Every week offers another chapter in the novel that is the 2022 College Football season. Will Saturday be a page turner or one where we skip to the last page to hurry up and see how it ends?
Here’s the 5 surprising storylines I’ll be following the closest, as we enter the second to last Saturday of the regular season.
The Battle For Los Angeles Could Decide The PAC-12 Playoff Fate
Plenty is on the line when 9-1 USC makes the short trip to Pasadena to face the 8-2 UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl. The game kicks at 8pm ET on FOX and USC is a slight 2.5-point betting favorite. The Trojans represent the best hope of a PAC-12 team making the Playoff.
If USC wins Saturday and beats Notre Dame next week and Oregon or Utah in the PAC-12 Championship Game, they will have a compelling case over any other 1-loss team.
Meanwhile, it took Chip Kelly a little longer than expected to get things rolling. But he now has a team capable of executing his offense at a high level. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has passed for 2,385 yards and 20 TDs and rushed for another 463 yards and 7 TDs. Zach Charbonnet is as good as any RB in America rushing for 1,145 yards and 13 TDs.
This game will officially be played after the sun sets in Southern California but it’s not quite “PAC-12 after dark” so a lot of eyeballs will be on Caleb Williams and USC. A huge performance in a win would greatly improve his Heisman odds.
Kansas Might Give Arch Manning Second Thoughts
I’m only half kidding. Arch isn’t going anywhere but Austin to play his College Football. But there’s an awful lot of hopes riding on the shoulders of the latest Manning QB prodigy given that Texas isn’t showing a lot of tangible progress under Steve Sarkisian.
Yes, they played Alabama close. But they’ve also dropped games to an average Texas Tech team, a loss to a sliding Oklahoma State squad and looked every bit the part of an overly hyped fraud in a 17-10 home loss to TCU a week ago. That was a game where the offensive minded Sark and highly touted QB Quinn Ewers could only muster 199 yards and no offensive TDs.
Sarkisian’s record at Texas is 11-11 and some PTSD could settle in this week as Texas faces a Kansas program that handed them their most embarrassing loss a season ago. Lance Leipold went into Austin in Year One and beat the Longhorns as a 31-point underdogs.
Now he gets Texas in Lawrence, and Texas is favored once again but this time by only 9 points. Texas loses this one and a very disappointing 6-6 season is a possibility with Baylor looming next week. Again, I think Arch will honor his commitment and sign with Texas. But all the eggs are in the Manning basket if Texas lets the TCU performance become a trend.
Auburn-Western Kentucky Is An Important College Football Game
We had former Auburn and NFL QB Jason Campbell on “OutKick 360” earlier this week. I asked him about the chances of his former backfield mate Carnell “Cadillac” Williams getting the Auburn job full-time. He didn’t sound overly optimistic but he also didn’t completely dismiss the idea.
In fact, he is all for it. Many former Auburn players gathered on the field after Cadillac’s first win as interim head coach at Auburn this past Saturday. Yes, it was a 13-10 grind-it-out affair over a Texas A&M squad spiraling to a 4-8 season. But it was a special scene.
And before you laugh off the possibility of Williams winning the full-time gig, consider the precedent for a cultural fit/hype man/CEO coach in College Football. Ed Orgeron won a national championship at LSU. Sam Pittman has been successful at Arkansas. Shane Beamer has been a pleasant surprise at South Carolina. I would even put Dabo Swinney in this category when he went from Interim Head Coach to full-time boss at Clemson.
Auburn is only a 5.5-point favorite at home against Western Kentucky and if they lose, you can officially cross his name off the list. But a win this week followed by an improbable win in the Iron Bowl next week, and many will be pushing for Cadillac to drive the program moving forward.
Bedlam May Lead To A Bowl-Less OU
Brent Venables first season in Norman is not going well and now Bedlam has arrived. The good news is the Sooners are at home. They are a 7.5-point favorite over an Oklahoma State squad limping into this one with oft-injured starting QB Spencer Sanders.
The bad news is the Sooners are very much in jeopardy of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 1998. Their 23-year bowl streak is 2nd best in the nation. Lose this week and they will have to go to Lubbock and beat Texas Tech in the regular season finale. No one expected the Sooners to be in this position when Venables was hired in December of last year.
Big Day For The Big Ten West
Someone has to represent the Big Ten West in the Championship Game in Indianapolis in 2 weeks. Unfortunately, we can’t simply watch Michigan-Ohio State in a “one week later” rematch. So, one of the following mediocre teams will earn the right to lose by 3+ TDs to the Ohio State-Michigan winner:
And here is this Saturday’s schedule:
Illinois @ Michigan
Wisconsin @ Nebraska
Northwestern @ Purdue
Iowa @ Minnesota
The Gophers are a 2.5-point home favorite against Iowa and the winner of that game will be in a great spot. Especially if Iowa wins considering they play an awful Nebraska team next week.
If things go according to the Vegas point spreads; Wisconsin will improve to 4-4, Illinois will fall to 4-4, and Purdue will improve to 5-3. It’s not a loaded division by any metric but at least, it’s a good race coming down the final stretch.
Chad Withrow hosts “OutKick 360” weekdays from 3-6 p.m. ET