Baker Mayfield and the Sooners offense are capable of game-changing plays, but they will have their hands full keeping up with a quarterback on the level of Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. SQ analyst Sonya Egoian explains why Clemson has the edge despite being considered underdogs in the 2015 Orange Bowl.
Despite their long and storied histories, Northwestern and Tennessee have only met on the gridiron once, in the 1997 Citrus Bowl. A Peyton Manning-led Volunteers team secured a convincing 48-28 victory over the Wildcats, who featured their current head coach, Pat Fitzgerald, at linebacker. This time, Fitzgerald and the twelfth-ranked Wildcats (10-2) look to even the score against the resurgent No. 23 Volunteers (8-4).
Vols finish strong – Tennessee got off to a slow start this season, suffering tough losses to Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas, and Alabama. However, they were able to rebound and win their last five games of the season. Their late season resurgence is what helped them secure an invite to the Outback Bowl.
Wildcats rebound under Fitzgerald – Head coach Pat Fitzgerald saw success earlier in his tenure, when the Wildcats posted a 10-3 record in 2012. Fitzgerald followed that with 5-7 records in 2013 and 2014, until turning it around again this year. Their successful season was blemished only by back-to-back losses to strong Iowa and Michigan teams.
Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee – Though it rings true for most teams, the success of Tennessee as a team relies heavily on the play of quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs has had up-and-down performances all year long. The main struggle for the junior signal-caller has been his inconsistency with the receiving corps. He was unable to find a go-to target for much of the season. Dobbs has struggled with accuracy, finishing the regular season with a mediocre 59% completion rate.
Despite his shortcomings in the passing game, Dobbs has had an excellent season running the ball. With 623 rushing yards on the season, Dobbs’ ability to make plays with his feet may prove to be a crucial factor in this game.
Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern – The sophomore All-American has had a stellar year. Walker has 85.5 tackles on the season, with 19.5 of those tackles happening in the backfield. By comparison, the player with the second-most tackles on the team has 58.
Walker will have a handful in dealing with the three-headed backfield of Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Walker’s ability to slow at least one of these players down should prove instrumental to Northwestern’s success.
Why Tennessee Wins
Right now, Tennessee looks like a team that refuses to be beaten. After some tough losses to open up their season, the Volunteers have learned how to finish out a game. This goes for the players, but also the coaching staff, who were often criticized for crucial mistakes in their close losses.
Defensively, Tennessee needs big games from linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and defensive end Derek Barnett. Reeves-Maybin leads the team in tackles, and Barnett has had 6 sacks in Tennessee’s last 5 games.
Offensively, the three biggest play makers for Tennessee are all in the backfield. If Dobbs, Hurd and Kamara all play like they have been playing the past few games, the Volunteers will certainly be hard to stop.
Why Northwestern Wins
Northwestern has one of the best scoring defenses in the country. They’ve allowed an average of just 16.4 points per game, making them the seventh-best in the nation. Additionally, they allow just 118 yards per game on the ground. This rush defense will need to step up against Tennessee’s backfield talent.
On offense, Northwestern will need to find a way to open up their passing attack. Tennessee’s secondary has shown that they often give up big plays through the air. The Wildcats feature a freshman quarterback in Clayton Thorson who has managed just a 51% completion rate. Thorson will need to find a way to connect with his receivers downfield to exploit Tennessee’s weaknesses.
These two teams match up very well. They possess weaknesses in the same places. Ultimately, I think Tennessee has more talent on both sides of the ball. Northwestern will have to find a way to shut down Tennessee’s running game and force them to throw the ball. If the Wildcats are unable to do that, the Volunteers should be able to come away with a solid victory.
Final Score: Tennessee 37, Northwestern 20
Time finally ran out on Mark Richt.
After 15 years, the University of Georgia decided to cut ties with their head football coach.
Richt, despite being let go, had a very successful tenure in Athens. He left the Bulldogs with a 9-3 record this year. It was a record all too familiar for Georgia, and the losses weighed heavier than the wins.
Still, his 145 wins with the Bulldogs is the 5th-most among active FBS coaches. He averaged over nine wins per season.
However, Richt was never able to lead a team to college football’s biggest stage, the National Championship Game. Season after season, Richt’s teams seemed to fall just short.
On paper, it seems like a great hire for the Hurricanes. There’s little reason to believe that Richt’s coaching success at Georgia won’t translate well to Miami. His Georgia teams never reached their full potential, but they were competitive nearly every year.
Richt also brought stellar recruiting classes into Athens year after year, and will likely continue to do so given his new location in talent-rich South Florida.
On top of that, Richt has connections with the university, as he played quarterback there from 1979-1982.
— Blake Hoagland (@BlakeHoagland) December 2, 2015
Despite all of this, it is easy to question if Richt’s personality is the right fit for the Hurricanes. The flashy style that helped put Miami on the map does not fit the profile of the modest Richt.
For years, Miami has been trying to revive its football program. The goal is to return to “The U,” the polarizing national powerhouse that once dominated the college football world. And while the program was known for winning, it was also known for the strong personalities of the players and the trouble that often followed them.
With that being said, could Mark Richt really be the face of the revival of “The U?” It is hard to imagine the two working together in the first place. Even though Richt played at Miami, his time there ended just before the Hurricanes started their journey to a national powerhouse.
For what it’s worth, Richt is clearly still hungry. He could have taken a year off, or retired after he was let go. Instead, he is already preparing to take over the reigns in South Beach. Richt is likely not happy with how things ended in Athens, and a fresh start in Miami is the perfect chance for him to prove his doubters wrong.
It will take time for Richt to recruit the kind of players that will fit his system. Until then, he will have to work with what he’s got. Luckily for Richt, Miami has one of the nation’s most promising quarterbacks in Brad Kaaya.
One of Richt’s key weaknesses this year with his Georgia team was at quarterback. With Kaaya, he has an experienced leader that he can build an offense around.
Richt looks to have more of an influence on the development of his players, “If and when I do coach again, I’ll look forward to coaching again, being more hands on. I miss coaching quarterbacks; I miss calling plays”
For Richt’s first season in Miami, his schedule looks to be challenging, but not impossible. The toughest conference match ups will be at home against Florida State and North Carolina, with a road test against Notre Dame.
So, is “The U” that we all know and remember finally due for a return? Probably not. But, that doesn’t mean Mark Richt can’t establish a new tradition of winning.
Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Iowa were ranked the top four teams in Sunday’s poll, but another weekend of football could change that. SQ analyst Sonya Egoian says Michigan State has a strong chance to knock Iowa out this weekend. And if another top team is upset, who’s most likely to take their place?
College football’s regular season is coming to a close. For many teams, this weekend means they face their biggest rival to close out the season.
Most of these matchups mean very little in the context of the College Football Playoff, but there are a select few that do. Here are the big games to watch for this weekend.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State – Saturday, November 28, 8:00 PM on ABC
The Bedlam Series. Both of these teams sit at 10-1. For Oklahoma, a win here would give the Sooners a Big 12 title. It would also almost guarantee Oklahoma keeps their place in the College Football Playoff, as they currently rank third. With a win, the only thing that could keep the Sooners out of the playoff is their lack of a conference championship game.
For Oklahoma State, a win could possibly mean a Big 12 title. But, that can only happen if Baylor loses to either TCU or Texas. Though the Cowboys are only a one-loss team, they are weakened by the fact that they didn’t play an out-of-conference game against a Power 5 opponent.
Notre Dame at Stanford – Saturday, November 28, 7:30 PM on FOX
Notre Dame (10-1) has been knocked out of a Top 4 ranking. For two weeks, they held onto the fourth spot. This week, they were knocked down to sixth behind a resurgent Michigan State and an unbeaten Iowa. For the Fighting Irish, the game against Stanford (9-2, 8-1 Pac-12) this Saturday is their last chance to impress the playoff committee, as they don’t have a conference championship to play in.
For Stanford, their chances of making it to the playoff look slim. They have two losses. But, beating Notre Dame would be impressive, and the Cardinals would have a chance to further improve their resume with a victory in the Pac-12 championship game.
Penn State at Michigan State – Saturday, November 28, 3:30 PM on ESPN
Last week, Michigan State got a big win over No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus. The victory earned the Spartans a spot at fifth in the playoff rankings. With a win over Penn State, Michigan State would secure the Big Ten East Division, pitting them against Iowa in the conference championship game.
If Michigan State were to win out, if would be hard for the committee to keep them from reaching the playoff.
Ohio State at Michigan – Saturday, November 28, 12:00 PM on ABC
This game is already big, but even bigger this year because both of these teams have had strong seasons and match up well. But, this game only has playoff relevance if Michigan State loses to Penn State. Otherwise, these teams will have no chance of making it to the Big Ten Championship Game.
Iowa at Nebraska – Friday, November 27, 3:30 PM on ABC
The playoff committee finally gave Iowa a spot in the Top 4. It took Ohio State losing, but the Hawkeyes are just now getting some respect. Iowa has clinched the Big Ten West, but they face a final test on the road against a struggling Nebraska team.
Iowa makes it to the Big Ten Championship regardless of the outcome this Friday, but it would be hard for the committee to include Iowa if they were to lose late to a weak opponent. If the Hawkeyes expect a guaranteed spot in the playoff, they must win out.
To tell the full story of Washington State’s season, you have to go all the way back to their home opener.
The Cougars were facing FCS opponent Portland State, a school that entered the game 0-14 all-time against Pac-12 opponents.
After the game, Portland State was 1-14.
Washington State’s 24-17 loss to Portland State looked to be the beginning of another disappointing season for the Cougars. There was little reason to believe that they would recover. After all, Washington State hadn’t finished a season with a winning record since 2003.
Three months later, the Cougars are 7-3 and the No. 24 team in the nation.
What happened? How were the Cougars able to rebound and put together their best season in years?
While there are a multitude of reasons, the number one factor for Washington State has been their quarterback, Luke Falk.
The redshirt sophomore has put together quite a remarkable season. He leads the NCAA in passing completions and passing attempts. He is second in the NCAA with 4,067 passing yards, and tops in the NCAA with 406.7 yards a game. His 35 passing touchdowns is also second in the NCAA and a Washington State record.
It is easy to understand why Falk has put up such huge numbers, as a pass-heavy offense is a staple of any Mike Leach-coached team. But that doesn’t explain Falk’s 70.3 completion percentage, which is first in the NCAA.
You can look at statistics all day, but what is it about Falk that makes his team better? Just last week, Falk showed his poise in the clutch as he lead the Cougars on a game winning touchdown drive to defeat the UCLA Bruins, 31-27.
Falk has been in these situations before. Washington State had close games with Rutgers and Oregon, both ending in overtime victories for the Cougars.
Leach thinks his quarterback even deserves a shot at the Heisman, “I think you ought to go back to the original definition which is who’s made the greatest contribution to his individual team,” said Leach. “If that’s the case then virtually everyone needs to vote for Luke Falk. And anybody that doesn’t needs to re-examine why they’re voting for the Heisman to begin with.”
Leach has also made it clear that Falk isn’t the only reason for the Cougars’ success.
In fact, Falk wasn’t the only player to break a school record last Saturday. Receiver Gabe Marks set a new Washington State high for career receptions with 204.
Washington State’s defense has also shown improvement over the last year with new coordinator Alex Grinch at the helm. However, they still allow an average of 30 points per game, as they are often bailed out by their offense.
Moving forward, the Cougars expect to win their final two games against Colorado and rival Washington. The goal is to reach 10 wins with a bowl victory. No matter how the season ends, this year will still go down as the best season for the Cougars in at least a decade.
From retirement, to health issues, to just plain getting fired, the 2015 college football season has shown us that there are many coaching changes coming on the horizon.
Which programs are the most appealing for potential head coach candidates?
Since Pete Carroll’s departure in 2010, the football program at USC has never fully recovered. Through NCAA sanctions, Lane Kiffin, and most recently Steve Sarkisian, the Trojans have had their share of ups and downs.
However, USC is still the most attractive opening for many reasons. Southern California’s football program has a long history of success, and is one of the most well-known programs in the nation.
When it comes to recruiting, USC consistently brings in Top 10 classes every year, no matter who is coaching. You don’t have to look very far to find talent when you are in California, a state that consistently produces elite recruits.
As far as the competition goes, the PAC-12 conference is obviously nothing to scoff at. But, it would be hard to argue that it is the toughest conference to play in.
The expectations at USC will always be high, but they have surely been tempered by the Trojans’ recent struggles.
2. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has to hire a new head coach for the first time in nearly 30 years, as legendary coach Frank Beamer announced his retirement earlier this season.
Following a man who is responsible for putting a program on the map is not an easy task by any means.
The good news is that Coach Beamer is leaving behind a program that is still in good shape. Unlike other schools on this list, Virginia Tech does not need to be brought back to life, it is already in a position for immediate success.
This success needs to come early however, as Virginia Tech faces 2016 tests against Tennessee and Notre Dame.
Like USC, Miami is a once-powerful program that has fallen on hard times. After being shutout 58-0 to Clemson, Miami decided to part ways with Al Golden.
Miami remains a desirable job for many of the same reasons that USC does. A history of success goes a long way, no matter how much your program has struggled in recent years.
Also like USC, Miami can recruit highly talented players without having to look beyond their own state.
Coaching for the Hurricanes provides a lot of upside, but it is not the best option on this list because Miami lacks the fan support that other programs offer.
4. South Carolina
Like Frank Beamer, Coach Steve Spurrier decided to call it quits this season. Also like Beamer, Spurrier was key in turning his program around.
South Carolina is number four on this list because of the tough competition they face. Playing in the SEC East doesn’t look like it will be getting any easier in the future with resurgent teams such as Florida and Tennessee.
The Gamecocks also look to be trending downward. Spurrier was able to lead them to three straight 11-win seasons from 2011 to 2013, but last year they finished 7-6. In 2015, they currently sit at 3-5.
Whoever takes this job will have to bring in the talent necessary to stay competitive in the SEC.
This position was between Maryland, UCF, and Minnesota. Maryland gets the 5th spot because they seem to have the most potential out of the three programs.
The potential stems from the fact that Maryland is now a member of the Big Ten. While the Terrapins are still trying to prove that they belong in the conference, it is a huge selling point in terms of recruiting.
Furthermore, Maryland has received a huge boost through donations from alumnus Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armor. These donations have given Maryland state-of-the-art facilities. The only thing missing from the equation is a coach that can win.
Tennessee has had a rough going so far this season. If you’ve been paying any attention to college football this year, you would know that is an understatement.
The Volunteers (3-4, 1-3 SEC) played a close one against No. 8 Alabama in Tuscaloosa last week, falling 19-14 after entering the 4th quarter with the lead. It was the latest in a series of heartbreaking losses for the Vols this year.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a team that has suffered more demoralizing defeats. Tennessee has lost all four of their games by a combined total of 17 points.
However, it would be even harder to find a better team with a losing record. Tennessee may be 3-4, but they are the best 3-4 team in the nation.
The Vols should not lose another game this season.
Here are three reasons why:
Up to this point, Tennessee has had quite a tough schedule. They opened their season with a win against a veteran Bowling Green squad, a team that is now 6-2 with their only other loss coming to No. 16 Memphis.
With an out-of-conference game against No. 14 Oklahoma, an away game against No. 11 Florida, and last week’s game against No. 7 Alabama, it is not hard to see that Tennessee’s first half of the season was filled with quality opponents.
As the Vols move into the second half of their schedule, the challenge looks to be much more manageable:
|Oct. 31||@ Kentucky|
|Nov. 7||vs. South Carolina|
|Nov. 14||vs. North Texas|
|Nov. 21||@ Missouri|
|Nov. 28||vs. Vanderbilt|
Tennessee has beaten Kentucky 29 times in the last 30 years. Butch Jones is 2-0 against the Gamecocks, and Steve Spurrier is no longer coaching for them. Tennessee is 0-3 against Missouri since they joined the SEC, but the Tigers lost to Vanderbilt last week and were subsequently ranked dead last in ESPN’s SEC power rankings.
Tennessee has been starting one of the youngest teams in the SEC this year. The close losses the Vols have suffered starts to make sense when you look at the youth of the team.
Being thrust into meaningful roles has been a baptism by fire of sorts for many young Vols. But these snaps have given Tennessee’s underclassmen valuable experience against quality opponents.
After losing another game they could have won, Tennessee should look to take out their frustrations on their remaining opponents.
The improvement is there
For Tennessee players and fans alike, the phrase “moral victory” is one they are tired of hearing. But after last week’s game in Tuscaloosa, the Vols’ performance couldn’t be more accurately described.
The Vols have lost to Alabama for nine straight years now, and most of the losses they have suffered have not been close. But last week, the Vols were competing on Alabama’s level for the first time in a long time. Tennessee lead to open the 4th quarter, a feat they have not accomplished since 2006.
Tennessee’s home upset against a ranked Georgia team is further proof of their improvement throughout the course of the season.
The Vols are almost there, they just haven’t quite turned the corner yet.
An 8-4 finish for the Vols might not meet the lofty expectations that were set by fans before the season began. But at this point, it’s the best Tennessee can do.
With such a finish, the Vols would find themselves in a solid bowl game with a chance to finish 9-4. After last season’s 7-5 record, finishing 9-4 is undeniable improvement.
Year in and year out, college football proves to be a game in which the unexpected can happen at any time. You don’t have to look too hard to find an example, just ask Michigan fans about last week.
While it’s hard to imagine anything as unbelievable as that happening again this week, there are always surprises and upsets to be seen every Saturday. Last week, the biggest upset came when Memphis took down No. 13 Ole Miss at home.
So, which teams are on upset alert this weekend?
Coming off one of the biggest wins in program history, the undefeated Memphis Tigers (6-0, 2-0 AAC) are now ranked 18th in the nation after knocking off Ole Miss last week.
Unfortunately, the Tigers don’t have much time to celebrate, as they travel to take on Tulsa (3-3, 0-2 AAC) on the road this Friday.
Tulsa isn’t the strongest team Memphis will face this year by any means, but the Tigers have to be careful. After such a big win, this game probably looks easy to a team that is riding as high as Memphis.
Tulsa’s defense is not a very strong unit, but their offense is a different story. Led by quarterback Dane Evans, Tulsa’s offense has shown they can put up a lot of points, as they were able to put up 38 on Oklahoma earlier in the season.
Paxton Lynch and the Tigers should look to score early and often on Tulsa’s weak defense to put this game out of reach.
The No. 9 Florida State Seminoles (6-0, 4-0 ACC) go on the road to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-5, 0-4 ACC) in Atlanta.
Before the season began, most would have predicted this rematch of the 2014 ACC championship game to be a big matchup in terms of 2015 ACC race implications.
However, Georgia Tech has struggled to get anything going all season.
It is hard to imagine that the Jackets won’t be hungry for a win this Saturday. They have lost five games in a row after starting off the season with two wins, and Florida State handed them a two point loss the last time they played in 2014.
Florida State’s Dalvin Cook has been their most explosive player all year, but his status is questionable after he sustained a hamstring injury against Wake Forest early in the month.
Whether or not Cook plays could prove to be a deciding factor against a Georgia Tech team that has been vulnerable against the run.
The No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide (6-1, 3-1 SEC) returns home to face the Tennessee Volunteers (3-3, 1-2 SEC).
Alabama got off to a bumpy start with their loss to Ole Miss early in the season. Since then, however, coach Nick Saban’s team has been on a roll and hasn’t looked back.
Tennessee has been a disappointing team this season, losing close games to Oklahoma, Florida, and Arkansas. The Volunteers finally gained some momentum two weeks ago when they rallied from behind to upset a No. 19 Georgia team at home.
So what puts this game on upset alert?
Alabama hasn’t had a week off yet. They have played week in and week out since their opening Sep. 5th matchup with Wisconsin. After a big win on the road against Texas A&M, the Tide come home for what appears to be an easier game.
Meanwhile, Tennessee had an extra week to prepare for their opponent. Look for the Vols to use Josh Dobbs to try and exploit Alabama’s defensive weakness against mobile quarterbacks.
The Tide should look to Derrick Henry to lead them on the ground against a weak Tennessee run defense.
The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has caused little excitement in the college football world recently. Michigan State has won 6 of the last 7 matchups, and rarely has the game held postseason implications for both teams.
This year is different.
The #12 Wolverines (5-1, 2-0) look to keep their forward momentum as they welcome the #7 Spartans (6-0, 2-0) into Michigan Stadium this Saturday at 3:30 pm EST.
These teams face their biggest game yet and the winner will be in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten East race, strengthening their chances of earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
First-year coach Jim Harbaugh has the Wolverines rolling after a season-opening loss to a Utah team that is looking better every week.
Let’s look at a few key aspects that will help Michigan come out on top in The Big House.
In Michigan’s last three games, their defense has allowed a total of 0 points. Two of these shutouts came against BYU and Northwestern, quality opponents who were ranked coming into the game.
When you look at the statistics, Michigan’s defensive dominance is hard to ignore. They rank third in the nation in rushing defense, allowing an average of only 66 yards per game on the ground.
If Michigan is able to stifle Michigan State’s rushing attack, it will force fifth-year senior quarterback Connor Cook to drop back and throw. With Big Ten, Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl titles under his belt, Cook is a veteran. ESPN’s Brian Bennett believes that Cook will be the difference maker for Michigan State.
Jim O’Connor – USA TODAY Sports
However, Cook is facing the second-best passing defense in the nation, a defensive backfield that has only allowed 2 passing touchdowns all year. It is likely that the Michigan secondary will be too much for Cook to overcome.
While Michigan has played incredibly well in its past 5 games, Michigan State has not.
Early in the season, the Spartans held on to beat Oregon with a 31-28 victory. But Oregon’s recent downfall makes that win look less impressive with each passing week.
Last week, Michigan State beat a mediocre Rutgers team 31-24 in game that was too close for comfort. The week before that, the Spartans barely came out on top 24-21 against a Purdue team who’s only victory this season is against Indiana State.
If the Spartans continue with another lackluster performance this Saturday, it will be a long day for them in The Big House.
If you’ve been paying attention to college football for the past few years, it has been hard to ignore that Michigan football is not what it used to be.
In his first year returning to coach for his alma mater, head coach Jim Harbaugh’s impact has been immediately felt. It is hard to argue that he hasn’t played a central role in turning the program around. The wins say it all.
No disrespect to Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, but Jim Harbaugh will be the best coach on either sideline this Saturday.
Look for Harbaugh to use his dominating defense to control the ball, and keep it in his offense’s hands.
As good as Michigan’s defense looks, Michigan State’s looks bad. The Spartan secondary has been a problem all season, they allow an average of 242 passing yards per game.
Harbaugh should look to attack by drawing up plays for Wolverine quarterback Jake Rudock. If he connects on big passing plays, the door will open for Michigan’s running game, and Harbaugh will have a chance to control the clock.
Even with Michigan State’s recent dominance in this rivalry, and their higher ranking, it is hard to see the Wolverines not coming out on top in this one. The Spartans are running into a team that just looks unstoppable right now.
Prediction: 24-14 Michigan