Now that college football conference play is well underway, the real excitement begins.
As opposed to the first few weeks in the college football season where it is normal (and boring) to see the top 25 schools squaring off against the Savannah States of the world, in conference play the matchups are much more competitive.
Conference play means everything. Each game is crucial, down to every drive and every yard. Fans sit glued to their flat-screens awaiting the next big play that will change the course of the game and, possibly, the season.
Exceptional conference play can lead to a BCS bowl berth and possibly even a shot at the BCS National Championship.
In Week 6, six out of the top 11 teams in the country will face each other in an attempt to prove their worth among the elite.
Two big showdowns in the SEC along with a Big 12 shootout will make the BCS National Championship picture a little clearer.
Here are the keys to the top three matchups to watch out for this week of the college football season.
Texas’ defensive line versus Geno Smith
Geno Smith is hands-down the Heisman frontrunner as well as favorite for the Davey O’Brien award, which is given to the nation’s top quarterback. His stat line resembles video game numbers.
Smith is 141-169 for 1,728 yards, 20 touchdowns and no interceptions.
To put this into perspective a little more, the West Virginia quarterback has eight more incompletions than touchdowns.
The Mountaineers’ offense has averaged 53 points per game through the first five weeks of the season, including putting 70 points up on Baylor last week. Not only does West Virginia have the most prolific passing offense in college football, but it also takes care of the ball extremely well—West Virginia have only committed one turnover on the season.
The key to victory for the Longhorns will be their ability to fluster Geno Smith and slow down the dynamic West Virginia offense. If solid pass-rushing defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor aren’t able to get pressure on Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will have a field day in the Texas secondary.
West Virginia loves to get the ball to its wide receivers in the open space, and If tackling issues continue to plague the Longhorns defense, Texas will be in big trouble Saturday.
Texas’ offensive depth versus West Virginia’s rush defense
Texas’ offense has been pretty good as well.
Longhorns quarterback David Ash is the second most efficient passer in college football, behind only Geno Smith. What makes Ash so effective is his pocket awareness and ability to distribute the ball to his vast array of offensive weapons. So far, eight different players have at least six receptions for Texas.
While West Virginia has been very solid against opposing rushing attacks, allowing just 3.2 yards per carry, it is yet to see a really strong running game like Texas'. Although Texas will be without its most explosive running back this weekend in Malcolm Brown, power-back Joe Bergeron and freshman Johnathan Gray will carry out an equally potent attack.
The combination of various running back formations and David Ash’s dual-threat abilities will keep West Virginia off guard all game, making this the most exciting finish of the weekend.
In a thriller, West Virginia will barely edge out Texas on a late fourth-quarter drive.
West Virginia 34 Texas 31
The Florida Gators’ passing attack against the LSU coverage
The Florida offense contains some of the best athletes in the country, but is it ready to take on the likes of Barkevious Mingo and the LSU Tigers defense?
Mike Gillislee and the Florida rushing game have been extremely efficient. Through four games, Gillislee and the offensive line have averaged 5.8 yards per carry and scored nine rushing touchdowns (Gillslee with 5, Trey Burton with 2, Jeff Driskel with 1 and Jacoby Brissett with 1).
The problem is, LSU has one of the best defensive lines in the country, although it has not truly shown it yet. The depth of the Tigers' line helps keep their players well rested and always at the top of their game. Defensive tackle Anthony Johnson is one of the best interior linemen in the country and has 5.5 tackles for a loss on the season. More help from Mingo, as well as defensive end Lavar Edwards, makes LSU one of the toughest, most physical defenses to run against.
If Florida is going to win, it will have to do it on the back of quarterback Driskel. With the help of one the best wide receiver corps in the country, Driskel has become a much more confident pocket-passer over the season, but he can also buy some extra time with his feet.
Currently, Driskel has a 158 passer rating with four touchdowns and only one interception.
Driskel will need to rely on short, quick passes to his undoubtedly favorite target, Jordan Reed, and look past the frustration that the LSU defense will cause.
Florida needs to be able to stop the LSU rushing attack
LSU pounds the ball all game using four separate and talented running backs, each of whom has eclipsed over 30 carries. Led by Kenny Hilliard, the balanced rushing attack wears down on opposing defenses, thus opening up the air game for Zach Mettenberger.
The loss of fullback J.C.Copeland to the Tigers’ run-blocking unit and injury to running back Alfred Blue places a huge damper on the LSU rush-heavy offense.
Florida’s defense is yet to allow a 100-yard rusher and gives up only 12.8 points per game to opposing teams.
If Florida is able to contain the LSU running game, it will win this game.
LSU 17 Florida 24
Georgia and South Carolina put their undefeated records on the line in the most highly anticipated game of the weekend.
How will Georgia’s defense fare against Marcus Lattimore?
Depends which Gamecocks offense shows up. If its the same offense that played in the first half of the Kentucky game this past weekend, then the Georgia defense will fare very well.
Against Tennessee last weekend, the Bulldogs defense looked sloppy. However, in the final minutes of the game, when it mattered, Georgia’s defense came up strong and made the necessary plays down the stretch to seal the victory.
This weekend, Georgia faces a much more sound rushing attack led by the highly touted Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore ranks third in the SEC in rushing even though he is still not 100 percent healthy after tearing his ACL last season.
How will the Gamecocks defense handle Aaron Murray and the Bulldogs’ balanced offensive attack?
Aaron Murray has clearly been the best quarterback in the SEC. His 183.5 passer rating ranks first among all SEC passers, and Murray has a 12-3 touchdown to interception ratio so far.
However, Murray will be without leading receiver Michael Bennett for the remainder of the season after Bennett suffered an ACL tear in practice on Tuesday
The huge story of the Bulldogs’ season has been the emerging rushing game. Despite dismissing Isaiah Crowell in the offseason, the Georgia rushing attack has been one of the best in the country. Led by breakout freshman Todd Gurley (536 yards and nine touchdowns) and Keith Marshall (428 yards and five touchdowns), Georgia’s 6.2 yards per carry ranks fourth in the country.
South Carolina has one of the best defensive lines in the country and has only allowed 11.2 points per game thus far. The most rushing yards the Gamecocks defense has given up was 67 yards to Missouri.
Regardless, the Gamecocks have not yet faced any offense worth mentioning. In their first test against a high-powered offense, South Carolina will play catch-up all game.
Georgia 38 South Carolina 28