This weekend is one of those special weekends where the SEC West beats up on itself, while several other ranked teams all somehow play on the same date. The college football fan’s game-watching chubb goes from 6 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays like these, which typically come once in October and again in late-November.
The stakes are high, no doubt. Those SEC teams along the bayous and under cypress trees in the country’s southernmost reaches will get closer to establishing their division’s order (Arkansas is this sub-conference’s weakest team, and they’re actually good). A Big Ten title contender and playoff hopeful faces what could be its biggest test of the season. Notre Dame plays its insufferable west coast equal Stanford (well, its other insufferable west coast equal). Michigan is still floundering around somewhere, while its students protest its incompetence.
CHOICE. Now let’s stop being vague and get to the five games you’ll be watching this weekend.
No. 6 Texas A&M vs. No. 12 Mississippi St., ESPN: 12:00 p.m.
Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin might be the coolest college head coach in the country. That’s great, and recruits dig the sh*t out of it (and his helicopter). But that’s all accentuated by his ability to win football games, which he’s done well when playing Mississippi State. Sumlin’s 4-1 versus the Bulldogs, his lone loss coming when he was at Houston. He even beat them in Starkville with the Cougars. However, this isn’t a bottom-feeding MSU anymore: Dan Mullen’s squad got a good-looking win over then-no. 8 LSU on Sept. 20 in Death Valley. Finally Sumlin might have his hands full with a Bulldogs team that isn’t ranked off a bloated, cupcake non-conference schedule, but actual dang talent.
No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 11 Ole Miss, CBS: 3:30 p.m.
The 3:30 p.m. time slot this weekend is prime real-estate, also featuring Stanford-Notre Dame (more on that in a second) and No. 4 Oklahoma-No. 25 TCU. Since the college football world revolves around the SEC, this is the must-watch game if you’re not a fan of those other four games. So anyways: ‘Bama, Ole Miss. Ole Miss is in rarified territory for this time of year, remaining just outside the Top 10. With the No. 11 spot, the Rebels have established they aren’t a running team–they rank only 75th in the nation for total rushing yards per game. Instead, they strike through the air, using Bo Wallace’s arm to drop bombs to Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core. This bodes well for the Rebs, as West Virginia torched the Crimson Tide secondary for 365, while 2-3 Southern Mississippi put up 200-plus yards. Ole Miss will have to strike early and often to set a precedent, as well as defend Alabama’s own stable of offensive man-machines.
No. 12 Stanford vs. No. 9 Notre Dame, NBC: 3:30 p.m.
You’d hate to see Notre Dame remain in the playoff conversation as it gets deeper into the season. Sure, the Fighting Irish are currently ranked ninth and remain undefeated, but its schedule’s been lax from Week 1. With Stanford coming to town, the Irish get their first true test. The Cardinal defense is stingy: even in a loss to USC, the Cardinal held the Trojans to only 13 points. That’s the most they’ve allowed all season, not to mention they’ve already posted two shut-outs. Nice. However, their offense, marshaled by quarterback Kevin Hogan, has wilted frequently this season (case in point its redzone troubles against USC). If the Cardinal defense can wrangle the Everett Golson and Notre Dame’s offense–and there are no indications it can’t–then this is theirs for the taking. They just have to remember to score. If not, that Notre Dame-for-playoff talk awakens among the echoes Saturday evening.
No. 15 LSU vs. No. 5 Auburn, ESPN: 7:00 p.m.
And the other-other SEC West ranked match-up of the day. For as reputable as LSU’s been under Les Miles, the 2014 Tigers look like the worst of Miles’ lot. They’re 4-1, but against the teams that have mattered so far, Wisconsin and Mississippi State, the Tigers squeaked out a come-from-behind win in the former and lost the latter. Neither inspired too much confidence. Miles went ahead and selected freshman quarterback Brandon Harris to start this weekend’s game, which ends a quarterback controversy in the bayou. Harris’ teammates have faith in him. That’s cool. But he’s also displayed both bad and great performances so far this season, with nerves apparently playing a role in the inconsistent performance against the Badgers. He’d better gut-check himself, because Jordan-Hare’s one hell of a place to re-become your team’s starting quarterback.
No. 19 Nebraska vs. No. 10 Michigan State, ABC: 8: p.m.
Cornhuskers running back Ameer Abdullah has been the saving grace of this Nebraska team this year and that’s not an overstatement. With him, the squad ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game; however, the next highest rusher after him is quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., which while effective isn’t necessarily beneficial for an offense that needs diversity against a defense like Michigan State’s. This game–if both teams’ strengths shine through–will probably only interest Big Ten fans, but hey, that’s what you get for liking this conference.