College football’s preseason is finally out of the way. Yes, the preseason, at least that’s what Frank Beamer called it. Most power conference teams fattened their records by feasting on cupcakes, with an occasional tasty matchup sprinkled in to please the TV executives.
So in many ways, we still don’t know much about some of the playoff contenders. But starting this week, we’ll find out more. As the calendar flips to October, all conferences are getting into their own league games. This is where the College Football Playoff selection committee starts to really pay attention, as the process of elimination begins for the four playoff spots.
Here’s the full list of this week’s national TV games. And these are what you – and the committee – must see:
Game of the Week
Notre Dame at Clemson, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
We don’t know if Pope Francis is a college football fan, but obviously if he has to pick a side he’d choose the Fighting Irish of Our Lady. But papal blessings or not, Notre Dame is going to need some help to survive Death Valley to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Irish freshman QB DeShone Kizer has performed well since replacing the injured Malik Zaire in the season’s second game. But this will be the first time he’ll be truly tested, in one of the most hostile surroundings, no less. A victory over Clemson will greatly buoy the Irish’s playoff chances, as they’ll likely be favored in all their remaining games.
The Tigers have playoff designs of their own, and a resounding win over the unbeaten Irish will burnish their resume – as well as knocking Notre Dame out as a potential playoff competitor. This is not where Dabo Swinney’s team, which has had its share of meltdowns in big games, want to go #Clemsoning.
Other games the committee will be watching
Texas at TCU, noon ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2
Texas Tech vs. Baylor at Arlington, Texas, noon ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2
West Virginia at Oklahoma, noon ET, FS1
Alabama at Georgia, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Arizona State at UCLA, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX
The Big 12 takes center stage this week, with a trio of highly-anticipated games to kick the conference race into high gear. If you enjoyed last week’s TCU-Texas Tech shootout in Lubbock, you’ll love the Red Raiders sequel at Jerry World against Baylor. More of the same can be expected in Norman as well, as either West Virginia or Oklahoma will suffer its first loss of the season.
The showdown that narrowly missed being our game of the week will take place outside of the Big 12, but between the hedges in Athens. Alabama will make its first visit there since 2008 and this time as an underdog, something that hasn’t been the case for the Tide since the 2009 SEC Championship Game against Florida. Already having lost to Ole Miss, Alabama will be effectively eliminated from playoff contention if it falls to the loaded Bulldogs.
Also keep an eye on …
Air Force at Navy, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN
Besides the obvious implication for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy – the winner of this matchup has claimed the prize every year since 1997 – this game may very well impact the race for the Group of 5’s automatic bid into a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Now that Navy is in the American Athletic, it can qualify for the NY6 bowl spot by winning its conference. Air Force is in the Mountain West, so it’s already in the hunt. The Midshipmen are unbeaten and already 2-0 in conference play, though there are three other undefeated AAC teams also still in the NY6 race. Air Force, with its lone defeat a respectable one at Michigan State, is also a contender in the MWC. Last year the Falcons handed NY6 bid winner Boise State its only conference loss.
Eastern Michigan at LSU, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
The late Cal State Fullerton coach Gene Murphy aptly coined these the “Body Bag Games,” where an overmatched opponent gets a monstrous beatdown by a power conference team in order to collect a hefty check. These games have real consequences and last week our pick of “Despicable Meet” unfortunately yielded one more serious than most.
Southern’s Devon Gale suffered multiple fractures in his neck and remains hospitalized after a collision during a kickoff return in a game at Georgia. While this is not to say freak injuries can’t occur in any football game, Gale’s injury should underscore the grotesque senselessness of these mismatches.
But the beat goes on in the SEC, the biggest offender of such scheduling practice. This week LSU has a glorified scrimmage against one of the worst teams in college football. While Eastern Michigan is not an FCS team, it’s actually not really any better. The Eagles have won just seven games in the last three-plus seasons and are coming off a 58-36 loss to Army.
Last week’s Despicable Meet: Georgia 48, Southern 6.