Big Ten Showdown Isn’t What You Expected

Last week, four teams ranked in the AP top 10 lost and while the top two teams did win, their performances were rather unconvincing. Michigan State dropped from No. 2 to No. 4 after sweating it out against Purdue. Ohio State hung on to No. 1 despite barely beating Indiana, which played most of the game with a backup quarterback and running back.

But as we noted, polls don’t matter anymore. The committee in charge of playoff pairings is not concerned with the week-to-week minutiae, but rather the totality of the season. What that means is, if you’re a Power 5 team, as long as you’re still on track to win your conference, you’re in the race.

The process of elimination has begun. And even in early October, some preseason favorites are already out and some are on life support. 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

Northwestern at Michigan, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN

Surprise, surprise, these might be the two best teams in the Big Ten, defying the expectations of pretty much everyone. At the very least, Northwestern and Michigan feature two of the country’s top defenses, with the Wildcats allowing just 35 points through five games while the Wolverines are coming off back-to-back shutouts.

Neither team is an offensive juggernaut, so this should boil down to a defensive struggle with the team that makes the fewest mistakes on offense coming out on top. The loser of this game is actually not at all out of the conference title race – as the two teams are in different divisions – and there’s a chance that they might meet again in the Big Ten championship game.

Other games the committee will be watching

Washington at USC, 9 p.m. ET (Thursday), ESPN

Oklahoma State at West Virginia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Florida at Missouri, 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network

TCU at Kansas State, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX

California at Utah, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN

Conference races have begun in earnest, and it’s particularly crucial in the Big 12, which plays a true round-robin and there is no conference title game. Both Kansas State and West Virginia, coming off their respective first losses of the season, will have a chance to play spoiler this week by pinning a first loss on one of the conference’s front-runners.

The surprise team of the SEC has been Florida, which is the only unbeaten team in the East Division and already 3-0 in conference play. A victory over two-time defending division champ Missouri will put the Gators in prime position to advance to their first SEC title game since the Urban Meyer-Tim Tebow era.

In the Pac-12, we find this week’s only game featuring two unbeaten teams. Utah has rocketed up the polls after a sensational rout of Oregon two weeks ago while Cal has quietly improved to 5-0 behind the play of Heisman candidate QB Jared Goff. The winner of this game will become Pac-12’s lone undefeated team, but with the divisional races still a long way to go, it guarantees nothing.

Also keep an eye on …

Navy at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. ET, NBC

Notre Dame’s playoff hopes have considerably dimmed after a last-ditch comeback against Clemson fell short last week. But a loss to undefeated Navy will extinguish those flickering hopes for sure. Moreover, the Irish can ill-afford to look ahead to their showdown against USC in two weeks as Navy always gives them fits with its triple-option attack.

The Midshipmen themselves have a ton to play for, actually. They’re now in a conference and are in line to claim a New Year’s Six bowl slot. A victory over Notre Dame in tandem with winning the American Athletic crown will almost certainly put them at the top of Group of Five contenders.

Despicable Meet

Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas, noon ET, ABC

The Longhorns are in deep trouble. Last week, TCU jumped out to a 30-0 lead in the first quarter before only slightly easing up to a 50-7 victory. Don’t expect Oklahoma to take pity on a Texas outfit that’s shown more fight with each other via Twitter than on the field.

While Charlie Strong purportedly still has the backing of the administration, the natives are restless. Texas is 1-4, with its lone victory over Rice. More troubling is that the team has not improved – and has in fact regressed – during the season and there’s considerable dysfunction in the locker room. Getting humiliated by its rival at the Cotton Bowl will only erode whatever support Strong is getting.

There are other mismatches around the country. But as dumpster fires go, it’s hard to take your eyes off Texas right now.

Last week’s Despicable Meet: LSU 44, Eastern Michigan 22.


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