UCF QB McKenzie Milton vs. Uconn -- Scott Frost is the coaching darling of the college football landscape, the Knights are 8-0 and McKenzie Milton -- fresh off a career-best 412 yards passing in Saturday’s win over SMU -- now gets to strut his stuff against UConn’s bottom-feeder pass defense. This weekend, the Huskies surrendered 385 yards passing and three touchdowns to USF’s Quinton Flowers. In addition, Kurt Benkert, Thomas Sirk, Ben Hicks, Riley Ferguson and Drew Lock have all posted huge passing games when they’ve had the pleasure of facing off with UConn. Milton will crush here.
Baylor QB Charlie Brewer vs. Texas Tech -- The only real question we have here is just how long the Bears will be able to run receivers onto the field before they run out of receivers. Denzel Mims was the latest casualty in a receiving corp that’s already lost Chris Platt and Pooh Stricklin to season-ending injuries, suffering an injury of unknown severity when going up for a pass in the end zone during Saturday’s win over Kansas. If he’s forced to miss this contest against Texas Tech, the team’s going to be scraping the floor of the depth chart. We still like Brewer, here, though. The Red Raiders entered this weekend’s game against Kansas State ranked 70th in the country in passing S&P+ per Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, Brewer’s second career start went fantastically versus the Jayhawks, as he put in 315 yards passing and three touchdowns. Kansas is worse than Texas Tech, but both defenses are subpar-to-bad.
Florida State RB Cam Akers vs. Clemson -- Ooo, boy. Care to gamble? The Tigers boast a top-10 run defense in the country, while Akers is coming off a sensational 199-yard drubbing of Syracuse. This one comes with all of the pratfalls inherent in running a freshman against an experienced, championship-caliber defense. Akers is a special talent, though, and has been noticeably picking up the pace after the Seminoles seemingly lost themselves for much of the early season. Akers has rushed for at least 75 yards in four of the last five games, with three 100-yard efforts in that space. If FSU is going to get up for a game this season, it will be this one.
Boise State RB Alexander Mattison vs. Colorado State -- Mattison drove us crazy early in the season, consistently underperforming, particularly in one three-game September stretch in which he rushed for a total of 85 yards. He’s improved since then, with three 100-yard games and four games of at least 90 yards in his last five contests. He failed to hit either of those marks against Nevada on Saturday, but made up for that with a pair of touchdown runs. Mattison has received at least 15 carries in all but three games this season. While the Rams are surrendering a respectable 177 yards rushing on average, factor in that that mark includes games against barren rushing outfits such as Wyoming, Utah State and Nevada.
Georgia State WR Penny Hart vs. Texas State -- New Mexico State’s Jaleel Scott was the latest wideout to rain hellfire upon the Bobcats on Saturday, finishing the team’s win with a 7-130-1 receiving line. Same ol’ same ol’ for Texas State, a team surrendering just over 275 yards passing on average. That mark jives well enough with their S&P+ passing defense ranked 113th. Hart has picked up at least 190 yards receiving in two of his last four games, including on Saturday, when he toasted Georgia Southern for 8-191-1. Plenty of opportunity for more goodness in this one.
West Virginia WR Ka’Raun White vs. Kansas State -- It pains us to have to land Bill Snyder’s crew as a strong match-up play for any passing game, but that’s where the Wildcats are at right now. The only teams to allow more passing yards on average than K-State are Arizona, East Carolina and UConn. Yikes. White’s not the most consistent of cats, mixing 100-yard games with the occasional 33-yard no-go, but he landed on the bright side on Saturday against Iowa State, catching four passes for 167 yards and a score. He’s very boom-bust, but White has three games of 100 yards receiving in his last five.
Bowling Green WR Teo Redding vs. Buffalo (Tuesday) -- The Falcons have played chaotic ball of late, blowing out Kent State by 28 on Halloween which nicely balances out Mike Jinks’ crew’s 31-point loss Northern Illinois the previous game. Buffalo plays bad enough defense -- S&P+’s 124th-ranked unit against the pass -- that Bowling Green actually has a chance at back-to-back respectable shows. But be warned: Redding has topped 100 yards receiving in just one game this season. This is very much a gut call.
Missouri QB Drew Lock vs. Tennessee -- Might be playing with fire, here. For everything wrong with the Vols (and that’s a long list of things), they’ve played very real defense against the pass. By S&P+, they rank as the 38th-best such team in the FBS. They’re even better when viewed through a more traditional lense -- only Air Force gives up fewer passing yards on average. Opposing that unit is Lock, a quarterback who has basically been made of fire over the last five games, putting a quintet of opponents to shame with a combined 21/3 TD/INT ratio. Might be playing with fire, here, but there’s going to be some regression to the mean next weekend. We’ve seen Lock struggle in spots like this before. Maybe he’s leveled up, maybe this is just who Drew Lock is now (the greatest quarterback ever?) but we’re not banking on it.
Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald vs. Alabama -- The Bulldogs did eventually top UMass on Saturday, but it wasn’t in particularly impressive fashion. Later that evening, Alabama showed as close to a crack in the wall as they have all season in allowing both Darrel Williams and Derrius Guice to top 71 yards rushing. Fitzgerald is working on a string of four consecutive games with 100 yards on the ground. This might seem to be pointing toward Fitzgerald as having sneaky upside, here, but we’re not buying it. Alabama held him to just 15 yards rushing this time a year ago and hopes of an improvement as a passer have been waylaid this season -- Fitzgerald has thrown at least two picks in four of his last six games. The Tide washes over one-dimensional teams.
Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson vs. Georgia -- Strength on strength for this one as Georgia’s top-five run defense collides with one of the best runners in the country. The Bulldogs have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season -- most comers have fallen pitifully short of that mark -- while Johnson has topped 100 yards in four of his last five games. Whether he can pull of that feat against UGA may well depend on just what Jarrett Stidham can provide as a passer. Unless he can keep Kirby Smart’s crew honest, they’re going to key in on Johnson. In match-ups such as this, our preference goes toward the elite defense. Especially with a team like Auburn, which still strikes us as a work-in-progress even as the snow begins to fly.
Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins vs. Michigan State -- Well here’s a fun one. While Ohio State’s veered wildly between euphoric victory and crushing blowout over the course of just one week, Sparty is riding high with wins in five of their last six games, including an at-the-gun victory over Penn State on Saturday. They held Saquon Barkley to just 63 yards rushing. This has been their motus operandi all season -- by S&P+ they rank as the seventh-best run defense in the country, right in line with their No. 4 on-average mark. Dobbins isn’t exactly coming into next weekend’s game hot, either. He was held to a season-low 51 yards rushing against Iowa on Saturday and has not topped 90 yards in either of his last two games.
Miami WR Ahmmon Richards vs. Notre Dame -- We wish we had a full season of work from Richards, one of our favorite players to watch. Alas, he was sidelined early by a hamstring injury and has come back less-than-integrated in the offense, with three of five active games seeing him fail to catch more than three passes. There’s probably at least one huge game in his bag of tricks before season’s end -- and for Miami, season’s end might well not come until January. Said big game just won’t happen against the Irish. S&P+ loves Brian Kelly’s crew, ranking them as the third-best pass defense in the country. The Canes take on far more pliable squads in Virginia and Pitt to close out the regular season. Both of those games could see big things from Richards. We’re not sold here.
Iowa State WR Allen Lazard vs. Oklahoma State -- Granted, Oklahoma State just surrendered approximately a billion yards passing to Baker Mayfield on Saturday, but they had actually been playing respectfully against the pass -- even admirably at times -- before they completely imploded on Saturday. To that point, they had not allowed a 100-yard receiver on the year entering Bedlam. And granted, they allowed two Sooners to top that mark this weekend, but America’s favorite son, Kyle Kempt, isn’t Baker Mayfield, as much as we love his ascension to relevancy. Lazard, meanwhile, has been quieted to the tune of seven games of fewer than 70 receiving yards. The Cowboys will make it eight games of such, assuming their defense is fully recovered from Saturday’s pyrotechnics show by Baker and friends.
Colorado WR Shay Fields vs. USC -- The Trojans are not immune to occasional foibles against opposing receiving corps (they’ve allowed a 100-yard wideout in four contests this season), but S&P+ likes them as one of the best pass defenses in the country, even if it hasn’t quite born out that way on the field. We think it will in this spot, as USC is still not completely erased from the Playoff picture. They played fine defensive ball against Khalil Tate and the Wildcats on Saturday before Tate finally heated up in the final quarter and they’ve shown very real signs of looking more like the team we expected when the season started. While Fields has surpassed 100 yards receiving in each of his last two games, that follows up a five-game stretch in which he failed to even put up more than 50 yards. Washington State offers one of the best pass defenses in the conference and held him to just two catches for 12 yards on October 21. We expect USC to offer up a similar effort, albeit maybe not quite to that pristine extreme of the Cougars.