Friends, we are here. After slugging through a September strewn with cupcakes and MAC teams, we're to October. The air? Crisper. The match-ups? Tastier. The beer? Still delicious. Conference play is in full swing, and there is a veritable cornucopia of exciting matchups between now and Notre Dame taking Soldier Field against Miami. Let's run through some of the tastier ones.
Thursday, October 4th
#13 USC at Utah, 9:00pm, ESPN: Before the season started, I thought this is where the Trojans had a chance to fall. The Utes had some sleeper buzz and there was no way USC lost at Stanford and of course I am an idiot. This is still an important matchup for the Trojans, who would both have their national title hopes completely shattered (they're slim now, but you can squint and see them) and their path to the BCS come down to winning the PAC12 title game. They're coming off a bye week, so it'll be interesting to see whether Kiffin, Barkley and friends have righted the ship or are continuing to take on water.
Friday, October 5th
Pittsburgh at Syracuse and Utah State at BYU, 7:00pm and 10:15pm, ESPN: A double header of future ND opponents on the worldwide leader. The first game could go in any number of directions in the dome, but the second one should actually be pretty fun, as a Utah State team that already knocked off Utah and took Wisconsin to the wire goes for a Beehive State sweep in Provo.
Saturday, September 6th
Navy at Air Force, 11:30am, CBS: A little option football a full half hour before any other games kick off? Sure, why not. Navy has been really awful this year, so it would be nice to see them pull off an upset and give a little legitimacy to the Dublin beatdown.
#24 Northwestern at Penn State, 12:00pm: The undefeated Wildcats travel to Happy Valley, where they face a Nittany Lions team that is a few plays away from being undefeated themselves. Bill O'Brien's team can't play in the Big Ten title game, but they can certainly do their share to derail a lot of other teams' chances at going to Pasadena. Matt McGloin leads the Big Ten in passing, which is as big of an indictment of the Big Ten (and probably Jay Paterno) as it is to O'Brien's coaching acumen. These teams have had some fun games in the past, and it is homecoming at Beaver Stadium, so you may spend some time watching this one.
Kansas at #7 Kansas State, 12:00pm, FX: Dayne Crist's starting job may be in trouble, and Charlie Weis' first season as coach of the Jayhawks is already off to a rough start. Squaring off against a Bill Snyder defense on the road should be the cure for what ails them.
Arizona at #18 Stanford, 3:00pm, Fox: The Wildcats are 0-2 in the PAC12, but had to face off against the two tough teams from Oregon. The Cardinal are looking to get things in order after a loss to Washington. Let's hope that this game goes to about a thousand overtimes and David Shaw's crew is worn out for their trip to South Bend next weekend?
#4 LSU at #10 Florida, 3:30pm, CBS: Both teams field nasty defenses, but the Gators are the ones with a quarterback advantage at this early juncture of the season. I imagine this will be low on scoring and high on the "Oh my god what a hit" and folksy laughter from Uncle Verne.
Illinois at Wisconsin, 3:30pm, ESPN2/ABC Regional: Nope.
#17 Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 3:30pm, ESPN2/ABC Regional: Bob Stoops and Landry Jones travel to the weird world of Lubbock, where an undefeated Texas Tech team - having played a Charmin-soft schedule thus far - await them. The Red Raiders' defense has been good, yes, but it's been tested against the likes of Iowa State and a bunch of tomato cans. The Sooners lost this game in Norman last year, and if they fall here, their house might be in disorder when the Irish roll into town on October 26th.
Michigan at Purdue, 4:00pm, Big Ten Network: I really think Purdue might have been the best team Notre Dame has faced so far, except they gave up 41 points to Marshal so who really knows. I'll be rooting hard for the Boilers here, as nothing would delight me more than seeing them playing in the Big Ten title game against Northwestern.
#8 West Virginia at #11 Texas, 7:00pm, Fox: These primetime Fox games are awesome alternatives when ABC has on a Big Ten slopfest and ESPN is airing an Alabama snuff film. I watched a lot of West Virginia/Baylor, and came away as unimpressed with the Bears' defense as I was impressed with Geno Smith. Then I watched Texas flail about attempting to tackle Oklahoma State (and vice-versa) and maybe this whole conference is just terrible at defense. I can't wait for the Mountaineer fans to descend upon the hipster bars of Austin. Seeing David Ash battle Smith is going to be a real treat. Be sure and peak over here from the Notre Dame game from time to time.
#5 Georgia at #6 South Carolina, 7:00pm, ESPN: So Georgia misses both LSU and Alabama from the SEC West, meaning that if they can split the South Carolina and Florida games, their chances of playing in the conference title game again go way, way up. Lots of star power in this game, with Clowney, Lattimore and Shaw squaring off against Jones, Marshall (sigh) and Murray. I have no proof of this, but I feel like Spurrier takes special delight in beating Mark Richt. Just an awesome game that should be loads and loads of fun.
Miami (FL) at #9 Notre Dame, 7:30pm, NBC: I hope this is fun. I hope the helmets aren't embarrassing. I hope Manti gets multiple pick sixes. I hope Stephen Morris packs his heavy-duty turtleneck.
#3 Florida State at NC State, 8:00pm, ESPN2: Florida State took care of business at South Florida on Saturday while the Wolfpack fell apart in Miami, allowing a late touchdown bomb in front of literally hundreds of Miami fans. Florida State is way, way better, but if they don't keep their nose clean during this game, Tom O' Brien has ways of uglying things up enough they might be able to detail the ‘Noles' championship quest.
#21 Nebraska at #12 Ohio State, 8:00pm, ABC: Taylor Martinez Version 3.4 (now with reduced turnovers!) goes against Urban Meyer's latest war machine, Braxton Miller. It would probably be nice for the Big Ten if Ohio State didn't run the table in their conference, since the Buckeyes are banned from postseason play. Last year's game in Lincoln was an absolute thriller, we can hope for a repeat performance here. (But let's be honest, with Texas/WVU, UGA/USC and the Notre Dame game, is anyone watching this?)
#23 Washington at #2 Oregon, 10:30pm, ESPN: Also loving these late-night PAC12 showdowns. I remember in 2007 we had to go to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch Cal and Oregon play because the game wasn't on any channel we got at our house, and they were both ranked in the top ten at the time. Larry Scott, you've done fine work, other than that whole "Inviting Colorado to join" thing. Washington's offensive line is as bad as I've seen, yet they still somehow won their rock fight with Stanford on Thursday. Keith Price is going to need to have way more time to throw if he hopes to keep up with the Ducks in Autzen, who had a bit of a first half hiccup against Washington State last week before blowing things open. DeAnthony Thomas had a slow weekend against the Cougars, so expect him to beef up those scoring numbers here.