Oct. 8 has been the date many of us have circled on our calendars for months, all because of one matchup in particular happening in Tuscaloosa. That game has less juice than we expected coming into the season, but it still makes our list of top 10 games to watch this weekend.
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Tennessee (-3) at LSU
These teams haven’t gotten together all too often over the last decade, but there have been fireworks in the past, including 2010’s shall we say … interesting clock management and substitutions at the end of the game.
We don’t expect to see that type of wackiness in this game, but it’s an interesting daytime matchup for LSU.
What to watch: LSU’s offensive line vs. Tennessee’s front. Everyone knows the Vols can score—seemingly at will—but for LSU to keep up they will have to keep quarterback Jayden Daniels clean. The Tigers allow him to be sacked at a near nation-worst rate on non-garbage-time possessions.
TCU (-6.5) at Kansas
This is the big one for the week. Lawrence, Kans., is the center of the college football universe—just like we all expected coming into the season. Lance Leipold has this program revved up for this game with a third-straight sellout and College GameDay in town. The buzz is palpable, and the Jayhawks have been for real this season. But TCU is no slouch, and the Frogs have proven they can score in bunches.
What to watch: Kansas’s offense simply because it is Kansas’s offense. The Jayhawks are wholly unique in the way they dress their offense up with motions and shifts both pre- and post-snap. If you’re not sound on defense, you’ll get run over. And quarterback Jalon Daniels can seriously spin it.
Texas (-9) at Oklahoma
There aren’t many rivalries where you truly can throw the records out the window, but the Red River Showdown is one. If last year showed us anything, it’s that you simply must expect the unexpected in this game. It seems apparent that Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers is going to play in this game, but backup Hudson Card steadied the ship admirably over the last few weeks in his absence.
What to watch: Steve Sarkisian vs. Brent Venables—two of the best play-callers in the sport go at it. Venables clearly has a lot of work left to do as his Sooners got shellacked by TCU last weekend. This week, Sark will test the Oklahoma defense in different ways, with comparatively less vertical passing and more crossing routes that will test how well OU can pass routes off and communicate.
Auburn at Georgia (-29.5), 3:30 p.m.
If you want a hot-seat game of the week, this is it. Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin has been firmly on the hot seat since the spring, and a 14-point lead blown against Missouri (in a game they was luckily won due to a turnover in overtime) and a 17-point blown lead against LSU in a loss last week have turned up the temperature. Harsin could really use a win, but Georgia’s own close shaves in the last two weeks have likely added some renewed focus to the Dawgs as they continue on their championship campaign.
What to watch: Auburn’s offensive line vs. Georgia’s front. Simply put, there has been some trash talk.
Utah (-3.5) at UCLA, 3:30 p.m.
Maybe you’ve forgotten about the Utes over the last few weeks. They’ve just gone about their business crunching opponents as they geared up for a stiff test in Los Angeles. The Bruins have been putting up points with a remarkably efficient offense so far this season. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has shown consistent growth this season as a passer, but a ball-hawkish Utah secondary that had three picks last weekend looks large up next.
What to watch: WR Jake Bobo against the Utes’ secondary. Bobo is the Bruins’ leading receiver, but Utah has made its money under Kyle Whittingham with stingy physical defense. UCLA’s passing game is all about short completions to set up YAC and keep drives going.
UNC at Miami (-3.5), 4 p.m.
Last we saw Miami, it was getting outscored by Middle Tennessee. Hopefully in the bye week, the Canes have found a way to retool what’s broken, and fixing an offense that has sputtered in its last two weeks should be at the top of the list.
What to watch: Tyler Van Dyke vs. UNC’s pass coverage. The Heels have been objectively one of the worst defenses in the country, and if Van Dyke is going to get his mojo back as the draft darling he entered the season as, this is a good time to start.
Kansas State (-2) at Iowa State, 7:30 p.m.
The Big 12 has a very competitive middle and upper echelon this season, and if the Cyclones lose this game, they may rapidly find themselves underwater in the league race as it would be three conference losses in a row. Kansas State continues its run of steady competence under Chris Klieman, especially on offense, which is a welcome change from the last few years.
What to watch: The special teams. Iowa State’s special teams unit went a long way in losing them the game against Kansas last week, including going 1–3 in field goals—including one kick that would have sent the game to overtime late in the fourth quarter—muffing a punt and ceding a long kick return. That must be cleaned up moving forward for the Cyclones in what may be another close game.
Washington State at USC (-13), 7:30 p.m.
Don’t look now, but with QB Cameron Ward, the Cougars may be able to play spoiler in this game—especially if he plays as he did against Oregon a couple of weeks back. Wazzu has been a surprise in the Pac-12 this season, giving Oregon a serious scare. Now it goes on the road against the Trojans.
What to watch: USC’s defense and turnovers. The Trojans have an outstanding +14 turnover margin, primarily because they lead the nation in takeaways. It’s buoyed the defense this season, but it doesn’t mean they’ll always be able to count on them. If they have to play without the boost turnovers can bring, can they still be as stout?
Texas A&M at Alabama (-20), 8 p.m.
This was supposed to be the game we built up to since May, but instead it’s an undercard to other things on the day despite its prime-time perch. Why? Look no further than A&M’s putrid offense:
Texas A&M’s offense currently stinks. It’s 63rd in offensive SP+ rating, 95th in standard down success rate, 63rd in yards per play, 95th in third-down conversion rate, 89th in red zone touchdown percentage and 90th in offensive available yards gained (on non-garbage-time possessions vs. FBS opponents). In four games against FBS teams, Texas A&M’s offense has only scored more than 17 points once (a garbage-time touchdown in the loss to Mississippi State made the score 42–24).
If A&M’s defense can come up big in this game there may be some hope for the Aggies, but it’s doubtful they’ll be able to pay off the checks Jimbo Fisher’s offseason rant cashed in the offseason.
What to watch: Alabama’s quarterbacks. Bryce Young seems day-to-day, and Nick Saban isn’t terribly worried about his health, according to his public comments regarding his QB’s injured shoulder. The Tide have backup Jalen Milroe waiting in the wings, but Saban admitted they hadn’t practiced as much for a Milroe-centric game plan (obviously) because Young has been The Guy. If Milroe starts Saturday, A&M had better be ready for a heavy dose of QB run that the electric-running Milroe can produce.
FSU at NC State (-3), 8 p.m.
Both the Noles and the Wolfpack took their first losses of the season last weekend in conference play. Clemson was able to neuter NC State’s offense largely because the Pack couldn’t run the ball effectively, and FSU just got outscored by a potent Wake Forest offense.
What to watch: DE Jared Verse against FSU’s OL. The lanky and skilled pass rusher played hurt against Wake due to a leg injury, but coach Mike Norvell expects more out of him Saturday. How much of a disruptive force he can be will go a long way to determining how QB Devin Leary can operate in the pocket. He showed adeptness against the blitz last week against the Tigers.