What we're watching - Week 7
Saturday promises yet another full slate of great action across the country. Here’s what we’ll be keeping an especially close eye on during the day:
Kansas State at Iowa State (12 p.m. ET, FX): The Cyclones are going to have to beat Kansas State on their own because Bill Snyder’s team won’t do it for them. Kansas State is tied for fifth nationally in turnover margin (plus-2 per game), ranks eighth in TFLs allowed (3.6 per game) and third in sacks allowed (two through five games). On top of that, Kansas State is also the least-penalized team in the nation. The magic number for Iowa State is 23; under Paul Rhoads, the Cyclones are 19-1 when surrendering less than 24 points. Iowa State has allowed 23, 6, 3 and 23 points in its four wins, and its only loss came by a 24-13 score to Texas Tech.
Texas vs. Oklahoma (12 p.m. ET, ABC): Simply put, this is an elimination game. The recent history of the Red River Rivalry has been decided by two key stats, with each team heading into Saturday holding a clear edge in one of them. This year marks the 14th time Mack Brown and Bob Stoops have faced each other, and the winner of the rushing battle has won each of the past 13 Red River Rivalry matchups. That’s not good news for a Texas defense allowing 4.73 yards per carry so far this season. However, the team that can create the most turnovers is also 12-1 in the previous baker’s dozen Texas-OU games. Texas enters Saturday tied for 13th in the country with a plus-1.4 turnover margin, while Oklahoma is 89th, carrying a minus-0.5 average. Whichever team can capitalize on its supposed advantage will win the game.
Duke at Virginia Tech (12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network): David Cutcliffe’s first opportunity to send the Blue Devils to the postseason for the first time since 1994 meets a Virginia Tech team facing its first sub-.500 record seven games into the season since 1992. Three of the last four meetings between these two programs have been decided by 11 points or fewer, so expect a close game. As crazy as it may seem, this game as ACC championship implications as a Duke win allows the Blue Devils to keep pace with Miami atop the Coastal Division and drops the Hokies to 1-2 and in effect three games behind Cutcliffe’s team.
Eastern Washington at Montana State (3:30 p.m. ET, ROOT): In what will likely be the game of the year in the Big Sky Conference, Beau Baldwin and his sixth-ranked team leave their famous red turf for the unfriendly confines of Bozeman, Mont., and Rob Ash’s second-ranked Montana State Bobcats. Both teams make their livings through the air, and do quite well at it, but Eastern Washington holds a distinct advantage in turnover margin. That’s likely what it will take to earn a win on the road.
Stanford at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC): Brian Kelly’s team has already played this game in many ways. A team with a powerful straight-ahead running game, tight ends prominently involved in the passing game and a quarterback that struggles to make plays at times faces the Bob Diaco’s much-improved Notre Dame defense. See: Notre Dame 24, Michigan State 3. But Stanford brings a defensive front that already spoiled one perfect season and can do the same if the Notre Dame quarterbacks aren’t up for the task.
West Virginia at Texas Tech (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): This will be a test of focus and mental strength for Dana Holgorsen’s team. Sandwiched between an emotionally charged road game at Texas and a potential top-five showdown at home with Kansas State is a trip to Lubbock to face a Texas Tech program that has taken down a top-five team three times in recent years. Texas Tech’s previously top-ranked defense was shredded for 41 points versus Oklahoma last week, but Neal Brown’s seventh-ranked passing offense is perfectly capable of shredding West Virginia’s No. 117-ranked pass defense.
USC at Washington (7 p.m. ET, FOX): This is a crucial game for both teams to keep their Pac-12 championship hopes alive. Former co-workers Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian square off again as the latter hopes for a repeat of USC’s 2009 trip to Seattle that ended in No. 3 USC falling to an unranked Washington squad in Sark’s first season. Washington will look for a repeat of its Stanford upset, a productive running game, efficient passing, and controlling the line of scrimmage on defense.
South Carolina at LSU (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): This game undoubtedly means more to LSU’s national championship hopes than South Carolina’s. Next week’s Florida game will likely decide the SEC East, and we don’t see any way a one-loss Gamecocks squad with wins over Georgia, Florida and Alabama is denied a chance to win the SEC’s seventh straight crystal ball in Miami. Regardless, the key for South Carolina’s defense to not let a struggling LSU offense off the mat while hitting John Chavis’ troops with a more diverse attack than Florida offered. The Bayou Bengals simply need to rely on the same magic that has them at 35-1 in night games at Death Valley under Les Miles.
Tennessee at Mississippi State (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2): A loss would put Derek Dooley’s team at 0-3 in the SEC with games against Alabama and South Carolina immediately on the horizon. On the flip side, a victory would make Dan Mullen’s squad just a win over Middle Tennessee away from carrying a 7-0 record into Tuscaloosa on Oct. 27. With that in mind, it’s hard to say who needs this win more.