Oregon at Cal (Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): #Pac12AfterDark comes one day early. Oregon is in complete freefall after surrendering 70 points to Washington at home. Cal looked like it had turned a corner defensively with an impressive 28–23 win over Utah before submitting a dreadful performance in a 47–44 overtime loss to Oregon State (which had lost 12 consecutive conference games). Oregon’s pass defense currently ranks 117th out of 128 teams, and now it must face the nation’s fourth-ranked passing offense led by Davis Webb. Cal’s porous run defense must stop Royce Freeman, who has battled injuries most of the season but remains one of the most talented running backs in the nation.
No. 10 Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, Noon ET, ESPN): Trap game! Wisconsin’s defense is awesome and has slowed down both Michigan’s and Ohio State’s offense. But Iowa’s offense is already slow! And the Hawkeyes should be able to keep Corey Clement and the Wisconsin offense operating at a moderate pace. This will be an old-fashioned Big Ten grind.
NC State at No. 7 Louisville (Saturday, Noon ET, ABC): Duke was the first team to put any kind of brakes on Lamar Jackson, and now the Heisman frontrunner gets an NC State team that should have beat Clemson last weekend. The Wolfpack didn’t exactly limit Deshaun Watson (he was responsible for 413 total yards), but they did force two key red-zone turnovers and stuffed the Tigers for an early goal-line stand. Keep an eye on NC State running back Matt Dayes, who rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown last week and has the looks of a future NFL starter.
Washington State at Arizona State (Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): The Sun Devils are still probably wheezing from getting blown out by Colorado in the Rocky Mountain air, but they’re a tough team to beat at home. Washington State’s back-to-back wins over Stanford and UCLA have some believing that the Cougars may be the second-best team in the conference. Another convincing road win would solidify their resume.
Colorado at Stanford (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network): The new guard meets the traditional powerhouse. Stanford turned in another trudging performance but picked up a sloppy win against Notre Dame without Christian McCaffrey while Colorado routed Arizona State in Boulder last week. This is the Buffs’ second opportunity to log a signature win during Mike MacIntyre’s tenure (they narrowly missed in a 21–17 loss at USC in Week 6), but they’ll have to do it in Palo Alto. Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns showed modest improvement during the win in South Bend, but the Cardinal will have to slow this one down if they want to top the Buffs, who have scored at least 40 points in three of their last four games.
TCU at No. 12 West Virginia (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2): West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson had maybe the best weekend of his career during the Mountaineers’ 48–17 thrashing of Texas Tech in Lubbock. After holding a team that averages 604 yards of total offense per game to 379, the Mountaineers now have to stop TCU, which averages 530 yards of offense per game. With the marked improvement of quarterback Skyler Howard, the Mountaineers could end up in a shootout. The question is whether the Horned Frogs can solve Gibson’s defense, which is routinely flummoxing its opponents.
No. 2 Ohio State at Penn State (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC): Watch it for the whiteout. Ohio State is (rightfully) heavily favored, but whiteout night at Penn State remains one of college football’s greatest spectacles.
No. 16 Oklahoma at Texas Tech (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, FOX): Oklahoma is doing a fine job spoiling the fun for everybody else in the Big 12. Since the Sooners’ losses to Houston and Ohio State, they’ve run roughshod over the conference in dominant wins against Texas and Kansas State. Wide receiver Dede Westbrook, whose Twitter handle is @DedeTHEGreat11, has been, well, great! He has 26 receptions, 574 yards and eight touchdowns over his last three games and has looked like one of the nation’s best vertical threats. Add in the typically stable play of quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Samaje Perine and the Sooners look like the team we’d thought they’d be in the preseason. They probably can’t make the playoff anymore, but they can win the Big 12.
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m ET, CBS): As Andy Staples and Lindsay Schnell point out in this week’s Campus Rush podcast, Trevor Knight will become an instant Heisman contender if he can beat the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. A man by the name of Manziel used that game to bolster his Heisman case, and Knight has been outstanding as a dual threat this year in College Station. Outside of Ole Miss, Alabama has routed every touted opponent it has faced this season. The question is whether Knight can summon his old Sugar Bowl magic to beat the Tide again, this time as an Aggie and not a Sooner.
No. 17 Arkansas at No. 21 Auburn (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN): The Tigers have navigated their way back into the top 25 after a dreadful start to the season. Head coach Gus Malzahn is 5–0 after bye weeks as a head coach, and the question is whether he can kickstart his offense into the kind of unit he established on his past teams. Auburn had its best game of the season in a 38–14 win over Mississippi State two weeks ago, and hopefully the bye week gave running back Kamryn Pettway (who logged 39 carries for 169 yards) some rest. It won’t be the same quick-strike attack that Auburn used to boast, but the Tigers will make a big leap if they knock off Arkansas.
No. 23 Ole Miss at No. 25 LSU (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN): No point in reading me ruminate about this game. Finish up here and head over to Andy Staples’s deep and thoughtful profile of LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron to get you pumped.