Florida State v Clemson

Weekend Preview: Championship races coming down to the wire

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It’s time to get prepared for another critical weekend around college football. Division and conference races are coming down the home stretch and postseason eligibility is still on the line for a number of teams. Here’s a rundown of what to pay attention to this weekend.

Alabama, Florida State on collision course

If you go by what the national narrative is, we are all set for No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) vs. No. 2 Florida State (9-0, 7-0 ACC) in the final BCS Championship game. That would be a rather fitting match-up of course, with Florida Sate having played in the first three BCS title games under the new format and Alabama having won three of the last four. It really would be a fitting way to close the book on the BCS, but we still have some games to get through before really digging in to that theme. This week should end with both picking up another win.

Alabama will have the more difficult task this weekend though, going on the road to take on a Mississippi State team that is in real need of a win. While Alabama continues to pound SEC competition, Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4 SEC) has given up 85 points in their last two games while sinking below .500. Mississippi State is coming off losses to ranked South Carolina and Texas A&M, so a home game against Alabama will wrap up a rough three-game stretch. A loss means Mississippi State needs to win their final two games of the year to become bowl eligible. The pressure for Dan Mullen really is mounting. And Nick Saban thinks he has pressure with his job.

In Tallahassee the Seminoles will wrap up their ACC schedule with a home game against Syracuse (5-4, 3-2 ACC). Florida State is already heading to the ACC Championship Game regardless of the outcome, but another big win should be enough to keep Florida State comfortably in the top two of the BCS standings. After a week that saw Heisman front-runner Jameis Winston thrown in to a potentially negative spotlight this week, how he handles the situation should be interesting. Winston has answered every challenge thrown his way this season. There should be no reason he does not answer this one either.

Auburn hosting Georgia

The biggest threat to Alabama in the SEC is likely Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC). Before we start making plans for one of the biggest Iron Bowls in history though, Auburn must get by Georgia (6-3, 4-2 SEC) this weekend. The Bulldogs may have been roughed up and beat up this season, but Georgia has won two straight games and is capable of playing spoiler. Heck, a win for Georgia even gives the defending SEC East champs an outside shot at returning to Atlanta although the odds are still not very good. Auburn has been thriving on the running game and has not had to rely much on the passing game. If the Tigers can continue to break big plays on the ground, Auburn will continue to have Alabama’s attention.

All eyes on Durham, North Carolina, of course

Maybe Duke (7-2, 3-2 ACC) going to a bowl game last year wasn’t exactly a fluke. The Blue Devils are now in position to make a run to take on Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. In football. Seriously.

A bit of a tangled mess in the ACC Coastal Division could start to sort itself out a little more this weekend after Georgia Tech concluded their ACC schedule with a loss Thursday night at Clemson. Duke can keep pace with Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC) if they can pick up a home win against a Miami (7-2, 3-2 ACC) team that is all of a sudden sinking. A win for Duke will also clinch the most wins in a single season (eight) since winning eight games in 1994. Virginia Tech will be playing Maryland, which should result in a win unless the offense implodes.

B1G Game in the Big Ten

Ohio State is all but locked in to the Big Ten championship game, but the Legends Division is still a little more open. That could change this weekend with No. 16 Michigan State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) travels to Nebraska (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten). The winner will control the fate of the division with time running out in the Big Ten, but the loser will not necessarily be eliminated. The Spartans have been playing the best defense this season int he conference and should be able to control Nebraska’s offense, which will be tested by Ameer Abdullah. If the Spartans shut down Abdullah, it could be a long day for the home team.

Stanford looks to keep Pac 12 edge against revived Trojans

No. 4 Stanford (8-1, 6-1)is coming off the biggest win of the year but must continue the momentum this weekend on the road against one of the hottest teams in the country, if not just the Pac 12. USC (7-3, 4-2) is actually in position for a potential shot at playing for a Pac 12 title, although they need a little help while taking care of their own schedule in front of them. Stanford has won three straight on the strength of their defense that was able to shut down Oregon for three and a half quarters last week. This week they take on a USC team that has won three straight games and is playing quite well on both sides of the football, especially in the running game. USC won’t have Silas Redd but Javorious Allen has burst on the scene the last couple of games. USC may be trying to chop down a red wood with inadequate gear, but they aren’t trying to do so with a butter knife either. A win keeps USC in the Pac 12 South conversation and reopens the path to the Pac 12 championship game (and Rose Bowl?) for Oregon.

You would not want to be Utah today

If there is one team you might feel sorry for this weekend it might just be Utah (4-5, 1-5 Pac 12). The Utes only have one win in Pac 12 play this season, and ironically enough it came against Stanford. This weekend Utah heads to No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 5-1 Pac 12). The Ducks, of course, are returning home after getting trounced by Stanford last week. You have to think Oregon is going to get back on track with their offense rather quickly. Utah is 1-3 on the road this season and has lost three straight Pac 12 games. Utah has been a pesky team this season though. In addition to defeating Stanford, Utah has also topped BYU, taken Oregon State to overtime, lost to UCLA by a touchdown and lost to Arizona State by one. Utah needs two wins to become eligible for a postseason berth, but winning in a place they haven’t won since 1994 is not going to be easy.

Other Conference Races to Watch

American: No. 17 Central Florida (7-1, 4-0 AAC) is in Philadelphia Saturday to take on Temple (1-8, 0-5 AAC). They should leave town with a win against the Owls, putting the Knights one step closer to clinching the conference’s automatic BCS berth. Central Florida has a one-game lead on No. 20 Louisville, Cincinnati and Houston in the loss column and head-to-head tie-breakers against Louisville and Houston, who play each other this weekend. Cincinnati is at Rutgers.

Central Florida does not need to worry about No. 14 Fresno State or No. 15 Northern Illinois, but each of those BCS busting hopefuls will be keeping a close eye on the Knights for BCS standings purposes.

Big 12: No. 24 Texas (7-2, 6-0 Big 12) and No. 5 Baylor (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) could collide in a de facto Big 12 championship in the final week of the season, but let;s see if they get through this weekend first. Texas takes on No. 12 Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) and Baylor faces Texas Tech (7-3, 4-3 Big 12) in Cowboys Stadium.

Conference USA: North Texas is closing in on a Conference USA division championship in the west. North Texas is battling Rice for the top spot in the division, with each owning one conference loss and North Texas owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. UTSA can become eligible for their first bowl game in program history with just one more win.

SEC: No. 9 Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC) needs to avoid any head-to-head tie-breakers with No. 10 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC) in the SEC East, so a win this weekend at Ole Miss would be huge before hosting Texas A&M in the regular season finale. Missouri enters the weekend one game ahead of the Gamecocks in the loss column. South Carolina owns the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to an overtime victory a few weeks back at Missouri.

Bowl Eligibility Update

The following teams in action this weekend are one win shy of bowl eligibility:

Rutgers, Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Kansas State, UTSA, Navy, San Diego State, San Jose State, Colorado State, Vanderbilt, Arkansas State, Troy

Conversely, the following teams can be eliminated from postseason considerations with a loss this weekend:

South Florida, Memphis, NC State, West Virginia, TCU, Illinois, Florida Atlantic, Central Michigan, New Mexico

LOOK: TCU to wear debut new chrome helmets for game vs. Oklahoma

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As someone loathe to post on the myriad uniform combinations that college football teams toss out there on an almost weekly basis, I have to admit that these are… not bad. At all.

Quite fresh looking, actually.

Ahead of their black-out game against Oklahoma Saturday, TCU unveiled a new chrome helmet that the Horned Frogs will wear against the Sooners.  The helmets feature purple facemasks and a rather large purple horned frog on each side of it.

While all of that stuff, the helmets and uniforms and cleats and gloves and the like, are mainly for the benefit of recruits and current players, I and my particular demographic would have to give it a hearty thumbs up.  Which I’m certain means the world to the football program.

Longtime starting WKU safety likely out for remainder of 2016

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 10:  Calvin Ridley #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes away from Marcus Ward #8 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Like they have the last couple of weeks, Western Kentucky will have to get used to Marcus Ward not patrolling its defensive secondary on game days.

Ward (pictured, left) injured his knee in Week 2 and has not returned to the playing field.  Unfortunately for the player and the football program, that absence will continue as the safety underwent surgery on the knee, which is expected to sideline him for the remainder of the 2016 season.

This may not be the last of the fourth-year senior in a Hilltopper uniform, though, as Ward has yet to use his redshirt season and would have a medical waiver at his disposal even if he had.  It’s unclear, however, if Ward will return for another season or rather make himself available for the 2017 NFL draft.

Ward has started a total of 31 games since his true freshman season in 2013, including 26 the previous two seasons.  He was named preseason second-team All-Conference USA prior to the start of the 2016 season.

Perhaps more importantly, he was named a semifinalist earlier this month as a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the Academic Heisman.

No. 10 Washington becomes Pac-12 front-runner after Friday night thrashing of No. 7 Stanford

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Quarterback Keller Chryst #10 of the Stanford Cardinal is hit as he throws by linebacker Connor O'Brien #29 and linebacker Psalm Wooching #28 of the Washington Huskies on September 30, 2016 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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All summer long, people wondered why Washington was getting so much preseason love.

After Friday night’s 44-6 thrashing of Stanford in front of a national audience, nobody is wondering anymore about the Huskies.

The sophomore backfield combo of quarterback Jake Browning (210 yards, three touchdowns) and Myles Gaskin (an even 100 yards rushing, two scores) once again powered Washington to a big win, with the offense scoring on all but two full drives on a night where everything went right for the purple and gold.

Defensively is where the Huskies really impressed though. The team swarmed to the ball on every snap, forced two fumbles, racked up eight sacks and kept Stanford under three yards a play for most of the night. The normally reliable Christian McCaffrey was kept in check in remarkable fashion, rushing for just 49 yards on 12 carries.

Just six days after a remarkable comeback win at UCLA, there wasn’t much left in the tank for a Stanford team that was missing two starting cornerbacks and just couldn’t get anything going offensively on the road in a hostile environment. Quarterback Ryan Burns did throw for 151 yards and a touchdown but was under siege most of the night thanks to some shaky play up front from the normally reliable Cardinal offensive line.

The win by Washington certainly establishes Chris Petersen’s team as the Pac-12 favorite — at the very minimum — with a chance to all but punch their ticket to the conference title game next week at Pacific Northwest rival Oregon. If the Huskies continue to look like they did on Friday in Seattle though, a berth in the College Football Playoff is certainly going to be in the cards as well.

No. 10 Washington putting on a show with big first half against No. 7 Stanford

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Head coach David Shaw of the Stanford Cardinal looks on prior to the game against the Washington Huskies on September 30, 2016 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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On the first offensive play of the night for Stanford, the Cardinal picked up a first down thanks to a face mask penalty.

It was all downhill from there for the Cardinal.

No. 10 Washington lived up to their high preseason billing on Friday night by manhandling the defending Pac-12 champions in just about every way possible to jump out to a 23-0 halftime lead.

Quarterback Jake Browning threw just three incompletions on his way to 167 yards and two touchdowns and the Huskies looked every bit the part of a top five team in a wild, vintage atmosphere on Montlake. While the offense was impressive, the Washington defense was swarming as well, racking up six sacks in the game so far.

Stanford couldn’t get anything going offensively, averaging just 2.8 yards per play in the first half. Superstar Christian McCaffrey was held mostly in check, with just eight yards receiving and 31 on the ground.

To add injury to the insult of that first half, the Cardinal’s best defender — defensive lineman Solomon Thomas — was injured in the second quarter with a lower leg injury. The team is already without both its starting cornerbacks for the game so it could be a long second half for the visitors.

The game isn’t over yet and there’s plenty of #Pac12AfterDark potential but that was quite a statement made by Chris Petersen’s Huskies in the first half in establishing their credentials for the College Football Playoff.