Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (unbridled optimism sold separately at UTEP, where the winless Miners kicked a field goal in the third quarter against Middle Tennessee on Saturday for their first second-half points since Sept. 15):
WHAT’S GONE WRONG IN COLUMBUS
When Iowa (11) pummeled Ohio State (12) Saturday in Iowa City, it realigned the College Football Playoff race – but it also triggered a reappraisal of the Buckeyes program over the course of its last 11 games. Something is amiss in the ‘Bus.
In that span, Ohio State has excelled at one thing: crushing opponents it should crush. But in five games against Power Five opponents with winning records, Ohio State has not excelled. It has been fortunate to eke out a 2-3 record against those teams, with the two wins by the thinnest of margins (one point over Penn State, three points over Michigan) and the three losses in humbling blowouts (31 points each against Clemson and Iowa, 15 points against Oklahoma).
Average score of those five games: Opponent 36.4, Ohio State 21.8. Average amount of time the Buckeyes have trailed in those games: 42½ minutes out of 60. And only one of them was a road game.
The Iowa debacle certainly was the most stunning result of the bunch. A Hawkeyes team that had been held to fewer than 20 points four times this season had 31 before halftime. Iowa averaged 6.96 yards per play, its highest single-game average since October 2016 against Purdue. Ohio State’s vaunted pass rush produced just one sack, and Greg Schiano’s defense was equally helpless against the run (243 rushing yards allowed) and the pass (244 yards and five TD passes). The Buckeyes have not forced a turnover in their past two games and are a minus-six in that category in that span.
Urban Meyer (13) looked shell-shocked during his terse, 3½-minute postgame press conference. This kind of performance clearly wasn’t part of the master plan, and clearly isn’t what he’s accustomed to. But the fact is, his Ohio State team is really just a play or two away from having lost five straight against quality opposition. Something needs fixing with the Buckeyes, and fast.
SEVEN GAMES WITH PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS
After inhaling the spotlight for two months, the Big Ten East is stunningly removed from impacting the playoff. (For the time being. You never know.) Which means The Dash is looking elsewhere for excitement Saturday – and there are some huge games to watch. The list:
Notre Dame-Miami (14). Not quite “Catholics vs. Convicts,” but this matchup does hearken back to the glory days of the rivalry from 1987-90. For four straight years, both teams were in the top 10 when they met – and in the latter three, the higher-ranked team lost. The Fighting Irish hold the higher ranking this time, coming in at No. 3 in the AP poll, while the undefeated Hurricanes are No. 7. Matchup to watch: Notre Dame’s powerful offensive line against Miami’s disruptive defensive front. The Irish lead the nation in yards per carry (7.04); the Hurricanes lead the nation in tackles for loss per game (8.8). Dash pick: Notre Dame 24, Miami 14.
TCU-Oklahoma (15). Since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 in 2012, this might be the most competitive series in the league. The Sooners have won four of the five, but all have been decided by seven points or less – and the winner of the last three meetings has gone on to capture at least a share of the Big 12 title. With both teams 5-1 in the league and tied for first, that could well be the case again this season. Matchup to watch: Classic offense vs. defense showdown. Oklahoma leads the nation in total offense (608 yards per game) and yards per play (8.6); TCU leads the Big 12 and is fifth nationally in yards allowed per play (4.4). Dash pick: Oklahoma 41, TCU 34.
Georgia-Auburn (16). Auburn’s bid to take down the SEC’s Twin Towers begins. The Bulldogs have completely dominated SEC competition, winning six league games by an average margin of 29 points. But the Tigers are on a nine-game home winning streak, with an average victory margin of 31. This will be the best opponent either team has faced since Sept. 9, when Georgia won at Notre Dame and Auburn lost at Clemson. Matchup to watch: Tigers running back Kerryon Johnson against the Georgia run defense. Specifically, can Johnson break big runs that keep Auburn from having to grind out first downs against the Bulldogs? In only seven games, Johnson has four runs of 30-plus yards, three of 40-plus and two of 50-plus. Georgia, meanwhile, hasn’t allowed a single run of 40 yards or longer all season. Dash pick: Georgia 26, Auburn 17.
Iowa-Wisconsin (17). A ranked opponent has finally wandered onto the Badgers’ schedule – but the difference between the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium vs. the Hawkeyes on the road is pronounced. And this one is in Camp Randall. Iowa is 5-1 at home, and came within a whisker of being 6-0 by nearly upsetting Penn State in September. Iowa is 1-2 on the road, and had to rally from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to force overtime in the one win, against Iowa State. Matchup to watch: A Wisconsin defense that leads the Big Ten in interceptions (14) and has returned four for touchdowns against Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley, who has thrown just four picks in 259 attempts this season and is coming off a strafing of Ohio State. Dash pick: Wisconsin 21, Iowa 16.
Washington-Stanford (18). The Huskies have established themselves as the class of the Pac-12, but the Cardinal could be the Iowa of that league – much tougher at home than on the road. Stanford is averaging 20 more points and 178 more yards per game in Palo Alto, and should be excited to play just its fourth home game of the season thus far. Washington needs to not only win but accumulate some style points, and those may be hard to come by in what figures to be a slobberknocker game. Matchup to watch: Stanford running back Bryce Love vs. the Washington defense. Both are the best in the nation at what they do: Love leads America with 182 rushing yards per game, and the Huskies lead America in fewest yards allowed per game (241) and per play (3.71). Dash pick: Stanford 17, Washington 16.
Florida State-Clemson (19). This had been the marquee game in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the previous six years, but the 3-5 Seminoles let down their end of the bargain this season. (At least FSU finally won a home game Saturday, beating Syracuse to improve to 1-3 in Doak Campbell Stadium.) The ‘Noles are averaging 18.6 points per game, on pace for their lowest season average since 1975 (pre-Bobby Bowden), but a defense that is supposedly loaded with NFL players isn’t giving that offense many breaks. Florida State has just six takeaways on the season and has a minus-10 turnover margin. Matchup to watch: FSU running back Cam Akers against a Clemson run defense that is giving up more yards lately. Akers is coming off a 199-yard game against Syracuse, and the Tigers have allowed more than 500 yards on the ground in the last three games. Dash pick: Clemson 28, Florida State 21.
Alabama-Mississippi State (20). The Crimson Tide have had some hangover performances coming off the LSU game in the past. They are injury-riddled at linebacker. The Bulldogs are unbeaten at home. And still, it would be a shock to see anything other than a methodical Alabama victory. Matchup to watch: Nick Fitzgerald’s sketchy throwing skills against Alabama’s ball-hawking defense. Assuming the Crimson Tide loads up to stop the Bulldogs’ running game and forces Fitzgerald to pass, will he throw it to the right team? He’s thrown an SEC-high 10 interceptions, and Alabama has an SEC-high 12 picks. Bad combination. Dash pick: Alabama 27, Mississippi State 10.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Penn State coach’s classy move after brutal loss
• Astros’ Verlander ties the knot with Kate Upton
• Former Cowboys star Hardy wins MMA debut via KO
• McCarron has a pending grievance against the Bengals
• Women’s champ KO’d in first round at UFC 217