The Big One: Why Week 10 Will Tell Us a Lot About the 2018 College Football Playoff

November does not ease its way into the high-stakes games with massive playoff implications. From UCF-Temple to Alabama-LSU, Week 10 should set the table for the month ahead.
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The shift from October to November signals the beginning of a new stage of the college football season. As temperatures drop, stakes rise, postseason pictures begin to crystalize and losses become much more difficult to overcome.

Several teams with realistic hopes of a conference and/or national title face difficult tests with serious postseason implications this weekend. Survive their Week 10 crucibles, and teams will find themselves much closer to the ultimate goal; lose, and the outlook for the final month of the season gets much bleaker.

Any early look at the six colossal matchups that will define Week 10:

Alabama at LSU (8 p.m. ET, CBS)

These teams are ranked inside the top five, sit one game apart in the SEC West and hate each other, so this matchup really didn’t need any additional hype. A win for Alabama would all but clinch the Crimson Tide’s spot in the SEC Championship game. If LSU can pull off the upset—the Tigers are a staggering 14.5-point underdog despite being the No. 4 team in the country and playing at home—it would put Alabama’s West hopes in peril with just three games remaining. From LSU linebacker Devin White’s first-half targeting suspension to Tua Tagovailoa’s brilliance to the larger national title conversation, there will be no shortage of storylines.

Georgia at Kentucky (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Kentucky has been arguably the best story in the SEC season, as Mark Stoops’s team has taken an impressive if unexpected step forward after back-to-back seven-win seasons. The Wildcats are 7–1 and sit tied atop the SEC East standings alongside Georgia. This will be the biggest Kentucky home game in a long, long time. Consider this wild nugget: Saturday’s matchup between will be just the second time since Kroger Field (formerly Commonwealth Stadium) opened that both teams playing in it will be ranked. The Wildcats have a chance for a program-changing win that would punch their ticket to the first SEC title game in school history. Georgia, fresh off an impressive 36–17 win over Florida, would claim the East with a win. All the Bulldogs’ big goals, including a return to the playoff, remain within reach, but they’ll need to win this crucial game that looked like a walkover when the season began.

Penn State at Michigan (3:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Michigan has been extremely impressive since its season-opening defeat at Notre Dame, a loss that looks ever more palatable as the Irish have gone on to prove themselves as one of the country’s premier teams. Jim Harbaugh & Co. host a Penn State team this week that’s coming off a hard-fought 30–24 win over Iowa. Regardless of the outcome in this game on Sunday, the Big Ten East is likely going to come down to Michigan–Ohio State on Thanksgiving weekend. Michigan leads the division with a 5–0 record, with Ohio State a game behind at 4–1, and the Wolverines play at Rutgers then host Indiana before that season-ending matchup in Columbus. After two conference losses all but killed its hopes of winning the East, Penn State is realistically playing for a chance to sneak into the New Year’s Six at this point. Don’t expect that to dampen the buzz at the Big House on Saturday afternoon. Michigan has its eyes on a more lucrative prize: a national title. If they win out, they’re almost certainly in; one more loss would put them in a daunting hole.

West Virginia at Texas (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

Texas’ playoff chances took a big hit with Saturday’s 38–35 loss at Oklahoma State, but Tom Herman’s team still has a chance for a Big 12 title that would go a long way toward selling the Longhorns’ return to national powerhouse status. They sit in a three-way tie for first place at 4–1 with Oklahoma, whom they beat in early October, and West Virginia, whom they host on Saturday. A win over the Mountaineers would bring Texas to the brink of the conference title game with three winnable games (at Texas Tech, vs. Iowa State, at Kansas) remaining. West Virginia doesn’t have a truly impressive win yet—their best victory so far is probably Texas Tech—but they get two chances to get one of those, with Texas this weekend and Oklahoma on the final Saturday of the regular season. One-loss West Virginia has a ton of work to do if they’re going to sneak back into the playoff picture, but a win this week is a great place to start.

Notre Dame at Northwestern (7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

After a four-game win streak punctuated by a 31–17 pounding of Wisconsin, Northwestern finds itself in control of the Big Ten West. It has been an incredible turnaround for a team that began its season 1–3 (with home losses to Duke and Akron) but has now won 12 of its last 13 Big Ten games. Week 10 presents a huge opportunity with little downside: a home game, under the lights, against Notre Dame. A win on a national stage would do wonders for recruiting and program legitimacy, while a loss wouldn’t take away from the Wildcats’ Big Ten hopes—the more important game for that comes the following week at Iowa in a de facto Big Ten West title game. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is four wins away from making the playoff, and it won’t get a chance for a late statement win in a conference title game, so a slip-up in Evanston could be costly.

Temple at UCF (Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Not sure if you’ve heard, but UCF has won 20 football games in a row. The Knights have continued to dominate the AAC and tell anyone and everyone that they deserve playoff consideration. The Owls have a great chance to torpedo UCF’s playoff pipe dream and assume control of the AAC East. UCF needs to keep winning and winning big to have a chance, but the Knights’ uninspiring schedule threatens to leave them firmly outside the final-four picture with just four games remaining. If they even momentarily stumble in their quest to run the table, they run the risk of falling off the national radar.