Five October games that will shape this college football season

Pat Forde
College football and basketball columnist

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (rules manuals sold separately at Oregon, where the Ducks have been flagged for a nation-leading 52 penalties):

More Forde-Yard Dash: September awards | Conference power rankings | SEC’s downfall

FOURTH QUARTER: OCTOBER GAMES THAT WILL SHAPE THE SEASON

If Saturday is moving day in golf, October is moving month in college football. Time for teams to get in position for November, and the push toward divisional championships, conference championships and playoff berths. The Dash assesses the five October games that could have the biggest impact on the playoff picture:

Penn State double (31). Nobody in America has a back-to-back like the Nittany Lions. On Oct. 21, they host No. 7 Michigan. On Oct. 28, they visit No. 10 Ohio State. Win them both, and Penn State will be in prime position to win the Big Ten East, defend its conference title and play for the grand prize. Win one, and the Nits are still in the picture but in need of some help – especially without a hang-your-hat non-conference win. Lose both and they rename the place Unhappy Valley. James Franklin has his best Penn State team, but he’s 1-5 against the Wolverines and Buckeyes thus far. One Big Ten insider who has studied all three teams believes that outside of Saquon Barkley, the talent edge remains in favor of Ohio State and Michigan over Penn State.

Will Saquon Barkley and the Nittany Lions get out of October unscathed? (Getty)

Oklahoma-Texas (32). Where: Dallas. When: Oct. 14. It’s been a while since the Red River Rivalry resonated as a nationally relevant game, but it’s back – at least halfway back. The Sooners are heavily in the playoff mix at this point, and the rest of the month looks manageable (Iowa State, at Kansas State, Texas Tech). The Longhorns might be manageable as well, but this is a heated rivalry game and Tom Herman has a way with underdogs. (He was an amazing 5-0 straight-up as a ‘dog at Houston, and last month his Texas team nearly took down heavily favored USC.)

USC-Notre Dame (33). Where: South Bend. When: Oct. 21. Potential playoff elimination game, if both can get the through the next couple of Saturdays unscathed. The Fighting Irish have a single loss by a single point to an undefeated Georgia team. The Trojans have a single loss by three points on the road to an undefeated Washington State team. Those defeats weren’t dream killers – but this one could be. Notre Dame running back Josh Adams might be a more viable Heisman Trophy candidate by this game than USC quarterback Sam Darnold. Last time both teams were ranked when they met: 2009.

Florida-Georgia (34). Where: Jacksonville. When: Oct. 28. The Bulldogs have lost the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party game three straight years, all of them by two touchdowns or more. That’s a big reason why the Gators have won the SEC East the last two seasons, and it’s part of the reason why Mark Richt is now in his second season at Miami. This year’s game very much looks like it could be the deciding factor in the division race – Georgia is undefeated and looks great, Florida is piecing itself together after an opening loss to Michigan. If the Dawgs don’t win this one, UGA X might need doggie grief counseling.

THAT SEASON-OPENING LOSS? SO LAST MONTH

In addition to Florida mentioned above, four other teams felt lousy after their first game but have regrouped and gotten their seasons back on track. They all face a major test in their next game that will give an accurate read on their progress since that opening defeat.

North Carolina State (35). Opening loss: 35-28 to South Carolina in Charlotte. What went wrong: Wolfpack surrendered a touchdown on the opening kickoff and lost two fumbles. Since then: Zero special-teams points allowed and zero turnovers committed. N.C. State remains suspect in pass defense and has surrendered some huge plays through the air, but the run defense has been stout and the sacks are starting to pile up from a talented front. Quarterback Ryan Finley has yet to throw an interception. Next: A big home game Thursday night against Louisville in the battle to be second-best in the ACC Atlantic.

West Virginia (36). Opening loss: 31-24 to Virginia Tech in Landover, Md. What went wrong: Mountaineers ran into a good team and lost a close game. Their biggest problem was failing to force a turnover. Since then: West Virginia has taken the ball away eight times in the last three games, admittedly against very soft competition (East Carolina, Delaware State and Kansas). Next: WVU’s defense will have to be much better Saturday at undefeated TCU than it has been thus far.

Texas A&M (37). Opening loss: 45-44 at UCLA. What went wrong: A historic collapse is what went wrong. Poor coaching, porous defense, and an offense that seized up after starting quarterback Nick Starkel got hurt. The loss was bad enough that most of Aggie Nation wanted to pack Kevin Sumlin’s bags on Labor Day. Since then: Four straight wins, none of them dazzling, but it beats the alternative. The offense has been tweaked to fit freshman QB Kellen Mond’s dual-threat skills, and the defense has racked up a whopping 13 sacks in two SEC games. Next: Alabama comes to College Station. Good luck.

Georgia Tech (38). Opening loss: 42-41 in double overtime to Tennessee in Atlanta. What went wrong: Two critical fumbles gave the Volunteers a chance, and the Yellow Jackets’ defense collapsed late. Paul Johnson made a fully supportable OT decision to go for the win with a two-point conversion and the play failed. Since then: Tech has established KirVonte Benson as an enhanced second running option, taking the load off quarterback TaQuon Marshall. After missing two field goals against the Vols, Tech is 3-for-3 since. Next: After a bye, the Jackets will play their rescheduled game at Miami.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Neal Brown (39), Troy. The latest branch off the Hal Mumme Air Raid tree solidified his status as a fast-rising coach with that stunning upset of LSU. After scaring Clemson to death last year, the Trojans closed the deal in the other Death Valley on Saturday. Brown played for Mumme at Kentucky and coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech before returning to his home state as offensive coordinator to Mark Stoops for two seasons. He replaced institution Larry Blakeney at Troy, modernized the offense and has been reaping the rewards. After a 4-8 debut season, Brown is 14-4.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

They are mentioned elsewhere in this column, but The Dash still must hold up Ed Orgeron and Butch Jones as Co-Bus Riders of the Week. Amazing work, you two. Hard to be that bad at programs that have so much going for them. Get on the bus.

POINT AFTER

The Dash kept it local this past week, but did have a couple of beers with visiting media in town to assess the carnage of Louisville basketball. The rooftop bar Eight Up downtown provided a great setting for a locally brewed Goodwood Pale Ale (40) and a view of the city. Drop by and thank The Dash later.