The end of the college football regular season is upon us. Not sure how that’s possible considering it feels like just yesterday we were settling in to watch Alabama take on Florida State in what was supposed to be one of the best opening weekend games ever. Regardless, this weekend is rivalry week for much of Division I, and some rivalries will have a little extra oomph to them this year as we try to hash out the various College Football Playoff scenarios.
The even better news is, you don’t have to wait until Saturday afternoon to get your college football watching binge started. This week, with the Thanksgiving holiday, multiple games are played on Thursday and Friday afternoon/evening and that’s where we start with a battle in Florida.
South Florida @ #15 UCF (-10), Friday 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
The War on I-4. South Florida and UCF sit atop the American Athletic Conference’s East division standings, and whoever wins this game will book their trip to the AAC title game. Even more is on the line for UCF as they are currently the highest ranked Group of 5 team in the College Football Playoff committee’s rankings, which means they would get the bid to a New Year’s Six bowl game if they remain in that position. Charlie Strong’s Bulls want to ruin that party.
These two teams run similar styles of offenses that produce explosive plays and rack up points. UCF is 1st in the country in scoring (48.2 PPG) while USF checks in at 16th (37.9 PPG). The two quarterbacks are the ones that make these offenses so effective as McKenzie Milton and Quinton Flowers are threats both in the passing game and in the running game. South Florida has had the better defense this year, but they’ve also had a problem with starting games slowly and getting penalized too frequently. The Bulls do put good pressure on the QB, as they’ve racked up 33 sacks this season. How Milton and the UCF offense handle that pressure will be interesting to watch.
#9 Ohio State @ Michigan (+12), Saturday 12 p.m. (FOX)
Ohio State’s playoff hopes are slim, but they’re not 100 percent eliminated just yet. If Urban Meyer’s team were to dominate the Wolverines on the road this weekend and then beat Wisconsin convincingly in Indianapolis, they’ll have a chance. Still, they would likely need some other teams around the country to lose in order to jump into the top four. Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are looking to make sure that Ohio State’s playoff dreams end this weekend.
Michigan’s offense has struggled throughout this season, toggling through three quarterbacks due to injury/poor play. The last couple of games were started by sophomore Brandon Peters and at times the offense showed flashes. But, Peters struggled against Wisconsin before being knocked out of the game with a concussion. His status is uncertain for this week’s game. Whoever starts is facing a tough task in a Buckeyes defense that has allowed just 17 points in its last two games. The Buckeyes have won the last five meetings between the two teams and Jim Harbaugh has yet to beat Urban Meyer in his time at Michigan.
#1 Alabama @ #6 Auburn (+4.5), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
Roll Tide meets War Eagle on The Plains for the SEC West division title Saturday afternoon. The last time these two teams met with the West title on the line at Jordan-Hare Stadium, this happened.
Sorry ‘Bama fans, didn’t mean to dig up bad memories. Good news is, I’m fairly certain that Nick Saban won’t try another long field goal this time around. Both teams rank in the Top 20 in rushing offense and rush defense this season, though the Tide have slipped slightly from their usual dominance in their last two SEC games. Against LSU and Mississippi State, the Tide allowed 150+ yards on the ground and both teams were able to sustain drives. Alabama is missing multiple starting linebackers due to injury, so how Gus Malzahn takes advantage of a less experienced linebacking corps will be the key to this game.
#13 Washington State @ #17 Washington (-10), Saturday 8 p.m. (FOX)
The Pac-12 seems to be in position to be on the outside looking in at the playoff this season, but that doesn’t mean the Apple Cup will be any less contentious. Wazzu still has a chance to win the Pac-12 North, if they can beat the Huskies.
The QB battle in this one is an interesting contrast in styles. Luke Falk is the trigger man for the Cougars, running the spread-out, Air Raid offense with ruthless efficiency as he has throughout his career. On the other side, Jake Browning utilizes a variety of play fakes to push the ball down the field. The difference can be seen in the air yards per attempt between the two with Falk checking in right at 7 yards per while Browning comes in at 8.9.
The big advantage for the Huskies would seem to be on the ground, where they average 177.3 yards per game thanks to running back Myles Gaskin, while the Cougars average just 79.7 yards per game.
#8 Notre Dame @ #21 Stanford (+2), Saturday 8 p.m. (ABC)
The Fighting Irish, like the Buckeyes, need a lot of things to fall their way to get into the playoff, but it’s still not technically impossible. Notre Dame has played one of the toughest schedules in the country and they end it with a tough test against a Stanford team that has looked its old self in recent games with hard-fought wins over Washington and Cal at home.
While the QBs will be on display in the USF-UCF and WSU-UW match-ups, this game is all about the running backs. Bryce Love and Josh Adams are two of the best backs in the nation and they currently sit 2nd and 11th respectively in most rushing yards this season. Watching these two run behind dominant offensive lines has been fun all season and it should be once again here.