November has arrived, and, as Flo Rida would say, it’s going down for real. This weekend’s slate is arguably the most consequential until the end-of-the-month rivalry games and the subsequent conference championship clashes.
Without further ado then, here are the five contests with the most impact on the College Football Playoff hunt in Week 10.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 4 LSU
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, CBS
The main event has had two full weeks of buildup with both participants coming off byes. It has all the elements of a prime-time classic with marquee programs, individual stars and ultra-high stakes with a playoff spot possibly on the line. A once-beaten Alabama figures to be a strong candidate anyway, as it was a year ago, and even a two-loss Tigers’ team might have an argument. Neither squad will be eager to test this hypothesis, however, so don’t expect anything but an all-out effort by all parties.
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LSU’s talented secondary, featuring CB Greedy Williams and S Grant Delpit, will provide the stiffest test to date for Crimson Tide QB sensation Tua Tagovailoa and his terrific collection of pass catchers led by WR Jerry Jeudy. But Alabama has been working all season to improve the reliability of its ground game to answer such challenges. The Tigers will be without LB Devin White for the first half because of a controversial targeting ejection late in the Mississippi State game, so Tide RBs Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs will look to take advantage of his absence. LSU hasn’t been nearly as explosive on offense. They need QB Joe Burrow to be accurate on his mid-range throws to give RB Nick Brossette a fighting chance to find room to operate against LB Dylan Moses and the Alabama front. If LSU is able to stay close, which no one else has managed against the Tide, PK Cole Tracy could be a huge factor for the Tigers.
No. 5 Georgia at No. 12 Kentucky
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Just like we all thought, the SEC East race comes down to this game between the Bulldogs and Gato – er – Wildcats. Georgia being in this position is not the least bit surprising. But Kentucky, already with a win against Florida in hand, is swimming in uncharted waters.
UK needed some last-second heroics a week ago at Missouri to set up this showdown. But LB Josh Allen and the Wildcats’ defense that has been dominant all season can be thanked for keeping the team in every game, even as the other side of the ball has struggled at times. RB Benny Snell is Kentucky’s top offensive weapon. This is, of course, not news to S Richard LeCounte and the Bulldogs’ defense, so Wildcats QB Terry Wilson is going to have to provide some air cover. Even with S Darius West and fellow LB Kash Daniel lending Allen support, the Bulldogs will be hard to shut down for a full 60 minutes. QB Jake Fromm has a solid .674 completion percentage, and he can count on a deep RB rotation, led by Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift.
No. 3 Notre Dame at Northwestern
Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Without the benefit of a conference championship to present on its resume, Notre Dame more than likely has to go 12-0 to make a case for the playoff. The finish line is in view with a month to go, but this road game has the potential to be tricky. The Wildcats are an unpredictable lot, needing everything in the tank to survive against hapless Rutgers only to turn around and throttle Wisconsin. This game won’t matter in their Big Ten quest, of course, but a win would help the league’s overall playoff chances enormously.
The statistical profile of Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson, with just as many interceptions (10) as TD passes, illustrates just how much of a season of ups and downs this has already been for the Wildcats. He hasn’t received much ground support, just over 91 yards a game, and that isn’t likely to change against the likes of Fighting Irish LBs Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquill. The Notre Dame offense has found stability since Ian Book took the QB reins and RB Dexter Williams earned his way back on to the field. But the Wildcats also have a solid LB corps, led by Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher, who will try to make the game a grind.
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No. 13 Penn State at No. 5 Michigan
Saturday, 3:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
A narrow escape against Iowa kept the Nittany Lions’ dwindling Big Ten East hopes alive. But now they must find a way to prevail against a rested bunch of Wolverines in the Big House. Michigan is eyeing a likely winner-take-all clash with Ohio State in the regular-season finale but must handle this important business first.
QB Shea Patterson has found the big-play punch that has been missing from the Wolverines’ arsenal in recent years, with help from WR Donovan Peoples-Jones. But Nittany Lions S Garrett Taylor must also worry about Wolverines RB Karan Higdon. Penn State QB Trace McSorley has been carrying the offense largely on his own this season, and it’s starting to show as he had to leave the Iowa game for a time but returned in the second half to deliver a huge scoring dash. He’ll be in for another long day if he can’t steer clear of Michigan LB Devin Bush and DE Chase Winovich.
No. 10 West Virginia at No. 15 Texas
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox
The playoff is almost certainly off the table now for Texas. But despite last week’s setback at Oklahoma State, the Longhorns can still win their way to the Big 12 championship game, and that quest starts right now. The Mountaineers still have a path to the top four, but this trip to Austin opens an extremely challenging November stretch drive. The winner here will be paying close attention to Oklahoma’s prime-time contest at Texas Tech (8 p.m. ET, ABC).
WVU QB Will Grier had a nice bounce-back game against Baylor following a rough outing at Iowa State. He and WRs David Sills V and Marcus Simms need to find the same rhythm in hostile environs. The Texas defense that was torched in Stillwater must perform better at home to give QB Sam Ehlinger a chance to match scores with the Mountaineers.
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