1. Can Mississippi State jump on Alabama early? Touchdowns scored in the first quarter in the game immediately following LSU under Nick Saban: zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, and zero. All but one of those games was against Mississippi State, and the one that wasn’t may be the blueprint Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs need to follow. In 2012, Alabama returned to Tuscaloosa after an emotional comeback at LSU, and Texas A&M immediately took the Tide by storm, rolling up a 20-0 first quarter lead and hanging on for a 29-24 win.
And while we’re at it, here’s a relevant statistic Mississippi State must reverse in hopes of winning: three, 10, seven, seven and seven. Those are the points – total – Mullen teams have scored in his five games against Alabama.
1b. Similarly, can Arkansas sneak up on LSU? This is only the fourth time in Les Miles’ now 10 seasons in Baton Rouge that LSU has played an SEC game immediately after Alabama, and the Tigers didn’t score a touchdown in the first quarter of the previous three games, either. LSU will likely run it three or four times for every pass, just like Arkansas would like to do.
There’s little doubt Arkansas has improved from its 2013 version, but they’re running out of chances to prove it.
2. Why is Miami only a three-point underdog to Florida State? Let’s answer a question with another question: is it the Hurricanes or the Seminoles that has won its past three games by an average of 44-20 while out-gaining opponents by an average of 523-314 and posting an 8-2 turnover advantage? That would be Miami. Which team has had to pull a rabbit out of its hat twice in its past three games, and turned the ball over eight times over that span (while forcing only six)? That’d be FSU.
Miami ranks 16th nationally in turnovers forced at home, and Florida State ranks 105th nationally in turnovers lost on the road. And while we’re at it, Miami’s true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya has posted a 172.7 quarterback rating since the beginning of October (9.9 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns against two picks), compared to Jameis Winston’s 144 rating (8.2 yards/attempt, 10 TDs, 7 INTs). Oh, and Miami has ripped off 275 rushing yards per game and 7.05 yards per carry over that span, compared to Florida State’s 134.8 yards per game and 4.11 per carry.
That might have something to do with it.
3. Can Bo Pelini take a step forward? The last time Pelini won a road game over a ranked team? A 17-14 defeat of No. 12 Penn State on Nov. 12, 2011, a pre-sanction, two-head-coaches-ago Penn State. Of course, Pelini hasn’t gotten many opportunities in the Big Ten, but that’s kind of the point. He’s got an opportunity to close an 11-1 regular season and win an imminently winnable Big Ten West, starting with Saturday’s trip to No. 20 Wisconsin. What’s he going to do with it?
4. Who staves off the grim reaper, Auburn or Georgia? There are games with higher Playoff impact on the schedule, particularly the one across state lines to the west, but no other game has quite the morbid, knife-at-each-other’s-throat finality that Auburn at Georgia offers. The winner keeps whatever SEC and national championship hopes its allowed to have alive, while the loser faces the reality that 2014 is a sunken season. Combine that with a game that could easily end 38-35 with a combined 500 rushing yards and this one could have the highest entertainment value of the weekend.
5. Can the most important team in college football knock off Ohio State? And by that I mean Minnesota, the crux of TCU’s argument to hold off Baylor. Not much is going to change between the Bears and Frogs this week, with Baylor off and TCU visiting Kansas, but a 10-2 or 9-3 Minnesota could be enough of a strength-of-schedule bump to tip the scales in TCU’s favor. And now the 7-2, newly-ranked Gophers face one of the most difficult closing stretches in college football, hosting No. 8 Ohio State on Saturday, and then visiting No. 16 Nebraska and No. 20 Wisconsin.
Other intriguing but not as pressing questions:
– Florida and South Carolina play this Saturday in Gainesville. Either South Carolina will be 4-6 or Florida will be 5-4. There actually isn’t a question here, I just wanted to make sure you were aware.
– Which Texas A&M team shows up against Missouri, the one from the Auburn game or the one from the four games before that?
– How does Mark Stoops handle his first true, on-the-field crisis? On Oct. 11 Kentucky was 5-1 and a bowl game looked inevitable. Now they’re 5-5 and have to win at Tennessee or at Louisville to secure what looked nearly guaranteed a month ago. Kentucky hasn’t won in Knoxville since 1984, by the way.
– Who wins the ACC’s de facto consolation game? No one has paid much attention to either team since Clemson dropped that stunner at Florida State, but the Tigers have run off six straight wins while allowing a national best 3.83 yards per play, and Paul Johnson has put together one of his best seasons yet, winning six games by 11 points or more en route to an 8-2 record and No. 22 ranking. The Jackets’ two losses came by six (to Duke) and five (to North Carolina).
– Who blinks first, Georgia Southern or Navy? And by “blinks,” I clearly mean passes. Georgia Southern leads the nation with 385 rushing yards per game and 49 rushing touchdowns and ranks second with 7.2 yards per carry, while Navy ranks second at 350 rushing yards a game and second at nearly 57 carries a game.
– Can Charlie Strong keep it rolling? It’s taken a while, but Texas has started to look like a Charlie Strong team in its two-game winning streak, beating Texas Tech and West Virginia by a combined 67-29 and rushing for 455 yards in the process. Now he goes to chilly Stillwater in what amounts to a bowl game to get to a bowl game for both Texas (5-5 with TCU on Thanksgiving) and Oklahoma State (5-4 with Baylor and Oklahoma waiting).