Very slim pickings this week as far as match-ups between high-ranked teams. Yet, a few remain that could sway conference championships and playoff seeding.
Here they are.
#9 UCLA vs. #19 USC
Other than Ohio State, no team in the country has had a bigger resurgence this year than UCLA. Four weeks after barely escaping unranked Virginia, the Bruins lost back-to-back home games against Utah and Oregon, and essentially fell off the face of the Earth in the minds of the AP and the committee voters. However, since face-planting against the Utes and Ducks, the Bruins have won four straight games including back-to-back double-digit wins against Arizona and Washington, good enough to secure the #9 spot in the CFP rankings.
USC comes into the contest with a full head-of-steam as well. The Men of Troy have won four out of their last five. There’s more at stake here than bragging rights in the City of Angels. USC sits atop the Pac 12 South Division, while UCLA sits ensnared in a three-way tie for second. The Bruins could put themselves in the driver’s seat for the division by knocking off Southern California on Saturday, and with only the highly-beatable Stanford remaining on the schedule after that, the Bruins could find themselves in the Pac 12 championship with a chance to get into the playoff.
First they have to actually beat USC. Watch for the Bruins to contain USC’s pass rush by running the ball early and often. The Trojans sacked Brett Hundley seven times in this game last year. This year, UCLA has the 2nd-best rush attack in the conference and they should ride it, especially given USC’s ability to score in bunches. USC’s Cody Kessler has 29 touchdowns on the season.
UCLA 38, USC 31
#7 BAYLOR vs. OKLAHOMA STATE
I still don’t understand why the CFP committee has TCU ahead of Baylor. Head-to-heads apparently matter all the way up until they don’t. No matter here, though. The Bears remain very much in the mix and have to stay on guard against an OSU team that crushed them last year 49-17. Granted, this year’s Cowboys squad in no way resembles last year’s team. But Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has received mention for the imminently available Florida gig, which can sometimes cause teams to play better.
Of course, sometimes it causes them to play worse, too.
If the Cowboys lose on Saturday, it will mark their 5th-consecutive loss–something the Pokes haven’t done since 2005. OSU has been downright Un-Gundy like over the last four games, having scored only 10 points-per game (PPG) over the losing streak, while yielding 38 PPG and 494 yards of total offense per game.
Art Briles’s gang, on the other hand, has averaged 56.7 PPG and 672 yards of offense at home, where they haven’t lost since November 3, 2012. The Bears defense also leads the conference in total defense, rush defense, and ties for the conference lead in points allowed. Granted, Big 12 defenses generally frown upon tackling and stopping others from scoring. Still, Art Briles fields a much more balanced team than he has in the past.
The Bears want revenge for last year’s beatdown at the hands of OSU and I can think of no reason why they shouldn’t get it. Big time.
Baylor 47, Oklahoma State 21
#8 OLE MISS vs. ARKANSAS
Despite two losses and their best player gone for the season, the Rebels remain very much in the playoff hunt. Last week, the Rebels didn’t play and moved up two spots in the rankings courtesy of losses by Auburn, Mississippi State, and Arizona State.
Not only did the team get a rest, they also got healthy. Both left tackle Laremy Tunsil and safety Cody Prewitt return to the line-up. And if the Rebs win out they will have a great shot at the CFP. However, Arkansas awaits the Rebels in Fayetteville, looking like a much tougher out than anyone expected at this point in the season. The Razorbacks put a 17-game SEC losing streak behind them last weekend when they upset LSU, and the Hogs will be looking to get a streak going in the other direction against Ole Miss.
The sheer size of Arkansas’s offensive line removes any doubt about where their team strength lies. The Hogs make their living with a punishing ground attack led by Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Ole Miss struggled mightily against power run teams in their two losses this year against LSU and Auburn. They’ll have to change that to avoid the same outcome here, and that will prove difficult. The average offensive lineman for Arkansas tips the scales at 328 pounds.
So, good luck trying to stop that.
I like Arkansas in this one. A homecoming the week after snapping an epic mark of SEC futility. The match-up against a defense better suited to stop speed instead of power bodes very well for Arkansas.
Arkansas 19, Ole Miss 14