By Ryan Mayer, CBS Local Sports
We’ve really started to get to the meat of the college football season, and over the next few weeks we’ll get a good idea of which teams are playoff contenders and which are pretenders. There’s plenty of college football to be had as with every Saturday, but let’s highlight five games you don’t want to miss this weekend.
Thursday 10:30 PM ESPN- #18 UCLA at #15 Stanford
The Pac-12 has continued to cannibalize itself this season and seems as wide open as ever with Oregon and USC faltering, Stanford getting hot, and Utah as the surprise team of the bunch moving all the way up to number 4 in the country behind a stingy defense.
Tonight’s game pits an experienced QB Kevin Hogan (Stanford) against the freshman sensation Josh Rosen (UCLA). The two teams have basically identical scoring offenses (35 & 34.8 PPG) and aren’t that far apart in terms of scoring defense either with Stanford (19.0 PPG) holding a slight edge over UCLA (22.0 PPG).
Both teams are coming off of bye weeks which means they should be well rested and ready to go. If you don’t normally stay up late to watch the West Coast teams, this would be a good time to do so. Plenty on the line for two teams in the thick of their conference race.
Saturday 3:30 PM ESPN- #7 Michigan State at #12 Michigan
Jim Harbaugh’s first foray into the major Michigan rivalry games comes against Mark Dantonio who has won six of the last seven meetings for “Little Brother.” The fans are already riled up and have been for weeks.
On the field, the Wolverines sport the best defense in the nation having recorded three straight shutouts and only allowed 5 touchdowns this season. You read that correctly. Michigan’s offense has become much more efficient in recent weeks scoring 28 points or more in each of their last 5 games. The Wolverines average over 200 yards per game on the ground behind a slew of players. Five different guys have rushed for 100 or more yards this season.
As for Michigan State, the Spartans have looked shaky, beating Big Ten bottom feeders Purdue and Rutgers by a combined 10 points in the last two weeks. Connor Cook hasn’t really gotten going so far, the Spartans will need him to do so to keep their dominance. This is basically a College Football Playoff knockout game with both teams still having to play Ohio State too.
Saturday 3:30 PM CBS- #10 Alabama at #9 Texas A&M
Well, since then the Tide have won each of the last two games by a combined 108-42 score (includes a 59-0 blowout last year). The Aggies will have that on their minds I’m sure as they welcome in the Tide this week.
A&M boasts one of the nation’s highest scoring offenses at 39.2 PPG (13th) and have been much better on defense under new coordinator John Chavis (21.0 PPG, 40th). Defensive end Myles Garrett is a monster having racked up 25 tackles 9.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks already this season. The Tide had issues stopping Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche a few weeks back, keeping Garrett contained will be key on offense.
For the Tide, since that Ole Miss loss, they’ve rebounded well with 3 consecutive wins outscoring their opponents 99-24. Granted one of those opponents was Louisiana-Monroe, but wins over Georgia and a gutty win against Arkansas look good for Saban’s crew. Can Jake Coker deliver enough big plays to help spread the defense for Derrick Henry to get running room? We’ll find out.
Saturday 7:00 PM ESPN- #8 Florida at #6 LSU
This game has a couple of interesting story lines.
First, the Gators will be without redshirt freshman starting QB Will Grier who is suspended for a year following a positive test for performance enhancing drugs. Inconsistent sophomore Treon Harris steps into the starting role.
Second, Leonard Fournette. If you don’t know his name by now, you’ve been living under a rock. He’s rushed for an AVERAGE of 204.4 yards per game. Let that sink in. The Gators run defense has allowed under 100 yards per game this season. Something has to give.
Anyone that’s a fan of old-school pound the rock versus a stout defense should enjoy this game. Plus, Fournette is pretty much appointment TV regardless.
Saturday 7:30 PM NBC- USC at #14 Notre Dame
With all that’s been swirling around the Trojans program this week, it will be fascinating to watch how the players respond against a traditional big rival in the Fighting Irish. The Trojans are coming off a dismal performance last Thursday night against Washington (17-12 loss) and will be looking to get back on track.
The Irish rebounded nicely from their loss to Clemson with a 41-24 win over the always difficult Navy. QB Deshone Kizer, RB CJ Prosise and WR Will Fuller are the guys to watch on offense. Brian Kelly’s guys are probably still smarting from the 49-14 beat down they suffered at the hands of the Trojans in the final game of last season. Payback will be on their minds, but a wounded USC team is still dangerous.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him. Agree/Disagree? Thoughts, comments, complaints? Email or tweet him.