Want to see the College Football Playoff bracket decided before your very eyes? Tune into Week 6, when 12 ranked teams will clash to stay alive in the race for a coveted spot in the field of four.
It’s the best Saturday thus far in 2014—clear your calendar, crank up your fryer, ice down your cooler and gird your loins…this is what we’ve been waiting for.
Though each time slot has something to offer on national television, the mid-afternoon—3:30PM ET—offering is literally boiling over with goodness, so much so that you might be best served to go to a sports bar with multiple TV’s to fully appreciate the buffet of top-ranked action.
Before the weekend, keep in mind that there are solid viewing options on Thursday and Friday night, don’t forget to flip over to ESPN on both evenings.
Thursday, Oct. 2
7:00PM ET, ESPN: UCF (1-2) at HOUSTON (2-2): The American Athletic conference opener for both teams, the Cougars have only beat the Knights once in five tries, in 2006 in Houston. Though neither of these teams has impressed yet this season, both have played a ranked team: UCF fell 38-10 to No. 20 Missouri in Week 2 and Houston lost 33-25 to No. 25 BYU the same weekend. Both defenses have played well with single exceptions: The Knights coughed up 454 yards passing in their loss to Penn State and the Cougars gave up 323 yards rushing to BYU. Watch out for UCF sophomore cornerback Jacoby Glenn, who has two interceptions this season and looks to add to his total against Houston quarterback John O’Korn, who has already thrown six picks in 2014.
10:30PM ET, ESPN: ARIZONA (4-0) at No. 2 OREGON (4-0): The Wildcats were unranked and 16-point underdogs coming into last year’s game with the No. 5 Ducks, leaving with a stunning 42-16 win, the first since 2007. In an epic battle of strengths vs. weaknesses, tune in to see two of the worst pass defenses in college football going up against two of the best aerial attacks. Its Arizona’s No. 7 ranked-pass offense vs. Oregon’s No. 122-ranked pass defense and the Duck’s No. 16-ranked passing attack taking on the Wildcats’ No. 116-ranked pass D. Somebody’s going to get burned. Keep an eye out for Arizona freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, he’s No. 5 in the FBS in passing yards per game with 363.5 and tied for No. 4 in touchdown passes with 13. This game is worth staying up for.
Friday, Oct. 3
7:00PM ET, ESPN: LOUISVILLE (4-1) at SYRACUSE (2-2): The first-ever ACC meeting, these two shared Big East membership from 2005-12 and last met in 2012 when unranked Syracuse knocked off No. 11 Louisville 45-26. The Cardinals aren’t scoring a ton of points this season, but they do have the No. 9- ranked scoring defense in college football. On the other side of the ball, keep an eye on Louisville sophomore wide receiver James Quick, who caught seven passes for 174 yards and two scores in Week 4’s win over Florida International. He and the Cardinal offense will take on a Syracuse defense that ranks No. 90 vs. the pass—giving up 280 yards through the air in the Week 4 loss to Maryland and another 362 in last Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame.
10:15PM ET, ESPN: UTAH STATE (2-2) at No. 18 BYU (4-0): Stay up late to see BYU attempt to get one win closer to its first perfect season since going 13-0 and winning the big enchilada in 1984. Utah State has only won a single game in the last 14 tries against the Cougars, in 2010 in Logan. The Aggies haven’t won in Provo since 1978. Hidden beneath the layers of what looks like just another Friday night sleeper, this game has one of the best strength vs. strength matchups of Week 6: Utah State’s No. 4-ranked rushing defense squaring off with BYU’s No. 27-ranked rushing attack. The Aggies have given up a total of only 313 rushing yards in four games, including holding Wake Forest to minus-25 ground yards. There are a slew of studs on Utah State’s front seven but it’s difficult to beat the story of brothers Zach and Nick Vigil, both linebackers. Senior Zach has 37 tackles (six for a loss), two sacks and a 35-yard pick six this season. Sophomore Nick has 40 tackles (5.5 for a loss), two sacks and two forced fumbles, one for a 47-yard touchdown. What’s even more amazing is that both scores came in the same game, the 36-24 win over Wake Forest.
Saturday, Oct. 4
12:00PM ET, ESPN: No. 6 TEXAS A&M (5-0) at No. 12 MISSISSIPPI STATE (4-0): Mississippi State last won 43-41 in the 2000 Independence Bowl (the infamous “Snow Bowl”), but hasn’t beaten A&M in the regular season since 1915, a 7-0 win in Dallas. The last time the two met in Starkville (2012) both were ranked, the No. 16 Aggies beat the No. 17 Bulldogs 38-13. Tune in to see if the Mississippi State secondary—ranked No. 124 vs. the pass—will get exposed by the Aggies’ No. 5 ranked passing attack. The Bulldogs gave up 435 yards through the air to UAB in Week 2, 288 to South Alabama in Week 3 and 341 to LSU in Week 4. On the flip side, Texas A&M’s defense has improved from its No. 96 rank in scoring a year ago to No. 13 this season, but with wins over South Carolina, FCS Lamar, Rice, SMU and Arkansas it’s safe to say that the Aggies haven’t seen anything like Dak Prescott and the Mississippi State offense, averaging 41 points per game.
12:00PM ET, ABC: No. 20 OHIO STATE (3-1) at MARYLAND (4-1): One of two regional choices on ABC, the first-ever meeting between the two schools and Ohio State’s second visit to the state of Maryland this season (it beat Navy 34-17 in Baltimore in Week 1). The Terrapins’ last win over a ranked opponent was in 2010, a 38-31 victory over No. 21 NC State. To have a chance in this game, Maryland will have to find a way to improve its rush defense (ranked No. 102 in the nation), which gave up 370 ground yards to Syracuse in Week 4. This unit will square off with Ohio State’s No. 23-ranked rushing attack, anchored by running back Ezekiel Elliott, who hung up 182 yards on Cincinnati last weekend.
12:00PM ET, SEC NETWORK: FLORIDA (2-1) at TENNESSEE (2-2): Tennessee has dropped nine straight to the Gators, last winning 10-years ago in Knoxville. In order to avoid a 2-2 start, the Gators will need to shore up their secondary, a unit that gave up 369 passing yards to Kentucky in Week 3 and 449 to the young Alabama aerial attack in Week 4. This is a golden opportunity for Volunteer quarterback Justin Worley, who has never posted a 300-yard game as a collegian, but passed for a career-high 264 yards in last week’s narrow lost to Georgia.
3:30PM ET, CBS: No. 3 ALABAMA (4-0) at No. 11 OLE MISS (4-0): The last time these two met as Top Ten teams (the Rebels slipped to No. 11 in this week’s AP) was in the 1964 Sugar Bowl when No. 9 Alabama dropped No. 7 Ole Miss 12-7. Ole Miss has lost 10-straight to the Tide, last winning 27-24 in Oxford in 2003. The Rebels haven’t scored more than 14 points against Alabama since 2008. In order to have a chance, Ole Miss will have to shut down Alabama’s No. 3-ranked rushing defense, led by running back Derrick Henry who posted 100-plus yard performances vs. West Virginia and Florida. The Rebel D gave up 193 yards rushing to Louisiana-Lafayette in Week 3. If turnovers are the key to winning, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace has already thrown six interceptions, or one in every 22 attempts. On the flip side, Alabama ranks No. 106 in turnover margin, with seven giveaways (five fumbles and two interceptions) vs. only four takeaways (two fumbles and two picks).
3:30PM ET, NBC: No. 14 STANFORD (3-1) at No. 9 NOTRE DAME (4-0): The Irish and Cardinal have met every year since 1997, Notre Dame holds a 10-7 advantage since then but are 1-4 in the last five. Look for this game to be a slug fest between two excellent defenses and two offenses that have had their moments, but aren’t prolific. Stanford ranks No. 1 in the nation in scoring D while Notre Dame owns the No. 4 ranking. If the Cardinal wins, it will likely be through the air (the Irish gave up 294 passing yards to Syracuse) and if Notre Dame triumphs it will be on the ground (Stanford’s only given up 100-plus yards passing once this season). Worth noting is Stanford’s No. 111 rank in turnover margin, a stark comparison to the Irish, which rank No. 16.
3:30PM ET, FOX: No. 4 OKLAHOMA (4-0) at No. 25 TCU (3-0): Don’t forget to flip over to FOX to see if the Sooners can continue their quest for a playoff slot. TCU has never beaten Oklahoma in Big 12 play and last beat the Sooners in 2005 in Norman. The Horned Frogs have only won vs. Oklahoma in Fort Worth once, 68 years ago in 1946. These teams stack up well on paper, both rank in the top 20 in scoring offense and scoring defense, making this look like game of the week material. Keep in mind that where TCU’s statistical resume is made up of wins over FCS Samford, Minnesota and SMU, Oklahoma’s won against Louisiana Tech, Tulsa, Tennessee and West Virginia. This game may come down to how good or bad the Sooners No. 85-ranked pass defense really is.
3:30PM ET, ABC: WAKE FOREST (2-3) at No. 1 FLORIDA STATE (4-0): One of two regional options on ABC, Wake Forest’s last win over a ranked opponent was also its last win over Florida State, in 2011 when it beat the No. 23 ‘Noles 35-30 in Winston-Salem. Even though there is no real statistical basis for predicting an upset—other than Wake Forest’s No. 12 ranked pass defense—you have to wonder if the Seminoles will be hung over from their near miss to NC State and overlooking a struggling Demon Deacons squad. Keep in mind that Florida State is ranked No. 103 in rushing offense and No. 106 in turnover margin, both weaknesses that will eventually prove costly if not addressed. The ‘Noles have won the last two games vs. Wake Forest by 50-plus points, the Deacons haven’t scored a touchdown against FSU since 2011.
3:30PM ET, ABC: No. 7 BAYLOR (4-0) at TEXAS (2-2): The other regional option on ABC, Baylor has won three of the last four, but before that dropped 12 straight to the Longhorns. What makes this game compelling, despite Texas’ struggles offensively, is the Longhorn D, ranked No. 20 in scoring and No. 8 vs. the pass. The yet untested Bears look unstoppable but somewhere beneath the layers of a 2-2 record is the rock solid fact that the Texas program is still oozing with top-tier talent, always a threat no matter how shaky it looks on the surface. Keep in mind that the Longhorn defense has forced a whopping 11 turnovers this season—No. 6 in the FBS—with two fumble recoveries and nine interceptions.
3:30PM ET, ESPN 2: No. 17 WISCONSIN (3-1) at NORTHWESTERN (2-2): Though this looks like a total mismatch and isn’t as flashy as the network options, Wisconsin has only won one Big Ten road opener in its last eight tries (in 2009 when it nipped Minnesota 31-28 in Minneapolis) and is 0-3 in its last three trips to Evanston, last winning there in 1999. This game will come down to Northwestern’s D containing Wisconsin’s pounding running game, ranked No. 4 in the nation. The Wildcats held their last two opponents to under 90-yards rushing, including keeping Penn State to 50-yards rushing in last weekend’s 29-6 victory.
3:30PM ET, CBS SPORTS NETWORK: NAVY (2-3) at AIR FORCE (3-1): With all the other options available, it’s hard to sell this game as a must-see. Though the Army-Navy game rightfully gets the Lion’s share of military academy love, keep in mind that for the past 17 years the winner of Navy-Air Force has gone on to win the Commander in Chief’s trophy. Air Force is 2-8 in the last 10 and hasn’t beaten the Midshipman since 2011. On one side of the ball check out an epic battle between the No. 2-ranked Navy rushing attack and the No. 9-ranked Air Force rushing D. On the other, see what the Falcons’ No. 6-ranked rushing offense can dial up against a Midshipmen rushing D that has skidded to a No. 103 rank. The hero of this game may be Air Force running back Jacobi Owens, who is averaging 134.75 rushing yards per game, No. 10 in the FBS. If you don’t subscribe to the CBS Sports Network package, you’ll have to go out to see this. If nothing else look for the score at the bottom of your screen, it’s one of the most meaningful games of the weekend.
7:00PM ET, ESPN: No. 15 LSU (4-1) at No. 5 AUBURN (4-0): After losing to Mississippi State in Week 4, LSU is running under the radar while Auburn is trying to stay undefeated, it’s a must-win game for both teams. Auburn is 1-6 in the last seven and hasn’t beaten LSU since 2010, a 24-17 win at home. Though there will be lots of talk about LSU starting freshman quarterback Brandon Harris, the key to an upset is LSU rushing D containing Auburn’s ground attack. LSU gave up 334 yards of rushing to FCS Sam Houston State in Week 2 and 363 last week vs. New Mexico State. Auburn is averaging 260 ground yards per game, No. 18 in the FBS. The man of this match will either be Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne, with three 100-plus yard games this season or LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter, with 4.5 tackles for a loss, a sack and a fumble return for a touchdown.
7:30PM ET, FOX: ARIZONA STATE (3-1) at No. 16 USC (3-1): The Sun Devils have won two of the last three, but before that hadn’t beaten USC since 1999. The home team hasn’t lost since 2009 when ASU fell 14-9 in Tempe. This game will come down to Arizona State’s defense shutting down USC’s passing attack, led by quarterback Cody Kessler. The Sun Devils gave up 355 yards through the air in last Thursday night’s 62-27 loss to UCLA, making them ripe for the picking. On the other side of the ball, after giving up 452 yards of rushing to Boston College in Week 3, USC held Oregon State to 58-yards rushing last week. But, remember that the Beavers aren’t a running team, ranking No. 103 in rushing offense vs. No. 52 in passing. Arizona State is averaging 263 rushing yards a game, No. 17 in the nation. Watch out for Sun Devil running back D.J. Foster who got shut down vs. the Bruins but rushed for 140-yards plus in each of ASU’s first three games.
8:00PM ET, ABC: No. 19 NEBRASKA (5-0) at No. 10 MICHIGAN STATE (3-1): In what could be a preview of the Big Ten championship game, tune in to see two of the top ranked scoring offenses in the nation square off in primetime. That’s right, Nebraska ranks No. 7 in scoring, averaging 45.4 points per game, while Michigan State ranks No. 3, averaging 50.3. Both defenses have played well this season, but keep in mind that the Spartans returned only four starters from last season’s No. 3 ranked scoring D. That said, MSU ranks No. 6 against the run, setting up a thrilling matchup with Cornhusker running back Ameer Abdullah, who has rushed for 200-plus yards in three games this season, including hanging up 229 yards on Miami (Fla.) in Week 4 and 208 vs. Illinois last week. The two programs have met six times in history, all since 1995, with Nebraska holding a 5-1 advantage. The Spartans’ only win came last season, the Cornhuskers are 2-0 all-time in East Lansing.
10:30PM ET, ESPN: UTAH (3-1) at No. 8 UCLA (4-0): One of two legit options late Saturday, Utah is 2-10 all-time vs. UCLA but has won two of the last four. The Utes are 1-7 against ranked Pac-12 opponents since joining the conference in 2011, the only win coming last season, a 27-21 triumph over No. 5 Stanford. Utah comes into Week 6 after a disappointing 28-27 loss to Washington State, while UCLA is running high after whipping Arizona State 62-27. This game will come down to which struggling secondary can contain the opposing passing attack. The Utes rank No. 97 vs. the pass, giving up 417 passing yards to Washington State last week and 283 in a Week 2 win over Fresno State. UCLA ranks No. 121 against the pass (out of 128 FBS teams), giving up 488 air yards in its win over the Sun Devils and 305 to Memphis in Week 2. Either Bruins’ quarterback Brett Hundley or Utah’s Travis Wilson will be the hero.
10:30PM ET, PAC-12 NETWORK: CAL (3-1) at WASHINGTON STATE (2-3): This game is worth having the Pac-12 Network for, if not it’s worth going out in the darkness in search of. If you like passing yards, and lots of them, how about Cal’s No. 8-ranked passing offense taking on Washington State’s No. 90-ranked scoring defense? On the flip side it gets even better, the Cougars No. 1-ranked aerial attack dialing it up against the Golden Bears’ No. 126 ranked pass defense. Washington State’s 44-22 win in Berkeley last season was its first eight tries, the Cougars haven’t beaten Cal in Pullman since 2001, when they finished 10-2 under Mike Price. Cal head coach Sonny Dykes was an offensive assistant/offensive coordinator under Washington State head coach Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2000-06. If this game had an official hashtag it might be #defensenotwelcomehere.