Two weeks into the season, we’re starting to get some separation between the true top teams and pretenders. The chaff gets entangled by Jacksonville State and Toledo while the exceptional ones simply handle their business whether it’s against ranked opponents or tomato cans.
Last week we had a couple of SEC conference games and this week more will follow. The Pac-12 also commences its own conference season with a highly anticipated showdown between its only two private schools. There is also another pseudo-conference game that might serve as an early elimination bout for a shot at a playoff berth.
Here’s the full list of this week’s games on national TV, but we’re here to tell you how to prioritize:
Game of the Week
Stanford at USC, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Stanford is ranked fourth and USC 23rd by US News & World Report as America’s top colleges, but on the field it’s the Trojans who are ranked sixth (by the AP) while the Cardinal are unranked thanks to their season-opening loss to Northwestern (No. 12 in US News and No. 23 in the AP poll).
This rivalry between the Pac-12’s only two private schools have become heated since Jim Harbaugh elevated the Cardinal from perennial doormat to championship contenders in the late 2000s. Stanford won three of four under Harbaurgh from 2007-2010 and two more under David Shaw before USC turned the tables the last two years with a pair of upset wins.
Now completely unshackled from NCAA sanctions that handcuffed them the last four years, the Trojans have designs on winning their first conference title since 2008 and also getting into the four-team playoff. After comfortably discarding Arkansas State and Idaho, Stanford will offer USC its first real test.
Other games the committee will be watching
Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Auburn at LSU, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Ole Miss at Alabama, 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
BYU at UCLA, 10:30 p.m. ET, FS1
A pair of SEC West showdowns will start the sorting process in the self-proclaimed “toughest division in college football.” All four teams arrive for their battles undefeated, though Auburn is badly damaged perception-wise after last week’s near calamity against Jacksonville State. The losers of these two games will have a considerable hill to climb to get back into the conference race though Alabama proved that it can be done after losing early to Ole Miss last year.
While Notre Dame is not a football member of the ACC, it does play six ACC opponents this year (contractually it must play five every year). The Irish will face a potent and difficult Georgia Tech offense while having to sort out their own issues on offense now that QB Malik Zaire is out for the year and redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer will need to learn fast on the job.
BYU has done well with its own freshman quarterback, called into duty in the opener when starter Taysom Hill was lost for the year. All Tanner Mangum has done is toss two Hail Mary winners in the Cougars’ first two games, setting them up for a possible playoff run. If they can get by UCLA with its own freshman sensation Josh Rosen, the committee will have to start taking them very seriously.
Also keep an eye on …
California at Texas, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX
For the second week in a row, the eyes of the nation are upon Texas for another potential train wreck. Earlier this week the school finally offloaded its unpopular athletic director Steve Patterson after just 22 months on the job. While no one has yet to really question the job security of Longhorns coach Charlie Strong – who was hired by Patterson last year – time is of the essence for Strong and his staff to produce some results.
And that won’t be easy against Cal, which is coming to Austin as a seven-point favorite. The Bears rang up 1,141 yards in blowout wins over Grambling State and San Diego State, with quarterback Jared Goff spreading the ball all over the field. If Texas can’t contain Sonny Dykes’ “Bear Raid” offense, it will be in for a long day.
Western Carolina at Tennessee, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Every SEC team plays at least one FCS opponent this season, and you can count the Catamounts twice. Besides this week’s trip to Rocky Top, they’ll also visit the new Kyle Field at Texas A&M on Nov. 14.
In fact, Western Carolina should have honorary membership in the SEC, as they will have played at least one SEC team every year since 2012, including twice against Alabama (2012 and ’14) and Auburn (2013). It has not come close to winning any of those games, losing by a combined score of 159-17 in the first three.
The Vols and their partisans should feel infinitely better about themselves after last week’s bitter overtime loss at home to Oklahoma. They can take comfort in stomping on a school that will stop at nothing to collect a hefty paycheck.
Last week’s Despicable Meet: Baylor 66, Lamar 31.