Welcome, boys and ghouls, and be not afraid of this spooky edition of The Open Man Saturday Six-Pack. If you hear a bump this college football Saturday, it’s only the zombies of College Football Playoff hopefuls past lurking through the gridiron graveyard.
USC? Done in by a devious leprechaun.
Auburn? Cannibalized by another couple of Tigers.
Washington? Still alive, but the Devils’ grip on the Dawgs’ tail makes reaching Playoff sanctuary especially complicated.
The season is far from finished claiming the College Football Playoff souls of the unsuspecting. Just days before Halloween, Notre Dame’s mischievous leprechauns and a ravenous pack of defensive werewolves meet in South Bend, where one is guaranteed to be eliminated from the Playoff picture.
Some blood-spitting Frogs in Big 12 country walk directly into the treacherous winds of a spinning Cyclone.
Saquon Barkley, the Big Ten’s Frankenstein monster — not the misunderstood creation Boris Karloff played, but the Christopher Lee Hammer Studios version — leads some hungry Lions into the den of a resurrected rival.
This Halloween weekend is overflowing with thrills for some, scares for others, and plenty of earth-shattering possibilities. It wouldn’t be the first time the Saturday of All Hallow’s Eve fundamentally altered the college football landscape.
Last Week: 5-1, 4-2 ATS
Overall: 35-24, 35-21 (note: FCS games previewed early in the season had no lines)
SATURDAY’S SIX-PACK: Elysian Night Owl
The Saturday Six-Pack concludes its October pumpkin motif with Seattle-based brewery Elysian’s pumpkin Ale, Night Owl. Of the various suggestions this month, Night Owl is probably the best for Halloween — not overly sweet, so as not to kill the sweet tooth necessary for testing trick-or-treat candy, not so heavy as to bog you down. With this being the Saturday of Halloween, it’s a worthy option for the loaded college football slate.
No. 11 Oklahoma State Cowboys at No. 22 West Virginia Mountaineers
Kickoff: Noon ET/9 a.m. PT
Line: Oklahoma State -7
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen spent a season as offensive coordinator of Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys for a season, before moving on to Morgantown. Oh, what I would have given for a 24/7 web-stream of that coaches office.
Holgo’s Mountaineers took two of the first three in the series, but Gundy’s Pokes won each of the last two — including an overtime decision on their last visit to Morgantown. This one has the makings of a similarly outstanding Big 12 shootout, with quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Will Grier boasting some of the most impressive passing numbers in college football. Rudolph leads the nation in passing yards, despite surviving a defensive struggles last week at Texas, while Grier’s 26 passing touchdowns are far-and-away most in the nation.
These doppelganger offenses also feature two of, if not the best wide receivers in the nation between David Sills and James Washington. Though Sills leads the nation in touchdown receptions, finding the end zone may be challenging; Oklahoma State’s allowed only four passing touchdowns all season. West Virginia may have to go to the ground with Justin Crawford, averaging better than six yards per carry to supplement the prolific Mountaineers passing attack.
A chaotic Saturday feels overdue, if not befitting the Halloween weekend. Early kickoffs in Morgantown lend to wild results, and West Virginia knocking Oklahoma State from the Playoff hunt would qualify.
PREDICTION: West Virginia 42, Oklahoma State 38
No. 2 Penn State at No. 6 Ohio State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
Line: Ohio State -6.5
Movie monsters like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers return for endless sequels, but rare is the opportunity for a College Football Playoff hopeful to get a mulligan. Such is the case for Ohio State this weekend, however, with the Buckeyes hosting their second Top 10 showdown of the season.
The last went about as poorly as the final 10 minutes unfold for a slash-movie monster. Just call Baker Mayfield Tommy Jarvis, as his flag-plant at the Horseshoe’s midfield was akin to the machete blows that ended Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.
But with J.T. Barrett starting to cook and the Ohio State defense limiting its last five opponents to a combined 56 points, it’s A New Beginning for the Buckeyes’ Playoff aspirations. Ohio State’s recently resurgent defense gets put to the test, however, because Saquon Barkley Lives.
The Heisman Trophy front-runner is a difference-maker as a ball-carrier, receiver or kick returner. Limit him in one area, chances are he’ll go off in another. Penn State also has a dangerous dual-threat quarterback in Trace McSorley, who makes effective use of pass-catchers DaeSean Hamilton at wide receivers, and Mike Gesicki.
There’s no question Penn State can score in a variety of ways, but despite holding opponents to under 10 points per game, the Nittany Lion defense has yet to be challenged. Ohio State will change that. Not only is Barrett back into the Heisman conversation, but Urban Meyer rolls with some New Blood in the form of J.K. Dobbins. The freshman is averaging almost 8 yards per carry.
Should the Buckeyes win, I suspect it’s enough to keep Penn State out of the College Football Playoff. It might also ensure J.T. Barrett, not Saquon Barkley, is the player from the Big Ten to Take Manhattan.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 31, Penn State 27
No. 4 TCU at No. 25 Iowa State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
TV: ABC or ESPN2
Line: TCU -6.5
Upset-minded Iowa State shocked the college football world when it blew through Oklahoma earlier this month, handing the Sooners a 38-31 loss in Norman. Iowa State since went on to rout Texas Tech in Lubbock and stun America with a Top 25 ranking. It’s no fluke, either: Matt Campbell’s Cyclones are for real.
Kyle Kempt has been a revelation stepping into quarterback out of necessity, pairing well with dynamic wide receiver Allen Lazard and running back David Montgomery. With Joel Lanning anchoring the defense, the Cyclones have a legitimate corps to beat any team in the Big 12 — that includes the conference’s leading Playoff contender, TCU.
TCU has looked excellent both on offense and defense through the the first two months of the season. The Horned Frogs are holding opponents to 14.9 points per game — an impressive feat, considering they’ve draw dates with SMU (42 PPG), Oklahoma State (43.7 PPG) and West Virginia (43.3 PPG), all of which rank in the national Top 10 for scoring offense. A multifaceted run game complements the Frogs’ defense nicely. Four Frogs average between 16.7 and 76 rushing yards per game, with 15 touchdowns spread among them.
Quarterback Kenny Hill hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers, but really has not needed to with TCU controlling games defensively. That trend will be put to the test, given Iowa State has come alive since scoring just seven against Texas last month with 114 points over the past three games (though one was against Kansas).
This looks like Gary Patterson’s best TCU team since the 2010 squad, which I am not convinced wouldn’t have won a College Football Playoff involving Auburn and Oregon, had such a thing existed then. At the same time, I’ve seen a worse Iowa State team ruin the Big 12’s national championship aspirations in Ames recently. While I anticipate an excellent game sure to put a fright in Frogs faithful, TCU keeps its Playoff resume in tact.
PREDICTION: TCU 28, Iowa State 24
No. 14 NC State at No. 9 Notre Dame
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
Line: Notre Dame -7.5
Notre Dame survived the first Playoff-elimination match in a pivotal stretch for the Fighting Irish, routing USC last week, 49-14. An NC State bunch fresh off a bye week comes to South Bend now, bringing with it what might be the best defensive line in college football.
Bradley Chubb anchors NC State’s outstanding front with 6.5 sacks on the season, tied for second-most among Power Five players. Joined by Darian Roseboro, Justin Jones and Kentavius Street, the veteran Wolfpack defensive line is sixth nationally in rushing defense, and has limited opponents just 3.06 yards per carry. Don’t expect the same kind of smooth sailing for Josh Adams and Brandon Wimbush they experienced a week ago against USC.
Establishing the run is critical to Notre Dame’s offense, as Wimbush is not an especially accurate passer (51.8 percent completions on the season). The Irish offensive line is excellent and experienced, countering the same qualities NC State boasts up front. There may not be a better battle in the trenches this season.
With points likely coming at a premium, NC State quarterback Ryan Finley — who has completed 69.4 percent of his pass attempts and has yet to throw an interception on the season — could be the difference-maker. Notre Dame capitalized on early USC turnovers last week, but Finley’s ball control could prove critical in nullifying Notre Dame’s opportunities.
PREDICTION: NC State 24, Notre Dame 21
Georgia Tech at No. 7 Clemson
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT
TV: ABC or ESPN2
Line: Clemson -14
This cross-divisional ACC matchup is oh-so-close to being a College Football Playoff elimination game. Georgia Tech lost despite absolutely dominating Tennessee on Labor Day, then fell to Miami on the Hurricanes’ final drive, despite also dominating that game.
Pardon the pun, but those losses have to sting.
Still, Georgia Tech’s option offense and a solid run defense (No. 20 in FBS) ensure the Yellow Jackets can hang with any opponent. That includes Clemson, even if the Tigers are at home in prime-time and are just two weeks removed from a loss.
The defending national champions are predictably excellent on defense, not surprising with Brent Venables at the controls, but the Tigers offense has been an issue. Kelly Bryant will play despite being pulled in the first half of Clemson’s loss at Syracuse. He told TheState.com that the key to improving offensive production:
“I feel like the tempo hasn’t been where it should be as an offense, where we want to reach our goal of a certain amount of plays. The emphasis for us is just being a smarter team and playing faster.”
That’s a sound strategy against Georgia Tech, forcing the run-based offense into a quick-tempo game. But even a great defense such as Clemson’s faces challenges in limiting an option attack averaging almost 375 rushing yards per game, with an average time of possession of 35:53; highest in the nation. Georgia Tech’s methodical approach will make for a low-scoring contest, but the Tigers should remain in the Playoff chase by handing Tech yet another heart-breaking loss.
Prediction: Clemson 20, Georgia Tech 17
No. 15 Washington State at Arizona
Kickoff: 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Network
Line: Washington State -2.5
Arizona’s ghastly 2016 season hit its nadir when the Wildcats lost at Washington State, 69-7. It’s a score that has no doubt hung with Rich Rodriguez’s team, which is mightily improved in all facets this season.
The Wildcats return to Tucson after a double overtime win at Cal, UA’s third straight victory. All have come since Khalil Tate took over at quarterback, and the streak’s propelled Arizona into a tie for first-place atop the Pac-12 South. The unexpectedly high stakes, with Washington State also tied atop the North, give this matchup an entirely different feel than the Wildcats’ awful visit to the Palouse a season ago.
Washington State regrouped from a blowout loss on Oct. 13 at Cal to shut out Colorado, though the Cougars offense wasn’t quite clicking. Wazzu didn’t score its first points until the latter half of the second quarter. Some of that may be the result of cold, rainy conditions, but after Luke Falk threw five interceptions and the Cougars scored just three points at Cal, there seems to be something a tad off with Mike Leach’s typically prolific air-raid.
The question is whether Marcel Yates’ defense can capitalize. Arizona’s been much improved defensively from recent years, particularly generating a pass rush, which will be vital if the Wildcats are to spring an upset. How Arizona mixes it up its offensively look against a fast Washington State defense is equally critical. With Tate driving the engine, Arizona is one of the top rushing teams in college football, but the Cougars are equipped to stop Arizona from springing those explosive plays that have been critical to UA’s success.
This should be a good one in the desert that lives up to the #Pac12AfterDark ethos. Look for Tate to make a big pass play that demonstrates his big arm, and Arizona to exact some revenge for last season — while also maintaining its pace in the South.
PREDICTION: Arizona 38, Washington State 34