With USC’s battle with Washington State Cougars taking up the Friday night primetime slot, here are five games to make sure to keep an eye on Saturday.
#24 Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1 SEC) vs. #13 Auburn (3-1, 1-0 SEC), 3:00 pm PST, ESPN
Another week, another high-profile SEC matchup featuring Mississippi State. The Bulldogs jumped into the Top-25 last week after a 37-7 blowout of LSU at home, only to fall flat on the road against Georgia last Saturday, losing 31-3. We’ll have to see which Mississippi State team shows up to Auburn this weekend, but there’s room for optimism with the offense led by quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams. On the Auburn sideline, quarterback Jarred Stidham appears to have the offense trending in the right direction, and the Tigers have maintained their strong defensive play, currently ranking 13th in the nation in scoring defense.
#2 Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC) vs. #12 Virginia Tech (4-0, 0-0 ACC), 5:00 pm PST, ABC
The defending champs will head into Blacksburg for another primetime matchup against a top-15 opponent, their third top-15 opponent of the season. This game features two exceptional first-year starting quarterbacks in Clemson’s Kelly Bryant and Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson, along two top-10 scoring defenses (Clemson ranks 5th, Virginia Tech is tied for 8th). This also marks one of the final major roadblocks for the Tigers on their quest to repeat, as the Hokies are currently the last ranked team on the schedule, at least until a possible rematch between the two squads in the ACC Championship. The Hokies will look to ruin Clemson’s chances to repeat, as well as provide second-year head coach Justin Fuente his biggest win with the program.
#15 Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-1 Big 12) vs. Texas Tech (3-0, 0-0 Big 12), 5:00 pm PST, FOX
The Cowboys head into Lubbock looking to redeem themselves after a tough 44-31 loss at home to TCU last weekend to knock them out of the top-10. This matchup has become a shootout to look forward to every year, with the last game the teams failed to combine for at least 80 points taking place in 2011, a game that the Cowboys won 66-6. The Cowboys’ star offensive trio of quarterback Mason Rudolph, wide receiver James Washington, and running back Justice Hill should keep the tradition alive, while the Red Raiders feature the second-best passing offense in college football behind quarterback Nic Shimonek, and are tied for ninth in the nation with 45.0 points per game. Texas Tech will have to continue their success in the turnover battle if they hope to come away with the upset, as they rank second in the nation in turnover margin.
Colorado (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) vs. UCLA (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12), 7:30 pm PST, ESPN2
The final set of games includes a battle between two Pac-12 South teams looking to bounce back from tough losses last weekend in their conference openers and avoid falling into an early hole in the standings. The Buffaloes are coming off of last week’s tough 37-10 loss to Washington, a game they were outscored 27-3 in the second half and surrendered 202 yards on the ground to Huskies running back Myles Gaskin. Despite that, the main concern appears to be UCLA’s rushing defense, which squares up against Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay one week after giving up 405 rushing yards to Stanford in a 58-34 loss, including 263 to running back Bryce Love. Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen, the nation’s leader in passing yards and touchdowns, can be expected to keep UCLA in the game with his arm, but the running game and defense will be key for the Bruins to come out on top in a game that could be a must-win for two teams with Pac-12 Championship aspirations.
California (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) vs. Oregon (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12), 7:30 pm PST, FS1
Just like the Buffaloes and Bruins, the Golden Bears and Ducks head into battle looking to bounce back after losing their conference openers. This year’s match-up will pit two head coaches in their first season with their respective programs in Cal’s Justin Wilcox and Oregon’s Willie Taggart, as they look to avoid falling into an early hole in the Pac-12 North. California’s defense, which was able to slow down the Trojans last weekend for three quarters, which will be tested again this week as the Golden Bears head up to Eugene to try and slow down the top scoring offense in college football. The Ducks will look to continue their offensive onslaught behind quarterback Justin Herbert and running back Royce Freeman in hopes of matching last season’s win total.