After the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings earlier this week, teams around the country know where they stand in the eyes of the committee. There are plenty of games left for teams to get back into the mix, even teams with a pair of losses.
*All rankings reflect the College Football Playoff top 25
#1 Alabama at #13 LSU, 8pm, CBS
In what has become an annual primetime matchup since the infamous 9-6 game in 2011, Alabama travels to Baton Rouge to take on Ed Orgeron’s LSU Tigers. Both teams are coming off a bye after taking care of business at home. Alabama knocked off Texas A&M 33-14, while Leonard Fournette ran over Ole Miss in a 38-21 LSU win. This matchup is arguably the reason Les Miles’ tenure ended at LSU. Since the 9-6 win, Miles’ Tigers went 0-5 against Alabama, including the 2011 BCS National Championship. Since Nick Saban took over at Alabama, the games at Death Valley have always been close. Alabama is 3-1 in Tiger Stadium under Nick Saban with wins in 2008 (27-21), 2012 (21-17), and 2014 (20-13). In those wins, Alabama QBs have combined for six total TDs with three of them rushing. The ‘08 and ‘14 games, were won in overtime, while the matchup in ‘12 was won on a last minute touchdown pass.
The keys to this game are pretty simple. For LSU, they have to get something going through the air so Alabama cannot load the box every play against Fournette. Last season, LSU got very little from the pass game, allowing Alabama’s defense to hold Fournette to 31 yards rushing. LSU also cannot turn the ball over, as Alabama turns them into automatic points. This will be Alabama’s first game since losing All-American safety Eddie Jackson via injury, so look for the Tigers to try to go after his replacements in defensive backs Hootie Jones and Tony Brown. For Alabama, the key is to get Jalen Hurts going early. Though the freshman has handled every situation thrown at him, under the lights at LSU is arguably the toughest environment in college football. The Alabama quarterback has often been the hero in this matchup under Nick Saban, and Jalen Hurts can certainly become another one on Saturday.
#11 Florida at Arkansas, 3:30pm, CBS
The Hogs enter the contest at 5-3, with all three defeats to a top ten team. With the Gators this week and LSU later on, Arkansas has currently played, or will play, five teams inside the top 15. Coming off of a bye, one the Razorbacks needed after a 56-3 hammering in Auburn, Arkansas needs to get back to their game. In the defeat to Auburn, the Hogs were out-gained 543 to 25 in rushing yards. Auburn had five different players score a rushing touchdown and Arkansas failed to get into the end zone. The worst part of that game is that Arkansas knew what was coming and still could not stop it as Auburn ran only 12 pass plays to 56 running plays.
After South Carolina’s upset of Tennessee last weekend, Florida now has a firm grip on the SEC East title. The Gators only need two wins from three games remaining in conference play. The schedule is still tough, though: the trip to Arkansas is followed by a home game against a possibly red-hot South Carolina before traveling to LSU. The key for Florida in this one is to get QB Luke Del Rio going. The transfer was starting to play well until a leg injury sidelined him for a month earlier in the season. Florida has beaten Missouri and Georgia since his return, but the QB has four INTs in those two games.
#10 Nebraska at #6 Ohio State, 8pm, ABC
After suffering their first loss of the season in overtime at Wisconsin last week, Nebraska travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State. The Buckeyes rebounded after the close loss to Penn State by squeaking past Northwestern. The Buckeye offense has been struggling lately. After lighting up the scoreboard earlier in the year, the Buckeyes have failed to score more than 24 in regulation three weeks running. Sitting at #6 in the first rankings, Ohio State controls their destiny to the playoff. After the home game against Nebraska, the Buckeyes travel to Maryland and Michigan State before hosting Michigan on the final day of the regular season.
Nebraska is looking to rebound off the tough road loss by pulling off an upset that would make them the favorite in the Big 10 West. The Huskers are currently in first place in the division at 4-1 in league play. Though they are in first, they sit only one game above Wisconsin, Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota. They are 1-1 against those teams, beating Northwestern. Veteran QB Tommy Armstrong threw two INTs last week in Madison. He has to take care of the ball for the Huskers to have a shot of pulling off the upset. The winner of this game will control their fate to the playoff, while the loser is likely eliminated.
#5 Washington at California. 10:30pm on ESPN.
After a huge road win in Utah last week, the Huskies hit the road again, traveling to California. There was some outcry by fans around the country when Washington was left behind one-loss Texas A&M in the rankings this week. It was pretty simple: A&M’s schedule is tougher than Washington’s so far. That might still be the case at the end of the year, but if the Huskies finish undefeated, they will certainly be in the playoff. What has hurt Washington’s schedule so far is the struggles of Stanford, coupled with Oregon looking like they won’t even make a bowl game.
California is sitting at 4-4 on the year, but they are 3-0 at home with wins over Texas, Utah and Oregon. The Golden Bears have proven they know how to pull of an upset at home. The Bears go as far as QB Davis Webb can take them: in their four wins this year, Webb has 17 touchdowns and two INTs. But in their four losses, Webb has 12 touchdowns and seven INTs. The Bears also have a good running game with a backfield tandem of Khalfani Muhammad and Tre Watson, who both have multiple 100 yard games this season. Look for Washington to control the clock with RB Myles Gaskin, who is coming off a 151 yard game in the win against Utah.
Others to watch:
#8 Wisconsin at Northwestern, noon, ABC
Vanderbilt at #9 Auburn, noon, ESPN
TCU at #17 Baylor, 3:30, FOX
Georgia at Kentucky, 7:30pm, SEC Network
Iowa at #12 Penn State, 7:30, Big Ten Network