The schedule for college football Week 6 isn’t loaded with marquee matchups, but it’s got a lot of pretty decent ones. Let’s take a look at how Saturday shakes out, going by TV time slot and examining the implications of the best games.
Maryland-Florida State (Noon ET, ESPN): The question regarding Maryland is whether they can be a viable dark horse in an ACC Atlantic headlined by Florida State and Clemson. The Terps are 4-0, and their win over West Virginia looks more impressive, in light of WVA’s beating Oklahoma State last Saturday. Maryland’s got a terrific young receiver in Stefon Diggs and has at least proven they’re a bowl team again. Now it’s about whether they can be more.
The oddsmakers are skeptical, slotting FSU as a (-15) favorite. The Seminoles did not play well last week at Boston College and I’d like to see them really establish the run with Devonta Freeman in their final game before the big battle with Clemson in two weeks.
Michigan State-Iowa (Noon, ESPN2): I liked what I saw out of Iowa in last week’s 23-7 win over Minnesota. It was a win that gave me some belief that Kirk Ferentz can turn around the freefall his program has been in. A home win over Sparty would really firm up the confidence in the Iowa coach.
This is the Big Ten opener for Michigan State, who has done nothing–for better or worse–to suggest we should change an assessment that has them as a nice, well-coached bowl team, but not more. The oddsmakers expect defense, with an Over/Under on this game of 38.5, something you don’t see often in this age of offense.
Clemson-Syracuse (3:30, ABC/ESPN2): This shouldn’t be a game worth watching, but Clemson is one of those teams we have under the microscope in situations where they’re on the road in the ACC. The Tigers have just the Orange and Boston College standing between them and Florida State. Saturday has to be a time for Tajh Boyd to build his Heisman resume.
Minnesota-Michigan (3:30, ABC/ESPN2): Michigan takes the field for the first time since nearly being upset at UConn–a program so impressed with the near-miss that they’ve since fired their coach, Paul Pasqualoni. The Wolverines have simply got to show us something and with the Gophers playing so poorly last week against Iowa, this has to be the time. We need to see Devante Gardner step up in the passing game.
Georgia-Tennessee (3:30, CBS): Georgia is only an 11.5 point favorite, which makes me wonder if anyone has actually paid attention to what Tennessee has done this year. The Vols barely escaped South Alabama last week, 31-24. I daresay the Bulldogs are more than 4.5 points better than South Alabama. Even if there’s a post-LSU letdown, Georgia is the vastly superior team. And even if Todd Gurley doesn’t play with his ankle injury, Keith Marshall showed last week he was more than able to carry the rushing load.
Georgia Tech-Miami (3:30, ESPNU): There’s a case to be made that this is the best game of the day, even if you have to go ESPNU to find it. Georgia Tech needs to the game to stay in the ACC Coastal race, especially after losing to Virginia Tech last Thursday night. Miami has a chance to show their bona fides as division frontrunner, and a Hurricane win effectively makes this a two-team race–including Va Tech–very early in the conference schedule.
Arkansas-Florida (7, ESPN): Arkansas hung with Texas A&M pretty well last week, but that was a different style, against a team that doesn’t play defense. Now the Hogs have to go on the road against a team that will actually tackle. The question is whether Florida can do anything else. They were not impressive offensively in last week’s 24-7 win over Kentucky.
It’s tough to see the Gators losing this game at home, as I think they’ll control tempo on the ground and with their defense. But they’re laying 11 .5 and that looks high. Maybe the really relevant number is the Over/Under of 43, which is fairly low. If Arkansas can push the pace and get Florida out of its element in an “Over” game–and over by at least 15 points or so–the Hogs can pull the upset. But I don’t see it.
LSU-Miss State (7, ESPN2): Mississippi State is in serious danger of becoming irrelevant in the SEC West, as Ole Miss looks on the rise, and both Auburn and Arkansas are at least showing signs of life. It would be nice to see Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs at least be competitive with LSU, but unless the Tigers are on a major post-Georgia hangover, it’s hard to see where Mississippi State has the firepower. They have quarterback issues and the offense isn’t very good in the best of circumstances.
Ole Miss-Auburn (7, ESPNU): This is a big, big game for Ole Miss in their attempts to rise to prominence. And yes, I doubled down on the “big” emphasis for a reason. The Rebels played a closer-than-it-sounds 25-0 loss at Alabama, but coming up after this game is Texas A&M and LSU.
This Auburn team is no pushover this season under Gus Malzahn, and they’ve got two good runners in Tre Mason and Corey Grant. The Rebs have the big wins over BYU and Texas, and the nice defensive effort at ‘Bama, but they’re only a (-3) favorite at Auburn.
TCU-Oklahoma (7, Fox): Gary Patterson takes tremendous pride in his defenses at TCU, but the Horned Frogs fell flat in their first crack at a big-time opponent in LSU. Now they get a chance at Oklahoma and an offense that hasn’t lit up the scoreboard, even if the Sooners are undefeated.
Oklahoma might have a letdown after their Notre Dame win, but TCU has a bigger problem–defensive end Devonte Fields has an ankle injury. As of this writing on Thursday night he’s expected to miss the game. Even if he plays, you have to assume limited effectiveness. Fields was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season, and his absence amounts to a bigger problem than OU’s letdown issues. Grab the Sooners and give the (-10).
Arizona State-Notre Dame (7:30 PM ET, NBC): An interesting contrast in styles here, as Arizona State can play at a fast pace on offense, while Notre Dame can hit and tackle on defense. The Sun Devils won just such a contrast last week when they dropped 62 points on a USC defense that had played well coming into that game. Although I wouldn’t count on a Brian Kelly team being so unprepared that it gets him fired in the airport after the flight home, as happened to USC’s Lane Kiffin.
This is a neutral site game at Jerry Jones’ Palace in Dallas. Arizona State has big wins this year, but they’ve been overshadowed by other issue. There was the Wisconsin game where the officials robbed the Badgers of a chance to kick a short field goal and win. Then the Kiffin firing last week. Saturday night is an opportunity for Arizona State to make a statement for a national audience and I think they’ll take advantage.
Ohio State-Northwestern (8, ABC): Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit take in Ohio State for the second straight week. Both teams are undefeated, but note that they are in opposite divisions of the Big Ten so there are no tiebreaker implications and they could rematch in Indianapolis come December 7.
What there are for Ohio State is national title implications. The Buckeyes have done nothing that suggests a legitimate national championship contender. They did not play good defense in non-conference, they did not do so against Wisconsin last week, and they played worse against the Badgers than Arizona State did. Ohio State has to go undefeated in the want to play in the BCS National Championship Game.
Northwestern is going to be a tight division race with Michigan and possibly Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa. The Wildcats got the short end of the stick in scheduling, because they also have to play Wisconsin from other side of the conference–next week, no less. So Pat Fitzgerald’s team has a tough road to Indy.
There’s no denying Ohio State’s speed and it’s the reason they’re a 7.5 point favorite on the road and why the Over/Under is 61. Here’s another game where you look at the latter number as the litmus test. If Northwestern keeps it under, they’ll have a chance to win late in the game.
THE LATE SHIFT
Washington-Stanford (10:30, ESPN): Here’s another good candidate for best game of the day, even if it’s going well after the East Coast has gone to bed. I’ve made no secret of my regard for Stanford as the best non-SEC team in the country, with a chance to eliminate that latter qualifier.
Stanford is tough with Tyler Gaffney stepping into the backfield spot vacated by Stephan Taylor, who ran so hard in 2012. Kevin Hogan has given them a real passing threat since he became the quarterback midway through last season. They’ve hammered Arizona State, a game they led 29-0 in the third quarter.
But Washington is pretty good and also undefeated. Bishop Sankey is a tough runner himself, Keith Price is playing well at quarterback and the Huskies have looked good defensively in shutting down Boise State and Arizona. Washington also beat Stanford last year, albeit prior to Hogan becoming the quarterback.
I’ll certainly stick with Stanford to win this game at home and probably even lay the (-8.5) with the Cardinal, but I’m really interested to see how close Washington is to the powers of the Pac-12 North.
TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage was a little more limited this week, with the MLB playoffs getting underway, the NHL season opening and a really good card of games in NFL Week 5. But as we get further into October and get the BCS rankings released, we’ll be ratcheting up the intensity on college football.