Forde-Yard Dash: Teams That Could Play Spoiler in College Football Playoff Race

Five relatively unheralded teams can ruin the hopes of teams hoping for a playoff berth, plus which school could be called Wide Receiver U in a season dominated by star wideouts?
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (“Dicker Owns The Sunflower State” T-shirts sold separately in Austin):

MORE DASH: Everything LSU Won | Candidates for Fourth CFP Spot | Preseason Duds

THIRD QUARTER

THE TRAP SETTERS

The Second Quarter covered the teams still harboring hopes for a playoff berth. This quarter begins with five relatively unheralded teams that could ruin some of those hopes this month:

Iowa (21). The trap game: Minnesota in Iowa City on Saturday. The line: Iowa by three. Vegas doesn’t just see this as a trap; it sees it as a Hawkeyes win up front. The biggest challenge for the Gophers is to come down out of the clouds from a once-in-a-lifetime scene last Saturday, the field stormed after taking down Penn State to go 9–0. The second challenge is Minnesota’s victory drought in Iowa City—last win there was 1999. And the third challenge is the fact that Iowa has taken down some highly ranked opponents in Kinnick Stadium in recent years, most notably Michigan in 2016 and Ohio State in ’17.

Mississippi (22). The trap game: LSU in Oxford on Saturday. The line: LSU by 21. Clearly, this would be a titanic upset, an outcome that you really cannot foresee on paper. But know this: The emotional reservoir the Tigers tapped into at Alabama cannot be replenished in a week. LSU is the far better team; it almost certainly will also be the flatter team. Ole Miss had a glorified walkthrough against New Mexico State leading into this game, allowing it to be the more rested and prepared team Saturday. Can John Rhys Plumlee have a Johnny Manziel–type game, running the Rebels into position to shock the world? (Probably not. But it’s worth watching just in case.)

Indiana (23). The trap game: At Penn State on Saturday. The line: Penn State by 14. The hottest team in the Big Ten other than Ohio State and Minnesota is the Hoosiers, riding a four-game winning streak into Happy Valley. They also had an open date while Penn State was battling for 60 minutes at Minnesota, and that rest-and-recovery advantage can be really useful at this time of year. The game falls at a tricky time for the Nittany Lions, after facing one Big Ten unbeaten on the road and before facing the other. Penn State can’t afford a letdown in a natural letdown spot.

Oklahoma State (24). The trap game: Oklahoma in Stillwater on Nov. 30. The Sooners have dominated the Bedlam rivalry in the 21st century, winning 14 of the last 16 and four in a row. They have the weapons to be a problem for a defense that has been leaking oil lately—most notably running back Chuba Hubbard (leading the nation at 178 rushing yards per game) and a couple of receivers who made big plays after the season-ending injury to Tylan Wallace in Dillon Stoner and Braydon Johnson.

Oregon State (25). The trap game: at Oregon on Nov. 30. The Beavers have not won in Eugene since 2007, and this is a very good Ducks team—so why should anyone believe Oregon State can pull the upset? Well, the Beavers are 3–0 on the road in Pac-12 play this season, winning at UCLA, California and Arizona. Their first bowl bid since 2013 may be within reach as well. And they hate Oregon. You never know.

WIDE RECEIVER—THE BEST POSITION IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL IN 2019

The 2018 college football season was the Year of the Defensive Lineman, with three going in the first four picks of the draft and 13 tackles, ends or edge-rush linebackers chosen in the first round. No offense to some very good quarterbacks in the game this fall, but the greatest positional wealth of talent is at wide receiver in ’19.

Six teams have multiple big-time wideouts that have been key to their success. Which one should be called Wide Receiver U?

LSU

Leading man: Justin Jefferson (26), a 6-foot-3, 192-pound junior. Jefferson leads the team in receptions (62) and yards (898) while averaging 14.5 yards per catch and scoring nine touchdowns.

Supporting cast: Ja’Marr Chase might actually be more talented than Jefferson, just slightly less productive after missing one game. The 6-1, 200-pound sophomore’s numbers: 49 catches for 889 yards, an 18.1 yards-per-catch average and 10 TDs.

Terrace Marshall has missed three games with injuries but still has compiled 24 receptions for 378 yards, averaging 15.8 yards per catch. A big target at 6-4, 200 pounds, one out of three catches has gone for a touchdown.

Alabama

Leading man: Jerry Jeudy (27), a junior who went into the season widely viewed as the top NFL prospect at the position for the 2020 draft. Jeudy leads the team with 57 receptions, but his yards per catch are down from 19.3 last year to 13.2 this year. He’s still scored nine touchdowns.

Supporting cast: DeVonta Smith has been the biggest big-play guy for the Crimson Tide, averaging 18.7 yards per catch and scoring 11 TDs. The junior has had two massive games: 11 catches for 275 yards and five touchdowns against Ole Miss, and seven catches for 213 yards and two TDs against LSU.

Junior Henry Ruggs is the highly capable third wheel, with 29 catches for 581 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 20 per reception. Ruggs is also Alabama’s top kickoff returner.

Sophomore Jaylen Waddle is the slightly overlooked fourth wideout, with 24 catches for 319 yards. Waddle showed his elite speed in the LSU game, taking a punt 77 yards for a touchdown.

Minnesota

Leading man: Rashod Bateman (28), a sophomore from Georgia who leads the Big Ten in receiving yards per game at 94.1. The 6-2, 210-pound Bateman averages a whopping 22.3 yards per catch and has scored seven touchdowns. He was an impossible matchup for Penn State, burning the Nittany Lions for 203 yards on seven catches.

Supporting cast: Tyler Johnson has actually caught more passes than Batemen, 50 of them on the year, and leads the team in TD receptions with eight. The senior has scored in six of the last seven games.

Oklahoma

Leading man: CeeDee Lamb (29), who is tied for the national lead in touchdown receptions with 13. Lamb has 44 catches and averages a fat 22.3 per, making an endless series of big plays in Lincoln Riley’s offense. The 6-2 junior has 31 career TD catches in 37 games.

Supporting cast: Charleston Rambo benefited early in the season from defensive focus on Lamb, with three 100-yard games in Oklahoma’s first four. He’s slowed down a bit recently but still is producing 20.5 yards per catch and five touchdowns on 27 receptions.

Clemson

Leading man: In an offense where the ball is distributed to a ton of players, Tee Higgins (30) has been the big-play receiver. He’s averaging 20.4 yards per catch with five TDs on 36 receptions. The 6-4 junior hasn’t had a 100-yard game since September, but he’s caught touchdowns in the last two games.

Supporting cast: Justyn Ross actually leads the team in catches (40) and touchdown receptions (six). The 6-4 sophomore has been a consistent producer, but his yards per reception have dropped from 21.7 last season to 13 this year.

Amari Rodgers came back very quickly from an ACL tear to be a key contributor, with 25 receptions for 372 yards and four TDs. The junior’s next catch will be the 100th of his college career.

USC

Leading man: In an offense that has three receivers with 55 or more catches, Michael Pittman (31) is the most productive: 71 grabs for 938 yards and eight TDs. The 6-4 senior has been great this season at outfighting defensive backs for jump-ball throws. When Pittman has more than 65 yards receiving in a game, USC is 5–1. When he has less, USC is 1–3.

Supporting cast: Tyler Vaughns has been Mr. Consistent, with at least four catches in every game this season and 25 such games in his three-year career to date. For the season he has 62 catches and five TDs.

Amon-Ra St. Brown torched Arizona State Saturday for 173 yards on eight receptions, as USC raced to a 28-0 first quarter lead and then held on. For the year St. Brown has 55 catches for 666 yards and five TDs.

MORE DASH: Everything LSU Won | Candidates for Fourth CFP Spot | Preseason Duds