Games To Watch: Rivalry Week

By C Jay Jones
Nov. 22, 2017

UPSET) #23 BOISE STATE (9-2 OVERALL; 7-0 MWC) AT FRESNO STATE (8-3 OVERALL; 6-1 MWC) - 12:30PM PT/ 3:30PM ET [CBS SPORTS NETWORK]

I must admit, I’m impressed with Fresno State. After surviving a gauntlet two-week schedule at Seattle and Tuscaloosa, the games in the Mountain West conference feels lightweight to them. What's the key to their success? Here's what I said about what Fresno State has before the season started: they have a quarterback, a running back (now 3-deep), and a receiver (2-3 capable ones). But what I never expected was their defense to step up too. Their team is 12th nationally in points allowed, 13th nationally and 1 in-conference in rushing touchdowns allowed, and #2 in-conference in passing touchdowns allowed. So why the stats? Why is Boise State on upset alert? Fresno State challenged San Diego State to throw the ball while shutting down #1 rushing leader Rashaad Penny to just 69 yards. They also allowed two 100-yard rushers (1 is Jalen Hurts) and gave up 100+ yards 4 times this season. Boise State’s running back Alexander Mattison and quarterback Montell Cozart are capable runners but the backfield doesn't seem consistent enough to be a threat. If they’re unable to get things churning against the Bulldogs' front, expect not only Fresno State to win, but also for them to stay home for the Mountain West championship game.

4) #8 NOTRE DAME (9-2 OVERALL) AT #21 STANFORD (8-3 OVERALL) - 5PM PT/ 8PM ET [ABC]

The battle for the Legends Trophy won't be easy. Notre Dame and Stanford had their shares of success and shares of failures. Notre Dame is on the outside looking in at the #4 spot while Stanford is in limbo of the Pac-12 North and hoping Washington defeats Washington State in order for Stanford to go to the conference championship next week. Both teams are similar on offense and defense. They both have 1000-yard rushers, both defenses have over 10 interceptions, over 50 tackles for losses, and over 20 sacks. The downside for both sides is that Stanford doesn’t have a proven quarterback and Brandon Wimbush is a good athlete, but the completion percentage is 51. Notre Dame hasn’t won at The Farm since 2007 and has lost two straight meetings. Stanford's quarterback has been pass blocked over 50 times and this could be bad against Notre Dame's coverage. The Irish must win this game and hope for the last two weeks of chaos. Stanford’s win and a Wazzu lost to Washington will send the Cardinals to the conference championship.

3) #13 WASHINGTON STATE (9-2 OVERALL; 6-2 PAC-12) AT #17 WASHINGTON (9-2 OVERALL; 6-2 PAC-12) - 5PM PT/ 8PM ET [FOX]

This is the second straight year where I had high hopes for a possible Top 10 Apple Cup game. I’m once again disappointed, but this could be a more interesting game than last year. Washington State and Washington are similar in defense, but what can I honestly get out of both quarterbacks? What was supposed to be two dangerous quarterbacks this season is now not really that scary, but they can still make plays. They’re however inconsistent. Luke Falk has taken the brunt of the sacks and is completing only 66% of his throws. Jake Browning is playing to his advantage in the touchdown to interception ratio, but his inconsistency could be affected by his injury. Washington State is at a disadvantage on the road because their two losses were by an average of 27.2 points. I don’t know where this game will go or what the result will be, but receiver Dante Pettis on special teams could be the difference maker depending on Washington’s performance.

2) USF (9-1 OVERALL; 6-1 AAC) AT #15 UCF (10-0 OVERALL; 7-0 AAC) - 12:30PM PT/ 3:30PM ET {FRIDAY} [ABC]

This is the matchup I expected since making South Florida’s prediction, but I never expected UCF to make an undefeated run themselves. The advantage goes to UCF because they’re a very lethal offense, thanks to Scott Frost. South Florida’s defense is a little bit stronger though, but their offense has sputtered from time to time. When they’re supposed to run away from beatable teams, they somehow allow them to come back or stay close. They realized that they’re going to Orlando this Friday, but what they don’t realize is that UCF’s offense will score quickly. If they can’t find their 2016 selves, this could be a long and agonizing last regular season game for the Bulls.

1) #1 ALABAMA (11-0 OVERALL; 7-0 SEC) AT #6 AUBURN (9-2 OVERALL; 6-1 SEC) – 12:30PM PT/ 3:30PM ET [CBS]

The Iron Bowl is the most anticipating game this year since 2013. The four-year re-development of Gus Malzahn’s offense has slowly but surely come together after 2 years of searching for a quarterback. Alabama's offense is nothing short but dominant. However, this season didn’t look too solid on the defensive side. No joke. They lost four linebackers including Shaun Dion Hamilton. As good as their defense is, their linebackers are the core of the defense and this could hurt them this weekend. Auburn’s quarterback Jarrett Stidham is still developing himself, but he’s the answer to Auburn’s quarterback search. Here’s where this could play in Auburn’s favor. How did Auburn defeat Alabama’s defense even before the 109-missed field goal game-winning touchdown in 2013? Their rushing offense. Kerryon Johnson must rush for 100+ yards and his company must do their part without Kamryn Pettway while Stidham tries playing mistake free football. This may be their only chance to win the Iron Bowl after a 3-year drought. The winner goes on to the SEC West championship, but Alabama's win this weekend most likely secures their spot in the college football playoff despite the result of the conference championship.

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