The calendar has turned to November, meaning crisp fall weather for most of the country. It's about that time when the squirrels and raccoons destroy your nicely carved Halloween pumpkins. Though there is a chill in the air, the college football season is starting to heat up as we separate the contenders from the pretenders for the stretch run of the 2015 campaign.
Three more games with huge College Football Playoff ramifications take place this weekend. Let’s take a look at the storylines for each contest, with the usual pomp and circumstance.
Oklahoma State vs. TCU: Point/Counterpoint
This game will be offensive. The scoreboard operator may have a hard time keeping up as undefeated Big 12 squads battle in Stillwater. The OSU Cowboys are 8-0 and just scored 70 points against Texas Tech. Yes, you read that correctly. Oklahoma State is seventh in the nation in scoring, averaging 44 points per game. Not to be outdone, Texas Christian has scored at least 40 points in seven straight contests. The Horned Frogs are averaging 48.9 points per tilt, which is second in the country. Only Baylor, averaging an absurd 61.1 points per game, is scoring at a higher clip.
So why isn't Oklahoma State getting more pub? The Cowboys have had a very soft schedule thus far, and three of their next four games come against highly ranked opponents in TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma. Though the Cowboys are 5-0 in conference play right now, all five wins have come against teams with losing records inside the Big 12. The other three wins came against Central Michigan, Central Arkansas and the University of Texas-San Antonio – not exactly a who's who of college football royalty. This will be the first real test of the season for the Cowboys, as Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs have their sights set on an undefeated season and a trip to the CFP. An Oklahoma State win would legitimize its claim to being a contender, while a TCU victory would keep the Frogs on a collision course with Baylor in the last game of the season. The Horned Frogs still have to face Oklahoma too, though. It looks like the Sooners will have a serious say as to which team wins the Big 12, not to mention whether TCU and Baylor enter their highly anticipated matchup undefeated on November 27.
LSU vs. Alabama: Offense Gets The Fame, Defense Wins The Game
This game will get defensive. The contest features undefeated LSU against a 7-1 Bama squad that is surging at the right time. Once upon a time, this matchup was dubbed, "The Game of the Century". Both teams feature monstrous running backs. Perhaps it should be billed as a title fight. “Fournette vs. Henry: The Tango in Tuscaloosa.” Regardless of what it's called in 2015, it will undoubtedly be a battle of the big boys. LSU’s Leonard Fournette has gained all the notoriety this season with his exceptional mix of size, strength, agility and acceleration. But let's not forget about the other beast, Alabama's Derrick Henry. In most other seasons, Henry would be a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. Let's compare statistics for the two star running backs.
Fournette: 7 games, 1,352 yards, 15 touchdowns, 7.7 yards per carry.
Henry: 8 games, 1,044 yards, 14 touchdowns, 5.8 yards per carry.
Fournette's numbers make Henry's stats look paltry by comparison. However, only seven running backs in college football have more rushing yards than Henry, and Fournette is the only back with more rushing scores.
This will be by far the stiffest test for both players thus far in 2015. Alabama is third in the country in rushing yards allowed per game, surrendering just 78.5 yards per tilt. Fournette is averaging a staggering 193.1 rushing yards per contest. The Tigers are fourth in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game at 93.7. Henry is managing 130.5 rushing yards per tilt.
With both teams so focused on stopping the run, quarterback play may be the deciding factor. LSU signal-caller Brandon Harris has improved tremendously as the season has worn on. Over his last three games, Harris has passed for 716 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. Meanwhile, Alabama quarterback Jake Coker has not thrown a touchdown pass in the last two games, after starting the season with touchdown tosses in six straight contests.
An LSU win gives the Tigers a rather clear path to the SEC Championship Game, where they would likely see the Florida Gators, a team they have already beaten this season. An Alabama triumph would flip the script and give the Tide the inside edge in the SEC West. Both teams clearly still have bigger dreams, though.
Clemson vs. Florida State: Howard’s Rock, Seminoles Roll
This game should have just the right mix of offense and defense. Florida State has gotten the better of a lot of teams in recent years, but perhaps no streak is more curious than FSU's recent stretch of dominance over Clemson. The Tigers have lost three consecutive games to the Seminoles, but this is by far the best team Clemson has had over that stretch. The Seminoles are banged up, and quarterback Everett Golson may miss a second straight week due to a concussion. That means Sean Maguire could get the starting nod at quarterback for the 'Noles.
Let's not forget what happened last year. Jameis Winston was suspended for a profanity-laced tirade, or shoplifting crab legs, or being part of a sexual assault investigation (take your pick). In stepped Maguire. Though he did not play that well, Maguire led the Seminoles to a 23-17 victory in overtime, winning a game the Tigers had in hand before inexplicably fumbling just prior to a possible attempt for a game-winning field goal. The Tigers came close, but as one of my good friends always says, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Maguire not only beat the Tigers last season, but he also had a monster game in Golson's stead last weekend versus Syracuse. Maguire completed 23 of 35 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-21 victory over the Orange. Now, nobody would mistake Syracuse’s defense for Clemson’s, but the fact remains that Maguire did not look like he was in over his head. Still, Clemson’s pass rush will undoubtedly make him uncomfortable Saturday.
We haven’t even talked about Clemson’s quarterback, Deshaun Watson. The Seminoles will have their hands full. All Watson did last week at NC State was score six touchdowns. The Tigers are averaging 57 points per game over the last two weeks. Elementary, my dear Watson.
What’s at stake? A Clemson win would mean a likely trip to the ACC Championship and a chance at being 13-0 and an inclusion in the four-team playoff. A loss, on the other hand could end the playoff dreams for Clemson. A win by FSU would put them back in contention for a trip to the ACC Championship and still leave them with just one loss.