Weekend Preview: Red River Rivalry remains a tradition like no other

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No sport does tradition quite like college football, at least in this admittedly biased college football writer’s opinion. This weekend we get a glimpse of one of the great traditions in the sport with a side of deep-fried, well anything probably. The Texas State Fair is on my bucket list and is highlighted by the annual meeting between Oklahoma and Texas. The fanfare that surrounds the game may only be rivaled by a few others in the sport. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and the Army-Navy Game are two that quickly come to mind.

Neutral site games may not be quite the novelty they once were, thanks to multiple games played in Atlanta and Arlington purely for a big-ticket event to please television partners, but the Red River Rivalry is something else that brings everything back to pure basics. The venue is the historic Cotton Bowl, full of history and lacking the modern-day luxuries many fans seem to take for granted. Yet, it is the perfect setting for one of college football’s classic rivalries.

The Red River Rivalry highlights the action this weekend, but so much for the focus on what it could mean in the Big 12 race. Instead the narrative will focus on the future of head coach Mack Brown.

Mack’s last stand?

The annual Red River Rivalry game remains one of the top traditions the college football regular season has to offer, and thankfully it managed to survive the wreck left by realignment over the past few seasons. But the big question this year will be whether or not Texas head coach Mack Brown can manage to save his job with a win against the Sooners. Oklahoma has roughed up the rival Longhorns each of the past two seasons and bring a three-game winning streak in to the early afternoon Big 12 clash. Since 2000, the Longhorns have lost nine out of 13 meetings. Although Texas enters this year’s edition with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play, there is much speculation that Brown could be coaching in his final Red River Rivalry game.

Texas may need to win to help save Brown’s job for next year, but a hard-fought contest with the Sooners is all most Texas fans hope to see given the recent history in this series. That could be a realistic expectation. Oklahoma seems to have turned a corner with Blake Bell taking over at quarterback, starting with a win at Notre Dame, but this Oklahoma team may not be as strong as they have been so Texas should manage to prove they at least belong on the same field. Proving that should start with protecting the football. Texas has had 10 turnovers in the last three meetings at the Texas State Fair.

Is Georgia ripe for an upset?

Georgia looks to be one of the top one-loss teams in the country, having only been defeated by an undefeated Clemson team currently sitting in the top five of the rankings on the road in the first game of the year. Since then the Bulldogs have come through in the clutch to beat South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee. In those times of need Georgia has been able to turn to quarterback Aaron Murray, who has delivered when needed time and time again and earned a spot in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy. This week, however, will Murray be able to rally Georgia to another SEC win with a number of players out of action?

Running back Todd Gurley is expected to be back for the Bulldogs as they host Missouri, who comes to Sanford Stadium with a perfect 5-0 record. His running mate, Keith Marshall, suffered an ACL injury last weekend and is done for the year. Receivers Michael Bennett (knee) and Justin Scott-Wesley (ACL) are also out of the mix this weekend. The injuries have been piling up for Georgia but they have managed to get by. Could Missouri be the team who end that winning streak? Missouri should be able to put up some points. The Tigers have scored at least 40 points in all but one game this season, and they scored 38 points the one game they did not.

Big road test for Oregon 

One of the more bitter rivalries that few seem to recognize is the one between Washington and Oregon. Fortunately this game will receive an afternoon time slot, so everyone can get a chance to check out the animosity for themselves. Oregon has certainly been piling up points this season but they face their first real test when they visit Washington Saturday afternoon. The Huskies are coming off their first loss of the season but put up a respectable fight against Stanford on the road last weekend. Returning home to what should be a raucous crowd thirsty for a win against Oregon should be a good setting for Washington. Oregon has won each of their last three trips to Seattle, and the Ducks have won nine straight in the series for the longest winning streak in the series.

Who should be on upset alert?

Other than the teams already mentioned above, who else might want to be on high alert this weekend?

LSU: You could make a case that LSU is the best one loss team in the country, if not for Georgia. The Tigers host the Florida Gators this weekend. Florida’s defense may be capable of giving LSU some problems, and if LSU’s offense is sluggish at any point, Florida could steal a rare victory for a road team in Baton Rouge.

South Carolina: The constant question regarding the status of Jadeveon Clowney is a bit overdone at this point, but his impact on the field is still respectable even if the numbers suggest otherwise. The Gamecocks are on the road this weekend at Arkansas for the first of three straight road games.The Razorbacks are in the midst of a brutal stretch of their schedule but pack a running game that could make things interesting.

Northwestern: After hanging with Ohio State last weekend, the Wildcats are on the road for another tough Big Ten match-up. Northwestern travels to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. The only games Wisconsin has lost this season have come on the road, at Ohio State and Arizona State (who could forget that cray ending?). As usual, the Badgers can run the football very well with sophomore Melvin Gordon rushing for nearly 700 yards and seven touchdowns so far.

Michigan: The Wolverines have struggled at times this season, including in games against Akron and Connecticut. Could Michigan be walking in to the lion’s den this weekend in Beaver Stadium? Well, technically, probably. Penn State was roughed up by Indiana, of all teams, last week and look to bounce back in a strong way. The depth concerns at Penn State may get a lift from one of the top crowds in Beaver Stadium in the Bill O’Brien era, but will it be enough to rattle Michigan?

Are they back now? Texas snaps four-game losing streak to TCU

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Before the 2018 season began, many were pondering what’s been an annual question of late: “Is Texas back?” A road loss to an embattled Maryland in the opener suggested no.  The last two weeks, however, might say otherwise.

Trailing 13-10 at the half, and then 16-10 in the middle of the third, Texas ripped off 21 straight points to secure a huge 31-16 win over No. 17 TCU in the Big 12 opener for both schools.  The win snapped the Longhorns’ four-game losing streak to the Horned Frogs.

Sam Ehlinger passed for 255 yards and a pair of touchdowns while rushing for another score in a winning effort.  Tre Watson led all rushers with a game-high 58 yards.

Defensively, the Longhorns forced four turnovers — three interceptions, one fumble recovery.  Texas was able to turn those turnovers into 14 points.

Combine this impressive win with a 23-point win over then-No. 22 USC the week before, and we’re right back to…

Of course, the answer to the question won’t be definitively answered for another two weeks as, after a road trip to Kansas State, Texas will play host to No. 5 Oklahoma.  And, even then, we may not get answer.

Old Dominion stuns No. 13 Virginia Tech for first-ever Power Five win

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Since returning to the FBS level, Old Dominion had been 0-9 against Power Five teams, with eight of those losses coming to schools from the ACC.  And then Saturday afternoon/evening happened.

Coming in as a 27.5-point underdog, Old Dominion left Foreman Stadium with a stunning 49-35 upset over No. 13 Virginia Tech.  The Monarchs had been 0-3 entering the game — losses to Liberty, FIU and Charlotte — while the Hokies were a perfect 2-0.

Tech had allowed just two touchdowns in two games; ODU had four in the fourth quarter alone and seven total in the game.

The two teams traded the lead six times, while it was tied on another six occasions.  The Monarchs took its first lead of the game with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, only to see the Hokies tied it up nearly three minutes later.

With 5:11 left in the contest, ODU took the lead for good on a tremendous one-handed catch by Jonathan Duhart on the back-end of a 29-yard touchdown pass from Blake LaRussa.

Both teams ended the game with their backups quarterbacks on the field.  LaRussa passed for 495 yards and four touchdowns after he replaced the starter before the second offensive series, while Ryan Willis went eight-of-15 for 115 yards and a touchdown in place of the injured Josh Jackson (8-16, two touchdowns, one interception).

 

Tech was the second ranked ACC team to go down in defeat at the hands of a previously-winless squad.  Earlier in the day, No. 23 Boston College was railroaded 30-13 by a Purdue team came in 0-3.

Tua remains flawless as No. 1 Alabama slays No. 22 Texas A&M

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No. 1 Alabama and its Heisman candidate quarterback Tua Tagovailoa cruised through their first three games, but Saturday was supposed to be different. No. 22 Texas A&M was coming to Tuscaloosa, and for the first time this season, the defending national champions would face a team that would match them athlete for athlete, coach for coach, and dollar for dollar.

Or so we thought.

Texas A&M threw its best bunch at college football’s crimson bully, but in the end Alabama accepted that blow and landed a torrent of haymakers back, cruising to a 45-23 win that wasn’t as close as the final score.

The game opened with a quick interception by Alabama’s Mack Wilson and an even quicker touchdown pass, as Devonta Smith hauled in a 30-yard score one play later to give the Tide a lead just 50 seconds into the game.

The next sequence was the best for Texas A&M (2-2, 0-1 SEC): after Alabama downed a punt at the Texas A&M 1, the Aggies marched the length of the field to tie the game. The key play on a 54-yard quarterback draw by Kellen Mond, then a 15-yard strike to tight end Jace Sternberger. It was the first 99-yard drive surrendered by Alabama since Houston did it in 1997.

But, in typical Alabama (4-0, 2-0 SEC) fashion, the euphoria of legitimately challenging the Tide was short lived. Tagovailoa moved the Tide 75 yards in nine plays, scoring on a 1-yard keeper, to give Alabama a lead it would not relinquish.

Seth Small put the Aggies within 14-10 at the 8:50 mark of the second quarter, but Alabama put the game away with 17 points over the final half of the second frame: a 23-yard strike to Hale Henteges, a 6-yard toss to Henteges and a 47-yard Joseph Bulovas field goal to stake Alabama to a 31-13 lead.

Josh Jacobs scored on a 3-yard rush to push the lead to 38-13, and Henry Ruggs III took a ball 57 yards to the house to add the capper at the 2:01 mark of the third quarter.

Trayveon Williams added the final score of the day, a 1-yard rush, with 12:55 to play in the game.

Tagovailoa added to his Heisman resume with perhaps his best game yet: 22-of-30 for 387 yards and four touchdowns while adding another on the ground. Damien Harris and Najee Harris combined to run 15 times for 95 yards.

On the other end, Mond endured a number of sacks to still rush for a game-high 98 yards while throwing for 196 more, but the bulk of those were in garbage time, and two interceptions were backbreakers for the Aggies.

The win moved Nick Saban to 13-0 against his former assistants, though Jimbo Fisher‘s 22-point loss was ahead of Saban’s average margin of victory of 27 points.

Will Grier reminds Heisman voters he’s still here as WVU blasts K-State

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Thanks in large part to a game canceled because of Hurricane Florence, Will Grier had seemingly fallen behind the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray in the Heisman Trophy discussion of late.  Saturday afternoon, the West Virginia quarterback very loudly reminded voters that he’s still here.

In a 35-6 romp over Kansas State in Morgantown, Grier passed for 356 yards and five touchdowns on 25-35 passing in less than four full quarters worth of work.  The only real blemishes on the day were a trio of interceptions, although those were just the second, third and fourth picks of the season in over 100 pass attempts.

Grier now has thrown 14 touchdown passes on the season in just three games, and he’s thrown at least four in every one of them — five in the opener vs. Tennessee and four in the Week 2 romp over FCS Youngstown State in addition to the five today.

The performance came on the same day a very nice feature on the quarterback — and his wife and daughter and, because of social media, more-famous younger brothers and sister — ran on ESPN‘s College GameDay show.

Fourth-ranked WVU is now 3-0 on the season, with Texas Tech up next in Lubbock in a matchup that should do nothing but add to Grier’s Heisman numbers.