Lache Seastrunk, Datone Jones, Nick Florence

Weekend Preview: Big 12, SEC and Pac 12 stakes on the line

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The tension is mounting. Rivalry games are just around the corner. Championship dreams are starting to fade or become reality. The time to make a Heisman moment is running out as well. This weekend has a little bit of it all to offer this weekend, eve if the BCS championship heavyweight contenders are mostly taking it easy this week.

BCS Championship frontrunners get week off, sort of

No. 1 Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC) and No. 2 Florida State (10-0, 8-0 ACC) can put everything on cruise control this week, but nobody will expect that. The Crimson Tide square off in an epic Iron Bowl match-up with Auburn next week but warm up with a home game against FCS Chattanooga (8-3, 6-2 Southern) while Florida State will play host to Idaho (1-9). Both should be able to name their score, but Florida State’s game will be under a bit of a microscope.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the center of attention in college football this week, but not for his play on the field. Winston has been linked to a sexual assault case from last December and a state attorney continues to review all of the information before making a decision on whether or not to press charges against the Florida State quarterback and Heisman contender. If you think Florida State is going to succumb under pressure or Winston will falter under the scrutiny, think again. Against Idaho it is not likely the first team offense will be on the field anyway.

Baylor, Oklahoma State put Big 12 on the line

No. 4 Baylor (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) visits No. 10 Oklahoma State (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) looking to keep the high powered offense in gear. Baylor is making a push to move by Ohio State in the BCS standings, and with the Buckeyes taking on Indiana the Bears may have a good chance to make a move with a strong showing against the Cowboys. The winner of this one will take over first place in the Big 12.

Since being upset by West Virginia, Oklahoma State has won six straight games including last week’s 38-13 shelling of Texas in Austin. Quarterback Clint Chelf was 16-for-22 for 197 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a game-high 95 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Longhorns. Chelf will need more help from the supporting cast this week because Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley make for a lethal trio every time they are on the field. There will be plenty of points scored in this one, and it will be critical for Oklahoma State to find a way to keep pace early on.

Why can’t we have Clemson-South Carolina this week instead?

Every season criticism is thrown on teams scheduling cupcakes at the beginning of the year rather than improving their strength of schedule. This trend may change as college football moves to the College Football Playoff model that takes note of strength of schedule more than the current BCS formula. Unfortunately the season also ends with some blatant mismatches lacking any sizzle as well.

No. 7. Clemson (9-1, 7-1 ACC) is one of those teams. Sure, the Tigers play No. 11 South Carolina (8-2, 6-2 SEC) next weekend, but this week they host Citadel. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, are hosting Coastal Carolina.

Speaking of South Carolina…

The Gamecocks may not be playing an SEC game this weekend but they can clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game anyway. No. 8 Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC) travels to No. 24 Ole Miss (7-3, 3-3 SEC) and needs to win to stay in front of South Carolina in the SEC East standings. If Ole Miss picks up the win, South Carolina will head to Atlanta as a result of owning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Missouri earlier this season.

Manziel’s Heisman moment?

No. 12 Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC) heads to No. 22 LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC) Saturday afternoon. SEC Championship stakes may not be on the line in this one, but Johnny Manziel‘s Heisman chances may be. Manziel has become one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this season, and for good reason. Manziel may not be putting up the kind of numbers he did last year during his 2012 Heisman campaign, but his numbers are superior in many areas once again this season. All that is lacking is a signature win. With home losses to Alabama and Auburn, a road win at LSU followed by a win at Missouri could help put Manziel on the top of the ballots of Heisman voters. History may be against Manziel when it comes to winning a second Heisman Trophy — it has only been done once before of course — but the schedule sets up well for Manziel to put together some lasting impressions before the votes must be submitted. Last year a road win at Alabama put Manziel over the top. Could a road thriller have the same impact this season?

Heisman aside, third place in the SEC West is on the line, which could lead to a spot in the Cotton Bowl the way things may play out.

Pac 12 South Battle in the Rose Bowl

No. 17 Arizona State (8-2, 6-1 Pac 12) is the team to beat right now in the Pac 12 South, but No. 14 UCLA (8-2, 5-2 Pac 12) gets the home field advantage in the stadium both teams dream of playing in on New Year’s Day, the Rose Bowl. While Oregon appears to be on track to host the Pac 12 championship game, the south is a bit more wide open than you might think. Arizona State has a chance to make things a bit less complicated if they can escape Los Angeles with a win against the Bruins. If Arizona State wins they will carry at least a one-game lead in the division in to the season finale against Arizona. The Sun Devils have not been quite the same team when on the road this season, going just 2-2 with losses against Stanford and Notre Dame.

UCLA has played very well at home this season. The Bruins have scored at least 37 points in each of their five home games. Quarterback Brett Hundley has thrown 12 of his 20 touchdowns at home and has been intercepted just twice in those games. The Bruins will likely keep plugging freshman linebacker Myles Jack in the offensive backfield in certain situations. In the last two games Jack has rushed for 180 yards and five touchdowns.

In a bizarre twist, a UCLA win also keeps USC in the running for a Pac 12 championship game appearance, although the Trojans need a few things to fall in to place for them to keep that dream possible.

Bowl Eligibility Update

The following teams can become bowl eligible with a win this weekend:

Colorado State, Louisiana-Monroe, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, UT-San Antonio

On the other hand, these teams can officially be eliminated from postseason contention with a loss:

Central Michigan, Colorado, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Indiana, Louisiana Tech, Memphis, Mississippi State, Northwestern, South Alabama, Tennessee, Utah, Wake Forest, Wyoming

Kirby Smart unsure of severity of Nick Chubb’s ankle injury

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 24:  Nick Chubb #27 of the Georgia Bulldogs runs the ball and is pursued by the defense of the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi.  The Rebels defeated the Bulldogs 45-14.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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You really have to feel for Nick Chubb.

The Georgia running back returned from a devastating knee injury that knocked him out for more than half of the 2015 season, rushing for career regular-season high of 222 yards in the 2016 opener in his first game back.  In an embarrassing Week 4 loss to Ole Miss, however, Chubb sustained an ankle in the second quarter and wasn’t able to return.

Whether he will be healthy enough to return for a ky SEC East matchup with Tennessee next weekend remains to be seen.

“Don’t know the severity yet. He couldn’t come back in the game,” head coach Kirby Smart said according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution following the loss. “If he could have come back, I know he wanted to. So we’ll see how that goes the next couple days.

In his three games since the opener, has for just 200 yards total.  Included in that was the 57 yards on 12 carries he had prior to the ankle injury.  If Chubby can’t go vs. the Vols, Brian Herrien (11 carries for 78 yards against the Rebels) and Sony Michel (11-66).  Herrien also scored the Bulldogs’ two touchdowns in the 45-14 loss, both of which came on the ground.

Sackless in South Bend: Irish lone remaining FBS team without a sack

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish yells at a referee during a game against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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And then there was one.

Entering Week 4, Nevada and Notre Dame were the lone FBS teams that had yet to register a sack during the first quarter of the 2016 season.  Midway through the second quarter of the game against Purdue today, however, Nevada’s Korey Rush sacked David Blough for a four-yard loss.

With Notre Dame not playing until 3:30 ET this afternoon (on NBC), that leaves the Irish standing alone as the only sackless team left at the FBS level.

Ironically enough, Purdue entered today’s game as one of five FBS teams, along with East Carolina, Northern Illinois, Texas State and West Virginia, that had recorded just one sack on the year.  And, for those who are curious, Florida came into Week 4 leading the nation in sacks with 16.

No. 2 in that category?  The Irish’s opponent this afternoon, the Blue Devils (tied with Ball State).

No. 23 Ole Miss blows away No. 12 Georgia

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 24:  Chad Kelly #10 of the Mississippi Rebels rolls out to pass in the first second quarter under pressure from Raquan Smith #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
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The story of September for No. 23 Ole Miss (2-2, 1-1 SEC) had been the inability to keep its foot on the gas pedal once it jumped out to a sizable lead against a quality opponent. Whether it was a lesson learned or the mere fact that No. 12 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC) was over-ranked heading in, the Rebels did not let up Saturday afternoon in Oxford. Ole Miss built a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, took a 31-0 lead into the halftime break and went on to demolish Georgia, 45-14.

Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly was able to get an early rest after one extremely productive first half. Before Hugh Freeze handed the offense to backups quarterbacks, Kelly completed 16 of 21 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. The ball was distributed pretty well between the running and passing games as well. Eight different players caught a pass for Ole Miss, and seven different Rebels carried the football at least once. Kelly took off four times for 53 yards and a touchdown in addition to his efficient day through the air.

Georgia’s running duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel rushed for a combined 123 yards, but neither scored a touchdown before the game started to get out of hand and away from Georgia’s strength. The early hole meant Georgia had to try and catch up through the air, with freshman quarterback Jacob Eason having a rough afternoon on the road. Eason completed 16 of 36 pass attempts for 137 yards and an interception, and a number of dropped passes.

Georgia will return home and hope the momentum is quick to swing back in its favor next week. The Bulldogs play a pivotal SEC East contest against Tennessee. The Vols are playing an important SEC East game today against Florida. Georgia may need a win at home to bounce back, with games at South Carolina and at home against Vanderbilt following before a bye week. After the bye week comes the annual game in Jacksonville against Florida. How Kirby Smart gets his team to come back next week with Eason will be key as Georgia looks to prove this loss was a bit of a fluke.

There was certainly nothing flukey about it though, as Ole Miss showed what they can do when they play a complete game. For the first time this season, Ole Miss did not get tired against a physical opponent and continued to make plays all afternoon to lock down the win. This was one Ole Miss needed to have after the way this month has played out thus far. Next up for Ole Miss is a bit of a revenge game at home next week against Memphis of the American Athletic Conference. The Tigers stunned Ole Miss last season with Paxton Lynch at quarterback and Justin Fuente coaching. Both have moved on from Memphis (Lynch to the NFL, Fuente to Virginia Tech), so the Tigers will have their work cut out for them if they are to pull the stunner once more. Ole Miss will be a prohibitive favorite and get a chance to get to the bye week with a winning record before heading to Arkansas and then to LSU before returning home to play Auburn.

No. 11 Wisconsin makes B1G statement with 30-6 win at No. 8 Michigan State

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 24:  Eric Steffes #44 of the Wisconsin Badgers catches a pass for a touchdown durng the first quarter of the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on September 24, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan.  (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)
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It just might be time to start taking No. 11 Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) seriously as a Big Ten threat. Feel free to throw the Badgers in your late September College Football Playoff conversation if you are so inclined, but the Badgers made mincemeat of No.8 Michigan State (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) and may have put the Big Ten on notice with some very challenging games still to come in the next month. Wisconsin picked up their second win against a top 10 opponent with a 30-6 victory at Michigan State.

Wisconsin put this game away in the third quarter. After taking a 13-6 lead into halftime, the Badgers defense made a big play to open the scoring in the second half. Michigan State running back LJ Scott had the ball pop out of his hands on a run up the middle, and free safety Leo Musso managed to pick up the loose ball and make his way down the left side of the field, shove aside Michigan State quarterback Tyler O’Connor attempting to make a tackle, and get some blockers to make his way to the end zone for a wild touchdown. The score seemed to deflate the Spartans just a little more than they already had been against the Badgers defense. Wisconsin took advantage of a special teams mistake when a punt snap went above the punter and the ball was downed at the five-yard line. One play later, Corey Clement ran in for a knockout blow of a touchdown, putting the Badgers up 30-6.

O’Connor was picked off by the Badgers defense three times in the game, and he completed just 18 of 38 pass attempts. Scott managed to pick up just 61 rushing yards on the ground for the Spartans. Michigan State may have to go back to the drawing board with its offense.

Wisconsin opened the year with a win against LSU, who was then ranked in the preseason top 10. Maybe LSU was overhyped (LSU was definitely overhyped), but take nothing away from what the Badgers have managed to do, even if this is a step-back year for Michigan State. Few teams have accumulated two quality wins the way Wisconsin has four weeks into the season. The only team that may have done better is Alabama, although the Crimson Tide’s win against now 1-3 USC looks far less sexy than it could have. Does this make Wisconsin the team to beat in the Big Ten? No. Not at this point, with Michigan and Ohio State still looming. But the Badgers are most certainly worthy of praise for what they have accomplished in September.

Next up for Wisconsin is a return trip to the state of Michigan to play the Wolverines. Michigan hosts Penn State today, looking to keep an undefeated start to the season in play. Wisconsin will be Michigan’s toughest opponent to date when the two meet next week in Michigan Stadium. Wisconsin will get a much-needed bye week after that but it gets no easier once they return to action. Wisconsin hosts Ohio State, visits Iowa and then hosts Nebraska in October.

Michigan State will hit the road next week to continue Big Ten play. The Spartans head to Bloomington to take on Indiana. Michigan State’s next home game will be no easy one either, with BYU heading in for a non-conference battle.