Conference play is finally getting underway after a month or so of relatively underwhelming non-conference play. League titles, the Heisman race and the national title picture will begin to come into focus starting tomorrow. This week has some especially good matchups specifically in the Big 12 and SEC but there’s also some “off the radar” games where we could see some big upsets. I’ve selected five that you’ll want to keep your eye on.
#20 Mississippi State Bulldogs at Kentucky Wildcats (+10, 12:21 PM ET)… Yes I know, I’m a little nuts picking Kentucky football to do much of anything. Their whole season has basically been a cluster… you can finish that. Starting quarterback Maxwell Smith is on the shelf indefinitely with an ankle injury and head coach Joker Phillips is almost certainly going to get canned after this season. Yet I’ve got a feeling the Wildcats keep this interesting. Last week against the South Carolina Gamecocks they hung around till the 4th quarter thanks to an excellent effort against running back Marcus Lattimore. Somehow, Mississippi State is ranked despite beating no one. If you made me pick, of course, winning against the Auburn Tigers is the best scalp they have but when you are playing against quarterback Kiehl Frazier that’s not much to brag about. I think the Bulldogs will be looking ahead to next week versus the explosive Tennessee Volunteers and frankly I’m not that big of a Tyler Russell fan. He’s a bit too much of a “game manager” for me and I don’t think MSU has the explosiveness on offense to pull away. Kentucky gets a backdoor cover. Mississippi State 28 – Kentucky 24.
Northern Illinois Huskies at Ball State Cardinals (+2 1/2, 3:30 PM EST)… A big battle in the MAC is on tap tomorrow in Muncie. Ball State already has taken care of tw0 BCS teams in the Indiana Hoosiers and South Florida Bulls but lost a tough one to the Kent State Golden Flashes last week. They have a potent passing attack led by quarterback Keith Wenning who threw 5 TD passes in the loss and has thrown just two picks all year. His ability to spread the ball around is going to give the Huskies pass defense some problems even though statistically they’ve been sound. However, as always, the stats don’t tell the whole picture. The Iowa Hawkeyes can’t throw this year after losing their top threats to the NFL and the Kansas Jayhawks are a major work in progress under quarterback Dayne Crist. In a shootout I normally like the home team but especially Ball State which has shown they can finish a game off even on the final possession and NIU relies so much on junior quarterback Jordan Lynch for both running and throwing. Ball State 35 – Northern Illinois 30.
Vanderbilt Commodores at Missouri Tigers (-7, 7 PM EST)… Talk about a game with two teams that are underachieving. The national media adopted the Commodores as their darling after last season’s campaign which included so many close losses. This year they were supposed to take the next step and get to that 8-9 win plateau. Well, that hasn’t happened even after a close loss against then #9 South Carolina Gamecocks which was aided by a horrible no call on pass interference late. Meanwhile, Missouri has had a rough introduction to the SEC. Despite all the trash talk we heard from the Tigers, specifically from star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, they’ve played completely flat. Now star freshman wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and two of his teammates are suspended and even more pressure is on quarterback James Franklin who has been at the center of controversy this season. The Commodores defense is a heck of a lot better then they showed against the Georgia Bulldogs, especially in the secondary. Vanderbilt 20 – Missouri 17.
Texas A&M Aggies at Ole Miss Rebels (+13, 7 PM EST)… This one won’t play a part in the SEC race but it should be a heck of a lot of fun regardless. Both squads are explosive and unpredictable. Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel is one of the most fun players to watch across college football with his dual threat ability. On the other side Rebels quarterback Bo Mitchell isn’t bad himself. He struggled against the Alabama Crimson Tide though who wouldn’t! That defense is nearly NFL caliber. Both should have an easy time moving the ball in their high tempo, spread offenses and speed is plentiful. If you like “baskeball on grass” or even Arena Football, this is a must watch. While Texas A&M’s defense is better overall and they have the best player on that side of the ball in Damontre Moore, who’s leading the SEC in sacks, a night game at “The Grove” isn’t easy especially for a young team in transition. Ole Miss 35 – Texas A&M 31.
Miami-Ohio Redhawks at Cincinnati Bearcats (-20, 7 PM EST)… No Miami-Ohio won’t be winning this in state battle for the “Victory Bell” but that doesn’t mean they won’t cover. The Redhawks are led by quarterback Zac Dysert who will be playing on NFL Sundays next year. He’s an excellent thrower who has the ability to extend the play at times with his feet. Last week, he went over 500 yards through the air and over 100 on the ground although the Akron Zips are one of the worst teams in the FBS. I’m not a big believer in Cincinnati just yet. They destroyed a Pittsburgh Panthers team that has completely tanked in the Big East despite being a top 2-3 team in the league during the preseason and then it took a late comeback to beat a Virginia Tech Hokies team that lost their will against that same Pitt team. The Bearcats defense though will play just well enough and considering Miami-Ohio can’t stop just about anyone on their schedule so far they’ll fall but win in Vegas’s eyes. Cincinnati 31 – Miami 17.