Welcome to the home regular season. There are just three weeks left before the conference championship games and the announcement of the four participants in the College Football Playoff. The league games are starting to take shape as the teams start to close out.
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Oklahoma at WVU (-7.5)
Oklahoma’s struggling season continues after a three-point loss to Baylor last week. This game should be strong for the Sooners, as they likely won’t face a league-worst defense all season…but this OU team isn’t one you can just ignore on a given Saturday because of what you think must I am doing.
Matchups to watch: Neal Brown vs. Job Security. This game could go a long way in determining Brown’s fate at the end of the season. The athletic department management is in his corner, but that could change if the fan base continues to be outside of him, a problem that could get worse if the Sooners can win.
Purdue at Illinois (-6.5)
This game isn’t a must for Illinois, but it makes their lives a lot easier if they do, as their hopes for a Big Ten championship remain in play. A win here would give them a tiebreaker over many of their division rivals and could go 1-1 in their remaining two games and punch a ticket to Indianapolis. For a team that plays nice margin ball like they do, that cushion would be key.
Matchups to watch: Purdue WR Charlie Jones vs. Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon. Do you want to talk about strength on strength? Jones accounts for about a third of Purdue’s target share by himself with 119. The next closest is Payne Durham. Illinois plays a physical brand of coverage, and the long-running strong Witherspoon is capable of taking Jones away.
LSU (-3.5) at Arkansas
Suddenly everyone’s favorite after beating Alabama, it’s clear that LSU isn’t the unlucky unit that struggled during the opener against FSU or got smoked by Tennessee at home. But here comes Arkansas, a natural opponent looking to drag this game into the mud and make the Tigers work for it with a running game.
Matchups to watch: LB Harold Perkins vs. QB KJ Jefferson. Perkins came on in a big way this season and is one of the bright spots for LSU’s defense as one of its best young players. The way defensive coordinator Matt House sickened him on Alabama’s Bryce Young was interesting last week, and now he has another chance to shine.
Louisville at Clemson (-7), 3:30 p.m
The Tigers were tamed at Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish physically whipped Clemson’s defensive front in a way that was — frankly — shocking if you’ve followed the Tigers program during their rise to prominence over the last few years. Will DJ Uiagelele start, but again the question is who will end up at QB for Clemson?
Matchups to watch: Clemson’s offensive line vs. Louisville’s passing game. The Cardinals beat the quarterback at a high rate, and since Uiagelele and Clemson’s offense has struggled enough when everything is good in the pocket, the pressure would be real death for Clemson’s offense.
Wisconsin at Iowa (+1.5), 3:30 p.m
We understand this is probably a weird situation, but Iowa has put two pretty decent plays together on offense. Now the competition kicks up a notch with Wisconsin coming to town. The Badgers don’t have high expectations for Jim Leonhard for the balance of the season to keep the job permanently, and are one win away from bowl eligibility.
Matchups to watch: Wisconsin OL vs. Iowa’s front. The Badgers aren’t what they used to be on the offensive line, which is a much less dominant force than we’re used to. If there’s one thing Iowa is really good at, it’s effective defense that starts up front. This game has under written all over it.
Alabama (-11.5) at Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m
The Tide will fall short of their lofty national championship goals this season and now have the all-too-rare status of spoiler. Ole Miss is fighting for its first SEC West title and is still close as long as they can keep winning. Questions abound about what went wrong for Alabama and how things have gone off the rails, a loss here would really raise some eyebrows about how close Bama really is to a crossroads.
Matchups to watch: Alabama eyes vs. Ole Miss’ drive. Rebels are made to mess with an eye discipline. They use a myriad of presnap motions to try to catch defenses looking at the wrong thing, and postsnap their counter scheme includes line pulls and rampant misdirection. The Tide must be ready to be in the right place.
Washington at Oregon (-13), 7 p.m
Technically this is a rivalry game, but it’s more like an annual meeting of Pacific Northwest teams that Oregon basically wins every year. The Ducks have blown out the Huskies in every game since 2004 (except 2006 and 2007.) As Oregon looks to stay in the playoff race, they will need to continue their explosive offense to get past the Huskies.
Matchups to watch: Either defense against or attack. These teams basically mirror each other with efficient offenses and defenses that do just enough. This is a game where you’re looking for a defense to break serve and get some stops in what should be a high-scoring affair.
Kansas State at Baylor (-2.5), 7 p.m
The Big 12 championship game is far from decided, and who will make it is anyone’s guess. With two teams with league losses, including these two, clashing, the most balanced league in the country will fall apart.
Matchups to watch: Richard Reese and Sqwirl Williams vs. Kansas State. Baylor QB Blake Shapen is starting against the team he debuted against last season, but the Bears could have a doubleheader if Williams is needed to write Reese like he did last week.
UNC at Wake Forest (-3.5), 7:30 p.m
Expect a lot of points in this one. UNC’s defense was abysmal early in the season, but in recent weeks it has kept a lid on opponents. But don’t expect them to keep the Demon Deacons as a unit that can basically score on anyone. The Heels certainly have the offense to keep up, so this should be fun.
Matchups to watch: Tar Heels WRs vs. Wake Forest DBs. Josh Downs and Antoine Green are probably the best receiver tandem in the country. The Deacons DBs are in a great position here to hold off some stiff competition. Wake’s defense in general hasn’t been half bad the past few weeks since getting roasted by Clemson.
TCU at Texas (-7), 7:30 p.m
TCU keeps getting away with it. They didn’t even need impressive wide receiver Quientin Johnston last week, which is a big deal, as they relied on the play to win. But these aren’t your average Texas team that folds at the first sign of adversity, but consider that the Frogs have fought back in a lot of tough spots this season.
Matchups to watch: Texas defense vs. TCU. The Horns aren’t the squishy front unit we’ve come to expect in recent years, but they were salty in a lot of tough spots. But this defense has an x-factor that can really come into play: longtime TCU coach Gary Patterson is an assistant to Steve Sarkisian. He knows this TCU team, recruiting and coaching almost everyone before being fired last season. If you don’t think he’s going to offer some helpful tips to the Texas defensive staff, and if you don’t think he’s feeling a little extra juice this week, you don’t know Gary.