With Week 6 barreling toward us, the halfway point is upon us. Let’s take a look into the top matchups of the week.
TCU at Kansas (Saturday, Noon ET, ESPNU): Surprised to see this one on the list? Now comes the part where Kansas—that Kansas—has been one of TCU’s toughest opponents for the past three seasons. When the Horned Frogs were competing for a College Football Playoff spot in 2014, they beat the lowly Jayhawks 34–30 (they beat their next three opponents by a combined 129 points). Last year, TCU led by a mere three points entering the fourth quarter and escaped with a 23–17 win. The Horned Frogs have descended to the middle of the Big 12 after a lopsided loss to Oklahoma, so perhaps it’s the Jayhawks’ time to grab that elusive conference win.
No. 6 Houston at Navy (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): It’s a long roadtrip for the Cougars and Ken Niumatalolo’s triple option can vex even the finest defensive minds. Call it upset watch. I’m just telling you to keep an eye out.
Auburn at Mississippi State (Saturday, Noon ET, SEC Network): Remember when it was assumed that Gus Malzahn’s job was safe after he beat LSU? Well, that game cost Les Miles his job, so it’s unlikely that Gus is any more secure. If the Tigers lose to the Bulldogs, a team that couldn’t beat South Alabama and scuffled with UMass for three quarters, then it may be the loss that eventually costs Malzahn his position.
Notre Dame at NC State (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC): Even after logging a 50–33 win over a rebuilding Syracuse last week, the Notre Dame defense still surrendered 489 total yards of offense and 363 through the air. Their next test will be NC State sophomore Ryan Finley, a Boise State transfer who has started the season with a 72.4% completion rate, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer continues to put up stellar numbers (he threw for a career-best 465 yards last week), and without his contributions, the Irish might be winless this season.
Indiana at No. 2 Ohio State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Under Kevin Wilson, Indiana’s offense has surged to become one of the most exciting in the Big Ten. The primarily problem during Wilson’s tenure has been the defense up until this season. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer claimed that the Hoosiers defense is the best that his team will see up to this point this season (including Oklahoma). Remember Indiana led Ohio State in Columbus at halftime last year, and is coming off its stunning 24–21 upset of Michigan State last Saturday. Nobody has shown any ability to limit the Ohio State juggernaut yet (the Buckeyes have scored at least 45 points in every game), but the Hoosiers may be a tougher test than the 29-point spread indicates.
No. 25 Virginia Tech at No. 17 North Carolina (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2): You want points? This game will give you points. After struggling in the season opener against Georgia, North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky has been one of the most electric players in the nation. Over his last three games he’s combined for an astonishing 81% completion percentage, 1290 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has been one of the quietest surprises of the season—flooring most opposing defenses under Justin Fuente’s new offense and quarterback Jerod Evans, who currently has 13 touchdowns and just one interception. With back-to-back stellar defensive performances against Boston College and East Carolina, the Hokies may be prepared to limit a North Carolina offense that has been racing by most of its opponents.
UCLA at Arizona State (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Arizona State’s pass defense is atrocious and Josh Rosen is one of the nation’s most polished and effective QBs. If you want #Pac12AfterDark, there’s a good chance Rosen throws for five or more touchdowns in this one.
Texas vs. No. 20 Oklahoma (Saturday, Noon ET, FS1): It’s not the shiniest rendition of the famed Red River Showdown, but Texas coach Charlie Strong might be coaching for his job and Oklahoma is trying to avoid its third loss in a year when it was expected to compete for a playoff spot. Remember the Sooners entered as 17-point favorites last season and lost 24–17. Texas’s porous defense has allowed 99 points over its last two games, so it’s unclear how the Longhorns plan to stop a star-studded offense of Baker Mayfield, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Now that Charlie Strong, not defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, is running the defense, perhaps the Longhorns have another year of Red River magic left.
No. 9 Tennessee at No. 8 Texas A&M (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS): How much magic does Tennessee have left? The Volunteers are riding a Hail Mary win over Georgia and a furious second-half comeback over Florida in consecutive weeks, and now the reward is a visit to No. 8 Texas A&M. The Volunteers have received improved play from quarterback Josh Dobbs and its defense (most notably defensive end Derek Barnett), but its offensive line remains a bit leaky. That could be a serious problem against Texas A&M, which features the nation’s most fearsome pass rusher (Myles Garrett) and another future NFL player on the same defensive line (Daeshon Hall). Now that quarterback Trevor Knight has proven himself to be a worthy marshal of head coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense, the Aggies are again one of the nation’s hottest teams despite entering the season with a host of question marks. If Tennessee wins this game, it becomes the odds-on favorite to win the SEC East. If the Aggies hold serve, then expect the whispers of them contending for the SEC West title to grow louder.
No. 21 Colorado at USC (Saturday, 4 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Students and fans at the University of Colorado are insistent that the Buffs are back after a decade of struggles. Head coach Mike MacIntyre has a gifted quarterback in Steven Montez, who replaced injured starter Sefo Liufau after the Buffs’ loss to Michigan, as well and a formidable deep threat in wide receiver Shay Fields, who caught three touchdown passes last weekend of 33, 51 and 63 yards. Some are still hesitant to anoint the Buffs a serious contender for the Pac-12 South; it’s clear that Oregon is in a down year and the rest of their wins hardly inspire confidence, but it’s obvious the unit is improved from 2015. The Buffs meet their polar opposite in USC, a longtime blueblood mired in mediocrity under a new a seemingly overmatched head coach in Clay Helton. The Trojans played their first excellent game of the season in their 41–20 shellacking of Arizona State last weekend, anchored by freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. Who finished 23-33 for 352 yards and three touchdowns. Some are speculating that Helton’s job is already on the line, but if Darnold continues his outstanding play, then the first-year coach could be saved.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 16 Arkansas (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
It’s hard to call this a tougher test for Alabama than its game against Ole Miss, but the Crimson Tide will have to duke it out with a methodical, physical Arkansas team that already upset TCU and played Texas A&M close until a couple of busted run coverages. Given Alabama’s inconsistent running game, the focus will likely be on true freshman Jalen Hurts, who continued his stellar freshman season with a poised performance in the Tide’s easy win over Kentucky. It’ll be nasty and brutish and while an upset is a longshot, Arkansas presents a unique challenge for Nick Saban’s squad.
No. 23 Florida State at No. 10 Miami (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
It’s pretty hard to believe that this game is still going off seeing as Hurricane Matthew has forced over 2 million evacuations throughout the state of Florida. If it is indeed played on Saturday, be sure to take a close look at Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, considered by some to be the most pro-ready college QB playing right now and one who could do some significant damage against a reeling Florida State defense.