ATLANTA - October is here, and conference action is in full throttle. Week 6 is filled with must-see matchups and games that could be the foreshadowing to future bowl games when January rolls around.
Here’s to even more wild finishes, game-winning touchdowns, last-second defensive stands and moments that will live for the ages in college football history.
North Carolina State sent a huge message Thursday night in the ACC Atlantic Division, as the Wolfpack defeated Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals, 39-25, to keep track with Clemson as the two undefeated teams remaining in the Atlantic division. If you thought NC State was not on the rise or the Wolfpack were not battle tested, think again. Thursday night should give an exact indication as to why they are.
With Memphis leading 35-24 at halftime, the Tigers ripped off 35 points in the second half behind the play of quarterback Riley Ferguson to defeat UConn, 70-31. Ferguson finished with 431 yards passing and seven touchdowns. Meanwhile, Boise State led 17-7 at halftime against BYU and the Broncos defense did not allow the Cougars a touchdown in the second half. Boise State defeated BYU on the road, 24-7.
On Saturday, tune in for ESPN College Game Day as the crew will be broadcasting live at 9 a.m. from Amon G. Carter Stadium on the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard, Lee Corso, David Pollack and Maria Taylor will discuss all the big games for Week 6, including the headliner game for the evening as No. 8 TCU looks to earn a win at home against No. 23 West Virginia, hoping to keep pace with the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 Conference.
WATCH Channel 2 for the big games this weekend. Plus, follow Channel 2 Sports Director Zach Klein as he brings you the latest coverage from the Georgia-Vanderbilt game and college football teams across the state playing in Week 6.
Top Games on Channel 2
(4) Penn State at Northwestern | 12 p.m.
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald knows what it takes for his Wildcats to defeat Penn State. After all, in the last two matchups between the Nittany Lions and the Wildcats, Northwestern came out on top, with one of the victories coming in State College. On Saturday at Ryan Field, the Wildcats winning streak could be on the brink of being broken.
Penn State (5-0) sits atop of the Big Ten East but more importantly, they are playing at a really high level, despite some issues with movement on offense at times. Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley has thrown for 1,352 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions, anchoring an offense that’s averaging 471 yards of total offense per game. But, the biggest weapon of Penn State’s offense comes at the play of running back Saquon Barkley, who leads the Big Ten in rushing with 574 yards and four touchdowns and sits as the leading receiver with 27 catches for 386 yards. Between the play of McSorley, Barkley and the Nittany Lions defense --- one that is ranked No. 3 in the nation --- the Wildcats could be in big trouble.
In their loss to Wisconsin last week, the Wildcats gave up big plays through the air that essentially helped the Badgers win the game. Penn State thrives on big plays and Barkley, who did not have a big game on the ground last week against Indiana, showed that he can use his playmaking ability as a receiver if need be.
Quarterback Clayton Thorson leads the Wildcats offense as he has thrown for 1,061 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions. Running back Justin Jackson, a proven an established running back in the conference, has been the leader for the Wildcats on the ground. However, the Wildcats may not get as many opportunities as it would like on the field because they have given up 384 yards per game, with 239 of them through the air. Meaning, for McSorley, if he can find a rhythm and Barkley somewhat duplicates his performance of what he did last week as a threat in the passing game, along with other weapons like DaeSean Hamilton, the Wildcats will be in for a long day.
As long as Penn State’s offense functions properly and does not allow McSorley to get sacked as much as he has in the last two games, Penn State should come away from Ryan Field with a victory and another check on its resume with the idea of winning the conference and competing for a national championship.
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(21) Notre Dame at North Carolina | 3:30 p.m.
Anything can happen in college football, right?
That ‘s true.
The North Carolina-Notre Dame game, however, will not be an example of a classic October upset. Not only has Notre Dame won the last 17 of the 19 meetings against Tar Heels, North Carolina is winless at home this season, suffering losses to California, Louisville and Duke.
North Carolina (1-4) has been hit with the injury bug this season. With injuries to some of its top wide receivers and a redshirt freshman quarterback in Chazz Surratt, things have been a constant struggle for the Tar Heels in terms of winning games. Despite their record, the Tar Heels are averaging 395 yards of total offense and 28 points per game, but they are giving up 467 yards to their opponents, mainly due to injuries on the defensive side of the ball as well. Tar Heels linebacker Andre Smith is gone for the season, and if head coach Larry Fedora could have him back, this would have been a good week to have him.
Last week, Georgia Tech recorded for 403 yards against North Carolina and Notre Dame junior running back Josh Adams will have the same mindset against the Tar Heels’ defense. Adams ranks fourth nationally with 658 yards this season, with more than 2,400 yards in his career.
Look for Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly to get Adams going early in the game, especially when Notre Dame is dealing with quarterback issues of its own. Multithreat quarterback Brian Wimbush, who was dealing with a right foot injury, will play in Saturday’s game but it is not clear if he will start. Wimbush has thrown for six touchdowns and rushed for eight touchdowns.
If he does not start, look for quarterback Ian Book to get some action in the game. All in all, unless stranger things happened and the Tar Heels put it all together on offense and defense considering their injuries, Notre Dame should get another victory against North Carolina.
Michigan State at (7) Michigan | 7:30 p.m.
Jim Harbaugh and his Michigan Wolverines will be in for an early-season, Big Ten East test against Michigan State. Michigan (4-0) enters Saturday’s game averaging nearly 32 points per game and giving up only 13.5 to its opponents. However, Michigan State (3-1) is has solid defense of its own as the Spartans are averaging nearly six less points per game than the Wolverines, and they are giving up 18 points per game and ranking third in the conference in yards allowed per game.
Both teams look evenly matched on paper, which should make for an interesting game. As for the Spartans, they are overcoming a horrible season in 2016. Michigan State’s offense has been efficient with quarterback Brian Lewerke, who has thrown for 963 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Running back LJ Scott is the Spartans leading rusher but averages only 3.7 yards per carry, something the Spartans will need to see more of in Saturday’s game.
However, do not be surprised if the the Spartans rushing attack is not as useful in the game due to the Wolverines’ defense.
As for Michigan, the Wolverines will be without starting quarterback Wilson Speight due to injury. Senior John O’Korn will get his second start. Against Purdue, O’Korn threw for 270 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Ty Isaac leads Michigan in rushing with 356 yards and a touchdown this season.
But, like the Spartans, things could also be tough for the Wolverines moving the ball against Michigan State’s defense.
The winner of this game will be determined by which defense steps up in the critical moments and which team will be the most balanced on offense instead of becoming one dimensional.
For history’s sake, Michigan State has won seven of the past nine meetings but Michigan won last year’s meeting between the two teams in East Lansing, 32-23. The last time Michigan beat Michigan State at home was in 2012 as the Wolverines defeated the Spartans, 12-10.
For those who were scratching their heads about the timing of this game, yes it is usually played at noon or at 3:30 p.m. This year marks the first time in the history of the rivalry that the game will be played during primetime hours on a Saturday night, making the game itself even more interesting.
Top Local Games
Georgia at Vanderbilt | 12 p.m.
For Georgia fans, your Bulldogs passed yet another test and did not get caught up in the hype, defeating and shutting out Tennessee on the road, 41-0. In what could have been a “trap game” or one that many thought would have brought a typical Georgia team “back to life” turned out to be another convincing statement that the Bulldogs are focused and have their eyes set on a shot to compete for an SEC championship.
For the Bulldogs, their pursuit of perfection is still alive. They have passed some early season tests but the journey continues. Welcome to month of October. Their first test for the month of October: The Vanderbilt Commodores.
Georgia gets a chance at redemption as the Bulldogs lost to Vanderbilt, 17-16, for homecoming a year ago. If all goes as planned, the Bulldogs should notch another victory in the wins’ column. To win and win in comfortable fashion, the Bulldogs must execute in all areas of the game, something they have done successfully in wins against Mississippi State and Tennessee.
Vanderbilt (3-2) started the season strong, especially on defense. After playing Alabama and Florida, the Commodores’ defense has struggled against the run and pass, giving up a combined 97 points and 1,144 yards of total offense against the Gators and the Crimson Tide.
For Vanderbilt, don’t look for things to get any easier this week. The Bulldogs enters Saturday’s game averaging 387 yards per game, with 237 of those coming on the ground. The Commodores have surrendered 205 yards per game on the ground, and Georgia running back Nick Chubb is coming off a 100-yard game against Tennessee. Plus, Chubb has recorded 480 yards and six touchdowns and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
Then, factor in the contribution of running back Sony Michel to go along with Chubb and the play of freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. It will most likely be a long day for the Commodores on defense.
Much of the Commodores’ success on offense has come through the air with quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who has thrown for 985 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception. Thus, despite Vanderbilt’s struggles, Shurmur has proven that he can get the offense moving.
To successfully get the victory, the Bulldogs cannot let Shurmur get comfortable in the pocket. Look for Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart to ensure that his defense brings pressure on Shurmur and to hopefully force him into committing turnovers, something Shurmur has pretty much avoided all season except one interception.
If Georgia executes on both sides of the ball, it should be another strong win for the Bulldogs.
Texas Southern at Kennesaw State | 7 p.m.
Kennesaw State (3-1) hosts Texas Southern for the first time on Saturday evening. Texas Southern (0-4) has yet to win a game this season and remains winless in SWAC play. Meanwhile, the Owls are coming off a win against North Greenville and are looking to extend their three-game winning streak. Looking at the Tigers, a team that has struggled to score on offense and giving up 485 yards to its opponents, the Owls are the favorite to win this game. Owls quarterback Chandler Burks is the team’s leading rusher with 303 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, cornerback Keon Roman leads the team with four interceptions and safety Bryson Armstrong has two interceptions. As a unit, Kennesaw State’s defense has recorded 11 sacks in three games and has limited its opponents to 69 rushing yards per game.
For Texas Southern, the Tigers will have their hands full in stopping the Owls on offense and moving the ball against Kennesaw State on defense.
Georgia State at Coastal Carolina | 6:30 p.m.
Coastal Carolina (1-3) is trying to avoid a four-game losing streak in its first season in the Sun Belt Conference. The Chanticleers previously played in the Big South Conference. Coastal Carolina will look to get its first win in the Sun Belt conference play and its first home conference win in school history. The Chanticleers have won their last three conference home openers and are 9-4 in such games all time.
Currently, the Chanticleers have lost three straight. However, with a size advantage up front defensively and and offense that has shown improvements could be the difference makers in Coastal Carolina getting the victory.
Meanwhile, Georgia State has been able to move the ball, averaging 321 yards of total offense. Missed opportunities and turnovers have hurt the Panthers offensively and, defensively, they are giving up 394 yards of offense to their opponents.
But, to that notion, Coastal Carolina is not much better defensively as the Chanticleers have surrendered 392 yards per game to their opponents.
Coastal Carolina, however, relies more on the run than the pass, with 208 of its 369 yards of offense coming on the ground. That could be a problem for the Chanticleers because the Panthers are only allowing 166 yards per game to their opponents.
In the games they have played this season, the Panthers have given up big plays but a lot of them have come through the air instead of on the ground. Meaning, Chanticleers senior quarterback Tyler Keane could potentially have a big game like he did last week against Louisiana Monroe, where he threw for 329 yards, four touchdowns.
As for Georgia State, head coach Shawn Elliot is trying to establish more of a running game in the program to help with passing opportunities down the field for the Panthers. However, the Panthers have contributed 214 of its 321 yards of total offense through the air. Running back Taz Bateman lead the Sun Belt Conference with 120 all-purpose yards per game and leads the Panthers in rushing with 133 yards on 43 carries. Quarterback Conner Manning has thrown for 542 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Look for the Chanticleers defense to put pressure on Manning, forcing him to make some ill-advised throws that could lead to interceptions for Georgia State defensively. But, it will not make a difference if the Panthers cannot take full advantage of the opportunities presented to them.
This game will come down to which offense will be the most efficient and which team’s defense can make the critical stops in big situations.
Here’s something to consider.
The Chanticleers have forced a turnover in 15 consecutive games with a total of 33 turnovers in that span through the second game of the season, but it hasn’t forced a turnover in the past two games. If they can force the Panthers to commit turnovers, Coastal Carolina could have a good chance in wining its first Sun Belt conference game.
Other SEC Action
Ole Miss at (12) Auburn | 12 p.m.
LSU at (21) Florida | 3:30 p.m.
Arkansas at South Carolina | 4 p.m.
(1) Alabama at Texas A&M | 7:15 p.m.
Missouri at Kentucky | 7:30 p.m.
Other ACC Action
Wake Forest at (2) Clemson |12 p.m.
Duke at Virginia | 12:20 p.m.
Pittsburgh at Syracuse | 12:30 p.m.
(21) Notre Dame at North Carolina | 3:30 p.m.
(13) Miami at Florida State | 3:30 p.m.
(16) Virginia Tech at Boston College | 7:15 p.m.
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