1. The preseason is over in Palo Alto - There wasn't anything especially concerning in Stanford's wins over San Jose State and Army, but there wasn't anything that took your breath away, either. Starting Saturday evening with Arizona State, each of the 10 games awaiting David Shaw's club will be more difficult than the previous two. The 2010, 2011 and 2012 Cardinal teams rose to the challenge, and now it's the 2013 team's turn. Simply put, it's time for Stanford to start earning its top five status.
2. Fresno State's big chance - In his first year on the job, a 20-10 loss to Boise State was the only thing between Tim DeRuyter and an outright Mountain West championship. It would've been the school's first outright conference title since winning the Big West in 1991. The Bulldogs can't win a conference championship tonight, but they can certainly clear a path for themselves. Win tonight, and DeRuyter's team is at least a 10-point favorite every time they take the field until the Mountain West title game. Win that, and Fresno State is likely BCS bound.
3. Mack Brown's next last chance - In spite of what he's seen on the field the last two weeks, Brown insists his Longhorns can win out and take home a Big 12 title. That race to the title starts tomorrow night with Brown's own kryptonite, the Kansas State Wildcats. Let's take a trip back through the house of horrors that is Texas' current five-game losing streak:
2006: Colt McCoy pinches a nerve in his shoulder on a goal line sneak; Texas loses 45-42, ultimately loses out on a second straight Big 12 title
2007: For the first time in school history, Texas allows a punt return, kickoff return and interception return touchdowns in the same season - and it all happens in the same game in a 41-21 loss to Kansas State.
2010: The unofficial end of the Greg Davis era at Texas. Garrett Gilbert throws 59 passes, including 23 straight, and five interceptions against Kansas State's No. 119-ranked rush defense. K-State wins 39-14 while completing two passes for nine yards.
2011: Texas outgains Kansas State 310-121, loses 17-13.
2012: A beleaguered Texas defense takes a 10-7 lead at the half, then allows five touchdowns over six drives in the second half. Texas loses 42-24.
4. You'd hate to call it a must-win, but.... - I don't want to attach too much meaning to a pair of September non-conference games featuring four unranked teams, but this is a crucial Saturday for two middle class SEC teams. Arkansas (3-0) and Missouri (2-0) have both taken care of business to this point, and both leave the South for games that could easily turn into losses. And if that's the case, that's a real roadblock on the march to six wins. In Arkansas' eight remaining games following its trip to Rutgers, six are against ranked teams. In Missouri's nine games following its date with Indiana, five are against ranked foes.
Again, I'm not saying it's a must-win. But each team really, really needs it.
5. Florida's offensive offense - Tomorrow represents Game 16 in the Brent Pease/Jeff Driskel era of Florida football. Game 15, in which Driskel threw two interceptions and fumbled once, doing his part to contribute to the Gators' five-turnover effort in a 21-16 loss to Miami, didn't look appreciably better than Game 1. The current combination of Florida players will likely never remind anyone of the 2008 Florida offense, so any hope of the Gators winning an SEC championship lie on Pease's ability to coax a duplication of Driskel's 2012 statistics in SEC play, when he posted a dozen total touchdowns and threw only three interceptions in eight games. With Tennessee visiting the Swamp on Saturday, how much can Pease tweak the Florida attack to give the team a fighting chance at Atlanta in early December?
6. A date with infamy at LA Coliseum - Here's where we are in college football 2013, Utah State visits USC and it's the Aggies with a clear edge at quarterback. In his fourth game as a head coach, Matt Wells has an opportunity to bring home Utah State's first-ever win over USC. In fact, Utah State has neverbeaten an original Pac-12 team while they were a member of the conference. On the flip side, Lane Kiffin has an opportunity to be.... the first USC coach to lose to Utah State. No matter how good Utah State may be, that's not a line Kiffin can afford on his resume right now.
7. How good are Notre Dame and Michigan State really? - Through two games against FBS competition, Michigan State's defense has outscored its offense by a margin of four touchdowns to two. The offense looked better against Youngstown State, but the Penguins aren't Notre Dame. How long can Mark Dantonio's team get away with its impression of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens? And what are we supposed to make of this Notre Dame team? An uneven win over Temple, a loss to Michigan, and then an uneven win over Purdue. The schedule doesn't get any easier from here (Oklahoma, Arizona State and USC in the next three weeks), so Brian Kelly would like an answer to that question more than anybody.
8. Another new SEC head coach learns just how far the road ahead is - New Tennessee head coach Butch Jones got an up close and personal look at exactly how far his program sits from the nation's elite last Saturday in a 59-14 blowout at Oregon. Now it's Gus Malzahn's turn. LSU won't score as many points as Oregon, but they're good enough to make things look bad in a hurry if Auburn isn't up to the task.
9. How much has Maryland really improved? - One year ago at this time, No. 8 West Virginia beat Maryland, 31-21, as the Mountaineers were seemingly on their way to the BCS, and Maryland was seemingly on the road to nowhere. Fifty-two weeks later, Maryland is 3-0 and has looked like one of the most improved teams in the country, but against some pretty bad competition, while West Virginia, winners of two of its last nine against BCS opponents, is still in search of an identity with three straight games against top 25 Big 12 opponents waiting ahead.
10. Make some time to travel off the beaten path on Saturday night - It's an admittedly poor national slate on Saturday, but let's look at the bright side. There's never been a better time to seek out some regional rivalries you may not otherwise give the time of day on a busier Saturday night. Eastern Illinois visits Northern Illinois (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3) in a battle of undefeated teams, Utah visits BYU for another edition of the Holy War (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), and Idaho visits Washington State in a border battle (10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks).