College Football Playoff's Separation Saturday
It's the biggest Saturday of the 2014 season, as we will see six head-to-head matchups involving teams in the Top 20 of the newest College Football Playoff rankings.
Here is the latest CFP Top 25:
1. Mississippi State
2. Florida State
7. Kansas State
8. Michigan State
9. Arizona State
10. Notre Dame
11. Ole Miss
14. Ohio State
23. West Virginia
24. Georgia Tech
Let's take a look at the six big matchups.
No. 12 Baylor at No. 15 Oklahoma: The Bears have just one loss, so they are still alive in the College Football Playoff hunt. But they have been punished by the selection committee up to this point for playing a soft nonconference schedule. Baylor needs a marquee road win in Norman over a Sooners team that has two losses after being one of the CFP preseason favorites. The problem for the Bears is that they have not defeated an AP Top 25 team on the road since a victory in 1991 at No. 24 Arkansas. OU is also 21-2 all-time against Baylor, including 11-0 in Norman. The expectation is that there will be plenty of points, but the Bears have not played very well on the road, and quarterback Bryce Petty hasn't been very sharp this season. For OU, quarterback Trevor Knight could be without top receiving option Sterling Shepard, who is dealing with an injured groin.
No. 10 Notre Dame at No. 9 Arizona State: When watching the Fighting Irish-Arizona State matchup, keep in mind college football expert Bruce Feldman's 'Body Blow Theory,' which you can read about here. The basic premise is that teams struggle the week after playing a physical team such as Stanford because of the toll that the style of defense takes on a team. Well, Feldman and others have applied the theory to Navy too, as we witnessed several Irish defenders leaving with injuries in the close win over the Midshipmen last week. Keep in mind that Ohio State's lone loss this year was against Virginia Tech, which came a week after the Buckeyes faced Navy. The Irish are 2-5 in their last seven games after playing Navy, and teams that faced Navy this year are just 2-6 the week after facing the squad. It's something to think about on Saturday. This is ND's toughest contest yet outside of the Florida State game, although Louisville and USC will be tricky as well. I'd expect a big game from Irish quarterback Everett Golson, but can Brian VanGorder's defense keep up with the ASU offensive attack?
No. 7 Kansas State at No. 6 TCU: The Wildcats have just one loss, which was a six-point setback to Auburn at home back in September. The Horned Frogs also have just one defeat, which was a loss to Baylor in which they blew a big fourth quarter lead. K-State has one of the most physical defenses in the country, so the Wildcats could frustrate Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin as West Virginia was able to do last week. It will be tough for TCU to replace running back B.J. Catalon, who leads the team's skill guys in touches, yards and touchdowns. The speedster, who has rushed for 493 yards and 10 scores, will miss the game with an upper body injury. He is a sound receiver and dangerous return man as well, so K-State catches a break with him sidelined. This is the first of three tough road games for the Wildcats, as contests at West Virginia and Baylor loom.
No. 5 Alabama at No. 16 LSU: The Tigers are going to need to catch a few breaks, perhaps in the form of turnovers, and they're going to need to be able to complete some passes against the Crimson Tide. The two-loss Bayou Bengals have a very strong secondary and a front seven that has grown up as the season has progressed, but Tide signal-caller Blake Sims is a dual-threat that this defense has not seen before in this rivalry. This is the first of three major games for Nick Saban's squad, which host Mississippi State and Auburn as well.
No. 14 Ohio State at No. 8 Michigan State: Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett didn't have great games against Virginia Tech and Penn State, which were the two best defenses that Ohio State faced this year. So while the Spartans' defense isn't as stout as it was last year, it still serves as a major test for the Buckeyes' redshirt freshman signal-caller, who will see a variety of looks from Pat Narduzzi's unit. The Buckeyes' home loss to Virginia Tech is killing their CFP ranking, and it will be interesting to see how far they move up with a win in East Lansing. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany may be secretly pulling for the Spartans, as they are the league's best chance to make it into the playoff.
No. 4 Oregon at No. 17 Utah: The Ducks are once again dealing with injuries along the offensive line, and the Utes just so happen to lead the nation with 39 sacks. We have seen Marcus Mariota be able to put together some very strong games since the Arizona loss as the O-Line started to get healthy, but he may have issues again. However, I don't think Utah's offense is fully developed enough to keep up with the Ducks even if Mariota has trouble staying upright. The Utes can run the ball, but the passing game remains a concern.
Dave Miller, the college football editor for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.