College Football Kickoff: 10 Best Games of Week Nine
Last weekend will likely be remembered as the most exciting of the 2013 college football season. Six of the top 11 teams in the country suffered a loss. That number almost reached seven, but the Miami Hurricanes were able to secure a Thursday night comeback with a last minute road win over North Carolina. Central Florida pulled off the first big upset of the weekend, ending Louisville’s national title hopes on Friday night and it was Separation Saturday in the SEC, with three unranked teams beating their ranked opponents. The biggest upset of all was the ACC showdown many anticipated between Florida State and Clemson, that quickly escalated in to a blowout from the start in favor of the Seminoles. This upheaval was reflected in the initial BCS standings, with only 10 remaining unbeaten teams remaining on the final weekend of October. This Saturday may not feature quite as much mayhem as a week ago, but several key matchups are on schedule with national title and BCS implications.
10. #17 Fresno State (-8.5) at San Diego State (10:30pm, ESPN2): Fresno State’s weak schedule will keep them out of the national title game, but the West Coast Bulldogs will likely being heading to a BCS Bowl if they can maintain their perfect record. Derek Carr (younger brother of former Houston Texans quarterback David Carr) leads the fourth most prolific passing offense in the country and has emerged as a dark horse Heisman candidate. San Diego State is the biggest remaining hurdle on the Bulldogs path to a 12-0 regular season.
9. Tennessee at #1 Alabama (-28) (3:30pm, CBS): Things are beginning to turn around for the Volunteers in year one of the Butch Jones era. Tennessee nearly upset Georgia earlier this month and their triumph over South Carolina last weekend was the progam’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2009 (which was against the Gamecocks that year). While they have found success recently, beating the twice-defending national champions may not be in the works this season. The Volunteers were routed by Oregon 59-14 in September and have not beaten Alabama since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. This will be the final matchup for the Crimson Tide until they face LSU in two weeks at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
8. Penn State at #4 Ohio State (-15) (8pm, ABC): The Buckeyes have yet to lose a game during the Urban Meyer era and boast the nation’s longest winning streak at 19 games. Despite all their recent success, Ohio State is on the outside looking in right now for the national title picture. Their weak schedule and lack of style points over their Big Ten opponents (first three conference wins have come by 10 points or less) will keep them out of the championship game; if Alabama, Florida State, and Oregon keep on winning. Northwestern and Iowa were competitive against the Buckeyes in their two most recent games, making it a strong possible that the Nittany Lions could challenge the Big Ten’s best team. Penn State is coming off a four overtime 43-40 win over Michigan two weeks ago.
7. Michigan State (-10.5) at Illinois (3:30pm, ABC): The Spartans rebounded from their 17-13 loss against Notre Dame by winning their first three conference games. Michigan State is currently atop of the Legends Division and their hopes are still alive for a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. Illinois is their final tune up before back-to-back games in November against Michigan and November.
6. Vanderbilt at #16 Texas A&M (-18) (12:21pm, Peachtree TV): The Commodores rebounded from a disappointing start to their season, by getting a signature win over Georgia in Nashville for their first conference win. Next up is another tough test with a road trip to College Station. Texas A&M’s national title hopes may have ended last weekend against Auburn, but a Sugar Bowl berth is still possible if they can win their remaining games.
5. Texas at TCU (-2) (7:30pm, Fox Sports 1): Despite their struggles at the beginning of the year and all the rumors surrounding the future of Mack Brown, the Longhorns remain unbeaten in Big 12 play and are still contenders for a conference crown and BCS bowl. The season for Texas has turned around after a 16 point win over Oklahoma and they’ve had an extra to prepare, for their trip to Forth Worth against the Horned Frogs. TCU has been the most disappointing school in the Big 12 this season and arguably all of college football. A win over the Longhorns could change the momentum for their season and be the beginning of a strong finish.
4. #6 Stanford (-4) at #25 Oregon State (10:30pm, ESPN): The Beavers have climbed back in to the national rankings, after losing their season opener against Eastern Washington (49-46). Sean Mannion has emerged as a Heisman front-runner and college football’s top passer, ranking first nationally in passing yards (2,992) and touchdown passes (29). Oregon State began the year with high expectations and would establish themselves as Pac-12 contenders with a win over The Cardinal. Stanford is the highest ranked one-loss team in the country and still has national title hopes, despite their loss to Utah earlier this month. David Shaw’s squad is entering the toughest stretch of their season, which will include a trip to Corvalis this weekend, before a Thursday night home game against Oregon in two weeks.
3. #12 UCLA at #3 Oregon (-23) (7pm, ESPN): The biggest controversy surrounding the initial BCS standings of 2013 was Oregon slipping to number three in the national rankings, after Florida State’s rout over Clemson. Their stay at number three will be short if they can win their fifth straight conference game in convincing fashion. The Ducks have won all of their games this season by at least three touchdowns and will be heavy favorites once again over Brett Hundley and the Bruins. UCLA is coming off a 24-10 loss to Stanford and could be the catalyst for a second straight week of BCS mayhem, if they can beat Oregon for the first time since 2007.
2. #10 Texas Tech at #15 Oklahoma (-7) (3:30pm, Fox): Texas Tech has been the biggest surprise in the Big 12 this year under first year head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The Red Raiders are off to their first 7-0 start since 2008 and have quietly emerged as a contender in a competitive conference race. They are tied for first place at the moment with Texas and Baylor, with only a single loss separating Oklahoma and Oklahoma State from being atop of the league. Kingsbury’s squad has only beaten one ranked opponent this season (#24 TCU on September 12) and a road win in Norman would truly establish themselves as threat for the national title. This Oklahoma team is playing much different than in years past. The Sooners rank in the bottom third in the nation for passing yards, but have a top-20 rushing attack and top-tier defense. A win over the Red Raiders would put them right back in to contention for a BCS bowl.
1. #21 South Carolina at #5 Missouri (-3) (7pm, ESPN2): No school has been a bigger surprise in 2013 than the Missouri Tigers. Gary Pinkel began the year on the hot seat and is now a candidate for coach of the year, with his team holding a two game buffer over their SEC East counterparts. The Tigers were unranked at the beginning of October and have jumped 10 spots in consecutive weeks, for their highest ranking since 2007. While their strong start has benefited from playing injury-riddled Georgia and Florida in back-to-back weeks, Pinkel’s squad was able to pull off both of those wins with freshman quarterback Maty Mauk in place of James Franklin, who separated his shoulder against the Bulldogs.
They will now face a South Carolina team that just lost their starting quarterback Connor Shaw for the rest of the year. The Gamecocks hopes at a BCS Bowl may be over, but a double digit win season is still possible if they can win their remaining regular season games. Facing the other school from Colombia will top off the end of a stretch for Missouri, against the established contenders of the SEC East. A win would further establish themselves as a true national title contenders, with a difficult finish on their schedule coming in November, that will include a visit from Texas A&M.