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#Nuggets: Your ultimate preview for the college football weekend

The Irish and Badgers take over Chicago, plus notes on a Hog Hex, SMU's Hostile Horses, plus how good are Rutgers and Baylor?

There's a reason Northwestern branded itself "Chicago's Big Ten Team." As a college football city, Chicago belongs first and foremost to Notre Dame. In fact, there's a Roman Catholic church on Flournoy Street called Notre Dame de Chicago. The Chicago chapter of the Notre Dame Club is the university's largest alumni club. The "Subway Alumni" of New York helped build this small, Midwestern private school into a national brand, and the city by the lake less than 100 miles to the west was right behind.

The Irish are 10-0-2 all-time at Soldier Field, including a 1-0 mark against Wisconsin, but this Saturday's game arrives with much more hype than that 1929 game.

For one, GameDay and Fox's Big Noon Kickoff will be there -- just the second time both of the game's major pregame shows will air from outside the same stadium. 

Notre Dame and Wisconsin have played 16 times previously, though not since 1964. "Interest is through the roof," said Wisconsin Alumni Association Chicago Chapter member Tom Ulrickson, with tickets going for around $400 on the secondary market. Neutral site games are often overdone in college football, but this should be the optimal version of the genre -- two large, passionate fanbases meeting in a major city in between their campuses for a game that hasn't happened in nearly 50 years. 

You know this game is special because both teams will wear one-off uniforms. 

Lest we forget, this is a massive game for both sides as well. No. 18 Wisconsin has to win out to remain in the College Football Playoff chase, and few things push afterthoughts to the top of the mind quite like beating the 12th-ranked Irish in a spotlight game (noon ET, Fox).

Notre Dame is 3-0, but it's a shaky 3-0. The Florida State and Toledo wins, by three points apiece, didn't look great at the time, but they aged even worse in the immediate aftermath -- FSU turned around and lost to Jacksonville State, Toledo was flattened at home by 0-2 Colorado State. They did beat Purdue by 14 last week, but an impressive win over Wisconsin will stop their slide down the rankings (Notre Dame began the season No. 9 in the AP poll.)

The focus here will be on Jack Coan. The Sayville, N.Y., native produced one of the best seasons ever by a Wisconsin quarterback in 2019 -- a school-record 236 completions for 2,727 yards (third most in school history) while firing 19 touchdowns against five picks. He broke his foot weeks before the truncated 2020 season was to begin... and that was that for his time in red. Freshman Graham Mertz stepped into the void, started all seven games, and before long Coan was in South Bend. 

Thus far, Coan has outperformed his 2019 self, and posted a QB rating nearly 50 points better than Mertz, who ranks 99th in the country and has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season. 

"It's definitely going to be weird," Coan said.

The biggest Arkansas game since... two weeks ago. How's this for a weird trend? In 2009, Arkansas and Texas A&M agreed to a 10-game series to be played at AT&T Stadium, a non-conference revival of an old Southwest Conference rivalry to be known as the Southwest Classic. It would be their first meetings since the Hogs split for the SEC in 1992. 

Arkansas vs. A&M, pre-SECession
2009: Arkansas 47, Texas A&M 19
2010: No. 11 Arkansas 24, Texas A&M 17
2011: No. 18 Arkansas 42, No. 14 Texas A&M 38

When the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, the script flipped completely.

Arkansas vs. A&M, post-SECession
2012: Texas A&M 58, Arkansas 10
2013: Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 33
2014: No. 6 Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)
2015: No. 14 Texas A&M 28, Arkansas 21 (OT)
2016: No. 10 Texas A&M 45, No. 17 Arkansas 24
2017: Texas A&M 50, Arkansas 43 (OT)
2018: Texas A&M 24, Arkansas 17
2019: No. 23 Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 27
2020: No. 8 Texas A&M 42, Arkansas 31

Obviously, much of that can be attributed to Arkansas just flat out not being very good for most of that time, but there's also some hex-y type stuff in there. The Hogs held second half leads in 2014, '15, '16, '17 and '19 and lost every time. 

The No. 16 Razorbacks rumble into suburban Dallas (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) buoyed by real optimism for the first time since the Bobby Petrino days. Ranked for the first time in five seasons, Arkansas has a chance to beat Texas and Texas A&M in the same season for the first time since 1988.

To do so, the Arkansas front will have to do the same thing to Zach Calzada they did to Hudson Card. The sophomore looked shaky as the last leaf to fall before winter in relief of starter Haynes King at Colorado, going 18-of-38 for 138 yards in a 10-7 win. He stabilized against New Mexico, but that was New Mexico.

The A&M defense has been as good as advertised thus far. They haven't allowed a point in more than 107 minutes of game action, lead the nation in scoring defense and rank third in yards per play. 

No. 7 A&M's 11-game winning streak trails only Alabama, and they're 13-1 in their last 14. Arkansas's current 3-game winning streak is its longest in five years. 

Win this one, and Sam Pittman might wake up Sunday with rose petals surrounding his Fayetteville home... as he begins preparations for Arkansas's next opponent: No. 2 Georgia.

A subplot to watch in Arlington. Both fan bases were clearly into the neutral locale when the series first began -- when the Hogs and Ags shared a field for the first time in a generation and Jerry World still had that same new car smell. A decade later, the smell has worn off.

Yo, is Baylor.... good? It's flown completely under the radar given their opponents, but look at these stat rankings a quarter of the way through the season:

-- Yards per play: 8.13 (4th)
-- Yards per play allowed: 3.79 (5th)
-- Yards per carry: 7.29 (3rd)
-- Passing efficiency: 174.74 (15th)
-- Pass efficiency defense: 85.72 (4th)
-- Scoring offense: 46.7 (5th)
-- Scoring defense: 11.3 (8th)

Obviously, those results have flown under the radar for good reason. We're talking about a team that went 2-7 a year ago with wins over Texas State, who lost to an FCS team last week; Texas Southern, who is an FCS team; and Kansas, who is Kansas. And the Texas State game wasn't exactly a rout; Baylor won 29-20 and out-gained the Bobcats 393-235. 

Your skepticism is warranted and shared. 

But No. 14 Iowa State comes to Waco Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox), bringing along the nation's No. 1 total and yards per play defense. The Cyclones lost to Iowa, yes, but that wasn't the defense's fault; they limited the Hawkeyes to 173 yards on 2.88 a snap. 

If the Bears pop off for anywhere near the 363 yards and 4.5 touchdowns they averaged against Texas Southern and Kansas against this defense, and we might need to start talking about Dave Aranda's bet on the wide zone offense as one of the smartest of the offseason. 

A big game between Michigan and.... Rutgers? Four games pit undefeated teams this weekend, and this is one of them. 

Rutgers hasn't won four straight games since joining the Big Ten in 2014. The Scarlet Knights did beat Michigan in their first B1G meeting, since then the Wolverines are 6-0. Five of those wins came by an average score of 51-7 with three shutouts, but last year's final was 48-42.

No. 19 Michigan ranks third in the nation in scoring offense (47 points per game) and leads the nation with 350 rushing yards per game and 15 rushing touchdowns. That's three more rushing downs than the 2020 Wolverines rushed for in twice as many games.

Both teams enter Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) tied for eighth in scoring defense, allowing 11.3 a game. Michigan is the clear favorite, thanks in large part to a Rutgers offense that sits way down at 107th in yards per play. 

Those feisty Mustangs. We covered SMU's shade toward I-35 rival North Texas in a previous edition of the #Nuggets, and now Sonny Dykes's hostile Horses are at it again.

The Mustangs will trek down I-30 West to Fort Worth for the Battle for the Iron Skillet (noon ET, FS1).

SMU won its last game in Fort Worth, a 41-39 thriller in 2019, and wide receiver Rashee Rice, a Fort Worth-area resident, had this to say on the canceled 2020 game:

“Freshman year, I didn’t get to play them … sophomore year, after we won that [Iron] Skillet, they were scared to play us,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “I’m going to say that again: they were scared to play us. And now junior year I get to come out and I get to ball back in Fort Worth where I went to high school. You know I can’t wait for that.”

He continued: "(N)o one comes to Texas for Fort Worth. They come for Dallas."

Speaking of Dallas, SMU will break out these uniforms on Saturday:

SMU's 2019 win broke a 7-game TCU winning streak, and the Frogs are taking the quiet confidence approach to this game, the 100th edition of this rivalry and the third of four battles of unbeatens this weekend. 

A major rushing battle in the Big 12. All season long we've been tracking how often rushing for more yards than your opponent correlates with winning. So far, teams that run for at least one more yard than their opponent win the game 81.3 percent of the time.

The Texas-Texas Tech series has represented an exception to that rule, in the opposite direction you might think. Dating back to 1990, the team that runs for more yardage is 29-2 (.935) in this series.

The Occam's Razor explanation here is that Texas Tech has been indifferent toward running the ball for the last two decades and Texas has dominated this series. (Texas is 23-8 over this stretch.)

But both of Mike Leach's wins came when his team out-rushed the Longhorns, 98-92 in a 42-38 win in 2002 and 105-80 in their 39-33 win of 2008.

Why does this matter? Texas Tech brings to the No. 5 rush defense in the country with it to Austin, while Texas enters the game 14th in rushing. Sure, Tech has played Houston, Stephen F. Austin and FIU thus far, and UT's ranking is built largely upon a 427-yard, 6-touchdown performance against Rice, but chances are this game will be decided when the Longhorns run the ball. 

Rapid Fire:

Marshall at Appalachian State (7:30 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN): These teams met annually from the late '70s through the mid '90s, then hardly at all since. Marshall's 17-7 win last season was their first game since 2002, and now App gets the return trip. We here at #Nuggets HQ fully expect this Battle of the Mountain People to be a quality football game between a pair of conference title hopefuls. z

Boise State at Utah State (noon ET, CBS): Utah State has been Boise once since 1997, but what a grand time this would be to end that skid. The Aggies enter at 3-0 and 1-0 in MW play, while Boise State is 1-2. The last time this program started 1-3? 1997.

Toledo at Ball State (2 p.m. ET, ESPN+): Ball State begins defending its first MAC championship in a quarter century.

Washington State at Utah (2:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): Utah has to win to avoid its first 3-game losing streak since 2017. 

No. 9 Clemson at NC State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Dave Doeren has yet to defeat Dabo Swinney in eight tries. If he can figure out a way to get the ball across the goal line with a Wolfpack player in possession, this might just be the year.

UTSA at Memphis (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU): The fourth of five games pitting undefeated teams. 

Louisville at Florida State (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Florida State is looking to avoid its first 0-4 start since 1974.

No. 24 UCLA at Stanford (6 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): Stanford has won 12 of the last 13 in this series.

Tennessee at No. 11 Florida (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Florida will see Stanford's dominance and raise them three more. The Gators are 15-1 in this once-rivalry since 2005 and 23-6 dating back to 1993.

Nebraska at No. 20 Michigan State (7 p.m. ET, FS1): Michigan State is looking for its first 4-0 start since 2015, when the Spartans reached the Playoff. Nebraska seeks to avoid its first 0-2 Big Ten start since... last season.

No. 25 Kansas State at Oklahoma State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+): The fifth of five games pitting unbeatens. Oklahoma State has won by seven, five and one point; K-State beat Southern Illinois by just eight, but looked dominant against Stanford and Nevada. 

West Virginia at No. 4 Oklahoma (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC): OU is a perfect 8-0 since WVU joined the Big 12. Remove the 16-7 final in 2013 and Oklahoma averages 52 a game in the other seven.

Akron at No. 4 Ohio State (7:30 p.m. ET, BTN): The last time Ohio State lost to an in-state opponent? That would be Cincinnati 24, Buckeyes 0 way back on Nov. 13, 1897.

Southern Miss at No. 1 Alabama (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network): Another Saban-era milestone is about to fall.

Oregon State at USC (10:30 p.m. ET, FS1): Jonathan Smith's crew is looking to snap a 24-game losing skid in the LA Coliseum. 

Arizona at No. 3 Oregon (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Oregon looks to start 4-0 for the first time since 2014, when the Ducks played for the national title. Arizona, meanwhile, looks to snap its ongoing, program-record, FBS-worst 15-game losing streak. 

Colorado at Arizona State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU): While Arizona is looking for a win, Colorado would be at least momentarily happy with a score of any kind. The Buffaloes last scored a point at the 2:24 mark of the first quarter against Texas A&M. In the following 107 minutes and 24 seconds, the Buffs have produced: 0 points, 247 yards, eight punts and one field goal attempt across 20 total possessions.