Week 4 is the start of conference play for a Missouri team that looks to find some balance. In the SEC, we see some potential contenders searching for identity as the favorites begin to emerge. Around the nation a largely lopsided slate offers mainly blowouts, but some important Pac-12 games loom.
Three Things to Watch: Mizzou
Missouri @ Kentucky, SEC Network, 7:30 PM
Coaches and players will offer cliches about the sport being a team game, taking it game by game, wins and losses are the only things that matter, etc. These banal platitudes are actually important for those on (and in charge of) a team to remain grounded and focused throughout the season. Missouri fans, however, should revel in one of the best individual defensive seasons the school has seen. Every Tiger fan should be strongly invested in Brothers racking up double digit tackles each game, and at least two other stat-sheet stuffing negative plays. SEC honors seem like a given at this point; Brothers is beginning to play himself into the discussion for national awards.
Run game adjustments
The run game is a spectacular failure so far, but there are opportunities to improve: a healthy Russell Hansbrough will cure many ills. As #32 works his way back to becoming the impact player we know he can be, Josh Henson could squeeze every needed drop out of this running game by shying away from Ish Witter in some scenarios. Tyler Hunt and Chase Abbington have not wowed as runners -- and Leonard Fournette ain’t walking through that door -- but the second 4th & goal conversion playcall was simple insanity. Witter will continue to tribute as a change-of-pace back, and he’s done well on swing passes and speed options, but more between-the-tackle carries need to be given to other players on the roster.
Evan Boehm’s health
The legendary Tiger is taking aim at 51 consecutive Missouri starts -- a potential school record. He currently stands at 43, but Missouri needs the Boehm of the first 40 and not the last 3 to show up. This should not be taken as a criticism of Boehm and his gutsy performance on an injured ankle; he is a team captain, Mizzou ambassador, likely NFL draft pick, and all-around mensch. But Boehm’s health as the anchor of an embattled O-line will tell a lot about Missouri’s ability to repeat 2014’s offensive turnaround.
Three Things to Watch: SEC
The Leonard Fournette show
LSU @ Syracuse, ESPN, Noon
"Lake effect" is a meteorological phenomenon in upstate New York when a rampage of snow debilitates an entire region. The "Len effect" is when a bizarre piece of scheduling means the Heisman front runner gets to gallop through, around, and probably over the Syracuse secondary. In football, as in comedy, timing is everything; certainly at least one overmatched Syracuse would-be tackler will curse the administrator that invited this destructive demigod onto campus in the same four-year window as his Orange career.
Quarterback change in Auburn
Mississippi State @ Auburn, ESPN 2, 8 PM
I would be lying if I told you I knew anything about new Auburn quarterback Sean White. Auburn received overwhelming heaps of the benefit of the doubt this preseason, many tabbed them as SEC champs and playoff contenders. Those aspirations vanished before the autumnal equinox, but it would be foolish to discount Gus Malzahn (and Will Muschamp, in his current role) from playing SEC West spoiler. Competent quarterbacking is a starting point. It will be interesting to see how White does at the helm of Malzahn’s offense; typically when a Sean White is doing daredevil things at night on ESPN2, it’s in a halfpipe and sponsored by an energy drink.
Any East challengers?
Tennessee @ Florida, CBS, 3:30 PM; the aforementioned Mizzou @ UK
So far, Georgia has proven to be the class of the SEC East and a potential playoff team. They assuaged doubters who thought Spurrier’s weird voodoo magic over the Dawgs would rear it’s visored head; listen y’all, South Carolina is bad. Mark Richt’s track record of losing one head-scratcher a year is at least as strong as Spurrier’s loosened stranglehold. Were Georgia to botch a future contest, one of these four teams hopes to be in position to take advantage. More mediocre showings from these squads and Georgia can spend a leisurely November padding Nick Chubb’s Heisman resume, studying Ohio State film, and working on their putting game.
Three Things to Watch: Nationally
Late night Pac-12 chaos
Assorted games at assorted times on assorted networks
Picking a winner of the Pac-12’s divisions this early is a fool’s errand; hell, picking a winner of a Pac-12 game with five minutes left is often an adventure. Starting at 8 PM we have two matchups where both teams are ranked (UCLA-Arizona and Utah-Oregon), plus a third (USC-Arizona St) featuring two of the most talented outfits in the league. These games have quarterbacking talent, explosive skill players, and playmaking defenses. Let’s get weird.
Ohio State overreactions
Western Michigan @ Ohio State, 3:30 PM, ABC or ESPN2
Three weeks ago in Blacksburg we were in awe of Cardale Jones picking up where he left off, and Braxton Miller looking like Peter Warrick reincarnated. Two mediocre outings (and a whole bunch of turnovers) later, and what looked like a season-long coronation has suddenly become troublesome in Columbus. They won’t lose this week -- seriously, they won’t -- but a loss before January with this roster will cause much weeping and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments (said garment is a pilsner-stained Troy Smith jersey). Josh Planos of The Washington Post’s Fancy Stats blog detailed Ohio State’s third down struggles. I believe in third down regression to the mean, as theorized by Aaron Schatz at Football Outsiders; this is still a preposterous offense that will do preposterous things.
TCU on upset alert?
TCU @ Texas Tech, 4:30 PM, FOX
Trevone Boykin’s offense has been as advertised so far, but the Horned Frogs defense continues to lose contributors. That is not a good way to begin the Big XII pinball schedule. Up first: Kliff Kingsbury and his branch of the Air Raid tree. Kingsbury used that branch to wallop Bret Bielema last week, but Gary Patterson has his own branch, and, well, I don’t know where I’m going with this metaphor anymore. (I do know -- speaking of branches -- that Bret should take some oft-repeated advice about what kind of speaking and stick-carrying a leader should do.) If you like points, this is a great appetizer to the Pac-12’s chaos, and a considerably more aesthetically pleasing option from the rock fight CBS will be broadcasting simultaneously.