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This trophy game has extra meaning this year as the Gophers continue to push toward the top four of College Football Playoff, while the Hawkeyes will try to spoil Minnesota’s perfect season.
The Gophers (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) are one of five undefeated teams left in major college football and are 9-0 for the first time since 1904, when the team went 13-0. Minnesota is ranked No. 7 in the AP Poll and No. 8 in the CFP rankings.
Minnesota has scored at least 28 points in all nine games this season, which is something it had never done prior to this year. The offense is extremely balanced, as the Gophers have thrown for 21 touchdowns and rushed for 22 scores. Sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan is 13-2 as a starter at Minnesota and, since 1975, no starting Gopher quarterback has begun his career with a better record. Morgan ranks third in the nation in yards per attempt (10.88), fourth in yards per completion (16.03) and 16th in completion percentage (67.9%). The Gophers also feature a pair of skill players that rank among the best to wear the maroon and gold. Senior running back Rodney Smith has the most all-purpose yards in Minnesota history and ranks third in school history in rushing yards. Senior receiver Tyler Johnson ranks third all-time at Minnesota in receptions and receiving yards, while ranking second in career receiving touchdowns.
Since defensive coordinator Joe Rossi took over the Gopher defense last season, Minnesota is 11-1 and has held six opponents to 10 points or less. The Gophers have not allowed more than 300 yards in six games this year. They have only allowed one 100-yard rusher and two 300-yard passers this year. Three of the team’s top five tacklers come out of the secondary in Antoine Winfield Jr. (57 total), Chris Williamson (44 total) and Jordan Howden (44 total). The Gophers are second in the NCAA and first in the Big Ten with 14 interceptions this season. They have returned three of those for a touchdown which is ranked fifth in the country. Winfield leads the team and is tied for second in the NCAA with seven interceptions, which also ties the team record for interceptions in a season.
Iowa (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) is ranked No. 20 in the CFP rankings. All three of the Hawkeyes’ losses were to ranked opponents, but all three were one-score games.
The Hawkeyes have had an up-and-down offense this season. They have scored more than 26 points in four games. Quarterback Nate Stanley is second in the Big Ten in passing yards per game and ranks second in school history with 64 career touchdown passes. Stanley started the year by throwing eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in the first four games, but then threw five interceptions and just one touchdown over the next three games. In the last two games, Stanley has returned to form with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Hawkeyes most dynamic player this season has been redshirt freshman receiver Tyrone Tracy, Jr., who has emerged in the last three weeks. Tracy has had 10 catches, 246 yards and two scores in the last three games, including five catches for 130 yards last week against Wisconsin.
Iowa has one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, if not the country. The Hawkeyes’ scoring defense is the best in the Kirk Ferentz era, allowing just 11.7 points per game, and the lowest by any Iowa team since 1959. The Hawkeyes have allowed just 12 touchdowns in nine games, the third fewest in the country. Iowa ranks in the top-20 in scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense and total defense. Junior defensive ends A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston lead the defense. Epenesa was a preseason All-American and is one of the best pass rushers in the country, while Golston leads the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. Junior safety Geno Stone and senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia patrol the secondary and are among the team leaders in tackles and interceptions.
Minnesota is on the verge of a very special season, but the Hawkeyes will try to play spoiler. Iowa was essentially eliminated from the Big Ten West race with a loss to Wisconsin, but still has an opportunity to keep the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy by defeating the Gophers. Minnesota hasn’t beaten Iowa in Iowa City since 1999, but this is the best Gopher team in 50 years. If the game comes down to a field goal, Iowa’s junior Keith Duncan is one of the best kickers in country, while Minnesota has relied on freshman Michael Lantz, who is 5-for-8 this season with a long of 37 yards.
The Bruins and Utes will meet Saturday in a Pac-12 South battle. The winner of the game will own their destiny in the division with just two games remaining on schedule.
UCLA (4-5, 4-2 Pac-12) has won three straight games to climb up the Pac-12 South standings. The Bruins have scored at least 31 points in five of the last six games, including in each of the last three wins.
It has taken about a year-and-a-half, but it appears UCLA head coach Chip Kelly’s offense is coming together. In Kelly’s first 15 games as the Bruins head coach, UCLA averaged 22 points per game. In the last six games, the Bruins have averaged 37 points per game. In conjunction with the current three-game winning streak, UCLA has found its rushing attack. Senior running back Joshua Kelley has averaged 155 rushing yards per game in that stretch and scored seven touchdowns. The improved running game has taken pressure off sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who has thrown for 1,837 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Thompson-Robinson has the ability to get out of the pocket and run as well, which will be important in the face of the vaunted Utah pass rush.
The UCLA defense is continuing to improve in the same way as the offense. The Bruins had 15 sacks all of last season but have tallied 17 sacks in last six games. Four players, senior linebackers Josh Woods (3.5 sacks), Keisean Lucier-South (2.5), and Krys Barnes (2.0), have led the way for the improved pass rush. Forcing turnovers is always an important indicator for wins and losses, but it particularly stands out for the Bruins. UCLA has failed to force a turnover in four of its five losses and has forced nine of its total 11 turnovers in wins. The Bruins have turned first quarter turnovers into points in each of the last two games. Sophomore safety Stephan Blaylock is a budding star in the UCLA secondary and has led the Bruins in tackles in each of the last three games. Blaylock is second on the team in total tackles this season and has added two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Utah (8-1, 5-1) was picked to win the Pac-12 prior to the season and the Utes are living up to that billing. Utah checked in at No. 8 in the CFP rankings this week. The Utes’ lone loss this season was to USC on a short week, 30-23, as star running back Zack Moss nursed an injury.
The Utes have been known for their tough defense under head coach Kyle Willingham, but this Utah team ranks among the Pac-12’s best on offense as well. The Utes lead the conference in rushing offense and passing efficiency. Utah is a run-first offense, primarily on the legs of the previously mentioned Zack Moss. The senior running back is 172 yards shy of his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season and has scored 13 touchdowns in eight games this year. Moss is among the nation’s leaders in yards per carry, rushing touchdowns and yards per game. When the rushing attack is running well, senior quarterback Tyler Huntley can pick apart defenses with his arm and his legs. Huntley leads the Pac-12 in completion percentage and passing efficiency and has thrown 11 touchdowns to just one interception. The Utes don’t have a receiver with more than 22 catches this year but have nine different players with at least 10 catches.
Defensively, Utah is the best in the Pac-12 and ranks in the top-10 nationally in numerous categories. The Utes lead the conference in nearly every facet defensively: total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Utah has held four opponents this season to fewer than 10 points (0 by Cal and Idaho State, 7 by Oregon State, 3 by Arizona State), the most in a season by Utah since holding four opponents to single digits in 2007. The Utes’ defense had to replace its top two linebackers and tacklers from a year ago, but sophomore Devin Lloyd and senior Francis Bernard have stepped up to fill those shoes. Lloyd leads Utah with 58 tackles and has three sacks this season, while Bernard is second on the team in tackles and has added five tackles for loss and two interceptions. Senior Bradlee Anae is the Utes best pass rusher and has eight sacks this year. Anae had two games this season, against Northern Illinois and Arizona State, where he recorded three sacks.
The biggest factors in this game will be the turnover margin and time of possession. Utah is among the nation’s best in both categories, but they have also been major indicators of success for UCLA.
College GameDay will be on hand in Waco for the first time since 2015 for the Oklahoma and Baylor game on Saturday. This matchup could be a Big 12 championship preview as the Sooners and Bears are the only teams in the conference with less than two conference losses.
Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) suffered its lone loss of the season two weeks ago against Kansas State, but bounced back with a 42-41 win over Iowa State last week. The Sooners were ranked No. 10 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings.
Simply put, Oklahoma has the most dynamic offense in the country. The Sooners rank first nationally in total offense, averaging 587.3 yards per game, and second in scoring offense at 48.4 points per game. Senior transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts is a Heisman Trophy candidate as he leads the nation in total offense at 401.2 yards per game, which is more than 57 major college football teams average per game. Hurts has 39 total touchdowns, 24 passing and 15 rushing, and is the only player nationally with four games of two-plus rushing touchdowns and two-plus passing scores. Hurts has the benefit of throwing the ball to one of the best receivers in the country in junior CeeDee Lamb. Through nine games this year, Lamb has posted team highs of 44 catches, 983 receiving yards and 13 receiving touchdowns. He’s tied for the national lead in receiving TDs and ranks fifth in yards per reception (22.3) and ninth in receiving yards per game (109.2).
The Sooner defense looked much improved from a year ago until the last two weeks, when Oklahoma allowed 48 and 41 points, respectively. The Sooners had held six of seven opponents under 360 total yards to start the year, but gave up 497 yards in the loss to Kansas State and 477 to Iowa State last week. The key playmaker for Oklahoma on defense is junior linebacker Kenneth Murray. A three-year starter, Murray was named the 2019 Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and has been named a semifinalist for the Butkus and Bednarik Awards, which are given annually to the best linebacker and defensive players in college football, respectively. Murray has registered team highs of 62 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks and three pass breakups.
Baylor (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) is one of the biggest surprises in college football this season. Head coach Matt Rhule took over the Bears prior to the 2017 season and has taken Baylor from 1-11 in 2017, to 7-6 in 2018 and now 9-0 in 2019. The Bears were No. 13 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
On offense, Baylor is fairly balanced. The Bears rank in the top-40 nationally in passing and rushing offense, led by junior quarterback Charlie Brewer, who is among the conference’s leaders in passing efficiency, as well as rushing touchdowns. Brewer is among the greatest quarterbacks in Baylor history, but the quality of the Bears’ rushing attack has eased the pressure on the quarterback. Nine different players have scored a rushing touchdown for Baylor in 2019, and junior running back John Lovett (532 yards, 4 TD) and senior JaMycal Hasty (461 yards, 4 TD) lead a two-headed attack on the ground.
They say offense wins games, but defense wins championships. That will be the case for Baylor this season if the Bears want to win a Big 12 title. Defensively, Baylor has held nine straight conference opponents to less than 30 points for the first time in its Big 12 history. The Bears lead the Big 12 and rank 14th nationally with 29.0 sacks on the season. BU had only 25.0 sacks in 13 games in 2018. BU is also top in the Big 12 with 69.0 TFL in 2019, that total is 16th in FBS. With all of the pressure in the backfield, Baylor ranks in the top-10 nationally in passing defense and passing defense efficiency. One stat that jumps off the page for the Bears is the fact that they lead the country in blocked kicks this season with five. Special teams will play a big factor in this game and a blocked kick could swing momentum.
No team has been able to slow down the Oklahoma passing attack this season, but the Sooners haven’t played a team that can defend against the pass like Baylor. That’ll be the key matchup to watch in this game. Both of these teams have found themselves in overtime games lately, so don’t be surprised to see another OT game here.