The College Football Spectacular: Week 6 Preview

Have you followed the Jordan Jefferson saga? If you haven’t, it’s not measurably different from any of the other black marks on college football’s name. The gist is that the LSU quarterback and some teammates were at a Baton Rouge bar in August when a fight broke out. Four people were badly beaten — one suffered three fractured vertebrae — and witnesses reported that Jefferson kicked another in the face. He was charged with felony second-degree battery, and that charge was reduced to a misdemeanor last week. Nobody seems to be denying that the alleged brawl happened, but a grand jury decided it didn’t warrant a felony. As his lawyer argued, the injury wasn’t serious enough. Jefferson was reinstated, and scored a touchdown in the first quarter of last week’s win against Kentucky.

Fair enough. If you can’t live with that storyline, you shouldn’t be watching college football at all.

But it’s always nice to see someone take accountability, you know? Like Jefferson did during his first appearance with the media since the incident. After saying he still wanted to be LSU’s starting quarterback, he spoke vaguely about what happened:

    “This was a learning experience for me. I can’t imagine anybody in the country going through more than I did. But, I’m now wiser and more aware. God puts people in certain situations. I don’t regret anything. Everything happened for a reason. I’ve learned a lot from this.”

To review: He got in a fight, kicked someone in the head, avoided the felony because the injury wasn’t serious, got to continue playing football, but he’s grown and learned from this, so no regrets. But Jordan, weren’t you at fault at all?

    “You never know how popular you are until situations like this,” he said. “I was just trying to go out and be a college student that night. I was enjoying myself with my teammates. A certain situation turned up. The position you play for the football team can cost you a lot and put you in trouble.”

Answer: no. It was all circumstance and celebrity. Poor, embattled Jordan Jefferson was tested, and only his inner resilience saw him through. There’s no hint of apology. Hell, he can’t even fake it. And now, if the coldest reality comes to pass, we’ll have to watch him lead the best team in the country to a national championship.

Loving college football is a bit like being a mafia wife. The benefits in our case (the joy of watching a wonderful sport) and theirs (wealth, power, status) come on the backs of some dark, unsavory business. But if you let that buried shame diminish your appreciation, eventually the appreciation will be eroded to nothing. And what fun is that? Instead, you have to develop an adaptation mechanism and go on loving the game.

So I’ll get over this, too. The most I can do is root against him, and I shall do that with vigor, my friends. So now that we’re all thoroughly depressed, let’s cue up that latent adaptability gene, wipe the slate clean, and get to:

THE BIG OLE GAME!

It’s a no-doubter this week:

no. 3 Oklahoma at no. 11 Texas

The Red River Rivalry! The Ten-Gallon Shootout! The Oil Derrick Donnybrook! The Fracas Where the Steak Is! The Throwdown at the Hoedown!

Yes, I made up those last four, and one of them is actually a Flecktones jam. But don’t they all sound vaguely real? In fact, here’s a list of eight college football rivalry games. Four of them are legit, and four are not. See if you can guess which is which:

1. The War on I-4 (UCF vs. USF)
2. The Midwest Melee (Minnesota-Wisconsin)
3. The Sunshine Showdown (Florida-FSU)
4. The Clash for the Crabs (Maryland-Navy)
5. The Black and Blue Bowl (Memphis-Southern Miss)
6. The Deep South Duel (Ole Miss-Alabama)
7. The Battle for the Bones (UAB-Memphis)
8. Meta-Narratives of Discordance and Embroilment (Stanford-Cal Tech)

Answer: The even numbers are fake. The odd numbers are real. Bless you, football.

Now, the Red River Rivalry. Before the season started, Texas was not in the Top 25 AP poll. It has since won three blowouts and a tight one at home against BYU, a team that barely beat Ole Miss and went on to lose by 44 to unranked Utah. The Longhorns defense has been solid, allowing just 14.8 points per game, and the offense is gaining 200 yards on the ground every week. But man, ranked no. 11? For those wins? To paraphrase Omar, I thinks not, AP Poll, I thinks not.

Texas has one perceived advantage — a solid running game. You often hear about tossing records out the window for rivalry games. This time, the record’s not what needs tossing — it’s the numbers. Here are the rushing averages per play of every team Oklahoma faced this season:

Tulsa: 4.2
FSU: 1.0
Missouri: 5.7
Ball State: 3.4

The only nugget of positivity there is the Missouri game, but Missouri is better at rushing and passing than Texas. Not only did the Tigers have more weapons on the offensive line, but they also forced Oklahoma to respect the pass. Against Texas, I’m not sure that’ll be the case. The Longhorns passing game utilizes two freshman quarterbacks, David Ash and Colt Case McCoy, both of whom took over for Garrett Gilbert, a junior who was pulled after a rough start against BYU and is seeking a transfer. Both had decent success against Iowa State, though Ash seemed to take the more important snaps.

But a freshman quarterback, especially one who is known as a runner and didn’t come into the season as the prohibitive starter, can not and will not excel as the main source of offense against Oklahoma. The Sooners will crowd the line, choke the running game, and watch Texas fail to thrive through the air. The spread is 10, but at a neutral field, I expect much worse.

Other Clashes of the Ranked

No. 17 Florida at no. 1 LSU. After last week’s beatdown at the hands of Alabama, it’s tough to see much light for the Gators. This is the end of college football’s worst two-game stretch, but the good news is that South Carolina did Florida a favor last week by losing to Auburn. If coach Will Muschamp and the Gators can win at South Carolina and avoid an SEC upset, they’ll earn the SEC East crown and a trip to the conference championship game. The real reason to watch Saturday’s game is to see how Les Miles and the LSU coaching staff react if quarterback Jarrett Lee doesn’t come out on fire. But as far as wins and losses go, the Tigers are just biding time until the Nov. 5 game at Alabama.

No. 15 Auburn at no. 10 Arkansas. With both teams coming off big wins against ranked opponents, this is essentially the third-place consolation game in the SEC West. Arkansas benefited from Texas A&M’s second straight meltdown and beat the Aggies, while Auburn pulled off a stunner at South Carolina. Both stand at 4-1, and both lost to an elite team (Clemson and Alabama, respectively). To be fair, the wins have not been pristine examples of football. But whichever team makes it through this game alive has a chance to end up in the Top 10 nationally, or, dream of dreams, steal a three-way tie in the SEC West with a stunner over LSU.

Upset Watch

I was all excited to pick Missouri on the road over no. 20 Kansas State, but it was too good to be true; Missouri’s a three-point favorite. After a 3-0 week to make up for earlier disappointments, here are some more to watch:

1. No. 12 Michigan at Northwestern. I really like this one. Northwestern gets better every week, and nearly pulled off a mini-upset last Saturday at Illinois. The Wildcats defended the run very well in that game, allowing just 2.2 yards per rush, and they’re capable of limiting the damage done by Denard Robinson’s legs. Michigan, meanwhile, has yet to play a road game. The 5-0 record includes a miracle win against Notre Dame and four blowouts against weak competition. The Wolverines haven’t shown much of a passing attack (just 168 yards per game on average), and could be in for a surprise in their second Big Ten game. Spread is ten.

2. Ohio State at no. 14 Nebraska. Just like we thought going into the Wisconsin game, Nebraska’s defense is quite poor. Also, the Cornhuskers rely on the run to a detrimental degree, which won’t play well against the 30th-best run defense (per average rush) in the country. Granted, the Buckeyes offense is inconsistent, scoring just seven points against Michigan State and six against Miami, but they’ll do better against the Cornhuskers. Eleven points feels like a high spread here.

3. Maryland at no. 13 Georgia Tech. I don’t know what it is about this game that’s speaking to me. On its surface, it’s an idiotic pick. I realize that. Georgia Tech has the best rushing offense in the country, and the second-best scoring offense. The Terrapins got killed by Temple. But they also beat Miami and put together a great comeback against West Virginia. I’m a firm believer in scrapping the bad day, and I don’t judge the Terps on the Temple loss. But what am I possibly seeing for them against Georgia Tech? Three things. A decent run defense (4.0 yards per carry), a smart coach in Randy Edsall, and the fact that the Yellow Jackets always seem to lose at least one game they shouldn’t every year (N.C. State in 2010, Georgia in 2009, Virginia in 2008). I’m rolling the dice here, and if it blows up in my face you can laugh at me for not picking the Miami-Virginia Tech game.

The Most Significant Insignificant Game

Minnesota at Purdue. If only because I like a little Twitter anger now and again. Purdue backup quarterback Robert Marve didn’t take kindly to his coach’s words that he was playing outside the system, and responded in 140 characters or less:

“Don’t understand how I was not playing in the system! It was rough from the get go, don’t understand how that was on me.”

Hey, he wasn’t wrong. Purdue lost 38-10 to Notre Dame. Do you really want him staying within that system? Also, I’m glad college kids are still using the phrase “from the get-go.” It’s one of those idioms that seems like it’s in danger of becoming extinct. To resurrect another endangered idiom, I like the cut of Marve’s jib.

The (Possibly Ignorant) Football Theory of the Week

This is the Texas A&M hypothesis: If you’re inside the 50-yard line but out of field goal range, and it’s fourth down, you should be going for the first down over 50 percent of the time when the yards left to gain are less than your average yardage per play. Otherwise, you’re letting the percentages play you. (Gold star if you parsed that one out the first time.)

The Energy Infusion Call

Attentive readers will note that Keith Jackson has been removed from the title of this section. Turns out YouTube isn’t the treasure trove of iconic Jackson calls that I imagined. We have to broaden the pool. This week, we’re going with one of the greatest runs ever, from the 1996 national championship game:

The Conference Rundown

Here are the best games, not previously mentioned, from the six major conferences.

ACCMiami at no. 21 Virginia Tech. This is fourth on my list of upset alerts. How good can the Hokies be if they don’t have a reliable passing game? Logan Thomas’ line from the Clemson game — 15/27, 125 yards, one interception — is more evidence that the air attack is MIA in Blacksburg. Miami’s not necessarily a great team, but it’s fully capable of stopping the run when there’s nothing else on the menu. The Hurricanes will beat the seven-point spread, and perhaps more.

Big 12no. 24 Texas A&M at Texas Tech. How legitimate are the undefeated Red Raiders? Hard to say, but they score a lot of points (47.3 per game). To add question on question, how the hell does A&M recover from its two straight heartbreaking collapses? Especially with a shoddy defense? I have a bad feeling the Aggies could be on full tilt in Lubbock.

Big EastPittsburgh at Rutgers. You get the feeling the Panthers suffered their two close losses to Iowa and Notre Dame and said, “Screw it, we’re running Ray Graham until his legs fall off.” It worked last week, as Pittsburgh beat a ranked South Florida team in a rout behind Graham’s 226 yards. Rutgers on the road, I imagine, will be a bit more difficult. The Scarlet Knights are 3-1, and just a tough road loss at UNC from 4-0. The team’s strength is run defense, where it concedes just 2.9 yards per carry. Immovable object, meet unstoppable force.

Big TenIowa at Penn State. Sort of similar to the game above. Two one-loss teams with a lot to prove, and a shot at the Top 25. An Iowa win puts it neck-and-neck with Michigan in the Big Ten Legends division.

Pac-12California at no. 9 Oregon. I have a feeling this will be one of those wild, high-scoring Pac-12 games where the winner is the last team with the ball. So many upset watches this weekend! Last week, I would have marked this as an easy win for Oregon, but the Ducks allowed 31 points to Arizona, and that doesn’t bode well against the Golden Bears, who average almost 40 points per game and have the 22nd-ranked passing attack in the country. Cal’s Zach Maynard is quietly having an excellent year, with more than 1,000 passing yards in only four games and 10 touchdowns to three interceptions.

SECVanderbilt at Alabama. There’s a legitimate chance that Vanderbilt could end up with less than 100 yards of total offense. That could be fun, right? Unrelated question: Do Vanderbilt fans ever chant S-E-C? I like to imagine not.

Fine, you want a real game: Georgia at Tennessee. Despite the loss to Florida, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray is still having a stellar season. In fact, he’s top 10 nationally in yards per attempt and touchdown passes. Georgia is an unsolved mystery; it doesn’t do anything exceedingly well, but it’s not terrible in any one facet, either. And somehow, the Bulldogs aren’t quite out of the SEC race. This could be a very big win for a floundering program.

Have a good Saturday, and enjoy what might become a wild slate of upsets.


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Filed Under: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, College Football, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU, Miami, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Penn State, Shane Ryan, South Carolina, Texas, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech

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Shane Ryan is a contributing writer for Grantland. His book about the young stars of the PGA Tour will be published by Random House in early 2015.

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