My favorite piece to write every year is this one, examining every single thing — big or small — that’s up for grabs in the final weekend of college football’s regular season. I love laying out all the championship- and legacy-altering stakes of, say, a Michigan-Ohio State game and then juxtaposing that against, say, a Buffalo-Eastern Michigan game where EMU plays for the first back-to-back bowl trips in school history. Diving into the nitty gritty like that is part of what makes college football so fun.
(Seriously, it’ll be the middle of February and my mind will salivate at the thought of writing the On the Line piece each November.)
Like Thanksgiving, that’s the type of feast you can only eat once a year, but what I can do is dole out smaller, properly portioned meals of the same variety each week. So, with just about everyone at the FBS level up and running, each week I’ll write a similar piece breaking down the stakes in the important games for the upcoming weekend. Some weeks we may go deep on a single game, or others, like this one, we’ll hit and run on a bunch of ’em.
Memphis at No. 7 Cincinnati — noon ET, ESPN
UCF at Houston — 2 p.m. ET, ESPN+
Navy at No. 22 SMU — 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The top of the American table is a bit, uh, top heavy — three unbeaten teams, three 1-loss teams, and UCF at 2-2.
Houston can end any hope of a Knights rally with a win on their home turf, while Cincinnati could deal a serious blow to Memphis’s chances of defending their AAC title. Both Navy and SMU could find themselves in a logjam for first or buried at the bottom of the pile by the time the clock strikes midnight on Saturday.
Boston College (4-2, 3-2 ACC) at No. 1 Clemson (6-0, 5-0 ACC) — noon ET, ABC
Well, this is the most interesting 24-point spread you’ve ever seen, isn’t it? Trevor Lawrence won’t play, and Clemson will put its ACC record 31-game conference winning streak up for grabs without him.
Texas (3-2, 2-2 Big 12) at No. 6 Oklahoma State (4-0, 3-0 Big 12) — 4 p.m. ET, FOX
There’s a belief in Austin that the home team can win out and still play for the Big 12 title. Never mind the fact that Texas doesn’t actually control its own destiny… what else are they going to cling to at this point? Amid all that’s crumbling around this program right now, no one needs a win Saturday more than Texas.
No. 3 Ohio State (1-0) at No. 18 Penn State (0-1) — 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Northwestern (1-0) at Iowa (0-1) — 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ohio State’s bi-annual visit to Happy Valley is automatic appointment viewing each time it happens. A hundred thousand screaming, white-shirted Pennsylvanians create the best atmosphere in sports, and the game tends to be a classic. Penn State took the eventual national champions to double OT in 2014; the Lions pulled an upset in 2016; and 2018 saw Ohio State complete a 13-point rally in the final eight minutes.
This year likely won’t be the same. The 100,000 fans won’t be there, and neither will All-American linebacker Micah Parsons nor running backs Journey Brown and Noah Cain.
Nevertheless, Penn State really needs a win. The Indiana loss turns this game into a make-or-break turning point for the entire season. A win here puts Franklin’s team back in control of its Big Ten and CFP destiny. A loss puts them three games behind Ohio State in the East, all but ending any hopes of a Big Ten title.
Likewise, Northwestern-Iowa is the top swing game in the West. Iowa is a perennial contender that could find itself 0-2 after Saturday. Northwestern went 8-1 in B1G play in 2018 to 1-8 last season. A win here puts them at 2-0 and validates the Wildcats as a real contender for the division crown.
UTSA (4-3, 2-1 C-USA) at Florida Atlantic (1-1, 1-1 C-USA) — noon ET
Rice (0-1, 0-1 C-USA) at Southern Miss (1-4, 1-1 C-USA) — 3 p.m. ET, ESPN3
UAB (4-2, 2-0 C-USA) at Louisiana Tech (3-3, 2-2 C-USA) — 3:30 p.m. ET
Jeff Traylor and Willie Taggart lead new programs and battle for a 3-1 start and true contention for their respective division titles at the midway point of the season. Taggart took over the reigning C-USA champion; Traylor inherited a 4-8 team.
Rice just started playing last week; Southern Miss is on its third head coach. Nevertheless, one of them will be alive in the C-USA West by sundown on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech is a perennial C-USA contender that will be buried in the West standings without a victory over division leader UAB.
The MW kicked off last week. Therefore, welcome to Separation Saturday in the league:
Hawai’i (1-0) at Wyoming (0-1) — 9:45 p.m. ET Friday, FS1
No. 25 Boise State (1-0) at Air Force (0-1) — 6 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
San Diego State (1-0) at Utah State (0-1) — 9:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
Nevada (1-0) at UNLV (0-1) — 10:30 p.m. ET, FS1
LSU (2-2 SEC) at Auburn (3-2 SEC) — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Arkansas (2-2 SEC) at No. 8 Texas A&M (3-1 SEC) —
Take it away, Matt Brown.
LSU AT AUBURN
This is the first time both teams are unranked since 1999. LSU has won 10 of the past 13, including the past 3 by a total of 8 points.
LSU is 2-2. A defending champ hasn’t started 2-3 since 1991 Georgia Tech.
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) October 30, 2020
As for Arkansas-A&M: the Aggies are 8-0 against the Hogs since joining the SEC, and yet nearly every game is close.
2014: A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)
2015: A&M 28, Arkansas 21 (OT)
2017: A&M 50, Arkansas 43 (OT)
2018: A&M 24, Arkansas 17
2019: A&M 31, Arkansas 27
Is this the year the Hogs, with wins over both Mississippi schools and a near miss versus Auburn, break through?
Troy (3-2, 1-1 SBC) at Arkansas State (3-3, 1-2 SBC) — 3 p.m. ET, ESPN3
No programs have won more Sun Belt titles than these two, each with a combined six. One of them will likely be two games back in their respective division by dinnertime on Saturday.