Saturday Six-Pack: Clemson-Virginia Tech Headlines College Football

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

Someone wake up Billie Joe Armstrong, the final September slate of the college football season is upon us.

With a full month nearly in the books, I’m reminded of a comment the late, great Beano Cook made on the original ESPN College Football Podcast: “We wait [for college football season], then it flies by. It’s like Casablanca. It starts, then you’re at the airport.”

Part of what makes the college football season so exciting is that it packs so much action into such a small timeline. At one month, we are one-third of the way into the 2017 campaign. Compare that to other sports:

In the Major League Baseball season, three months marks the All-Star break. The NBA hasn’t even reached All-Star weekend at the three-month mark. Even college basketball is only beginning to ramp up by mid-February, which is its three-month point.

Because it spans just 13 weeks, every Saturday of the college football seasons packs in the excitement of MLB’s October, college basketball’s March and NBA’s…well, bad example there, since the Playoffs seemingly go on for three months (it’s only two). But you get the idea.

2017 RECORD

Last Week: 0-6, 4-2 ATS

Overall: 16-19, 19-13 ATS

Last weekend’s results were quite interesting for The Saturday Six-Pack. I offhandedly mention I don’t gamble, and my picks include Las Vegas point spreads for informational purposes. Some college football personalities tout their records to the points of selling their picks, which I find hilariously disingenuous. Finishing winless head-to-head but above .500 in Vegas terms underlines why.

The Six-Pack went heavy on upsets last weekend, and a few teams came through — just not those I picked. TCU and NC State won; Iowa, Kentucky and Purdue did not. It was still an Upset Saturday, just not how I envisioned. That in and of itself speaks to why the game’s so much fun; when you think you have it figured out, it pulls another Saquon Barkley-esque cutback.

THE SATURDAY SIX-PACK: Karl Strauss Oktoberfest

The Six-Pack toasted to the start of Oktoberfest a few weeks ago. With the celebration in Munich coming to a close on Tuesday, it’s only fitting to pour one out for a final time this 2017 college football season.

The only thing I have spotlighted more than upsets in this column so far this season is San Diego breweries. It feels especially apropos since this weekend, I’ll be working live in America’s Finest City, covering the San Diego State-Northern Illinois game for The Sports Xchange. Thus, I won’t toast a Karl Strauss Oktoberfest until Sunday, but it’s high on my list of Marzens and a worthy selection if you’re off-the-clock this gameday.

FLORIDA STATE at WAKE FOREST

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT

TV: ABC

Line: Florida State -7.5

On the heels of an up-and-down offensive performance against a very good defensive opponent from the ACC Atlantic, winless Florida State returns to face…a very good defensive opponent from the ACC Atlantic.

Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson has overseen an impressive reconstruction job, last year leading the Demon Deacons to their first bowl game since 2011; and first above-.500 record since 2008.

Both years are noteworthy in the context of Wake hosting Florida State; the Demon Deacons last beat the Seminoles in 2011, and in 2008, finished the final leg of a three-year run of victories in the series. As The Open Man’s Andrew Nostvick notes, the 2006 win marked Wake’s first against the Seminoles in 33 years.

That 2006 Wake Forest team was also the best in modern history, combining stout defense with component offense en route to an ACC championship. The conference is much better as a whole now than it was 11 years ago, but this looks as though it may be the best Demon Deacons bunch since that historic ’06 campaign.

Wake’s defense will present James Blackman, making only his second career start, some real challenges. The Deacs have playmakers in linebacker Jaboree Williams and defensive end Duke Ejiofor. Points may come at a premium for the Seminoles — but the same is true for Wake Forest.

Dual-threat quarterback John Wolford had the Deacs buzzing along for three weeks against overmatched competition, but Wake scored just 20 points last week in a narrow win over Appalachian State. The Mountaineers have a great defense, but no one like Josh Sweat, Derwin James or Brian Burns.

PREDICTION: Florida State 24, Wake Forest 20

GEORGIA at TENNESSEE

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT

TV: CBS

Line: Georgia -8

Twice The Saturday Six-Pack has included Georgia. Twice, SSP picked the Bulldogs to lose, only for them to win. Lesson learned.

Put a red-hot team with a couple of impressive victories against an opponent badly reeling, and the results are potentially combustible. Coaching regimes reach crossroad games, and after Tennessee barely escaped last week against winless UMass, Butch Jones arrived at that crossroads perhaps ahead of schedule.

Following his lambasting of media earlier this week, which Trenise Ferreira highlighted, Tennessee football is at a boiling point. A loss to rival Georgia won’t do Jones in; a blowout at home would.

While overmatched teams get up for there rival all the time — it’s an inevitability of any college football season — Georgia’s playing so well since Jake Fromm took over at quarterback; the Vols rush defense has been dreadful, and now sees a tandem of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb; and Tennessee’s ongoing quarterback controversy plays out against a star-studded defense.

Georgia rolls in what could very well mark the end of the Butch Jones era.

PREDICITON: Georgia 38, Tennessee 14

No. 24 MISSISSIPPI STATE at No. 13 AUBURN

Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET, 3 p.m. PT

TV: ESPN

Line: Auburn -7.5

So Mississippi State’s flirtation with consideration as a contender to Alabama lasted all of a week. Buck up, though, Bulldogs: The last time a team unseated Emperor Saban and the Crimson Tide was Auburn in 2013. That same season, the Tigers dropped a multiple-touchdown decision in-conference on — you guessed it — Week 4.

Yes, a return to that contender’s role is feasible. To emulate Auburn, however, Mississippi State needs to bounce back with a win at Auburn.

Two Top 15 matchups on the road in back-to-back weeks is tough sledding. This also marks the third consecutive Top 15 for Mississippi State in total — though I personally contend LSU isn’t a Top 15-caliber team, and the Tigers’ ranking two weeks is more indicative of prevalent SEC bias skewing preseason polls, thus perpetuating the narrative.

But I digress.

Regardless, this is a pivotal opportunity for either Mississippi State or Auburn to make early headway in the SEC West. Auburn’s one of those teams I don’t fully have a gauge on yet; the Tigers’ best performance came in a loss at Clemson. The defense was impressive, but the offense did next-to-nothing. That’s to be expected against Clemson, though.

Jarrett Stidham’s thrown just three touchdown passes, but he’s completing 70.6 percent of his attempts. Kam Martin’s averaging better than 9 yards per carry as the primary back, while Kamryn Pettway battles through some injury issues. Petty’s expected to play this week, which gives the Mississippi State defense a tandem look akin to Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel a week ago.

Ultimately, I have more faith in Auburn’s defense to slow Mississippi State’s multifaceted run game, including Nick Fitzgerald, than I do in the Bulldogs’ ability to stop the Tigers.

PREDICTION: Auburn 31, Mississippi State 21

MEMPHIS at UCF

Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT

TV: ESPN2

Line: UCF -4

It’s remarkable to see a line that favors UCF over Memphis in this matchup of undefeated American Athletic Conference teams and realize the Knights went winless just two years ago. The foundation Scott Frost inherited wasn’t decimated, evidently; even so, recovering from 0-12 is incredibly difficult.

This one was originally scheduled for Week 2, but Hurricane Irma forced postponement. Memphis cancelled its date with Georgia State to reschedule, and this has more intrigue as a result. The Tigers now come in two weeks removed from an impressive win over UCLA in which Anthony Miller and Riley Ferguson ran wild.

Memphis being able to establish its primary passing threat against a UCF defense that garnered nearly as many interceptions a season ago (15) as it allowed touchdown throws (16) presents quite a challenge. The Knight secondary features potentially game-changing playmakers with Mike Hughes and Tre Neal.

Conversely, UCF getting a multifaceted ground attack going is central to its chances. Dual-threat quarterback McKenzie Milton seems the ideal fit for Frost’s offense, proving equally as dangerous on the ground as with the pass.

Points should not be in short supply for this one, which may well come down to which team has possession last.

PREDICTION: UCF 48, Memphis 42

No. 2 CLEMSON at No. 12 VIRGINIA TECH

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT

TV: ABC

Line: Clemson -7

A rematch of last December’s ACC Championship Game, doubling as a possible preview for the 2017 installment, Clemson enters Blacksburg looking very much like Virginia Tech teams of years past. The Tigers’ ability to overwhelm opposing quarterbacks and stifle run games translates into punts, takeaways and general frustration.

Thus far in 2017, playing the defending national champion Clemson Tigers has resembled death-by-paper cut. The offense lacks the sizzle of a Deshaun Watson side, but the defense hasn’t missed a beat under coordinator Brent Venables.

In his first year as head coach, Justin Fuente injected life into a long-struggling Virginia Tech offense, much in the same way Venables immediately turned around the previously porous Clemson defense. And, like a Clemson defense that faced considerable roster turnover this past offseason, Virginia Tech was equipped to address the loss of Jerod Evans.

Through the first portion of the 2017 season, Josh Jackson has actually been an upgrade. Jackson has 11 touchdown passes and only one interception this season, is averaging a shade below 10 yards per attempt, and has tacked on a solid 36 rushing yards a contest.

The challenge of containing Josh Jackson isn’t unlike the one the Clemson defense saw a few weeks ago against another quarterback named Jackson. The difference this time is Virginia Tech’s version operates behind a significantly better offensive line.

Clemson’s in for a test to be sure. Here’s an opportunity, on the road, for Kelly Bryant to put his own stamp on this team.

PREDICTION: Clemson 28, Virginia Tech 24

No. 15 OKLAHOMA STATE at TEXAS TECH

Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT

TV: FOX

Line: Oklahoma State -10.5

In the part of the world in which I reside, garden spiders are prevalent this time of year. These arachnids look menacing; they spin massive webs that span several feet, and the spiders themselves are typically larger than a dime.

Though they appear menacing, they subsist on tiny insects like flies and mosquitoes, and are entirely harmless to humans. Once temperatures drop in October, garden spiders start to disappear.

For essentially the entirety of the 2010s, Texas Tech has been the garden spider of the college football world. The Red Raiders get big and fat feasting on overmatched foes: a Southland Conference opponent here, a C-USA team there. They might even beat a Power Five team, as was the case with their win two weeks ago against Arizona State.

Then, once the trudge of Big 12 Conference play begins, Tech fades, relegating the Red Raiders to an existence of 5-to-7-win mediocrity. Is this season different? Saturday provides the first insight.

Oklahoma State comes in vulnerable after a shockingly lopsided home loss to TCU. The Cowboys went from College Football Playoff favorites to riding a tenuous bubble in the span of 3.5 hours. Mason Rudolph remains squarely in the hunt for the Heisman Trophy, but the Pokes’ problems aren’t predicated on quarterback play. The defense was badly gashed, giving up 238 yards rushing and a staggering 11-of-19 third-down conversions to TCU.

Although Texas Tech has had its issues in Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure, scoring points has not been one. Despite losing Patrick Mahomes to the NFL, the Red Raider offense is cruising at a brisk pace behind Nic Shimonek. He’s completing better than 70 percent of his pass attempts and has thrown just one interception to 11 touchdowns.

Houston held Texas Tech to just 27 points a week ago…but Oklahoma State doesn’t have an Ed Oliver on the defensive line. Expect a high-scoring game with the Cowboys bouncing back, but not before Shimonek and Co. annoy them more than walking through a spiderweb.

PREDICTION: OKLAHOMA STATE 56, TEXAS TECH 49