Welcome to the Week Twelve edition of the Three by Three. Allow me to be your college football sherpa, guiding you through the intrigue of the sport each week. I will try to avoid just covering the big obvious stuff, but sometimes the Pac-12 playoff elimination game IS the most interesting thing, you know?
Each week I will highlight three interesting storylines each from the Missouri contest, in the SEC, and around the nation. With the SEC engaged in some light work this week, I’m taking my own kind of SoCon Saturday and just writing about two games in the league for you. I’ll go a little long on James Madison to make it up to you.
Let’s get to it.
Florida at Missouri – 6:30 PM on ESPN
Missouri’s offensive line was named a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award this week, given to the best selection of big uglies in the country. (That’s not the official description.) The unit is unquestionably better than last year’s disaster, although it’s hard to say if this is truly one of the 12 best group of road-graders in the country. The tackles are excellent – true sophomore Armand Membou has taken a huge leap on the right hand side – and the interior is solid.
But this unit still struggles with simple mistakes, committing procedural penalties or bad snaps too often. Against a Florida defense that is weak in most areas except rushing the passer, they’ll need to do a good job protecting Brady Cook. They absolutely kicked Tennessee’s ass last week, despite a bizarre run of false starts in the middle of the game. I would love to see another step forward in play, and a real effort to avoid costly mistakes.
Luther Burden III
With word out that Luther Burden’s foot injury was hampering his lateral agility and his ability to make cuts, it seemed likely that he would mostly serve as a decoy against Tennessee. But Kirby Moore found a way to still get him a big play, by drawing up a misdirection screen that got Burden the ball in a wide open space, free to utilize his straight end speed and not worry about planting and juking. The result was a touchdown. I’ll be interested to see if Burden has healed enough to get his regular package of plays, and potentially line up to return punts. His availability on special teams will tell us a lot about how healthy he feels.
I hope everyone in the stands on Friday shows some love for this incredible group of seniors. For those that put off the NFL or the real world for another year to come back. For the transfers that saw Missouri as a new home to restart their career. For the Barry Odom recruits that have stuck through this school and new coaching staff during a time of world-historic upheaval. We praise Drinkwitz and his coordinators on these electronic pages daily, and we speak glowingly of the star players and what they achieve at college football’s highest level. But it takes a village to run a great program, and it’s obvious that Missouri’s football clubhouse culture is top-notch. These guys love each other and love this university, it’s time to show them some love back.
In the SEC
Georgia at Tennessee – 2:30 PM on CBS
Suddenly this game has no stakes. It has been looming at the end of the calendar for ages, promising a play-in scenario for the SEC championship and perhaps the playoffs. It was easy to imagine the Neyland faithful reprising the scenes from last year’s historic win over Alabama, a crowd almost willing its team to victory. Instead, Georgia has clinched the division crown and is now largely fiddling with knobs as they tune up for the postseason. Tennessee has not recaptured last year’s magic at all, and a second straight week of getting blown out will cause some grumbling from the Volunteer fanbase.
Georgia State at LSU – 7 PM on ESPN2
At this point, I’m just openly rooting for Jayden Daniels to win the Heisman. (This is assuming we won’t see a pair of, say, 400-yard days from Cody Schrader.) It has been really fun to see him gallop through SEC defenses this season. Well, except for one week, that wasn’t very fun. Daniels taking home the game’s top trophy would ease any lingering sting of his dominant performance at Faurot Field. He will get a chance to pad his stats this week against a generous Georgia State defense, and I am looking forward to enjoying the fireworks show.
Around the Nation
Washington at Oregon St – 6:30 PM on ESPN2
Pac-12 postseason cannibilzation has been a real thing in the playoff era, as the conference always seems to create a few contenders that dethrone one another, rather than crowning one ascendant champion. Washington is currently streaking towards a playoff berth, but if the conference is going to eliminate itself, this is a prime spot. The Beavers have a brutal ground game led by star running back Damien Martinez, and they could gnaw their way through a forgiving Washington defense. But the Huskies have the best passing game in the country – actually, the pass attack might be the best overall unit in the nation, up there with Michigan’s run game and Georgia’s secondary. I’m excited to find out which excellent offensive style will prevail in this Pac-12 clash – and if the league will cannibalize its playoff spot once again.
SMU at Memphis – 11 AM on ESPN 2
This is the first leg of a little unofficial round-robin to determine the AAC championship. Three teams – Tulane, SMU, and UTSA – are all 6-0 in conference, and Memphis is right behind them at 5-1. With this contest in Week 12 and Tulane-UTSA in Week 13, the top of the standings will sort themselves out in the next few weeks. Plus, this one promises to be pointsy. Both quarterbacks, Preston Stone for SMU and Seth Henigan for Memphis, are highly productive. Both teams are in the top third of the country in generating explosive plays, and both defenses are leaky in that regard. A shootout with conference title stakes? Sign me up.
Appalachian State at James Madison – 12 PM on ESPN+
Unfortunately, two of the biggest storylines in our sport this week are off-field messes. The scene in Ann Arbor continues to linger with little effect on the actual football, just a lot of posturing and hullabaloo. The drama between James Madison (the school, not the ex-president or the Missouri recruit) and the NCAA offices has a much more direct impact on a specific team and their fortunes: the NCAA upheld their rule banning JMU from immediate bowl eligibility. College Gameday is in Harrisonburg this weekend and will deliver a three-hour tongue-lashing of our least favorite sports overlords.
The game itself should be compelling as well. JMU’s defense is incredible, led by nose guard James Carpenter, a one-man wrecking crew who is Cody Schaefer’s biggest competition for the Burlsworth Award. They are at their best against the run and occasionally leaky against the pass, which is bad because App State quarterback Joey Aguilar can really sling it and he has a trio of talented wideouts at his disposal.
Last year these teams played an instant classic that you probably missed because our team was doing ungodly things at Auburn: App raced out to a 28-3 lead before the Dukes completely erased their running game,climbing the mountain to win 35-28.
You will be locked into the pregame show on Saturday morning, but put on your streaming device and enjoy what should be a compelling football game too.