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Each week, we’ll talk to our reporters on the ground to get their thoughts on the biggest happenings during the college football season. This week brings a proving ground for a former elite recruit and a chance for South Carolina to show its win over Georgia was no fluke. It also features a chance to watch Penn State’s running back cause trouble for Michigan.
AN ENCORE IN COLUMBIA?
South Carolina’s win over Georgia was labeled an upset for good reason, as the Gamecocks were 25-point underdogs according to some sportsbooks. There’s a difference between an upset and a fluke, however, and now Will Muschamp’s program will attempt to prove the second term doesn’t apply. It’ll have its chance to do so on Saturday, when No. 9 Florida comes to town for a game that carries miles more intrigue than it did at this time last week.
The 3-3 Gamecocks are heavy underdogs again, sure. But according to Chris Clark, who covers the team for GamecockCentral.com, South Carolina’s improved defense gives it a chance to put a scare into another SEC frontrunner.
"There is no doubt that this is a South Carolina team that’s playing better football than at the beginning of the season,” Clark said. “Georgia didn’t play its best game, but some of the mistakes and poor play were forced by South Carolina's strong defensive effort. The Gamecocks are pretty salty up front, and playing more true three-linebacker sets has seemed to create an uptick in production as well.
“Florida presents some unique challenges with its offense, and if USC can have another strong showing on that side of the ball, there will then be confidence that this defense is the real deal.”
South Carolina freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski, who exited last weekend’s upset victory with an injury but is expected to play, giving fans another reason to keep at least one eye on Muschamp’s meeting with his former team. There are no shortage of storylines here, after all.
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PENN STATE’S RB STABLE A PROBLEM FOR MICHIGAN
Penn State’s running back depth chart includes four names and three uses of the word “or.” That’s to say you never really know which of the program’s backs is going to gash you on any given day. Ricky Slade, Noah Cain, Journey Brown and Devyn Ford have all shown flashes for the No. 7 Nittany Lions this season but continue to work as a committee, as no one back has stolen the bulk of the carries.
It’s one of the most unique positional situations in the country, but fans of James Franklin’s 6-0 team have no reason to complain about its effectiveness. These are the problems of the privileged.
“Penn State has four running backs that most schools in the country would love to have,” said Ryan Snyder, who covers the Nittany Lions at BlueWhiteIllustrated.com. “Three of those four were among the best in nation coming out of high school. The other, Journey Brown, broke the Pennsylvania 100-meter dash record and rushed for over 700 yards in a single game in high school. All of them could be a lead back at most schools. With that said, freshman Noah Cain is currently having the most success.”
Cain’s 310 rushing yards and six touchdowns lead the team this season, but Snyder doesn’t expect the freshman to become the featured back against Michigan this week. Instead, he thinks all four options will continue to see their share of reps. There’s no reason to fix what isn’t broken, after all.
“They want to keep everyone happy and they’ll be the favorite in all but one remaining game,” Snyder said.
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EASON TAKES CENTER STAGE IN PAC-12 SHOWDOWN
Jacob Eason was once the No. 1 quarterback recruit in America. He was also once Georgia’s starter until injury struck and forced him to turn the reins over to Jake Fromm, who never let go of them, forcing Eason to transfer. These days, the hyper-touted recruit leads a 5-2 Washington team that finds itself ranked 25th in the country. Not bad for a second act.
Eason and the Huskies have the chance to make a statement on Saturday, as No. 12 Oregon is set to come to Seattle for one of the most anticipated games of the week. The larger story is about two ranked teams squaring off, but Eason and his pedigree function as the lead.
“Through his first seven games at Washington it would be fair to say Jacob Eason has lived up to what should have been expected of him, given the talent around him particularly on the outside,” said Lars Hanson, who covers Washington at DawgReport.com. “Eason has guided the Huskies to a 5-2 record overall and that still has the team in position for a potential Pac-12 championship game berth representing the Pac-12 North.”
So while Eason has been good but not great so far, a game against the Ducks and future NFL draft pick Justin Herbert is as good a time as any to take a step forward, not just for this season but for his larger college career.
“Chris Petersen appears to be building Eason up in the offense this season in order to make a strong push in 2020 for the College Football Playoff,” Hanson said. “With that said, This Saturday’s matchup at home against Oregon is without question a statement game for Eason, Petersen and the entire program.”
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