There are four Saturdays between tomorrow and Selection Sunday. As such, here are the four games on this week's slate that will shape the College Football Playoff race.
1. No. 12 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor: On the 11th Saturday of the fall, Baylor has joined the college football season. The Bears have coasted to eight wins and a No. 6 ranking on a (cue CFP buzzword) backloaded schedule which, finally, begins Saturday night.
Their first murder's row opponent - Oklahoma - has recovered nicely from the more-inexplicable-by-the-week loss in very Baylor-like fashion: they've beaten the tar out of the dregs of the Big 12. The last four weeks have seen OU crush Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State by a cumulative 232-50. The Sooners racked up nearly 650 yards a game and 8.14 yards a snap -- both numbers would be second to, ahem, Baylor if stretched over a full season -- while permitting only 281 yards and 3.79 yards a snap, good for fifth and first nationally if stretch over the full year.
Baylor is the higher-ranked team and the Vegas favorite, but the computers like OU. ESPN's FPI index says Oklahoma is the best team in the country (half a point ahead of Baylor, whatever that means), while Football Outsiders slots the Sooners at fifth and sixth, respectively, slightly ahead of Baylor each time.
However, the Stoops brothers still have yet to conquer the vaunted Briles offense. Baylor has won two straight in the series by a combined 89-26. Bob Stoops said this week the key to stopping Baylor is to stuff the run game, and there is some credence to that. After averaging 338.3 yards per game and 6.92 a carry with Seth Russell at quarterback, the Bears ran for just 103 yards and 3.03 a carry in Jarrett Stidham's first start this week. However, it was the passing game that drilled Oklahoma last season, and Corey Coleman is still as healthy and dangerous as ever.
2. No. 2 Alabama at No. 17 Mississippi State: If you have to play Alabama, you want to do it the week after the Tide plays LSU. Let's review the recent history:
- 2012: Alabama returns home from a slobbernocker win over LSU and promptly digs itself a 20-0 first quarter hole en route to a 29-24 loss to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.
- 2013: After an easier-than-expected home win over LSU (sound familiar?), Alabama slogged its way to a 20-7 win in Starkville, which the Associated Press described thusly...
- 2014: The Tide again returns home from a dramatic win over LSU to face then-No. 1 Mississippi State, builds a 19-0 lead and hangs on to win 25-20.
So we've established that if Alabama is going to fall asleep at the wheel, this is the week they would do it. And the last five years have shown us that if Alabama's defense is going to look flummoxed, Dak Prescott is the type of quarterback to do the flummoxing.
So can we then agree if Alabama is going to lose between now and December 31, this is the week they would do it? Or, perhaps, they'll roll 31-7 and we can forget this post ever happened.
3. Oregon at No. 7 Stanford: Most of the focus after Tuesday's rankings reveal centered around No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Baylor and No. 8 Oklahoma State. But sitting there, cooly in their trademark David Shaw calm, is the team that could wreck all their dreams.
The committee has all but forgiven their opening day loss at Northwestern (CFP buzzword No. 2: body clocks) thanks to eight straight wins, each seemingly more impressive than the last. Stanford, potentially, could head into Selection Sunday on a dozen-game winning streak with wins over - again, potentially - No. 4 Notre Dame, a Top 10, one-loss Utah, ranked UCLA and USC teams, and five other bowl eligible teams. And a 12-1 Stanford with 11 wins over Power Five opponents and nine bowl-eligible opponents should scare the hell out of the Big 12.
4. No. 21 Memphis at No. 24 Houston: The AAC West plays like a miniature Big 12, and its schedule has played out exactly like the Big 12's. Navy jumped into the CFP Top 25 (No. 20) after a 45-20 win at Memphis last week, and Houston jumps in the mix by hosting those same Tigers. Next week will see No. 22 Temple visit Memphis, and Navy heads to Houston six days after that. Whoever emerges from that wreckage will play in the Peach or Fiesta bowl.
And, like the Big 12, Saturday's game will boil down to whichever quarterback plays the best. In a true mixing of styles, 6-foot-7 Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch ranks 10th nationally in passing efficiency and sixth in passing yards per game with 19 touchdowns, only two picks and nearly 335 yards per game. Houston quarterback Greg Ward, Jr., listed at 5-foot-11, leads all quarterbacks with 829 rushing yards, and his 16 rushing touchdowns places him only one off the national lead.
Get your trigger finger ready, friends, because Saturday night in Texas there's going to be two old-fashioned shootouts.