Skip to main content

Florida and Notre Dame have waited years for opportunities like these. Here they are

Here's a quick look at what's on the line in each conference this weekend.

AMERICAN
Houston (2-2, 2-1 AAC) at No. 6 Cincinnati (5-0, 3-0 AAC) -- 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

You can make an argument no one has more on the line this weekend than Dana Holgorsen's Cougars. As we sit here in the first weekend of November, two teams are unbeaten in AAC play and two have one loss. Houston is one of those latter two.

Screen Shot 2020-11-05 at 11.02.57 AM

The Coogs play Cincinnati on Saturday (obviously) and have SMU and Tulsa ahead of them (Nov. 21 and 28, to be exact), and so a win here vaults them from fourth to first, placing them in control of their own destiny to win the American's regular season title and advance to the championship game.

But a loss not only puts them two games behind Cincinnati (three when you count the tiebreaker) and two behind Tulsa, they'd also fall behind 2-2 UCF by virtue of the Knights' 44-21 victory in Space City last week. Lose this game and Houston would need to win out, have SMU beat Tulsa and Cincinnati beat UCF. Not impossible, but not easy, either.

ACC
No. 1 Clemson (7-0, 6-0 ACC) at No. 4 Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0 ACC) -- 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC

If not now, when?

Notre Dame has come oh so very close to landing a big fish in recent years: a 31-27 loss to Jameis Winston and No. 2 Florida State in 2014; a 24-22 loss in a monsoon to Dabo Swinney's first Playoff team in 2015; losses by seven combined points to Georgia in 2017 and '19.

Brian Kelly's team isn't playing horseshoes on Saturday. The biggest fish of all swims to town on Saturday night, and not only will Clemson be without Trevor Lawrence but also a number of starters on defense.

A win here elevates Notre Dame to the top of the ACC standings, puts the Irish firmly in the Playoff discussion and, equally important, signals to the rest of the country and themselves that they can actually play with swim with the big fish. (Remember, though the Irish have come close in regular season big games, they're 0-2 and with a 72-17 scoring deficit in BCS/Playoff losses to Alabama and Clemson.)

A loss:

-- Severely handicaps Notre Dame in a presumptive ACC Championship rematch with Lawrence and the gang back healthy.
-- Throws the possibility of that rematch into doubt, considering Notre Dame would be tied with Miami in the standings. (Based on my reading of the ACC tiebreakers, it'd come down to SportSource Analytics's Team Rating Score.)
-- Ends the nation's longest active winning streak.

That's all. Just a normal regular season game in South Bend.

BIG 12
West Virginia (4-2, 3-2 Big 12) at No. 22 Texas (4-2, 3-2 Big 12) -- noon ET, ABC
No. 14 Oklahoma State (4-1, 3-1 Big 12) at Kansas State (4-2, 4-1 Big 12) -- 4 p.m. ET, FOX

We're now past the halfway mark in the Big 12 season and six of the league's 10 teams can look at the standings and find navigable paths to the title game. Four of those six play this week.

Screen Shot 2020-11-05 at 11.43.31 AM

Thanks to that overtime win at Oklahoma State and WVU, Iowa State and Kansas State still being ahead of them on the schedule, Texas somehow controls its own Big 12 Championship destiny. Can the Longhorns summon that "Playing for Tom Herman's job" energy four more times?

West Virginia pummeled K-State 37-10 last week and controls its own destiny with an Oklahoma State win over OU. Obviously, both teams paths get a lot weedier with losses on Saturday.

Oklahoma State wouldn't be buried with a loss since they've already beaten WVU and Iowa State and still have OU in front of them, but [Nate Silver voice] a win makes their path easier than a loss. Kansas State's biggest issue isn't the standings, but the conditions on the ground. Veteran quarterback Skylar Thompson is done for the season, and true freshman Will Howard threw for 5.0 yards per attempt and three picks in last week's loss.

BIG TEN
No. 23 Michigan (1-1) at No. 13 Indiana (2-0) -- noon ET, FS1
Nebraska (0-1) at Northwestern (2-0) -- noon ET, BTN

Northwestern won a Pivot Game last week, elevating themselves to 2-0 and Iowa to 0-2 by eeking out a 21-20 victory in Iowa City. Here comes another. A win here and everyone in the Big Ten West would either be undefeated or have two or more losses. The other two unbeatens are Wisconsin and Purdue, who were supposed to play Saturday but won't thanks to COVID issues in Madison. If the Badgers have to miss another game, suddenly the entire Big Ten West could come down to this: Northwestern at Purdue next Saturday.

In the East, Indiana is playing to keep pace with fellow unbeaten Ohio State while Michigan looks to avoid joining the likes of Rutgers, Maryland and Penn State in the basement. Just as we all predicted.

CONFERENCE USA
UTSA (4-4, 2-2 C-USA) at Rice (1-1, 1-1 C-USA) -- 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Charlotte (2-3, 2-1 C-USA) at Middle Tennessee (2-5, 2-3 C-USA) -- 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+
Western Kentucky (2-5, 1-2 C-USA) at Florida Atlantic (2-1, 2-1 C-USA) -- 6 p.m. ET
Louisiana Tech (4-3, 3-2 C-USA) at North Texas (2-3, 1-2 C-USA) -- 7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

Kind of a weird week in Conference USA where East leader No. 16 Marshall (3-0) hosts UMass and West leader UAB (2-1) is off.

UTSA, Rice, Charlotte, FAU, Louisiana Tech and North Texas are all in the hunt, as long as they keep winning.

INDEPENDENTS
No. 25 Liberty (6-0) at Virginia Tech (4-2) -- noon ET, ACC Network
No. 9 BYU (7-0) at No. 21 Boise State (2-0) -- 9:45 p.m. ET Friday, FS1

Welcome to the biggest game in Liberty football history? It's their first as an AP Top 25 team, and a win here with a Notre Dame loss later in the day means the Flames would own college football's longest active winning streak.

If BYU has any prayer of stealing a major bowl bid, it hinges on a win on the blue turf. Kalani Sitake's team has been nothing short of dominant through seven games; they're the only team in the country to rank in the top five in scoring offense and scoring defense (minimum five games played) and QB Zach Wilson ranks seventh in passing efficiency. But the best opponent they've played so far is... Houston? Navy? Louisiana Tech? With only North Alabama and San Diego State waiting after this one, Boise State is BYU's last, best opportunity to send a statement that will echo east of the Rockies.

MOUNTAIN WEST
San Jose State (2-0) at San Diego State (2-0) -- 9 p.m. ET Friday, CBS Sports Network
Air Force (1-2) at Army (6-1) -- 11:30 a.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

San Jose State has never started 3-0 in Mountain West play -- they'd never started 2-0 until last week -- and they haven't beaten San Diego State since 2012. This is the Spartans' biggest game in eight years, at a minimum.

Air Force, meanwhile, already scored a 40-7 win over Navy (it's their only win, in fact) and so a victory here means Troy Calhoun's team will fly back to Colorado Springs with the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy -- a prize the Academy hasn't won since 2016.

Pac-12
Let's check back here next week.

SEC
No. 8 Florida (3-1) vs. No. 5 Georgia (4-1) -- 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Andy Staples did a great job laying out the stakes and history in The Athletic, but the gist of is this. Florida and Georgia are often really good -- combined they've won 20 of 28 SEC East titles and five straight -- but they're rarely this good at the same time. Florida thinks it's ascending under Dan Mullen, but needs a win over Georgia as proof of concept. Georgia thinks it's still the undisputed King of the East, but a loss ends its 3-year run at the throne.

SUN BELT
South Alabama (3-3, 2-1 SBC) at No. 15 Coastal Carolina (6-0, 4-0 SBC) -- 8 p.m. ET, ESPNU

The co-leader in the West visits the co-leader in the East.

Despite becoming the highest-ranked team in Sun Belt history, Coastal still isn't alone in first place in the Sun Belt East, thanks to Appalachian State's 2-0 start. (The two meet Nov. 21.)

South Alabama, meanwhile, begins the most impactful two-week stretch in the program's (short) history. The Jags visit West co-leader Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 14, so Steve Campbell's team could return to Mobile with victories over both division favorites and a clear path to their first Sun Belt title... or they could be 3-5 and playing simply to salvage a .500 season.