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#Nuggets: The biggest Iowa home game in a generation, Red River enters a new era, and appreciation for Georgia's defense

Your ultimate college football appetizer previews more than two dozen of this weekend's games.

The biggest Iowa home game in a generation. By now you've likely seen the stats. No. 4 Penn State at No. 3 Iowa represents the first AP top-5 Big Ten game not involving Ohio State since 1997, and the first AP top-5 Big Ten game not involving Michigan or Ohio State since 1962. In both instances, the winners of those games (1997 Michigan, 1962 Wisconsin) would play for that season's national title.

More immediate to Iowa fans, it's the biggest game at Kinnick Stadium since the No. 1 Hawkeyes knocked off No. 2 Michigan in 1985. 

Iowa has been downright Alabama like over its last 11 games, winning all 11 by three touchdowns per game. Only one was decided by single digits, and none this season. The last time the Hawkeyes surrendered more than 21 points was 13 games ago.

Penn State has won nine straight dating back to last season, and only two were within one score. 

Both teams enter the game ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense, yards per play and passing efficiency. Iowa leads the nation in takeaways; Penn State is second in red zone defense. 

Penn StateCategoryIowa

12.0 (3rd)

Scoring Defense

11.6 ppg (2nd)

4.33 (9th)

Yards Per Play

4.12 (4th)

98.77 (7th)

Passing Efficiency

96.95 (6th)

As Scott Dochterman pointed out for The Athletic, history tells us this game will be tight. 

Unranked Iowa knocked undefeated Penn State out of the BCS title game with a last-second field goal in 2008; the unranked Hawkeyes again defeated a top-5 Penn State in 2009. Saturday marks the third straight time Penn State trips to Iowa City with a top-10 ranking in tow; the last two were decided by seven points total.

“There's not a whole lot I look forward to going to Iowa City," James Franklin said this week. "I am looking forward to the hospital, and waving to those children, but that's the only thing I'm looking forward to, but it will be a tremendous challenge.”

The winner of this game will be the undisputed No. 3 team in the country, but what follows are entirely different paths. Iowa, having already dispatched No. 17 Indiana and No. 9 Iowa State, won't play another ranked team until the Big Ten Championship. Penn State still has No. 7 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan and No. 11 Michigan State ahead. 

"Every game counts, and every game is important. But there are obviously certain games where there is a little bit more visibility," Kirk Ferentz said. "And the more you can stay centered on what you're trying to accomplish, (the better). You better keep your eyes on the target. The more you get wrapped up in all that other stuff, the harder it is to be successful."

A new era of the Red River Rivalry. Texas and Oklahoma are at once rivals and partners. Their bond was what built the original Big 12 Conference and what has kept it together over the last decade. Their mutual move to the SEC this summer shook the entire college sports industry to its core. 

As we embark on the 117th edition of this rivalry, with College GameDay in town for the seventh time, with first place in the Big 12 on the line, it's worth asking how many times Texas or Oklahoma have actually deprived their counterpart of a championship? The answer is not as often as you'd think.

It's easy to forget now, but this was a non-conference series for 80 percent of its history, and so the bar for recking your rival's season was much higher. And for much of this rivalry's history, the side that had the upper hand tended to keep it for a while: Texas won all but four games from 1922 to '47; OU won nine of the next 10; UT took 12 of 13; OU took five in a row; Texas took eight of 11; OU won five straight; Texas won four of five. That brings us to right now, when Oklahoma has taken nine of the last 12. 

Because of that, the amount of season-shaking upsets, pre-Big 12 formation, can be counted on one hand. 

Times Oklahoma's only loss in a season came to Texas: Three (1958, 1967, 1979)
Times UT's one loss came by OU's hand: One (1972)

Red River has been a conference game for the past 25 years now, and so how many times has a conference or division championship been decided on the Cotton Bowl grass? Again, not as many as you might think.

-- Three times, a Texas win has lifted the Longhorns to the Big 12 championship game and deprived Oklahoma of doing the same. That's actually smaller than the number of times UT has won in Dallas but OU has gone on to win the Big 12 anyway (2008 and 2018 being the most memorable.)

-- An Oklahoma win kept Texas out of the Big 12 Championship six times, while only once has OU won the game but Texas went on to play for the Big 12 title. 

If you're around my age, you came of age in this rivalry in the early 2000s, when both teams were in the top-5 every year, and Oklahoma seemed to win every year. Texas gained the upper hand in the latter half of the decade -- winning four of five from 2005-09 -- but in two of those years OU won the Big 12 anyway.

The last decade of the series has seen Texas, playing as a heavy underdog, play over its head against an Oklahoma team with championships on its mind. Seven of the last eight Texas-OU games were decided by one score, and the eighth -- the 2018 Big 12 Championship -- was a 1-score game until the final minutes. (For the record, Oklahoma has been favored in 13 straight Red River games, including Saturday, but Texas is 7-2 against the spread in the last nine -- and one of those two losses was last year when the 3-point 'dog Horns took OU to four overtimes.)

And as we embark on a new era of the rivalry (noon ET, ABC), where No. 21 Texas is led by Steve Sarkisian and both programs are preparing for their joint SEC move. In his first game, Sark has an opportunity to do something his predecessors rarely did -- cost No. 6 Oklahoma something.

This game will almost certainly be decided on the ground. All season long we've tracked how often five statistics correlate with victory. Here's how all five stack up in this series, dating back to 1999, against the 2021 data for all FBS games so far this season:

-- Win the rushing battle: 20-2 (.910... +.132 vs. 2021 FBS games)
-- Win the passing battle: 13-10 (.565... -.034)
-- Score first: 15-8 (.652... -.105)
-- Lead at halftime: 16-4 (.800... -.046)
-- Win turnovers: 18-4 (.818... -.069)

In the bottom four metrics, the team that wins that given statistic go on to win the game less often than a typical FBS game in our data set. And yet the team that wins on the ground wins 13 percent more often than the typical FBS game. 

Since 1999, eight times the team that has thrown for fewer yards but won the rushing battle has won the game. The reverse has happened just once.

And so naturally our focus shifts to Bijan Robinson against the Oklahoma rush defense. Robinson ranks second in the country at 130.4 yards per game. Since the Arkansas loss he's averaged 160 yards on 7.27 a carry. As a team, Texas is running for 345 yards a game on 7.09 a pop. Oklahoma surrenders just 83.4 yards per game on 2.73 a tote; both numbers rank in the top 15 nationally.

On the flip side, Oklahoma has uncharacteristically struggled to run the ball, ranking 76th on a per game basis and 49th per carry. But it's not as if UT has been a brick wall defensively: opponents average 170 yards a game on 4.67 per carry. 

Both quarterbacks have struggled -- mightily -- to get the ball down the field.

Included within this game-within-the-game is whether Texas can protect Thompson. Oklahoma sacked Sam Ehlinger fifteen times in his last two games, docking 87 yards from the Longhorns' rushing ledger. (Texas notched two sacks, total, in those games.)

The team that can run the ball and protect the passer effectively enough to hit the 1-on-1 shots that will absolutely be there will win this game. 

Arkansas, Ole Miss fight to keep the good times rolling. There's no shame in losing to Alabama or Georgia, even in the manner the Rebels and Hogs did last week. Roughly 128 other teams would meet the same fate.

And yet, for one of these squads, the warm feelings of September will be but a distant memory by 3 p.m. local time on Saturday.

The winner of No. 13 Arkansas at No. 17 Ole Miss (noon ET, ESPN) will be in the driver's seat to finish second in the SEC West -- which will not earn you a trophy but would still be a significant accomplishment for both of these programs.

Arkansas has finished last or second-to-last in the West eight times since 2012 and last finished among the division's top two in 2010. Ole Miss has finished among the division's top two four times in 29 years of divisional play.

Considering the depth of the division, it's unlikely either side will win out from here, so earning the title of Best SEC West Team Besides Bama (and remaining in the running for a Sugar Bowl berth, a milestone game no matter how it happens) likely requires winning this game. 

Will Auburn score a point on Georgia? Alabama's 2011 defense is the gold standard for defending the modern offense, so dominant (12 touchdowns allowed in 13 games) that I once proclaimed they'd never be approached again. Heck, Nick Saban himself said a 13 points per game average was no longer realistic.

It's now time to start asking if Georgia's defense is encroaching upon 2011 Alabama. 

Georgia's defense is a full touchdown per game ahead of the No. 2 scoring defense (Iowa) in the country. The gap between Georgia's 4.6 points a game and Iowa's 11.6 is equal to the gap between No. 2 Iowa and No. 30 Oklahoma State (18.6 ppg). 

2011 Alabama defense vs. 2021 Georgia defense

2011 AlabamaCategory2021 Georgia


Points Per Game



Touchdowns Allowed Per Game



Yards Per Play



Yards Per Carry



Passing Efficiency



First Downs Per Game



Sacks Per Game



Red Zone TD %


No. 2 Georgia is 13-3 in this series since 2006 and 5-1 under Kirby Smart, and it would take a Herculean effort for No. 18 Auburn to keep that number from 14-3. When Saturday's game (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) begins, Georgia will be on its 130th straight minute without so much as permitting a single point.  

A golden opportunity for BYU. It's not every week a West Coast team gets to play on network television in the 3:30 p.m. ET time slot (ABC). Oregon had it last week, and we all know how that ended. Now it's No. 10 BYU's turn. 

This is a program that's 16-1 since the beginning of 2020, the one loss coming on short notice at Coastal Carolina last season. They've won more games this season against Pac-12 competition than anyone actually in the conference. But, for good reason, they're living in Cincinnati's shadow among CFP dark horses.

It's a stroke of bad luck that their Pac-12 opponents all seem to be down at the same time. Utah is not a vintage Utah team, USC fired its coach, Arizona hasn't won a game yet. 

Even Boise State seems to be down. The Broncos have dropped four or more games in a season three times since 2002; lose Saturday's game (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) and they'll be 2-4 halfway through this season.

Still, it's a legacy brand and a chance for the Cougars to do what the Ducks did not.

Jimbo vs. Saban, Part IV. No fan base went to bed Saturday night more despondent than Texas A&M, for two reasons. One, they'd just lost to Mississippi State to begin what was supposed to be a Playoff season 0-2 in SEC play. Two, every last one of them knew wait waited for them this week. 

Since A&M won the opening game of this SEC series, Alabama has taken eight straight, six of them coming by 19 points or more. The last three games have been repeats of the same movie: Tide 45, Aggies 23 (2018); Tide 47, Aggies 28 (2019); and Tide 52, Aggies 24 (2020). The Aggies' game with No. 1 Alabama (8 p.m. ET, CBS) represents a chance to, ahem, stem the Tide. 

Rapid Fire

-- Temple at No. 5 Cincinnati (7 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN): The win in South Bend moved Cincinnati into the AP top-5, which makes these Bearcats the first Group of 5 team to earn an in-season top-5 ranking since Boise State in 2011, which means they're the first to do so in the Playoff era.

-- Stanford at No. 22 Arizona State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): A fun parlor game to play from here on out -- What would the Pac-12 Championship be today? Right now, it would be Arizona State vs. Oregon State. We'll see how long that lasts.

-- No. 11 Michigan State at Rutgers (noon ET, BTN): This concludes three straight Rutgers games against AP top-12 opponents, following losses to No. 9 Michigan and No. 7 Ohio State. The Scarlet Knights are 2-21 against the Wolverines, Buckeyes and Spartans since joining the Big Ten. 

-- Vanderbilt at No. 20 Florida (noon ET, SEC Network): Florida has to win out to have a snowball's chance in the Swamp of defending its SEC East championship, thanks to last week's loss at Kentucky. The last time Florida lost to Vandy: 2013. The last time before that? 1988, also known as the Jurassic Era in Gainesville. 

-- South Carolina at Tennessee (noon ET, ESPN2): South Carolina looks to avoid its first 0-3 SEC start since 2015, Steve Spurrier's final season. 

-- West Virginia at Baylor (noon ET, FS1): Baylor's yards per carry in non-conference play (three games): 7.29. Baylor's yards per carry in Big 12 play (two games): 3.61.

-- Northern Illinois at Toledo (noon ET, CBS Sports Network): The only game this week pitting 1-0 MAC teams opposite each other. 

-- Florida Atlantic at UAB (3:30 p.m. ET): A C-USA Championship game preview? Maybe!

-- UConn at UMass (3:30 p.m. ET): Four winless teams remain in FBS. That number drops to three by nightfall on Saturday [cue ABC college football theme music].

-- Florida State at North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Mack Brown is 0-7 at UNC against his alma mater. This game doesn't carry quite the same stakes as, say, 1997 when FSU was No. 3, UNC was No. 5, and GameDay was in Chapel Hill, but it'd still taste much, much sweeter than an eighth straight loss. 

-- No. 19 Wake Forest at Syracuse (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Wake started 5-0 in 2019, 2006 and 1987. The Deacons' last 6-0 start: 1944. 

-- Oregon State at Washington State (4 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): Oregon State looks for its first 3-0 start to Pac-12 play since 2013, which also happens to be the Beavers' last winning season. 

-- TCU at Texas Tech (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): TCU and Tech brought back their Saddle Trophy for winning the West Texas Championship in 2017; the Frogs have won three of four since then. TCU is looking to avoid its first 0-2 Big 12 start, as well as its first 3-game losing streak, since 2013. 

-- UTEP at Southern Miss (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3): UTEP is 4-1 and 1-0 in conference play. The last time the Miners started 5-1? 2005. The last time the Miners won their first two C-USA games? 2010.

-- UTSA at Western Kentucky (7 p.m. ET): A C-USA Championship preview? Maybe!

-- No. 9 Michigan at Nebraska (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC): Don't look now, but Nebraska is a lot better than the team we all left for dead back in Week 0. Nebraska won the teams' only meeting in Lincoln since the Big Red joined the B1G, a 23-9 decision back in 2012. Both teams rank among the top 15 nationally in rushing. 

-- No. 14 Notre Dame at Virginia Tech (7:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network): Notre Dame won't win this year's ACC title, which means every game is now a championship game as the Irish fight for their Playoff lives. Notre Dame won their only previous trip to Lane Stadium, a 45-23 blowout in 2018.

-- LSU at No. 16 Kentucky (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network): The last time UK began a season 5-0, as they are this year? 2018. The last time the Wildcats started 6-0? 1950. LSU has taken six of seven in this series; UK's one win came in overtime over a No. 1-ranked Tigers team in 2007 that went on to win the national title. 

-- Utah at USC (8 p.m. ET, Fox): The popular preseason picks to win the Pac-12 South did not get off to the start they wanted, but two-thirds of the season still remains. Even if USC is unranked and retrenching for a new coaching staff, a win in LA would still mean a lot to the Utes; Utah hasn't won at USC since... 1916. 

-- New Mexico at No. 25 San Diego State (9 p.m. ET, FS1): UNM head coach Danny Gonzales takes on his old team. After a 20-year absence, San Diego State is back in the AP Top 25 for the fourth time in six seasons. None of their three previous stays lasted longer than four weeks.