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Seven-Step Drop: Khalil Tate Headlines 2018 All-Underachiever team, Ed Orgeron captains All-Overachievers

Seven-Step Drop: Khalil Tate Headlines 2018 All-Underachiever team, Ed Orgeron captains All-Overachievers

Seven-Step Drop: Khalil Tate Headlines 2018 All-Underachiever team, Ed Orgeron captains All-Overachievers

Hard as it is to hear or rationalize, we’re past the midway mark of the college football season right now. Following a wild Week 8 on the calendar that whittled down the field of undefeated teams even more, it’s as good a time as ever to take stock of what has happened in the sport so far. Thanks to a large sample size of games, we certainly have enough information on teams, players and coaches now to figure out some of the biggest under (and over) achievers in college football in 2018 relative to early expectations.

So we decided to take a look at Athlon Sports’ preseason All-America teams (along with Sports Illustrated, ESPN, The Athletic and others) and the initial AP Top 25. With a slew of midseason All-America teams released in recent days, it’s time to compare and contrast to find out just who makes up the All-Underachiever team — the one squad you won’t find press releases on — and who was flying under the radar in August but is now a household name in mid-October.

All-Underachiever Team

QB Khalil Tate (Arizona): Tate has dealt with an ankle injury since the early stages of the season but it’s still incredible to think one of the nation’s most electric players last year has been pretty much a non-factor in 2018. A one-time Heisman Trophy candidate, the signal-caller may have been better off redshirting once he got hurt instead of limping his way through a miserable campaign for the Wildcats and new head coach Kevin Sumlin. Tate’s completion percentage dropped nine points and he’s rushed for only 112 yards all year after topping that number alone in six games last season. Not what anybody in Tucson had in mind.

RB Bryce Love (Stanford): In August, he was the Heisman favorite in many betting shops and was looking for another year with more than 2,000 yards. Thanks to the combination of injuries and the Cardinal being unable to run the ball, he’s more a fixture of sideline shots than breaking off 50-yard runs.

WR Jaylen Smith (Louisville): A second-team All-ACC pick in the preseason, he’s been plagued by bad quarterback play but still has only topped 100 yards once this season and has just a single touchdown (against FCS opponent Indiana State) to show for it. The senior was one of Lamar Jackson’s favorite targets last year but has been in witness protection with the Cardinals.

OL Nate Herbig (Stanford): He drew All-America honors in the preseason and has been the Cardinal’s best offensive lineman so far this year but that’s not saying much considering the struggles this group has had doing a very Stanford thing and run the ball. Add in an injury that has kept him out of a few games and it’s been a step back for Herbig after an excellent 2017 campaign.

DL Nick Bosa (Ohio State): Yes, he got injured against TCU in Week 2 but the Buckeyes’ biggest star earns a spot on this list for also taking an early exit from college football entirely to focus on the NFL draft and getting healthy. While that is the correct decision in the grand scheme of things for somebody who will be a top-five pick, it’s a disappointing end to the season for somebody who was living up to tons of hype in August.

LB Caleb Kelly (Oklahoma): The Sooners fired their defensive coordinator midseason but that’s not the only disappointment on that side of the ball. Despite having 19 starts under his belt coming into the year and being picked to Athlon's All-Big 12 third team, Kelly lost his spot in the starting lineup on the team and was even discussed as a potential redshirt candidate after the first month of the season.

DB Levonta Taylor (Florida State): The Seminoles' top cornerback earned a few All-American nods to go with All-ACC honors coming into the season but while he’s been solid, he’s not been the lockdown guy many expected on the team. Arguably, he’s not even his own defense’s top player at the position either with the rise of Kyle Meyers. As a result, teams are picking on Taylor more in the past few years.

Coach: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

This was supposed to be a magical season on the Plains. The Tigers had a Heisman contender at quarterback, a talented freshman class of recruits, a top-notch receiving corps and one of the best defenses in the SEC. They looked like every bit of a top-10 team after beating Washington in the opener and were eyeing a College Football Playoff run as a result. Now, Auburn will need a few upsets over the coming month to finish better than 6-6 and there’s a maddening inability to run the ball. The Gus Bus appears broken down and there’s even talk of eating his huge buyout as a result.

Team No. 1: Louisville

We all expected a step back with the departure of the best player in school history but nobody could have predicted this kind of cratering. Bobby Petrino is already feeling a ton of heat and, after some big offseason talk coming into 2018, the Cardinals are now losers of four straight and wondering if there’s any signs of hope for the future.

Team No. 2: USC

The loss of Sam Darnold made it pretty obvious the Trojans would take a step back in 2018 but the Pac-12 South favorite has limped to a 4-3 record and looked awful on both sides of the ball for long stretches. For a program that began the season ranked in the top 15, it might be a minor miracle if they can top seven wins and keep Clay Helton employed in Los Angeles. The biggest cardinal sin for the cardinal and gold might be the fact that they can run the ball despite plenty of talent on offense.

Team No. 3: Mississippi State

The Bulldogs were a trendy pick to be a dark horse in the SEC West and earned every bit of that top 20 ranking in the preseason given all the talent they returned on both sides of the ball. Head coach Joe Moorhead’s addition was viewed as a huge positive for Nick Fitzgerald but the quarterback has regressed as a passer and the team has not looked good at all in any of their losses. As bad as dropping to 1-3 in their last four games is, the fact that Dan Mullen has Florida on the rise isn’t helping.

All-Overachiever Team

QB Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State): A second-team Midseason All-American by Athlon after not even making the cut in the Big Ten preseason. He’s a Heisman candidate even after the loss to Purdue and has been better than anybody could have imagined in taking over for J.T. Barrett.

RB Darrell Henderson (Memphis): While many expected the Tigers’ star to have a good year, he’s surprised even teammates at how good he’s been through the first half of the year in leading the country in rushing yards and ranking second in rushing touchdowns. What’s wild is he doesn’t get the ball more considering he’s averaging more than a first down per carry (10.1).

WR Laviska Shenault Jr. (Colorado): Barely even a blip on the radar of die-hard Buffaloes fans in the preseason, the Texas native has been among the most exciting players in the country as his team has jumped out to a surprising 5-2 record. Shenault can not only beat you over the top with a huge catch, but he’s also proven to be quite the weapon running the ball as well.

AP Rondale Moore (Purdue): Expectations ran high for the freshman when he bypassed bigger programs to be the Boilermakers’ star but even the coaching staff at the school would have been hard-pressed to predict this incredible run (just ask Ohio State). In addition to the seven touchdowns and more than 12 yards per catch, he’s also a great return man and the new face of the program for Jeff Brohm.

TE Jace Sternberger (Texas A&M): After a few years where tight ends were an afterthought on the Aggies' roster, Sternberger has been a breakout star in Jimbo Fisher’s new system and probably the team MVP given how he’s come up with big catch after big catch. Not only has he been Kellen Mond’s best friend on the field, the junior might be the best in the country at his position too.

OL Terronne Prescod (NC State): Though the Wolfpack have struggled to run the ball this season, that’s not the fault of their big guard who has been fantastic in both run blocking and pass blocking. He was overshadowed a bit coming into the year by teammates Tyler Jones and Garrett Bradbury but you could see just how much Prescod means to the offense when he was out against Clemson in the team’s loss on Saturday.

DL Gerald Willis III (Miami): There are a ton of big-time defensive linemen in the ACC but Willis has been fantastic for the Hurricanes and has helped strengthen a huge weak spot on the team’s defense in the middle. His individual numbers are good and on pace for career highs by a mile but even his presence has helped cause havoc up front.

DL Quinnen Williams (Alabama): There were a lot more highly touted players on the Tide’s defense coming into this year’s campaign but few have seen their stock take off quite like Williams has in going from a potential draft pick to a likely first-rounder in just a few games. He earned the best overall grade in the country for any defensive player from Pro Football Focus and still seems to be scratching the surface.

LB Ben Burr-Kirven (Washington): What can BBK not do for the Huskies might be the better question since it sure seems like he does it all. In addition to leading FBS in tackles, he’s the heart and soul of the Washington defense and has been involved in nearly every big play for the unit too. Chris Petersen has called him Superman and it’s not hard to see why.

LB Josh Allen (Kentucky): The Wildcats are No. 2 in the country in scoring defense and bound for a bowl game yet again thanks in large part to the terrific play from Allen. His strip sack sealed the win vs Vanderbilt just this past weekend and it’s pretty clear that every team in the SEC is game planning to avoid UK’s best player wherever he lines up.

DB Grant Delpit (LSU): If you read about the Tigers during the preseason, you probably heard all about the NFL talent in the secondary from guys like Greedy Williams and John Battle. Yet it’s been Delpit who has been the team’s best player to captain the defense and seems like he’s everywhere on the field each game. He leads the country in interceptions by a good margin and has been equally terrific in causing havoc at the line of scrimmage too.

K Cole Tracy (LSU): Plucked out of tiny Assumption (Mass.) College, the Tigers are one of the biggest surprises in the country thanks to his leg and penchant for making big kicks. Already up to 21 made field goals on the year, Tracy is one of the best stories in college football and a big reason why LSU is in the top five.

P Braden Mann (Texas A&M): Punters are people too and Mann has been the man for the Aggies on the rare occasion when he’s need to come out onto the field. He’s probably the Ray Guy Award favorite and the pick of several midseason All-American teams after averaging a whopping 54.5 yards per punt and booting at least one 6o-plus-yarder in six of the team’s seven games in 2018.

Coach: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Everybody’s favorite Cajun has done a phenomenal job in getting his team to believe they can win every game this season and the Tigers very nearly have. This group takes after their head coach by being tough at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and he’s pushed all the right buttons in critical situations late in games. While Orgeron began the year with talk of the hot seat, he now has the program looking like a potential playoff participant.

Team No. 1: Texas

The Longhorns appear to be back on the national stage without a hint of irony and suddenly find themselves at the front of the Big 12 race. More to the point, this group is finding ways to win games nowadays instead of lose them. While it might be a bit too premature to throw them in the playoff chase, that loss to Maryland was ages ago and Tom Herman has UT pointed in the right direction for 2018.

Team No. 2: Utah State

Matt Wells continues to do an underrated job in Logan and has the Aggies atop their Mountain West division and looking like the favorite to boot. The offense has been extremely impressive so far this year and their six wins are the tied for the most for the program since 2014. Given the upcoming slate, a double-digit win total seems like a good bet.

Team No. 3: Kentucky

Hats off to Mark Stoops because Wildcats fans are no longer fixated only on basketball in mid-October. It really is hard to believe at times that this group is ranked in the top 12 and has the potential to make it to Atlanta as the SEC East champ but that’s where we’re at. The defense is for real and Benny Snell Jr. and company on offense are such a load to handle.

More takeaways from a wild week:

2. Alabama-Clemson IV, here we come?

Last year in October, this column came to the conclusion that there wasn’t much stopping us from getting yet another rematch between Alabama and Clemson in the College Football Playoff. Well, we’re here to tell you again that there’s not much stopping us from that being the case again in a fourth heavyweight fight between the sport’s two dominant programs.

You can start in the ACC, where Clemson cast aside a previously undefeated NC State squad like it was nothing and started to show even more signs that this is the team that presents the biggest challenge to a repeat from the Crimson Tide at the end of the year. Since the Syracuse game, the front four from the Tigers has begun to live up to all the preseason hype and been dominant just about every down they are on the field — and not doing too bad when freshmen like Xavier Thomas rotate in either.

We’re also starting to see why the ceiling with this group is much higher with Trevor Lawrence under center instead of Kelly Bryant. The true freshman set career highs in yards, completions and attempts against the Wolfpack and seemed to have no problem finding open receivers on a day where NCSU made it a point to limit running back Travis Etienne (who still scored three times). The scary thing is that Clemson can still get a lot better and have yet to put together a full four quarters where everything is clicking on both sides of the ball.

In the past we’ve seen the Tigers peak too early in conference play and seem to coast into the postseason. That does not appear to be the case as Dabo Swinney has his team improving in several areas with each passing Saturday. They probably won’t face a ranked opponent until heading to Charlotte for the ACC title game and even a potentially tricky rivalry game against South Carolina will come in Death Valley.

In short, Clemson is becoming who we thought they were in August.

As for Nick Saban’s crew, it was the same as ever against Tennessee as the Third Saturday in October continues to lack for drama. It was the seventh time under their head coach that Alabama has scored 40-plus points against the Volunteers, one instance than the program accomplished in the rivalry game in the 89 meetings prior.

We all know that going to LSU will be no walk in the park given the environment but the gap between the Tide and everybody else in college football still feels like it grows by the week. All of which is to say, don’t be too surprised that Alabama and Clemson fans will both need to be planning a trip to the Bay Area for mid-January.

3. Jim Harbaugh gets a big win as Urban Meyer regroups

Think back to the first few weeks of the season and recall how the debate was still ranging on about Jim Harbaugh making Michigan an elite program and how confident Ohio State fans were after getting back Urban Meyer from suspension following a 3-0 start. Fast-forward to today… and things are in a much different place.

You can start in the Great Lakes State, where the Wolverines controlled throughout the (somewhat ugly) game to beat their rival Michigan State and finally seize some momentum in the conference to claim that they, and not the Buckeyes, are the Big Ten’s best team right now. Things can of course change by the end of November but Michigan has a lot going for it right now after regrouping from that loss to Notre Dame and moving into the second half of the year. The defense is one of the best in the country and the unit is as fast as it is physical. QB Shea Patterson is using his legs a lot more and that added element has started to open things up on offense for much more explosive plays. This is, simply, not a team others want to play right now.

Take out all the theatrics and antics in East Lansing on Saturday and the day truly belonged to the Wolverines given the events later on in the division down in West Lafayette.

While it’s hard to claim in retrospect that you could see Purdue, of all teams, give Ohio State issues, it was pretty apparent coming into the game (and certainly so early on in the first half) that the leaky Buckeyes defense was going to be a problem sooner or later and the speed the Boilermakers brought to the table was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. And broken is a good word for OSU because Urban Meyer is going to have to deal with a lot of lingering issues on his roster that were put on full display for a national audience at the hands of the Boilermakers.

While big plays continue to be an issue on defense, giving up sustained drives (including a 98-yarder) has become the far more worrying trend the last few weeks as OSU has looked lifeless against what should be the soft side of the Big Ten slate. Yes, Nick Bosa’s injury and departure generated plenty of talking points in the lead up to this game but that obscured that there’s not much of an identity for Greg Schiano’s unit this year beyond regurgitated talking points about the depth along the defensive line. It’s one thing to have young guys in the secondary struggle, it’s another when problems plague all three levels to varying degrees week after week.

Then on offense, there is no excuse for the issues in the red zone and lack of physicality from an offensive line that has far more talent than anybody they play. Perhaps most damning is that on a team with both Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins in the backfield, there is an inability to run the ball down the throats of opponents to control the game. In no world should Dwayne Haskins, even as good as he has been this season, be attempting 73 passes or any number close to that.

While there are plenty of issues for Meyer to fix over the coming weeks, Ohio State’s playoff chances are by no means doomed or dead. The loss to Purdue is not close to last year’s inexplicable thrashing at the hands of Iowa after all and a semifinal path remains firm as a one-loss Big Ten champion. More to the point in Columbus, there’s still enough talent and smart assistants on staff to get things back on track over the coming weeks before hosting the Wolverines at the Horseshoe.

But there is going to be a lot of self-evaluation that needs to go on during the bye week as the Buckeyes have to hope the break can allow them to regroup and double down on what they can do well between the lines.

4. MAC, AAC races feel over before they begin

One never can say never in a week-to-week sport like college football where an upset or two is always lurking around the corner but... it sure feels like the conference races in the MAC and AAC will lack any sort of drama in the second half of the season.

When it comes to #MACtion, Buffalo’s incredible season continued on the road at Toledo and saw the Bulls rally in the second half to turn a 10-point deficit at the break into a 31-17 win against the team that was favored to win the West division. Jaret Patterson was the breakout star, rushing for two scores in the fourth quarter and taking the heat off an up-and-down QB Tyree Jackson. The Buffalo defense also seemed to snap out of it after halftime too with some big plays down the stretch to quash any sort of rally by the home team.

As we’ve seen so far in 2018, the Bulls are for real and now have a healthy lead in the East just before midweek games begin in earnest. There’s only two more road games left on the docket for Lance Leipold’s group and only that trip to Ohio could prove tricky. It sure seems like fans can go ahead and book a trip to Detroit at the moment and running the table the rest of the way to a 12-1 season isn’t unheard of considering the hurdles this group has already overcome and the fact that nobody has really distinguished themselves out of the other half of the conference.

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Likewise in the American, it feels like the gap between UCF and the rest of their challengers is growing as the season goes on and not shrinking. The Knights’ defense is an underrated unit as a whole and the offense did just fine with McKenzie Milton banged up against ECU on Saturday night, throwing in freshman Darriel Mack Jr. to keep things rolling and extend the program’s win streak to 20.

The schedule also sets up extremely well for UCF down the stretch and gives credence to the Knights having another undefeated regular season. They will have a bye before playing an improving Temple at home and then get to host a sinking Navy squad that will be coming off back-to-back road outings. The final two against Cincinnati and USF will both prove tricky but the Bearcats have to come to Orlando. Oh, and the Bulls just struggled mightily to put away UConn as Charlie Strong’s squad remains undefeated but has looked borderline lifeless this season.

5. West Virginia might be only team capable of throwing wrench into Red River Part II

It was an extremely quiet Saturday in the Big 12 with just two conference games going on. Yet, amid all that silence following the early window for games, it became increasingly clear that one of the deepest leagues in the country is very much on a collision course for a rematch between two heavyweights in what could be the most anticipated conference title game in years.

You can start in Fort Worth this weekend where one of the most intriguing chess matches in the entire sport took place: Lincoln Riley, the offensive genius, against the machinations of defensive savant Gary Patterson. TCU was not up to the challenge in this game or, apparently this season, as it felt like checkmate was declared early on thanks to plenty of big plays from Kyler Murray and his collection of high-end skill position talent. The final score, 52-27, didn’t convey how lopsided this game was overall but it’s clear that this offense is still a very special group and capable of going toe-to-toe with anybody in the country.

More encouraging for the Sooners, however, were our first signs of the defense after the firing of Mike Stoops. The Horned Frogs did have to go to their backup quarterback for most of the second half but the overall numbers — 275 yards allowed, only 20 points given up defensively — felt like an even bigger moral victory for Ruffin McNeill’s crew in the interim DC’s first stab at calling plays in several years. OU seemed to tackle better as the game wore on and appeared to look far more competent on that side of the ball even in simple things like lining up.

It’s all baby steps to be sure but if Oklahoma strings together a few more outings like this in conference play, then they can get right back in the playoff chance and make the Big 12 Championship Game at JerryWorld one hot ticket.

The question is, who could derail the Sooners and who might they ultimately play? Right now Texas is the only 4-0 team in the league and seems to be in the driver’s seat. We’ll see just how well the Longhorns can handle the spotlight after they return from their off week (likely with QB Sam Ehlinger back) with two tricky tests — at Oklahoma State and then home against West Virginia — that will be either signs of growth under Tom Herman or a measuring stick as to how much further this team still has to go.

If there’s anybody who could derail a possible Red River II at the “other” Cotton Bowl home though, it’s the Mountaineers. Provided, that is, they return from their own off week and snap out of a funk the past few games that looked like a group going through the motions instead of giving their all between the lines. This team still has Will Grier, David Sills and an improving defense but things really haven’t clicked in the way we all expected in 2018, sans the opener against Tennessee.

In addition to that trip to Austin to kick off a make-or-break November, WVU hosts Oklahoma to close out the regular season. Splitting those contests is doable considering the talent on the roster but it won’t be easy.

As of now, at least, that stretch is also looking like the only obstacle between the Big 12 and the league office’s dream scenario of Oklahoma-Texas facing off again in front of a packed house at AT&T Stadium.

6. Bronco Mendenhall’s turnaround ahead of progress

Operation ACC Coastal Chaos is in full swing this season and nobody has been more responsible for things getting out hand quite like Virginia has. The Cavaliers are suddenly pushing rival Virginia Tech as co-favorites in the woebegone division and knocked off their second straight ranked team (following Miami) on Saturday afternoon in dominating Duke in Durham.

The impressive road outing underscored that UVA is not a team that you can overlook anymore and, while there is a slight smoke-and-mirrors element to the 2018 edition of this squad, there’s some encouraging signs of progress under Bronco Mendenhall in a top-to-bottom renovation of the program.

Bryce Perkins and Olamide Zaccheaus are both electric on the field yet are far from household names even in their own league. The team’s defense is making you earn every yard while also closing quickly out in space. There have always been a good number of athletes on Virginia’s roster over the years but this group is playing much smarter between the lines and seems to read and react better than we’ve seen in Charlottesville in, well, a while.

All of which underscores that the massive rebuilding job Mendenhall has undertaken is ahead of schedule following his surprise move east from BYU. Remember, after roughly a decade of malaise within the program, their head coach —  improbably in his 14th season leading a team — suddenly has his players starring at eight wins and could actually entertain thoughts of a double-digit win campaign.

On Thursday we learned that badly-needed facility upgrades in Charlottesville were receiving a boost thanks to none other than their head coach, who donated half a million dollars to the cause. Given the way things are trending, that might be the first of many steps forward for the Cavaliers over the coming weeks.

7. Pac-12 division hot potato

While we can universally agree that this hasn’t been the greatest season for the Pac-12 — pretty much eliminated from the playoff race by mid-October — that doesn’t mean things have been un-entertaining out West. In fact, though there’s not a single elite team and a questionable number of good ones, the division races have become fascinating the past few weeks.

In the South, Colorado was the talk of college football with a Top 25 ranking and undefeated record. They fell at USC and passed the torch to the Trojans. The cardinal and gold, who appeared to have bounced back from a rough first month of 2018, then promptly went on the road to Utah and got demolished. Torch passed again, this time to the Utes — suddenly scoring 40-plus in three straight games and looking like the team everybody expected in August — who were a late score away from beating Washington State and likely entering this weekend with a top 15 ranking.

Speaking of those Cougars, they captured one of the best wins out of anybody on Saturday after their dominant first half (and fourth quarter) against Oregon was just enough to cap off a wild day on the Palouse. While it might still be too early to call Mike Leach’s crew as the favorite in the North Division at this point, there’s no doubt they have a good shot at making it Santa Clara and are certainly the trendy team of the week by taking that honor from the Ducks.

Mario Cristobal’s team, meanwhile, has to regroup (again) after having that same moniker following their rivalry win over Washington. The Huskies had been considered the standard-bearer prior to that loss but still are even with Stanford prior to their meeting in Seattle in a few weeks. Speaking of the Cardinal, they were the original ones to make a statement in the division when they beat USC and followed it up with an incredible comeback in Eugene to beat Oregon.

Add it all together and it feels like the division “leader” has been playing a game of hot potato. That seems like a sure-fire sign the Pac-12 has a bunch of solid programs and no elite one but at least it makes for plenty of entertainment deep into the night every Saturday all the way to Santa Clara for the conference title game in December.

Stat of the Week

Michigan got their first road win over a ranked opponent since 2006 — snapping a streak of 17 such losses — and threw a touchdown pass for the first time against Michigan State since 2011.

Tweet of the Week

Superlatives of the Week

Best player: Rondale Moore, Purdue

Heisman five: 1. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), 2. Kyler Murray (Oklahoma), 3. Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State), 4. Travis Etienne (Clemson), 5. Gardner Minshew (Washington State)

Projected final four: 1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Michigan

Team of the week: Purdue

Honorary Les Miles Goat of the week: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Quote of the week: “We knew they couldn’t hang with us... Sometimes your little brother starts acting up and you just gotta put them in place.” — Michigan’s Chase Winovich

Play of the Week

This insane sequence to end the Old Dominion-Western Kentucky game has to be seen to be believed:

Super 16

I’m a voter in the FWAA/National Football Foundation Super 16 Poll and will be releasing my ballot here every week. Here’s my ballot heading into Week 9.

1. Alabama

2. Clemson

3. Notre Dame

4. LSU

5. Michigan

6. Oklahoma

7. Georgia

8. Ohio State

9. Texas

10. Florida

11. Texas A&M

12. Iowa

13. UCF

14. Washington State

15. Kentucky

16. Washington

Best of the rest: Utah, Oregon, Penn State, NC State, Appalachian State, West Virginia, Virginia, Utah State, Fresno State

Pre-snap Reads

Washington State at Stanford

This actually appears to be a meeting of Air Raid teams considering how the Cardinal have been amazingly unable to run the ball. Even if Bryce Love is healthy, that will be a big question in this surprisingly pivotal Pac-12 battle. Stanford has gotten the better of Mike Leach in the past and, thanks to a late turnover, just slip past the Cougs at home.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Stanford
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Iowa at Penn State

Don’t look now but... the Hawkeyes could be in the running for a New Year’s Six Bowl if not a trip to Indianapolis for the conference title game if they win this one. The defense is for real and Nate Stanley is one of the more underrated passers in the country. The Nittany Lions haven’t had good vibes this season so even with this being in Happy Valley, Iowa manages to grab the victory.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Penn State
College Football Rankings: Iowa Football

Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)

In September, this one felt like it was going to be very one-sided. Now it’s a full on toss-up between rivals. Points should be at a premium during the cocktail party and there’s just a little bit more trust in the Bulldogs on that side of the ball all things considered. Kirby Smart wraps up the division by a one-possession score in the end.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Georgia
College Football Top 25 Rankings: Florida

— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.