Oregon QB Justin Herbert vs. Arizona -- Maybe? For real this time? Herbert has been inching back from the fractured collarbone he suffered at the end of September, to the point where he warmed up prior to the Ducks’ loss to Washington on November 4. While he didn’t play in that game, Oregon was off on bye this weekend and we’re guessing that Herbert finally makes his triumphant return against the Wildcats this coming Saturday. It’s a fine opportunity for him, too, as Arizona has proven plenty implosive defending the pass. Of most recent note, Oregon State’s Darell Garretson burned them for four touchdown passes on Saturday and on a wider scale, Rich Rodriguez’s crew is surrendering a shade over 300 yards passing on average while ranking as the No. 87 pass defense in the FBS by S&P+ metrics.
Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph vs. Kansas State -- In the most Big 12-ish game imaginable on Saturday, Rudolph roasted Iowa State for 376 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-42 win over the Cyclones. And that was actually a step down from the 448-yard, five-touchdown shredding of Oklahoma’s defense the previous weekend. Rudolph has been hot all season, but right now he would give the surface of the sun a run for its money. Kansas State won’t be putting a stop to this fire hazard. The Wildcats have been consistently horrendous against the pass, surrendering at least 300 yards passing in four of 10 games, with Kenny Hill and Zach Smith just missing out on that mark to boot. Rudolph is a near-lock to scorch again, here.
USC RB Ronald Jones vs. UCLA -- Shield your eyes, children, because Jones is about to make things very, very bad for the Bruins. UCLA boasts (so to speak) the nation’s worst run defense and there is no back going better right now than Mr. Jones. He sliced through Colorado for 142 yards rushing on Saturday, his third consecutive game with at least 140 on the ground. In that space, he has scored six touchdowns. The Trojans have also been feeding him like there’s no tomorrow. Jones has carried 52 times in the last two games.
LSU RB Derrius Guice vs. Tennessee -- It’s a pity that Guice was limited so by injury early in the season, because he’s been performing up to expectation of late. The junior has rushed for 557 yards in his last four games, including modest-but-respectable 71-yard performances against the bear trap defenses of Auburn and Alabama. The rest of the yardage came in bludgeonings of Ole Miss and Arkansas. Tennessee plays a Jekyll/Hyde game on defense. They offer a stout pass defense, but the Vols being special, also a horrendous unit versus opposing runners. On average they allow 256 yards rushing a game.
Eastern Michigan WR Sergio Bailey vs. Miami (OH) (Wednesday) -- Disregard Bailey’s most recent performance. He caught just one pass for nine yards in a loss to Central Michigan earlier this week, but that came in one of the worst quarterbacked games we’ve seen all season. We expect EMU QB Brogan Roback to bounce back against the Redhawks, who own the 105th-ranked pass defense by S&P+ standards. Prior to his shutdown versus the Chips, Bailey had topped 90 yards in three of his last four games.
Auburn WR Darius Slayton vs. Louisiana-Monroe -- If there’s one play to remember from Saturday’s blowout of No. 1 Georgia, it was Slayton’s glorious, twisting 42-yard touchdown catch with just over four minutes remaining in the first half. The score was his third in as many games and while he finished with just a one-yard grab in addition to that beauty of a touchdown, Slayton has begun to emerge over the last three games, posting two contests of 95-plus yards, including a 4-146-1 crunching of Arkansas prior to Auburn’s bye week at the end of October. Don’t expect the Warhawks to put up much of a fight. They’re in contention with the likes of UConn for worst pass defense in the country. Two caveats -- Slayton did suffer at least a minor injury during Saturday’s victory, so that’s worth monitoring. And the Tigers remain a run-heavy team, even if the passing game has begun to open up. Still, Slayton’s in a good place right now so long as he’s healthy enough to play next weekend.
Oklahoma WR Marquise Brown vs. Kansas -- Let us take a spin on the Sooners’ receiving wheel. Where it lands varies from week-to-week, but Baker Mayfield is as a mortal lock as there is at quarterback and somebody’s catching those passes. On Saturday, it was actually RB Rodney Anderson who led the team with five grabs for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Brown had just two catches for 56 yards in OU’s win over TCU, but he came into the game having topped 100 yards in two of the previous three contests, including a 9-256-4 immolation of Oklahoma State in Stillwater two weekends ago. Kansas has allowed at least 35 points in nine of ten games this season and continues to offer up one of the nation’s worst defenses against the pass. Our only real concern here is that Oklahoma’s spinning wheel might land with someone other than Brown. When he hits, though, he hits big.
Michigan QB Brandon Peters vs. Wisconsin -- We’re Team Peters ‘round these parts and he’s done a fine job in playing youthful game manager since taking over as starter, racking up wins over Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland. The Badgers offer a whole other level of defense that that trio, though, and it’s important to stress the game-manager angle. Peters threw for a combined 325 yards with a 4/0 TD/INT ratio in his three starts and has yet to attempt 20 passes in a game. Look no further than what Auburn did to Jake Fromm on Saturday to see what a top-level passing defense can do to an inexperienced quarterback.
West Virginia QB Will Grier vs. Texas -- While the Longhorns are surrendering over 250 yards passing on average, we like what their passing defense has shown more than that number. So does S&P+. The metric ranks Texas as having the No. 23 unit against the pass. And in terms of pure scoring, Tom Herman’s bunch has kept the opposing offense under 30 points in eight of 10 games -- including against conference heavy hitters Oklahoma, USC, Oklahoma State and TCU. Grier’s essentially been a statistical wizard this season, but he’s about to hit his first subpar game of the campaign.
Kentucky RB Benjamin Snell vs. Georgia -- We’ll see just what kind of resolve Georgia has as a team after their almost across-the-board failure on Saturday. Not only did Auburn handle UGA’s own running game, Tigers RB Kerryon Johnson was arguably the best player on the field against what had been one of the nation’s most ironclad rushing defenses. Licking their wounds against Snell could prove problematic -- he’s surpassed 100 yards in four of his last five games -- but we’re not going to overreact to a good Auburn team beating a good Georgia team. The Bulldogs come out with a vengeance, here. Against the best rush defense he’s faced this season (Mississippi State), Snell rushed for just 18 yards.
Michigan State RB LJ Scott vs. Maryland -- We’re just going to throw up our hands and walk away from Scott. The highlight of his season thus far has been either his 194-yard performance against Minnesota in mid-October or his seventh arrest for driving without a valid license. Both served as reminders that Scott actually does still exist. Not that you would know it on Saturday, when Ohio State erased him off the face of the earth. The junior’s been held to fewer than 65 yards rushing in six of nine games this season. It doesn’t even matter that Maryland’s is an average-at-best rushing defense. Throwing up our hands and walking away.
Missouri WR J’Mon Moore vs. Vanderbilt -- OK, we’ve doubted Missouri’s offense on multiple occasions this season only to watch The Drew Lock Experience continue unabated. But how about one more for the road? Vandy’s ranks as the No. 11 passing defense in the country by S&P+ standards and is holding opposing offense to under 200 yards through the air on average. Moore, meanwhile, has proven decidedly hit/miss this year, with two games of over 170 yards receiving and six of fewer than 65 yards receiving. He’ll land on the negative side of that equation in this one.
Stanford WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside vs. Cal -- Beware the one-game wonder. Arcega-Whiteside hasn’t been quite that this season -- he owns a 30-516-5 receiving line on the year -- but his 130-yard performance against Washington on Friday was just his second 100-yard game of the campaign. And frankly, we have no faith in Stanford’s passing offense, even with the world shooting off way-too-early fireworks for K.J. Costello. Cal’s defense is more susceptible to the run than the pass -- good luck handling Bryce Love -- and we refuse to believe that Stanford’s passing game has turned any sort of a real corner.
Nevada WR Wyatt Demps vs. San Diego State -- Defensively, the Aztecs are most well known for their constricting run-stopping ways. They aren’t too shabby against the pass either, though, surrendering just over 167 yards through the air on average, a mark appreciable to that of Alabama. Demps clowned San Jose State with seven catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday, but that does not concern us given the opponent. His other game this year with at least 100 yards receiving came against Hawaii’s also-porous pass defense. When facing off with the three bests defenses on the schedule to date (Northwestern, Washington State, Boise State), Demps owns a combined 17-151-1 receiving line. He did not surpass 65 yards receiving in any of those three games.