Conference play is in full swing across the nation, and the matchups are getting better and better. This week will reveal a lot about the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 races with some crucial matchups. Let’s get into it.
5. No. 7 USC @ No. 20 Utah, 8 p.m., FOX, Utah -3
USC and their high-powered offense goes to Rice-Eccles Stadium to take on Utah. The Utes recently got run over on their trip to play UCLA, the other PAC-12 school in Los Angeles. Leading up to last week’s game, the Utes were riding high, but now they face a pivotal battle to see if they are still in contention for the Pac-12 championship. Utah’s defense has to have a better performance against USC than they did against UCLA, in which they allowed over 300 yards and four touchdowns to Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
This summer, the Pac-12 did away with conference divisions, meaning the top two teams will make the championship at the end of the regular season. USC has playoff aspirations, and the road to the CFP would be much harder with a loss. The USC defense showed its mettle last week in a 30-14 win over Washington State. USC has a complete offensive attack as well, and running back Travis Dye is running at his best level this season. Wide receivers Jordan Addison and Mario Williams give quarterback Caleb Williams no shortage of targets.
The PAC-12 has a reputation for destroying its playoff chances in conference play. Will it continue this season?
4. No. 15 NC State @ No. 18 Syracuse, 3:30 p.m., ACC Network, NC State -4
Syracuse is undefeated? In October? In football? Surprisingly, yes. Syracuse is 5-0 for the first time since 1987. In a make-or-break season for head coach Dino Babers, the Orange have come through. Predicted to finish last in the ACC, the Orange have had crucial victories over Purdue and Virginia in their spring through the first half of the schedule.
Babers has seemingly heard the cries for him to be fired, and the start to this season have quelled the flames. Running back Sean Tucker has looked like a game-changing player, perhaps even a dark-horse Heisman candidate. In their 59-0 romp over Wagner, the teams agreed to shorten the third and fourth quarters, so that the game could mercifully come to an end.
NC State represents the toughest challenge for Syracuse so far. NC State needs the win to be seen as a legitimate contender in the ACC, after losing handily to Clemson. Quarterback Devin Leary and the Wolfpack offense has put up points this season, and the indoor environment of the Carrier Dome is conducive for offensive success.
Can Syracuse continue their Cinderella season? Or, will NC State prove their strength?
3. No. 8 Oklahoma State @ No. 13 TCU, 3:30 p.m., ABC, TCU -2
The top-ranked teams in the Big 12 face off after two emotional wins. Oklahoma State squeaked by an upset-minded Texas Tech last weekend, and TCU went on the road and beat a resurgent Kansas team.
For the Cowboys, Spencer Sanders has been a high-level quarterback. The fourth-year starter had three touchdowns last weekend and is reading defenses extremely well. Bryson Green was Sanders’ favorite target, catching 5 passes for 115 yards and a score. The Cowboys outscored the Red Raiders 21-7 in the second half, pulling away for a 10-point victory.
TCU overpowered Kansas through a stellar outing from quarterback Max Duggan and the emergence of wide receiver Quinten Johnson. Johnson had over 200 yards receiving, and the Cowboys defensive staff will have to have a special game plan in mind to stop him from taking over the game. TCU is 5-0 for the first time since 2017 in a surprising season, the first under head coach Sonny Dykes. Duggan and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley have built an offensive attack that could be the best in the Big 12.
TCU was predicted to finish seventh in the Big 12. Can they keep proving the pundits wrong? Or will Oklahoma State take another step forward in their potential playoff bid?
2. No. 10 Penn State @ No. 5 Michigan, Noon, FOX, Michigan -7.5
The titanic game in the Big Ten this weekend is in the Big House, as two undefeated programs face off to help decide the Big Ten East. Michigan is coming off of a 31-10 win over Indiana, but the score is deceptive. Michigan was tied 10-10 at halftime, but a 97-yard drive in the third quarter helped the Wolverines pull away. Michigan’s defense also stepped up, allowing just 29 yards in the second half.
Penn State is 5-0 and coming off of their bye week, which they needed after a sluggish performance against Northwestern. Quarterback Sean Clifford has done just enough to win games for the Nittany Lions, but the Michigan defense represents a new challenge. Last week, the Wolverines sacked Indiana seven times.
Last year, both teams played an extremely close game, with a late Michigan touchdown marking the difference. Fox will host their Big Noon Saturday pregame show, their fourth straight week at a Michigan game. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy, running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards and wide receivers Ronnie Bell and Cornelius Johnson headline the multifaceted Wolverine attack. Michigan’s offensive line has been stout, establishing themselves as one of the better units in the country.
This is a game that isn’t technically a rivalry, but one that always has huge national implications.
1. No. 3 Alabama @ No. 6 Tennessee, 3:30 p.m, CBS, ‘Bama -8
Alabama is one of the top teams in college football, but they look different from years prior in one important aspect: they look mortal.
In the second week of the season, Texas took Alabama down to the wire, eventually losing a one-point game. Last weekend, a Texas A&M team that has struggled at key points made Alabama fight to the last play. The Aggies’ pass was incomplete, so the Crimson Tide are still undefeated and in the driver’s seat of the SEC West.
Tennessee has looked surprisingly good and could potentially challenge Georgia and Alabama in the race for the SEC crown. Last weekend, Tennessee obliterated LSU on the road. Hendon Hooker shined again at quarterback, and the Volunteers are off to their best start since 2016. The top-10 showdown reaches another level when you factor in the rivalry. Every third Saturday in October, the Crimson Tide and the Volunteers battle for what has historically been a huge game in determining the SEC champion. Tennessee desperately needs a win in the series. They have lost the last 15 matchups. The winner of the game gets to smoke traditional victory cigars.
Can Tennessee win for the first time in the Nick Saban era? Or will Alabama continue their dominance over their rival?
Contact Joseph Tunney at email@example.com