NCF Nation: what to watch 091913

What to watch in the ACC: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
10:15
AM ET
Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the ACC during Week 4.

[+] EnlargeBryan Underwood
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesNC State seems to have a knack for celebrating big upsets, including last year's win over then-No. 3 FSU.
1. Upset city? Raleigh, N.C., has been the site of a huge national upset in each of the past two years. NC State topped then-No. 7 Clemson 37-13 in 2011, then shocked No. 3 Florida State 17-16 last year. The Wolfpack will have the nation's eyes watching them tonight when they host the No. 3 Tigers.

2. A couple of big conference games. Yes, this week's college football schedule is quite underwhelming, but the ACC has a rather nice lineup. The conference has three league games and every team but Boston College is playing this week, plus it has an intriguing nonconference matchup between West Virginia and Maryland.

3. Lee tries to keep it going through the air. Georgia Tech started its four-game division stretch on a strong note at Duke, and it will try to gain some early separation in the race Saturday against North Carolina. Vad Lee threw four touchdown passes against the Blue Devils, and while matching that for a second straight week may be asking a lot, offensive fireworks figure to be the norm again in a rematch of a game the Yellow Jackets won last year by a 68-50 score.

4. Journell's rebound. Cody Journell missed two field goals and an extra point in Virginia Tech's five-point win at East Carolina. Credit the senior for owning his bad day afterward, vowing to never let it happen again. He had entered the contest 36-of-46 for his career, and he will look to get back on track Saturday against Marshall.

5. Option galore. Jim Grobe has said the option is here to stay at Wake Forest. Viewers will see plenty of it in Saturday's game either way, as the Demon Deacons travel to Army, looking to get back to .500 after two straight losses. The Black Knights are currently seventh in the nation in rushing, at 314 yards per game.

6. Hunt's chance to shine. Terrel Hunt took advantage of the extra snaps last week from Syracuse, completing 15 of 18 passes for 265 yards and three scores. He'll get his first career start this week against Tulane, looking to give the Orange a second straight win and get them back to .500 before they open their inaugural ACC slate a week later against Clemson.

7. FCS dark horses. Virginia hosts VMI, FSU hosts Bethune-Cookman and Miami hosts Savannah State. All three look like layups on the surface, but the FCS cannot be looked at as a complete afterthought given some of its early-season successes against the big boys of FBS. Let's not forget NC State's close call two weeks ago with Richmond, either.

8. Maryland CBs. Geno Smith isn't walking through that door for West Virginia, but the Terps will still have their work cut out for them against Ford Childress and the Mountaineers, as they are down starting corners Jeremiah Johnson and Dexter McDougle as they look to get to 4-0. Isaac Goins and Will Likely will get the starts.

9. Connette looks for first win. Brandon Connette's first start for Duke was so-so, as he went 15-for-28 for 122 yards as the Blue Devils struggled to move the ball against Georgia Tech. He returns home to face a Pitt team with an experienced secondary that is still looking to live up to big expectations after two games.

10. Pitt backfield looks to keep it up. The Panthers are going for ACC win No. 1, and they seem to finally have some semblance of a ground game after early-season questions. Converted end James Conner ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns against New Mexico, and Isaac Bennett tallied 101 yards and two scores himself. Duke gave up 344 yards on the ground last week against Georgia Tech, though the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense is nothing like Pitt's pro-style attack.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
10:15
AM ET
It’s a light week in the Big 12 with Kansas State’s trip to Austin, Texas, as the highlight matchup in the conference this weekend. West Virginia has an intriguing nonconference battle with Maryland while several conference squads have a bye week.

Here is what to watch in the Big 12 this week.

[+] EnlargeBrown
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesMack Brown and Texas are looking to get back in the win column, but have struggled against K-State lately.
Texas looking to get back on track against Kansas State. Longhorns coach Mack Brown is trying to ignore the distractions while begging the UT fans to come out on Saturday and support his downtrodden squad. It’s tough to imagine the Longhorns getting off to a worse start, but their destiny remains in their hands. If they win on Saturday, they’ll be on the road to getting things back on track. If they lose to the Wildcats, all hope could be lost.

Is K-State back on track? The Wildcats suffered one of the biggest upsets of the season when the defending Big 12 champions fell to North Dakota State in Week 1. KSU responded with 20-plus-point wins over Louisiana-Lafayette and Massachusetts in the past two weeks, but the Wildcats still have to prove they can be Big 12 contenders. A strong showing -- and a win -- in Austin could provide a lot of momentum heading into the heart of Big 12 play.

Is Childress the real deal? The West Virginia quarterback was impressive in his first start, getting the Mountaineers’ offense clicking for the first time in 2013. Ford Childress was 25-of-41 for 359 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but WVU coach Dana Holgorsen was more impressed with Childress’ cool demeanor and ability to manage the offense and interact with his teammates. Will the redshirt freshman perform even better against Maryland?

Can Baylor’s Petty continue his offensive efficiency? The Bears’ quarterback tops the nation with a total QBR of 98.3. Bryce Petty has eight incompletions in two games with zero interceptions and 11 completions of 20 yards or more. It’s been an incredible starting debut for the junior quarterback. Louisiana-Monroe is the next defense set to challenge Petty and the Bears’ offense.

Texas Tech must not suffer a letdown. The Red Raiders are off to a 3-0 start, including a Big 12 conference win over TCU last Thursday. When Texas State arrives in Lubbock, Texas, the Red Raiders will have to avoid any kind of letdown. If we’ve learned anything from the first three weeks, it’s that teams must be ready to play against lesser opponents or they’re likely to struggle or even lose to a team they paid to come to their home stadium.

Can Kansas surpass its 2012 win total after three games? The Jayhawks are 1-1 heading into their game against Louisiana Tech after finishing the 2012 season at 1-11. Last season they won their first game and didn’t win another. Can they change that trend when they host Louisiana Tech on Saturday?

Can Texas stop the run? The Longhorns might have answered this question already. And it’s a resounding no. Yet they’ll get another chance against the Wildcats. KSU is going to run the football with running back John Hubert and quarterback Daniel Sams, who might be the most dynamic running quarterback in the conference.

The Big 12 has been very average in nonconference play. WVU can help turn that around with a win over Maryland. True enough it’s not a major strike for the league in terms of national perception, but a loss would be yet another nonconference dent in the Big 12’s armor. The more wins over BCS conference opponents the better for the Big 12.

Is there a quarterback controversy in Lubbock? Baker Mayfield was outstanding in the Red Raiders’ first two wins but struggled against TCU. Davis Webb stepped in to lead TTU to a victory over the Horned Frogs. Although Mayfield remains the starter, Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury probably won’t hesitate to turn to Webb if Mayfield struggles again.

Will Baylor continue to look like the Big 12’s most impressive team? The Bears have been dominant and relentless in their first two wins over Wofford and Buffalo, but face their toughest test of the season in ULM. It’s an opportunity to compare scores as well since the Warhawks opened the season with a 34-0 loss at Oklahoma.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
10:15
AM ET
Ten items to keep your eyes on around the Big Ten in week 4:

1. Ohio State with its full roster actually available … probably. If Braxton Miller is good to go (he practiced yesterday but didn’t go full speed), that means that Urban Meyer -- for the first time this season -- will have each of his starters at his disposal come game time. Between Miller’s knee injury, running back Carlos Hyde’s three-game suspension and cornerback Bradley Roby’s one-game suspension, Ohio State has been playing a man (or two) down at times. Florida A&M will be the first team to face the fully loaded Buckeyes.

2. Bo Pelini’s reception in Memorial Stadium. Less than a week after audio surfaced of Pelini saying less than kind things about the Nebraska fan base, he’ll take the field with his Cornhuskers for a 3:30 p.m. ET kick against South Dakota State. It sure doesn’t help that Nebraska failed to hold on for a win over UCLA after leading 21-3, but the Nebraska fans will likely have their own reactions for Pelini during Saturday’s game.

3. The opening game of 2013-14 Big Ten football. It’s finally here. Big Ten football is kicking off in Week 4. Purdue travels to No. 24 Wisconsin for a 3:30 ET kick off on Saturday. The two teams will open the 118th season of Big Ten football with the earliest conference opening game since 1996. The Badgers, who begin their quest for a fourth consecutive Big Ten title, will look to take down Purdue, a team that started the season 1-2.

4. The Spartans’ progress under Cook. Keep an eye on how redshirt sophomore QB Connor Cook -- in his second start for Michigan State -- continues to develop. The Spartan offense took major steps forward last week in a win over Youngstown State, but this will be Cook’s first real challenge with a stout defense on the road. In eight of the last 13 meetings between these two teams, the game has been decided by a late, fourth-quarter or overtime score. If that’s the case this season, Cook could be in for quite the challenge so early in his starting career.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin running back Melvin Gordon will face a challenge in Purdue's defense.
5. Big rushing performances. The conference’s top three rushers will all have big opportunities to make statements this weekend. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon has averaged 159 yards per game and will be up against Purdue’s defense, which has only given up 117 yards per game. It’s an opportunity for him to make a big statement against a defense that has contained pretty well. On the other hand, Iowa running back Mark Weisman -- who leads the nation in rushing attempts -- has averaged 142 yards per game and will face Western Michigan, whose defense has allowed 245 yards of rushing per game. It will also be interesting to see what happens with Ohio State running back Jordan Hall, who has averaged 134 yards per game this season without Hyde, facing Florida A&M’s defense, which has given up 201 yards of rushing per game.

6. Teams getting back on the horse. Michigan looked nothing like a top-25 team Saturday as it escaped a major upset against Akron. Wisconsin, on the other hand, had some interesting officiating decide the final margin. These two teams will take the field this week with something to prove and major chips on their shoulders.

7. Jerry Kill’s return to TCF Bank Stadium. Last weekend he suffered a game-day seizure and had to leave the game early. The Gophers went on to beat Western Illinois 29-12 and upon his return, Kill said he didn’t want to discuss his medical issues and that he only wanted to focus on San Jose State. It will be interesting to see how the fan base reacts to his return -- whether there’s more excitement, trepidation, uncertainty (or all the above) surrounding the Gophers’ head coach.

8. QBs battling injuries and the possibilities for their backups. Between Miller’s knee, Taylor Martinez’s turf toe and Philip Nelson’s hamstring, there is a chance that we could see some backup QBs taking some snaps this weekend. Buckeye backup Kenny Guiton has proven himself and would likely be fine to go against Florida A&M. Minnesota is in the same boat with redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner leading the Gophers on a 22-point run to take down Western Illinois last weekend. Martinez’s backup situation is a bit murkier. He has controlled the starting spot at Nebraska his entire career so Pelini would likely look to senior Ron Kellogg III or redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. against South Dakota State.

9. Iowa’s possibility of momentum. The Hawkeyes held out for a 27-21 win over Iowa State last weekend and with one of the toughest schedules in the Big Ten (Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska) this might be one of their best chances for another win this season. But the question is: Can Jake Rudock and Weisman hold onto that momentum and carry it over to Western Michigan?

10. Indiana’s offense against SEC speed. Missouri might be one of the one of the lesser-respected SEC powers, but it still has to play against those SEC powers. Indiana’s offense is going to be facing a new speed level with Missouri and the Hoosiers will have to make their own luck. Missouri has given up 124 rushing yards and 218 passing yards per game, so it’s not an impossible game by any means, but it will be a test for Kevin Wilson and IU.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
10:15
AM ET
Week 4 of the SEC season is here, and though the latest "Game of the Century" is behind us, there is still much to watch in the league this week. There are a couple of conference games on tap, including a rivalry game, and a chance for many SEC teams to either reset or find their footing against nonconference opponents. Let's take a look at 10 things to watch on Saturday around the conference.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Marshall and Auburn want to start 2-0 in the SEC, but have a tough test playing at No. 6 LSU at night.
1. Can Auburn go 2-for-2?: Auburn won its first SEC game in nearly two years, beating Mississippi State 24-20 last week. Can Auburn, under new head coach Gus Malzahn, start 2-0 in the league? That's a tall task, considering its opponent and location: LSU in Death Valley. It's hard enough to play in Baton Rouge, La., but a night game at LSU is asking a lot, where the team is 39-2 under Les Miles in that scenario. But Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall has showed some promise and the team gained confidence from last week's win. Never say never.

2. A chance to bounce back for Alabama's secondary: The Crimson Tide were victorious last week, but their defensive backs were torched against Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and receiver Mike Evans. Manziel threw for 464 yards against the Tide and Evans routinely beat man-to-man coverage. Head coach Nick Saban hinted this week that not everybody's jobs might be safe in the secondary, so it'll be worth watching if there are any changes back there when Alabama hosts Colorado State on Saturday.

3. Continued success from Mettenberger: Through three games, LSU looks like a capable passing team behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. He completed 65.2 percent of his passes (45 of 69) for 797 yards and nine touchdowns with zero interceptions. He has thrown eight touchdown passes in his past two games. These are all positive developments for the Tigers, who want to be able to make teams pay in the air when they stack the box to control the running game. Can Mettenberger continue the solid play when LSU hosts Auburn?

4. Reversing course for Georgia run D: The Bulldogs have allowed a whopping 211.5 yards per game on the ground in their first two games, putting them 102nd in the nation in the category. They're also allowing 6.2 yards per carry. It's worth noting that Georgia opened up with a schedule as tough as anybody's, playing a pair of top-15 teams out of the gate. But figures like that won't get it done when Georgia gets into the meat of its SEC schedule. This weekend's matchup against Conference USA foe North Texas is a chance for the Bulldogs to shore up things on the defensive end before a huge showdown with renowned running team LSU the following week.

5. Can A&M's D show signs of life?: The Aggies were dominated by Alabama's offensive line last week in a 49-42 loss and overall, the Aggies haven't been proficient at stopping other teams, particularly on the ground. They've allowed more than 200 rushing yards in each of their three games, and against Alabama failed to generate a pass rush. This week they host SMU and it will be the second straight week that the Aggies have most of their starting defensive players available and not subjected to a suspension of some sort. Now that most of the key players are back, namely linebacker Steven Jenkins, will the Aggies show some improvement on the defensive side of the ball?

6. Renewing a rivalry that's been one-sided of late: Florida and Tennessee meet at The Swamp on Saturday and the Gators are going to try to extend an eight-game winning streak against the Volunteers. The last time the Vols defeated Florida was in 2004, a 30-28 win in Neyland Stadium. This is the first installment of the rivalry for Butch Jones as Tennessee's head coach though. The Vols are coming off a 59-14 pounding at Oregon; fortunately for them Florida's offense is nowhere near as high-powered. The No. 19 Gators have their own wounds to lick, having lost to Miami 21-16 last time out and with key players like Jeff Driskel and Matt Jones trying to get to full strength healthwise. It's the SEC opener for both so it's an important game, no matter how you slice it.

7. Bulldogs, Commodores look to get back on winning track: Mississippi State and Vanderbilt both suffered SEC losses last week: The Bulldogs dropped a 24-20 decision to Auburn while the Commodores fell 35-25 to South Carolina. Mississippi State hosts Sun Belt squad Troy while Vandy travels to Massachusetts. Both teams are 1-2 and though wins won't help their efforts in SEC play, where both are winless so far, simply going out and getting a win -- which both should here -- will be a needed positive

8. Allen or Derby at QB for Arkansas?: Starting quarterback Brandon Allen injured his shoulder in a 24-3 win over Southern Miss last week and backup A.J. Derby relieved him during the Razorbacks' victory. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema hasn't publicly said for certain that Derby will start and hasn't ruled out Allen, but will monitor the progress of his shoulder before making the decision. Don't be surprised if Derby gets the start. He went 4-for-6 for 36 yards in relief duty. He was at Iowa his first two years before transferring to Coffeyville Community College and eventually Arkansas.

9. Mizzou looking for 3-0: The Tigers are looking for their third straight win, heading on the road to Indiana after a pair of home victories over Murray State and Toledo. While nobody will consider their nonconference schedule daunting, wins are wins. Quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey are healthy, the team is productive (averaging 539 offensive yards per game and 48 points) and the confidence that comes with success can be contagious. Another win this week over Indiana and next week over Arkansas State would give the Tigers a lot of momentum heading into SEC play.

10. Time to heal up, improve, for Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina: With these three teams having an open date this week, it's a chance to heal up any lingering injuries and work on fundamentals to help the team get better. Ole Miss probably would rather keep things going after a strong 3-0 start, including a win at Texas on Saturday, but the Rebels instead get extra time to prepare for No. 1 Alabama. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney could use the rest to reset from what has been a rough start, and this week can be a valuable teaching time for someone like head coach Mark Stoops at Kentucky, whose team is 1-2 after the first three weeks.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
10:15
AM ET
A few storylines to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 this week.

  1. Keep it rolling: The Pac-12 is 23-4 in its nonconference games this year and 16-3 against FBS competition. It’s also 8-0 against Mountain West teams. USC and Oregon State can extend that streak with matchups against Utah State and San Diego State. Washington State also renews its border war with Idaho for the first time since 2007 -- a series the Cougs have owned 70-17-3.
  2. Air it out: Eight Pac-12 quarterbacks rank among the top 16 in total offense, headlined by Cal’s Jared Goff (429.7 ypg). Through three weeks, three Pac-12 quarterbacks (Goff, Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion) have combined to throw for 440-plus yards four times. Only two other seasons in Pac-12 history have seen league quarterbacks throw for 440 or more yards more than four times -- 1998 (six times) and 2002 (five times).
  3. Speed it up: Pac-12 offenses are scoring, and scoring fast. There have been 195 scoring drives, and so far 83 have taken less than two minutes. As you’d expect, Oregon tops the list with 23 of its 28 scoring drives taking less than two minutes. Utah is next on the list with nine.
  4. [+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
    Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsUCLA QB Brett Hundley was impressive against Nebraska and should be even more so this week.
  5. Heisman moments? Mariota, who sits atop the ESPN.com Heisman poll, is off this week. But Brett Hundley has a chance to bolster his numbers against a New Mexico State team that is allowing nearly 50 points per game. Look for Mannion to continue rolling against a San Diego State team that is yielding 41 points per game. Same for Washington running back Bishop Sankey against an FCS Idaho State squad.
  6. The headliner: For the first time this year, we have two ranked Pac-12 teams squaring off with No. 23 ASU’s trip to No. 5 Stanford. The focus is, and should be, on the lines. Stanford wants to do what Stanford does -- pound at ASU’s interior defense. The Sun Devils were pretty good defending at Wisconsin's inside rushing attack but were caught off guard by sweeps. Will be interesting to see if Stanford goes after the edges the way Wisconsin did.
  7. Sankey rolling: Sankey now has rushed for at least 100 yards in six of his past seven games -- including a career-high 208 yards in the win last week over Illinois. Through three weeks and two games, he’s the national leader in average yards per game with 184.5. Dating back to last year, he has rushed for 1,142 yards in his last seven games.
  8. Take a breather: Four byes this week, with Arizona, Cal, Colorado and Oregon all getting the week off. Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team had an unscheduled bye last week, said his team is back to practicing after several players were displaced by flooding.
  9. Running like a Mad(den) man: Only six players have started the season with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. We don't want to assume, but Sankey probably will have his third straight this week. For now, USC’s Tre Madden is the only Pac-12 player among those six (Paul James, Rutgers; Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin; Mark Weisman (FB), Iowa; Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Arkansas). Per our friends at ESPN Stats & Information, USC is running the ball on 62 percent of its plays this year, up 18 percent from last year. Of those six mentioned, Madden is the only one who has faced three FBS opponents. He leads the Pac-12 with 149 yards after contact.
  10. Mobile Hogan, mobile Kelly: Also from Stats & Info: Kevin Hogan and Taylor Kelly are the only Pac-12 quarterbacks who have attempted at least 20 percent of their passes outside the pocket over the last two seasons. Kelly leads all AQ quarterbacks with 115 passes attempted from outside of the pocket. When out of the pocket, Hogan has completed 76 percent of his passes, including 20-of-24 passes on designed rollouts. In comparison, Kelly has completed a lower percentage of his passes thrown outside the pocket, but his average throw travels 10 yards, 4.5 yards longer than Hogan.
  11. Goodbye for now, Holy War: The Utah-BYU rivalry will go on break for a couple of years after Saturday. Kyle Whittingham insists that doesn’t mean anything. I’m guessing having two extra years of bragging rights, however, means plenty to the fans. Utah has won four of the past five and holds a 56-34-4 edge in the series, which dates back to 1896. Though BYU doesn’t recognize six games, split 3-3, from when it was Brigham Young Academy. But since this is the Pac-12 blog, we’ll recognize it, cause we’re cool like that. And Utah SID Liz Abel is awesome at her job for bringing that nugget to our attention. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson is coming off of a 142-yard rushing performance -- the second most ever by a Utah quarterback and the most since 1979. Should this one be a nail-biter, it's worth noting that both kickers -- Utah's Andy Phillips and BYU's Justin Sorensen -- are 5-for-5 on field goals this season. Neither has missed a PAT.

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