Preview: Memphis at Central Florida

Seventh-ranked Central Florida attempts to finish the job after an emotional week and earn a second straight American Athletic Conference title when it hosts surging Memphis in the championship game Saturday. The Knights extended their national-best winning streak to 24 games with a resounding 38-10 victory at South Florida last Friday, but the triumph came at a cost as star quarterback McKenzie Milton was lost to a severe right knee injury.

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“Everyone in our program has great love and respect for McKenzie and our thoughts and prayers are constantly with him,” UCF coach Josh Heupel told reporters regarding the junior from Hawaii, who was responsible for 34 touchdowns this year. “At the same time, we’re gonna go out and play our hearts out. He’ll be part of who and what we’re doing on the field.” UCF, which is eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings, will hand out 40,000 leis to fans at the game to honor Milton, while freshman quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. gets the job of trying to lead the Knights to another title. Memphis comes to Orlando, Fla. with one of the nation’s best running backs in junior Darrell Henderson, a four-game winning streak and the confidence of two near misses against UCF during the Knights’ winning streak – but a 1-12 all-time record against the Knights. “We’ve competed extremely well against them, but at the same point, we always had mistakes late in games that have cost us,” Tigers coach Mike Norvell, whose team lost in double-overtime at last year’s title game and 31-30 against UCF on Oct. 13, told reporters. “They’ve made plays late in games that have helped them to victory.”

TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: UCF -3

ABOUT MEMPHIS (8-4, 5-3 American): Henderson is second in the nation in rushing yards (1,699), tied for second in TDs on the ground (19) and second in yards per carry (8.6) after gaining 178 and scoring twice in the 52-31 win over Houston last week. Junior quarterback Brady White is 53 passing yards from reaching 3,000 on the season, but has thrown four interceptions (seven overall) and three TD strikes (25 overall) in the last two games. Sophomore wide receiver Damonte Coxie is White’s top target with 63 catches for 1,062 yards and seven scores while junior Tony Pollard had career highs of eight receptions and 116 yards last week and is one of the top kick returners in the nation.

ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA (11-0, 8-0): The Knights will lean more toward the ground attack with the 6-3, 230-pound Mack at the helm as he has run for 281 yards (7.0 per carry) and completed just 48.8 percent of his passes in a limited role. UCF’s rushing attack has gotten better each game and sophomore Greg McCrae (895 yards, eight TDs on the ground) took the leading role at the end of October while junior Adrian Killins Jr. (1,023 yards rushing and receiving) is always a threat. The Knights’ defense, led by sophomore defensive back Richie Grant (team highs of 98 tackles, five interceptions) and senior lineman Titus Davis (six sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss), must step up again versus the talented Tigers.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Memphis junior RB Patrick Taylor Jr. needs 106 yards rushing to give the Tigers two players with 1,000 in a season.

2. UCF sophomore WR Gabriel Davis leads a balanced receiving corps with 44 catches for 655 yards and six TDs.

3. Tigers LB Bryce Huff is tied for 14th in the nation is tackles for loss per game (1.5) with 18 overall.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Stanford at California

Two weeks after poor air quality in the Bay Area forced officials to postpone the annual rivalry game between California and Stanford, the teams are set to close the regular season Saturday in Berkeley. Cal has lost its last eight meetings against the Cardinal, which rebounded from back-to-back losses to the Washington schools by recording wins over Oregon State and UCLA.

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Known for their run-first offense in recent years, the Cardinal have become a pass-oriented offense behind junior quarterback K.J. Costello, who ranks first in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and second in the conference in passing yards per game. Costello has thrown 15 touchdown passes over his last four games and continued to impress in last Saturday’s 49-42 win over UCLA, completing 23-of-37 passes for 344 yards and a career-high five scores. “Costello is coming into his own,” coach David Shaw told reporters. “Over the next year, he’s going to be one of the best quarterbacks in America.” The Stanford offense figures to be tested by Cal’s stellar defensive unit, which has allowed an average of 14.2 points over its last five games.

TV: 3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network. LINE: Stanford -3

ABOUT STANFORD (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12): JJ Arcega-Whiteside returned last week after missing one game due to injury and tied the school’s single-season record with 14 touchdown receptions after recording seven catches for 106 yards and three scores against the Bruins. Bryce Love had 22 carries for 85 yards and a score but has battled injuries all season and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, well below his 8.1 average from last year. Senior linebackers Sean Barton and Bobby Okereke have a combined 153 tackles to lead the defense, which needs to regroup after allowing 528 total yards against UCLA.

ABOUT CAL (7-4, 4-4): The Bears’ defense forced a season-high five turnovers in last Saturday’s 33-21 win over Colorado as Elijah Hicks and Ashtyn Davis each scored on interception returns for touchdowns. Freshman Chase Garbers (13 touchdowns against five interceptions) has settled in as a reliable starter for the Bears, who clinched their first winning season since 2015 with last week’s victory. Running back Patrick Laird had 153 rushing yards in last season’s 17-14 loss to Stanford but has been held under the 100-yard mark in his last four games.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Stanford holds a 63-46-11 lead in the all-time series – including a 27-21-6 advantage at Berkeley.

2. Cal linebackers Jordan Kunaszyk and Evan Weaver lead all FBS duos in solo tackles per game (13.7) and all Power 5 duos in total tackles per game (23.2).

3. Stanford is 7-0 this season when forcing at least one turnover and 0-4 when not recording a turnover.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Texas vs. Oklahoma

Lincoln Riley’s dynamic offense at Oklahoma has consistently been explosive enough this season to make up for one of the worst defenses in the country, but Texas knows all about the one time it wasn’t. The fifth-ranked Sooners hope to avenge their only loss of the season and impress the College Football Playoff committee enough to move up from the No. 5 spot in the CFP rankings when they meet No. 9 Texas on Saturday in the Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

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Oklahoma, which leads FBS in scoring (50.3 points) and total offense (583.8 yards), finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak despite surrendering 47.3 points per game in its last four contests – and at least 40 points in each contest – by averaging 53.3. The Sooners have failed to score at least 48 points in only three games, the last of which came on Oct. 6 when Oklahoma needed less than six minutes in the fourth quarter to erase a 21-point deficit before the Longhorns got a game-winning 40-yard field goal from freshman Cameron Dicker as time expired for a 48-45 victory. Texas has been living on the edge for most of the season, playing all but one of its last eight opponents within one score and winning six of them. The Longhorns are making their sixth Big 12 Championship appearance and first since 2009, while the Sooners are seeking their fourth consecutive conference crown and a ninth championship win in 18 league title games.

TV: Noon ET, ABC. LINE: Oklahoma -8

ABOUT TEXAS (9-3): Sam Ehlinger, who produced 386 yards of total offense and five total touchdowns in the first meeting, is responsible for the two highest total offense outputs by a Longhorn quarterback in the 113-game history of this rivalry (388 last season) but has been playing through a shoulder injury since Oct. 13. Lil’Jordan Humphrey (72 catches, 1,058 receiving yards and eight TDs) and Collin Johnson (57, 768, six) are one of only 14 duos in FBS with at least 55 catches, and Humphrey is only the fifth player in school history with at least 1,000 yards and eight receiving TDs in a season. Dicker’s 34-yard field goal against the Jayhawks tied him with Dusty Magnum (16; 2001) for the most made field goals ever by a Texas freshman.

ABOUT OKLAHOMA (11-1): Heisman Trophy candidate Kyler Murray is the first player in FBS history to average at least 300 passing yards (306.2) and 60 rushing yards (71.1) for an entire regular season and leads an offense that is the first in FBS history to record at least 500 yards of total offense in nine regular-season games. With Trey Sirmon (shoulder) still limited due to injury, freshman Kennedy Brooks took over the team lead in rushing with 993 yards and boasts an FBS-best 9.6 yards per carry (minimum five rushing attempts per game). Since returning to full strength prior to the Oklahoma State victory on Nov. 10, junior receiver Marquise Brown has caught 25 passes for 450 yards and three TDs.

EXTRA POINTS

1. This game marks the second in-season rematch between the arch-rivals and first since 1903.

2. Oklahoma’s eight-game streak of scoring at least 45 points is tied for the longest among FBS teams since at least 1980.

3. The Longhorns, who are the only school in the Big 12 with a winning record against the Sooners (62-46-5), are 6-3 in one-possession games this season.

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Preview: Utah vs. Washington

Without decorated quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk, the Pac-12 took on a more defensive tone in 2018. And that’s certainly reflects in Friday night’s conference championship game which pits No. 17 Utah against No. 11 Washington in Santa Clara, Calif.

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Both teams boast top-20 FBS total and scoring defenses with the Huskies allowing 311.3 yards and 16.5 points and the Utes permitting 315.8 yards and 19.3 points per game. “You (had) better get your mind right,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said Sunday in his weekly news conference. “Our guys know it’s going to be (a defensive game). They (the Utes) don’t give you anything. Lots of man coverage, (they) pack the box and are extremely active and aggressive.” Washington will be playing in its second Pac-12 title game in three years while Utah is making its first appearance since joining the conference in 2011. “It’s our first trip to the championship, and I’m proud of our guys for continuing to persevere and fight this season,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said at his Monday media gathering. “We overcame so many obstacles and so much adversity. They are a great group to be around, and this has been one of the most enjoyable years of coaching for me.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Washington -5

ABOUT UTAH (9-3): The adversity Whittingham referenced centers mainly on the early-November injury losses of starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and tailback Zack Moss, who had accounted for 84 percent of the Utes’ total offense in the first nine games. Freshman Jason Shelley has stepped in at quarterback, and while he’s averaged only 208 passing yards over the last three contests, he’s also rushed for 112 yards and accounted for six touchdowns with no turnovers. Defensively, safety-turned-linebacker Chase Hansen has notched a conference-most 22 tackles for loss to pace a unit which has been the Pac-12’s stingiest against the run with 100.3 yards allowed (fifth nationally).

ABOUT WASHINGTON (9-3): Unlike Utah, the Huskies have the advantage of health and experience in the backfield with the senior duo of Jake Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin. Browning, despite averaging a career-low 224.3 aerial yards this season, is the school’s career passing yards leader and Pac-12’s all-time winningest quarterback, while Gaskin is averaging 107.6 yards on the ground and is the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. Senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is tied for the lead nationally with 155 tackles and paces a defense which ranks second in the conference against the run (121.8 yards allowed) and pass (189.4 yards).

EXTRA POINTS

1. With a 21-7 road win at Utah on Sept. 15, Washington has won five of the six meetings since Utah entered the Pac-12.

2. In the September contest, Gaskin rushed for 143 yards and a TD on 30 carries while the Huskies’ defense forced three turnovers and had a trio of fourth-down stops.

3. The Utes figure to have the edge in the kicking game, ranking in the top 14 nationally in field goals made (23) and net-putting average (40.6).

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Preview: Washington at Washington State

There is more than Apple Cup bragging rights on the line when seventh-ranked Washington State hosts No. 16 Washington in Friday’s Pac-12 showdown. The Cougars are ranked No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings and need two more victories, some help from opponents and some help from the selection panel to crack the final four.

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The winner advances to play Utah in the Pac-12 title game, and Huskies coach Chris Petersen knows his defense faces a challenge in Washington State senior quarterback Gardner Minshew II, who leads the nation with 36 touchdown passes. “In terms of his pocket poise and presence, he’s got a great feel,” Petersen said of the Heisman Trophy candidate in a press conference. “You’re going after him, the ball is out. You’re not coming after him? He’s going to stand in there. You get to him? He’s going to get out of the pocket. Really decisive.” This is Minshew’s one and only taste of the fierce rivalry, and he didn’t disappoint when he was asked about his view of the Huskies. “I kind of hate everybody we play,” Minshew told reporters. “So I guess I hate them equally – as much as I hate everybody else.”

TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Washington State -3

ABOUT WASHINGTON (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12): The Huskies will try to avoid a shootout with the Cougars behind a stingy defense that allows an average of 16.6 points and has held five opponents to 13 or fewer points. Senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven has been superb with 145 tackles – which ranks second nationally – as the only Washington player to record more since 1989 is Mason Foster with 163 in 2010. Senior quarterback Jake Browning has thrown just of 16 of his 94 career touchdowns this season while senior running back Myles Gaskin is just 94 yards away from becoming the 10th FBS player to record four straight 1,000-yard campaigns.

ABOUT WASHINGTON STATE (10-1, 7-1): The Cougars have won seven consecutive games behind the stellar play of Minshew, the East Carolina transfer who has topped 300 yards a school-record 11 times while passing for 4,325, fourth-most in school history. Minshew fired a school-record seven touchdown passes in last weekend’s 69-28 blistering of Arizona as 11 different players caught passes and six had scoring receptions. The defense allows an average of 22.6 points per game and features a force in senior linebacker Peyton Pelluer (team-high 76 tackles) and also is receiving strong play from sophomore linebacker Jahad Woods (68 tackles, four forced fumbles).

EXTRA POINTS

1. Washington has won 15 of the last 20 meetings, including a 41-14 romp last season.

2. Browning passed for 242 yards in last weekend’s 42-23 win over Oregon State after failing to reach 200 in three straight games.

3. Cougars sophomore WR Tay Martin has recorded four career multi-touchdown performances (two this season, two in 2017).

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Preview: Oklahoma at West Virginia

Less than one week after losing whatever chance it had to make the College Football Playoff, West Virginia can strike a similar blow to Oklahoma by beating the Sooners for the first time since becoming conference rivals in 2012. The 12th-ranked Mountaineers will attempt to end their recent struggles against No. 6 Oklahoma when the two meet in Morgantown, W. Va. on Friday in what likely amounts to a Big 12 Championship play-in game.

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West Virginia surrendered a go-ahead touchdown with 42 seconds remaining last weekend to drop a 45-41 decision at Oklahoma State, falling into a second-place tie with Texas in the conference standings. The Mountaineers and Longhorns still control their destiny in regards to the conference title game, however, as a West Virginia victory against the Sooners would forge a three-way tie for first – in the likely event Texas beats Kansas earlier in the day – and send them to Arlington, Tex. due to head-to-head wins over Oklahoma. The Sooners only need to post their seventh consecutive win over the Mountaineers to assure themselves of a spot in the Big 12 Championship and keep their hopes of receiving a second straight College Football Playoff invitation alive. Oklahoma is coming off an uninspiring 55-40 home victory over the three-win Jayhawks, allowing 524 yards to an offense that had not gained more than 368 during conference play.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Oklahoma -1.5.

ABOUT OKLAHOMA (10-1, 7-1 Big 12): Heisman Trophy hopeful Kyler Murray is still on pace to become the first FBS player ever to average at least 300 passing yards and 60 rushing yards for an entire season, despite throwing for 272 and rushing for 99 while also accounting for five touchdowns versus the Jayhawks. After leading rusher Trey Sirmon (851 rushing yards) was injured on his first carry of the game, freshman Kennedy Brooks (811) took over for a second straight outing, running for a season-high 171 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Marquise Brown recorded 65 receiving yards against Kansas to push him over 1,000 for the second straight season; his 2,116 receiving yards are the most ever for a Sooner through his first 24 career games.

ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA (8-2, 6-2): Heisman Trophy candidate Will Grier threw for 364 yards versus the Cowboys to post his school-record 18th career 300-yard passing game and boosted his career completion total to 484, passing Oliver Luck (1978-81) for fifth place in program history. Kennedy McKoy ran for a career-high 148 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, scoring two touchdowns in the second straight game and becoming the third Mountaineer to run for at least 100 yards in a game this season. Senior receiver David Sills V caught at least one touchdown pass for a sixth straight contest and is tied for second in FBS with a Big-12 best 13 receiving scores; his 33 career TD receptions rank as the third most in school history.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Oklahoma has won 19 consecutive true road games – 11 more than the next-longest active streak in FBS.

2. Sills (13) and Gary Jennings Jr. (11) are the only pair of teammates in FBS with at least 10 receiving touchdowns.

3. The Sooners are the only team the Mountaineers have not beaten since joining the Big 12.

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Preview: Iowa State at Texas

No. 18 Iowa State is coming on fast in the Big 12 and can post its sixth straight victory if it’s able to upend No. 14 Texas on Saturday. The visiting Cyclones and Longhorns are tied for third place in the league standings and only Saturday’s winner will remain eligible to win the Big 12 title.

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Iowa State has scored at least 27 points in every game during its winning streak and has given up 14 points or fewer three times during the hot stretch. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. We’re still a young football team,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said after his team doubled up Baylor 28-14 last weekend. “I think what’s exciting is that I sit here right now knowing that our best is still out there.” Texas avoided a third straight loss with a 41-34 triumph at Texas Tech its last time out as Lil’Jordan Humphrey made an athletic touchdown grab in the final minute. “He’s as good a jump ball guy as there is in the country. We’re already in field-goal range,” Longhorns coach Tom Herman said. “If we get one-on-one coverage, we’re going to try for the win.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network. LINE: Texas -3

ABOUT IOWA STATE (6-3, 5-2 Big 12): The Cyclones have only posted a single-season winning streak longer than five games twice in their history – a seven-game run in 1938 and a six-game streak in 2002. Brock Purdy threw one touchdown and ran for another in the win over Baylor while playing interception-free football for the third straight game. Hakeem Butler had one of his quietest games of the season with three catches for 25 yards, snapping his streaks of three straight 100-yard games and four consecutive games with a touchdown.

ABOUT TEXAS (7-3, 5-2): Sam Ehlinger tossed four touchdown passes last week, finishing a crisp 22-of-34 for 312 yards without an interception. In fact, the sophomore quarterback has not been picked off since Week 1, when he threw two interceptions against Maryland, and has 18 touchdowns and no picks since that contest. Ehlinger also has nine of the team’s 17 rushing TDs, while Keaontay Ingram and Tre Watson have combined for over 1,000 rushing yards and six scores.

EXTRA POINTS

1. The Longhorns’ three losses have come by a total of nine points.

2. Texas has won 13 of the 15 all-time meetings with Iowa State.

3. The Cyclones’ defense has held eight of its 11 opponents below its season scoring average.

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Preview: Duke at Clemson

With another hurdle cleared on its way to the College Football Playoff and another ACC Atlantic Division crown secured, second-ranked Clemson turns its attention to visiting Duke on Saturday. The Tigers have won four straight meetings with the Blue Devils, but the teams have not met since 2012.

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Clemson posted a dominant 56-20 victory in the most recent matchup, but coach David Cutcliffe has built the Blue Devils into a respectable program in the interim. “They have four road wins, including at Northwestern, and Northwestern won their division and will play for a conference championship,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters. “Duke went to Northwestern and won, and that gives you some insight into what they’re capable of doing.” In fact, Duke has won 20 of its last 32 road games. The Blue Devils have recorded back-to-back overall triumphs, including a 20-12 road victory over a Miami team that was just a week removed from being ranked in the top 25.

TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Clemson -28.5

ABOUT DUKE (7-3, 3-3 ACC): The Blue Devils have a dynamic and balanced offense led by quarterback Daniel Jones, who racked up a school-record 547 yards of total offense in last week’s 42-35 win over North Carolina – passing for 361 and three touchdowns while rushing for 186 and a score. Running back Deon Jackson also has been on a tear, totaling 646 all-purpose yards over his last three games – including 353 on 41 carries. The secondary also is excellent, holding opponents under 200 passing yards per game, but the defense is susceptible to the run.

ABOUT CLEMSON (10-0, 7-0): The Tigers passed their toughest test in more than a month with a 27-7 win at Boston College last week in which they recorded a 424-113 advantage in total yards. Clemson’s defense, which ranks among the top 10 in the nation in every major category, continued its dominant play by holding the Eagles to a single-digit total in rushing yards. Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence was solid while playing in nasty weather on the road, going 29-of-40 for 295 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Clemson leads the ACC in red-zone defense, allowing points on 73.9 percent of opponents’ trips inside the 20, while Duke (74.1 percent) is second.

2. Duke WR T.J. Rahming has caught three or more passes in 17 consecutive games while Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow has at least one reception in 38 straight contests, which ties him with Artavis Scott for the school record.

3. Clemson has matched a school record by scoring at least 27 points in 10 straight games.

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Preview: Syracuse vs. Notre Dame

Notre Dame is just two wins away from a perfect regular season but faces a tough opponent in No. 12 Syracuse on Saturday afternoon from Yankee Stadium as part of the Shamrock Series. The third-ranked Fighting Irish continued their march to the College Football Playoff with a dominating home win over Florida State last week, while the Orange keep climbing the rankings after a 54-23 win over Louisville.

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Senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush got the start in place of the injured Ian Book and didn’t disappoint, as the former starter threw for three touchdowns and Notre Dame took care of the Seminoles 42-13. “Brandon wants to win for Notre Dame, for his teammates. He’s been that way whether in a starting role or as a backup,” coach Brian Kelly told reporters after the game. Syracuse has won four straight after back-to-back road losses against Pittsburgh and Clemson, with its most recent victory being a revenge win of sorts against the hapless Cardinals last Friday evening. “Louisville’s the one team that’s really smacked us the past three years. This felt good for us. I really wanted to win by a lot, so I’m happy we did,” quarterback Eric Dungey told reporters after the game.

TV: 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Notre Dame -10.5.

ABOUT SYRACUSE (8-2): Dungey ran for two scores and threw for another against Louisville and has put to rest the mini-quarterback controversy from earlier in the season between himself and redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito. But it was the Orange’s rushing game that was truly dominant against the Cardinals as the team racked up 326 yards on the ground, led by Moe Neal’s career-best 159 yards and two scores. Syracuse’s defense played one of its better games of the season, forcing four turnovers, but will be challenged on Saturday against an Irish offense that averages just under 200 rushing yards per game and has a passing game that is led by one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country in Book.

ABOUT NOTRE DAME (10-0): Kelly also said that Book will reclaim his starting role “when the doctor says he’s cleared to go,” which is expected to happen at some point this week as Notre Dame announced on Sunday that it is planning to start Book against the Orange. Book leads the nation in completion percentage (74.5 percent), is fourth in passing efficiency (170) and has thrown for 1,824 yards and 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions since taking over in Week 4. He’ll have to be sharp on Saturday as the Fighting Irish will look to keep pace with an explosive Syracuse offense that ranks second in the ACC in points per game (44.4) and yards per game (482).

EXTRA POINTS

1. Notre Dame is 8-0 all-time in the Shamrock Series where it plays a home game at a neutral field.

2. The Fighting Irish ran for 365 yards against a Florida State defense that was allowing just 2.8 yards per rush before last week.

3. Syracuse, which finished 6-0 at home this season, will close out the regular season on the road against Notre Dame and No. 22 Boston College.

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The Broncos and Cardinals meet on Tuesday night

Week 12 MACtion kicks off with Ball State hosting Western Michigan on Tuesday night. These two teams enter this matchup with different agendas, but both programs are looking to snap recent losing streaks. The Broncos are eligible for a bowl at 6-4 overall but could use another win to bolster their postseason position. On the other sideline, the Cardinals can play spoiler to Western Michigan’s bowl chances, while building momentum for 2019.

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Ball State coach Mike Neu could certainly use some positive news over the final two weeks of the season. The Cardinals have lost four out of their last five contests and sit at 3-7 through 10 games this fall. Ball State hasn’t had a winning record since 2013, and Neu’s 9-25 overall mark through three years has him squarely on the hot seat. Injuries have hindered Neu’s teams over the last two seasons. Quarterback Riley Neal, left tackle Kaleb Slaven and running backs James Gilbert and Caleb Huntley have missed time due to injury this season. Those injuries have played a key role in Ball State’s recent slide and the overall record in 2018. With the ailments on offense, the last two games are all about getting an extended look at some of the young players that could be a factor in 2019.

After an 0-2 start, Western Michigan reeled off six wins in a row before quarterback Jon Wassink suffered a season-ending injury in a loss to Toledo on Oct. 25. Wassink’s injury has forced true freshman Kaleb Eleby into the starting role under center. With Wassink sidelined for the last two games, the Broncos have been outscored 110-38 in games against the Rockets and Ohio. The Broncos have yet to beat a team with a winning record in 2018 but did record victories over Miami (Ohio) and Eastern Michigan. The MAC has only four guaranteed bowl tie-ins this season, so getting to seven or eight wins is probably needed for Western Michigan to secure a postseason trip.

Western Michigan owns a 25-19 series edge over Ball State. The Broncos have four four in a row against the Cardinals and have scored at least 50 points in three of those victories.

Western Michigan at Ball State

Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Western Michigan -7.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Backup Quarterbacks

As mentioned above, both teams are dealing with injuries under center. Neal threw for 1,917 yards and 11 touchdowns to just four picks this season but suffered a knee injury against Ohio on Oct. 25. He did not play against Toledo on Oct. 31 and could miss the rest of the season. With Wassink out, the Broncos have been forced to start true freshman Kaleb Eleby.

Sophomore Drew Plitt has found himself in a familiar spot. After injuries hit Ball State’s quarterback depth last season, Plitt was forced into starting three games last season and ended 2017 with 430 passing yards and three scores. The sophomore took over for Neal after the injury versus Ohio and connected on 9 of 17 passes for 86 yards. However, Plitt was much better in his first start of 2018 in the 45-13 defeat at Toledo. He connected on 29 of 47 passes for 340 yards and a touchdown. Plitt should have plenty of opportunities to throw on Tuesday night, as Western Michigan ranks last in the MAC in pass efficiency defense and has surrendered 22 passing scores this fall. The Broncos also rank 10th in the conference in scoring defense and are giving up 6.1 yards a play. When Plitt throws, Riley Miller (51 catches), Justin Hall (57) and Corey Lacanaria (42) will be the top targets.

Eleby’s first extended opportunity for snaps came in the 51-24 loss to Toledo after Wassink’s injury, and the freshman completed 23 of 28 passes for 293 yards and two scores. However, in his first start on Nov. 1, Eleby struggled against Ohio’s defense. The freshman completed only 10 of 19 passes for 152 yards and tossed one touchdown with two picks. Similar to Plitt, Eleby should have opportunities to connect downfield with his receiving corps, which includes talented freshman Jayden Reed (46 catches), D’Wayne Eskridge (28) and Giovanni Ricci (25). The Cardinals are sixth in the MAC in pass efficiency defense but feature a talented group of young players to build around, including cornerbacks Amechi Uzodinma and Antonio Phillips.

In this battle of backup quarterbacks, which one will deliver the most plays in the passing game and avoid any big mistakes?

2. Which Team Establishes the Run?

The strength of both offenses rests with the ground game. The Broncos average 200 yards a game with their rushing attack, while the Cardinals are a step behind at 165.8 a contest.

With Eleby making his third career start, expect Western Michigan’s gameplan to rest heavily on its trio of running backs. Former 1,000-yard rusher Jamauri Bogan, junior LeVante Bellamy and freshman Chase Brown are the top options here for Lester and will be a tough matchup against a Ball State defense ranked 11th in the MAC against the run. The Cardinals are giving up 215.3 rushing yards a contest and have allowed 27 scores on the ground this year. Bogan leads the team with 117 carries and has posted 534 yards and 11 touchdowns this fall. Bellamy paces the Western Michigan attack with 907 yards and has scored five times on 140 carries. The junior also averages 6.5 yards a rush and has caught 23 passes this fall.

As mentioned above, James Gilbert is the top option on the ground for Neu’s offense. The junior has rushed for 586 yards and nine touchdowns this season but missed Ball State’s last contest against Toledo due to injury. Gilbert is slated to return, but the coaching staff expects to lean on Malik Dunner and Will Jones as the top options on Tuesday night. Dunner has 238 yards and three scores this season, with Jones checking in at 154 yards on just 21 carries. Western Michigan’s rush defense ranks seventh in the MAC and is giving up 185.1 yards a game this season. After allowing over 300 rushing yards to both Syracuse and Michigan, this unit did not allow a team to eclipse 200 until the loss at Toledo. However, the Rockets gashed the Broncos for 268 on the ground, and Ohio posted 256 against this unit on Nov. 1.

3. Turnovers

With two inexperienced quarterbacks and a tight game anticipated, whichever team does the small things is likely to come out on top. Both teams have been a little generous with giveaways this fall and sit at minus-two in turnover margin through 10 contests. Western Michigan has lost 16 turnovers, while Ball State has lost 18. In the four losses suffered by the Broncos, Lester’s team finished with a minus-nine turnover margin. The Cardinals are a little better in this category, posting a minus-two mark over seven defeats.

Final Analysis

The last three games between these two teams haven’t been close. Western Michigan won 55-3 in 2017, 52-20 in ’16 and 54-7 in ’15. However, with both programs dealing with key injuries, expect a much closer contest on Tuesday night. Additionally, it’s also senior night at Ball State, so Neu’s team should have plenty of motivation. With the injuries and quarterback changes, it’s hard to get a good read on this game. The Cardinals struggle to stop the run, which just happens to be the strength of the Broncos’ offense. On the flipside, Western Michigan struggles to stop the pass, with Ball State ranking second in the conference in pass offense. The guess here is Eleby does enough through the air, with Bogan and Bellamy wearing down the Cardinals on the ground for the winning score in the fourth quarter.

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Preview: Wake Forest at North Carolina State

No. 22 North Carolina State faces its most common historical opponent Thursday when it hosts Wake Forest in an ACC matchup. This is the 112th meeting between the Tar Heel state rivals, who are coming off opposite performances a week ago.

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NC State trounced Florida State in its last contest, rolling to a 47-28 triumph after losing its previous two games and stands 14th in the College Football Playoff rankings. Wake Forest, meanwhile, was thumped by Syracuse, 41-24, to fall for the third time in its last four outings. The home team in 18-2 in the last 20 matchups between the Wolfpack and Demon Deacons, which bodes well for North Carolina State in its bid to move up the ACC Atlantic Division standings. “After we had a rough two weeks, maybe people lost faith, but we never lost faith,” said defensive tackle Larrell Murchison, whose team will face a new Wake Forest quarterback this weekend. “We know what we can do, within ourselves and within our team.”

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: NC State -17

ABOUT WAKE FOREST (4-5, 1-4 ACC): The Demon Deacons will start redshirt sophomore Jamie Newman at quarterback after Sam Hartman suffered a season-ending leg injury last week. Hartman had thrown multiple touchdown passes in seven of the team’s nine games, creating some big shoes to fill for Newman, who has thrown 19 career passes (zero touchdowns, two interceptions). Matt Colburn posted career highs of 243 rushing yards and three TDs in a win over Louisville on Oct. 27 but was limited to 67 yards on 15 carries (and no scores) against Syracuse.

ABOUT NORTH CAROLINA STATE (6-2, 3-2): True freshmen accounted for 35 of the team’s 47 points in the win over Florida State with Ricky Person scoring three touchdowns and Chris Dunn accounting for four field goals and five extra points. “Obviously we would like to finish some drives more in the end zone instead of finishing with field goals, but having Chris Dunn make all those field goals was huge. That was a big lift for us,” offensive lineman Garrett Bradbury said. Senior Ryan Finley has thrown six touchdowns in the last two games and is two TD passes from matching his career high set in 2016.

EXTRA POINTS

1. NC State, which has not gone undefeated at home since 1986, is 5-0 at Carter-Finley Stadium this season.

2. The Demon Deacons rank 118th nationally (out of 129 teams) by allowing 37.2 points per game.

3. Wake Forest WR Greg Dortch has 17 catches for 230 yards and a score over the last two games.

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The Golden Flashes and Bulls meet on Tuesday night in Buffalo

Midweek MACtion is back on Tuesday night, as Buffalo looks to extend its lead in the MAC East with a victory over Kent State. The Bulls are in the thick of the conference title race and could crack the top 25 at the end of the season if this program reaches double-digit victories. On the other sideline, Kent State is looking to use the month of November as a way to build momentum under first-year coach Sean Lewis.

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Buffalo picked up an important win in conference play last week, as coach Lance Leipold’s team defeated Miami (Ohio) 51-42 on Tuesday night. The victory over the RedHawks improved Buffalo’s MAC record to 5-0 (8-1 overall) with three games left. The Bulls have the Tuesday matchup against Kent State, followed by road trips to Ohio and Bowling Green. The Nov. 14 game versus Ohio is likely to decide the MAC East title, but Leipold’s team can’t afford to overlook Kent State on Tuesday. Buffalo knocked off Temple and Rutgers in non-conference play, with its only loss coming to Army (42-13) in late September.

As mentioned above, Kent State is hoping to finish out the year on a high note. First-year coach Sean Lewis has the program moving in the right direction and can play spoiler over the next three contests. Following Tuesday’s matchup against Buffalo, the Golden Flashes take on Toledo and Eastern Michigan – two teams sitting on the bubble for a bowl game. Kent State is a tough job and is a rebuilding project for Lewis, but there have been signs of progress. This program gave Illinois a battle in the opener and knocked off Bowling Green (35-28) last Tuesday.

Buffalo holds a 12-11 series edge over Kent State. The Bulls have won three out of the last four against the Golden Flashes.

Kent State at Buffalo

Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: Buffalo -22.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Kent State’s Defense Slow Down Buffalo’s Offense?

This is a matchup of strength versus weakness on Tuesday night. Buffalo’s offense enters this game averaging 34.9 points a game and 5.8 yards per play. The Bulls have a balanced attack, ranking third in the MAC in pass offense and fifth in rushing. This unit has scored at least 34 points in three out of the last four games and posted 51 in their last game (Miami, Ohio). Kent State has experienced its share of issues on defense this fall and ranks 11th in the MAC in points allowed (34.2 ppg) and is giving up 6.2 yards per play.

Quarterback Tyree Jackson is the catalyst for Leipold’s offense, throwing for 2,227 yards and 23 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. He’s also added five rushing scores this fall. Receiver Anthony Johnson ranks among the best in college football at his position, catching 32 passes for 673 yards and eight touchdowns in 2018. K.J. Osborn (44 catches), George Rushing (20), Charlie Jones (12) and tight end Tyler Mabry join Johnson as the top pass catchers, giving Jackson a standout and deep group of receiving options. The freshman tandem of Kevin Marks (579 yards) and Jaret Patterson (576) leads the way for a ground game averaging 4.2 yards per carry. This duo will be a handful for a Kent State front ranked seventh in the MAC versus the run.

Kent State’s defense has allowed at least 20 points in every game against FBS opponents this season. This unit surrendered 52 to Ball State, 63 to Penn State, 31 to Miami (Ohio) and 31 to Illinois. As if those numbers weren’t concerning enough for Lewis, the Golden Flashes rank 11th in the MAC in pass efficiency defense – not ideal with a matchup against Buffalo’s passing attack up next. Kent State has generated 21 sacks, but the Bulls have allowed only eight all season.

Will Kent State find an answer to stop Jackson and Buffalo’s passing game? The Golden Flashes need to trade yards for stops in the red zone and have to force a few turnovers to pull off the upset.

2. Kent State QB Woody Barrett

If Kent State is going to pull off the upset, coach Sean Lewis’ team will need a huge effort from quarterback Woody Barrett. The former Auburn signee and junior college product ranks second in the MAC in total offense, averaging 262.2 total yards a game. For the season, Barrett has passed for 1,905 yards and 10 touchdowns to just three picks and added 455 yards and three scores on the ground. Barrett led the way for the win over Bowling Green last week, throwing for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 14 completions and rushing for 77 yards and a score.

In Buffalo’s win over Miami (Ohio) last week, quarterback Gus Ragland threw for 313 yards and a touchdown and added 53 yards and three scores on the ground. Barrett has to have that type of night in order for Kent State to keep this one close in the second half. Protecting Barrett is crucial for any shot at a victory. The Golden Flashes have allowed 34 sacks (most in the MAC), while the Bulls have generated 25 sacks through nine contests.

While Barrett has to have a huge game in order for Kent State to win, the sophomore won’t have to carry this offense on his own. Lewis has two talented running backs Jo-El Shaw (332 yards and five scores this year) and Justin Rankin (560). Rankin missed last week’s game due to injury and his status is likely to be undecided until kickoff. The Golden Flashes have three players  – freshman Isaiah McKoy (39), Antwan Dixon (38) and Myles Carrigan (33) – with at least 30 receptions in 2018.

With Buffalo’s high-powered offense likely to post 30-40 points on Tuesday night, Kent State is going to need its best (and a flawless) effort of the season from Barrett in order to pull off the upset.

3. Buffalo’s Defense

As mentioned above, any shot at an upset for Kent State hinges on a huge night by the offense. But there’s a slight problem with that theory: Buffalo’s defense is one of the best in the MAC. The Bulls rank second in the conference in fewest points allowed a game (23.4 ppg), yards allowed per play (5.0) and lead the MAC in pass efficiency defense. Additionally, Buffalo’s defense has allowed only nine plays of 40 yards or more this fall.

On paper, the Bulls have showed very little in the way of major issues on this side of the ball. Leipold’s defense is solid against versus the pass and the run, have forced 19 turnovers and generated 25 sacks through nine contests. Buffalo’s standout linebacker Khalil Hodge will miss the first half of Tuesday night’s game due to a targeting suspension, but this unit should be able to navigate the first two quarters without its best player.

Even though Kent State has capable firepower on its offense, Leipold’s defense isn’t likely to surrender 40 points for the second week in a row.

Final Analysis

Kent State is certainly showing signs of life in Lewis’ first year, but Buffalo simply has a better team in 2018. With a showdown looming against Ohio next week, the Bulls can’t afford to look ahead and not take care of business on Tuesday night. With the Jackson-to-Johnson connection back on track, it’s tough see the Golden Flashes getting enough stops to win this contest. Look for Barrett to deliver a few big plays, but Buffalo has too much firepower and pulls away in the second half.

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Preview: Temple at Central Florida

Heisman Trophy candidate McKenzie Milton’s status is still day-to-day as ninth-ranked Central Florida goes after its 21st straight victory when Temple visits for an American Athletic Conference showdown Thursday night. The junior quarterback, who has accounted for 22 touchdowns this season, missed the 37-10 victory at East Carolina on Oct. 20 and coach Josh Heupel told reporters it will be a game-time decision whether Milton is under center for the Knights.

Freshman Darriel Mack Jr. was outstanding in Milton’s place versus the Pirates, totaling 189 yards of offense with a touchdown, as UCF’s offense still churned out 427 yards and should be primed to show off its weapons against a strong defense. “It’ll be a lot of fun,” Heupel told reporters. “Thursday night, national TV, great opponent, opportunity to come back at home in front of our crowd. It’s been a while. Hopefully we have a packed house.” Temple boasts a three-game winning streak and has matched UCF with a 4-0 record in the American East Division, leaning on a defense that is 22nd nationally in yards per game against (330.5) and fourth in passing yards allowed per contest (147.5). The Owls, who dropped a 45-19 decision to the Knights in Philadelphia last year, have their own injury issues as defensive tackle Freddie Booth-Lloyd (undisclosed) and running back Ryquell Armstead (ankle) will be game-time decision.

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: UCF -10.5

ABOUT TEMPLE (5-3, 4-0 AAC): The Owls have scored five touchdowns on defense and that unit is led by junior linebacker Shaun Bradley (team-best 53 tackles, two interceptions) along with senior tackle Michael Dogbe (six sacks). Armstead (626 yards rushing) has missed the last two games and junior Jager Gardner gained 108 yards on 26 carries in his place the past two contests. Sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo has completed 56.5 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns along with 10 interceptions and senior Ventrell Bryant (28 catches, 395 yards in 2018) is his top target with at least one reception in 43 straight games.

ABOUT UCF (7-0, 4-0): The Knights totaled 316 yards on the ground against East Carolina with Mack rushing for a season-best 120 and sophomore Greg McCrae totaling a career-high 99 with a touchdown. If Milton is able to play, that gives the Knights’ talented receiving trio of sophomores Gabriel Davis (33 catches, 493 yards, five TDs) and Tre Nixon (27, 364, three), along with junior Dredrick Snelson (24, 310, two), more of a chance to shine. UCF has forced 18 turnovers this season and ranks third in the nation in turnover margin (plus-1.86), led by sophomore defensive back Richie Grant (team-best 58 tackles, three interceptions).

EXTRA POINTS

1. Bryant needs 124 receiving yards to pass Willie Marshall (2,272) for first on Temple’s all-time list.

2. UCF K Matthew Wright owns 51 career field goals and needs two to tie Shawn Moffitt for the school record.

3. The Owls beat then-No. 22 Cincinnati on Oct. 20 and faces No. 17 Houston (7-1), followed by South Florida (7-1), the next two weeks.

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