Conference time: Marquee games shift to within conference

10/04/14 by Matthew S. Vandriak

This week the college football landscape shows some key conference matchups pitting Top 20 teams. Let's take a look at this weeks five biggest games.
#6 Texas A&M at #12 Mississippi State: After outscoring their first four opponents 221 to 47, Texas A&M had a scare last week when they had to rally from 14 points down in the second half to beat Arkansas 35 to 28 in overtime. Mississippi State had an extra week off to prepare after their upset win at LSU in Week 4. This will be a matchup of two of the top quarterbacks in the SEC with the Aggies Kenny Hill versus the Bulldogs Dak Prescott. Hill leads the SEC with 17 TD passes (against just 2 interceptions) and has thrown for 1,745 yards. The Aggies have the 5th best passing offense in the nation and their 51.2 points per game is second best in the NCAA. Prescott has thrown 11 touchdown passes (tied for 4th in the SEC) and has rushed for over 100 yards in the Bulldogs last three games and leads the SEC in rushing yards at the quarterback position with 378. Mississippi State has won 7 games in a row dating back to last season while Texas A&M is looking for their first 6-0 start since 1994.
#3 Alabama at #11 Mississippi: The SEC gives us another marquee matchup. Alabama comes in averaging 42 points per game, while Mississippi is giving up just 8.5 points against. The Crimson Tide had a week off after beating Florida on September 20th, while the Rebels come in off of a 24 to 3 win over Memphis in which they gave up only 104 total yards. This will be the stiffest test of the season for both teams, but the difference may be the running game. Alabama averages 258.5 yards rushing per game, and the talented backfield tandem of Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon have combined for over 600 yards rushing on the season. On the other side of the ball, the Rebels rank 75th in the nation in rushing yards. Henry has rushed for almost as many yards (320) as the Rebels top two RB's (Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers) have combined (350). This game also features another great QB matchup with Alabama's Blake Sims and Mississippi's Bo Wallace. However, Wallace has thrown an SEC leading 6 interceptions this season as well.

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#15 LSU at #5 Auburn: The final two of the SEC's six teams ranked in the Top-15 meet in another appointment TV game. For Auburn, this will be one of five games in the next six weeks the Tigers will play against ranked teams. LSU rebounded from September 20th's loss to Mississippi State with a 63-7 win over New Mexico State last week, a game that led to a new starter at QB for LSU. Freshman Brandon Harris will make his first career start after leading the Tigers to touchdowns on all 7 drives he was under center, including 3 TD passes. LSU was the only team to beat Auburn prior to the National Championship. LSU has also gotten the best of Auburn in this battle of the Tigers, winning the last three games and 6 of the past 7 matchups.
#19 Nebraska at #10 Michigan State: We get out of the SEC and move to the Big Ten for this matchup. Nebraska will be Michigan State's toughest test since losing at Oregon in Week Two. Since then, the Spartans have outscored their last two foes (Eastern Michigan and Wyoming) 129-28. Nebraska brings a much tougher test for the Spartans defense, as the Cornhuskers have the 3rd best rushing offense and 7th highest scoring offense in college football. Michigan State can get it done on offense as well, averaging a Big Ten best 50.3 points per game, which is also 3rd highest in the nation. The game deciding question is can the Spartans defense contain the Cornhuskers dynamic duo of RB Ameer Abdullah, who has rushed for over 200 yards in each of the last two games, and QB Tommy Armstrong Jr., who has racked up nearly 1,500 yards in total offense. Nebraska has won 2 of the past 3 meetings, but Michigan State won last years game, which saw the Spartans force five Nebraska turnovers.
#14 Stanford at #9 Notre Dame:A big non conference matchup will provide Notre Dame's toughest game so far in 2014. Stanford comes into South Bend with the NCAA's best scoring defense (6.5 points against per game) that is also allowing only 198 yards per game (best amongst FBS teams). That defense will be tested by Notre Dame QB Everett Golson, who has passed for over 1,100 yards and thrown 11 TD passes, leading an Irish offense that averages 35 points per game. However, the Cardinal offense has been less than stellar. Stanford ranks 77th in scoring, 68th in total yards, and is averaging a touchdown only 42% of the time they reach the red zone. Stanford comes in off of a hard fought 20-13 road win over previously undefeated Washington, while Notre Dame comes in after beating Syracuse 31-15. However, the Irish turned the ball over 5 times in that game. The Cardinal have won 4 of the last 5 meetings,but the Fighting Irish have won 15 of their past 16 home games.

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