9 College Football Players, Teams and Coaches Poised for Breakout Weeks
Several college football players, teams and coaches are set to have surprising performances in Week 10.
For some, it will be a return to form after a recent slump. For others, it will be an unexpected result that nobody saw coming.
Regardless, these are performances that will have college football fans talking.
Here are nine of those players, teams and coaches ready to make some noise.
Player: RB Johnathan Gray (Texas)
Week 9 Matchup: Kansas (2-5) at Texas (5-2), Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m. ET on Longhorn Network
Don’t look now, but the Longhorns have won four straight. The play of running back Johnathan Gray is a big part of the recent run.
While the sophomore has run for 89 or more yards in six straight contests, he’s only topped 100 yards and scored a touchdown in the same game just once.
Ever since then, Gray has been fighting to put together that breakout game.
This weekend, Texas plays a Kansas defense that ranks No. 102 in total defense (450.7 YPG). Furthermore, the unit ranks No. 101 against the run (203.9 YPG). The Jayhawks have allowed 14 scores on the ground while conceding a generous 4.9 yards per carry.
This should be the game that Gray asserts himself as the running back the Longhorns have long been searching for.
Week 9 Matchup: Minnesota (6-2) at Indiana (3-4), Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network
After back-to-back losses to Iowa and Michigan, the Golden Gophers have rebounded with two very solid victories over Northwestern and Nebraska.
With the win, Minnesota has already equaled last year’s win total with four games remaining. In fact, the team now has the opportunity to secure the program's first winning season since 2008.
But more importantly, the Gophers will be aiming to keep their slim division hopes alive.
The Hoosiers shouldn’t pose a problem.
That's because the team has lost three of its last four contests. Not only that, but Indiana has also allowed 40 or more points in all three of those losses—that includes 63 to Michigan on Oct. 19.
Minnesota may not be known for scoring—No. 64 in points per game (30.1)—but this weekend, expect running back David Cobb (119 CAR, 615 YDs, 5 TDs) to put together his third consecutive game with at least 100 yards on the ground to lead the Gophers to victory.
Coach: Ed Orgeron (USC)
Week 9 Matchup: USC (5-3) at Oregon State (6-2), Nov. 1, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Since taking over for Lane Kiffin, interim head coach Ed Orgeron has done a pretty solid job with the Trojans.
But while all the talk was focused around the offense's performance in his debut—a 38-31 win over Arizona—it should really be about the play of the defense over the last two weeks.
Against Notre Dame and Utah, the USC defense allowed a total of just 496 yards. That includes limiting the opposition to only 296 yards through the air and a combined 10-of-31 on third-down conversions.
This weekend, the Trojans square off with the Beavers and the nation’s No. 1-ranked passing attack.
However, in the team’s loss to Stanford last weekend, quarterback Sean Mannion was held to just 271 yards and a touchdown—easily his worst performance of the year. Furthermore, the junior was 6-of-17 on third down.
Expect Orgeron to pay close attention to that game film and shut down Mannion for his biggest win with USC.
Player: RB Paul Perkins (UCLA)
Week 9 Matchup: Colorado (3-4) at No. 20 UCLA (5-2), Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1
The loss of leading-rusher Jordon James (74 CAR, 463 YDs, 5 TDs) has been a tough pill to swallow for the Bruins.
In the three weeks without James, the team has already lost twice. Furthermore, UCLA has only averaged 123.7 yards per game on the ground, including being held under 100 yards twice.
If James can’t go or is thrown into the lineup in a limited role, freshman running back Paul Perkins will have to step up.
Although his season numbers of 331 yards and three touchdowns on 71 carries aren’t too impressive, he showed signs of life against the Ducks last weekend. Perkins rushed for a team-high 93 yards on 22 carries.
Against a Buffaloes team that ranks No. 105 against the run (207.4 YPG), the youngster should have no real trouble putting in a performance that erases the memory of losing James, at least for one week.
Team: Michigan State
Week 9 Matchup: No. 21 Michigan (6-1) at No. 22 Michigan State (7-1), Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
The Spartans have been rolling in 2013. A close loss to Notre Dame serves as the team’s only blemish.
Ever since then, Michigan State has tossed aside all four of the opponents that have stood in its way. That includes a 42-3 thrashing of Illinois last weekend.
That win was an optimistic sign for quarterback Connor Cook, who hadn’t done much up to that point, evident by the Spartans' No. 106 rank in passing. But against the Illini, the sophomore had his most impressive performance of the season, throwing for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 15-of-16 passing.
It certainly helps that the team’s next opponent is a Wolverines defense that has looked completely vulnerable, surrendering 40 points to both Indiana and Penn State in its last two games.
Did we mention that Michigan also ranks No. 99 against the pass, allowing a little more than 255 yards per game through the air?
Sure, the Wolverines are riding quarterback Devin Gardner and receiver Jeremy Gallon—both coming off record-breaking performances. However, Michigan State possesses the No. 1 overall defense, allowing just 215.5 yards per game.
Expect the Spartans to put together a dominating performance and put themselves in prime position to reach the Big Ten title game.
Coach: Brian Kelly (Notre Dame)
Week 9 Matchup: Navy (4-3) at No. 25 Notre Dame (6-2), Nov. 2, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Following the 35-21 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 28, the Irish have completely turned it around.
Not only has the team won three straight, but Notre Dame is doing it in impressive fashion. The team has put up 35 or more points in two of those three games—it didn’t accomplish the feat once in its first five contests—and the defense is finally beginning to shape up.
Head coach Brian Kelly deserves a lot of credit for that.
Don’t expect much to change when the Midshipmen come into South Bend on Saturday.
Sure, the team boasts the nation’s No. 10-ranked rushing attack. However, that’s about all Navy does well, ranking No. 120 in passing and No. 60 in total defense.
Although the run defense may have a bit of trouble, expect the Irish to pull through quite easily.
With a win, the team should really begin making a charge toward a top-14 spot in the BCS rankings.
Player: RB Alex Collins (Arkansas)
Week 9 Matchup: No. 11 Auburn (7-1) at Arkansas (3-5), Nov. 2, 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Both the Tigers and Razorbacks have welcomed in first-year head coaches in Gus Malzahn and Brett Bielema respectively.
But that’s where the comparisons stop.
Auburn is off to a 7-1 start, winning four straight, including victories over then-No. 24 Ole Miss and then-No. 7 Texas A&M. On the other hand, following a 3-0 start, Arkansas is reeling to the tune of five straight losses.
However, when it comes to these two, the Razorbacks have won two straight and four of the last five—three of those wins have come when the Tigers were ranked.
Although Arkansas running back Alex Collins (141 CAR, 797 YDs, 4 TDs) has cooled off a bit—he’s topped the century mark on the ground just once in the last five games—expect the freshman to get back to form. Especially against an Auburn run defense that has allowed a little over 140 yards per game and conceded 11 touchdowns on the ground.
It may not be enough to lead the Razorbacks to victory, but it’ll be enough to remind fans of the talent Collins possesses.
Team: Oklahoma State
Week 9 Matchup: No. 18 Oklahoma State (6-1) at No. 15 Texas Tech (7-1), Nov. 2, 7 p.m. ET on FOX
This one could come down to turnovers.
The Red Raiders coughed the ball up three times in their first loss of the season at Oklahoma last weekend. That moves the team to a minus-six turnover margin on the season and a total of 19 turnovers on the year—tied for ninth-most in the nation.
On the other hand, the Cowboys have 12 takeaways over the last three weeks. The team’s 19 takeaways rank No. 13 in the country.
Not to mention, Oklahoma State also seems to have discovered a new rushing threat, as running back Desmond Roland ran for 219 yards and four touchdowns in his first career start last weekend.
Utilizing the ground game was the key for the Sooners in their win over Texas Tech, rushing for 277 yards.
Although the contest is in Lubbock, look for the Cowboys to show why they were originally considered the class of the Big 12.
Coach: Gary Pinkel (Missouri)
Week 9 Matchup: Tennessee (4-4) at No. 9 Missouri (7-1), Nov. 2, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
This week is a trying time for Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel.
His team entered last weekend’s contest against South Carolina with a 17-0 lead heading to the fourth quarter. Improving to 8-0 was all but guaranteed.
Instead, Missouri was outscored 27-7 the rest of the way and lost by way of a missed 24-yard field goal.
That’s the kind of loss that could start a downward spiral for any team. It’ll be interesting to see how Pinkel gets his guys to respond.
Fortunately, the Volunteers don’t present the biggest threat. In fact, the team has lost 18 straight games on the road against Top 25 teams and lost 10 straight away from home in SEC games.
Not to mention, the Tennessee defense is fresh off allowing 45 points to Alabama last weekend.
Look for the Tigers to take out their anger on the Volunteers this weekend and put together one of their gutsiest performances of the year.
More importantly, Pinkel will prove why he deserves to be on the short list for Coach of the Year.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com
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