It truly is the most wonderful time of the year, isn’t it? Thanksgiving plans are finalized, stores are releasing their desperate sales flyers, Mother Nature is completely drunk, and we have football and basketball available at our every whim!
It’s also time for our (sniffles) final days of Clear Your Schedule for the regular season. We’ve got an interesting slate of games for you this week, including some things we’ve never done. Those and more can be found on our podcast (look below you a bit) and right here in this article.
Before we move forward, we need to look backwards. Here are the scores from the games we featured in this very space last week:
Louisville 38, Virginia 21
Georgia State 33, Texas State 30
South Alabama 24, Arkansas State 19
NC State 17, Boston College 14
Wake Forest 64, Syracuse 43
Marshall 30, Western Kentucky 23
Keyword Search (all times Eastern and rankings AP)
Fresno State (7-3, 5-1 Mountain West) at Wyoming (7-3, 5-1 Mountain West)
2:00pm | AT&T Sports Network Rocky Mountain
- What a difference a year makes: Fresno State won exactly one game in 2016 — defeating FCS Sacramento State — but has, under head coach Jeff Tedford, engineered the biggest year-over-year turnaround in the FBS. The Fresno sports information department notes further that this is the second six-game turnaround spearheaded by Tedford. The 1981 Bulldogs won five games when he was a junior quarterback, then the 1982 edition won 11 games with Tedford under center. In a strange coincidence, it was Wyoming that recorded a six-win turnaround last year, versus its 2015 win total. Another Bulldog victory would return Fresno State to the Mountain West championship after a two-year hiatus from the game.
- Tenacious “D”: There will be top-15 defenses on both sides of the field Saturday afternoon. Wyoming allows 18.1 points per game (14th-best), while Fresno allows 18.3 points per game (15th-best). The stingy scoreboard totals correlate with the overall success of both defenses; the Bulldogs are 12th overall in total defense (307.4 yards per game), with the Cowboys tied for 27th (334.1) with fellow Mountain West foe Boise State. Craig Bohl’s Cowboys find themselves with the tougher road to hoe, however, as they are last in the league in total offense at 277.8 yards per tilt. The next closest team averages just over 38 more yards per game.
- This seems improbable: Speaking of Wyoming’s offensive woes, the Cowboys have turned in an offensive statistic that defies logic. On just three occasions this year have the Cowboys outgained their opponent. Just two of those occasions featured games against FBS opponents; Wyoming outpaced Texas State, 333-262, on September 30, then bettered New Mexico, 309-184, on October 28. Only three teams have outgained Fresno State, conversely; two of them were ranked (Alabama enjoyed a 497-273 edge, while Washington outdid the Bulldogs 420-313), and the third was BYU, of all teams (336-310).
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Both veteran coaches have brought their schools back to relevance. After Saturday, Fresno may be back to playing for a league crown.
Army (8-2) at North Texas (7-3, 6-1 C-USA)
6:30pm | beIN
- Baby, we were born to run: The Black Knights bring to Denton the nation’s second-leading rushing offense. Army averages 58.2 rushing attempts per contest, and 351.5 yards per. Army had its lowest rushing yardage effort of the year last time out — in a win — against Duke. The Knights rushed 57 times for 226 yards and two scores in a 21-16 defeat of the Blue Devils. Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw rushes for just south of 123 yards per game, the third-best rushing average among quarterbacks. The Mean Green, meanwhile, surrenders 171.5 rushing yards per tilt, with all of their last six opponents cracking the century mark. This average is, admittedly, marred a bit by Florida Atlantic’s otherworldly 447 yards on the ground in a 69-31 victory over UNT roughly a month ago.
- Reverse!: No matter how UNT closes its season, the Mean Green will play for their first-ever Conference USA crown. Seth Littrell’s club is already eligible for just its third bowl since the start of the 2005 season. North Texas played in — and lost — the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2016, after winning that same bowl in 2014. The last conference title to come to Denton? Why, that’d be the 2004 Sun Belt crown, the final of four in a row won by the Mean Green.
- A Fine, Fine day: UNT quarterback Mason Fine has two games to throw for the five TDs he needs to earn a new place atop the school’s record books. The sophomore Oklahoma native has thrown for 22 scores, just four shy of all-time record-holder Mitch Maher, who threw for 26 touchdowns in 1994. Fine has tossed for multiple scores in seven of his club’s 10 games this year, and he comes off a four-TD performance his last time out against UTEP. Army’s pass defense ranks 26th among FBS teams, allowing just over 188 yards per game and only 10 opposing quarterback touchdown throws.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: In a week with lots of lesser P5 matchups, this might end up being a game of the week contender. Two different — but very fun — styles.
FIU (6-3, 4-2 C-USA) at FAU (7-3, 6-0 C-USA) | Don Shula Bowl
7:00pm | Stadium
- On point(s): Jokes — and there are many — about Lane Kiffin aside, it’s tough to argue with the offensive success the Owls have enjoyed this season. Only UCF (nine) has more consecutive games with 30 points or greater than FAU’s eight. FAU leads Conference USA in scoring offense (39.8) by nearly three points per game over North Texas. Only Navy (19) and Wisconsin (14) have held FAU below that threshold. Kiffin also has the numbers 11 (Jason Driskel, 165.3) and 12 (Devin Singletary, 136) in the league in total offense. Singletary considerably outpaces the rest of the league in scoring, with his 13.6 points per game in the lead by almost five points per contest.
- Nothing’s gonna stop us now: That FAU rushing attack lines up against an FIU rush defense that has allowed an average of 187 rushing yards per game against C-USA foes. League rushers have scored 10 touchdowns against the Panther rush defense, including ODU’s two scores (and 199 yards) last week. FAU leads the league in rushing by 65 yards per game, buoyed largely by Singletary, and they rush for over 317 yards per game in C-USA play. FAU has rushed for just 383 combined yards in their last two wins against Marshall and Louisiana Tech, but they have found the paint a blinding seven times.
- Bowlin’ Butch: No matter the outcome, first-year FIU coach Butch Davis has quickly righted the ship in Miami. The Panthers are bowl-eligible for the first time since an 8-5 season and Beef O’Brady’s Bowl trip in 2011. Coincidentally, FIU played Marshall in that bowl, and a potential doomsday scenario exists between those two clubs and FAU. Should highly unlikely events occur and FIU beat FAU and Western Kentucky, then FAU falls to Charlotte in the following week, we would have a three-way tie in Conference USA’s East Division. FIU would then have tiebreakers over FAU and Marshall, having beaten both.
Print that, tweet that, whatever: FAU has become an out-of-control offensive juggernaut of late. FIU may find itself the Owls’ latest victim Saturday night.
Music break!: We’re not always going to strike gold with these, and this week is somewhat of an example. As you know, we’re going back to 1992, the first year of the SEC championship game, and this song was inexplicably — to me, anyway — in its 32nd week on the charts this week in 1992. The song debuted April 18th, and it was still number 29 on the charts this week 25 years ago. Maybe you can explain the staying power of Jon Secada on the charts, because I…cannot.
We’ll be taking off next week to celebrate Thanksgiving. I am, as always, thankful for family, friends, our military and first responders, and, of course, all of you! May you all have a wonderful week of fellowship and football with those for whom you are thankful. Should you travel, I pray for your safe arrival and return.
Here’s to you and the game we all love. The best is yet to come.