1. The Baylor offensive staff vs. the Oklahoma State defensive staff – Baylor ripped through the Oklahoma State defense on Dec. 1 last year to the tune of 296 passing yards and 319 rushing yards on their way to a 41-34 win in Waco. That game was a major step to when Baylor became BAYLOR, and they haven’t slowed down since. Saturday night Baylor will face the biggest test of the season – in terms of the opponent lining up across the line of scrimmage and stakes surrounding the game – without its best big-play wide receiver, starting left tackle and possibly its top two running backs.
2. The Texas A&M offensive staff vs. the LSU defensive staff – No championship aspirations on the line in this one, but goodness gracious this should be a fun game. Johnny Football doing his Johnny Football thing at Death Valley and John Chavis’ batch of gazelles. LSU pushed Manziel into the worst game of his short career – 29-of-56 for 276 yards with three interceptions, 17 rushes for 27 yards, no touchdowns – in the Tigers’ 24-19 win in College Station. This year’s unit isn’t as good as the 2012 LSU defense, but it’s still ranks 24th nationally and represents Texas A&M’s biggest challenge since the Alabama game.
3. Todd Graham vs. Jim Mora – Each of the four Pac-12 head coaches hired before the 2012 season – Graham, Mora, Rich Rodriguez, Mike Leach – has been successful in his own right, but Graham (16-7) and Mora (17-7) have won the most. Mora won last year’s duel, 45-43, on a 33-yard field goal as time expired, sending his Bruins to the Pac-12 Championship instead of Graham’s Sun Devils. Once again, these teams sit atop the Pac-12 South standings and a trip to Eugene for the Rose Bowl is on the line.
4. Gary Pinkel vs. Hugh Freeze – Aside from one disastrous quarter against South Carolina, it’s been a perfect season for Pinkel. A National Coach of the Year type of season, pushing Missouri from 5-7 to 9-1, a top 10 ranking and in control of the SEC East. But in a backloaded schedule, Missouri has to win at Ole Miss on Saturday and beat Texas A&M next week or cede the division title to the Gamecocks. Those are the stakes as Pinkel’s Tigers pay visit to an Ole Miss team that’s won four in a row and quietly played some pretty darn good football all season long. If Missouri wants to go to Atlanta, it has to earn it.
5. Bob Stoops vs. Bill Snyder – After two months spent on opposite sides of the line graph, the Sooners and Wildcats are intersecting. On a sharp incline, Kansas State has been the Big 12’s third best team since October, giving Oklahoma State and Baylor their stiffest tests of the season (outside of OSU’s inexplicable loss to West Virginia) and running off four straight wins. If this were basketball, they’d be the low-seeded team you want no part of on your side of the bracket. And to continue that analogy, Oklahoma would be the high-seeded team primed for an upset. Playing without its starting quarterback, starting running back and a wide receiver, the Sooners enter a game which should feature twice as many rushes as passes – a game that Kansas State comes much more equipped to win.
6. The Minnesota offensive staff vs. the Wisconsin defensive staff –
7. The Wisconsin offensive staff vs. the Minnesota defensive staff –
Temperatures in the low twenties. Wisconsin and Minnesota. This should be the most Big Ten game of the Big Ten season. And to win, it’ll require withstanding the other team’s rushing onslaught.
Minnesota has rushed an average of 50 times per game for 252 yards and three touchdowns in its eight wins, and a total of 61 times for 166 yards and no scores in its two defeats. Wisconsin is playing the same football under Gary Andersen it played under Bret Bielema and Barry Alvarez before him. The Badgers rank seventh nationally with 3,079 rushing yards and 34 rushing touchdowns. There are no secrets here.
— Goldy Gopher (@GoldytheGopher) November 21, 2013
8. The Oklahoma State offensive staff vs. the Baylor defensive staff – Circling back to the biggest game of the weekend, I’m going to list off a set of rankings and let you guess which team to which they should be attributed: 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st. That’s the Baylor….defense. The Bears rank first or second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, rush defense, yards per carry allowed, pass defense, pass efficiency defense, yards per attempt allowed, total defense and yards per play allowed. In Oklahoma State, Phil Bennett meets its first (and only) truly two-dimensional offense. Most importantly, can the Bears hold serve for three or four consecutive drives if Oklahoma State knocks the Baylor offense out of rhythm for a quarter?
9. James Franklin vs. Butch Jones – Franklin refuses to call this game a rivalry and, considering Vanderbilt has beaten Tennessee a grand total of five times since 1960, he’s right. It’s not. But it’s a game Tennessee really needs to win. The Vols haven’t lost to Vanderbilt in consecutive seasons since losing seven straight from 1920-26, and they’re in a must-win situation if Jones wants to extend his debut campaign into November.
10. Urban Meyer vs. the Beauty Pageant – With games against Chattanooga and Idaho, Alabama and Florida State cede away the national spotlight before next week’s rivalry games. Baylor goes on the road for a game it may very well lose. After scoring 60 points, and winning by 25, on the road and losing ground in the polls, Meyer has no choice but to open up the playbook against Indiana and its 124th-ranked defense. Vegas put the spread here at 34.5. I’d take the Buckeyes to cover that by halftime. They have no other choice.