November 3rd was circled on the calendars last spring for two big reasons: Alabama at LSU and Oregon at USC. Despite the Tigers and Trojans combining for three losses through the first two months of the season, these road tests are by far the toughest competition faced by either the Tide or Ducks. In addition to those primetime proving grounds, there's a pretty loaded Saturday. Let's get to it.
(All kickoff times Eastern, all rankings BCS.)
Thursday, November 1st:
Virginia Tech at Miami (FL), 7:30pm, ESPN: With a win here and against Duke, the Hurricanes can set up a Sunshine State showdown in the ACC title game. It would also obviously help out Notre Dame if Al Golden's group went on a nice run. The Hokies have been awful this season, but I can't shake the feeling they're about to rip off a solid November, win the ACC championship in a huge upset and then play Rutgers in an Orange Bowl nobody watches. It could happen.
Friday, November 2nd:
Washington at Cal, 9:00pm, ESPN: Tosh Lupoi Bowl! For those unfamiliar, Lupoi was a stud Golden Bears recruiter who was somehow luring five-star prospect after five-star prospect to play for Jeff Tedford. Steve Sarkisian swooped in, hired Lupoi before signing day and reaped the benefits. The Huskies knocked off previously undefeated Oregon State last weekend and could start to build a little momentum with a weak closing schedule. Tedford is battling for his job, if he hasn't already lost it.
Saturday, November 3rd:
Missouri at #7 Florida, 12:00pm, ESPN2: Missouri got their first SEC win last week, gumming Kentucky to death. Florida suffered their first loss of the season, falling out of the driver's seat for the SEC Championship game, a potential shot at Alabama and the BCS title game. I can see this going one of two ways: Gators are hungover from the loss and Mizzou sneaks up on them, or the rage of Will Muschamp is focused like the Death Star laser on Gary Pinkel and this is a blood bath. I'd bet on the latter, if I had to.
#12 Oklahoma at Iowa State, 12:00pm, ABC: The Sooner fans were all so nice last week that I would root for them even if their success wouldn't help Notre Dame's overall resume. They travel to Iowa State, where the Cyclones have been a tough out under Paul Rhoads. How will Oklahoma respond to losing their biggest home game in over a decade?
Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 12:00pm, ESPNU: I'm not suggesting you watch this, but I just wanted to flag the possibility that Vanderbilt might end up with eight regular season wins. After Kentucky they play Ole Miss, Rocky Top and Wake Forest. Pretty impressive stuff.
Michigan at Minnesota, 12:00pm, Big Ten Network: So next year Michigan could be replacing Denard Robinson and four offensive linemen. That offense kind of has a Notre Dame 2007 feel to it, and the thought makes me absolutely giddy.
#16 Texas A&M at #15 Mississippi State, 12:00pm, ESPN: The poor Bulldogs were all hyped up with their "8-0 We Believe" campaign going into Tuscaloosa, but found out that playing the Tide is not unlike finding out that Santa Claus isn't just imaginary, but that he used to be real until Nick Saban smothered him with a pillow. Things are still going pretty well for the Aggies in Kevin Sumlin's first season, as Johnny Manziel already has them bowl eligible. Stakes are minor in this game - seems unlikely either of these teams can squeak by Bama or LSU for a conference title shot - but it should be a fun one nonetheless.
#14 Stanford at Colorado, 2:00pm, FX: Colorado is just laughably bad, so as the Cardinal gear up for a November where they go against the two Oregon teams, it would behoove them to not stub their toe here. Bonus points for the weird kickoff time (I realize it's noon in Boulder, still weird.)
TCU at #21 West Virginia, 3:00pm, Fox: The Mountaineers had a bye last week, so this is the first time they've taken the field after back-to-back beatdowns from Texas Tech and Kansas State. Did Holgo spend the fortnight getting an infusion of Red Bull? Probably. Will the stands in Morgantown be as drunk as they were when their team was in the title hunt? Also probably a yes.
Ole Miss at #6 Georgia, 3:30pm, CBS: This would be the most Mark Richt loss of all-time. I don't think it would happen but oh man would it be hilarious if it did.
Pittsburgh at #3 Notre Dame, 3:30pm, NBC: I think the last time the Irish were able to blow out the Panthers were in Charlie Weis' first year, so they almost always play Notre Dame tough/beat them, regardless of coach. The visitors are coming off a big win against Temple that also brought a slew of injuries, but this is a classic Nothing To Lose game. If Manti Te'o's undefeated senior season comes to an end at the hands of Tino Sunseri, I'll have to reevaluate a few things in my life.
#20 Nebraska at Michigan State, Iowa at Indiana, 3:30pm, ABC/Big Ten Network: Nebraska has the inside track to the Big Ten title game following their victory over Michigan. Indiana, at 1-3 in the conference, still has a shot at being their opponent. That should tell you all you need to know about the Big Ten.
#23 Texas at #18 Texas Tech, 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2: I seriously don't understand how anyone is ranking the Longhorns, who needed a last-second touchdown to defeat freaking Kansas. The Red Raiders couldn't keep up with Bill Snyder's zombie Wildcat juggernaut, but they could still confirm their spot as the third-best team in the Big XII with a victory here. Mack Brown will probably wear a track suit and eat some pudding.
#4 Oregon at #17 USC, 7:00pm, Fox: I e-mailed a couple of my Trojan friends (I know, I'm sorry) and asked if there was anything special I could do to cheer for them in this game. "Pray" was the one-word response I got, so they're not feeling confident in Los Angeles. As screwed up as USC has been this season, they are by far the toughest team Oregon has played, and they beat the Ducks in Autzen last season. I'm going to drink a lot, hold my nose and root for a Trojan victory here.
#1 Alabama at #5 LSU, 8:00pm, CBS: I'm not sure why we're excited for this game, when their two matchups last year were two of the worst college football games I've ever seen. If all the lines and skill positions are equal (and I'm not sure they are), it really comes down to A.J. McCarron versus Zach Mettenberger, a giant mismatch on paper. They'll need some of that primetime bayou voodoo to pull this one out, but stranger things have happened under Les Miles' watch.
#24 Oklahoma State at #2 Kansas State, 8:00pm, ABC: This was an epic shootout in Stillwater last season, and despite Mike Gundy's best efforts to reload following an excellent 2011, this gun fight might be a little more one-sided. It really bums me out that Collin Klein is the main thing standing between Manti Te'o and the Heisman, as I feel dirty rooting against a Kansas State Wildcat nicknamed Optimus Klein.
#22 Arizona at UCLA, Arizona State at #11 Oregon State, 10:30pm, Pac12 Network/ESPN2: If USC loses to Oregon, the battle for the PAC12 South division title is going to get very confusing. It would also be of benefit to the Ducks if Oregon State was still floating around the top ten when they played at the end of the season. Late night games with some high stakes, you can't ask for a much better way to close out a Saturday.