Big stops: Big House, Death Valley, A&M, NW, South Bend
Get your worth watching guide right here, and settle in for at least 13 hours of Top 25 college football games – and a few surprising midseason coaching debuts thrown into the mix.
From an early start in Waco, Texas (West Virginia at No. 2 Baylor, 11 a.m. local) to at late conclusion in Salt Lake City (Arizona State at No. 4 Utah, ends about 1 a.m. EST), four of Saturday’s 14 games involving Top 25 teams match ranked against ranked. As in:
– No. 17 Iowa (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) at No. 20 Northwestern (5-1, 1-1), ABC/ESPN2, noon
– No. 7 Michigan State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) at No. 12 Michigan (5-1, 2-0), ESPN, 3:30 p.m.
– No. 10 Alabama (5-1, 2-1 SEC) at No. 9 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0), CBS, 3:30 p.m.
– No. 8 Florida (6-0, 4-0 SEC) at No. 6 LSU (5-0, 3-0), ESPN, 7 p.m.
Games matter most, but what a week of coaching craziness. From the USC in Carolina to the USC in California, and at Maryland and North Texas, interim coaches were appointed in the wake of firings and resignations.
At South Carolina, Steve Spurrier resigned a few days before his Gamecocks (2-4, 0-4) host Vanderbilt (2-3, 0-2), SEC Network, 3:30 p.m. Co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott steps up to run a team that appears headed in the wrong direction.
At Southern California, Steve Sarkisian was fired a day after AD Pat Haden placed him on indefinite leave. The Trojans, upset by Washington in their last game in a lackluster effort, play intersectional rival, No. 14 Notre Dame, NBC, 7:30 p.m. Quarterbacks coach Clay Helton is the interim coach.
And now, on to a few games that should take us a step or two closer to narrowing the list of College Football Playoff contenders:
IOWA, UNBEATEN, REALLY?
A win by Iowa over Northwestern sets up the Hawkeyes for a run at an unbeaten regular season and a spot in the Big Ten title game. After this one, Iowa does not have a ranked team left on the schedule.
Coach Kirk Ferentz is well aware of what his team faces: Northwestern has wins over Stanford and Duke, but was blown out by Michigan last week. A win by the Wildcats puts them at 6-0 for the first time since 1962, when Ara Parseghian was the coach.
”You got to get up off the mat,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Iowa’s Jordan Canzeri is the guy to watch. He had 43 carries for 256 yards in last week’s win over Illinois. Northwestern is third in the Big Ten in scoring defense ay 12.2 points per game.
LOOKING AT FOUR IN A ROW
If coach Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines shut out the Spartans … that can’t happen, can it?
Michigan comes into the game with three straight shutouts, and Harbaugh couldn’t be prouder. The winner becomes the top threat to Ohio State in the Big Ten East. Despite being unbeaten, the Spartans are 8 1/2 point underdogs. A key to this one is how Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook deals with Michigan’s lockdown defense.
”I think you’re only underdogs if you think you’re underdogs,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, adding later, ”but we are undefeated. We’ve found a way to win football games, that’s the bottom line.”
Michigan’s only loss was in its opener at No. 4 Utah.
TURNING THE TIDE
Texas A&M is out to avenge a 59-0 shellacking by Alabama last year.
”It was a feeling of embarrassment to be on a national TV stage and be beaten like that,” Aggies quarterback Kyle Allen said. ”It felt like we were a high school team playing a college team, honestly, and it’s not a feeling we ever want to feel again.”
Texas A&M will be trying to open a season 6-0 for the first time since 1994 and keep pace with LSU in the SEC West. A loss by Alabama would badly damage its league title and playoff hopes. The Aggies defense, led by DE Myles Garrett (7 1/2 sacks), hope to stop `Bama’s RBs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake.
GATORS INVADE DEATH VALLEY
He led the Gators over Georgia last year in his first start, but now Treon Harris steps in for suspended QB Will Grier against the Tigers. Florida is the surprise team in the SEC, and an upset puts them in a strong position to make a run at not only a league title, but a national crown. Toughest regular-season games remaining are home games against Georgia and Florida State
Stopping Leonard Fournette, though, will be the key. The Heisman hopeful – perhaps leading contender – already has more than 1,000 yards rushing in five games, with LSU averaging 346.4 yards per game on the ground. Florida’s defense allows 99.2 yards rushing.
Of course, Gators coach Jim McElwain is trying to downplay the loss of his QB.
”Let’s talk about chaos and distractions. Playing in Tiger Stadium, in a night game, there’s a lot of it going on,” McElwain said. ”This team, they’re about each other and they care, obviously. But at the same time, you’ve got to move on and those are the lessons we learn in life.”
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org