This Saturday in college football should provide a bit of clarity with regard to which playoff-hopeful teams are legitimate contenders, as we move closer and closer to the conference championships in early December. A team like Miami, who hasn’t really won very convincingly and who’s schedule hasn’t been all that overwhelming to this point, can add a major boost their their resume with a win over the third-ranked Fighting Irish. The TCU-Oklahoma winner seems all but a sure thing to be playing in the Big 12 title game — with all signs pointing to the playoffs, if the winner Saturday can indeed win the conference championship (no matter how hard I argue that the Big 12 isn’t worthy).
Hey, even Wisconsin, who has gotten shredded in the media for their uber-weak schedule, can bolster their argument with a win over 20th-ranked Iowa. And while we just take for granted that Alabama and Georgia are on an inevitable collision course to meet in a battle of unbeatens in the SEC Championship Game at Atlanta’s brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, both have formidable opponents this weekend in Mississippi State and Auburn, respectively.
Let’s check out which games this Saturday carry the most weight moving forward towards the College Football Playoff.
#3 Notre Dame at #7 Miami
The “Catholics Versus Convicts” rivalry is rekindled this Saturday night in prime time. Both teams have high hopes of being in the top-4 at season’s end. A win here makes that a very real possibility, especially for the Irish, who’d only need to worry about a slip-up at Stanford. For
Miami, they’d still need to beat Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, which is not a given by any stretch of the imagination.
You don’t want to oversimplify the winning formula for this game, but you also don’t want to overthink it. This comes down to Miami’s 66th-ranked rush defense going up against Notre Dame’s 5th-ranked rushing attack. The Irish’s Heisman-hopeful running back Josh Adams is averaging 8.7 yards per carry — that’s really really good by the way — and in the their last two big prime time tilts, Adams averaged 196.5 yards against USC and NC St. If Miami is able to contain Adams and force ND quarterback Brandon Wimbush to beat them in what should be a very hostile environment, this game could easily turn in the Hurricanes’ favor.
Turnovers could be the other determining factor in this game. Miami quarterback Malik Rozier has to do a better job of protecting the ball than he did last week against Virginia Tech. The Golden Domers are tied for 5th in the nation in turnover margin with a plus-12.
#6 TCU at #5 Oklahoma
TCU comes into this game with the conference’s top defense. The Horned Frogs have already defeated three of the top 10 offenses in the nation while holding them below their season averages for yards and points. Now, they get Heisman Trophy front-runner quarterback Baker Mayfield and the nation’s most productive offense.
In a league that does not place any emphasis on defense — look no further than last week’s 62-52 game between OU and Oklahoma State, TCU is allowing only 284 total yards and only 13.9 points per game. They are number one in rushing defense in the nation, giving up less than 70 yards per game and only four touchdowns on the ground for the year. At least someone in the conference is willing to humor us and play defense.
It’s worth noting last year when these two met, Mayfield threw for 274 yards with two touchdowns and ran for another 55 yards and two more scores. The Sooners won that shootout 52-46, the most points TCU gave up in 2016.
For all intents and purposes, this is an elimination game. The winner is by no means guaranteed a spot in the playoff, but the loser is most definitely out.
#1 Georgia at #10 Auburn
A lot of interesting storylines exist Saturday when these two SEC powers meet on the field. First, while the Bulldogs have already clinched a berth in the SEC Championship Game on December 2, a win in Auburn on Saturday might make it difficult for them to ever fall from the top-4 this season, even if they were to lose in the title game.
Secondly, Auburn has a ton to play for. Win Saturday and beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl and the Tigers will be pitted in a rematch with this very same Georgia team on December 2 with a possible playoff berth the line.
Lastly, can true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm go into Auburn and come out with a win? The win over Notre Dame was big, but that was much earlier in the season, when expectations hadn’t yet reached their peak. This would constitute a signature victory — top 10 opponent, on the road, all the heightened national title expectations. This is big time SEC football here.
And Fromm might just be ready for the big stage. He’s the 9th most efficient QB in the country, and he has two stud running backs in the backfield with him in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who have accounted for 18 touchdowns this year while averaging a combined 185 yards per game. Georgia’s rushing attack is 8th in the nation and they have the best redzone offense — scoring at a 97% clip when inside their opponents’ 20.
Auburn’s best hope will be to force the freshman QB into making some poor decisions with the ball. However, the Tigers defense is only plus-1 in turnover margin and only 5th in the conference in defensive passing efficiency.
#25 Iowa at #6 Wisconsin
Make no mistake — this is not a great statement game for Wisconsin, but it is their ONLY statement game. We have nothing to refer to in order to critique the Badgers this season. The schedule is awful. But a win over the Hawkeyes, who actually still have a pathway to Indy, would give us something to look at. Ultimately, we probably won’t know much about the Badgers until December 2 in the Big 10 title game.
Other Notable Games
Also watch for Michigan State visiting Columbus to take on Ohio State. Granted the winner would still have an uphill battle like none other if they want to make the top-4, they will, however, be in complete control of the East Division in the Big 10 with the inside track to playing for the conference championship in Indianapolis on December 2.
And no cake walk this weekend for Alabama either. The Tide go into Davis Wade Stadium to play a #16 Mississippi State team that’s riding a 4-game winning streak, where they’ve scored no less than 34 points in each.
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