This is where I subjectively select the 5 most interesting games for this weekend and write a preview for each. I'll reference NEPA a lot. Check it out so you'll see what I'm talking about. NEPApp is just NEPA per play.
USC @ UCLA
Quarterbacks: Matt Barkley (92.5 NEPA, .248 NEPApp) vs. Brett Hundley (84.7, .193)
Running backs: Curtis McNeal (11.7, .131) & Silas Redd (6.9, .048) vs. Johnathan Franklin (45.9, .202)
Defense: Trojans (16.0, .044 passing / -23.7, -.063 rushing) vs. Bruins (33.4, .089 passing / -58.7, -.158 rushing)
CFBTN projection: 32-30, Trojans
This game serves as the de facto Pac-12 South Championship, with the winner likely headed to Eugene for the conference title game. USC has the star combo in Matt Barkley and WR Marqise Lee (who leads his position nationally in NEPA). However, UCLA has the better defense. A stout Bruin defense does not bode well for the generally underwhelming duo of McNeal and Redd. I would say USC will slow down Franklin, but they did a particularly poor job of slowing down Kenjon Barner. Franklin is a different style of runner - to borrow a tired old phrase he's more thunder than lightning - but I'm still not convinced the Trojans will really stop him. And I haven't mentioned the underrated Hundley. UCLA's offense doesn't get the national press, and it doesn't have a current or past Heisman darling like USC, but it's very good, possibly better than USC - and going against a worse overall defense. Still, UCLA's one weakness is a glaring one, especially in this matchup: pass defense. They're not terrible at it, but "not terrible" won't be good enough against Barkley and Lee. Lee is such a unique WR - every opponent knows he's getting the ball when Barkley drops back, yet they can do nothing to stop him. There's no reason to think UCLA will fare better defending Lee than anyone else. Like Scott's projection, I see this being a close game. UCLA should force USC to be one dimensional on offense, but they'll struggle to stop that dimension. This column is more about the preview than the prediction, but heck, I've gotten into the habit of making picks each week, and so does everyone else on the internet, so I might as well. Elite talent often serves as a tiebreaker for me when a game is too close to call, so I'll pick USC in a close one thanks to the Heisman skills of Marqise Lee.
Kent State @ Bowling Green
Quarterbacks: Spencer Keith (23.4 NEPA, .089 NEPApp) vs. Matt Schilz (-9.9, -.030)
Running backs: Dri Archer (78.2, .508) & Trayion Durham (28.1, .125) vs. Anthon Samuel (21.5, .116) & John Pettigrew (1.5, .017)
Defenses: Golden Flashes (67.5, .184 passing / -41.6, -.126 rushing) vs. Falcons (-15.2, -.048 passing / -65.2, -.207 rushing)
CFBTN projection: 23-22, Falcons
I'm glad the SEC decided to collectively take a bye week. Ok, it's not really a bye week, but it might as well be. Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M, and even Auburn have all scheduled FCS opponents for this week because they all hate CBS. That leaves us free to watch games we might not normally watch. If you missed Wednesday's Toledo/Northern Illinois game for the MAC East, you missed a great performance by one of America's most underrated players. This game features more underrated goodness - Dri Archer, the nation's 2nd most valuable runner this year, and the BGSU defense, led by Chris Jones, which is probably the most under-appreciated defense in college football this year.
There are 10 defenses this year that have totaled over -80 NEPA. A normal college football fan could probably quickly name 6 - Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame, Michigan State, FSU, LSU. You could tell them Rutgers is on the list, and you probably wouldn't get any funny looks. BYU is a bit surprising, but they've given up over 20 points in a game just twice this year. The final two are real stunners - Utah State and Bowling Green.
The star of the D is the aforementioned Jones, who has a whopping 28.5 tackles for loss/sacks this year. That's more than UGA's Jarvis Jones (27.5), a player getting some underground Heisman attention. Jones has been a force in the backfield, and he, along with the other 10 starters for the Falcons D, make this an intriguing matchup. They happen to be facing a dynamic threat on offense, NEPA's darling, Dri Archer. Archer has over 1400 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs on just 135 touches. His 9.7 yards per rush lead the nation. I should note that we don't factor special teams plays into NEPA. If we did, Archer might be untouchable among non-passers. He has 14 kick returns for 560 yards and 3 TD. The TDs and the 40.0 per KR average both lead the country. I call him a non-passer with some hesitation - Archer has attempted one pass this year. It was a 24 yard TD pass. That's a passer rating of 631.6 (if you're reading this site you don't need me to point out that passer rating is a bit of a silly, convoluted statistic, but this is Dri Archer time, so please hold your complaints for another time). What makes Archer extra-deadly is the presence of Durham, a consistent workhorse runner that requires attention from defenses as well. Kent State attacks defenses like a good boxer - think of Durham as the body punches that get you primed to unleash Archer, the knockout blow.
This game essentially serves as the MAC East title, so there's something on the line for both teams. While Anthon Samuel can run a little and Kent State can play a little D, the reason to tune in is when the Golden Flashes have the ball. It should be a good one. I'll take KSU to win thanks to the less exciting half of the game, where they should have a decided advantage over Matt Schilz and the Falcon offensive attack.
Ohio State @ Wisconsin
Quarterbacks: Braxton Miller (80.7 NEPA, .204 NEPApp) vs. Curt Phillips (n/a)
Running Backs: Carlos Hyde (37.8, .247) vs. Montee Ball (26.8, .104) & James White (34.2, .345)
Defenses: Buckeyes (15.5, .038 passing / -39.1, -.129 rushing) vs. Badgers (38.7, .113 passing / -61.8, -.204 rushing)
CFBTN projection: 31-30, Badgers
This game has little in the way of implications. Ohio State isn't allowed to win anything, so Wisconsin can already claim its Leaders Division championship. However, OSU is an unbeaten, and they have a legitimate shot at the AP National Championship this year. This weekend might be their greatest test. Looking at the stats above, two names stick out to me: Braxton Miller and Curt Phillips. I know, it's easy to say it'll come down to QBs, but I really think it will. Both teams have good running games and decent run defenses. Wisconsin, however, has an inexperienced QB - so inexperienced he doesn't survive our filters and is subsequently absent from the leaderboard altogether - and a poor pass defense. OSU has a good pass D and a guy who at one point was in the Heisman race. Phillips is easy to root for - the guy has had 3 ACL tears in the same knee, essentially voiding his entire collegiate career. As a Senior, he's finally getting a chance to play, and gets to go up against an undefeated Ohio State team in his 2nd start. They're on probation. They're the bad guys. It's easy to find a rooting interest here.
Wisconsin's best hope comes with their running game. Montee Ball and James White have been great this season, especially in recent weeks. Phillips will need them to produce to take pressure off himself. The more this becomes a QB-dictated game, the more it favors Ohio State. And despite the rooting interest, I think that's the way it goes. I'll go against the CFBTN projection and pick the Buckeyes to remain undefeated. However, like Scott's number-crunching, I do expect this to be a competitive and close game.
Utah State @ Louisiana Tech
Quarterbacks: Chuckie Keeton (106.8 NEPA, .261 NEPApp) vs. Colby Cameron (139.8, .313)
Running Backs: Kerwynn Williams (42.7, .206) vs. Kenneth Dixon (63.3, .352)
Defenses: Aggies (8.1, .024 passing / -90.2, -.252 rushing) vs. Bulldogs (117.1, .282 passing / 6.8, .018 rushing)
CFBTN projection: 45-38, Aggies
Tune in because you don't normally have a chance to watch WAC football, and this will likely serve as the WAC Championship game (San Jose State is also still in the race, technically). However, I'm not just picking this one because of WAC implications - there are some really good football players involved as well.
Utah State can score. Chuckie Keeton has over 3000 combined yards this year, 27 TD, and 7 INT. Kerwynn Williams is among the nation's most productive runners with over 1500 yards from scrimmage and 12 TD. They'll have a field day against a weak La Tech defense.
However, Louisiana Tech can really score. No team has more offensive NEPA this season. Not Oregon, not Kansas State, not Texas A&M. Let's start with Dixon, the star freshman. 1088 yards, and a nation-leading 25 TDs from scrimmage. That's a national freshman record (with 3 games remaining, no less). Dixon ranks 3rd among RBs in our rankings and is the best runner Utah State has faced so far. Colby Cameron isn't letting Dixon have all the record book fun, though. Cameron set his own NCAA record last week as well; Cameron has thrown more consecutive passes without an interception than any player in college football history. In fact, he hasn't been intercepted since late last season. Cameron's 3430 yards, 30 TD, and 0 INT make him easily one of the most valuable QBs in the sport.
Of course, the one wild card in this game is the Utah State defense. They haven't had any test quite this difficult, so it's hard to know how they respond, but as I mentioned earlier in this column, they are, along with Bowling Green, surprisingly one of the 10 best defenses in the country according to NEPA. While they haven't seen the likes of Louisiana Tech yet, Louisiana Tech hasn't seen the likes of them. Keep an eye on CB Will Davis, who has 20 passes defended this season, including 3 INT. He'll be looking to end Cameron's streak. Davis is helped by a fantastic pass rush. USU has 35 sacks this year for -246 yards (4th in nation). Their 53 passes defended rank 2nd in the country. LB Zach Vigil causes problems in the backfield, and it's the USU defense that makes this matchup all the more intriguing. Louisiana Tech has gotten more press for their records, but USU plays well enough on both sides of the ball to win. The Aggies lost last year at home to the Bulldogs, but I'll pick them to get some revenge and essentially clinch the WAC title, as their final game will be against hapless, coachless Idaho.
Rutgers @ Cincinnati
Quarterbacks: Gary Nova (42.5 NEPA, .154 NEPApp) vs. Munchie Legaux (48.1, .174)
Running Backs: Jawan Jamison (7.1, .029) vs. George Winn (39.2, .218) & Ralph David Abernathy IV (15.2, .175)
Defenses: Scarlet Knights (-12.7, -.046 passing / -68.6, -.218 rushing) vs. Bearcats (27.3, .083 passing / -45.8, -.151 rushing)
CFBTN projection: 21-16, Bearcats
You gotta hand it to the Big East. They save their most important games for late November, and it makes for some fun game-watching. There's a BCS bid at stake here, and if last week's Louisville/Syracuse game kicked off the festivities, this one at least continues the fun. All 4 teams are still in the mix for the conference title, and they'll meet in some combination 3 more times over the final 3 weekends. Rutgers is undefeated in conference play, while Cincinnati has just one OT loss to Louisville.
Defensively, Rutgers has quite an edge. They're simply one of the 10 most efficient defenses in the country this year. More impressively, they're doing it without any obvious All-American performances. CB Logan Ryan has broken up 19 passes (3 INT) and WLB Khaseem Greene has 96 tackles and 6 forced fumbles, so they're close, but the Knights have mastered opposing offenses with an understated approach. They just prevent 1st downs. Cincinnati, however, can test them a little when they have the ball. Winn is one of the better runners in the nation this year, and Legaux is as productive as his counterpart. The Rutgers D has benefited from a weak schedule. The three offenses they've faced with a pulse, Arkansas, Syracuse and Kent State, combined for 76 points. Cincy should finish in the 20 point range. Will it be enough? Jamison seems to get a ton of useless yardage (think 12 yard runs on 3rd and 14), but Nova can keep pace with Legaux.
As for a prediction, I think it'll be a close one, but I'll pick Rutgers relative ease of schedule to come back to bite them. Cincy wins a close one.
Brent Blackwell compiles the NEPA rankings for cfbtn.com. Follow Brent on Twitter by mashing the pretty button below. Follow @brentblackwell
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