Down
enlarge
Biggest takeaways from first College Football Playoff rankings
2:05 | College Football
Biggest takeaways from first College Football Playoff rankings
Thursday November 3rd, 2016

If there was ever a weekend to sleep in, this might be the one to do it. Here is your guide to a backloaded Week 10 in college football.

FOR FIENDS

Navy vs. Notre Dame (Saturday, 11:30 a.m. ET, CBS) (in Jacksonville): The Irish salvaged a potentially humiliating defeat against Miami last weekend (they blew an early 20–0 lead), but their defense looks moderately improved and hopes of a .500 season aren’t out of the question. To do that, they’ll need to knock off a Navy team that already has one hallmark win this season (Houston) and can score in bunches behind head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s triple option. Quarterback Will Worth isn’t quite the dual threat that Keenan Reynolds was, but he has 13 rushing touchdowns and has led the Midshipmen to at least 40 points in three consecutive games. Notre Dame’s defense has been primarily susceptible to the pass this season, but it’ll be (somewhat) tantalizing to see if it can limit an offense that embarrasses unprepared teams.

No. 4 Texas A&M at Mississippi State (Saturday, Noon ET, SEC Network): The College Football Playoff committee rewarded the Aggies the coveted fourth spot in the first edition of this year’s rankings, much to the surprise of several pundits and to the likely rancor of Washington fans. Kevin Sumlin’s squad should roll easily past a struggling Bulldogs team that survived an unlikely shootout against Samford last weekend, but SEC road games are seldom easy. Expect a big game from quarterback Trevor Knight, who should open up a struggling Mississippi State defense by using his legs and feast on the 108th-ranked passing unit with his arm.

No. 5 Washington at Cal (Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): A week after finishing outside of the top-four in the College Football Playoff rankings, Washington gets to play during the dreaded 10:30 ET slot where few fans outside of the West Coast will watch them. Facing off against Cal, a team with a high-powered spread and a porous defense, might be the best way to see why Washington is as good as it is. Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has masterfully planned against Air Raid-style attacks before (see Washington’s win over Washington State in last year’s Apple Cup) and head coach Chris Petersen will have quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin ready to tear apart a haggard and struggling defense. This one could get ugly in a hurry unless Cal scores plenty of early points.

 

PRETTY GOOD

Texas at Texas Tech (Saturday, Noon ET, Fox Sports 1): Most pundits and fans think that Charlie Strong will be out as the Texas head coach by season’s end even if the Longhorns win out to finish 8–4. If his team loses on Saturday, then Strong will definitely be fired by season’s end. Texas Tech’s offense remains one of the nation’s most prolific, but the Red Raiders’ sad excuse for a defense should allow bruising back D’Onta Foreman plenty of running room. Whether Strong is a lame-duck coach is known only by Texas boosters and a privileged few in the athletic department. But if he loses to an in-state rival that usually hovers around .500, the betting line will move heavily toward “fire.”

This one should be worth it for the inevitable pointsplosion that comes with watching any Texas Tech game.

Oregon at USC (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Watch this one for USC quarterback Sam Darnold, the budding freshman star who shredded a beleaguered Cal defense for 231 yards and five TDs last week to continue his outstanding first season. Now, Darnold gets Oregon, who ranks 121st in the nation in pass defense and can’t seem to stop anybody. Darnold has saved the Trojans’ season and, possibly, Clay Helton’s job. All as a redshirt freshman!

Syracuse at No. 2 Clemson (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2): Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson appears to be rounding into form after a strong showing last weekend against Florida State, which means he may finally be nudging his way back into the Heisman Trophy conversation. He’ll likely have the opportunity to pad his stats against Syracuse’s defense, which spends a ton of time on the field because of how quickly its offense plays. The Orange have turned in strong performances in their back-to-back wins over Virginia Tech and Boston College, nudging them closer to bowl eligibility in head coach Dino Babers’s first season. The star has been receiver Amba Etta-Tawo, the Maryland graduate transfer who is already over 1,000 yards for the season and has logged two games of 200-plus-yards receiving. He’ll likely be countered by Clemson defensive back Cordrea Tankersley, who is the Tigers’ best defensive back.

Winning in Death Valley is probably too tall an order for the Orange, but Babers’s offense is a nightmare for any opponent, and Clemson has been one of the nation’s most unpredictable teams. It’s an unlikely upset, but it’s not impossible.

College Football
Bowl Projections: Big Ten fills New Year's Six bowls after Week 9

MUCH BETTER

No. 8 Wisconsin at Northwestern (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC): Upset alert? Northwestern isn’t an intimidating road venue, but the Wildcats almost recorded a substantial upset last week in Columbus (they may have had Pat Fitzgerald decided to onside kick instead of kicking deep with just over three minutes remaining). After a dreadful start to the season that featured back-to-back losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State, Northwestern has emerged as a formidable Big Ten foe. Plus, Northwestern has bested Wisconsin two years in a row.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson, who thrived running the ball last season but barely completed 50% of his passes, has improved under center and looks more like the dual threat head coach Pat Fitzgerald likely envisioned. His success (10 TDs over the last four games) has eased the pressure on running back Justin Jackson, who has already logged 188 carries through the first eight games (an average of just over 23 per game).

Wisconsin survived a difficult overtime test against undefeated Nebraska in Madison last weekend by again relying on its staunch defense. Freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook has been steady, if unspectacular for the Badgers. The problem is the Badgers keep relying on their defense to win games. If Thorson and the ‘Cats can get a couple early touchdowns, Wisconsin may not be equipped to come back.

Iowa at No. 12 Penn State (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network): The Nittany Lions are a national darling after knocking off Ohio State two weeks ago. Now they get a stiff home test against Iowa, which has won nine consecutive road games and is trying to remain in the Big Ten West race. The Hawkeyes will need to limit the Nittany Lions’ resurgent defensive line, which manhandled the Buckeyes in the late stages of their upset, as well as running back Saquon Barkley, who logged his second 200-plus-yard rushing game of the season during a 62–24 rout of Purdue.

It’ll be a tall order for Iowa, which begins a November gauntlet that also includes Michigan and Nebraska. There’s a renewed vigor around State College, but the Hawkeyes may be the team to put a dent in the optimism.

No. 10 Nebraska at No. 6 Ohio State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC): After a gut-wrenching overtime loss in Madison last week, Nebraska’s slate doesn’t get any easier as it must pay a visit to Columbus. The advantage is that the Huskers may be getting the Buckeyes at their most vulnerable. After being shocked in State College two weeks ago, Ohio State was lucky to survive a test from Northwestern at home last week. Its offensive line play has been suspect and the offensive pace has generally slowed. J.T. Barrett was considered a Heisman contender after the first four games of the season, but hasn’t compiled any noteworthy performances since picking apart an overmatched Rutgers defense to start October.

Head coach Urban Meyer is one of the best in the nation at identifying and immediately remedying what troubles his teams, but Nebraska will likely keep this one close, as it has with almost every team this season.

This one might be a grind, and if it is, Nebraska could pull the upset to knock the Buckeyes out of playoff contention.

No. 1 Alabama at No. 13 LSU (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET): Doesn’t every college football fan look forward to this game every year? I don’t need to sell you on why you should watch, but you should consult Andy Staples’s primer on how Alabama morphed from a pro-style unit to its sleeker 2016 self.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.