The midway point of the college football regular season is upon us. Most teams have played six games, exactly half of their regular season schedule, and the familiar names remain in the top two spots of the rankings in the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers. Those two teams aren’t in our must watch games this week and honestly, won’t be for a little while largely because their schedules don’t offer many high-profile match-ups until later in the season.
Usually in this space we highlight the top ranked vs. ranked games of the week but this week is a little bit different mainly because, well, there aren’t any of those match-ups. However, that doesn’t mean there is a dearth of games that you need to watch this weekend my friend. See, this week brings us one of the best rivalries in the sport as Oklahoma and Texas meet for another edition of the Red River rivalry. On top of that, you’ve got a battle of Tigers in the SEC and an opportunity to watch a Top 25 Navy team take on a high-scoring Memphis squad. Those three games are in the mid-afternoon window, so you’ll need multiple screens. But, we start with a different Big 12 battle.
#24 Texas Tech @ West Virginia (-3.5), Saturday 12 p.m. (ESPN)
This game is likely to provide some fireworks with two of the nation’s best offenses going up against two fairly porous defenses. The Red Raiders are number two in the country in scoring (46.8 PPG) and the Mountaineers are 9th (43.8 PPG) while the defenses allow 27.8 (Texas Tech) and 26.4 (West Virginia) points per game respectively. So, yeah, fireworks likely.
The Red Raiders have started 4-1 and not simply because they’ve played cupcakes the entire way. Sure, there’s the usual wins against Eastern Washington and Kansas, along with a win over a struggling Arizona State program. But, Kingsbury’s group has also beaten Houston in a fairly low-scoring (for them) game 27-24, and fell by just a touchdown (41-34) to Oklahoma State on the road. Heading into the season, Kingsbury seemed to be on the hot seat in Lubbock largely because of the failures of the defense over the years, but so far, they’ve cut 16 points off their per game number from last year. Will that continue as they hit the heavyweights of the conference? We’ll find out this week.
West Virginia suffered a tough, close loss on the road to TCU last week and will be ready to rebound this week at home. Will Grier’s numbers ended up looking good at the end of the day, 366 yards 3 TDs 1 INT, but he completed just 55 percent of his passes. He should find an easier time against the Red Raiders, but Texas Tech QB Nic Shimonek has proven quite capable of carving up defenses himself (71.8% 1,811 yards 14 TD 3 INT) in the Air Raid offense. This should be a fun early window game to watch leading into a mid-afternoon bonanza.
#12 Oklahoma @ Texas (+8), Saturday 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Red River Rivalry has given us close games each of the last three years with every game being decided by a touchdown or less. That streak could continue this year with the Texas offense seemingly finding itself in last week’s 40-34 win over Kansas State and Oklahoma coming off a tough loss at home against Iowa State. Either way, something weird always seems to happen in this rivalry, so you’ll want to tune in to see what it is this year.
Texas freshman QB Sam Ehlinger is coming off his most prolific passing performance to date with 380 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Wildcats while completing 60 percent of his passes. He added 107 yards on the ground as well and that type of versatility could prove to be a problem for the Sooners who struggled to deal with the Joel Lanning/Kyle Krempt run-pass duo last week against the Cyclones.
On the flip side, the Sooners offense continued rolling even in the loss last week as they once again scored 30+ points which they have now done in every game this season. Texas’ defense has been better since the 51-41 debacle against Maryland to open the season. LB Malik Jefferson has been a force with 43 tackles, 5 TFL and 1.5 sacks this year while DeShon Elliott has five interceptions this year. The Cotton Bowl provides the backdrop for one of the more fun rivalries in the sport and this should once again be a fun one.
#10 Auburn @ LSU (+7), Saturday 3:30 p.m. (CBS)
LSU clawed out a 17-16 victory last week to give itself and its head coach some breathing room from the rabid fan base that was calling for changes following the loss to Troy. The road doesn’t get any easier this week as Auburn rolls into town bringing with it the nation’s 22nd ranked rushing attack averaging 228 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. The LSU run defense has been pretty good outside of the game against Troy, but this will be a different level of test.
Kerryon Johnson leads the nation in rushing touchdowns with 12 on the season and Auburn has 18 overall this year. The Tigers, Auburn version, have been great on third down as well, converting 48.9% of their third down chances this season and LSU has struggled to stop opponents on 3rd down ranking 69th allowing 38.9% of third downs to be converted. In addition to the ground game, QB Jarrett Stidham has provided steady play under center that has eluded this team the past several seasons.
The biggest question for LSU remains the same. Can QB Danny Etling do enough to win you a game. Last week, Etling was just 9/16 for 125 yards and a touchdown. That effort, thanks to the defense shutting down Florida’s offense, was enough to get a win, but only because of a missed extra point late in the game. Auburn will load up to stop Derrius Guice the same way the Gators did and it remains to be seen what LSU can do when that happens.
#24 Navy @ Memphis (-3), Saturday 3:45 p.m. (ESPNU)
Another year, another great start to the season for Navy. Ken Niumatalolo consistently has this team winning games even in seasons when they’re expected to be “rebuilding”. The Midshipmen lead the nation in rushing (414 YPG) behind their triple-option attack that’s led by QB Zach Abey who’s averaging six yards per carry and has nine rushing touchdowns this season.
The defense is still an issue for the Midshipmen as they’re allowing 27.6 PPG despite playing a schedule that has featured FAU, Tulane, and Cincinnati none of whom are known for explosive offenses. They now face a Memphis team that has been prolific offensively this year, albeit in a different way than the Midshipmen, doing most of their damage through the air thanks to QB Riley Ferguson. Ferguson is averaging over 300 yards per game passing and should be able to exploit the Navy defense that’s allowing 226.8 YPG through the air. But, Navy’s rushing attack should also have success against a Memphis defense allowing 187.2 YPG. Normally, you wouldn’t expect fireworks from a triple option team, but that’s just the kind of game I’m expecting here. High scoring, lots of fun.
Utah @ #13 USC (-13), Saturday 8:00 p.m. (ABC)
The prime time games this week are largely lackluster. Arkansas-Alabama, Ohio State-Nebraska, Missouri-Georgia and Michigan State-Minnesota are your other options surrounding this one. The reason we’re highlighting the Utes and Trojans here is because it’s a revenge game for Sam Darnold.
The Utes got the better of Darnold in his first start last year, winning 31-27 despite Darnold completing 69 percent of his passes for 253 yards. The loss to Utah is one of the reasons the Trojans were left on the outside looking in of the Pac-12 title game last year. Had USC won that game, they would’ve been the South division representative thanks to their win over Colorado a few weeks later. Nonetheless, this year Darnold hasn’t been quite as impressive as he was in his debut. He’s yet to have a game without an interception and his completion percentage is down about three percentage points on the season. The decision making just hasn’t been the same, which could be a problem against the Utes who have already collected nine interceptions this year.
Utah’s defense has been stingy overall, but they did get gashed by Bryce Love last week to the tune of 152 yards on 20 carries. If the Trojans are able to get Ronald Jones going and ease the pressure on Darnold, this one could get ugly.