It's the first Saturday that college football has to itself, with no postseason baseball on the docket, and the schedule is more than adequate to fill the void in our lives. There are good games going throughout the day and into the night, so let's jump right in and start organizing TV plans…
EARLY WINDOW (Noon ET)
ESPN: Michigan State-Nebraska
Michigan State has a chance to call an early end to the Legends Division race in the Big Ten, if they can grab a two-game lead on the Cornhuskers by winning here. The Spartans have got a better team–Nebraska's defense has been exposed against both Washington and Wisconsin, and Michigan State has good balance, with Edwin Baker being able to establish the run and set up the offense's meal ticket with Kirk Cousins throwing the ball, primarily to B.J. Cunningham. Nebraska's going to be able to move the ball themselves though, with Taylor Martinez, and the question has to be asked of how much Michigan State has left in the tank. It's not just the thrilling finish to their win over Wisconsin last week, it's the previous two weeks in beating Michigan and Ohio State. You have a potentially tired team, coming off a huge win and playing on the road. I like the Huskers to win this game and keep the division race alive, though I believe MSU will ultimately prevail in the Legends race.
FX: Missouri-Texas A&M
Texas A&M has been under the radar since their back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and Arkansas, but that's still two very close losses to Top 10 teams, only one of them is a conference loss and you get the impression that the Big 12 race could see a lot of twists and turns before a champion emerges for either Tempe or New Orleans. If A&M wants back in the picture they need to win a home date with a solid Missouri team. The Tigers bring a good multi-purpose quarterback in James Franklin and one of the country's underrated running backs in Henry Josey. But while their defense is not bad, it's not a unit that can really slow down a fearsome Aggie attack that's hitting on all cylinders right now. Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller are in synch in the passing game and the running game is a two-headed monster with Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray. The guess here is that the Aggies are ready and have too much weaponry for Mizzou to keep up.
Noteworthy: A few other games to keep an eye on are Arkansas-Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech-Duke, not because I think an upset is in the offing either place. But both the Hogs and Hokies are starting to look like solid contenders and I want to see if they can step it up and blow out opponents that are mediocre, but not awful. Also check out Syracuse-Louisville, if only because every Big East game should be checked out at this point.
MID-AFTERNOON ACTION (3:30 ET)
ESPN: Oklahoma-Kansas State
Was Oklahoma exposed last week at home against Texas Tech or did they just get caught napping? Has Kansas State's offense found its groove after averaging 50 a game in consecutive wins over Tech & Kansas? Or is the K-State that scored 24 points against Missouri just prior to that the offense that's most likely to show up here. The Wildcats are still undefeated and a win over the Sooners would eliminate any thought that they aren't for real. However I don't believe they can keep pace with Landry Jones, Ryan Broyles and an Oklahoma offense that will further benefit from getting Dominique Whaley back at running back for this game. K-State's Collin Klein is a tough quarterback who can run or pass, but I don't think he is the kind of QB who is going to beat Oklahoma. The Sooners are vulnerable to someone like Tech's Seth Doege, a pure dropback passer who lit them up last week. I don't believe Klein's 'Cats can keep pace and think their 24-17 win over Missouri was more indicative of the kind of team they are–good, not excellent. Oklahoma's hungry for a little redemption and they get it in a big way.
The short-sighted band of ignoramuses that were calling for Mark Richt's head may be back to toasting him at the end of the World's Biggest Cocktail Party, played at its usual neutral site in Jacksonville. Georgia is tied with South Carolina atop the SEC East with one conference loss apiece, while Florida has lost three times in SEC play. The Dawgs one loss was to the Gamecocks so they still need some help, but if Georgia gets by this test here you have to like their chances of being in Atlanta on the first Saturday in December. And I like their chances in this game a lot. While it looks like Florida quarterback John Brantley is going to be back from the high-ankle sprain that's kept him out the last three games (all losses), I'm not all that sold on Brantley as a really top-level QB anyway, and if it comes down to a scoring race I love Georgia's sophomore quarterback Aaron Murray and freshman running back Isaiah Crowell. The Florida defense deserves respect, and this one's going to be close, but in the end Georgia's got momentum, their improving and they have more weapons. And I think ultimately, they're a little hungrier for this one.
NBC: Navy-Notre Dame
You'd have to be an Irish Catholic living near Annapolis to watch this game over the other choices in this time slot. Maybe that's not even enough since I fit that demographic and won't bother. Navy's on a down year this season and can't stop anybody defensively. Notre Dame looked like they might be hitting their stride until they flopped last Saturday night against USC, unable to get their passing game in gear or Michael Floyd involved in the offense. In spite of their recent problems with the Academy, ND should be able to use this game as a springboard to get the offense back and firing, but the hopes of getting to the Thanksgiving Saturday battle with Stanford in position for a 10-win season and major bowl bid went by the boards last week.
ABC Regional: Baylor-Oklahoma State, Illinois-Penn State, West Virginia-Rutgers
Oklahoma State doesn't have a top-shelf defense and like Wisconsin and Oklahoma, there's going to be nervous moments against very good offenses. Okie State faces just such an offense this week with Robert Griffin, perhaps the most complete quarterback in the Big 12 pulling the trigger. If this were in Waco, I might go for the upset, but playing for the home crowd, the Cowboys magic ride keeps rolling. Penn State has absolutely no offense, but they also haven't lost in Big Ten play, putting them one game up on Wisconsin for the Leaders Division title. Illinois has slumped the past two weeks, unable to run the ball effectively. PSU's homefield, defense and the development of sophomore running back Silas Redd move them to 5-0 in conference games, although they won't win a beauty contest in the process. I'm not sure how West Virginia-Rutgers angled its way in here, but like all Big East games, it has championship implications. Rutgers' freshman quarterback Gary Nova faces a big challenge trying to keep up with the Mountaineers and I think Nova makes just enough mistakes for the Scarlet Knights to get beat, as was the case last Friday night in Louisville.
Noteworthy: I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but I'm curious if San Jose State can get a win at Louisiana Tech. The Spartans have been playing some improved football and are a legit darkhorse in the WAC. La Tech has been a middle-of-the-road program themselves and the winner of this game still has a shot at beating out Hawaii and Nevada.
(ESPN2, 7:15 ET): South Carolina-Tennessee
Along with Georgia-Florida, this one combines to make for a big day in the SEC East. South Carolina, as mentioned, has to keep winning to hold off the Dawgs and will know by kickoff just how much pressure is on them. Both teams are without major parts of their offense. Tennessee's missing quarterback Tyler Bray, while South Carolina is down running back Marcus Lattimore. No question the Gamecocks' loss is more severe, but they are also the team with more depth to their offense. I look for Connor Shaw and Alshon Jeffrey to hook up for some big plays, which in turn forces the Vols out of relying on Tauren Poole and the running game and Steve Spurrier gets a big road win.
(ESPN, 8 ET): Wisconsin-Ohio State
Ohio State's problems have turned this game into a mismatch on paper. The Buckeye offense is utterly punchless and while the defense is decent, there's no comparison once you put Russell Wilson's machine on the field for Wisconsin. The only way you can make a case for an Ohio State win is if you think Wisconsin's in a letdown spot, if they're vulnerable on special teams and if the crowd at Ohio State can will the home team to a maximum effort. All of these forces are in play for the Buckeyes and consequently this game could get interesting. The key will be the Ohio State defense setting an early tone by containing Montee Ball in the running game and keeping Wilson's passing efforts underneath, thus bogging the Badgers down and turning it into a dogfight. If that happens, then the crowd gets into it and Wisconsin may either commit turnovers or the kind of special teams miscues that cost them 10 points in East Lansing last week. One thing that won't happen is the Ohio State offense winning a game for them–the UW defense isn't great, but if they aren't put in bad positions, they'll be able to focus on Dan Herron and the run and play shutdown football.
(ABC Regional, 8 ET): Stanford-USC, Clemson-Georgia Tech
Both sides of this split coverage get an unbeaten team facing a sound test on the road. USC showed a newfound running game in their win over Notre Dame and they'll need everything they've got here. Stanford's a lot more than Andrew Luck–they have a powerful running game as evidenced by the fact that Stephan Taylor led a balanced rushing juggernaut that piled up over 400 yards against Washington. The Cardinal plays good defense. Matt Barkley will stretch that unit with Robert Woods, and I suspect this game comes up closer than the experts think (Stanford's a 7-8 point favorite depending on where you look), but in the end Luck shows his mettle and the favorites survive. The Clemson-Georgia Tech game was one where I had the unbeaten Tigers targeted for defeat until the Yellow Jackets suddenly lost all their mojo in consecutive losses to North Carolina and Miami. Tech needs to rush for 400-500 yards in their triple option attack and Tevin Washington needs to hit at least a couple big throws down the field. The guess here is another game that's close, thanks to a fired-up prime-time crowd at home, but a favorite that escapes to live another day.