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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 rivalry game between programs led by coaches feeling the heat, the return of one of college football’s best players and a chance for a surprising Virginia Tech team to make yet another statement.
CHASE YOUNG’S RETURN
On a week that lacks games between ranked teams, No. 2 Ohio State’s meeting with No. 9 Penn State is the slate’s most intriguing contest. The game also boasts an added wrinkle, however. Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young, the most celebrated defensive player in the country, will return from his two-game suspension for violating NCAA rules.
Sure, anyone that follows the sport knows Young’s return should be a nice boost for an Ohio State team looking to avoid an upset and stay relevant in the College Football Playoff hunt, but Braden Moles, who covers the team at BuckeyeGrove.com, also sees a way that Young’s two-week suspension may have even been a good thing when it comes to Saturday’s meeting with the 9-1 Nittany Lions.
“It may strike fear into Penn State and quarterback Sean Clifford to learn that despite Young's limitations in practice, he's been putting in extra time with one of the best defensive line coaches in the country in Larry Johnson,” Moles wrote this week. “And since Young didn't need to gameplan for Rutgers, he'll have had nearly two weeks of preparation for Penn State and its offensive line.”
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CROSSTOWN RIVALS GET TOGETHER IN LA
No. 23 USC’s meeting with UCLA lacks the luster or national appeal as some of the more famous games in the series, but calling the game unimportant would be a bit of an exaggeration. First, the contest has job security implications for both coaches. UCLA’s Chip Kelly almost certainly won‘t be let go anytime soon, but how Saturday shakes out could play a role in how comfortable his seat is going into next season. On the other side, the ship on Clay Helton’s postseason firing may have already sailed, but a loss to the Bruins could put the final nail in the coffin.
But could a win possibly save Helton, whose team is 7-4 and has won four of its last five games? That is a different matter altogether. According to Ryan Young, who covers USC at TrojanSports.com, the situation seems unlikely at best.
“There was a path for Clay Helton to extend his tenure,” Young said on his podcast. “But the only way to do it was to come out and have a dominant bounce-back season, where you erase any doubts and get the recruits on board early this fall. ... Ultimately, last season is still what’s going to do him in when that time comes. I just don’t think that [new athletic director Mike Bohn] took this job to keep the status quo.”
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VIRGINIA TECH CONTINUES MARCH TO ACC TITLE GAME
Virginia Tech opened the 2019 season with a loss to Boston College. Three weeks later, it found a way to lose 45-10 to Duke. Yet here we are, weeks later, looking at the Hokies as one of the favorites to win the ACC Coastal. So much for the heat dialing up on head coach Justin Fuente.
With two games remaining, the 7-3 Hokies have multiple avenues to reach the ACC championship game. And while they could do so even without a win this weekend, a victory would make things a bit easier. Tim Sullivan, who covers Virginia Tech for HokieHaven.com, thinks the scenario isn’t just possible but likely.
“The Hokies need to only win the final two games — or even just beat Virginia if they lose to Pitt as the tiebreakers would come down in VT's favor in that situation — to play against Clemson for the chance to be a conference champion,” Sullivan wrote in a column this week. “The Tigers would be another task altogether, of course, but the concept of that game even being in play is wild. This weekend's game is important in the bigger picture, but really it all comes down to the UVa contest.”
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