College football has gotten off to another flier with the midweek action provided all kinds of drama! And the fun doesn’t stop there, with plenty more games to keep you entertained over the weekend, starting on Friday morning, all the way through ’til the earlier hour of Sunday, allowing just enough rest time before your favourite NFL team kicks off on Sunday.
Let’s dive right in…
Washington Huskies (2-4) vs. Arizona Wildcats (0-6) – Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona
Friday 22nd October – 3.30am (UK)
Washington 17 point favourites at the time of writing
On Thursday I wrote about a couple of contests that seemed pretty one-sided… And I am here again to do the same thing with my first game of this preview too.
Let me get the truth out of the way before I start… This is a game between two teams that have been really poor this season, and in the case of Arizona, a few seasons.
On the preseason Pac-12 podcast, Andy and I were talking up the Huskies and especially their defensive unit.
The Huskies have been fine defensively, but the offense just hasn’t got it done. At all.
Dylan Morris just isn’t it at QB and Washington doesn’t have the offensive playmakers to accentuate average QB play.
Cade Otton is an NFL tight end, and there are NFL guys on the offensive line but it’s just not enough. Why the Huskies haven’t turned to Sam Huard at this point, I don’t know.
Huard is a five-star prospect with family ties to Washington. He’s the next in line, he’s the future and with Washington’s season on a hiding to nothing, the future really is now.
I guess I’ve not really spoken too much about the game so far in this preview, but could you blame me?
I’ve got to put something together about a disappointing Washington squad and Arizona, who are the embarrassment of the Pac-12.
Ok, let’s at least try to be positive – Or at least bide my time from talking about Arizona.
At least from a scouting point of view there will be some talent on show in this game – Jaxson Kirkland, Luke Wattenburg, and the aforementioned Cade Otton on offense and on defense, corners Kyler Gordon and Trent McDuffie, as well as linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio, are all going to play on Sundays – So get your notebooks out.
Right… Ok, let’s go, let’s talk Arizona.
A few weeks ago I predicted that Arizona is going to go winless this year. They’re a rudderless ship with barely any talent on the roster.
I am not looking at budging from my prediction. So cue the Wildcats downing the Huskies in the early hours because, Pac-12.
Memphis Tigers (4-3) @ UCF Knights (3-3) – Bounce House, Orlando, Florida
Saturday 23rd October – 12am (UK)
Memphis 1.5 point favourites at the time of writing
In previous years this would have been a highly anticipated matchup, with two of the more exciting teams in the AAC coming up against each other. However, this year there’s a bit of a ‘meh’ feel about the game as both Memphis and UCF find themselves in the midst of transition seasons.
The Knights featured in our ‘losers’ column this week, as they took a beating at the hands of highly rated Cincinnati. The loss against the Bearcats may have been inevitable but losses to Louisville and Navy were both bitterly disappointing blows to a team that started the season with a lot of hope for the 2021 season.
Star QB, Dillon Gabriel, was injured earlier in the season and replacement Mikey Keene is still a very raw prospect. However, Gus Malzahn and the UCF fans will still be positive ahead of their matchup with Memphis because of the weapons Keene has at his disposal. Running Back duo Isaiah Bowser and Johnny Richardson have both had big games in 2021, and they’ll be confident of putting up yardage on a Tigers defense that has given up nearly 150 yards a game so far this season. Add into the mix a solid receiver core and this Knights offense is no slouch.
On the other side of the field, Memphis threw away a very promising 3-0 start by dropping a trio of close games against UTSA, Temple and Tulsa. They got back to winning ways against Navy, but even in that game their play often seemed slow, lumbering and lacking in inspiration.
The one expectation to that assessment is Wide Receiver, Calvin Austin III, who is enjoying a monster season. Following on from his 1000 yard 2020, Austin has already turned 50 catches into 857 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021 as he looks set to set new personal records in all categories – he’s also got return and rushing TDs to his name as well. Look out for him to be the difference maker in this one, against a fairly inexperienced UCF secondary.
Memphis’ attempts to stop the ball through the air have been worse than the aforementioned run defense so far this year. The senior-freshman tandem of Jacobi Francis and Greg Rubin are likely to be targeted often in this one, with UCF’s desire to throw all over teams still evident despite the hire of Malzahn as coach. If the Tigers’ defense holds up against the aerial bombardment early doors then they’ve got every chance of winning this one.
Illinois Fighting Illini (2-5) @ Penn State Nittany Lions (5-1) – Beaver Stadium, Pennsylvania
Saturday 23rd October – 5pm (UK)
Penn State 23 point favourites at the time of writing
As the point spread suggests this one really shouldn’t be a close game to kick off our Saturday evenings. Penn State come off a bye week and their first loss of the season in a close game against Iowa, to play an Illinois team which has really struggled in recent weeks.
However, the Nittany Lions will be without starting QB Sean Clifford, and as our season preview alluded to, there is very little established depth behind him on this Penn State roster. According to James Franklin, Ta’Quan Roberson and Christian Veilleux have been splitting reps with the starters over the last week and there’s no clear indication who is going to start on Saturday. Roberson came into the game against Iowa but only completed seven passes, whilst throwing two interceptions on 21 pass attempts.
Even without Clifford this Penn State team should make light work of Illinois, largely due to their strong defense. With established stars such as Brandon Smith, Tariq Castro-Fields and Jaquon Brisker the Nittany Lions have got the 22nd best defense in the country so far this season, and it’s hard to imagine Illinois putting a dent in that reputation this weekend.
The Fighting Illini have only won once since their opening weekend triumph over Nebraska, as they beat a poor Charlotte team a couple of weeks ago. Against Wisconsin in week seven, the combined pair of Brandon Peters and Artur Sitkowski completed 11 passes on 34 attempts for a huge 67 total yards. Things weren’t much better on the ground as Chase Brown rushed for 35 yards and nobody else managed more than a single yard.
Things probably won’t be quite as bad for Illinois this week but Penn State and the points seems like the right bet, even with an inexperienced QB under centre.
Oregon Ducks #10 (5-1) vs. UCLA Bruins (5-2) – Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
Saturday 23rd October – 8.30pm (UK)
UCLA 2 point favourites at time of writing
Back to the Pac-12 then and this time we actually have a contest worth talking about!
The Oregon Ducks and UCLA Bruins have been two of the better teams in the conference this year.
However, the usual Pac-12-iness has struck both of these teams this year, after impressive wins against the odds both have succumbed to losses that they probably shouldn’t have suffered.
Oregon overcame Ohio State in a mighty triumph, even more impressive that it was on the road, at The Horseshoe. Yet despite beating one of the best teams in the country, they lost to Stanford just a couple of weeks later (I won’t mention the officiating again).
On the other side of this battle, UCLA beat LSU, a win that in hindsight probably isn’t as impressive as it seemed in Week 1, but then lost to Fresno State. Although more troubling could be the loss to Arizona State at the beginning of October, since the Bruins are locked in a three-way race for the Pac-12 South division with Utah and also the Sun Devils themselves.
Oregon doesn’t face as much jeopardy, and despite their in-state rival, the Oregon State Beavers, enjoying a great season, by their recent standards, should make the Pac-12 Championship game as the kings of the North.
However the sort of roller coaster battle that could ensue for the South title, between our three aforementioned challengers is exactly the sort of game that the Pac-12 routinely throws up, and this game is routinely part of that roller coaster.
If UCLA wins they take another step along the glass bridge that is a Pac-12 conference schedule and advance another step closer to the championship game, and Oregon is plunged into some serious bother in the North and the Civil War game is Corvallis, the final game of the Ducks’ regular season takes on even greater importance.
If Oregon wins on Saturday, they take a stranglehold on the North, and despite tricky games on their schedule towards the end of the season, they’d expect the rest of their division to fall over themselves enough that they’d make it. This pushes UCLA down the pecking order and relying on Utah and Arizona State slipping up later in the year.
Why on earth don’t more people watch this conference? It gives you the drama that we all love in sports, every single week.
I guess what is letting the conference down is the slight dearth of talent, even at the top. Sure there are really top level players who will have successful careers in the NFL at some point, but not quite enough of them on one team.
Bring on the 12 team playoff format, but until then, let’s just enjoy the chaos.
I’ll take Oregon to squeak it, but it’ll be a wild ride in the Chip Kelly revenge game.
Ohio State Buckeyes (5-1) @ Indiana Hoosiers (2-4) – Indiana University Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Indiana
Sunday 24th October – 12am (UK)
Ohio State 21 point favourites at the time of writing
Another game that promises to be fairly one sided takes us into the early hours of Sunday morning. Ohio State have been solid so far in 2021, easing in CJ Stroud to the point at which he’s proving why the Buckeyes had faith in him as the heir to Justin Fields. They face an Indiana team which has hung around in games but failed to pick up wins against any of the teams in their conference.
The bookies have got the point spread at 21 in this game for a reason, in their last three games Ohio State have scored 66, 52 and 59 points. Granted that was against Maryland, Rutgers and Akron, but you can’t overlook how high powered this Buckeyes offense – especially with the emergence of freshman Running Back, Treyveon Henderson, as one of the best in the game.
The Indiana defense has been pretty solid this year, ranking 37th in the country in terms of total yardage, but it is their offense that has struggled – putting up just 340 yards per game to date. There’s an interesting dynamic this week however, with stand-in starter Jack Tuttle coming up against his former High School teammate, Chris Olave. Tuttle was less than impressive against Michigan State, but we’ve also seen the movie – old friends reunited and the underdog triumphs.
Indiana will need a Hollywood script and some if that storyline is to unfold, and looking at their roster it’s hard to see where that sprinkle of stardust will come from. Ty Fryfogle is the obvious answer, but until Tuttle gets comfortable he’s not going to be able to have his normal impact on games. Grad transfer, Stephen Carr, has got plenty of experience at Running Back but has failed to really make an impact since his move from USC.
After comparing both rosters, it’s hard to come to the conclusion that this will end in anything but a blowout Buckeyes win. Hammer Ohio State and the points.
Tennessee Volunteers (4-3) @ Alabama Crimson Tide (6-1) – Bryant-Denny Stadium – Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Sunday 24th October – 12.30am (UK)
Alabama 25 point favourites at time of writing
A couple of weeks removed from a shock defeat to Texas A&M and everything looks to be back on track for Alabama. They romped to a 49-9 win over Mississippi State last week, Nick Saban has been taking questions from babies in his press conference this week and they’ve had various players named in the AP Midseason All-American team.
They come up against a Tennessee team which seems to be going through an experimental season with a mixture of Joe Milton and Hendon Hooker at QB, whilst relying on Jabari Small to carry most of the weight at Running Back. It’s been hit and miss so far, last week against a good Ole Miss side, Hooker had a solid game and the Vols were unlucky to lose. However, they’ve been thoroughly outplayed by Pitt and Florida in their other losses.
Is there any chance of an upset then, despite the huge point spread? Well, possibly. If the Vols choose to go with Hooker rather than Milton this week, then they’re only ever seconds away from a huge play as the former four star recruit is a true dual threat – using his legs wherever possible to move the chains.
Either way, Tennessee will need a big outing from their defense, which has been fairly average through seven weeks of action. Standout CB, Alontae Taylor, will have his hands full with an Alabama receiving core which has been pretty underrated so far in 2021. But if he can prevent Jameson Williams getting the ball and rely on some of his teammates to come up big against Metchie then there’s a sneaky chance that the Vols could at least cover the spread.
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