College Football Games of the Week – Week 5
#25 Baylor at #9 West Virginia, 12:00pm FX
There will be points. A lot of them. This game will be, by far, the most fun to watch this weekend. Baylor’s defense ranks 90th in the FBS in points allowed per game (29.7) and WVU is ranked 53rd (22.3). Combined they have given up 156 points (average of 26) to the likes of SMU, Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe, Marshall, James Madison and Maryland. Conversely, they scored a combined 296 points (49.3 average), so no wonder they are each 3-0 entering the start of Big 12 play. I’m still not convinced that going to the Big 12 was the best move for West Virginia, but this matchup will be a good litmus test.
Maybe QB Nick Florence hasn’t made Bears fans forget about RGIII, but he’s certainly lessened the expected sting. Florence has 1,004 passing yards and 10 TDs through the first three contests. The rushing game with Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin isn’t great (4.8 and 3.8 yards per carry, respectively; long gain of 21 and 25, respectively; four total rushing TDs) but it is buoyed by Florence’s 7.8 yards per carry.
When WVU has the ball, there are a few people to keep your eye on (QB Geno Smith, RB Shawne Alston) but I’m focusing on WR Tavon Austin. In his last 16 games (2011 and 2012), Austin is averaging just under nine receptions a game. If you were playing fantasy football, he would be a PPR monster. Speaking of being a PPR monster, he’s the same size and stature as Patriots WR Wes Welker and a bit more explosive. Bold prediction: I believe New England will let Welker go after 2012 and will reach a bit and target Austin in the 2nd round of April’s draft. He’s that good.
I know it’s crazy to talk about this with all the offense on display, but keep an eye on Baylor’s junior K Aaron Jones. He’s been shaky through his three years and only hits on 66% of his kicks. WVU senior K Tyler Bitancurt is a 73% kicker through his career and I think that added accuracy will account for the one possession difference between these two. West Virginia 51, Baylor 49
#14 Ohio State at #20 Michigan State, 3:30pm ABC
In previous entries, I’ve discussed the boom or bust nature of sophomore Buckeye QB Braxton Miller, so I won’t get into it again. Instead, let’s focus on the defense. The Buckeye defense is ranked 32nd in the FBS in points allowed and 34th in rushing. Their passing defense is suspect (108th, 277.3 yards per game), but against hogs like RB Le’Veon Bell and Larry Caper it’s the rush D that matters. Linebackers Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino are the heart of the front seven and set the pace (combined: 67 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, one interception).
The aforementioned Bell is a junior RB who is a beast (6’2″, 244lb) and should be a Heisman candidate if he returns for his senior season. Bell has 610 yards and five TD through four games and has also added 12 receptions for 67 yards. Caper is more talented, in my opinion, than the Spartans’ coaches give him credit for due to his injury history. Controlling time of possession and wearing down the strength of the Buckeye defense will be the key.
Junior QB Andrew Maxwell has struggled replacing Kirk Cousins, but he doesn’t need to do much. If Maxwell can find holes in the Ohio State secondary to the tune of 200 yards and two touchdowns and limit turnovers, the Spartans will prevail. Michigan State 24, Ohio State 16
Virginia Tech at Cincinnati, 3:30pm ESPNU
If it were 2009, this would probably be the game of the week. Alas, it’s now 2012 and this has been pushed to the nether region of ESPNU but it’s still a sneaky good game to check out. The Bearcats have strangely only played two games thus far (one against FCS Delaware State), so we don’t have a clear picture of their identity. So far, though, it looks as if senior RB George Winn will be the go-to option on offense. Through two games, he has 242 yards (95 against Pitt) and two TDs (both against Pitt). QB Munchie Legaux is an excellent athlete but is an enigma at quarterback. I’m going to put more emphasis on Legaux’s poor 2011 mop-up duty (47.4% completion percentage, five TD’s, four interceptions in four starts) than his solid 2012 start.
VaTech’s quarterback, Logan Thomas, has been a disappointment so far in 2012, but he has not had any support from the run game. After four games, freshman RB Michael Holmes is the team leader in yards with just 151. Thomas has 851 yards passing and has added 119 rushing yards, both of which should be higher. As per usual, though, the Hokie defense is their specialty. The Hokies are allowing just 14.8 points per game (23rd). The defense is led by LB Jack Tyler with 42 tackles (next highest total on the team is 26).
As much as I would like this one to turn into a shootout led by two dual-threat quarterbacks, I think it’s going to devolve into a battle of field position, strategy and special teams. Ultimately, that comes down to the coaching and preparation, and I’ll always favor Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer there. Virginia Tech 13, Cincinnati 9
Western Kentucky at Arkansas State, 7:00pm ESPN3
If you’re a return reader of this column, you know I have a soft spot for Western Kentucky. I correctly predicted them to win over an SEC team, Kentucky, and have always been a casual fan from afar. Don’t get me wrong, the Hilltoppers are not a good football team but they have learned to do more with who they recruit than some other lower tier teams.
Senior QB Kawaun Jakes, a four-year starter, is on pace for setting personal bests in every meaningful statistical category. They feature a two-headed rushing attack with Antonio Andrews and Leon Allen (combined 598 yards, six TDs in four games). Andrews and Allen have filled in well for the departed RB Bobby Rainey who was the only source of offense last season (led team in rushing and was second in receiving). The more balanced offense is netting more points thus far, outpacing 2011 by almost eight points. More importantly, the defense has slightly improved and is allowing about two points per game less in 2012.
Arkansas State was the only in-conference loss for Western Kentucky in 2011 and again stands between them and a Sun Belt title. Arkansas State is led by Senior QB Ryan Aplin (961 yards, seven TDs and just one interception). Aplin is also a threat on the ground (150 yards through four games).
I’m sticking with the Hilltoppers despite Aplin being the most talented player on the field. Western Kentucky 31, Arkansas State 27
#12 Texas at Oklahoma State, 7:50pm FOX
Texas is back. Probably. I’m not 100% sold on them yet, as they have not played stellar competition (albeit, all FBS teams). I feel like a broken record, but this first conference test will be a good barometer for Texas’s talent.
QB David Ash has video game numbers through the first three games: 703 yards, seven TDs, no picks, 76% completion percentage. Ash split time with Case McCoy in 2011, but it looks like Ash has now solidified his spot as starter. The Longhorns feature a balanced rushing attack where RBs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron each have 37 carries and three TDs and have combined for 445 yards. DE Alex Okafor (three sacks) and CB Quandre Diggs (three interceptions) will have their sight set on the freshman backup QB J.W. Walsh.
The starting QB for Oklahoma State, Wes Lunt, was injured in their last game and freshman J.W. Walsh stepped up and played well against Louisiana-Lafayette. Walsh also played in garbage time against Savannah State. Walsh will have a lot of the pressure taken off him by a dominant run game. The Cowboys have three RBs with four TDs: Joseph Randle, Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland. Randle is the bell-cow and had his best game against their best opponent, Arizona (123 yards rushing, eight receptions, 70 yards). The defense is not good (gave up 59 against Arizona and 24 to Louisiana-Lafayette) and has their per game stats aided by the Savannah State game. If you remove this creampuff shutout from the average, Oklahoma State is allowing 41.5 points per game and would be ranked 121st (out of 124).
If Walsh avoids turnovers, the Cowboys offense can keep it close for the first three quarters. At some point late, Texas will take over and score big in the 4th. Texas 47, Oklahoma State 28