Who’s Destined for Dallas?
It’s rivalry week, and the top-four teams are exactly the same as they were in last week’s rankings. However, expect movement going into the final week before the playoff bracket is revealed with so many final games being top-25 matchups.
No. 13 Arizona State at No. 11 Arizona
The Territorial Cup game means more than a Pac-12 South title for these two teams. Arizona State defeated the Wildcats 58-21 last season before going on to lose the Pac-12 title game. This year, a win will give them a shot at redeeming their loss against Stanford in last year’s championship game, but they’ll need UCLA to lose to Stanford this weekend. Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devils bounced back from their “trap game” loss against the Oregon Beavers and have the momentum to defeat their in-state rivals.
Arizona is on a three-game win streak and hope this momentum carries into their rivalry week game. Sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright III is still fourth in the nation for sacks (13) but has not recorded a sack in the last two games. On the offensive side, the Wildcats are one of the most efficient teams in the nation, but freshman quarterback Anu Solomon is doubtful to play in the game with an ankle injury. Converting on 40.4 percent of their third downs and 65 percent of their fourth downs, the Wildcats should have no problem moving the ball down the field without Solomon.
PICK: Arizona State
No. 15 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama
Seeking revenge for last year’s Iron Bowl loss, the Crimson Tide’s senior quarterback Blake Sims ranks second in total QBR, frequently targeting junior wide receiver Amari Cooper for a touchdown. However, Cooper is listed as questionable for this game after leaving last weekend’s game against Western Carolina with an injury. He’s ranked third in the nation with 1349 receiving yards, so it’ll be a sizable loss for the Tide if he’s unable to play.
Auburn’s senior quarterback Nick Marshall is ranked seventh in total QBR, just a few spots behind Sims. However, he was sacked three times last weekend and only threw for one touchdown. It’s a good thing the Tigers are a rush team, as they’ll rely heavily on Marshall and senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne’s legs. Artis-Payne has broken out this year, rushing for 11 touchdowns and 1405 yards. If the Tigers can get their run game going early, they’ll be primed for an upset.
No. 18 Minnesota at No. 14 Wisconsin
Not only for the Big Ten West title but also for Paul Bunyan’s axe, the Badgers are on a 10-game win streak against the Gophers with their last loss coming in 2003. Junior running back Melvin Gordon leads the nation with 2,109 rushing yards and is coming off his third consecutive game with 200 yards or more. However, the Badgers barely defeated the Hawkeyes, a team that Minnesota slaughtered. The Badgers will have a tough test, but a win will pay off by sending them to the Big Ten title game.
While Minnesota leads this rivalry, they haven’t been able to win in over 10 years and senior running back David Cobb is listed as questionable for the game with a hamstring injury. The Gophers utilize not only Cobb’s legs but sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner, a mobile quarterback who isn’t afraid to take the ball himself. Coming off their big win against Nebraska, the Badgers should be on upset alert.
No. 4 Mississippi State at No. 19 Ole Miss
Even after suffering their first loss of the season, the Mississippi State Bulldogs’ dream of being the College Football Playoffs are still alive. Junior quarterback Dak Prescott is ranked ninth in the nation for total QBR but has also thrown for 10 interceptions on the season. He doesn’t just get it done with his arm, also running for 891 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Bulldogs have the same overall and conference record as Alabama (10-1, 6-1) but their one loss came at the hands of the Crimson Tide. If Alabama loses to Auburn and the Bulldogs can hold off Ole Miss, they’ll claim the tough SEC West.
Last weekend, Ole Miss suffered a shutout loss at the hands of the unranked Arkansas Razorbacks despite being ranked first in the country for points against (13.5). Senior defensive back Senquez Golson ranks second in the country with nine interceptions leading a Rebels’ defense that has 19 interceptions and only allows an average of 179 yards per game. Senior quarterback Bo Wallace’s last game was rough, throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions. Look for him to be at his best in his last home game as a Rebel.
PICK: Ole Miss
No. 16 Georgia Tech at No. 9 Georgia
The Yellow Jackets’ run-dependent offense spreads the wealth, led by senior running backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days. The two have combined for eight touchdowns and 1,200 yards this season. Sophomore quarterback Justin Thomas also gets in on the action, rushing for five touchdowns and 827 yards. Thomas has also been efficient through the air, ranked fifth in the nation for total QBR and throwing for 15 touchdowns. The Yellow Jackets are first in the ACC Coastal division and are headed to the ACC title game.
The Georgia Bulldogs are also a run-dependent team, ranked 13th in the nation with an average of 260.5 yards a game. Senior quarterback Hutson Mason is ranked eighth in the nation in total QBR, throwing for 19 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. Georgia’s defense struggles against the rush but is strong against the pass, only allowing 5.8 yards a pass with 13 interceptions this season. Their opponents complete 55.5 percent of their passes and have been sacked 24 times. If the Bulldogs can stop the run, they’ll overcome the Yellow Jackets’ attempt at an upset.
PICK: Georgia Tech
The final rankings come out next week with many of the final decisions being based on this weekend’s matchups. Which teams will defeat their rivals and move up in the rankings? Stay tuned to see who will rise to the occasion and who will fold under pressure.
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