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College Football Weekend Preview: Baylor Is the New Oregon

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College Football Weekend Preview: Baylor Is the New Oregon

Normally this section wraps up our weekly column, but following the biggest Thursday night in college football history, we have to start with...

What Happened Before Saturday

Baylor is alive for the national championship. Oregon is not, at least barring total chaos.

After Oregon's loss to Stanford, Baylor is surprisingly the team with the up-tempo spread offense still in contention for the BCS championship.

The final 26-20 score may look respectable, but Oregon got clobbered by Stanford, down 23-0 after three quarters and only getting back into the game following a blocked kick returned for a touchdown and recovering an onside kick.

A clash in styles was apparent: Stanford's smash-mouth football one-upping Oregon's new-age attack. On offense, the Cardinal ran the football 66 times, controlling the clock. And on defense, Stanford wasn't fazed by the Ducks' read option and play-action fakes, stuffing them cold.

It didn't help Oregon's cause that quarterback Marcus Mariota reportedly has a sprained MCL, which the school has downplayed. But Mariota was visibly hobbled, rushing an uncharacteristic six times for -16 yards.

Stanford is now in the driver's seat for the Rose Bowl, Oregon now behind their Pac-12 North rival in the pecking order.

Meanwhile, Baylor stated its case for inclusion in the national championship race in rather convincing fashion, beating previously 10th ranked Oklahoma 41-12.

Baylor, of course, has earned reputation for an explosive offense, averaging over 60 points and 600 yards per game. But what they were able to do on Thursday against Oklahoma lent legitimacy to the fashion the were able to dispatch a ranked opponent.

Baylor's 41 points and 459 yards weren't par for the course, but being able to put up those kind of numbers with wide receiver Tevin Reese and running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin all sidelined by injuries was nothing short of remarkable. Those three have combined for over 1,500 yards of offense and 24 touchdowns this season.

And not only is Baylor's offense elite, its defense is nearly as good, featuring star power at each level. End Shawn Oakman anchors the defensive line, while safety Ahmad Dixon is one of the best safeties in all of college football.

But the linebacking corps for Baylor steals the show. Bryce Hager, Eddie Lackey and Sam Holl might not be as good as either Oakman or Dixon individually, but collectively, they're superb. Lackey in particular was the star on Thursday night, coming up with eight tackles, one for a loss and an interception.

Unfortunately for Baylor, it probably needs at least two out of three undefeated teams to lose among Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State if they are to get to Pasadena in January, but at least their hopes are still alive. Not only alive but thriving.

And that's more than Oregon can say right now.


Where College GameDay Is At

In each of the past two years, the Alabama-LSU rivalry has lost a little bit of luster since a pair of No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups in 2011, once in the regular season and again in the national championship.

Last year it was No. 1 vs. No. 5 and this year it's No. 1 vs. No. 10.

Still, it's not as if this year's edition isn't a big game. All the evidence you need is that ESPN is choosing to broadcast its pregame show from Alabama despite rival network CBS broadcasting the game at 7:00 p.m. CT.

LSU is one of the few realistic options on Alabama's schedule that could possibly upset the Tide, and for all intents and purposes, perhaps end the SEC's streak of seven consecutive national championships.

The Tigers, however, are less equipped to beat Alabama than the previous two years. Gone are eight defensive players drafted into the NFL from LSU this past April, all of them in the first five rounds.

Defensive coordinator John Chavis doesn't have nearly as much talent at his disposal. If LSU has any chance of winning, the defense is going to have to have an ace up it's sleeve in preventing Alabama from scoring the 41.3 points it puts up on average.

Stopping the one-two punch of quarterback A.J. McCarron and running back T.J. Yeldon is no easy task. McCarron is probably the nation's best pro-style quarterback and is no stranger to big games, pulling out last year's win against LSU in come-from-behind fashion.

Alabama's weakness, if there is one, is probably its cornerbacks: John Fulton and Deion Belue. Working in LSU's favor's is a pair of top-notch targets for quarterback Zach Mettenberger in receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Both have over 800 receiving yards and exactly eight touchdowns this year.

After starting the year hot, Mettenberger hasn't been nearly as sharp the past three games with just a four-to-five touchdown-to-interception ratio. He'll need to be spot on for the Tigers to beat the Tide.

Prediction: Alabama doesn't have much trouble moving the ball up and down the field with McCarron outplaying Mettenberger and Yeldon out-rushing LSU's Jeremy Hill. 34-18, Roll Tide.

The Wisconsin Connection

An intriguing intersectional matchup takes place in Madison at 2:30 p.m on ESPN when Wisconsin hosts BYU.

Both teams come into the game with identical 6-2 records and pretty much the same level of respect from the pollsters with the Badgers just getting into the Top 25 polls and the Cougars on the outside looking in in the "receiving votes" category.

By taking a closer look at each team's résumé, however, BYU has beaten the more impressive slate of teams to date, and it's not even close. The six teams BYU has defeated in 2013 have a combined winning percentage of 67.3, the highest percentage in the nation among teams with at least four wins over FBS teams.

In the chart below each team's wins are ranked from most impressive to least impressive.

BYU wins Wisconsin wins
Texas Iowa
Houston Northwestern
Georgia Tech Illinois
Boise State Purdue
Utah State Umass
Middle Tennessee Tennessee Tech

BYU's best win (Texas) is better than Wisconsin's best win (Iowa). BYU's second-best win (Houston) is better than Wisconsin's second-best win (Northwestern), and the same hold true all the way down the line.

All this is to say that the Badgers can't take the Cougars lightly, but BYU certainly isn't infallible. Their losses have come to a middling Utah team and a poor Virginia team that's arguably the worst team in the ACC.

The advantages Wisconsin holds over BYU are considerable, namely a ball-control running game and the home-field edge. Since 2004, Wisconsin has a 59-6 (.908) record at Camp Randall Stadium.

As noted by hosts Ty Hildenbrandt and Dan Rubenstein on The Solid Verbal podcast, Wisconsin ranks seventh in the nation, averaging 7.0 yards per play while BYU ranks 62nd with 5.5: yards per play being a much better predictor of success than total offense.

Actually both teams have effective running games, but they're entirely different in their execution. Whereas Wisconsin has a pro-style attack with a stable of NFL-caliber running backs in Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement, BYU runs an up-tempo with quarterback Taysom Hill running the read option.

"Offensively, the Cougars plays fast. Very fast. They run nearly 90 plays per game," writes Badgers radio play-by-play voice Matt Lepay in Wisconsin's Varsity electronic publication.

Hill is second in the nation in rushing among quarterbacks with 841 yards, trailing only Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch.

Luckily for the Badgers, they have a coaching staff that's very familiar with BYU. Much of Gary Anderson's crew came with him from Utah State, where they'd play BYU on an annual basis. They'll have to come up with a game plan to stop Hill and running back Jamaal Williams.

Both teams feature premiere linebackers, Chris Borland of Wisconsin and Kyle Van Noy of BYU. And the game may come down to how the talent around them on defense performs.

Prediction: Wisconsin won't stop BYU cold, but their fifth ranked rush defense nationally will hold Hill and Williams in check. 31-17, On Wisconsin.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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unclechubb's picture

Great article!

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