Very solid week here, folks. We're in the heart of conference play, and teams haven't started scheduling cupcakes to prep for rivalry games. The national championship race is going to be shaped by a series of top ten matchups over the next few weeks, which is going to make for some extremely interesting Saturdays. Let's get right to it. (All times Eastern, all rankings BCS.)
Thursday, October 18th:
#3 Oregon at Arizona State, 9:00pm, ESPN: This is only Oregon's second trip away from Autzen (the other was to play a woeful Washington State team), so it'll be interesting to see how the highly-ranked but relatively untested squad performs. The Sun Devils have been very solid against some of the poorer PAC12 teams so far in Todd Graham's first season, but taking down the Ducks is a lot different than Utah, Colorado or Cal.
Friday, October 19th:
Connecticut at Syracuse, 8:00pm, ESPN: It's like when they moved Joe Tessitore to Saturdays they juts gave up on this Friday night game. At least it's football?
Saturday, October 20th:
Purdue at Ohio State, 12:00pm, ABC: I made a grave error in thinking Purdue was decent after Notre Dame barely scraped by them, and the Boilers rewarded my faith by getting blown out by Michigan and Wisconsin at home. They've given the Buckeyes fits for the last few years, and if Danny Hope wants to be the top walrus in West LaFayette next season, he needs to show some kind of momentum. Downing the undefeated Buckeyes is one option.
#24 Iowa State at Oklahoma State, 12:00pm, FX: The Cowboys survived a Kansas rally last week, while the Cyclones were unable to spring a trap on Kansas State in Ames. This is a big revenge game for the Cowboys, whose Thanksgiving weekend loss to Paul Rhoads' crew last year cost them a shot at the national title. Is Paul Rhoads going to be one of the top coaches on the market this offseason after the work he's done building up Iowa State?
#6 LSU at #18 Texas A&M, 12:00pm, ESPN: Yessir. A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is setting SEC records every weekend and is actually ahead of Tim Tebow's Heisman pace. He gets to go against an LSU defense featuring an absolutely lethal defensive line and some freak athletes on the back end. The Tigers started to right their offensive ship against South Carolina last weekend, but can they function as well in the light of day away from the bayou? Your best noon game by far.
Auburn at Vanderbilt, 12:21pm, SEC Network/ESPN3: I'm not endorsing watching this, but keep an eye on it: If Gene Chizik can't win at Auburn - and the ‘Dores have been tough at home - he might not last until the Iron Bowl.
#20 Stanford at California, 3:00pm, Fox: How is Stanford going to respond after getting screwed over in South Bend? Just kidding, but get ready for that to be the narrative. Jeff Tedford's managed to keep his head ever-so-slightly above water this season, and winning the Big Game would help to steady his position. If Stanford falls it would drop their road record to 0-3 and make it even harder for them to dig out of their current recruiting hole.
#7 South Carolina at #2 Florida, 3:30pm, CBS: The road to the SEC East crown goes through the northern half of Florida, as the Gators get the Gamecocks at home and then face Georgia in Jacksonville next weekend at the Cocktail Party. Jeff Driskell's legs bailed Florida out at Vandy, and he'll have to outduel Connor Shaw - who struggled last weekend at LSU - and Jadeveon Clowney for Will Muschamp's crew to stay undefeated.
BYU at #5 Notre Dame, 3:30pm, NBC: BYU fans expect to get blown out. The team is on fall break and has Manti Te'o to keep them focused. If this turns out to be a trap game after weeks of people saying it's trap game, I'll be thoroughly disappointed.
Nebraska at Northwestern and Michigan State at Michigan, 3:30pm, ESPN2 and Big Ten Network: All four of these teams are in the same division, along with Iowa and Minnesota. They would all like to face Wisconsin for a shot at the Rose Bowl. The only one unmarred in conference thus play is Michigan, who has blown out Purdue and Illinois. The Spartans have had Denard's number, but their offense is so terrible it's hard to see them pulling this out on the road. Nebraska's defense has been terrible, and they receive no break against a feisty Wildcats offense.
#17 Texas Tech at #23 TCU, 3:30pm, ABC: An elimination game for the Big XII title, as the winner could conceivably be tied going into Sunday if Kansas State falls at West Virginia.
#4 Kansas State at #13 West Virginia, 7:00pm, Fox: This game lost a little luster after the Mountaineers got rolled in Lubbock, but don't lose sight of how awesome it will be to see zombie-wizard Bill Snyder's defense against Dana Holgorsen's Red Bull-infused offense amidst the glow of a thousand burning couches. If the Mountaineers want a shot at the Fiesta Bowl, they need this game. This is the biggest remaining hurdle between Kansas State - who got jobbed out of a BCS game last year - and a shot at the national title. Don't miss this one.
#1 Alabama at Tennessee, 7:00pm, ESPN: Nick Saban barely survived this game back in 2009 when Lane Kiffin was on the Vols sideline and Terrence Cody was performing his role as "One-man field goal wrecking crew." Now? Derek Dooley has a surgically repaired hip, a winless record against ranked teams and an increasingly clear view of his future not being Tennessee's coach. Maybe Neyland + some Bray Bombs + a banged up A.J. McCarron could make this interesting, but this might be the final, bloody nail in Dooley's coffin.
Baylor at #25 Texas, 8:00pm, ABC: Of all the embarrassing things the BCS has done over the years, ranking this year's Texas team is up there. Baylor can't play defense. Texas really can't play defense. Tune if you like points and cutaways to sad, comely, Longhorn coeds.
Penn State at Iowa, 8:00pm, Big Ten Network: Both of these teams are just humming along at 2-0, one looking for a Big Ten title shot and the other looking to set the foundation for a post-sanctions future. The Hawkeyes' have generally had the Nittany Lions' number for the last, oh, decade or so, but Matt McGloin is the Big Ten's leading passer and gives PSU a fighting chance. (Can't believe I wrote the last part of that sentence.)
#14 Florida State at Miami, 8:00pm, ABC: It would be nice for Notre Dame's strength of schedule to see the Hurricanes pull off the upset here. It would also be hilarious to see the Seminoles fall from "national title favorite" to "ACC also-ran" before we hit Halloween. Odds are the ‘Noles just blow through a three-quarters-empty stadium, but you never know in rivalry games.
Utah at #8 Oregon State, 10:30pm, ESPN2: Late night undefeated Beaver action. Utah is terrible and Oregon State might be legitimately good. Legitimately good teams don't lose to Utah. This may turn into a blowout, but hey, we don't turn away late night college football options when freaking Bruno Mars is hosting SNL.