I can't believe it's Week 9 of the college football season already. It seems like just yesterday that I wrote a 4000+ word manifesto about the 2018 season in which I picked Michigan State to make the playoff. Yikes!
Onto the games!
Tennessee at South Carolina
Will Muschamp and his beer gut have somehow never lost to the Vols as a head coach, going 6-0 against them during his tenures at Florida and South Carolina. This is made more incredible by the fact that he’s only a mediocre 40-35 against every other opponent. Not breaking any news here, and I’ve said this before, but if Muschamp weren’t a head football coach, he’d be out of shape strength coach who downs entire cases of tall boy Natty Lights seven nights a week. As a head football coach, he pops in his second year with a school and tricks everyone into thinking he’s going to be great, until the program goes in the toilet Year 3, which leads to an awful Year 4, which then finds him unemployed. That was exactly the way his tenure played out at Florida, and he’s torpedoing in that direction again at South Carolina. The Gamecocks are 3-3 this season, and their signature win is… at home against a 4-3 Missouri team that’s offense disintegrated in a torrential downpour in the second half? If it doesn’t start pouring harder than it did during Noah’s Ark, Muschamp is 2-4 halfway through his third year with one conference wins, losses against all three ranked teams he’s faced, and a beer gut that isn’t getting any smaller.
Which makes me think this Tennessee game is a really big one for him. The Gamecocks are coming off their bye week at home against a four loss Vol team that will be without Trey Smith, their only good lineman, due to blood clots in his lungs. If South Carolina loses tomorrow, here’s their final four games: at Ole Miss, at #9 Florida, home for Chattanooga, and at #2 Clemson. Sheesh. The only game they’d definitely win is Chattanooga, but those other three games are all on the road and could easily be losses, which means he could potentially finish 4-7 in Year 3 and go into 2019 with the hottest seat in the conference. His Year 3 record at Florida? 4-8.
I really like Tennessee in this game to break the still strange Muschamp streak and win by two touchdowns. These programs are trending in the opposite direction; the Vols got smoked by Alabama last week (who hasn’t been?), but were coming off a victory at Auburn and a good effort against Georgia the week prior. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks have been outscored 60-17 in the first half of their last three conference games, and their third year starting quarterback Jake Bentley got booed by the home fans during the Texas A&M game. Vol QB Jarrett Guarantano got knocked out of the Alabama game, but should be good to go this week; of course, it’s not like South Carolina gets after the passer, or even stops anyone, as they rank second to last in the conference in sacks and have the 61st ranked defense in the country in terms of yards per game. This is a good match up for a team with a bad O-Line like the Vols since the Gamecocks don’t consistently hit or even pressure the quarterback week to week. As long as the offensive line doesn’t completely self-destruct (which could totally happen), they should be able to move the ball and put up points, potentially even more than the 30 they scored at Auburn two weeks ago.
Side note: If the Vols win this one, they’ll move to 4-4 with four games left: home for Charlotte, home for #12 Kentucky, home for Missouri, and at Vanderbilt. Realistically, which of those games actually scares you? Kentucky, maybe? Maybe? This same team that didn’t run a play in Texas A&M territory the entirety of regulation in their game a few weeks ago. Why couldn’t they run the table against that slate? At the very least, they could still be 7-5 and go bowling, and I think we’d all accept that after how bad they looked in the Florida game in late September.
#2 Clemson at Florida State
The Tigers have done quite well in this rivalry as of late, winning the last three meetings, twice by double digits. Since last year’s 31-14 beatdown at Clemson, FSU has downgraded head coaches from Jimbo Fisher to Willie Taggart and gone 3-3 in their last six games against FBS opponents. Going from Jimbo to Willie is like going from living in the United States to being sent to Siberia in Soviet Russia.
In Week 1, the ‘Noles scored 3 points against a Virginia Tech team that ended up giving up over 600 yards of offense to Old Dominion a few weeks later. Clemson’s problems and shakiness have been on offense this season, but I’ve never questioned their defensive prowess, particularly in the front seven (the Tigers defense rank 4th in the country in yards per game at just 266.3). I still don’t trust their offense, particularly with true freshman Trevor Lawrence leading them, but I don’t think it’ll matter this week because FSU’s offense won’t have a shot at moving the ball against the Clemson D. Plus, Willie Taggart is still the Florida State coach; he’s got a 51-53 record for a reason. The Tigers win by double digits.
#18 Iowa at #17 Penn State
I suppose this is a playoff elimination game for the Hawkeyes, who could still win out and make the playoff as a one loss conference champion, as unlikely as that seems.
Did you know Kirk Ferentz makes over $5 million a year, which is one of the top coaching salaries in the country? Did you also know that he hasn’t won the Big Ten in almost a decade and a half (2004)? Or that he’s finished ranked just three times since 2005? I get it; it’s Iowa and it’s nothing more than a middle of the pack Big Ten job, so we shouldn’t expect them to be Ohio State every year, but how the hell is he worth $5 million a year? Does he have naked pictures of everyone in the Iowa athletic department? Did he catch the university president in bed with a horse?
Plus, let’s be honest, Iowa is a deceptive 6-1; here are their wins: Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, and Maryland. And their one loss came against the only ranked team they’ve played all season, Wisconsin. I don’t think Penn State is great or anything, and they certainly have issues in pass defense, but they’ve got better players, are at home, and have the better coach in James Franklin. Plus, with Butch Jones largely removed from a microphone week to week, Franklin has firmly grasped the crown for the best coach speak in the country. His ‘average to good to great but not elite’ speech after they blew the Ohio State game for the second consecutive year was something to behold, though it’ll never top “Leadership Reps” “Five Star Hearts” “Brick by Brick” or smoking cigars in the locker room after Alabama completely took apart a Tennessee team almost completely full of the guys you recruited. Oh crap, why the hell am I blabbering on about Butch Jones again? Sorry, old habits. Making fun of Butch Jones is my Stockholm Syndrome.
Prediction: Penn State
#14 Washington State at #24 Stanford
This is one of the biggest Pac 12 games of the entire season and it’s somehow only on the Pac 12 Network. They couldn’t have put this game on anywhere else? Washington at Cal is on at 6:30 on FS1… why wouldn’t they take this one in that slot instead since it’s a significantly better game? Who is making these decisions?
Anyway, State is the last team in the Pac 12 with one loss or fewer, and I think they'll keep it that way, at least this week. Cougar head coach Mike Leach, after losing to Stanford in each his first four tries, has won the last two games against them. Plus, the Stanford offense has been, at times, really pitiful; they’re 106th in the nation in total offense, and they’ve scored more than 30 points against an FBS opponent only once this season, and they needed overtime to do that. Meanwhile, the Cougar defense is really good; they shut out Oregon’s offense in the first half last week and limited them to just 328 total yards, and only 58 on the ground. I think Stanford will struggle to move the ball against them all game and lose by at least ten points.
Prediction: Washington State
#6 Texas at Oklahoma State
The last time we saw Texas, they barely held onto beat Baylor at home as the Bears threw multiple passes into the end zone at the end of the game. Some of their offensive woes in that game could be attributed to them losing their starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger due to injury, but he’s supposed to be back and healthy for tomorrow’s game. And assuming he is, I don’t see any way the Longhorns don’t embarrass Oklahoma State so badly that 90 year old T. Boone Pickens reconsiders his loyalties. This is a really bad Cowboy team, maybe the worst Mike Gundy has had since his first year in 2005 when they went 4-7. Their only win against a Power 5 team in 2018 was when they beat Kansas on September 29th. Kansas, a team that’s 17-76 this decade. 17-76!
I think there’s still at least one loss on the Texas schedule the final month of the year (West Virginia, at Texas Tech, home for Iowa State, at Kansas), but they shouldn’t have any trouble with Oklahoma State tomorrow.
#16 Texas A&M at Mississippi State
You could argue that Texas A&M made the biggest coaching upgrade in the entire country this off-season when they replaced Kevin Sumlin with Jimbo Fisher. Sumlin is in his 11th year as a head coach (it’s his first year at Arizona) and he’s had 11 bad defenses, whereas Fisher is one of four active coaches with a national title. Plus, Sumlin is a supposed offensive guru that's offenses completely fell apart by the end of every season that he didn't have Johnny Manziel under center.
On the other side, there probably wasn’t a program who made a bigger coaching downgrade than Mississippi State (except for maybe Florida State with Willie Taggart!), who replaced the best coach in school history, Dan Mullen, with Joe Moorhead, a guy who consistently looks like he just got done playing “Magic: The Gathering” for 12 straight hours. I was under the impression that Bulldog QB Nick Fitzgerald was one of the best returning starters at that position in the SEC, but he’s completely regressed as a passer in his first year with Moorhead. His completion percentage has plummeted from 55.6% in 2017 to 46.9% this year, his yards per attempt have dropped by a full yard, and he's thrown 7 interceptions to just 4 touchdowns. Sheesh. The only thing worse for his play than Moorhead’s coaching would be if he picked up a three pack a day cigarette habit.
A&M is trending in the right direction; their only losses this season are to the current #1 and #2 teams in the AP poll, and they played ‘Bama closer than anyone (22 points, but still) and were just a few plays away from beating Clemson. Jimbo is going to get it rolling there, and may even have the Aggies as a contender in that division by next season.
Prediction: Texas A&M
#12 Kentucky at Missouri
I love Missouri here; the Wildcat offense has secretly been just average this season (they haven’t scored more than 27 points against any Power 5 team in 2018), and in their last two games, they slogged around with a bad Vanderbilt team for four quarters and preceded it the week before by not running a play in Texas A&M territory until overtime. Plus, the biggest game of their entire season could be next weekend when they host Georgia. If the Bulldogs beat Florida tomorrow, it doesn’t matter what Kentucky does against Mizzou because all they’d need to do to be in the driver’s seat in the East Division would be to win that game. Meaning they could be looking ahead to that one and may not take tomorrow’s showdown as seriously against a Mizzou offense that’s put up points almost every week.
#9 Florida vs #7 Georgia (in Jacksonville)
The Cocktail Party is the definitive game of the week in the entire country. The Gators have dominated this rivalry as of late by winning 21 of the 28 matchups since 1990, though the ‘Dawgs did manhandle them 42-7 just last year.
The argument for Florida here is easy; they’re one of the most improved teams in the country from the opening snap of the season until right now, and Dan Mullen might be the best coach in the conference outside of Nick Saban. Meanwhile, the Georgia offense has struggled to run the ball consistently all year without backup QB Justin Fields in the game, and the last thing they put on tape was an absolutely abominable performance against LSU. Of course, I feel terrible about picking any team that’s quarterbacked by Feleipe Franks, who happens to don a Gator helmet every week. That dude can throw the ball really far and.... that’s about it. I mean, he’s considerably better than he was last season and he still completes less than 57% of his passes.
This game is going to be a rock fight, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the final score was 13-10 or something like that. I'll take Georgia solely because the Jake Fromm/Fields quarterback combo is better than what the Gators will trot out there with Franks, even if I think it's arguable that Florida has a better overall roster.