If the college football schedule over the past two weeks was filet mignon, this week’s slate is Spam (the canned meat, not the junk e-mail).
Two teams making plans for the College Football Playoff, Alabama and Clemson, will prepare for their rivalry games next week against competition from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). Three other Top 10 teams — Oklahoma, Auburn and Ohio State — are favored by more than five touchdowns over their opponents. In all, according to the Associated Press, 17 ranked teams are either double-digit favorites or playing an FCS team.
The only matchup of ranked teams happens when fifth-ranked, undefeated Wisconsin plays visiting No. 19 Michigan in Madison.
Oh well, there’s always next week with all the intense rivalry games, and then the conference championships the following weekend leading to the announcement of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. As for this week, it might be time to go out and get all those leaves raked.
Slowly but surely, Wisconsin keeps impressing the CFP selection committee a little more each week. Now the Badgers have a chance to make a convincing statement against Michigan, the opponent that everyone has pointed to as the toughest on their schedule.
Kirby Hocutt, the chair of the committee, listed some reasons for Wisconsin’s No. 5 ranking this week: Top 10 in the nation in third-down conversions and in third-down conversions defense, and the fact that only one team (Northwestern) has scored more than two touchdowns against the Badgers.
The Wolverines won’t be easy. They’ve scored 35, 33, and 35 points the last three weeks but haven’t defeated a team with a winning record. And their defense could pose a problem if the Badgers can’t hold onto the ball.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook (Malvern Prep) threw three interceptions last week against Iowa and has 11 in seven Big Ten games. Jonathan Taylor (Salem), the nation’s No. 3 rusher with 1,525 yards, has lost four fumbles.
Of Hornibrook, coach Paul Chryst said the issue is “to just make sure that someone’s not trying to do too much and understanding what you’re trying to do with it.”
Talk about an unpredictable season for the Sunshine State’s college football teams. Florida State and Florida are both scuffling along at 3-6 while the state boasts two of the nation’s four undefeated teams in Miami and Central Florida.
If that’s not crazy enough, Lane Kiffin has Florida Atlantic at 6-0 in Conference USA play. Then there’s South Florida at 9-1, setting up for a showdown Friday against Central Florida, and Florida International at 6-3.
It has been a difficult season for two of the state’s more prominent programs. Florida State lost quarterback Deondre Francois in the season opener against Alabama with a knee injury and the Seminoles haven’t been the same. Florida, coming off back-to-back SEC championship-game appearances, never got its mojo back this season, and Gators head coach Jim McElwain was fired.
And don’t forget how the season started, with Hurricane Irma forcing the cancellation of five games involving Florida schools, and the other two needing to go out of state to play.
Battle of La-La Land
The debate over the best college quarterback in Los Angeles should get really loud when Southern California and UCLA renew their rivalry at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Redshirt sophomore Sam Darnold of Southern California is 24th in the nation in passing efficiency and junior Josh Rosen of UCLA is 29th, but Rosen averages 343.8 yards per game, good for fifth in FBS, while Darnold is throwing at a 290.7-yards-per-game clip (14th). Darnold has thrown for more touchdowns (24-21) but also has more interceptions (11-9).
Both can come out after the season for the NFL draft, in which they are projected first-round picks. In fact, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Rosen at No. 2 overall.
Copying the blueprint
Notre Dame likely is out of the playoff picture after its one-sided loss to Miami, in which it gained just 261 total yards and threw three interceptions, but coach Brian Kelly feels his team can still make a strong bid for a New Year’s Six bowl.
“Ohio State went on the road [on Oct. 28] and had 55 points put up against them when they played Iowa,” Kelly said. “They came back the next week and really took it to a Michigan State team (a 48-3 win). It’s really how you respond in college athletics.” Kelly expects his players to improve their play to “that appropriate standard for us.”
Expatriate of the week
Despite his recent issues with interceptions, Wisconsin’s Hornibrook still ranks 12th in FBS in passing efficiency, having completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 1,863 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also stands 10th with a 9.04-yard average per attempt. With a strong running game behind him, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound redshirt sophomore has more modest Big Ten statistics; he ranks 10th in the conference, throwing for 166.0 yards per game.
Games of the week
Virginia at Miami, noon, 6ABC: The Hurricanes looked national-championship-ready last week in their blowout of Notre Dame and now must guard against a letdown. They have the advantage of being at home and playing against a Cavaliers defense that has allowed 36.5 points in its last four games.
Michigan at Wisconsin, noon, Fox29: With the Badgers slowly inching up the College Football Playoff rankings, a win over the Wolverines is imperative. However, they have to guard against turnovers — QB Alex Hornibrook has thrown 11 interceptions in seven Big Ten games.
Kentucky at Georgia, 3:30 p.m., CBS3: Still assured of a berth in the SEC championship game despite losing last week at Auburn, the Bulldogs need a victory to climb back into the playoff picture. The Wildcats ruined their own title hopes by blowing double-digit leads against Florida and Mississippi.
Navy at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m., NBC10: Much has to happen for the Fighting Irish to return to the CFP top four, but their priorities right now are 10 wins and a major bowl. The Midshipmen rushed for 559 yards last week against Southern Methodist, and their offense usually gives Notre Dame fits.
QB Malik Rosier, Miami, 6-1, 216, R-Jr., Mobile, Ala.
Rosier has been Mr. Clutch in the Hurricanes’ 9-0 season. His 23-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Langham with six seconds left was the game-winner against Florida State, and his 28-yard pass to Langham on fourth down kept alive a drive that ended with the winning field goal against Georgia Tech. Rosier is 15th in FBS in total offense at 305.4 yards per game and has thrown for 2,410 yards and 20 touchdowns. Five days after learning that his father had suffered a stroke, he led his team last Saturday to a 41-8 win over Notre Dame, passing for 137 yards and a touchdown.
The Inquirer Top 10
- Alabama (10-0)
- Miami (9-0)
- Oklahoma (9-1)
- Clemson (9-1)
- Wisconsin (10-0)
- Auburn (8-2)
- Georgia (9-1)
- Notre Dame (8-2)
- Ohio State (8-2)
- Southern California (9-2)