Thursday night is here, and for those of you with little or no interest in the ALCS there are a couple of intriguing college football games on tap. Florida State has a chance to make a statement in the ACC Atlantic race when they visit NC State. Yes, the Wolfpack have struggled this season, but keep in mind that they did beat East Carolina (a win that looks less impressive by the week it seems) in Raleigh and QB Chrisitan Ponder hasn't exactly lit it up against FBS competition for the 'Noles.
But that one's a mere appetizer when compared to the Mountain West showdown in Fort Worth. BYU's season won't be a simple cakewalk to their finale at Utah, and this game at TCU is one big reason why. QB Andy Dalton leads a solid Horned Frog attack, and head coach Gary Patterson runs one of the nation's best defensive schemes. Could another undefeated team go down? It's quite possible. Rounding out the pre-Saturday slate is Hawaii visiting #15 Boise State on Friday night.
What looked like an easy win for the Broncos when the season began will be a challenge, with Warriors QB Inoke Funaki playing good football recently after struggling in Hawaii's first few games. But Boise State has an explosive offensive unit with redshirt freshman QB Kellen Moore spreading the ball around to an array of weapons, including RB Ian Johnson (it seems like he's been around for ten years or so). Here's a preview of three games that will set the tone for each conference race.
Florida State @ NC State 7:30 PM EST on ESPN
It seems like the Seminoles are beginning to figure things out on offense under Jimbo Fisher. It's hard to put too much stock in their statistical rankings due to the fact that they began the season with two consecutive FCS opponents, but the running game has been productive the past couple of weeks. RB Antone Smith leads the ACC in touchdowns (10) and ranks third in the conference in rushing yards per game. Smith eclipsed the 100-yard mark in their win over Colorado and contributed to their season-high 310 yards on the ground against Miami.
The question in this one will be how productive can QB Russell Wilson, RB Andre Brown and the rest of the State be against one of the better defensive units in the ACC. While a nighttime crowd can keep the Wolfpack fired up for a bit, it won't mask the fact that Tom O'Brien's team ranks last in the ACC in both total offense and total defense. Expect a Seminole victory.
#8 BYU @ #24 TCU 8 PM EST on Versus
This is one of the significant roadblocks for the Cougars on their way to an undefeated season, but it seems like many around the country have ignored every other game besides the regular season finale at Utah. If Bronco Mendenhall's team goes into tonight's game with that attitude, they'll get beat. As a matter of fact, even if all their attention is on the Horned Frogs they could still get beat. While BYU leads the Mountain West in total offense thanks primarily to QB Max Hall and the passing game, they haven't been as successful on the ground. And it won't help that they're facing the nation's best rush defense tonight (TCU allows twenty yards per game on the ground).
The Cougars, who rank seventh in rush offense, ran for 124 yards as a team in their 21-3 win over New Mexico last weekend. The 382 yards of total offense was a season low for BYU, and the Lobos may have provided TCU with a way in which to knock off the Cougars: keep the BYU offense on the sideline. In the second and third quarters BYU had the edge in time of possession, which coincided with their outscoring the Lobos 14-3. But the first quarter, which ended in a scoreless tie, saw UNM hold onto the football for an astonishing eleven minutes. And with TCU boasting the conference's second-best rush offense, they could do the same in Fort Worth.
The question for TCU will be whether or not they can slow down the BYU passing attack, given their ranking of fifth in the conference in pass defense. But don't be fooled by that ranking, for the Horned Frogs are the Mountain West's best in regards to pass efficiency defense. Steven Coleman (3 INT) and Jerry Hughes (2 INT) are two guys that Hall will have to be on the lookout for in this one. Hughes, who is a defensive end, also ranks second in the Mountain West in sacks (7.0) while bookend Matt Panfil ranks fourth (4.5).
If this reads like a setup to pick TCU in an upset, that's because it is. TCU wins this thriller and forces major outlets to look at the Mountain West as more than just BYU and Utah. They play some pretty good football out there.
Friday: Hawaii @ #15 Boise State 8 PM EST on ESPN
When the season began, the WAC race looked to be a two-team battle between Boise State and Fresno State. Well two weeks ago Hawaii went to Fresno and knocked off the Bulldogs in overtime, so maybe the defending WAC champs have a better shot than many anticipated to win the league. The defense has played better than expected (3rd in the WAC), led by linebackers Adam Leonard and Solomon Elimimian. But they'll have their hands full with the conference's second-best passing offense, which is a large part of the reason why the Broncos are second in the WAC in scoring offense.
Ian Johnson (4th in the WAC in all-purpose yards) is a household name by now, but get to know WR Jeremy Childs, who ranks second in the conference in receptions per game and fourth in receiving yards per game. Tying it all together for head coach Chris Petersen is Kellen Moore, who leads the WAC in pass efficiency and ranks behind only New Mexico State's Chase Holbrook in passing yards per game. Look for Boise State to win another home game, moving to 16-1 all-time in home games on national television.