Simply when pundits had penciled in Alabama and Georgia as two unstoppable forces on a collision course for the SEC championship recreation and Faculty Soccer Playoff, Texas A&M stepped into the breach and reminded the faculty soccer world that there’s just one certain factor on the midpoint of 2021:
We have now seen it within the sheer quantity of upsets throughout the board and in a prime 10 that appears vastly totally different than the one to begin the season. Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State — all perennial playoff groups — have already got no less than one loss every, and we’re solely six weeks in.
What Texas A&M did final weekend goes down as probably the most unpredictable end result but. Alabama had crushed the Aggies by a mean of 23 factors in three earlier conferences beneath Jimbo Fisher. Texas A&M went into the sport with a struggling backup quarterback and an damage record almost 10 deep. But by some means the Aggies gained.
When requested how every thing got here collectively for his staff final week, Fisher advised ESPN, “Generally it will get all the way down to this: You bought to. Somebody asks, ‘How did you do one thing?’ I do not know; I simply needed to. It is superb how one can put your self in that scenario. We have now to this week too in opposition to Missouri. However now, it is are you able to deal with success?
“It is nice to be an underdog. However you do not ever need to be an underdog. An underdog says you are content material being second, third and fourth place. We have now to be taught that these aren’t upsets. Solely we will get upset. We have now to vary that tradition and mentality, and now, that is the half we’ve got to coach our gamers on.”
Fisher stated he noticed glimpses from quarterback Zach Calzada regardless of the struggles in losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State, noting how generally gamers simply must develop up as soon as they’re put into recreation conditions. However the unpredictability throughout the board has been one thing everybody has needed to cope with — coaches included.
“You have acquired youthful gamers, guys within the switch portal, you bought guys bouncing round, not as many guys conversant in conditions or how groups work; that might presumably trigger it. However whoever can determine this out and get it again to regular would be the man who comes out on prime,” Fisher stated.
The chaos has reached different conferences too. The ACC is totally vast open now that Clemson has misplaced. The Huge Ten additionally seems to be up for grabs, with the undefeated squads of Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State and one-loss Ohio State and Penn State nonetheless very a lot within the thick of the race. The identical goes for the Pac-12, which is as unpredictable as ever. All of it makes Stanford coach David Shaw take discover. He and his fellow Pac-12 coaches are used to this. And given the best way folks have grown bored with the identical groups on the prime of the game, Shaw has welcomed the change.
“I am happy that there is parity in faculty soccer, and I believe it makes it extra thrilling,” Shaw stated. “As a result of you do not know, week to week, who’s going to win. There aren’t any assured victories, and each convention now could be tight. Each week, there are upsets, and each week you already know the highest 25 will get flipped the other way up. That makes it extra enjoyable for everyone concerned.”
When requested whether or not he has an thought about the best way the season will play out, Fisher laughed.
“I want I did,” he stated. “I would sleep higher.” — Andrea Adelson
No. 11 Kentucky at No. 1 Georgia (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, CBS): Kentucky’s protection will not be the one which will get many of the consideration main into the sport at No. 1 Georgia, however make no mistake: It is the rationale the Wildcats are 6-0 for the primary time since 1950, and it is why the wins may hold coming.
A veteran unit led by finish Josh Paschal, linebackers DeAndre Square and Jacquez Jones, and free security Yusuf Corker has allowed solely 17.5 factors per recreation and 4.6 yards per play. Kentucky has purchased a transitioning offense sufficient time to get proper. Kentucky ranked final nationally in turnover margin for some time, and it nonetheless ranks third to final (minus-8), however the Wildcats proceed to win due to an skilled and dependable protection.
“There’s only a calm,” Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White advised ESPN. “Once they exit on the sphere, they do not get nervous. It is actually cool to be round. There is no panic. Man, they only play arduous. It is not all the time good, nevertheless it’s relentless.”
Paschal makes Kentucky go, and he may hold the Wildcats in Saturday’s contest if he can stress Georgia’s quarterback, once more anticipated to be Stetson Bennett. The 6-foot-3, 278-pound senior DE leads the staff in each tackles for loss (7.5) and quarterback hurries (6). Paschal has 17 tackles for loss in his previous 19 video games.
“He is simply enjoying at a special degree proper now, and he has been for the final two years,” White stated. “He is so disruptive, he creates detrimental performs, he forces offenses to know the place he’s, which opens up issues for different guys.”
Paschal’s efficiency might be particularly important in opposition to Georgia, as Kentucky might be with out prime inside linemen Octavious Oxendine and Marquan McCall, who’re out with leg accidents. White will ask sophomores Justin Rogers and Josaih Hayes to deal with the noseguard spot.
Kentucky is a 23-point underdog in Athens, however White expects his protection to step up.
“They perceive the standard of the protection we’re about to play in opposition to,” he stated. “A competitor all the time judges himself in opposition to another person in his area, so if you wish to be in contrast and really feel like you’re a protection that is within the higher echelon of the nation, you have to compete at that degree, and you have got a terrific measuring stick sitting proper throughout the sphere.” — Adam Rittenberg
UCF at No. 3 Cincinnati (midday ET, ABC): Throughout Tuesday’s media availability, Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell was requested if he felt just like the No. 3 Bearcats have been among the best groups within the nation. It is a query that solely will get requested of coaches and gamers who can fairly reply “sure,” and a query that solely elicits a shocking reply if the coach or participant have been to say “no.” So, Fickell replied with certainty that he believes Cincinnati is simply that.
That type of confidence from a Group of 5 staff is not new. However prior to now few years, it is come from Cincinnati’s opponent this weekend: UCF. Fickell acknowledged that Tuesday, saying UCF has been the American Athletic Convention’s most proficient and constant staff since he has been at Cincinnati. It is why the Bearcats have seemed on the matchups between the 2 groups as a rivalry — competing in opposition to this system they have to beat in an effort to be the convention’s greatest.
The Knights, for his or her half, are having a down 12 months. At 3-2 with losses to Louisville and Navy they’re nowhere close to scratching the heights that earlier UCF groups have reached. Nonetheless, Fickell is not letting the narrative flip this right into a attainable entice recreation for Cincinnati, which is favored by three touchdowns.
“They nonetheless have a variety of ability,” Fickell stated. “They nonetheless have that expertise and big-play functionality, and so they’re higher defensively than they’ve been.”
Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder reiterated his coach’s sentiments on Tuesday.
“Coach Fick does a terrific job of claiming, ‘It is not going to be the very best ranked staff who wins. It may be the very best staff that performs collectively Saturday,'” Ridder stated.
This season, the plight of the Group of 5 groups within the playoff chase is Cincinnati’s to shoulder, and so they’ve finished their job to date. Towards Temple final week, the Bearcats lastly “performed 4 quarters,” in keeping with Fickell, and blew out the Owls 52-3. Given the remainder of the Bearcats’ schedule (apart from presumably dealing with an undefeated SMU staff in late November), their win over then-No. 9 Notre Dame would be the crown jewel by the top of the season. The query is whether or not it should stay as lustrous. But when Cincinnati cannot management that, it fits them to look inward for issues that might veer them off target.
“I believe for us as a staff and as a program, it is actually about how we will deal with this consideration and the issues which are occurring,” Fickell stated. “We have been good about dealing with the thrill.”
It is arduous to argue with Fickell’s evaluation that the Bearcats are among the best groups within the nation. And but Cincinnati’s total case for the playoffs feels as fragile as a chandelier: One stumble and the complete mission will shatter to items. In fact, the final word dilemma of being within the Bearcats’ place is that even when they win out, they won’t be assured a spot within the playoffs in any respect. — Paolo Uggetti
No. 10 Michigan State at Indiana (midday ET, FS1): Michigan State’s unbelievable turnaround from 2020 to 2021 will be tied to a revamped roster and the power to make many extra explosive performs on offense. From 2016 to 2020, the Spartans averaged 5.09 yards per play, which ranked 121st nationally in the course of the span. This fall, MSU ranks fourth in common yards per play (7.45) and is tied for 14th in performs of 20 yards or longer (36).
Working again Kenneth Walker III, the Wake Forest switch who leads the nation in dashing (913 yards), has been the largest issue, however so have the boys making beneficial properties within the passing recreation.
“Ken’s a really proficient participant, however you have to give kudos to the vast receiver group so far as their blocking,” MSU offensive coordinator Jay Johnson advised ESPN. “They’ve finished a terrific job within the blocking piece downfield. It is helped a few of these runs that is likely to be common runs be extra. That has paid dividends for them within the go recreation.”
Johnson stated prime wideouts Jayden Reed (21.4 yards per catch), Jalen Nailor (21.1 ypc) and Tre Mosley (15.5 ypc) all excel in blocking. MSU additionally rotates as much as 9 offensive linemen, which has stored the group contemporary. Johnson famous that veterans similar to middle Matt Allen and left sort out Luke Campbell, who missed most of all of 2020 with damage, have helped solidify the entrance.
They’ve protected quarterback Payton Thorne, a first-year starter who gained a detailed competitors with Temple switch Anthony Russo earlier than the season. Thorne has accomplished 62.4% of his passes for 1,575 yards and 14 touchdowns with solely two interceptions.
“I’ve all the time favored Payton, however we did have a terrific battle in fall camp, and also you simply by no means know, since he hadn’t performed a lot, how he’ll reply within the video games,” Johnson stated. “We have tried to simplify issues total with what we do, and even within the quarterback room, ‘Get your eyes in the fitting spot and get your ft proper.’ He is actually simply tried to return to these fundamentals.”
Thorne and the Spartans face an Indiana staff that sits at 2-3 however boasts an skilled protection that has held three opponents to lower than 200 go yards.
“They’re very disciplined in what they do, and so they’re the place they’re imagined to be,” Johnson stated. “It is a good problem for us. We will should earn it.” — Rittenberg
After a crushing 55-48 loss to Oklahoma, the Longhorns should decide themselves up rapidly with Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State coming to city.
“No one feels sorry for us,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian stated on Monday. “We do not have a variety of time to really feel sorry for ourselves.”
A house recreation does not provide a variety of room for consolation, both. The Cowboys had gained 5 straight in Austin till the 2 groups’ most up-to-date assembly, a 36-30 Longhorns win in 2019. Texas held Oklahoma State off final 12 months in Stillwater, 41-34. It has been that kind of close-fought matchup over the previous 4 years, with the sequence tied 2-2 and simply seven complete factors separating the 2 groups (122-115 in Texas’ favor).
Texas’ offense confirmed the big-play risk in opposition to Oklahoma that Sarkisian had been predicting would come as timing developed. The Cowboys, in the meantime, have had one of many nation’s greatest defenses, permitting simply 18.6 factors per recreation.
Texas’ Casey Thompson threw for 388 yards and 5 touchdowns in opposition to Oklahoma. and the breakout of vast receiver Xavier Worthy (9 catches, 261 yards, two TDs) will not permit the Cowboys to concentrate on star operating again Bijan Robinson, who has rushed for 789 yards and scored 10 complete TDs in six video games.
Gundy, whose staff ranks 89th in scoring offense, is relying on his protection in opposition to the Longhorns.
“I would choose to not get in a shootout with them,” he stated this week. — Dave Wilson
No. 20 Florida at LSU (midday ET, ESPN/ESPN app): Florida’s protection, after getting hit within the mouth within the first quarter in opposition to Alabama on Sept. 18 in a 31-29 loss, has steadied the ship coming into Saturday’s recreation at LSU. The Gators misplaced the rivalry recreation a 12 months in the past after defender Marco Wilson was penalized for throwing an LSU’s participant shoe, establishing the Tigers’ successful area objective.
That shoe recreation form of outlined Florida’s disappointing season on protection a 12 months in the past, however the Gators have made a robust comeback on that facet of the ball by means of the primary half of this marketing campaign. Prior to now 15 quarters, relationship again to the second quarter of the Alabama contest, Florida’s protection has given up a complete of 38 factors (2.5 factors per quarter). And prior to now 10 quarters, going again to halftime of the 38-14 win over Tennessee, the Gators’ protection has allowed simply two touchdowns; solely a type of scores was a drive of 30 yards or extra.
“We’d have gotten a little bit nervous that first quarter in opposition to Alabama, did not deal with the setting properly, and so they acquired some fast touchdowns. However after that, we settled down, and it is a credit score to our guys how arduous they’ve performed, the best way they’ve purchased in and developed,” Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham advised ESPN.
The addition of line of defense transfers Daquan Newkirk, Tyrone Truesdell and Antonio Valentino has been enormous for Florida, and Grantham stated 6-foot-6, 303-pound sophomore Gervon Dexter has actually come on for the reason that Alabama recreation.
“He is a strong dude and has grown up and actually been an element for us inside,” Grantham stated of Dexter.
Grantham defined that having to play so many true freshmen and younger gamers final 12 months (security Rashad Torrence II and Dexter, for instance) is paying dividends this season.
“They did not get a spring observe final 12 months and have now had a full 12 months to develop, and you’ll see the distinction,” the D-coordinator stated.
Among the greatest news for the Gators is that All-SEC cornerback Kaiir Elam will return in opposition to LSU after lacking the previous three video games with a knee sprain.
LSU might be with out star vast receiver Kayshon Boutte, who’s out for the rest of the season with a decrease leg damage. That is a serious loss for the Tigers’ offense, as Boutte had caught 9 of the 17 landing passes.
However even earlier than the lack of Boutte, particularly going again to the 42-21 loss to Kentucky final week, the sensation across the league was that LSU was reverting to extra of the operating recreation used beneath former offensive coordinator and present analyst Steve Ensminger. Junior operating again Tyrion Davis-Price had a season-high 22 carries and rushed for 147 yards in opposition to a Kentucky protection ranked twenty eighth nationally in opposition to the run. No LSU operating again had greater than 5 dashing makes an attempt within the 24-19 loss to Auburn the week earlier than, and Davis-Value’s 13 carries have been probably the most for any LSU operating again in every of the Mississippi State and UCLA video games earlier within the season.
“You possibly can see [Ensminger’s] affect and that they have been extra dedicated to the run within the final recreation, and that is one thing we have got to be prepared for,” stated Grantham, whose protection held Kentucky to 137 dashing yards and Alabama to 91 yards on the bottom. — Chris Low
Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN app): For years, Pat Narduzzi has advised anybody who would pay attention that he had an NFL-caliber QB at Pitt, however Kenny Pickett‘s annual stat line — 13 TDs and 9 interceptions over every of the previous two seasons — has meant that not too many of us have been listening.
Certainly, NFL scouts pegged Pickett as a fourth- or fifth-round choice throughout final 12 months’s analysis course of. Each Pickett and Narduzzi thought the ceiling was far greater.
“I simply knew I used to be a greater participant than that,” Pickett stated.
So, Pickett got here again for a fifth season — he has been Pitt’s starter since late in 2017 — and he has issued an emphatic wake-up name to the skeptics to this point.
Via 5 video games, Pickett leads all Energy 5 QBs in passer ranking (234.28) and is second to Alabama’s Bryce Young in passing TDs (19), and his completion charge (72.0%) ranks sixth nationally. It has been sufficient to place Pickett squarely in the midst of the Heisman Trophy dialog.
And whereas the remainder of the faculty soccer world is likely to be stunned by that, Pickett is not.
“That was the plan once I got here again,” Pickett stated. “Heisman wasn’t the rationale, however I got here again to have a terrific season and to win a championship, and a variety of particular person objectives are met when you might have a championship-level staff.”
Pickett will get his greatest take a look at of the season on Saturday when Pitt travels to Virginia Tech, the place the Hokies have held opposing QBs to simply 59% completions and 7 passing TDs. Justin Hamilton’s protection has already annoyed North Carolina’s Sam Howell and compelled Notre Dame’s Tyler Buchner to the bench after throwing two picks simply final week. Virginia Tech’s secondary is led by nickelback Chamarri Conner and cornerback Jermaine Waller, who’ve mixed for 5 interceptions and two pressured fumbles to date.
“It is a veteran group that makes performs, and so they’ve acquired velocity at each degree,” Pickett stated of the Hokies’ protection. “This might be our hardest take a look at. They’ve a little bit of every thing. That is what makes them good. They present a variety of totally different seems. We have to ensure our communication is on level and we execute the very best we will.”
Pickett has thrown for no less than 4 touchdowns in every of his previous three video games. (The 15 complete TDs in that span broke a college report held by Dan Marino.) The final ACC signal-caller to do this was Russell Wilson in 2009.
Pickett additionally has thrown for no less than 380 yards in his previous three consecutive tilts. If he have been to hit these marks once more versus Virginia Tech, he would turn into simply the third FBS QB to take action in 4 straight video games within the playoff period, becoming a member of Cal’s Davis Webb and Washington State’s Connor Halliday.
Pickett additionally would doubtless put Pitt within the driver’s seat to win the chaotic Coastal Division. The Hokies and Panthers are the lone remaining Coastal groups undefeated in ACC play. — David Hale
Syracuse at Clemson (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN app): To say factors have been arduous to come back by for Clemson could be placing it mildly. Via 4 video games in opposition to FBS competitors, the Tigers are averaging simply 12.5 factors per recreation in regulation, worse than each staff within the nation, besides Colorado, Rice and Southern Miss. Coach Dabo Swinney has chalked up the struggles to a variety of small issues, together with QB footwork, sustaining blocks and crisper routes. But it surely’s additionally value noting that Clemson has one large drawback: large performs.
In its 4 video games versus FBS opponents, the Tigers are averaging an explosive play on simply 8.6% of their offensive snaps, fifth worst within the nation. Why’s that matter? Chunk performs make all of the distinction with regards to scoring. Drives which have no less than one explosive play (a 12-yard run or a 16-yard completion) end in factors 64% of the time. Drives that do not, lower than 10%. Sustaining drives with brief beneficial properties down the sphere is just not a recipe for achievement — for Clemson or anybody else.
That is one thing Syracuse’s protection is properly conscious of too. Solely six defenses nationally have allowed a decrease charge of explosive performs than the Orange (7.8%).
“We emphasize that loads in observe,” stated Syracuse defensive lineman Josh Black. “If a staff goes to beat us by getting 4 or 5 yards each play, so what. However we won’t quit these big performs. That hurts us; it hurts our offense. It places everyone in a nasty place.”
It has been one thing of a trade-off for the Syracuse protection, nonetheless. Final 12 months, the Orange have been way more prone to large performs, however the Orange additionally acquired a variety of takeaways. It was an aggressive strategy that led to a variety of boom-or-bust outcomes. This 12 months, Black stated Syracuse continues to be on the lookout for extra turnover alternatives, however that tally has been sacrificed a bit in favor of eliminating straightforward beneficial properties for the opposition.
It has been a sound technique for Syracuse, which is led by a veteran line of defense and supported by a again eight made up completely of freshmen and sophomores. Making the opponent work for yards takes some stress off the younger secondary for Syracuse whereas additionally placing the stress on opponents to keep away from errors.
And for Clemson, loads has gone unsuitable to date. Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott stated the staff’s focus is on “taking what they offer us” and “making the layups” — which appears to jibe with Syracuse’s philosophy, as properly.
“If we make them go the entire area, it isn’t going to go properly for them,” stated Orange linebacker Mikel Jones. “Finally, one thing’s going to go unsuitable for them.” — Hale
TCU at No. 4 Oklahoma (7:30 p.m., ABC)
Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams changed Spencer Rattler in opposition to Texas and placed on a present. Williams accomplished 16 of 25 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, together with 88 yards on the bottom and one dashing landing.
The long run battle between Rattler and Williams hasn’t been publicly settled but, as Sooners coach Lincoln Riley will not identify a starter for Saturday’s recreation in opposition to visiting TCU.
It is protected to say Williams earned extra enjoying time, although, as he helped the Sooners beat the Longhorns 55-48 in a shootout. So, the place did Williams come from and the way did he get himself so far the place he is pushing Rattler, who was considered a Heisman candidate originally of the season.
A part of it has to do with Rattler’s play, as he has thrown 10 touchdowns and 5 interceptions by means of six video games to date this season. However a part of it’s the truth that Williams is proficient sufficient to push one of many prime quarterbacks within the nation.
Williams was the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and the Sixteenth-ranked recruit total within the Class of 2021 out of Washington, D.C. He had a prime record of Oklahoma, LSU, Maryland, Penn State and Clemson.
Williams gained Gatorade Participant of the Yr for Washington, D.C., his sophomore 12 months after throwing for two,624 yards and 26 touchdowns whereas additionally operating for 394 yards and 10 touchdowns on 102 carries.
When Williams dedicated to Oklahoma, he stated he knew Rattler was the man however that he wasn’t afraid of the competitors and wished to compete as quickly as he may. Williams is getting that chance now, and if he continues to play the best way he did in opposition to Texas, he’s going to make it tough for Riley to maintain him off the sphere. — Tom VanHaaren
Coming into the season, the Solar Devils-Utes recreation figured to hold elevated stakes within the Pac-12 South race. However with it being so early on the schedule, it will have been arduous to foretell simply how vital this one has turned out to be.
ASU (3-0) and Utah (2-0) are the one remaining undefeated groups in Pac-12 convention play, and whoever wins would be the undisputed favourite within the division. That is very true for ASU, which has already crushed UCLA and would then have the head-to-head benefit over each the one-loss Bruins and the Utes. The opposite three groups within the division — USC, Colorado and Arizona — all have no less than two convention losses. ASU, which kicks off at 7 p.m. or later native time for the seventh time this 12 months, has the convention’s greatest scoring (16.2 factors per recreation) and complete protection (298.0 yards per recreation), thanks largely to an skilled secondary that has mixed for 147 profession begins. That complete ranks second amongst FBS colleges. The Solar Devils are averaging 7.1 yards per play, which ranks No. 11 within the FBS, behind quarterback Jayden Daniels.
Following the dying of cornerback Aaron Lowe, it has been a attempting couple of weeks for the Utes. After beating USC on Saturday, the staff flew from Utah to Texas for Lowe’s service on Monday, solely to right away flip round and fly again to proceed preparations for the sport in opposition to ASU. Their 42-26 win in opposition to USC was simply the staff’s greatest efficiency of the season, and it’ll attempt to construct off that in entrance of their house crowd. — Kyle Bonagura
https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/web page/gamedaykickoff101421/college-football-week-7-showdown-sec-unbeatens-oklahoma-qb-controversy-more | Faculty soccer Week 7 – A showdown of SEC unbeatens, Oklahoma QB controversy and extra