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CFB Crash Course: Week 5 – Less one Les

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Last weekend was a lot of fun as some really close games and some great streaks were undone. Tennessee looked like two different teams as they finally beat Florida. Duke went into South Bend and beat Notre Dame.  There were last minute fade route TDs from Los Angeles to Chapel Hill. And we had two teams celebrating a win at the end of the LSU-Auburn game.

This week we will be treated to some must win games by teams who thought they’d be in the national championship picture. There’s a huge game in the ACC that could go a long way to who gets in the College Football Playoff this year.

1-SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE

FAVORITE: ALABAMA
Alabama continues the soft part of their schedule. They get Kentucky, who is 2-36-1 all-time against Bama and who have never won in Tuscaloosa. After that they go back to the SEC grind of going to Arkansas and Tennessee before hosting Texas A&M.

GAME OF THE WEEK: TENNESSEE AT GEORGIA
The Vols got that 11-year old monkey off their back with the win over Florida. Georgia had a tough week not only losing at Ole Miss but getting Nick Chubb hurt again. This is a must for Georgia to get back into the East Division race. Tennessee looked so bad in the first half last week and so good in the second half that you just don’t know how to see them. The Dawgs want revenge after the Vols overcame a 21-point deficit to beat Georgia a year ago.

UNDER-THE-RADAR GAME: MISSOURI AT LSU
Another battle of the Tigers for LSU (last week they took on Auburn). This will be most notable as it will be the first game since head coach Les Miles was fired. After the Vols-Dawgs, this one has the most interest just by sheer curiosity.

HEISMAN WATCH: LEONARD FOURNETTE, LSU
Fournette is on a sinking ship. He’ll be one of the top picks in next spring’s NFL draft but this team is a wreck, the coach has been fired and Fournette has nothing around him. The sad thing is that no one else in the SEC can pass him in the Heisman hunt.

STORYLINE
The biggest story in the SEC is the one I’ve already referenced: Les Miles is out at LSU. While not an unexpected move, it is one I disagree with. Not so much that Miles’ time was running out in Baton Rouge as much as firing a coach during the season. Barring something like going to booster functions drunk or running a program where rape is covered up (oh, and Art Briles is being considered to replace Miles), I don’t like firing coaches during the season. There was no real controversy with Miles except that fans were turning on him. Let the man finish off the season instead of canning him four games in. This was his team, his recruits and his program. Let him at least get through the season.

Maybe they thought this season was salvageable and new blood could turn it around. Nope. Miles did win a title at LSU and he wasn’t the guy throwing ducks out there against Auburn. Think about that 1 second of time that saw LSU celebrating a huge win that turned into a Auburn victory and Miles firing. Was that the basis for him losing his job? I hope not, but it certainly was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

You can tell me that Miles should’ve been fired after last season and I’m totally on board with that. It was out there and it looked like a solid bet last December. However, LSU said right after their final regular season game that Miles was coming back. If you do so, you need to stick by that decision. How can he do his job when there’s been no real support and he’s been hanging by a thread for months?

2-BIG TEN CONFERENCE

FAVORITE: OHIO STATE
Ohio State was off, Michigan blew out Penn State and Wisconsin pounded Michigan State. There’s your Big Ten hierarchy.

GAME OF THE WEEK: WISCONSIN AT MICHIGAN
Wisconsin has been on quite of run of late and have entered the Top 10. Michigan has spent the year there and would love nothing than to show everyone what they can do against a solid opponent. Wisconsin stays in Michigan for another week and will show the Wolverines that tough defense Sparty saw last week. Michigan brings their high octane offense and they are known to play a little defense as well. We all want to see how Michigan stacks up against one of the better teams in the Big Ten. These two could face off again in the Big Ten title game.

UNDER-THE-RADAR GAME: MICHIGAN STATE AT INDIANA
The Big Ten undercard is quite underwhelming this week. Michigan State-Indiana gets the nod because a very angry Sparty takes on a Hoosier offense that has been able to fling it around this year. Michigan State should win but Indiana could make it a bit exciting.

HEISMAN WATCH: J.T. BARRETT, OHIO STATE
Ohio State was off last week but we are still looking at you Barrett!

STORYLINE
You normally don’t get to see a 5’10, 250-lb kicker coming down and crushing a returner, but we got that in the Michigan-Penn State blowout. Jourdan Lewis, meet Joey Julius:



3-ATLANTIC COAST CONFERNCE

FAVORITE: LOUISVILLE
Here we are. For Louisville, this is the second step to winning a national championship. The Cardinals already beat Florida State and now have the other major roadblock right in their face – Clemson. If they can win this one, it will be smooth sailing until a showdown with Houston in November.

GAME OF THE WEEK: LOUISVILLE AT CLEMSON
Louisville wins this game and they should coast to an Atlantic Division title and a spot in the ACC Championship game.  Clemson wins and they stay the favorite to win the league. The Tigers are one of the most slept on teams in the nation. They aren’t blowing everyone out so people aren’t focusing on them. With this game, they can end the Louisville run and look forward to the showdown with Florida State… the one we’ve been point to all year long.

UNDER-THE-RADAR GAME: MIAMI AT GEORGIA TECH
Meanwhile, the Coastal Division race is wide open as usual. These two schools, along with North Carolina, Pitt and Virginia Tech, have a good shot at it. Miami looks the part right now but facing a Yellow Jackets squad with one of the toughest offenses to prepare for is waiting in Atlanta for them.

HEISMAN WATCH: LAMAR JACKSON, LOUISVILLE
Right now he’s the man. Just 417 yards passing and seven total touchdowns against Marshall. Go off against Clemson and he will put some serious distance between him and the rest of the field.

STORYLINE
Welcome back to the discussion, Dalvin Cook. Cook was the guy that looked like he could pass Clemson’s Deshaun Watson as the Heisman hopeful from the ACC. Jackson has done that but Cook had a huge game against South Florida last week at just the right time. He finally broke out as he ran for 256 yards.  Florida State really needs that as they have a tough road ahead. North Carolina is up next with Miami and Clemson around the corner.

4-GROUP OF FIVE

FAVORITE: HOUSTON
Houston blew out Texas State which was expected. Now the Cougars get to face off against the only team to beat them the last two seasons – UConn.

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GAME OF THE WEEK: NAVY AT AIR FORCE
You just gotta love the service academy games. I know Army-Navy gets the most attention but Navy and Air Force have been the top two for the last several years. Both teams enter this game at 3-0 and bowl aspirations. The key will be at the quarterback position. Keenan Reynolds is a Navy football legend while the Air Force is relying on backup Karson Roberts to take over and try not to put the vaunted Falcons’ defense in a bind.

UNDER-THE-RADAR GAME: WESTERN MICHIGAN AT CENTRAL MICHIGAN
A MAC rivalry game that features two good teams that have some impressive wins on their resume. We all know about CMU’s win at Oklahoma State, but WMU has beaten two Big Ten teams (Northwestern, Illinois) already. Central Michigan is coming off a shocking loss to Virginia last week but does boast Cooper Rush who has thrown for over 1,300 yards and 13 TDs this season. Should be an offensive shootout which is always fun.

HEISMAN WATCH: GREG WARD JR, HOUSTON
Ward’s biggest issue is staying on people’s minds. Not until Houston plays Louisville towards the end of the season will the Cougars be on the big stage so he needs to just run up his stats against these lesser teams while staying undefeated.

STORYLINE
Remember when Northern Illinois was one of the rising programs among the Group of Five and were just running the MAC? From 2010 to 2014 they won at least 11 games each season and even reached the Orange Bowl. Now they are 0-4 (they finished last season with three straight losses) and just lost to FCS school Western Illinois at home. What happened? To be fair, the Huskies have lost to San Diego State and South Florida who are both pretty good teams. Western Illinois is as well, but they’re a FCS school and Northern Illinois has got to win games like that. Coach Rod Carey’s job is in jeopardy with this program sinking.

5-PACIFIC 12 CONFERENCE

FAVORITE: STANFORD
Stanford beat the Los Angeles schools and move on to a huge showdown with Washington. They are the class of the Pac-12 … for now.

GAME OF THE WEEK: STANFORD AT WASHINGTON
Huge game in this league. Stanford smacked down USC and then barely defeated UCLA. Now they head to Seattle to face a very hungry Washington squad that wants to get back to the big time. They want this game and have been waiting for it for a long time. So much so that they may have looked past Arizona last week to this one. Huskies quarterback Jake Browning missed this contest last year and had a poor game against Arizona but is itching to break out against the Cardinal. Stanford has a tough schedule but this one will be their toughest test.

UNDER-THE-RADAR GAME: UTAH AT CALIFORNIA
Utah is quietly 4-0 and could be the best team in the South division. California has had a roller coaster season and is putting up points all over the place. Davis Webb has throw for over 1,800 yards already for the Bears while Utah has one of the best defenses in the Pac-12. I love watching great offenses and great defenses collide.

HEISMAN WATCH: CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, STANFORD
When people say you had an off game and you still rush for 138 yards;  you’re doing it right. McCaffrey, for now, is the only player out there that looks like he can catch Lamar Jackson for the Heisman. McCaffrey’s advantage is that he has a strong schedule the rest of the way to impress.

STORYLINE
Is USC good or have they just been victim to a brutal schedule? They are sitting at 1-3 which is a far cry from the Pete Carroll days and have looked weak against some powerful opponents. Losing to Alabama, Stanford and Utah is nothing to be embarrassed about. They get Arizona State this week who is offensively powerful, undefeated but not as good as the three schools USC has lost to. This is a must game as a loss puts a bowl game nearly out of the question.

This isn’t just about this team. Clay Helton is a good coach but may be in over his head. Plus he wasn’t hired by new AD Lynn Swann and boosters have seemed to grown sour of him and his coaching staff. Les Miles was just fired at LSU and would be a guy that would get the USC fan base buzzing. If things don’t get better in Troy pretty quick then changes will be made.

6-BIG 12 CONFERENCE

FAVORITE: BAYLOR
Hey, Baylor won and kept the top spot! The Bears held off Oklahoma State last week and go to woeful Iowa State this week. For Baylor it comes down to the three game stretch where they travel to Texas and Oklahoma with a home date with TCU sandwiched in.

GAME OF THE WEEK: OKLAHOMA AT TCU
This was supposed the de facto Big 12 championship game when the season started. Both were to be undefeated heading into this one with the winner having a great shot at a College Football Playoff spot. Instead, Oklahoma comes in unranked and TCU is sitting at No. 21 with this as a must game for a possible Big 12 title that may not get them in the playoff. Put all that aside since this still should be a wonderful game to watch.

UNDER-THE-RADAR GAME: TEXAS AT OKLAHOMA STATE
Texas may be up and Oklahoma State may be down but really they seem to be kind of equal. Oklahoma State couldn’t capitalize on Baylor last week and cost them a huge chance at upsetting the current top team. Texas has been wowing people with that Notre Dame win to start the season but that doesn’t look as awesome as it once did. Last time we saw the Horns they lost to the potent Cal offense. The Cowboys can score so Texas better watch out. With a date with Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry next, the Longhorns need to get this done or this season of promise will sink really quick.

HEISMAN WATCH: SETH RUSSELL, BAYLOR
Well, he’s the quarterback of the best team in the league. Why not him? The senior has looked great against Rice and Oklahoma State, tossing a combined 724 yards and 7 TD in those contests. Why not him?

STORYLINE
Oklahoma was one of the biggest proponents for Big 12 expansion. Now the university’s president is hinting his school is against it. That’s a big deal for a conference that is shaky at best.

As we all know, the Big 12 has been a bit upset about feeling like it is the lowest conference on the College Football Playoff totem pole and reluctantly felt expansion was the best way to compete. The problem is that the pool of applicants are from lesser leagues and unlike their peers they aren’t going to get anyone to ditch their current Power 5 spot.

That has made some power players around the league rethink expansion. As of now, Houston and Cincinnati are the favorites (the four team expansion seems dead) but there are some in the league that feel that adding these schools really helps no one but the new schools. Take Houston for example. Adding the Cougars would favor them in recruiting their own city and the league may just be there to vault them to bigger an better things. The teams in Texas may not like that one of their key recruiting advantages are gone and teams outside Texas may not like five universities in the league based there. They may all realize that the cash grab they were to get may not really be there after all.

That leaves the Big 12 in a bit of a tough spot. Do you sit put and try everything to make what you got work? They would need Texas and Oklahoma to matter again while schools like TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma State and West Virginia to be powerful mid-tier programs that can make a run to the top ten ever few years. Maybe the College Football Playoffs will expand to six or eight teams and the Big 12 gets a better shot at the ring.

If not, then watch out for the mid-2020s when these television deals start running out and the other Power 5 conferences are looking for more inventory. The Pac-12 is sitting at twelve schools right now and nearly pulled Texas and Oklahoma away a few years back. The Big Ten could make a power move and try to get those two schools in the fold. The SEC is an option, though the league doesn’t have any reason to make a move yet. Don’t count out the ACC who has been very forward thinking with expansion and has favorable deals that could entice Texas to join.

The Big 12 needs to figure out what it is and what it wants to be and make sure that the league can survive long term.

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