Welcome to Week 12 of The Lowe Down.
“To me, football is so much about mental toughness, it’s digging deep, it’s doing whatever you need to do to help a team win and that comes in a lot of shapes and forms.” — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady
“People think SEALs are cold-blooded, heartless, wound-up, brainwashed killers. They imagine you can just point a SEAL in a direction and say, ‘Go kill.’ The truth is you’re talking about a bunch of kind-hearted, jovial guys. The only thing that separates them is mental toughness.” — Howard E. Wasdin, former U.S. Navy SEAL
As we churn through the last couple of weeks of the college football season, you can see a number of quality teams struggling through the finish line. Injuries, pressure and fatigue have set in with some teams, yet other teams are finding their groove when they were left for dead — as it pertains to the College Football Playoff (CFP) — a few weeks ago.
But titles aren’t won in September and October; they are won in November and December. And the teams that have the talent, heart and mental toughness to overcome any obstacle, will be the last ones standing when the Playoff committee determines the football version of the Final Four.
There are a number of crucial games on the docket this weekend as it pertains to the CFP chase, and it will be interesting to see how the 12 or so contenders deal with the pressure of winning in must-win situations. Pressure can affect teams, and players, in a lot of ways, but the teams that can block out distractions and focus on execution are the ones that become champions in the end.
Last week’s record was an abysmal 13-10, bringing the yearly record to 152-60. To the games we go…
Friday, November 18
UNLV (4-6) at No. 20 Boise State (9-1) 7:00 p.m. CT
The only blemish on Boise State’s record was a road loss to Wyoming, a team UNLV knocked off in triple overtime a week ago, so it doesn’t need to sleep on Tony Sanchez’s high-scoring UNLV squad. The Broncos have been scoring points at a high rate all season long behind the play of quarterback Brett Rypien (2,916 passing yards, 22 TDs), dynamic tailback Jeremy Nichols (1,369 yards rushing, 18 scores) veteran wideouts Cedrick Wilson (44 grabs for 827 yards and nine scores) and Thomas Sperbeck (62 catches for 1,023 yards and nine scores) and an offensive line that’s only allowed 14 sacks all season, and that will likely be the case in this matchup. But the Rebels unveiled a shiny new weapon in quarterback Kurt Palandech (three passing TDs, one rushing) in last week’s win over the Cowboys, so the Boise D will have its work cut out for it in what’s likely to be a shootout.
The Lowe Down: UNLV 35, Boise State 47
Saturday, November 19
No. 7 Wisconsin (8-2) at Purdue (3-7) 11:00 a.m. CT
Wisconsin is sitting in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West and will more than likely be a contender for a spot in the College Football Playoff if it beats Purdue this week, Minnesota at home next week and, as it stands right now, Michigan (or Penn State if Ohio State beats Michigan) in the conference championship game. That seems like an achievable goal for a Badgers team that’s built on running the ball, playing sound defense and special teams and limiting mistakes. But first things first: beat Purdue.
The Lowe Down: Wisconsin 42, Purdue 10
No. 11 Oklahoma State (8-2) at TCU (5-4) 11:00 a.m. CT
The Horned Frogs are fresh off a bye week and could be catching Oklahoma State at the right time (defense is banged up), but stopping the Cowboys offense will be a challenge. Quarterback Mason Rudolph is coming off a 395-yard, two-touchdown passing performance in the Cowboys’ wild 45-44 win over Texas Tech last week, and his favorite target in the passing game, junior wideout James Washington, has been coming on strong. But TCU is one of the nation’s best teams at getting after the QB (34 sacks) and Okie State’s line has been shaky at times this season. That could come into play big time here. So could the running of tailback Kyle Hicks, who had time to rest his injured ankle during the off week. Hicks is averaging nearly seven yards per carry and always comes to play in TCU’s biggest games and don’t expect that to change Saturday.
The Lowe Down: Oklahoma State 31, TCU 34
No. 2 Ohio State (9-1) at Michigan State (3-7) 11:00 a.m. CT
If you recall, Michigan State’s 17-14 upset win, with a backup quarterback, in Columbus last year not only cost the Buckeyes the Big Ten title, but it also cost Urban Meyer’s uber-talented team a shot at a spot in the College Football Playoff — so motivation shouldn’t be a factor for the Bucks when these two meet. Ever since the loss to Penn State, the Buckeyes have made a conscious effort to get the ball into the hands of electrifying playmaker Curtis Samuel. Samuel is the only player in college football with at least 600 rushing yards (637) and receiving (750) in addition to his 13 touchdowns. Look for Samuel, quarterback J.T. Barrett and the rest of Ohio State’s skill players to continue their offensive hot streak in East Lansing.
The Lowe Down: Ohio State 45, Michigan State 14
No. 23 Florida (7-2) at No. 16 LSU (6-3) 12:00 p.m. CT
There was a lot of finger pointing between these two schools after neither could come to an agreement on an alternate plan to play when Hurricane Matthew caused this game to be postponed back in October, so expect emotions to be running high in Baton Rouge Saturday. Ironically, Florida was in much better shape, health-wise, then than it is now and that could cost Jim McElwain’s team an SEC East championship. The Gators will be without their top three tacklers — linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone and safety Marcus Maye — and potentially three starters along the offensive line. That doesn’t bode well squaring off against an LSU team that’s played inspired football under interim head coach Ed Orgeron. Throw in the fact that this will likely be the final game tailback Leonard Fournette plays in Tiger Stadium, and this has all the makings of a beat-down. Tigers roll on Senior Day.
The Lowe Down: Florida 13, LSU 34
No. 22 Washington State at No. 10 Colorado (8-2) 2:30 p.m. CT
Do you know which team has the longest winning streak in the country behind Alabama? Give up? Washington State. In fact, the Cougars eight consecutive victories is the longest streak the program has had since 1930. Do you know which team will represent the Pac-12 South if it beats the Cougars and Utah at home over the next two weeks? Give up? Colorado. Wow. Talk about a showdown. Wazzou quarterback Luke Falk is about as good as you’ll find in the country, but he’ll be without a key target in the passing game after veteran wideout River Cracraft (ACL) was lost for the season in the win over Cal last week. Usually Mike Leach has a plethora of wideouts in his pass-happy attack, but losing Cracraft stings, especially facing off against a Colorado pass defense that’s tops in the conference. Speaking of quarterbacks, the Buffaloes have a good one as well. And even though 90 percent of the country has probably never heard of him, Sefo Liufau is one of the nation’s best. He can run it. He can throw it. And he doesn’t make mistakes. That kind of play, combined with the running ability of tailback Phillip Lindsay and the Buffaloes stout defense, makes Mike MacIntyre’s team tough to beat.
The Lowe Down: Washington State 23, Colorado 26
Missouri (3-7) at Tennessee (7-3) at 2:30 p.m. CT
If Florida losses and the Vols defeat Missouri and then Vanderbilt to conclude the regular season, then Butch Jones’ team will claim the SEC East title and take on Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. But Tennessee must not get ahead of itself hosting a Missouri team that can, at times, be explosive on offense. Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock (2,811 passing yards, 21 TDs compared to eight interceptions) is coming off one of his best performances (22 of 37 for 294 yards passing and two scores) in a nine-point win over Vanderbilt, and freshman tailback Damarea Crockett (837 yards rushing, nine scores) has been red hot of late. Tennessee’s defense has been devastated by injuries, so quarterback Josh Dobbs and dynamic tailback Alvin Kamara will need to shoulder the load offensively for a Vols team that will be playing its final home game of the year.
The Lowe Down: Missouri 21, Tennessee 38
No. 9 Oklahoma (8-2) at No. 14 West Virginia (8-1) 7:00 p.m. CT
I’ve said all season long Oklahoma’s defense is the pits and I believe that to be true. I also think West Virginia is being severely disrespected in the rankings and in Vegas by being a slight home underdog. Sure, Oklahoma, behind quarterback Baker Mayfield, a two-headed monster of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon at tailback and potential All-American receiver Dede Westbrook, is on a roll, but I think the Mountaineers will play with a purpose here. Look for West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard to have a monster game in spearheading the upset.
The Lowe Down: Oklahoma 38, West Virginia 47
No. 13 USC (7-3) at UCLA (4-6) 9:30 p.m. CT
USC’s record in September was 1-3, with losses coming against Alabama and on the road at Stanford and Utah. Ever since then, the Trojans are 6-0, and that includes wins over Colorado — which is ranked 10th in the latest CFP poll — and Washington, which was ranked fourth in last week’s CFP poll and currently sits sixth in this week’s poll. The big turnaround for the Trojans has been sparked by freshman quarterback Sam Darnold, a revived running game, led by Ronald Jones II, who averages 6.3 yards per carry, and a surging defense. Darnold has passed for 2,161 yards and 22 touchdowns after being named the starter against the Utes on September 23. His poise and playmaking ability obviously has struck a nerve among his teammates, and the USC team as a whole. Right now, this is a talented bunch that’s playing at a high level.
The Lowe Down: USC 33, UCLA 14
In other Saturday games:
Louisiana 17 at Georgia 43
Kansas State 38 at Baylor 33
UTSA 17 at No. 25 Texas A&M 45
Maryland 16 at No. 18 Nebraska 38
Miami 23 at NC State 27
Oregon 23 at No. 12 Utah 48
Duke 33 at Pittsburgh 36
Indiana 13 at No. 3 Michigan 42
No. 17 Florida State 48 at Syracuse 10
Texas 38 at Kansas 10
Arkansas 37 at Mississippi State 33
No. 4 Clemson 38 at Wake Forest 24
Arizona State 17 at No. 6 Washington 45
No. 8 Penn State 48 at Rutgers 0