CFB uk tv game previews: week four
By Joshua Edwards
And we’re back, with 8 live CFB games this weekend for UK viewers including a Thursday night tilt and a mouth-watering ranked matchup between two unbeaten teams in Notre Dame and Georgia. Josh Edwards takes a look at the matchups in a quick-fire preview article for week four:
Houston @ Tulane
A Thursday night AAC clash to open up proceedings this week, with 2-1 Tulane hosting a 1-2 Houston team seeking their first road win of the year. Tulane have won their last four home games and are widely available as 2.5pt favourites. Houston’s defense has been porous thus far, albeit against strong offenses (Oklahoma and Washington State), giving up 32.3 points and 497.7 yards per game. Offensively they’ve been better, and dual threat quarterback D’Eriq King has impressed. King has four touchdowns through the air and five on the ground.
Tulane are a balanced outfit this season with four different players rushing for over 100 yards already including QB Justin McMillan. Their defense has been particularly impressive but, in contrast to Houston, hasn’t faced much to write home about. It’ll be a game of contrasting styles, which makes for interesting viewing – Houston HC Dana Holgorsen’s up tempo Air Raid offense vs. Tulane HC Willie Fritz’s option-based rush attack. Let’s not get carried away, it’s not exactly the immovable object vs. the unstoppable force, but hey, it’s Thursday night college football.
Last year these two met in Houston and Tulane were routed 48-17. Though this year has a different feel about it given the two teams respective starts, I like Houston to upset the Green Wave and take the win on the road. Let’s not forget that the Cougars have faced two ranked teams in three games. They probably feel a bit hard done by because of it, and they’ve a shot to bounce back in what’s essentially a pick’em when you factor in the usual 2.5pt home field advantage.
Prediction: Houston 25-17 Tulane
Air Force @ (20) Boise State
Full disclosure: This is the game I’m most excited about watching this weekend. I’ve a penchant for watching the service academy teams (you can find my history of them article HERE) and this is the first chance we get to watch Air Force on UK TV in 2019. I’m also unashamedly rooting for the Falcons in this one. Maybe it’s that they’re underdogs, or maybe it’s that garish blue turf in Albertsons Stadium, but I really hope Air Force can pull off the upset. Ok, onto the matchup…
It’s only the Falcons third game of the year after a bye in week two. They smashed Colgate in week one and followed it up with a really impressive overtime win over Colorado in Bolder last week. Thus far Air Force’s defense has been the standout group, limiting Colgate to one score and Colorado to 23 points. On offense Kadin Remsberg has over 200 yards rushing already in a triple option offense which has seen the Falcons attempt just 13 passes in two games (1 against Colgate and 12 against Colorado). Boise State are no strangers to the triple-option, having played the Falcons every year since joining the Mountain West conference 8 years ago, but it’s still something unique to game for.
Fortunately for Boise their defense has been great to start the year. The Broncos are 3-0 and, curiously, are yet to concede a second half point. Junior linebacker Curtis Weaver leads the nation with 6 sacks and Air Force will need to do everything it can to keep him out of the backfield. True freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier has played well too, notching up 927 yards already and four scores.
Head over heart in my prediction for this one. Boise State have won their last 20 conference openers and are probably too good even for such an improved Air Force team. Their home field advantage is remarkable too – a 115-9 record since 2000. No repeat of Air Force’s 2017 upset (37-30) on this occasion but I do like the Falcons to cover the spread.
Prediction: Air Force 31-33 Boise State
Michigan State @ Northwestern
A first live look at Michigan State for UK viewers this year. The Spartans are 2-1 having beaten Tulsa and Western Michigan in the first two weeks but losing in a tight, 10-7 contest against Arizona State in week three. Northwestern had a stellar 2018 going 12-1 and appearing in their first ever Big10 Championship Game, losing to Ohio State. This season started off with a bump however as they faced 25th ranked Stanford who defeated the Wildcats 17-7 in California. A bye followed and Northwestern was able to bounce back against the University of Nevada Las Vegas last week, beating the Rebels 30-14 to notch their first win and go to 1-1.
It’s the Big10 opener for both teams and therefore holds some added significance in conference standings. The Spartans will rely on their run defense, which, led by DL Raequan Williams, is the best in football, allowing less than a yard per carry. Their offense has actually moved the ball fairly well but struggled in the red zone – last week they had over 400 yards and 23 first downs but only scored 7 points. Northwestern have a tried and tested formula against the Spartans which is based on stuffing the run and daring them to throw the ball, then capitalising on any mistakes. The Wildcats have won the last 3 games between the two teams with this approach.
Travelling to Northwestern won’t be easy but I like Michigan State to get the road win and their season back on track after the disappointment of last week. Expect it to be low scoring.
Prediction: Michigan State 12-6 Northwestern
(8) Auburn @ (17) Texas A&M
Texas A&M have had one of those frustrating up and down schedules to start the season. They opened with a home layup against Texas State (41-7 win), then they travelled to Death Valley to face 1st ranked Clemson (24-10 loss). Last week they had another home walkover against Lamar (62-3), before again facing a ranked team in Auburn on Saturday. At least Kellen Mond and co. will have home field advantage against the Tigers. Auburn are unbeaten having dispatched Kent State and Tulane the past two weeks. Their best win thus far was their primetime opening day win over a very good Oregon team. That was a lovely moment for true freshman quarterback Bo Nix, but it’s well and truly in the rear-view mirror now, and Auburn have a tough task ahead of them against the Aggies.
Both teams have struggled to run the ball and both defenses are good enough against the run that it could come down to whether Mond or Nix have the better game.This game has low scoring written all over it given the two team’s respective styles. Interestingly Auburn are worst in the SEC in punting whereas A&M have Braden Mann, a lock to be drafted (you don’t say that often about a punter). The field position battle will be key, a rarity in college football. A hard one to call, but I’m yet to be convinced by Bo Nix and given that this one is in College Station, I’m siding with A&M in one for the purists. It’s an important game, as both teams play LSU, Alabama and Georgia later in the season.
Prediction: Auburn 14-17 Texas A&M
(15) UCF @ Pittsburgh
Time to get excited about UCF. The first couple of weeks were encouraging but the litmus test was always going to be when they faced a Power Five team in Stanford last week, and boy did they show up. At the half the Knights were 38-7 up and the game was over – it was reminiscent of a Bama/Clemson style beat down where the opponent is too shocked to react in any kind of meaningful way. True freshman Dillon Gabriel is playing really well at quarterback too, with over 700 yards, 9 touchdowns and no picks.
Pitt has kept teams fairly close in every game so far, with a total point differential of only -13, but their run game is the worst in the ACC and it’ll be hard to keep the ball against UCF, which you just need to do to stop them racking up the points. The Panthers are 1-2 overall after losing against Virginia in the opener, beating Ohio then losing at Penn State last week in the last of the 4 scheduled rivalry games (side note, those two need to play every year, it’s a great matchup). A last second hail mary failed against Penn State in a strange game in which both teams failed to capitalise on each other’s mistakes multiple times. UCF won’t allow similar opportunities on Saturday.
I’m really high on UCF after last week and I think they’ll cover the spread in this one – it’s my lock of the week. Pitt just won’t be able to handle the Knight’s spread offense and I expect another ‘quick out of the traps’ UCF offensive performance.
Prediction: UCF 50-21 Pittsburgh
Oklahoma State @ (12) Texas
Oklahoma State are flying high at 3-0 but there is a feeling of trepidation among the ranks this week. Texas are the first good team they’ll encounter. Wins against McNeese State, Oregon State and Tulsa are all well and good, but their first Big12 conference game couldn’t be tougher, especially given that it’s on the road. The Cowboys biggest area of concern will be defense, where they struggled on third down against Tulsa. Sam Ehlinger and co. are converting a staggering 57% of third downs, and that includes LSU, so there’s no reason to think that Texas will struggle to move the ball.
Optimism for Oklahoma State will come with the fact that their pass offense has been explosive behind Spencer Sanders and their receiving corps, led by Tylan Wallace and Dillon Stoner, is one of the most dangerous in the country. Texas are dead last in the Big12 in pass defense, so this is set up to be a real shootout and absolutely worth tuning in to.
The Longhorns might be 2-1, but their loss to LSU was a fantastic 45-38 contest and one that could have swung either way. Though the Cowboys might put up a fair few points of their own Texas won’t have trouble doing the same – I like them to pull ahead late for a 10+ point win.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 31-44 Texas
(7) Notre Dame @ (3) Georgia
The game of the week! The 2-0 Fighting Irish travel to Athens to take on a 3-0 Bulldogs team led by star quarterback Jake Fromm. Fromm has seen his Heisman odds slashed from 40/1 to 20/1 after three weeks’ worth of football in which he’s thrown for 601 yards, 5 scores and no picks. Not eye-popping numbers, but in Georgia’s offense it’s as much about leadership and playing mistake free football as it is piling up the stats. The Bulldogs biggest test thus far was their opening day, 30-6 victory over Vanderbilt, with layups against Murray State and Arkansas State the past couple of weeks. Notre Dame are the first ranked team the Bulldogs face this season. The Fighting Irish are unbeaten too but have played just two games thus far, both comfortable victories over Louisville and Kentucky. They likely need to go undefeated for another shot at the post-season which gives this one added significance.
The key to this game for the Fighting Irish is whether or not they can give quarterback Ian Book time to throw. Their run game has been poor so far, and coupled with the fact that Georgia is only allowing just over 2ypc to opponents and is yet to give up a rushing touchdown, there is some serious food for thought for head coach Brian Kelly offensively. Book has played darn well in his two starts (29 of 47 for 553 yards, 2 touchdowns and no picks) but Georgia is a different beast defensively, with 12 sacks this year and a young linebacker corps more than adept at rushing the passer (7 LBs have combined for 9 of those 12 sacks).
On the other side of the ball Fromm will certainly remember the last time these two teams met – it was his debut, in 2017, in which Georgia fought back to win 20-19. Fromm has started every game since that day and I like the quarterback, who’s never lost a home start, to make a statement on the national stage.
There’s some added chippiness to this one worth considering. Georgia felt hard done by last season when they were denied a CFB Playoff spot, and Notre Dame took the brunt of that frustration when they lost so convincingly to Clemson (30-3) in the semi-final, having made the post-season as independents lacking a bowl game victory on their resume. The Bulldogs get a chance at revenge Saturday, and whether or not it’s truly warranted, they really want it.
Prediction: Notre Dame 31-45 Georgia
UCLA @ (19) Washington State
UCLA are 0-3 to start the year and it doesn’t get any easier this weekend, with a trip to 19th ranked, unbeaten Washington State. The Bruins losses thus far have been against Cincinnati, San Diego State and Oklahoma, and it’s been ugly on both sides of the ball. Most concerning is that Chip Kelly seems not to have managed to instil any kind of consistent offensive approach in his second season. The offense hasn’t scored more than 14 points in any of their outings this season and the defense is allowing over 30 points per contest.
In contrast, Washington State is playing great football. The offense is taking up most of the column inches but defense has been important – 9 takeaways in three games would help any offense be more productive. Finally I get a chance to mention everyone’s favourite Ben Stiller reverse parody anti-hero Gardner Minshew, even if it’s to say that his replacement, Anthony Gordon, has stepped up and played rather well for the Cougars. Gordon has thrown for 420+ in all three games and has 12 touchdowns to just two picks.
The Cougars have won 8 of their last 9 home games and there’s no chance of an upset here. UCLA are on a hiding to nothing – escaping Pullman without serious injury would probably be considered a victory of sorts. I like Washington State to cover the spread comfortably on the back of a strong defensive performance. Our old mate Chip on the hot seat?
Prediction: UCLA 16-45 Washington State
NFC EAST & CFB ANALYST
The season so far for each of the teams, previous matchups, rivalries etc.