FOX Sports College Football Analyst
College Football and College Basketball Writer
The TCU Horned Frogs are riding high.
They’re ranked No. 4 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, 10-0 for the first time since 2010, and being directed by the hot hand of Sonny Dykes, the first head football coach in TCU and Big 12 history to start 10-0 in his first season. Now, all they have to do is avoid any stumbles along the way to earn a spot in the CFP for the first time in program history.
Can TCU, Tennessee, USC or UNC make the CFP?
RJ Young breaks down the CFP situation for several contenders.
Here’s what we’re looking forward to watching in some of the biggest matchups this weekend.
What are you watching in No. 4 TCU at Baylor (Noon ET; FOX and the FOX Sports app)?
Young: When I spoke with TCU defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie this week, he reinforced the attitude Sonny Dykes has instilled in this 2022 Horned Frogs program.
“We understand what we’ve done up to this point, but it’s not over,” he said. “We’re gonna have to win out. And just like anything in life I don’t want to go in on somebody else’s merit. I want to go in on my own. So we gotta go take care of our business.”
That’s what I’ll be looking for when TCU and Baylor kickoff. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man, and Baylor is exactly that as the defending Big 12 champions.
This late-November game is just the kind that the Horned Frog defense has been gearing up for.
“You want to peak right when you need to,” Gillespie said,” and I started telling them that about six weeks ago that come Week 10 or 11, that’s when we’re looking to play some of our best football to date and using those as baselines for playing even better football every week after.”
Cohen: It was interesting to see how much respect TCU earned from last week’s stomping of then-No. 18 Texas when oddsmakers released their point spreads for Week 12. The Horned Frogs were seven-point underdogs as they traveled to Austin, but held the Longhorns without an offensive touchdown and proved to the College Football Playoff selection committee that they can win games with defense, too. A few days later, Dykes’ crew is now favored by three points on the road against Baylor. Saturday’s game will be just the third time TCU is favored over the Bears since 2011, according to OddsShark.
From a football standpoint, the Horned Frogs are set to face an elite running back for the second consecutive week. Gillespie’s group held future first-round pick Bijan Robinson to 29 yards on 12 carries last Saturday and will need another strong effort against Baylor freshman Richard Reese. A former three-star recruit from Texas, Reese accepted the only Big 12 scholarship offer extended to him. He now ranks second nationally among freshmen with 852 yards and 13 touchdowns.
TCU defensive coordinator is a ‘Diamond in the Rough’
RJ Young discusses Joe Gillespie’s career and why he has been so successful as the defensive coordinator for TCU.
Cohen: Fans of throwback, smash-mouth football will be buckling their chin straps to watch a showdown between two of the nation’s best running backs operating in two of the most run-heavy offenses in college football.
Illinois tailback Chase Brown leads the nation in both attempts (282) and rushing yards (1,442), and was a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate until last week’s disheartening loss to Purdue, in which he failed to top 100 yards for the first time this season. Brown is averaging 31.6 carries per game against Big Ten opponents and leads the conference with 68 missed tackles forced, according to Pro Football Focus. No tailback in the country has more carries of 10-plus yards than Brown’s total of 43.
Across the field, Michigan’s Blake Corum remains a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, with 227 carries for 1,349 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s scored at least one touchdown in every game this season and is responsible for more first downs than any tailback in FBS. Corum also ranks sixth nationally with 3.37 yards after contact per carry among players with at least 200 attempts, according to PFF.
Young: Bret Bielema has spent the last two years building a program capable of winning games like this one against the Wolverines. In many respects, it should be not only like looking into a mirror, but looking back at the kind of teams Bielema built when he was head coach at Wisconsin.
Both the Illini and the Wolverines will look to pound the rock and impose their wills on one another. If the Illini can do that with one of the best running backs in the country in Brown, and hold the ball long enough to frustrate Michigan, the Illini could put a real dent in the Wolverines’ ability to get back to the Big Ten title game to defend their crown.
As Michael pointed out, Brown has rushed for more yards than Corum, though Brown has enjoyed nearly 50 more rush attempts.
I expect this game to be a peak Big Ten contest, in which points will be at a premium and field position will be the most important talking point on game day. The nature of this kind of game means Michigan needs to use as many explosive opportunities as it can to build a two-possession lead against the Illini, who will look to grind this game to a standstill.
Young: I’m looking for C.J. Stroud to string together a second-straight Heisman-caliber performance, and for the Ohio State ground game to dominate.
Against Indiana, the Buckeyes rushed for 340 yards without star running back TreVeyon Henderson, and without running back Miyan Williams for the entire second half. Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said earlier in the week that he expects to get both Buckeye tailbacks back Saturday — their final contest before “The Game” on Nov. 26.
If the Buckeyes offense shows it’s healthy and in rhythm, most folks outside of Ann Arbor might have a hard time picking against them to win on Nov. 26 and again representing the Big Ten East in the conference title game.
Cohen: This is a matchup that seemed far more interesting on paper when the schedules were announced than it does right now. A year ago, Maryland had the No. 3 passing offense in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Purdue, with quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa racking up seven 300-yard games and rewriting his school’s record books. Though Tagovailoa enjoyed a relatively strong start to his 2022 campaign, with six wins in eight games — plus three more 300-yard games — the Terrapins’ offense has disintegrated the last two weeks in losses to Penn State (30-0) and Wisconsin (23-10). Tagovailoa threw for just 151 yards, one touchdown and one interception in those two games combined.
The question at Ohio State remains which running back will be healthy enough to play come Saturday. Henderson (foot) missed last week’s blowout win over Indiana and was reportedly seen in a walking boot in the buildup to the game. His backfield partner, Williams, exploded for 147 yards in the first half against the Hoosiers before dropping out with a lower-body injury. With fewer than two weeks remaining until a showdown with Michigan, it’s fair to wonder how much risk Day is willing to take in his players’ ongoing recoveries.
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Joel Klatt addresses questions for Ohio State going into the last games of the season.
Cohen: Think about all the unsavory headlines out of Iowa City this year. The Hawkeyes’ season began with a 7-3 win over South Dakota State in which they needed two safeties and a field goal to win. They unearthed one of the most bizarre offensive sequences in recent memory by going three-and-out, punting, recovering a muffed punt, going three-and-out again, punting, forcing and recovering a fumble two snaps later at the Illinois 5-yard line, moving backward after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and — finally — settling for a 27-yard field goal in an eventual 9-6 loss. One week later, head coach Kirk Ferentz faced nepotism accusations when an offense coordinated by his son, Brian Ferentz, turned the ball over six times.
And yet, after all that, the Hawkeyes have a path to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis for the second consecutive season. If Iowa wins its two remaining games and Illinois loses at Michigan this weekend, then Ferentz’s team is going back to Lucas Oil Stadium to face either the Buckeyes or Wolverines. Once again, the Big Ten West reminds viewers that anything is possible on that side of the conference.
Young: I’m looking forward to the Mohamed Ibrahim Show.
Ibrahim has been one of my favorite players to watch, dating back to seeing him play live at Huntington Bank Stadium against the Buckeyes, where he wore them out just before an injury ended his season. Since that injury, though, he’s picked up where he left off.
He’s looking for a 19th-straight 100-yard rushing performance against a defense that is arguably one of the five best in the country. This game, like most featuring Big Ten West teams, also has league-title implications.
The winner will stay alive for the chance to secure the division crown, and the loser likely will not. However, there are no fewer than 256 possible outcomes for how the Big Ten West race will finish.
Young: Is Oklahoma gonna show the form it did against Nebraska in this game or the form it showed against Texas?
It’s a fair question, as both the Huskers and the Longhorns are historic rivals for the Sooners, and their performances, respectively, have been galaxies far, far apart. Leave it to OU to beat Nebraska 49-14 in Lincoln and lose 49-0 to UT in Dallas.
With only a couple of games left in this series for the foreseeable future, the Sooners could remind folks inside and outside the state just who runs this territory. I’m looking forward to finding out just how personally the Sooners take this game in a series that’s been historically lopsided.
Cohen: The Bedlam Series is one of the rare college football rivalries that was lopsided when it started in 1904, stayed lopsided for the remainder of the 20th century, and still isn’t very close in the 2000s. Oklahoma dominated the first matchup 75-0 on Nov. 6, 1904, and won 11 consecutive games before the Cowboys got on the board in 1917. From 1946-94 — during which the Sooners won 14 claimed and unclaimed national titles combined — OU won 45 of 49 games in this series, to go along with one tie, in 1992, and just three victories for Oklahoma State. The all-time series record is 90-19-7 in favor of Oklahoma.
First-year OU head coach Brent Venables returns to the rivalry after 10 years as the defensive coordinator and, later, the associate head coach at Clemson. Venables worked at Oklahoma from 1999-2011 and won 10 out of 13 games under Bob Stoops. But the Cowboys, who are still mathematically alive in the Big 12 title race, earned a 37-33 win in Stillwater last season and will be searching for consecutive wins over the Sooners for the first time since 2001-02.
How about No. 7 USC at No. 16 UCLA (8 p.m. ET; FOX and the FOX Sports app)?
Cohen: The overarching storyline here is whether the Pac-12 will still be relevant to this year’s CFP discussions by 11:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. As thrilling as last week’s Oregon–Washington and UCLA-Arizona games proved to be, the results were devastating for a league that hasn’t secured a berth in the playoff since 2016. The Pac-12 entered the weekend with three one-loss teams on the fringes of the CFP picture — USC, UCLA and Oregon. By the wee hours of Sunday morning, the Trojans were the only program left unscathed from Week 11 action. USC must beat UCLA and Notre Dame to finish the regular season 11-1 and then capture the Pac-12 title in Las Vegas to keep its playoff hopes alive.
For UCLA, which led 28-24 with 10:22 remaining in Saturday’s loss to Arizona, the possibility of a 10-win season remains intact with two games to go. That hasn’t happened since former head coach Jim Mora Jr. won 10 games in consecutive years in 2013-14. The Bruins have averaged 5.1 wins per season ever since.
Young: The Trojans have an opportunity to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 title game in Lincoln Riley’s first season against their intra-city rivals. That’s no small feat.
However, the Pac-12’s penchant for detonating its own CFP chances is rivaled only by that of Sam Bankman-Fried. Perhaps this is a moment for Chip Kelly as much as it is for Riley, though.
The Bruins were no one’s favorite to win the Pac-12, but, for a brief moment felt like one of the conference’s two best teams. Now, after knocking off Washington and Utah — who beat Oregon and USC, respectively — UCLA can finish off its conference’s last hope at CFP selection.
No. 6 LSU and No. 7 USC on the rise
The latest College Football Playoff Rankings were released on Tuesday with LSU and USC both moving up.
And finally, what catches your eye in No. 10 Utah at No. 12 Oregon (10:30 p.m. ET)?
Cohen: It’s interesting to think about where these teams stand relative to a program like Michigan, which is likely to finish the regular season with one or fewer losses. Oregon and Utah both opened their 2022 campaigns with difficult non-conference games away from the West Coast — and both suffered trajectory-altering defeats. The Ducks were embarrassed, 49-3, by then-No. 3 Georgia at a “neutral” site in Atlanta. The Utes were upended by Florida, 29-26, in Gainesville after the Gators took the lead with fewer than 90 seconds remaining.
The early losses erased each team’s margin for error during conference play, where remaining unbeaten in the Pac-12 seemed to be the only realistic path toward the CFP. And with both teams dropping conference games since, their paths to the postseason are permanently blocked.
But what if Utah and Oregon had played laughable non-conference schedules like Michigan did? The Wolverines never left home in the month of September and feasted on Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn by a combined score of 166-17. Now the Wolverines are in a position where losing to Ohio State still gives them a chance to reach the playoff depending on the margin of defeat. It’s possible that head coach Jim Harbaugh’s team gets punished for playing a weak schedule if the committee prefers the likes of Tennessee or USC when push comes to shove. But playing that kind of schedule also kept the Wolverines near the top of the rankings from the first week of the season through the last, assuming they beat Illinois this weekend.
Young: This is how good Oregon has been, even after getting whooped 49-3 by the defending national champions: The Ducks are joined by TCU and Ohio State as the only FBS teams averaging at least 270 yards per game passing, 200 yards rushing, and have at least 20 passing and 20 rushing touchdowns.
They can score.
The question for the Ducks is how this new regime responds to the failings of the last one. Of course Ducks fans know Utah embarrassed them last year when the Utes whooped Oregon twice in 13 days only to promptly lose the Rose Bowl to Ohio State, a team Oregon beat on the road in 2021.
I’ll be curious to see how Dan Lanning, Kenny Dillingham and Bo Nix respond to the faults of a program they were nowhere near last season. If nothing else, Ducks fans will be too because, to their mind, a whooping is owed.
Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.
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