National pregame: Maryland over Penn State in the upset special
College football is void this weekend of a showdown that obviously has national championship implications, but it’s full of games that will shape conference races.
In the Pac-12 alone are Southern Cal-Washington, Utah-Washington State and Arizona State-California. Of course, it helps that the Pac-12 appears to be a wide-open conference race, void of the prohibitive favorites found in the Big Ten (Ohio State), Big 12 (Oklahoma) and ACC (Clemson).
Here are the top 10 non-Big 12 games nationally, along with our upset special and coach on the hot seat:
1. Southern Cal at Washington, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Fox: Give USC credit. The Trojans don’t play an easy game. So USC’s 3-1 record isn’t the same as other teams’ 3-1.
2. Virginia at Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC: A huge stage for the Cavaliers, who rarely have this kind of chance. Win this game, and Virginia could be knocking on the door of the top 10.
3. Penn State at Maryland, 7 p.m. Friday, Fox Sports1: Give Mike Locksley credit. His tenure at New Mexico didn’t go well, but his chance at another head coaching job is off to a decent start.
4. Arizona State at California, 9:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN: Two of the nation’s surprise teams. Cal stayed unbeaten longer than did the Sun Devils. Can Cal stay unbeaten more than a week longer?
5. Mississippi State at Auburn, 6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN: The Bulldogs are a decent team, but this is not in the upper half of Auburn’s toughest games. That’s how tough is the Tigers’ schedule. But this could be a trap game, between trips to Texas A&M and Florida.
6. Washington State at Utah, 9 p.m. Saturday, Fox Sports1: Each lost to a Los Angeles school last week, so the loser is placed in serious jeopardy of winning either of the Pac-12 divisions.
7. Ohio State at Nebraska, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: The Cornhuskers have struggled. A loss at Colorado, an escape at Illinois. But look at it this way. If Nebraska had won in overtime in Boulder, the Huskers would be unbeaten and this game would deserve to be ESPN’s GameDay locale, which it is.
8. Northwestern at Wisconsin, 11 a.m. Saturday, ABC: This is the golden age of Wisconsin football, and the Badgers look like behemoths after blasting Michigan. But the Badgers are 6-7 against Northwestern in the 2000s, including a 31-17 victory last season.
9. Clemson at North Carolina, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: The top-ranked Tigers have four road games left – UNC, Louisville, North Carolina State and South Carolina. This is probably the most difficult.
10. Minnesota at Purdue, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2: Gophers are a shaky 3-0, with two close calls against mid-majors. But win West Lafayette, and Minnesota could get to November unbeaten.
UPSET SPECIAL: Maryland over Penn State
Nittany Lions-Terrapins is one of the nation’s most lopsided series. Penn State leads 39-2-1.
The Nittanys won 29 straight from 1962 through 1993. Then Maryland joined the Big Ten and the series renewed.
Maryland won 20-19 in 2014, but now Penn State has won four in a row, including routs of 66-3 and 35-3 the last two years.
But Penn State struggled to survive Pitt before winning 17-10 on September 14. Maryland has been up and down, routing Syracuse but losing at Temple.
This will be Maryland’s game of the year. If Locksley can coach a big game out of quarterback Josh Jackson, a transfer from Virginia Tech, the Terrapins could be dangerous.
Penn State is a 6-1/2 point favorite, but let’s go with Maryland in the upset.
COACH ON THE HOT SEAT: Arkansas’ Chad Morris
Chad Morris’ team is doing well. Unfortunately for Arkansas, that team is SMU.
Morris left SMU for Arkansas in December 2017, leaving behind a solid program that this season is 4-0 under Sonny Dykes. And Morris’ new team is not faring well.
The Razorbacks struggled to get past Division I-AA Portland State before winning 20-13. Arkansas then lost to Ole Miss, beat Colorado State and lost to San Jose State, the latter 31-24 last week. San Jose State had a record of 3-22 combined the last two seasons.
Morris is considered a good offensive mind, and his work at SMU was fine. But serious questions have arisen. Morris’ teams never have beaten a Power-5 Conference opponent (including 0-10) at Arkansas.
Saturday, the Razorbacks play Texas A&M in Arlington. The Aggies figure to be smarting from losing to Auburn and seem capable of routing the Razorbacks. If that happens, the heat will only grow on Morris in the Ozarks.