With two-thirds of the games already in the books for 2013, this weekend will mark the beginning of the third part of college football’s regular season. The national title race will be at fever pitch with three showdowns involving top-15 teams, as well as other intriguing matchups that could have BCS bowl implications. There’s so many big games this week that the action on the gridiron wont be limited to just Saturday. Tonight may be the biggest Thursday in the history of college football with first place on the line in the both Pac-12 and Big-12. The results of this weekend could provide a clearer picture of the BCS forecast for January or give us even more questions than we already have about those uncertainties.
10. Texas (-6.5) at West Virginia (7pm, Fox): After a rough September and rumors about the future of Mack Brown swirling, the Longhorns hopes for a conference title are still alive. Texas has gotten off to a 5-0 start in Big 12 play and a road trip to Morgantown will be their final test, before a difficult finish to the year that will include home dates against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, as well as a visit to Waco.
9. Penn State at Minnesota (-2.5) (12pm, ESPN2): The 7-2 Golden Gophers have been a big surprise in the Big Ten and could be on the verge of their first double digit win season in a decade. Minnesota would reach its highest win total since 2003 by beating the Nittany Lions at home this weekend.
8. BYU at #24 Wisconsin (-7.5) (3:30pm, ESPN): BYU is taking their five game winning streak to Madison, after a 17 point win over Boise State a week ago. While the Badgers two losses this season have been by a combined total of nine points, their hopes are still alive to play in a major bowl game on New Year’s Day. This matchup will feature two of the nation’s best rushing teams. Wisconsin and BYU are ranked 10th and 14th nationally in that category.
7. #19 UCLA (-1) at Arizona (10pm, ESPN): The Bruins hopes for a third straight appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game are still alive, despite back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon last month. Their hopes for another trip to the conference title game won’t live on if they can’t get a win in Tuscon for the first time since 2003.
6. Virginia Tech at #11 Miami (-7) (7pm, ESPN): While the Hurricanes national title hopes may have ended after their 27 point loss in Tallahassee, it has still been a breakthrough season for a program that hasn’t been to a BCS bowl in ten years. Miami could get a rematch in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State, if they win their remaining games. The Hokies are coming off consecutive losses to Duke and Boston College, and could be in for another disappointing finish for a third straight week.
5. Nebraska at Michigan (-7) (3:30pm, ABC): While much of the spotlight in the Big Ten this season has been on the Buckeyes, there games aren’t the only ones that still have major implications for conference championships and BCS bids . A win for the Cornhuskers at the Big House on Saturday would set up a first place matchup in the Legends Division next weekend against Michigan State.
4. Houston at #23 Central Florida (-10.5) (7pm, ESPN2): This may not be the most hyped matchup of the week, but first place in the American Athletic Conference and a trip to a BCS bowl are potentially on the line. Neither school has yet to lose a conference game this season and the winner will move in to first place. The Cougars are the biggest hurdle left on Central Florida’s schedule, who will follow up their visit to Orlando, with a trip next weekend to face Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville.
3. #10 Oklahoma at #6 Baylor (-14.5) (7:30pm, Thursday, Fox Sports 1): To say that Baylor has been the most prolific offense in the nation this season would be an understatement. They are the only team that ranks in the top ten in both passing and rushing yards per game, and have scored at least 69 points in five of their games. The Bear’s scoring average of 63.9 points per game will be tested over the next month against the upper echelon of the Big 12. The Sooners are surrendering the fewest yards per game in the conference and boast a 21-1 all-time record against Baylor. Their only loss in the series occurred two years ago, in what became RG III’s signature game in his Heisman season. A similar performance from Bryce Petty could do the same for him and put the Bears in the national title discussion.
2. #13 LSU at #1 Alabama (-12.5) (8pm, CBS): While the stakes may not be as high as they have been in recent years, the Saban Bowl has become one of the most watch games of the year. The eighth edition shouldn’t be any different in Tuscaloosa this weekend. Their last three matchups in the regular season have been decided by a combined ten points. Alabama’s number one status will be on the line, after facing little adversity during their four games in October, in which they outscored their opponents 190-20. LSU wont be playing in Pasadena in January for a national title, but their hopes for a trip to the Sugar Bowl would be greatly improved with an upset over the twice-defending national champions.
1. #3 Oregon (-10.5) at #5 Stanford (9pm, Thursday, ESPN): Like Alabama and LSU in recent years, Oregon and Stanford have become unlikely conference rivals, with national title hopes on the line when they meet on the field. This is the third time in four years that these teams will be facing off as top-ten opponents. Oregon had little trouble in their first two months of the season and has easily gotten off to an 8-0 start. Their smallest margin was a 21 point road win over then sixteenth-ranked Washington. The Ducks will be favored once again in this matchup, but if any team can spoil their championship hopes it will once again be the Cardinal.
Stanford ended Oregon’s national title aspirations a year ago in Palo Alto in 17-14 overtime win and are once again their biggest hurdle for an undefeated season. Upsetting the Ducks for a second straight year would cause another domino to fall in the BCS ranking and would put them back in the national title discussion, if two other top four teams loss over the next month. Their only blemish this season was a 27-21 road loss to Utah. Beating Mark Helfrich’s squad may not get them back in the national title hunt if Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, and/or Baylor remain unbeaten; but in a worst scenario the Cardinal will be well-positioned for their fourth straight BCS bowl game.