While my list of three intriguing college football matchups last week were not exactly what I predicted, they were thrilling none the less. Now with week five here, it’s time to look at three more games I can’t wait to watch!
#14 Texas A&M vs. #18 Arkansas 12:00 p.m.
Less than a week ago Texas A&M was officially introduced as the thirteenth member of the South Eastern Conference. On Saturday, the Aggies get their first taste of SEC action when they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks at Cowboys Stadium in the Southwest Classic. The tale of the tape is similar on both sides. Both teams come into the game after a loss to a conference foe, and while Arkansas’ loss may have been a bit uglier on the scoreboard, both of these teams need a win for confidence.
For A&M, success lies in the hands of senior quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill’s play has been exceptional, completing 67% of his passes for 892 yards with six touchdowns. Tannehill has also shown good presence in the pocket resulting in only two sacks this season. If there’s an area of concern for the senior it’s taking care of the football, as Tannehill already has four interceptions in the Aggies first three games. Last week against Oklahoma State, Tannehill also showed his playmaking ability scrambling for a 65 yard touchdown run early in the first quarter.
The Aggies also have a potent rushing attack featuring the two headed monster of senior Cyrus Gray and junior Christine Michael. Gray has shown skills that project to Sunday football, carrying the ball 63 times for 268 yards and four touchdowns. Gray has also recorded nine receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown. Michael has been impressive on the ground as well, totaling 178 yards and two touchdowns on just 25 carries.
At wide receiver, the Aggies have three great players. First, one of the Big XII’s best in Ryan Swope. The 6’1 junior from Austin, TX has been a playmaker throughout his career totaling 112 receptions for 1,285 yards and seven touchdowns in just 24 games. Opposite of Swope is another great WR in the senior Jeff Fuller. Fuller has been a go-to target for Aggies quarterbacks since he arrived, totaling 180 catches for 2,450 yards and 30 touchdowns. Junior Uzoma Nwachukwu is no slouch either racking 89 catches for 1255 yards and 10 touchdowns in his three seasons with the Aggies.
For Arkansas, the question at the beginning of the season was how do the Razorbacks replace quarterback Ryan Mallett? Not only have they been able to replace him, they have gotten exceptional play out of the position by junior Tyler Wilson. Wilson has been extremely efficient completing 70% of his passes for 1,007 yards. Wilson has found the endzone seven times and has only thrown three interceptions in four games. Wilson’s play has also helped the Razorbacks redzone offense, converting 100% of the time with 12 touchdowns in their 15 trips.
At running back, junior Kniles Davis was supposed to have a special season. This was supposed to be his year where he took over as the playmaker for the Razorbacks. Unfortunately, Davis was lost for the season with an ankle injury. Luckily for Arkansas, they had more then one capable tailback. Junior Ronnie Wingo Jr. has filled in admirably, carrying the ball 54 times for 260 yards. While Wingo Jr. hasn’t been able to get into the endzone as much as he’d like with just two touchdowns on the ground, he has shown playmaking ability in the passing game with 12.9 yard average per catch and one touchdown. Freshman Kody Walker has shown flashes as the goaline back, scoring 5 times in just 20 carries.
At wide receiver, much like A&M, the Razorbacks feature three great playmakers. Senior’s Jarius Wright and Joe Adams have been electric, hauling in 35 combined passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns. Equally as impressive, is junior Cobi Hamilton, who has racked up 14 catches for 271 yards (a staggering 19.4 yard average per reception), and two touchdowns. Also of note, is the play of junior tight end Chris Gragg, who has 117 yards and a touchdown on twelve receptions.
Both teams find themselves pretty similar statistically as well. Texas A&M enters the game 19th in the nation in passing (310.7 ypg) and 46th in rushing (171.3 ypg), while Arkansas is 18th in the nation in passing (312.3 ypg) and 79th in rushing (132.3 ypg). The teams are also evenly matched in scoring offense and defense, with A&M averaging 37 points a game while holding opponents to 17, and Arkansas averaging 39 per game while holding opponents to 19.
My prediction, something has to give here with both teams so evenly matched. I expect both teams to have success through the air, but Texas A&M should be able to shut down the shaky Arkansas ground game. Turnovers will be key in this matchup and A&M holds the smallest of advantages in this area, averaging one turnover forced per game compared to Arkansas’ .5 per game. In the end, I think the fact that A&M can stay more balanced on offense wins out and they end up with a touchdown victory, 31-24.
#13 Clemson at #11 Virginia Tech 6:00 p.m.
There may not be another team with a more impressive start to the season then Clemson. The Tigers have taken full advantage of their four straight home games to start the season resulting in an unscathed record. Now, the Tigers will have to take their show on the road to Blacksburg, VA to play Atlantic Coast Conference favorite, Virginia Tech. While the Hokies are somewhat of an unknown with zero quality opponents on the schedule thus far, a night game in Blacksburg is a whole other monster that I’m not sure the Tigers are ready for.
Not only are night games in Lane Stadium special because of their entrance to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” (in my opinion the greatest college entrance ever), but the fans also are a different breed when the lights come on. There’s just something about games under the stadium lights at Lane Stadium that brings out the craziest people in the state of VA.
On the field, the Hokies are extremely balanced. Averaging 218 yards through the air and 211 on the ground the Hokies feature one of the best running backs in the nation. Junior David Wilson has been sensational, averaging 5.9 yards per rush with 516 yards on 87 carries. Wilson has been a huge part of the offense scoring five touchdowns this season. While he hasn’t been able to provide much help in the passing game so far this season, a 2010 performance featuring a 15.6 yard per reception average and 4 touchdowns shows he can be dangerous catching the ball as well.
At quarterback, the Hokies rely on an intriguing prospect in Logan Thomas. The 6’6 sophomore from Lynchburg, VA has been serviceable in his first four games completing 57% of his passes for 761 yards. While Thomas has had four touchdowns this season, he also has just as many interceptions.
On the defensive side of the football, the Hokies have been more then solid. The Hokies come into the game ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense, surrendering just 10 points per game. While this stat is exceptional, it will surely be tested by the explosive Clemson offense. The Hokie secondary will certainly have its work cut out for them as they try to slow Clemson’s playmakers out wide.
For Clemson, it’s all about offense. Clemson is 16th in the nation in passing at 316 yards per game, and the play of quarterback Tajh Boyd has landed him as a darkhorse Heisman candidate early in the season. Boyd has been very accurate, completing 66% of his passes for 1,255 yards and a 13-1 touchdown to interception ratio. At wide receiver, the Tigers feature two deadly playmakers in sophomore DeAndre Hopkins and true freshman Sammy Watkins. While Hopkins was expected to be the go to playmaker for the offense, Watkins play as a true freshman has been nothing short of remarkable. The true freshman not only leads the Tigers in receptions at 28 but also in yards and touchdowns with 433 and six respectively. Boyd’s weapons don’t end there though, the Tigers passing game also features the nation’s best tight end in junior Dwayne Allen. The Fayettville native has been elusive for a 255 pounder, racking up 216 yards and three touchdowns in just 14 receptions.
At running back, the Tigers are equally as talented. Featuring the three headed monster of Andre Ellington, and freshmen Mike Bellamy and D.J. Howard, the Tigers backfield has racked up 749 yards and seven touchdowns on just 180 carries. All three backs are game breakers as well, with Ellington and Bellamy having touchdown runs of 70 or more yards and Howard having a 37 yard pickup. Watkins has also been featured in the running game, picking up 92 yards on 15 attempts.
My prediction, the Tigers defense will not be able to stop the Hokies offense. In my opinion though, it won’t matter. I believe that while the Hokies will have close to 400 yards of total offense Clemson is averaging over 500. Against Florida State, the Tigers had over 440 and I don’t see as good of a defense when I look at the Hokies. I’ve been picking against Clemson the last two weeks and they’ve burned me each time. They’ve earned my respect, I’ve got Clemson in a shootout, 41-37.
#3 Alabama at #12 Florida 8:00 p.m.
Much like the Clemson and Virginia Tech matchup, this game features one team who has been tested by quality opponents, and one team who hasn’t. This contest also features two of the last three National Champions. While Tim Tebow and Rolando McClain aren’t coming out of the tunnel Saturday night, this game will have plenty of Sunday players in it.
Florida enters the game as the unknown, outside of a ten point victory against Tennessee, the Gators haven’t really shown much. While the Gators are averaging 40 points a game and holding the opposition to nine per game (fourth in the nation in scoring defense), you really have to condiser the competition they have faced. With games against Florida Atlantic, UAB and Kentucky so far, the Gators defensive statistics certainly seem skewed.
On offense though, there’s no denying the Gators ability. Gainsville, FL just may be home to the two fastest players in college football in senior running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. Rainey has been the workhorse, carrying the ball 63 times for 411 yards and two touchdowns. Rainey has also been explosive catching the ball, averaging 19.5 yards per reception and adding another pair of scores. Demps on the other hand, has been the game changer for the Gators offense. Although he only has 34 carries on the season, he’s made the most of them with a 9.4 yard per carry average and 4 touchdowns.
At quarterback, senior John Brantley has been hot and cold, completing just 64% of his passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions, certainly not the numbers new offensive coordinator, and quarterback guru Charlie Weiss was hoping for. Unfortunately for Brantley, things aren’t going to be easy through the air on Saturday. Alabama enters the game with the third best passing defense in the nation. The Tide are allowing opponents to complete just 44% of their passes and holding the opposition to a meager 139 yards per game through the air. I’m not expecting much out of Brantley on Saturday for this very reason.
On the other side of the field is perhaps the best team in the South Eastern Conference (if not the nation), in the Crimson Tide. For the Tide, it’s been all about their dominating defense and the play of Trent Richardson. While the play of quarterback AJ McCarron has been admirable, Bama’s success lies in the legs of the junior from Pensacola, FL.
On defense, the Tide are not just a one trick pony defending the pass either. The Tide find themselves again ranked third in the nation against the run, surrendering just 46 yards per game. Alabama’s balance on defense, has resulted in the Crimson Tide being ranked second in the nation in total defense giving up just 184 yards per game. Florida’s defense has similar rankings though, ranked fifth in total defense giving up just 231 yards per game, but Saturday night will tell us if the Gators rankings, and defense are for real.
My prediction, they’re not. I don’t see Florida’s defense being able to hold up to Alabama’s running game, which will result in McCarron having passing lanes downfield. While the duo of explosive running backs for the Gators will certainly have several exciting plays, I expect the Alabama defense to keep the Florida offense in check. This one will be close at the half, but Alabama will force key turnovers in the second half and pull away with a 27-13 victory.
Check back next week for my in depth analysis on week six’s three most intriguing games!