NOTE: CollegeFootballPoll.com's Dave Congrove is a nominating member for the Outland Trophy, presented by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. The Outland Trophy is considered to be the Heisman equivalent for those who strive to be the nation’s best interior lineman on offense or defense. Semifinalists for the 2019 Outland Trophy will be announced on Wed., Nov. 20 and the three finalists will be revealed on Tues., Nov. 26.
Our weekly Outland Trophy sojourn takes us to Fort Worth and the underrated rivalry of Baylor-TCU. We also head to the west coast where San Diego State has quietly gotten to 7-1 on the season.
Baylor (8-0) at TCU (4-4), 12:00 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1: These two teams have played 114 times. Their first meeting was a scoreless tie in 1899. Baylor remains one of seven undefeated team and must go on the road up I-35 to face a team, a coach and a staff that likely knows it better than anyone. The upset alert is in full effect if the Bears, poised with their highest ranking (No. 11) since 2016, are looking ahead to the following week’s primetime showdown against Oklahoma. TCU, despite an upset of Texas, is fighting for a bowl spot and is winless on the road in Big 12 play and with two road conference games – one of them at Oklahoma – still looming.
We put our spotlight this week on two of our Watch List members that will likely face off on opposite sides of the line – Baylor junior defensive lineman James Lynch and TCU right tackle Lucas Niang.
Lynch (#93, Jr., Round Rock, Texas) tore up opposing offenses in October with 5.5 sacks and 7.0 tackles for loss in his last four games. He leads the Big 12 and is ninth nationally with 8.5 sacks, and fourth in the Big 12 with 11.5 TFL’s, 24th nationally. He’s closing in on a pair of Baylor records for both career sacks and TFL’s; his 17.0 career sacks are 13th among active FBS players, and he needs only a half-sack Saturday to tie the school record or a full sack to break it.
Lynch set a Baylor record for sacks in a Big 12 game with 3.0 at Kansas State back on Oct. 5, which started a crescendo for the Baylor defense. Led by Lynch, the Bears totaled 15.0 tackles for loss in the game, the most in a Big 12 or FBS game since at least 2000. Lynch and Bravvion Roy became the first teammates in Baylor’s Big 12 history to each have at least 3.5 TFL’s in the same game. Texas Tech went into its Oct. 12 matchup with Baylor having allowed only 4.0 sacks in its last five games, but once again led by Lynch’s 2.5 sacks, the Bears racked up 5.0 in the game. Against Oklahoma State two games back, Baylor equaled their 2018 season total of 25.0 sacks in through seven games.
The defensive uptick culminated in its best game last week (Oct. 31) against West Virginia, where it held the Mountaineers to 219 total yards, the fewest Baylor’s allowed this season. Baylor leads the Big 12 and ranks 20th nationally in scoring defense at 18.5 points per game.
Niang (#77, Sr., New Canaan, Conn.; pronounced KNEE-yang) has bolstered TCU’s offensive front, and the results have the Frogs averaging 220.2 yards per game rushing, its highest total since 2010. Those totals are third in the Big 12 and 20th nationally. A precursor for Saturday is TCU is 94-8 when rushing for at least 200 yards under coach Gary Patterson.
One of the career starts (27) leaders for TCU, Niang’s ability, plus the rest of the line, has TCU featuring the run more this season than in years past. Its 57.1 percent run-play selection is its highest since offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie arrived in 2014. Niang, who is fluent in French, hasn’t yielded a sack in the last two seasons.
Ross Blacklock (#90, Jr., Missouri City, Texas) is the linchpin of TCU’s defense. After missing last season due to injury, Blacklock has already surpassed his numbers from 2017 – 29 tackles, 7.5 sacks and 3.5 TFL’s – when he was an FWAA Freshman All-American and the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year. He had a career-high seven tackles last week at Oklahoma State.
Nevada (5-4) at San Diego State (5-1), 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2: This is our first mention of either of these Mountain West teams this season, but the timing is worthy with San Diego State nationally-ranked, riding a four-game win streak and looking to wrap up the West Division the next two weeks. The Aztecs are 7-1 for just the second time in 42 seasons. Center Keith Ismael (#60, Jr., Oakland, Calif.) is their highest-graded player (83.5) and No. 3 among all centers by Pro Football Focus. Ismael has yet to surrender a sack or a quarterback hit in 2019 on 271 pass blocks and has allowed just four hurries this season. He hasn’t allowed a QB pressure in his last six-plus games, and between Weeks 3-10, Ismael has a 100 percent pass block efficiency.
The Aztecs have made few mistakes offensively and are fourth nationally in time of possession at 34:51 despite being 12th (last, 328.8 ypg) in the MW in total offense and 11th in scoring offense (21.8). SDSU has run 573 plays this season with just three turnovers and no fumbles.
Nevada lost Watch List member and senior left tackle Jake Nelson (#71, Sr., San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) for the season when he broke his left arm Sept. 30 in a loss to Hawaii. It broke his streak of 30 consecutive starts anchoring the Wolf Pack’s left side. Miles Beach, a junior, moved to the left side to replace him in the starting lineup.