Mandatory Credit: Photo by Vasha Hunt/AP/Shutterstock (13403208w) Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) during warmups before an NCAA college football game, in Tuscaloosa, Ala La Monroe Alabama Football, Tuscaloosa, United States – 17 Sep 2022
A busy week in college football lies ahead outside of the state of Texas. Players coming back from injury, and teams potentially on upset alert. Here, we preview the best matchups from outside the region.
#7 Kentucky @ #14 Ole Miss
Kentucky has gotten off to a great start this season, going 4-0 in the first month. That is in big part to potential first-round pick quarterback Will Levis who has been one of the best field generals in the country. The most interesting part about the Wildcats’ run is that they have been producing this way offensively while only averaging 2.4 yards per carry. However, that is due to change as senior running back Chris Rodriguez is returning after missing the season’s first four games. The senior back averaged over six yards per carry last year for over 1300 yards and 10 touchdowns. His return will likely make Kentucky’s offense more multi-dimensional and less reliant on Levis.
For Ole Miss, the offense faces the exact opposite problem. The running game has been the strength for the Rebels as they rank seventh in the nation in rushing yards per game, which is also the best in the SEC. With Rodriguez coming back and possibly shaking off the rust, Ole Miss has an excellent opportunity to control the pace of the game on the ground. That being said, Ole Miss has yet to put up a quality win, so this is their first game facing competition supposedly at their level.
This game could come down to who has the better day on the ground; however, Will Levis is a game changer and could put Kentucky on his back at the very least.
#22 Wake Forest @ #23 Florida State
Wake Forest may still be recovering from the devastating double overtime loss to Clemson last week. The plus side to this though is now the Demon Deacons know that they can compete with one of the top five teams in the country. They have a game plan that works and a roster that can execute it. Sam Hartman has been dynamite since coming back from his blood clot scare and it has translated to a 3-1 record in the first month. However, the same problem that has hindered Wake all season long is still present. They struggle running the football consistently. They are only averaging around 120 yards per game and have become incredibly reliant on Hartman. The offense has become one-dimensional and this defense is not good enough to be on the field for the majority of the game. If Hartman continues his hot play, Wake Forest has a good chance of sneaking off with a win on the road.
The Seminoles are also very QB-centric offensively. Jordan Travis does a lot of work to keep this offense afloat, as he has a top-20 in the nation in passer rating. Florida State so far has been the better team defensively and on the ground. The Seminole defense is also one of the better teams in the country at defending the pass. They rank 25th in the nation in rushing yards per game. Being able to control time of possession can be the key to winning football games. Florida State’s offense appears more multi-dimensional than Wake Forest, but Sam Hartman is playing really well right now.
This game could come down to quarterback play similar to what Wake Forest faced last week. Can Florida State slow down Hartman and force Wake Forest into a battle on the ground?
#2 Alabama @ #20 Arkansas
Alabama goes into this game as a huge favorite despite being on the road, and nobody on the planet should be shocked. It’s Alabama. We get it. They go into this game coming off two blowout wins and ranking in the top 10 in both scoring offense and total defense. On top of that, Bryce Young is likely to be a top-five pick in this year’s NFL draft. However, Alabama has played one presumed tough opponent this season in Texas. The Tide beat Texas by one point despite holding Texas’ star running back, Bijan Robinson, to only 57 yards on 2.7 yards per carry. Bama may be the number two team in the country, but some view them as vulnerable. Maybe the Razorbacks can be the team to prove those people right.
There is no question that Arkansas is an offense-first team. They run the ball well, KJ Jefferson has done well throwing the football and not turning the ball over, and they convert on third down with some of the best in the country. However, they are a different story defensively. They have struggled defensively against everybody they have played, giving up 20 or more points in all four of their games so far. They have to win in shootouts, and shooting it out with Alabama is a tough task.
If Arkansas can stiffen defensively and control the game on the ground, they can make things difficult for Alabama. However, Bama has a loaded roster with the best coach in college football. It would be hard to see them dropping this one.
#10 NC State @ #5 Clemson
Without question, this will be NC State’s toughest matchup of the season. They have had a good first month and have beaten everyone they were supposed to beat, but the “prove it” game has arrived. The AP likes them enough to give them a top 10 spot, and this is the chance where they can prove that they can play with the top dogs. Devin Leary is one of the better quarterbacks in college football and has led a very solid offense through the first month. They convert on third down at a 47% clip and present a balanced run/pass attack. The strength of this team is on the defensive side of the ball, especially against the run, ranking in the top 20 nationally. With that being the case, it will force DJ Uiagalelei to outduel Devin Leary, which is not a given.
Speaking of DJ, Uiagalelei is coming off the best performance of his Clemson career in the win against Wake Forest, where he threw for 371 yards and five touchdowns. His improved play this season has led to the Tigers having a top 13 scoring offense in the nation and a 54% conversion rate on third down. Star running back Will Shipley has been a catalyst in this offense averaging almost seven yards per carry and scoring seven times. Clemson also controls the run defensively, ranking in the top 15 in rushing yards per game allowed. If Clemson wins this game, it would be safe to assume that they take the cake as the best team in the ACC, which was expected since the preseason. If NC State takes it, that conversation becomes a real debate going forward.