Every week, I’ll throw a spotlight on the six most interesting games of the weekend to tell you why these are the games you should try to catch, who’s going to win (and why), and what ramifications they could have on the rest of the college football landscape.
LAST WEEK: 4-2
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 4
GEORGIA TECH (5-3, 3-2) @ #22 VIRGINIA TECH (6-2, 4-0) (7:30pm EST, ESPN)After their disastrous 0-2 start (that included a WTF loss to James Madison), Virginia Tech has righted the ship and rattled off six straight wins, including four straight double-digit wins in ACC play. Tech's been better on both sides of the ball, but especially on offense where they've been nigh-unstoppable of late, with four straight games of 40+ points. Georgia Tech's had an up and down season, losing handily to NC State and Clemson and suffering an inexplicable loss to a bad Kansas team, but pulling together five wins -- albeit none over anyone of note (aside from a suspension-ravaged North Carolina squad). Throw in the fact that it's a Thursday night home game for Virginia Tech (something they hardly ever lose) and it's hard to see Georgia Tech pulling off the upset here.
THE PICK: VIRGINIA TECH 42, GEORGIA TECH 24
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 6
#21 BAYLOR (7-2, 4-1) @ #17 OKLAHOMA STATE (7-1, 3-1) (12pm EST, FSN)Baylor's been one of the most surprising and feel-good stories of the year in college football, not only getting bowl eligible (something they accomplished two weeks ago), but taking the lead in the Big 12 South division (which, at 4-1, they hold all to themselves). How long can this crazy ride last? Can the incredible talent of Robert Griffin III carry Baylor all the way to the Big 12 Championship Game? Maybe... but maybe not. For as amazing as Baylor's been so far, they've been able to do it by beating up on some poor teams (Sam Houston State, Buffalo, Rice, Kansas, Colorado) and some disappointing teams (Texas). What truly is the best win on their resume? Kansas State? Texas? The only elite team they've played (TCU) blasted them (45-10) and while Oklahoma State isn't that good, they appear to be getting better week by week (they logged an impressive 24-7 road win over Kansas State last week even without their best player, WR Justin Blackmon) -- and they're at home. Asking Baylor to go on the road again a week after scoring a big road win over Texas seems like a stretch. Blackmon should be back for this game, which means the Oklahoma State could be firing on all cylinders -- which is a scary thought.
THE PICK: OKLAHOMA STATE 38, BAYLOR 31
#3 TCU (9-0, 5-0) @ #5 UTAH (8-0, 4-0) (3:30pm EST, CBS College Sports)Of course the biggest game of the week -- and the first (and possibly only) match-up of top five teams -- would be a match-up of MWC heavyweights and be on a random channel like CBS College Sports. It's just been that kind of season this year; chaos reigns and the mid-majors flourish. But there will be one fewer mid-major darling after this game, as well as one less team vying for a BCS bowl berth. The winner will also be the heavy favorite to win the Mountain West Conference, but that seems almost beside the point right now. A TCU win could give them enough credibility to stay ahead of Boise in the BCS rankings for the duration of the season -- which would guarantee them no worse than an at-large berth and possibly even enable to them to sneak into the BCS Championship Game. On the flipside, would a Utah win over TCU be enough to push them ahead of Boise -- and keep them there? Probably not, thanks to the middling nature of their schedule. It may not even get them into a BCS bowl (if the BCS bowls decline to take two mid-majors this year as they did last year), which would be quite a slap in the face. But a loss kills any hope Utah has of doing something big this season, so the stakes are certainly high for them too (they just need more help than TCU does).
So... what about the game itself? TCU has the 9th best scoring offense (40.8 ppg), but their real strength is their sick defense, which is allowing just 8.7 ppg -- best in the nation. Only three teams have reached double figures against them -- Oregon State (21), Baylor (10), and SMU (24!). They've gone over a month without allowing more than six points and they've given up only two touchdowns in that entire span; sure, they're doing it against MWC foes, but consistently holding anyone to that level of output is remarkable. Their defense is really damn good. Utah's no slouch, either, though; they have the 3rd best scoring offense (45.3 ppg) and the sixth best scoring defense (14.1 ppg). They've put up 50+ four different times this year. On the other hand, they've also struggled more than TCU; they needed OT to beat a pretty mediocre Pitt team and were in a dogfight with a good but not great Air Force team a week ago (they won, 28-23). TCU's closest margin of victory is their nine-point opening weekend triumph over Pitt; other than a weird Friday night road game against SMU, they've barely been tested the rest of the season. Does that close-game experience give Utah an advantage or does it mark them as vulnerable? Hard to say. Utah has a good team and homefield advantage, but TCU just looks like a juggernaut right now. They won't eviscerate Utah the way they've destroyed their recent foes, but it's still too hard to pick against them.
THE PICK: TCU 27, UTAH 13
#6 ALABAMA (7-1, 4-1) @ #10 LSU (7-1, 4-1) (3:30pm EST, CBS)LSU's national title hopes appear fairly slim after Les ran out of his Milacles against Auburn two weeks ago, but they still have a shot at a conference title (with a win here and an Alabama win over Auburn later in the year). For all their flaws on offense (and, oh, there are many), they still have a filthy defense (at least when they aren't facing Cam Newtown and, no offense to Alabama's excellent offensive skill position players, but there aren't any Cam Newtons on that squad), homefield advantage (although Death Valley isn't so menacing in mid-afternoon as it is in the evening) and two weeks of preparation time... it wouldn't be the biggest upset ever. Then again, Alabama's had two weeks to prepare as well, their defense has steadily improved all season (and they won't be hugely tested by LSU's anemic attack), and their mammoth offensive line and one-two punch at running back should be able to pound away at LSU's defense. No doubt Les will have some tricks up his sleeve, but here's guessing it won't be enough.
THE PICK: ALABAMA 24, LSU 14
#18 ARKANSAS (6-2, 3-2) @ #19 SOUTH CAROLINA (6-2, 4-2, 7pm EST, ESPN)This week's other SEC game of the week features the nominal SEC East favorite (the Gamecocks) and the forgotten man in the SEC West (the Hogs). Arkansas' title aspirations were dealt a crushing blow by their losses to Auburn and Alabama, but they're still good enough to be a threat -- and a spoiler to the ambitions of a team like South Carolina, who still finds themselves the favorite to win the SEC East, despite their own two losses. South Carolina's pass defense has been shaky at times and Arkansas still has the most potent passing attack in the SEC; South Carolina also runs the risk of looking ahead to their division-deciding game with Florida next week. All that said... South Carolina is a different team with a healthy Marcus Lattimore. They're playing well and it just feels like this is finally their year in the SEC East.
THE PICK: SOUTH CAROLINA 31, ARKANSAS 28
#15 ARIZONA (7-1, 4-1) @ #13 STANFORD (7-1, 4-1, 8pm EST, ABC)Or, the battle to be Oregon's bridesmaid in the Pac-10. Stanford's at home and fresh off a thorough demolition of Washington a week ago (41-0). Arizona's going on the road and fresh off an uncomfortably close 29-21 over a middling UCLA team -- and they're still trying to sort out their QB issues (regular starter Nick Foles is expected to be recovered from a knee injury in time to play in this one, but he might also be rusty). That said, they do have probably the stiffest defense Stanford has faced all year and the most potent offense they've dealt with aside from Oregon -- they're unquestionably a good team. But just how good are they? That's unclear. Edge to Stanford since they're at home and seem to be dealing with fewer issues right now.
THE PICK: STANFORD 34, ARIZONA 30