College football is limping toward the end of the regular season with more game cancellations and fluid movement of the schedule. The ACC went ahead and shut down several games because it figured the conference championship game between Clemson and Notre Dame is nearly inevitable. We could have one of the favorites for a playoff spot be disqualified from reaching its own conference title tilt. It has been a wild season and a strange several weeks.
But there are games to play. We lack the top-tier matchups but have an interesting slate of games. The top six teams play unranked teams, though five of them are on the road. Both Alabama and Auburn are playing games after their Iron Bowl showdown. And possibly the most enjoyable game of the weekend is being played in Conway, South Carolina.
Here are 15 players to watch this weekend:
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JT Daniels, Georgia
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Georgia won’t make the College Football Playoff, but its regular-season finale against Vanderbilt is worth watching to see how the Dawgs’ 2021 fortunes may lie. JT Daniels wowed everyone with his return to action two weeks ago against Mississippi State. The transfer from USC threw for 401 yards and four TDs in the seven-point win over the SEC’s other Bulldogs. His stats weren’t as impressive last week against South Carolina (139 yards, two TDs) but Daniels threw only 16 times because Georgia punished South Carolina with its running game. It is clear that Daniels is now healed from his ACL tear in the 2019 opener. His skills, confidence and overall leadership have been on display in these two games, and this week’s game against the Commodores should continue to give us a preview of what this program will be.
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Last week, Ezukanma caught seven passes for 183 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a wild 50-44 loss to Oklahoma State. He tends to be a big-play receiver this season, with receptions of 57, 48, 44 and 37 yards this year. The Red Raiders’ season hasn’t been very good, but they can close it out big with a win over 0-8 Kansas.
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Jones has put some distance between him and the rest of the Heisman contenders. All he did in the Iron Bowl last week was throw for 302 yards and five touchdowns in the 29-point win. One measure of how much Jones has grown since last year: in last year’s game with Auburn, he threw two big interceptions. He has thrown just three interceptions all season. Alabama heads to Nick Saban’s old stomping grounds to face defending champion LSU.
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In last week’s win over Texas, Hall rushed for 91 yards — the first game he hadn’t hit the century mark all season. He did run for a touchdown, which he has done in all nine Cyclones games. Iowa State is sitting atop the Big 12 and is a win over West Virginia away from playing in the conference championship game. Last season, Hall ran for three TDs against the Mountaineers.
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Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
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Hamilton has been a leader of Notre Dame’s much improved defense. He’s leading the Irish in tackles and second in passes defensed. He is one of the best safeties in the nation and is a difference maker on defense. He gained the wrong kind of recognition against North Carolina last week with a targeting penalty. Expect him to come out focused in the Irish’s regular season finale against Syracuse.
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If you are up late Saturday, check out the Oregon State-Utah game and Beavers running back Jermar Jefferson. Jefferson has already rushed for 675 yards and seven touchdowns in Oregon State’s four games, including last week’s 226 yards and two scores in a victory over rival Oregon.
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Lawrence finally got to play after missing a month of action due to COVID-19 and canceled games. In his return, he threw for 403 yards and two touchdowns in a 52-17 win over Pitt. In that downtime, Clemson lost a game, its No. 1 ranking and Lawrence’s status as a Heisman frontrunner. Look for Lawrence and the Tigers to have a big day against a Virginia Tech defense that has been bad lately and get into rhythm before facing Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game.
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One of the silver linings of a chaotic 2020 college football season is that we’ve been treated to some great stories off the beaten path. No. 18 Coastal Carolina plays host to a fun Liberty team this week and will get the ESPN College Gameday treatment. The Chanticleers have been enjoyable to watch this season, mainly due to quarterback Grayson McCall, but running back CJ Marable had himself a game last week. Against Texas State, he ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns in a runaway victory. With BYU likely focused on McCall, Marable will need to get rolling.
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The 2020 season went off the rails for Wisconsin in a variety of ways, but there is still a lot to play for in Madison. One major item is the continued development of freshman sensation Graham Mertz. He started out with a bang, completing 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five TDs against Illinois. Since then, he’s had to overcome COVID-19, several canceled games and an ugly effort in a loss to Northwestern (he threw three interceptions). It’s been a tough start to what should be a great career for one of the biggest recruits in Badgers history. But he can bounce back against a really good, albeit banged up, Indiana team this week.
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Elijah Mitchell, Louisiana
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The Ragin’ Cajuns have a fantastic two-headed running attack of Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas, but Mitchell currently has the edge in carries and yards this season. His 656 rushing yards lead Louisiana (his seven rushing touchdowns tie Ragas for the team lead) as Louisiana heads to Appalachian State for a big nationally televised game on Friday night.
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Jaret Patterson, Buffalo
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Last week I talked about Patterson being a player to watch, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. All Patterson did was rush for 409 yards and eight touchdowns against Kent State and become a highlight film of his own all weekend. He isn’t likely to approach any of those numbers this week against Ohio (if he does, he’s simply a legend) but he should be able to continue his white-hot streak. Over the last two games, he’s rushed for 710 yards and 12 touchdowns — a season’s worth of stats for a lot of guys. The Bulls travel to Ohio on Saturday.
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Oklahoma has steadily climbed into a position where a win over Baylor puts the Sooners back into the Big 12 Championship Game. Rattler has had an up-and-down season but overall has had a fine freshman campaign. He’s thrown for 2,319 yards and 22 touchdowns this season and has kept the crucial mistakes down. Last time out against Oklahoma State, Rattler completed 17 of 24 passes for 301 yards and four touchdowns.
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With quarterback Michael Penix Jr. out for the season with a torn ACL, the Hoosiers are in a precarious position as they fight for a chance at a Big Ten championship. While Jack Tuttle takes over behind center, running back Stevie Scott III will be leaned on to carry the offense. Scott leads Indiana in rushing and has been solid much of the year (in fact, he rushed for three touchdowns against Maryland in his last game). He did, however, have a tough time against Ohio State (seven rushes, six yards) in the Hoosiers’ lone loss.
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Spiller was sensational in the Aggies’ win over LSU last week. The sophomore rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown in the win over the defending champs — his fifth 100-yard game this season. Up next is Auburn … the tougher of the Aggies’ final two games. A win could put them in a great position to get into the playoff.
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He has just been so efficient. In a rather methodical win over Kentucky last week, Trask completed 21 of 27 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. He has thrown for at least three TDs in every game this season, and has 34 TD passes and just three picks all year. If it wasn’t for Mac Jones’ great season, Trask will be headlining the award season. Look for him to keep it up against Tennessee, one of the most disappointing teams of 2020.