Even though the Irish have a bye this week, there is still a ton of entertaining college football to watch. Conference play is beginning to heat up, so there are a lot of matchups that could play huge roles in determining the rest of the college football season. In my opinion, it’s the best top five any weekend has had all year. With that being said, let’s get into the games.
5. No. 4 Michigan @ Iowa, Noon, FOX, (Michigan -10.5)
Michigan is 4-0 and a Big Ten and College Football playoff contender. They are extremely deep at receiver and running back, with multiple key playmakers. Running back Donovan Edwards did not play against Maryland last week, but thankfully the other star in the Wolverine’s backfield, Blake Corum, picked up the slack with 243 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. After playing three of the worst teams in Division 1 to open the year, Michigan is coming off of a 34-27 win over Maryland that offered areas to improve upon.
Michigan fans will be looking for an improved pass rush and more accurate throws from quarterback J.J. McCarthy. However, offense may be tough to come by against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes have the best scoring defense in the country, but if they want to compete with the likes of Michigan they will need more from their offense. Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras has been derided by Hawkeye fans as he passed for just 524 yards and one touchdown over four games. Iowa has the benefit of home-field advantage and Michigan hasn’t won at Iowa since 2005. Can the Wolverines exorcise their past demons? Do the Hawkeyes have another upset in them?
4. No. 2 Alabama @ No. 20 Arkansas, 3:30 p.m., CBS, (Alabama -16.5)
After being taken to the brink against Texas in the second week of the season, Alabama has reasserted itself in blowout wins over UL Monroe and Vanderbilt. However, questions still remain about how the Tide will look against another quality opponent. Quarterback Bryce Young looked on point versus Vanderbilt with 385 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs transitioned into a receiving role last week, ceding running back duties to Jase McClellan. Both McClellan and Gibbs ended up scoring a touchdown, so the versatility of these players will provide another headache to the Arkansas defense. Arkansas is coming off of a heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M last week, where a fumble and a missed field goal doomed them. They are also feeling the loss of all SEC safety Jalen Catalon being out for the season. However, Arkansas still has a lot of offensive talent that should make Nick Saban sweat, and they have the benefit of the game being played on their turf.
3. No. 7 Kentucky @ No. 14 Ole Miss, Noon, ESPN (Ole Miss -6.5)
Kentucky is 4-0 and seventh in the country, their highest ranking since 1977. Quarterback Will Levis and head coach Mark Stoops have helped turn what has always been considered a “basketball school” into a dark horse SEC contender. Levis has passed for nearly 1200 yards and 10 touchdowns through just four games, showing that he could reach historic marks for a program that is usually an SEC bottom-dweller.
Kentucky welcomes the return of running back Chris Rodriguez, as they hope that he will spark a running game that has been struggling. They head down to Oxford, Miss for the first time since 2001. After airing it out with quarterback Matt Corral last season, the Rebels seem content to have a more balanced attack this season. Quarterback Jaxson Dart has managed games well, but hasn’t been a transcendent piece. Ole Miss will look to control the line of scrimmage against Kentucky, aiming to dominate a porous Wildcat o-line (allowing four sacks a game). Both teams have struggled with consistency, with Ole Miss sleepwalking to a win over Tulsa last week while Kentucky faced early struggles with Northern Illinois. Both teams need this win badly to prove that they are a legit SEC contender.
2. No. 9 Oklahoma State @ No. 16 Baylor, 3:30 p.m., FOX, (Baylor -2.5)
A rematch of last year’s Big 12 Championship game could end up being one of the biggest regular-season games in the following season. Baylor has been great ever since the start of last season, getting back on track after a double-overtime loss to BYU with a tough win on the road against Iowa State. The Bears may possess the best rushing defense in college football, allowing a paltry 79.5 yards per contest. Quarterback Blake Shapen had a much better day than he did against BYU, committing no turnovers in a game that probably served as a confidence builder. Dominating the line of scrimmage without committing turnovers usually results in success, so it’s no surprise that this Baylor team is a tough-out.
Oklahoma State, on the other hand, has looked like an offensive juggernaut through three games. In their first three games, quarterback Spencer Sanders has thrown for over 300 yards per game and 10 touchdowns, compared to just one pick. Head coach Mike Gundy seems to have another team that will contend for the Big 12 crown. Last year, the game went down to the final play with Oklahoma State coming up a yard short. Could we see a similar legendary finish on Saturday?
1. No. 10 NC State @ No. 5 Clemson, 7:30 PM, ABC, (Clemson -6.5)
The only matchup between two top-10 schools is a clash between two ACC heavyweights. Clemson hung on in a double-overtime shootout over ranked Wake Forest last weekend that saw an amazing performance from quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. Uiagalelei and the Clemson offense were able to keep pace and outlast Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons, with the former throwing for 375 yards and five touchdowns. Seeing the offense produce like that is a welcome sign for Clemson fans, but the defense has to lock it back down against another quality opponent in NC State. Hyped as a dark horse ACC contender to start the season, the Wolfpack have largely looked up to the task. After going on the road to Eastern Carolina and escaping with a one-point win, NC State won their next three games rather comfortably, including a 27-14 win over Texas Tech. Clemson will undoubtedly serve as NC State’s biggest test. College Gameday is on-site for the game, which may serve as an omen for a Clemson victory: the Tigers are 6-1 when hosting the show. Can NC State show they’re a legitimate contender? Can Clemson continue its journey back to the College Football Playoff?