Plenty of big games this week have interesting questions that will define each one. We run down the biggest matchups to see how they may be answered by Saturday’s end.
Florida State vs. Clemson: Can Clemson be explosive?
We know FSU has a sixth gear, but does Clemson? It’s the most pressing question the Tigers must answer if they have any hope of winning this game. Clemson probably won’t get in the red zone and perform as catastrophically bad as it did against Duke, but at some point in this game it is going to have to hit an explosive play. By any measure, Clemson’s passing game would rather pass sideways than it would down the field. Whether that is by design or by necessity may come to the forefront in this game. Just under 10% of Clemson’s completions go for 20 yards, and it averages only 5.1 air yards per attempt.
There aren’t many questions about the run game as it has been consistent throughout, so there is that for the Tigers, and if they stick to a favorable game script that keeps them in their shell, then this might be rendered moot. But what makes anyone think that’s more likely than not considering what this team has shown this season?
UCLA vs. Utah: Which team’s quarterback situation is actually settled?
The Cam Rising question will determine Utah’s offensive identity Saturday. The Utes lack a level of explosiveness without him (and to an extent Brant Kuithe) in the passing game. While Nate Johnson adds a dynamic running threat, they do need Rising’s arm and experience. And while there may be optimism around Rising’s possible return, what happens from here will be fascinating as Utah gets into the thick of conference play.
As far as UCLA is concerned, Dante Moore’s first test arrives. UCLA’s rushing attack will be big time, but when Utah’s front bows up, even more tenured quarterbacks have struggled.
Colorado vs. Oregon: The Ducks have to take this seriously, right?
One of the more interesting phases of the next part of Colorado’s season is how opposing teams will treat them now that there’s film on the squad, and not much about them will come as a surprise. It stands to reason Oregon won’t overlook this team, and, now, like any budding team, it’s time to see how Colorado can play against a good opponent if its primary mode of attack gets taken away. Travis Hunter is already out, and how Oregon deals with talented running back Dylan Edwards will be key.
Ole Miss vs. Alabama: Is this Lane Kiffin’s breakthrough?
There is nothing more that Kiffin would like than to beat Alabama. In 2020, Ole Miss took the Tide to the brink until midway through the fourth quarter when the Rebels finally blinked. Similar story last year in a one-possession game. They’ve been knocking on the door, and with Bama as vulnerable as it has been since ’19, if not longer, this is the time to get the Tide if there ever was one, considering the quarterback situation in flux and a seemingly deficient receiving corps.
Oregon State vs. Washington State: Is Oregon State’s defense all it’s cracked up to be?
The Beavers have made waves against bad teams by sitting on them. A defense gutted by the NFL draft at the end of last season has yet to face a team that can pose the challenge of Cam Ward and the Cougars. One thing that makes for a bad matchup for Washington State is the fact that it isn’t great at running the ball and Oregon State has proven formidable against offenses trying to do that. Ward is a good quarterback, but being one-dimensional plays into any defense’s hands.
Ohio State vs. Notre Dame: Which front is actually for real?
Either Notre Dame’s crew of maulers are legit, or Ohio State’s front has truly taken a step forward. As far as good on good goes, that’s one key place to look in this game. Notre Dame’s offense has taken a huge step up by simply adding Sam Hartman to the fold, but make no mistake the bones of that offense are pounding the rock. Michigan has flat-out dominated Ohio State the past couple of years trying to do that. It’s up to the Buckeyes to prove in this game that they’ve turned over a new leaf.
Iowa vs. Penn State: Is Penn State good enough to avoid the trap?
Iowa wants to play the game in a certain style. Penn State should be athletic enough for that not to matter, but previous Nittany Lions teams have gotten snagged on the Hawkeyes’ bear trap—whether that’s a game that’s closer than you’d think or the past two years that have featured outright Iowa wins. If Penn State is the playoff contender it appears to be, how it handles this game will be a big step in proving its worth. Everyone is looking to the Ohio State and Michigan games as ways to judge Penn State, and that’s just how Iowa likes it.