Greetings, sports fans! It’s hard to believe, but we’re halfway through another college football season. Before long, there’ll be a chill in the air, turkeys being purchased and the threat of that four-letter word that starts with “s” that we so terribly fear in the South. (No, not that one.)
The conference races are shaping up, and we’re seeing a nice mix of the usual suspects and some fresh faces. In fact, one of the better — on paper, at least — non-conference matchups we’ll see this year amazingly takes place in the middle of the season. That game leads off our coverage this week.
Before we get to standings and trivia, I need to make a brief announcement.
Teams need — and get — bye weeks. This column — and our weekly ACC piece — will be taking a bye week next week. This will allow time to rest and recharge as we head down the home stretch of this already-wacky college football season. We will, however, still be picking games. I will post the week’s slate of games on the site we use to make our picks at 4:00pm Eastern next Friday (10/23/15). Keep your game sharp, everyone!
And now, standings time!
And now…on to trivia!
The Sixer Trivia, Week 7 (answer at the end of the column): Justin Fuente’s Memphis Tigers have won 15 of their last 18 games. How many of the last 36 games prior to Fuente’s arrival ended in Tiger victories?
Keyword Search (all times Eastern and rankings AP)
#13 Ole Miss (5-1, 2-1 SEC) at Memphis (5-0, 2-0 American)
Noon | ABC/ESPN2 (reverse mirror)
- Passing Paxton: Houston’s Greg Ward, Jr. is arguably the most dynamic athlete in the American, and he leads the conference in total offense. Take a look two spots down, though, and you’ll find Memphis junior Paxton Lynch. Lynch is — pardon the pun — the linchpin of the Tiger offense, averaging 330.2 yards per game. Lynch has tossed for 305 yards or greater against all four FBS opponents he has faced this season, and is coming off a 3,031-yard, 22-touchdown sophomore season.
- Uncharted territory: Ole Miss and Memphis have played 60 times in their history. Zero of those games have taken place with Memphis iranked in a national poll. The Tigers received votes in this week’s AP poll, and are ranked 22nd in the USA Today pol. Memphis last beat a ranked team nearly 20 years ago, taking down cross-state rival Tennessee 21-17. The Vols were ranked number six in the nation when they fell that day in 1996. Ole Miss has been ranked for 14 of their 60 contests with Memphis.
- Leading the way: Ole Miss sets the offensive pace both in their conference and on the national stage. The Rebels are a top-20 offensive team in nearly every major measure, including scoring offense (fifth), passing offense (11th) and total offense (11th). That number 11 also extends to quarterback Chad Kelly, who is — you guessed it — 11th in the nation in total offense, compiling 331.8 yards per game. This will present quite the challenge for Memphis, who is ranked 72nd in scoring defense, 122nd in passing defense and 104th in total defense.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: This one has all the makings of a wild shootout between two powerful offenses. Whether Memphis can make a stop may tell the tale.
#17 Iowa (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) at #21 Northwestern (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten)
Noon | ABC/ESPN2 (reverse mirror)
- Rare visit to Shutty Town: Northwestern’s shutout loss against Michigan last week was not only unexpected, it’s somewhat unprecedented. The 38-0 whitewashing was the first shutout in Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure at Northwestern. In fact, the last shutout loss by the Wildcats was a 20-0 blanking at Ohio State on September 27, 2003.
- Rising through the ranks: Quick — think back to November 19, 1996. Remember what you were doing. Northwestern (number 18) and Iowa (number 23) were playing for the most recent time in which both teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 poll. The Wildcats hammered the Hawkeyes 40-13 in Iowa City on that day.
- A good precedent: A win on Saturday would give the Hawkeyes their third 3-0 Big Ten start under Kirk Ferentz. The two previous occurrences (2002 and 2009) resulted in Big Ten championships (one shared, one outright) and Orange Bowl appearances. The 2009 Hawkeyes brought home a 10-point victory over Georgia Tech, while the 2002 edition lost by three touchdowns to USC.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: I’ve been as big an Iowa skeptic as anyone, but it’s starting to look as though it may be their year. It’s tough to pick against them.
#7 Michigan State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) at #12 Michigan (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten)
3:30pm | ESPN
- Speaking of precedents: It’s been five years since Sparty started the year with six consecutive victories. The 2010 team was the last to achieve the feat, finishing the season 11-2 and bringing home a share of the Big Ten conference championship. Alabama beat the brakes off that Michigan State team in the Capital One Bowl that year (49-7), but the Spartans did secure a 34-17 victory at Michigan earlier in the year.
- Running the run game: Michigan State’s sports information department cites a rather unusual statistic. Their research shows that the team with more rushing yards between the two has won 42 of their last 45 contests. The Wolverines have quite the advantage over the Spartans in rushing offense this year. Michigan ranks third in the Big Ten, rushing for 201.33 yards per game. Michigan State ranks ninth, averaging exactly 38 fewer yards per outing. The Spartans outrushed Michigan 219-61 in a 35-11 victory last season.
- Taking the trophy: Many Big Ten rivalries feature trophies, and Michigan-Michigan State is no different. The teams compete for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, which was established in 1953. Michigan has won 35 of the 63 games played since the prize’s inception. Michigan State has taken six of the last seven contests, however.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Michigan has been on fire since getting clipped by Utah. Michigan State has had some close scrapes. Which team is better prepared?
#10 Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) at #9 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC)
3:30pm | CBS
- Stuck on two: Texas A&M has just two victories in seven tries against the Crimson Tide. Both of the games played at Kyle Field (1988 and 2013) ended in Alabama victories. The lone A&M victory in the SEC came in 2012, in which Johnny Manziel completed 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards and led the Aggies to a 29-24 victory over the then-number one Tide.
- Succeeding under Sumlin: To illustrate the revival of the A&M program under Kevin Sumlin, consider this. Five games have been played at Kyle Field between two top-ten programs. Two of those games — both against Alabama — have taken place in the last three seasons. A victory would be Sumlin’s tenth in 19 games aganst ranked teams as the Aggie leader. Only R.C. Slocum and Jackie Sherrill have more while patrolling the A&M sidelines. Sumlin has won 33 of the 44 games in which he has coached at A&M.
- Doing a 180: Alabama’s defense arguably hit a low point in a 43-37 loss to Ole Miss. The Rebels averaged over six-and-a-half yards per play against the Crimson Tide, throwing for 341 yards. The next three games have barely seen them surrender that amount of total yardage through the air, however. The Tide defense has allowed just 365 passing yards in three consecutive victories over Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia and Arkansas. Alabama opponents are averaging just over 203 yards per game during that streak.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Alabama’s resurgent pass defense gets a pretty strong test in Kyle Allen and Christian Kirk. If they can overcome it – and Kyle Field…
#8 Florida (6-0, 4-0 SEC) at #6 LSU (5-0, 3-0 SEC)
7:00pm | ESPN
- Where there’s not a Will, is there a way?: Nearly everyone is aware by now that Florida redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier has been suspended for a year due to use of an over-the-counter supplement that contained a banned substance. Grier’s 65.8 percent completion percentage leads the league. Sophomore Treon Harris will take the reins in Grier’s absence. Harris is 19-of-27 for 269 yards and two scores this season, after completing 55-of-111 throws for 1019 yards and nine scores against four picks as a freshman.
- Top ten triumphs: The Tigers and Gators have met four times with both ranked in the AP top ten, all since 2006. Florida has won three of the four. LSU’s only victory in this situation was a four-point decision eight years ago in Baton Rouge. Only Charles McClendon (eight) has more victories than Les Miles (six) over Florida as LSU’s head coach.
- Trolling for turnovers: Turnovers are a key part of any successful team, and this is a matchup of two teams that are quite effective at forcing them. The teams rank first and second in the SEC (eighth and 11th, respectively) in turnover margin. Florida is plus-eight, while LSU is plus-six. Seven of the Gators’ eight forced turnovers have come against SEC foes, including four in a victory over Ole Miss. Just three of LSU’s turnovers were in SEC play (two against Auburn, one against South Carolina).
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Florida surrenders just over 99 rushing yards per game. LSU has Leonard Fournette. A late score — or turnover — could decide this one.
Arizona State (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) at #4 Utah (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12)
10:00pm | ESPN
- Synergy: Utah began an 11-game losing streak to the Sun Devils with a 47-19 loss. That loss came 38 years ago. Utah’s record in 1977? You guessed it — 3-8. The last Ute victory was a 31-28 decision in Tempe on November 13, 1976. The Utes also finished that season 3-8.
- Winning Whittingham: Just two Utah coaches have 90 victories as the Utes’ leader. Whittingham is 90-43 since taking over the reins in 2005. The only other coach with that many victories is Ike Armstrong, who led the Utes from 1925-1949. Armstrong won 141 of the 211 games he coached in Salt Lake City, and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Armstrong also coached basketball at Utah for a brief time, though with considerably less success — he won just nine of the 27 games he helmed.
- Under control: A glimpse at the scores of Arizona State’s three Pac-12 contests may lead one to think that the Sun Devils’ offense suffered a power outage in their lone loss. However, their offensive output has been remarkably consistent (454, 465 and 491 yards, respectively, in their three league games). Todd Graham’s team turned the ball over four times in falling 42-14 to USC, and have recorded just seven turnovers in their other five contests.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Arizona State could get their second win against a Top 10 team. Utah could go 6-0 for the first time in five years. This should be a fun one.
Trivia answer: I asked earlier: Justin Fuente’s Memphis Tigers have won 15 of their last 18 games. How many of the last 36 games prior to Fuente’s arrival ended in Tiger victories?
Memphis won five of those 36 games before Justin Fuente’s arrival. Fuente replaced former coach Larry Porter prior to the 2012 season.