Like we’ve done in years past, every week throughout the season we’ll be highlighting the best games of the coming weekend. We’ll be doing it a little differently this year, however. We’ll rank the top five games we’re most intrigued by while also providing some insight on other games that will be worth your time.
Welcome to the most important weekend of the college football season so far.
The second batch of College Football Playoff rankings are out, but they will likely look a whole lot different on Tuesday night.
We’ve got a ridiculous seven games on the slate between ranked teams, including three featuring top-10 squads. And better yet, the games are spread fairly evenly through the entire day across all time slots.
Let the games begin.
Starting with the five best games, we broke down this week’s slate for you:
5. No. 12 Michigan State (7-2, 5-1) at No. 13 Ohio State (7-2, 5-1) — Noon, FOX: After the shocking 55-24 loss at Iowa, Ohio State is pretty much out of the College Football Playoff, but the Buckeyes still have the Big Ten to play for. And they have to get through Michigan State to win the Big Ten East. MSU upset Penn State at home last week after a three-hour weather delay. Now, the Spartans’ trip to Columbus has, more or less, become the East title game.
Michigan State has exceeded expectations, especially on offense. If you haven’t seen him yet, you’re in for a treat with Sparty QB Brian Lewerke, who keeps getting better and better and is only a redshirt sophomore. MSU tends to ruin Ohio State seasons. Iowa knocked OSU from the national championship picture, but the Spartans can be the team that makes it three years in a row without the Buckeyes winning the Big Ten.
4. No. 20 Iowa (6-3, 3-3) at No. 8 Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0) — 3:30 p.m., ABC: Wisconsin probably wasn’t too upset to see Iowa jump into this week’s CFP rankings. The undefeated Badgers have heard about their weak schedule all year. Now, UW will finally play a ranked opponent with Iowa coming to Camp Randall. If Wisconsin — led by freshman RB Jonathan Taylor — can take care of the Hawkeyes, beat Michigan and then dispose of the Big Ten East champion in the Big Ten title game, contrary to what some might say, there’s no chance it would miss out on the Playoff.
But first things first. Iowa’s performance against Ohio State, mainly putting up 55 points, is certainly something that will get Wisconsin’s attention. It has felt, at times, like UW was kind of coasting against lackluster Big Ten West opponents. With the way Nathan Stanley and the Hawkeyes are playing, Wisconsin cannot afford to let up whatsoever.
3. No. 1 Georgia (9-0, 6-0) at No. 10 Auburn (7-2, 5-1) — 3:30 p.m., CBS: Auburn can shake up the CFP picture pretty drastically over the next few weeks when it takes on No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama in the next three weeks. Yeah, that ain’t easy, but the Tigers looked really good in last week’s win over Texas A&M. Jarrett Stidham completed 20-of-27 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Auburn also put up 228 yards rushing. Things will be much tougher against Georgia and its No. 4 ranked defense.
The Bulldogs have had a pretty simple formula. They run the ball right down your throat with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb without forcing freshman QB Jake Fromm to throw the ball too much. But when he has thrown the ball in recent weeks, he’s been very efficient. Against South Carolina he went 16-of-22 for 196 yards and two scores without throwing an INT.
Auburn’s rush defense is pretty solid, so he may need to make some throws late in the ballgame to pull out a win. He hasn’t had to do that in a raucous road environment since his first career start at Notre Dame.
2. No. 6 TCU (8-1, 5-1) at No. 5 Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1) — 8 p.m., FOX: This game might have ultimately decided the Big 12 champion if this was 2016, but with the Big 12 title game’s return, this could be round one of two between the Sooners and Horned Frogs. And because of last week’s chaos in the Big Ten, the Big 12 champion has a far greater chance of squeaking into the Playoff.
Sooners QB Baker Mayfield, the Heisman frontrunner, put up nearly 600 yards through the air last week in the win over rival Oklahoma State. TCU’s defense will present a much tougher challenge. The Horned Frogs are No. 6 nationally in total defense, allowing just 284.1 yards per game. OU is typically a very balanced offense, but TCU’s top-ranked rush defense (69.7 yards per game and 2.15 yards per rush) could put the game in Mayfield’s hands.
1. No. 3 Notre Dame (8-1) at No. 7 Miami (8-0, 6-0) — 8 p.m., ABC: This might be a College Football Playoff elimination game.
Despite its undefeated record, the Hurricanes are No. 7 because of a bevy of close wins over lackluster opponents. Handling Virginia Tech fairly easily last week gave Miami a dose of legitimacy, but a win over the third-ranked Irish will do a lot more than that. Miami was able to overcome three Malik Rosier turnovers in the win over the Hokies, but it can’t afford a similar number of mix-ups against the Irish. The Canes would, however, love a similar rushing output from Rosier and Travis Homer, who has emerged as the starter after the injury to Mark Walton.
The more time Miami eats up clock with its running game, the less time Notre Dame’s explosive offense will see the field. The Irish’s rushing offense — the fifth-best in the country — is led by QB Brandon Wimbush (639 yards, 13 TDs) and RB Josh Adams (1,191 yards, 9 TDs), both of whom were banged up in last week’s win over Wake Forest but are good to go for Saturday. With Wimbush and Adams leading the way, the Irish have reeled off seven wins in a row. But there’s no room for error. And a Notre Dame loss would open the door for a few other teams, including Miami, to move into the top four.
Keep an eye on…
No. 9 Washington (8-1, 5-1) at Stanford (6-3, 5-2) — 10:30 p.m. (Friday), FS1: Washington is the only Pac-12 team left with a prayer to reach the College Football Playoff. UW cannot afford to slip up Friday night at Stanford. To do so, the Huskies need to contain Stanford RB Bryce Love like Washington State did in its win over the Cardinal in Pullman last week. Stanford’s passing game doesn’t bring a lot to the table, so Love needs a big game to keep his team in the Pac-12 North race. Stanford is just a half-game behind UW and WSU.
No. 15 Oklahoma State (7-2, 4-2) at No. 21 Iowa State (6-3, 4-2) — Noon, ABC/ESPN2: Can Iowa State pull off the trifecta of Big 12 upsets? The Cyclones have already knocked off Oklahoma and TCU, but fell back down to Earth a little with a loss at West Virginia last weekend, while Oklahoma State dropped a wacky one against OU. Both teams are 4-2 in Big 12 play. A win by Iowa State could mean a spot in the title game for the Cyclones as they have the tiebreaker over both Oklahoma and TCU.
No. 2 Alabama (9-0, 6-0) at No. 16 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2) — 7 p.m., ESPN: If it happens, Mississippi State will end up being Alabama’s best win of the regular season for now. The Bulldogs destroyed LSU earlier in the year and the Crimson Tide didn’t exactly light the world on fire in the win over the Tigers last weekend. Alabama is a little beat up, especially at linebacker. That could present some issues with the running prowess of MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald. On the other side, however, the Bulldogs are in for quite a challenge trying to stop Bama’s running game.
Boise State (7-2, 5-0) at Colorado State (6-4, 4-2) — 10:30 p.m., CBSSN: Boise State, which hasn’t lost yet in Mountain West play, still (barely) is in the picture to represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl. The Broncos need a lot of help and can’t afford any slip-ups. That starts Saturday night in Fort Collins. The Broncos would be sitting pretty atop the Mountain Division with a win here while Colorado State, which started off 4-0 in MWC play, is looking to rebound after two straight losses.
Channel surf through…
No. 17 Virginia Tech (7-2, 3-2) at Georgia Tech (4-4, 3-3) — 12:20 p.m., ACCN: Virginia Tech allowed 210 rushing yards in the loss to Miami and now has to deal with Georgia Tech’s triple option. The Yellow Jackets, who have three losses by four points or less, need this one to reach a bowl game. The road team has won the last four times in this series.
Florida State (3-5, 3-4) at No. 4 Clemson (8-1, 6-1) — 3:30 p.m., ESPN: Florida State finally got back in the win column last week against Syracuse and now has a realistic path to bowl eligibility. The Seminoles aren’t as big of underdogs (16 points) as you might think against the Tigers. Maybe the team we thought FSU would be at the beginning of the year will show up and make this a close game.
No. 19 Washington State (8-2, 5-2) at Utah (5-4, 2-4) — 5:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Washington State needs to win to keep its Pac-12 North title hopes alive, but it won’t be easy. Both of the Cougs’ losses are on the road this season and Rice-Eccles Stadium is one of the toughest places in the Pac-12 to play. Utah needs to avoid turnovers to pull off the upset.
Purdue (4-5, 2-4) at No. 25 Northwestern (6-3, 4-2) — 7 p.m., ESPN2: Northwestern has reeled off four straight after a 2-3 start, including three straight overtime wins. The Wildcats have a very good shot at finishing 9-3, which could serve as a bolster for Wisconsin’s CFP resume down the road. Purdue has already exceeded expectations in its first year under Jeff Brohm and still has an outside shot to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2012.
Upset watch (Last week: 2-2; 19-17-3 overall)
Duke at Army (+3): Even though Duke (4-5, 1-5) is coming off a bye, this line surprised me. Army (7-2) has the top rushing offense in the country and is outpacing all of the other option teams in yards per rush (6.26). Army’s defense is damn good, too. Give me the Black Knights outright at home.
West Virginia (+2.5) at Kansas State: Manhattan is a tough place to play, but I don’t really see Kansas State (5-4, 3-3), coming off back-to-back road wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, being able to keep up with Will Grier and the WVU (6-3, 4-2) offense.
No. 23 NC State at Boston College (+3): NC State (6-3, 4-1), looking to bounce back from tough losses to Notre Dame and Clemson, has a trip to Boston to face a BC (5-4, 3-3) team coming off a bye for a noon kickoff. The Eagles have also won three in a row and are averaging 40.3 ppg during that streak.
Virginia (+11.5) at Louisville: I’m a little leery about this one because it’s been almost a month since Louisville (5-4, 2-4) played a home game, but the Cardinals are 1-7 against the spread this year as a favorite. Virginia (6-3, 3-2), which clinched bowl eligibility last week, should have enough offense to cover.
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