Clear Your Schedule 2018 | Week 4

By Brian Wilmer -

This would ordinarily be a spot to recap last week’s games. We won’t do that this week.

Instead, allow me to take a moment to thank you around the country and world for your thoughts, prayers, and assistance during and after Hurricane Florence. There are many miles to go here in the Carolinas, but we’ll recover.

Please keep those who lost possessions and loved ones at the front of your mind as the days and weeks progress. If you can afford to help, please do.

As just an example of what we saw, I’ll close the intro with a photo of “The Backyard”, the football stadium at Conway High School, about 15 miles inland from the South Carolina coast.

Much love to you all.

Now, on to this week’s trivia question…

Trivia question (answer at the end of the column):  Alabama has the best record among FBS schools over the last 37 games (35-2), with Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio State second, third, and fourth, respectively.  Who’s fifth?

Keyword Search (all times Eastern and FBS rankings AP/FCS rankings Coaches Poll)

#8 Notre Dame (3-0) at Wake Forest (2-1, 0-1 ACC)
Noon | ABC

Role reversal:  If I told you one of the teams in this game was 15th in the nation in total offense and the other was 100th, you’d clearly say Notre Dame was 15th and Wake 100th, right?

The Deacs are outpacing the Irish by 237 yards per tilt on offense — taking into account, of course, that one of Wake’s games came against FCS Towson. Freshman quarterback Sam Hartman has performed admirably during the suspension of starter Kendall Hinton, completing 55.3 percent of his throws for 834 yards and a 120.21 passer rating. Hartman needs to tame the turnover bug — he’s thrown 5 rips — but his arm and mobility (he averages 64.5 rushing yards per game, as well) are quite the boost to Dave Clawson’s offense. Senior running back Matt Colburn is also coming off a stellar effort, running for 117 yards and a score against a stellar Boston College squad in last Thursday’s 41-34 loss. Wake has scored 13 touchdowns in three games. Conversely…

On the other hand:  The Irish are surrendering just 16.7 points per game, with Vanderbilt’s 17 in last week’s outing right on par with opponents’ usual offensive output. Notre Dame’s sports information department also reminds us that the Irish have allowed just 10 scoring drives (five touchdowns) over the first trio of tilts.

#CollegeKickers:  In a season already notable for several big kicks, Wake Forest may have found a key special teams weapon — and he’s a freshman. Deacs kicker Nick Sciba, fresh off a decorated prep career at Clover (S.C.) High School, has knocked home 6-of-7 tries for Wake in his first campaign in Winston-Salem, and has converted all 12 extra point tries. Sciba has big-time range and accuracy, and could be called upon to make a big kick Saturday against the Irish.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Notre Dame is doing just enough to win, with a late defensive stand against Vanderbilt the latest accomplishment. Can they slow down Wake?

#22 Texas A&M (2-1, 0-0 SEC) at #1 Alabama (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
3:30pm | CBS

A tout le Mond:  Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond has been a target for some ill-informed critics this season, with a pejorative comment made after the Clemson game that they “barely beat a team with a quarterback with a 51% completion percentage”. That may have been the case last season, but this season has revealed a different version of the Aggie sophomore. Mond has hit on 56-of-89 throws for 824 yards in three contests, raising that much-maligned completion percentage 11 percent. Perhaps more importantly, Mond’s six scoring throws have been countered by zero interceptions. The increased accuracy joins with Mond’s mobility (103 rushing yards, 3 TD) to produce a much-improved player.

You don’t score until you score:  The A&M offense has notched 17 touchdowns this season, and is 21st in the nation in scoring offense at 44.3 points per game. That sounds fine, until realizing a stat pointed out by the Alabama sports information department.

Since the start of the 2009 season, Alabama has surrendered just 188 touchdowns. That number is a staggering 51 fewer than the next-closest team (LSU). Four of those opponent scores have come this season, though they all came in largely inconsequential portions of blowout games.

Third is the word:  Alabama is known for posting ridiculous stats, and their conversion rate on the penultimate down is fourth-best among FCS teams. The Crimson Tide has converted 60.5% (26-of-43) of third-down tries thus far, and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is one of the main keys to that success. Tagovailoa has connected on all 13 passing attempts on that key down this year, throwing for just shy of 300 yards. The Tide are 15-of-19 on third down with Tagovailoa under center. For its part, A&M is fourth-best on third-down defense, surrendering conversions on just 20% (7-for-35) of opposing tries.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Jimbo Fisher’s club is clearly improved this season. If it can slow Bama as it did Clemson, this one could get really fun.

And now, for our FCS Game of the Week!

#11 Sam Houston State (1-1, 0-0 Southland) at #18 Nicholls (1-2, 0-0 Southland)
4:00pm | ESPN+

Bouncing back:  Though the Bearkats are on the road this week, they board the buses coming off the end of their 21-game home winning streak, the longest among all Division 1 teams. North Dakota clipped Sam Houston State in Bowers Stadium last week, 24-23, and the storyline to follow will be how K.C. Keeler’s club rebounds from the loss. The trip to Nicholls also represents the beginning of Southland Conference play, which further raises the stakes. Keeler said this in commentary to the Huntsville Item this week:

“It’s all going to come down to if they can hold the ball on us,” head coach K.C. Keeler said of the matchup with North Dakota. “If they can hold the ball and run the ball at us, I think it’s going to be a long day.”

The good news:  Nicholls is not among the top 50 rushing teams in the FCS.  The not-so-good news:  They’re tied for 52nd (156 yards per game).

Bouncing back, part deux:  Nicholls started the season with what could have been, despite the state of the home side’s program, a statement win in a 26-23, overtime result at Kansas. The last two weeks have not been kind to the Colonels, however, as they have scored just 27 points across in-state losses at Tulane and McNeese. This will be the first game for Nicholls in Guidry Stadium this year, and there’s hope that this will be the tonic to cure at least some of the ills. The Colonels converted on 10 of a mind-boggling 20 third downs last week and threw for 257 yards, but much of this was necessitated by McNeese jumping out to advantages of 14-0 and 20-3. Quarterback Chase Fourcade paced Nicholls both through the air (22-41, 257 yards, TD) and on the ground (14 rushes, 45 yards), and a similar — if not even a little better — effort could keep the Colonels in this one.

Shakin’ the Southland:  With conference play starting, it’s interesting to consider the schools’ time spent atop the circuit. Sam Houston State possesses six shared or outright Southland crowns, with the most recent coming in 2016. Nicholls, conversely, has claimed just one league title, in 2005. Nicholls has only been to the 1-AA/FCS playoffs four times, winning just once in five outings. Sam Houston State, conversely, has played 30 playoff games, winning 19 in 11 playoff trips.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  This game feels like a crossroads contest for both sides. Such a pivotal first conference game only lifts the importance. Keep a close eye on this one Saturday afternoon.

NC State (2-0) at Marshall (2-0)
7:00pm | CBSSN

Hello, Huntington:  This game is the flip of a home-and-home between the Wolfpack and Thundering Herd, following the front half in Raleigh last season. The ‘Pack won that game –as it has the other three — by a 37-20 margin, after trailing by 10 in the second quarter. Much of that comeback came on the strength of two touchdown runs by running back Reggie Callaspy, and Callaspy again paces State in rushing a year later. Callaspy, however, has rushed for a mere 92 yards — and two scores — in two wins for a Wolfpack team that averages fewer than 100 rushing yards per contest.

Fire that pigskin:  It is likely fair to say that both of these teams will toss the ball around. A lot. Ryan Finley paces an NC State offense that ranks eighth in the land in passing, completing 60-of-81 throws for 679 yards and four scores against just one pick. The graduate student has thrown for 300 yards in both games this season, bringing to 12 the total number of times he has done so in 28 career starts. Only Philip Rivers (19) has thrown for three bills more as a Wolfpack passer. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Green has also been quite successful early for the Herd, connecting on 47-of-76 throws for 550 yards and five touchdowns against, similarly, one rip.

Are you for real?:  NC State is tied for ninth in the land in scoring defense at 10 points per game — admittedly, of course, with a small sample size. There is still much of the season to go, but even an increase of a few points surrendered per contest would be quite the improvement for Dave Doeren’s charges. The “Pack finished tied for 50th in the category last year, yielding 25.2 points per game. Five of State’s final six foes last season scored 21 points or greater, and the comfort of some breathing room instead of simply having to outduel the opposing offense would be quite the step forward for State.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  With both teams having a hurricane-induced break last week, it will be interesting to see how quickly the teams start. This should be a battle until the final whistle.

#7 Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) at #20 Oregon (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12)
8:00pm | ABC

Get up, it’s Gameday:  Stanford and Oregon are no strangers to ESPN’s flagship college football show. This is the fourth time in the last nine seasons that the Cardinal and Ducks will be featured on Saturday, though the most recent appearance was in 2012. Oregon was a top-ten team in both 2010 (in Eugene) and 2011 (in Palo Alto), and scored over 50 points in wins over Stanford in both seasons. The Cardinal exacted revenge in 2012’s tilt in Eugene, taking down the then-number one Ducks.

Show the Love:  Stanford welcomes back star rusher Bryce Love at Autzen Stadium, and he will face off with an Oregon defense that is ranked among the top ten in the FBS. Bowling Green ran 50 times for 136 yards against Oregon in the season’s first game, only for Portland State and San Jose State to rush for just 95 combined yards in 68 carries over the last two games. After an initial struggle against San Diego State by Love (18 carries, 29 yards), he went off for 136 yards on 22 carries against USC in week two. Love’s health and ability to hit the second level will help dictate the time and ability to go through progressions afforded to Cardinal quarterback K.J. Costello.

Ducks by the dozen:  Oregon’s sports information department notes that 12 different Oregon players have scored touchdowns this season, and that they have scored a touchdown in each of the 12 quarters this season. Further, quarterback Justin Herbert has thrown for 12 scores (on just 46 passes). This output will be tested against Stanford, who sports the nation’s top scoring defense (7.7 points per game). Stanford opponents have only reached the end zone twice this season.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Oregon’s offensive resurgence against Mario Cristobal gets its stiffest test yet. The raucous atmosphere in Autzen Stadium could make the difference.

#18 Wisconsin (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) at Iowa (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
8:30pm | FOX

No bull:  This game is played for one of the most unusual rivalry crowns in college football, the Heartland Trophy. The trophy is actually that of a bull, and while the rivalry dates back to 1894, the trophy itself was not added until 2004. Wisconsin has won 46 of the 91 contests between the two (two ties), and has claimed the hardware in both of the last two seasons. Wisconsin’s sports information department also notes that the winner of this game has won the Big Ten West championship in each of the four seasons after the divisional split. Wisconsin added a 2014 victory to the 2016 and 2017 decisions, while Iowa won the hardware in 2015.

Four for four:  Iowa has started a season 4-0 just four times under head coach Kirk Ferentz. The last time was three seasons prior, when, in 2015, they finished 12-2. Those losses came in the Hawkeyes’ final two games, as they fell 16-13 to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game and 45-16 to Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Iowa claimed its fifth win of the year against Wisconsin that year, scoring a 10-6 decision at Camp Randall.

You’re grounded:  Wisconsin is enjoying more of its usual success in the run game in 2018, toting the rock for 285 yards per contest. This is good for a tie for ninth among FBS clubs. The Badgers carried 43 times for 204 yards in a loss to BYU last week, marking the first time since a December 3, 2016, loss to Penn State that they fell while carrying the ball for 200 yards or greater. Wisconsin ran 49 times for 241 yards in that defeat.

Conversely, Iowa is allowing a paltry 42 rushing yards per game, which is third-best among FBS schools. 201 of the 126 rushing yards the Hawkeyes have surrendered came in one game, a week one decision over Northern Illinois in which the Hawkeyes claimed a 33-7 decision. Iowa has allowed opponents to rush for 200 yards or greater just five times since the start of the 2016 season, but amazingly won one of those games, a 45-16 win over Illinois in October 2017 that ended with the Illini rushing for exactly 200 yards.

Print that, tweet that, whatever:  Wisconsin will find out quickly about its resilience after last week’s loss to BYU. While the trip to Iowa is unenviable, a win would go a long way toward another Big Ten title.

Trivia answer:  We asked earlier:  Alabama has the best record among FBS schools over the last 37 games (35-2), with Clemson, Oklahoma, and Ohio State second, third, and fourth, respectively.  Who’s fifth?

South Florida (31-6) has the fifth-best record among FBS programs over the last 37 games.

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