We’re one week away from the playoff committee’s first rankings, but this week’s slate feels more like a bye week than a shakeup. Despite being in the thick of the conference season, there is only one matchup pitting two teams in the top 25 of the latest AP poll (Texas A&M at Ole Miss) this weekend.
Most of the playoff contenders either have a real bye or are facing subpar opponents they’re supposed to steamroll. A few are facing potential trap games with big showdowns coming up. To be sure, the committee will be paying attention, but most likely everything will be pretty much status quo going into next week.
So it’s bit of slim pickin’s this week. These are the games on national TV, though you should pay particular attention to:
Game of the Week
Utah at USC, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX
The Utes have risen to No. 3 in the AP poll with impressive wins over Michigan, Oregon, Cal and Arizona State. They’re the only unbeaten Pac-12 team and the conference’s best hope of earning a playoff spot. Utah’s road also should get considerably easier, as none of the teams on its remaining schedule is currently ranked.
But despite another midseason firing and turmoil, USC is still dangerous just because of its sheer amount of talent. Remember in 2013 the Trojans managed to win 10 games that season though Lane Kiffin was sacked after five games? If they rally around interim coach Clay Helton as they did Ed Orgeron two years ago, the Trojans have the horses to hand Utah its first loss of the season.
Other games the committee will be watching
California at UCLA, 9 p.m. ET (Thursday), ESPN
Clemson at Miami, noon ET, ABC
Tennessee at Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Texas A&M at Ole Miss, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Washington at Stanford, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
With the fall of Oregon, Stanford and Cal have emerged as the frontrunners of the Pac-12 North, with the winner of the Big Game likely moving on to Levi’s Stadium for the conference title game. Both teams are facing tests against unpredictable opponents, particularly Cal, which will be up against a reeling UCLA team smarting from last Thursday’s beatdown at Stanford.
The SEC West race is shaping up to be a two-team duel between Alabama and LSU, but having already lost to Ole Miss, the Tide can ill afford another conference loss and thus falling two games behind the Tigers. The Vols have shown that they have the ability to compete with anyone this season and an upset win at Tuscaloosa will go a long way to quash questions about coach Butch Jones’ job security.
Another coach in need of a big upset win to keep his job is Miami’s Al Golden. He’ll get his last best chance against Clemson.
Also keep an eye on …
Western Kentucky at LSU, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Three undefeated American Athletic teams – Houston, Memphis and Temple – have emerged as frontrunners for the New Year’s Six automatic bid. Toledo, which beat Arkansas at Little Rock, is also vying for that berth as the lone unbeaten MAC team. But none of them is facing stiff opposition this week, so that leaves us with another intriguing matchup.
Western Kentucky is 6-1, its lone defeat a 38-35 loss at Indiana when the Hoosiers were off to a 4-0 start before losing both of their starting quarterback and running back in a close loss to No. 1 Ohio State. If the Hilltoppers can somehow pull off the unthinkable at Death Valley, they’ll instantly vault to the front of the pack ahead of all other Group of 5 teams.
Ohio State at Rutgers, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Maybe this is the result of a weak slate, but ABC couldn’t find a better game for its national prime-time broadcast than one that involves Rutgers, one of the biggest train wrecks of college football? OK, the Knights did engineer an incredible comeback against Indiana last week, scoring 28 unanswered points in the game’s final 17 minutes in a 55-52 thriller.
But don’t expect such miracles this week, especially given that Ohio State coach Urban Meyer finally did what he should’ve done all along: Inserting J.T. Barrett as the starting quarterback. The Buckeyes’ attack will become progressively more in sync with this change and the Knights’ shaky defense is begging to be carved up by the more versatile Barrett.
Last week’s Despicable Meet: Texas Tech 30, Kansas 20.