win over the Crimson Tide. Similarly to the Auburn-Mississippi State matchup, ball security will win the day. Despite Ole Miss having forced 10 turnovers against A&M’s three, expect Kenny Hill to look comfortable in his return home to College Station, while Bo Wallace’s spotty decision-making rears its ugly head.
Final Score: Texas A&M 35, Mississippi 31
The “Why The Hell Is This Game On National TV?” Game of the Week
Auburn-Mississippi State. Oregon-UCLA. Those are the 3:30 ET kickoffs on CBS and FOX, respectively. In some areas of the country, ABC will counter with … Michigan State-Purdue. Celebrate Sparty’s return to the playoff picture with a beatdown of the Boilermakers! If ABC seriously bumps TCU-Baylor for a Big Ten snooze-fest, they will have done college football fans everywhere a disservice.
Players to Watch
Shane Carden, Quarterback, East Carolina (@ South Florida): ECU’s senior quarterback has flown under the radar for much of his career, but 71 touchdown passes against 23 interceptions to go along with more than 9,000 yards passing speaks for itself. He’s also shown a knack for finding the end zone with his legs, accumulating 21 rushing touchdowns, and adding a receiving score, in his three years as the Pirates’ starter. Carden is facing the worst statistical defense in the country in SMU (49.4 points allowed per game), with the Mustangs looking likely to match SMU’s 1987 and 1988 teams in wins.
Evan Sobiesk, Kicker, Mississippi State (vs. Auburn): In the Bulldogs’ first five games, Sobiesk has attempted only three field goals, making two. He badly missed his lone attempt last week against Texas A&M. In a tight game with Auburn, his lack of ability, experience, and confidence might come back to bite Dan Mullen and Co.
Bryce Petty, Quarterback, Baylor (vs. Texas Christian): Petty was far from his usual stellar self last week against Texas in Austin (7-22, 111 yards, 2 TDs). A preseason Heisman frontrunner, the Bears’ senior has completed less than 60 percent of his passes on the year, and faces the toughest defense he’s seen all season, by a wide margin, in Week 7. TCU ranks seventh in scoring defense (13.5 points allowed per game), seventh in total defense (279 yards allowed per game), and twelfth in passing defense (172.5 yards allowed per game). If Petty still has Heisman aspirations, it is imperative that he turn in a top performance on Saturday.
Jeff Driskel, Quarterback, Florida (vs. LSU): Kidding! This one’s just for laughs.
This week’s Associated Press Top 25 features three votes given to FCS North Dakota State, good for 39th in the poll, also known as two spots ahead of South Carolina.
Best part about last week? It is just the beginning.