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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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

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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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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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

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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Cardinals, Rockets set to face off for some Halloween MACtion

MACtion is in full force as the Ball State Cardinals and Toledo Rockets are set to meet at the Glass Bowl for a Halloween night conference matchup — the third game in 12 days for both squads. The Cardinals, now 3-6 overall and 2-3 in conference play, hope to rebound from back-to-back blowout losses including a 52-14 defeat at Ohio a week ago. Toledo improved to 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the MAC with its impressive 51-24 victory against Western Michigan on the road. The win over the Broncos, along with next week’s showdown at division leader Northern Illinois, keeps the Rockets in the mix in the MAC West.

Ball State at Toledo

Kickoff: Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN2

Spread: Toledo -18

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Three Things to Watch

1. QB questions

Both Ball State and Toledo have suffered injuries at the quarterback position. The Cardinals will be without starter Riley Neal after he suffered a left knee injury in the loss to Ohio. A right knee injury forced Neal to miss nine games in 2017, but he had been healthy and started all nine games this season. The junior has completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 1,917 yards and 11 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Neal has also contributed 357 rushing yards and five TDs on the ground. Drew Plitt will start in place of Neal, as he did three times last year. Plitt has completed 18 of 29 passes (62.1 percent) for 235 yards and one TD with two interceptions. He also has one rushing touchdown among six carries.

Toledo’s Mitchell Guadagni is questionable to play due to a shoulder injury he suffered against Western Michigan. Guadagni, whose inconsistency cost him a start against Buffalo two weeks ago, played arguably his best half of the season in Kalamazoo before he was forced out of action. The junior has completed 57.5 percent of his passes this season for 1,053 yards and a 13:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has added 428 rushing yards and three scores on the ground. If Guadagni can’t go, Eli Peters will make his third start of the season. Peters, who has completed just 47.1 percent of his passes for 671 yards, has nine touchdowns to his credit and only two interceptions across seven games. He started against Buffalo when Guadagni was benched two weeks ago, and also against Bowling Green when Guadagni was sidelined while recovering from a concussion.

2. Long scrimmage plays

Toledo and Ball State both rank in the top half of the MAC offensively in long scrimmage plays. The Rockets have recorded 133 plays of 10 yards or more and 44 plays of at least 20 yards, both of which rank third in the league. The Cardinals have recorded 126 plays of 10-plus yards, ranking fifth on the conference leaderboard, and 37 plays of at least 20 yards, tied for sixth. Led by receiver Riley Miller, who has 23 plays from scrimmage of 10 yards or more, five different Ball State players have recorded at least 15 double-digit yardage plays, which is the most in the MAC. Three Toledo players have accomplished the feat, led by Guadagni’s 20.

Only three MAC schools have recorded an 80-yard play this season, and Toledo and Ball State each have one: Freshman running back Will Jones broke off an 80-yard TD run for the Cardinals against Eastern Michigan, and Peters and leading receiver Diontae Johnson hooked up for an 80-yard TD against Buffalo.

Limiting explosive plays will be key for both defenses, as both rank in the bottom half of the conference in that department. The Cardinals have surrendered 141 plays of 10 yards or more, which is the most in the league and ranks 141st nationally. The Rockets have allowed the second-most plays of 20-plus (51), 30-plus (28) and 40-plus (14) yards, behind only Kent State in each category among MAC teams and no better than 113th in the country.

3. Third-down conversions

Similarly, converting third-down opportunities and limiting third-down conversions defensively will play a key role. Ball State has posted the best third-down conversion rate in the MAC (45.2 percent), which ranks in the top 25 nationally, having moved the chains 70 times in 155 attempts. Of course, Neal and running back James Gilbert played a big role in that success. Neal is out, and Gilbert, who ranks second in the conference with 586 rushing yards, is questionable because of a back injury.

Toledo has struggled in the same situations and ranks 11th in the MAC and 121st in FBS with a 33.01 percent third-down conversion rate. As a more accurate passer and more dangerous runner than Peters, Guadagni would give the Rockets a big boost on third downs if he’s able to play.

Thanks to a solid pass rush led by Tuzar Skipper’s 6.5 sacks, the Toledo defense has held opponents to a 35.83 percent success rate on third downs, which ranks fourth in the MAC. Ball State, which also has a feared pass rusher in linebacker Christian Albright (4.5 sacks), has held opponents to a 40.17 percent success rate, which sits No. 8 on the conference leaderboard.

Final Analysis

The injuries to Riley Neal and James Gilbert, as well as leading tackler Jacob White (questionable to play because of an ankle injury), put Ball State in a very difficult position. Toledo has a more talented roster and the home-field advantage, and though the Rockets might also be forced to play without their starting quarterback, it’s easy to see why Jason Candle’s team is still a heavy favorite. Funny things can happen during weekday MACtion, and Halloween seems like the perfect time for an unexpected upset, especially if the Rockets are caught looking ahead to Northern Illinois. Nevertheless, Toledo should survive and keep its hopes alive for a second straight division title.

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Bulls host the RedHawks on Tuesday night in key MAC East division matchup

Weeknight college football is back with the MAC kicking things off on Tuesday night. In one of the two games taking place on the first Tuesday night of the MAC schedule, a battle for first place in the MAC East will be in focus with Buffalo hosting Miami (Ohio).

Buffalo continues to make strides under head coach Lance Leipold. At 7-1, Buffalo is already on pace to post the most wins in a season in program history. Buffalo has had two seasons with eight wins, including the only MAC championship season for the Bulls in 2008. A win against Miami would tie Buffalo’s record for most wins in a season and put the Bulls one step closer to winning another MAC title.

Miami (Ohio) at Buffalo

Kickoff: Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN2

Spread: N/A

Three Things to Watch

1. Coming off a bye week to prepare for Tuesday night football

Now that weeknight football is here for the remainder of the college football season in the MAC, the conference had to throw a scheduling favor to Miami and Buffalo for the first Tuesday night game of the year. That came in the form of a scheduled bye week for each to allow for maximum time to prepare for the odd Tuesday night kickoff. Both teams will have had 10 days since their last game on Oct. 20, when Miami lost a nail-biter in double overtime at Army and Buffalo scored a massive win at Toledo.

2. First place on the line

Buffalo is the last undefeated team in MAC play residing in the MAC East Division, and Miami looks to drag the Bulls into the loss column. Doing so would create a tie for first place in the division between the two, and Miami would then own the head-to-head tiebreaker. It should be pointed out that the RedHawks enter this game with three wins on the season, all against conference opponents.

3. Buffalo’s 1-2 combo at receiver

Buffalo’s passing numbers may not impress in terms of the total yardage, but the combo at wide receiver of K.J. Osborn and Anthony Johnson has been quite productive. Osborn is among the top receivers in the MAC with 696 yards and six touchdowns and is a solid, reliable option to throw to. Johnson has been more of a home-run threat with five touchdowns on 24 receptions. Miami will have its hands full trying to shut both down.

Final Analysis

Both teams appear to have some similar strengths on the line of scrimmage with good offensive line protection and pressure from the defensive line. That could even itself out in this matchup. Quarterback play could even out, too, as Miami’s Gus Ragland and Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson are each capable of being effective. The matchup that could decide this one comes down to Buffalo running back Kevin Marks and his ability to gain traction against Miami’s third-ranked rushing defense among MAC programs. Marks is due for a touchdown after going scoreless in the last two games. If he gets in the end zone, Buffalo will be in good shape at home.

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The Golden Flashes and Falcons meet on Tuesday night in Bowling Green

MACtion is back on Tuesday night, as Kent State takes on Bowling Green in a matchup of two teams looking to close out the 2018 season on a high note. The Golden Flashes and Falcons both enter Tuesday’s game at 1-7 and have yet to win a contest in MAC play.

The slow start cost Bowling Green coach Mike Jinks his job, as he was dismissed after a 42-35 loss to Western Michigan on Oct. 13. That defeat dropped the Falcons to 1-6 overall and just 7-24 overall under Jinks. Defensive coordinator (and former FAU coach) Carl Pelini was promoted to interim coach and led the team in a 49-14 loss to Ohio on Oct. 20. Bowling Green’s only win in 2017 came against FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky, and three out of the four MAC losses came by 15 points or more. While Jinks recruited well, both sides of the ball remained a question mark throughout his tenure. The defense ranked near the bottom of the MAC, and despite Jinks’ background on offense, the Falcons finished eighth in the conference in scoring in 2017 and ninth in ’16. While Bowling Green has clinched its third consecutive losing season, this is one of the MAC’s top jobs and won’t have trouble finding interested candidates. After all, this is a program that had Urban Meyer and Dino Babers patrolling its sidelines as head coach at one point.

While Bowling Green is looking to find the next leader for its program, Kent State has to be optimistic it found a coach who can elevate this team within the MAC. After the dismissal of Paul Haynes, the Golden Flashes handed the keys to the program to Sean Lewis. The 32-year-old coach had previous MAC experience from a stint at Bowling Green (2014-15). The former Wisconsin tight end comes from the Babers coaching tree and has made a noticeable impact this fall. Kent State gave Illinois all it could handle (31-24) in the opener, lost 38-17 at Ole Miss and has suffered two MAC defeats by one point.

Bowling Green holds a 60-19-6 series edge over Kent State. The Falcons have won five in a row in this series.

Kent State at Bowling Green

Kickoff: Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: Kent State -1

Three Things to Watch

1. Kent State QB Woody Barrett

New coach Sean Lewis has a big rebuilding project ahead at Kent State but landing Barrett was a huge pickup in his first recruiting class. The former Auburn signal-caller came to Kent after a year at Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College and edged Dustin Crum for the starting job in preseason practice. Barrett has been a difference-maker for Lewis, completing 173 of 286 passes for 1,748 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s also added 378 yards and five scores on the ground.

With his ability to hurt defenses with his legs or through the air, Barrett is the type of quarterback that can carry an offense to a victory. And the sophomore should have plenty of opportunities on Tuesday night, as Bowling Green’s defense ranks last in the MAC by giving up 47.8 points a game. Additionally, the Falcons are last in the conference versus the run and pass efficiency defense, give up 7.2 yards per play and have surrendered 11 plays of 40 yards or more.

When Barrett throws, freshman Isaiah McKoy (36 catches) has been his favorite target, but Antwan Dixon (32), Myles Carrigan (31) and Trey Harrell (22) will also factor into the mix. Running back Justin Rankin has caught 14 passes but should do most of his damage on the ground. The junior has 560 yards through eight games and faces a Falcons defense giving up 6.6 yards per carry.

Barrett has been one of the MAC’s top newcomers in 2018, and Pelini’s defense will have its hands full trying to slow down the dynamic sophomore. Can Bowling Green find a way to slow down the FlashFast attack from Kent State?

2. Bowling Green’s Offense

Make no mistake: Tuesday night is going to be tough for the two defenses in this game. Just like Bowling Green’s group will have its hands full trying to slow down Kent State, the Golden Flashes are going to give up their share of yards and points to the Falcons’ offense.

Kent State’s defense is allowing 6.5 yards per play, 35 points a game, ranks eighth in the MAC against the run and 11th in pass efficiency defense. Additionally, this unit has allowed 16 plays of 40 or more yards.

Bowling Green quarterback Jarret Doege is in the midst of a breakout season. The sophomore is completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,078 yards and 20 touchdowns to just eight picks. Doege leads all MAC quarterbacks by averaging 279.8 passing yards in conference-only matchups this season. Senior Scott Miller (48 catches for 785 yards and seven scores) is one of the league’s top receivers, while Quintin Morris and RB Marlow III round out the secondary options. Running back Andrew Clair (495 yards) was also poised for a breakout 2018 campaign, but the sophomore has been limited to just 23 carries over his last four games due to the flow of the game and injury. The extended bye week allowed Clair time to get healthy, but as of Monday, his status was uncertain for the matchup against Kent State.

The Falcons should lean heavily on Doege and Clair (if healthy) on Tuesday night, and assuming that’s the case, can Kent State find a way to slow them down?

3. Turnovers and Timely Stops

Points and yards for both offenses should be aplenty on Tuesday night. Whichever defense can find a way to get timely stops or generate a couple of takeaways is likely to lead their team to a win.

Kent State’s defense has forced 15 takeaways to 10 for Bowling Green this season. The Golden Flashes are first in the MAC in red zone defense, while the Falcons rank 10th. Both teams have struggled to get stops on third down, but Kent State ranks slightly better (10th in the conference to 12th for Bowling Green). And when it comes to generating pressure, Kent State has recorded 18 sacks to just six from the Falcons.

Which side will create enough havoc plays or get stops inside of the 20 to force a field goal attempt instead of a touchdown?

Final Analysis

Expect a high-scoring game with plenty of highlights from the two offenses. Kent State and Bowling Green have both had their share of issues on defense this season, but both offenses are capable of recording yards and touchdowns in a hurry. In a big-picture view of Tuesday night’s game, it certainly seems the Golden Flashes are trending up under Lewis and have a clear identity on what they want to be. On the other sideline, the Falcons have an interim coach and have struggled to be competitive in 2018. Kent State has lost three of its game by seven points or less, including two of its last three matchups in MAC play. Lewis’ team seems due for a few bounces in their direction. The Golden Flashes get a huge effort from Barrett, and this defense makes just enough stops in the fourth quarter to earn their first conference win of 2018.

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Preview: Florida vs. Georgia

Florida and Georgia square off in this year’s edition of the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” on Saturday in Jacksonville, with both teams highly ranked in the national polls. Both are fresh off their bye week, but the 11th-ranked Gators posted their fifth victory in a row last time out, while the sixth-ranked Bulldogs suffered their first loss of the season at LSU.

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Florida was in a classic letdown situation when it stepped on the field at Vanderbilt, having just knocked off then-No. 6 LSU. The Gators came out flat in the first half and trailed by as many as 18 points, but a 48-yard touchdown run by Jordan Scarlett to start the fourth quarter helped them match the largest road comeback in school history in the 37-27 win. Georgia, meanwhile, used its bye week to reflect on a 36-16 loss in which its usually prolific offense was held to just 322 total yards. “We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘OK, who are we?”’ Georgia coach Kirby Smart told reporters after the game. “Because we’ve consistently not played as physical as we need to on the defensive line and we haven’t been as consistent as we need to (be) offensively.”

TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS LINE: Georgia -6.5

ABOUT FLORIDA (6-1, 4-1 SEC): Florida’s offense was nearly unstoppable against the Commodores with 576 total yards and a time of possession of 36 minutes, 14 seconds, but three turnovers – two by quarterback Feleipe Franks – led to 17 points for Vanderbilt. The defense didn’t have its best performance of the season in Nashville, but it might be the key to upsetting the Bulldogs as the Gators feature the NCAA’s sixth-ranked passing defense and a line that has registered 21 sacks – good for third in the SEC. One area that could cause the Gators some problems is discipline, as their 8.8 penalties per game makes them the seventh-most penalized team in the country.

ABOUT GEORGIA (6-1, 4-1): Georgia’s offense had been averaging 42.8 points and its defense was ranked second in the nation at 13 points allowed before the setback against LSU. Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm was particularly bad against the Tigers, completing just 16-of-34 passes for 209 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, while the running game was held to just 113 yards – well below its prior season average of just under 245. Fromm and the Bulldogs are winners, however, and they know how to bounce back from a bad performance as they were crushed 40-17 at Auburn last season and responded with four straight triumphs en route to an appearance in the National Championship Game.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Georgia won last year’s meeting 42-7, snapping Florida’s three-game winning streak in the all-time series. The last time these teams met when both were ranked was in 2012, when No. 12 Georgia pulled off a 17-9 upset of No. 3 Florida.

2. The Gators are the only team in the current Top 25 that finished 2017 at or below .500.

3. The Bulldogs committed four turnovers against LSU after registering a total of three in their previous six contests.

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Preview: Baylor at West Virginia

West Virginia looks to bounce back from a thorough beating when the No. 12 Mountaineers host Baylor on Thursday night in Big 12 play. West Virginia opened the season with five straight victories before getting outgained 498-152 in a 30-14 loss to Iowa State on Oct. 13.

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The Mountaineers had a bye while they were nursing their pride and coach Dana Holgorsen is confident his team his ready to move on. “A lot of eyes will be on us to see how we respond to what happened up at Iowa State, so I’m looking forward to seeing us as well,” Holgorsen said during a press conference. “I think our guys are determined and it showed out there at practice. I think we’ll be ready to put our best foot forward.” Baylor also is coming off a bye and gave Texas a good battle before losing 23-17 in its last outing. “Going into Morgantown on a Thursday night will be raucous,” Bears coach Matt Rhule said during a press conference. “We better have the mentality where we can eliminate distractions and focus on the game and just take it one play at a time. West Virginia will make some big plays and we want to limit those big plays.”

TV: 7 p.m. ET, FS1. LINE: West Virginia -14

ABOUT BAYLOR (4-3, 2-2 Big 12): The Bears are averaging 33.4 points per game and have topped 30 on four occasions behind the steadiness of quarterback Charlie Brewer. The sophomore has passed for 1,798 yards and 10 touchdowns against three interceptions while senior Jalen Hurd has been his favorite target with 47 receptions for 622 yards and three touchdowns. But the defense has been shaky by allowing 31 points per game – including a season-worst 66 versus Oklahoma – while sophomore defensive tackle James Lynch is enjoying a solid campaign with a team-best four sacks.

ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA (5-1, 3-1): Senior quarterback Will Grier has thrown for 1,919 yards and 22 touchdowns against seven interceptions this season but passed for just 100 yards and one touchdown in a subpar performance against Iowa State. “They played us really hard and outplayed us in a lot of areas, and that was frustrating,” Grier said in a press conference. “We have to be able to produce better. We have to move the chains, we have to score points. That was frustrating, but it’s over and done with. We’ve all moved on to Baylor.” The Mountaineers allow an average of 20.5 points per game with junior outside linebacker David Long Jr. having a strong season with 10.5 tackles for loss, including three sacks.

EXTRA POINTS

1. West Virginia has won four of the six meetings, including a 38-36 road victory last season.

2. Grier passed for 375 yards and five touchdowns – including three to now-senior WR David Sills V – in last season’s game with Baylor.

3. Bears junior WR Denzel Mims has 100 career receptions – the 18th player in school history to reach the milestone.

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