1. Pat Fitzgerald vs. Urban Meyer – Pat Fitzgerald has done a lot of things for Northwestern in his seven-plus seasons as head coach. He won the program’s first bowl game since 1949 and this week he brings College GameDay back to campus for the first time since he was a player. But he’s never beaten Ohio State (0-3) and he’s never had the program ranked in the top 15. Both of those are on the line Saturday night if he can manage to become the first opposing coach to hand Urban Meyer a loss at Ohio State. All it will take is solving Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes eighth-ranked rush defense.
Fitz has a nationally-televised seven-hour infomercial for Northwestern football waiting on Saturday. Now what will he do with it?
2. Steve Sarkisian vs. David Shaw – In his third game as Washington’s head coach, Steve Sarkisian led the Huskies to a 16-13 win over No. 3 USC. In his 52 games between then and now, Sark is still in search of his second top-five takedown, although he did beat No. 8 Stanford and No. 7 Oregon State last season. That brings us to Saturday, where Washington finds itself back inside the top 15 for the first time in a long time with a chance to jump into the top 10 and take a backseat to no one in the Pac-12 or national picture, and all he has to do is pull off a second straight upset of a defending Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion that outscored its first two conference opponents by a combined 77-10 through three quarters.
3. Pat Narduzzi vs. Phil Parker – The nation’s No. 1 total defense vs. the nation’s No. 7 total defense face off in a game where we might not see 30 points combined. How will each defensive coordinator call a game in which one breakdown leads to a touchdown for which your offense might not be able to answer?
4. Hugh Freeze vs. Gus Malzahn – This feels like a red pill/blue pill game for both teams, where the winner takes the fourth chair in the SEC West behind Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M and the loser is left standing. Alabama and LSU provided a blue print for beating each of these teams after the Tide shutout Ole Miss and surrendered just 205 total yards and LSU compiled more than 225 passing and rushing yards in a 35-21 win over Auburn. Now which team can provide the best replica?
5. Dana Holgorsen vs. Phil Bennett – We all know what’s likely to happen when the Baylor offense faces the West Virginia defense on Saturday night in Waco, but I’ll be very interested to see how a white-hot Bears defense, which ranks second nationally in scoring defense and is tied for fourth in yards per play allowed, carries its success over from a pillow-soft September into Big 12 play and how Holgorsen’s offense builds off the improvement of the Oklahoma State win.
6. The Maryland offensive staff vs. the Florida State defensive staff – Here’s the best way to quantify what a spectacular September Maryland enjoyed: they jumped 106 spots (from 120 to 14) nationally in yards per play average, gaining an extra 2.65 yards on each snap. They’ve yet to face anything like the Seminoles’ defense, though, who boast the nation’s 13th-best total defense and surrender a minuscule 15 points per game.
7. Jim Mora vs. Kyle Whittingham – Rice-Eccles Stadium can be hell on Earth on Thursday nights for the opposition. The Utes are 12-1 in Thursday night home games since 2003, and that includes a 30-26 win over Utah State to open this season. Led by an offense that ranks No. 8 nationally in total offense, Kyle Whittingham (at least through one month) appears to have his best team since joining the Pac-12. Ranked No. 12 in the AP poll, Jim Mora could have the best UCLA team in a decade and a half, and it might take an effort like the second half of the Nebraska game to emerge from Salt Lake City with a win.
8. Mike Leach vs. Sonny Dykes – Teacher meets pupil for the first time as Pac-12 adversaries. No national title implications are attached to this one, although it’s a game both teams need to have to continue any hope of playing into December. More than anything, though, let’s hope for some good, old fashioned air raid in the Berkeley air on Saturday afternoon. Leach’s Cougars have hoisted 259 passes through five games, more than anyone in the nation, while Dykes’ Bears lead the country on a per game basis with 213 attempts through four outings. Anything less than 110 combined passes will be a disappointment.
9. Gary Pinkel vs. James Franklin – Considering he’s a senior, this will be the last time a James Franklin-quarterbacked team tries to beat a James Franklin-coached team. The James Franklin Bowl has more riding on it than just coincidental superiority, though. Missouri is the SEC East’s last remaining undefeated team and looks to match last season’s win total against the best team they’ve faced this season, while Vanderbilt faces the possibility of starting 0-3 in conference play one season after they posted a 5-3 conference record and won their final four SEC games. Oddly enough, the game hinges on the ability of James Franklin’s staff to stop… James Franklin. The Mizzou signal caller ranks No. 10 nationally in total offense with 1,129 passing yards and 215 rushing yards.
10. Ron Turner vs. Todd Monken – 0-4 Florida International visits 0-4 Southern Miss on Saturday night. Something has to give. [Checks rule book to ensure there is no conceivable way for this to end in tie…No. Pretty sure someone gets a “victory” here. Thank goodness.]