For those who worship at the church of the BCS (which has plenty of crossover with the church of Satan) one of the most oft-repeated prayers is “it’ll all work itself out.” At some point during every season there will be four-to-six undefeated teams all vying for the top two spots. If two-to-four of those teams don’t do their duty and lose, BCS chaos will reign - up will be down, black will be white, Craig James will kill five more hookers. But “don’t worry,” the BCS says, “it’ll work itself out.”
And you know what? It usually does. If there were any week that we could point to that the BCS will sort itself out, this week would be a fine choice. Three undefeated teams face the most legitimate threat to their perfect season yet. Whole conferences may swing once Saturday is over. Here are this weekend’s best games (two of which actually go down Thursday) that could alter the landscape of the 2013 college football season. Strap in, kids.
Game: Oregon (3) at Stanford (5) - Thursday, 9 p.m. EST on ESPN
Summary: We knew going into the season that this would be the game that the Pac-12 would hinge on. But few would have predicted that this could be the game that produces a National Championship contender. We’re two coaches (Mark Helfrich joins David Shaw in replacing a massively successful Pac-12 coach who left for the NFL) into this rivalry and it shows no sign of slowing down.
What’s At Stake: The National Championship. The Pac-12 Championship, The Rose Bowl, The Fate of the World. Your Immortal Soul. Everything. Forget A&M/Alabama or Florida State/Clemson. This could be the most impactful game of the whole season. If Oregon wins convincingly they likely leapfrog Florida State to No. 2 and stay there all the way to the National Championship game. If Stanford wins, they likely take Oregon’s spot and grab at least a Pac-12 championship berth, probably a Rose Bowl and maybe even the National Championship.
Players to Watch:
Oregon - De’Anthony Thomas - RB (Junior) - Thomas may not be the most original choice. But when a player promises that his team will put up “at least 40” on the staunchest defense they’ve played yet, he’s worth keeping an eye on. Thomas has been quietly productive, if not spectacular for someone with his celebrity status. He’s gotta have “that game” sometime this year. Why not now?
Stanford - Trent Murphy - DE (Senior) - This is a classic matchup of superb offense vs. stifling defense. And for the defense to win out, Trent Murphy has to be in Marcus Mariota’s face all day. Plus, Murphy looks like a soccer hooligan so there’s that.
Oregon will win if...Marcus Mariota can limit his mistakes. He has been on cruise control this year, tearing up inferior defenses. But he hasn’t seen a defense like this sinc,well, Stanford last season. If he keeps his wits about him and turns in a stat sheet sans any costly turnovers, the Ducks should be in good shape.
Stanford will win if...they overwhelm the Ducks physically. Both the Cardinal and the Ducks are Division-1 football teams filled with world-class athletes. But Stanford might be just a touch stronger on both sides of the line. Control it and Mariota’s only “option” play is which defensive lineman he wants to get clobbered by.
Or if Corey Booker decides to suit up.
Stanford!!!! RT @anooj_patel: I know the answer, but Stanford or Oregon on Thursday night?
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) November 3, 2013
Game: Oklahoma (10) at Baylor (6) - Thursday, 7:30 p.m. on FoxSports 1
Summary: Just in case the Oregon/Stanford, offense/defense thing isn’t quiiiiite doing it for you, the football gods have decided to treat us to the highest scoring offense in the nation (Baylor) going up against a team whose opponents have averaged less than 20 points. It just feels right that Oklahoma has the chance to ruin a high-achieving Texas team’s season, even if that Texas team isn’t, you know, Texas.
What’s At Stake: Big 12 pride. It might have been overshadowed by the Pac-12, SEC and ACC (I know, it’s weird for us too) this year but the Big 12 has actually provided some very good teams this year. And Baylor in particular has been absolutely spectacular to watch. If the Bears can win convincingly enough, they will finally force themselves into the National Championship conversation and rightfully so.
Players to Watch:
Baylor - Bryce Petty - QB (Junior) - Look at the passing statistics in the Big 12. Just freaking look at them.
Oklahoma - Sterling Shepard - WR (Sophomore) - There is only one game this season where Shepard did not catch a single pass. It also happened to be the Sooners’ only loss of the season.
Oklahoma will win if…they can keep Baylor’s offense off the field for as long as possible. The Sooners have three legitimate rushers including QB Blake Bell and all three will have to run up and down the field to keep the clock running and Baylor on the sidelines.
Baylor will win if…their defense is for real. Opponents have actually scored at a lower clip than even Oklahoma’s but is that just because they haven’t faced anyone who can actually score yet? Almost undoubtedly. But maybe, just maybe their defense is legit.
Game: LSU (13) at Alabama (1) - Saturday, 8 p.m. on CBS
Summary: Alabama is unbeatable. Right…right?
What’s At Stake: Maaaaybe the SEC West but even more importantly: history. Alabama is one of the most dominant dynasties of the BCS or any other era. And their first undefeated season since 2009 (slackers) would truly cement their legacy as one of the greats. Fittingly, it was LSU in 2011 who kept Saban’s coven team from perfection and they get the first crack again this time before Auburn in the season-ender. And most importantly from LSU’s perspective, a win against the #1 team in the country could get them back in the championship conversation should the BCS go absolutely haywire.
Players to Watch:
Alabama - Ha Ha Clinton-Dix - DB (Junior) - Clinton-Dix has recorded just one interception this season. It sounds like a regression towards the mean is in order - in this case, the mean being an absolutely dominant game.
LSU - Jeremy Hill - RB (Sophomore) - Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans has recently received some Heisman buzz and rightfully so. But it’s worth noting that his fellow SEC sophomore, Jeremy Hill, is only about 138 total yards behind him. And Hill doesn’t play a position where a wunderkind gunslinger can chuck the ball to him 40 yards down field. He gets his yardage the hard way, but makes it look easy.
LSU will win if…they force AJ McCarron to beat them. AJ McCarron has long since shed his unfairly gained “game manager” reputation and become a legitimately terrifying SEC QB. But being so great and winning so comfortably for so long can take a toll. LSU needs to see if he can maintain his composure while on the run.
Alabama will win if…the defense plays their game. Alabama’s defense is the most brutally efficient force in college football. If the secondary maintains focus and LSU starts to take some coverage sacks, the Tigers just won’t have a shot.
Houston at UCF (24) - Saturday at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2
Summary: Who knows how much longer the American Athletic Conference will be an Automatic Qualifying conference. But if this is one of the conference’s last years of automatic BCS eligibility, it’s up to Houston, UCF or Louisville to finish in the top 16 and get to a BCS Bowl. Louisville may have pole position now but UCF or Houston could launch themselves directly into the conversation with a win this weekend.
What’s At Stake: Keeping the mid-majors out of a BCS Bowl. The only thing keeping Northern Illinois or Fresno State from another Orange Bowl smack down and Kirk Herbstreit’s brain subsequently exploding is one of these teams emerging as a convincing winner.
Players to Watch:
UCF - Storm Johnson - RB (Junior) - The guy with one of CFB’s most badass names was the biggest playmaker on the field when UCF upset Louisville. He has to be that guy again against Houston’s shaky defense in UCF wants to stay in contention.
Houston - John O’Korn - QB (Freshman) - O’Korn’s ascension to the spotlight has aligned well with Case Keenum’s in Houston (the NFL version). O’Korn’s Bryce Petty-like stats are the American Conference’s last hope at establishing itself as a dominant QB-conference.
Houston will win if…John O’Korn plays a special game. The Cougars have absolutely nothing on the ground and it’s not like it would matter anyway since UCF held the last elite QB they played to -5 yards rushing.
UCF will win if…they keep it close until the fourth quarter. Houston’s attack will be explosive and pass-heavy. Just keep the score manageable and let them wear themselves out.