Does it feel like the biggest Saturday of the season is nearly upon us? It does to me, and not only because there are a whopping six head-to-head matchups of teams in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s top 25. Some of those games have been marked on college football lovers’ calendars since before the season even started.
No. 14 Ohio State at No. 8 Michigan State (7 p.m., Ch. 7) isn’t quite what it might’ve been, each team having lost once already, but it’s still the game of games in the Big Ten. The Spartans haven’t lost to a league opponent since 2012. The Buckeyes have yet to lose to a league foe in the regular season since Urban Meyer took control prior to the 2012 campaign.
The Big Ten’s East division — and any shot at making the playoff — is on the line. Add the spectacle of the first-ever November night game at Spartan Stadium, and you’ve got a level of drama that inspires over-the-top statements like the following one from MSU coach Mark Dantonio:
“A football game like this, really every play is sort of a life event.”
The Buckeyes have reached the 50-point mark in five of their last six games and are No. 4 in the nation in scoring average, at 45.6. The Spartans are right behind them at No. 5, averaging 45.5. MSU quarterback Connor Cook has far-more big-game experience than OSU redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, but there’s been a lot of talk around the conference that Barrett might be a better player than Braxton Miller, the decorated senior who is sitting out the season with an injury.
“I feel like Barrett works better in this offense,” said Spartans linebacker Taiwan Jones. “I feel like he has a better arm.”
Barrett has 23 touchdown passes thus far and might need a few more for his team to keep pace with the Spartans, who’ve been itching to close out a big game since their disastrous second half at Oregon. If they can block brilliant Buckeyes defensive end Joey Bosa, this should be their night. Sparty on, 34-24.
It’s rather hard to believe that when No. 10 Notre Dame visits No. 9 Arizona State (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7), the Irish will be underdogs according to the oddsmakers as well as the CFP rankings. Both teams are 7-1, but the Sun Devils have done more climbing in the polls with their surprisingly gritty play in a very competitive Pac-12 South division.
The teams’ defenses have gone in opposite directions in recent weeks. The Irish have surrendered 113 points in their last three games. The Sun Devils, meanwhile, locked up Stanford, Washington and Utah to the tune of 36 combined points.
“We’ve got to continue to improve in tighter coverage and get home when we’ve got the opportunities,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “I think if we do that, we’ll be fine on Saturday.”
What the heck: Irish get the marquee victory they need, 34-29.
This was always supposed to be a giant day in the Big 12, but No. 12 Baylor at No. 15 Oklahoma (11 a.m., FS1) isn’t the reason that turned out to be the case. Two months ago, how many of us would’ve seen No. 7 Kansas State at No. 6 TCU (6:30 p.m., Fox-32) coming?
“I’m a happy camper,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “They have to come to our house.”
Don’t ever overlook K-State, which has beaten four of the last five ranked opponents it has faced on the road. Wildcats do it again, 38-35. And keep this in mind, as well: Baylor has tasted victory at Oklahoma a grand total of zero times. Sooners win a great one, 48-41.
No. 4 Oregon at No. 17 Utah (9 p.m., ESPN) will highlight a truly fascinating matchup of the Ducks’ vulnerable offensive line against the Utes’ best-in-the-land pass rush. Utah has 39 sacks in all, 21 of them from Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick. Oregon has superstar quarterback Marcus Mariota, not to mention four straight victories by an average of 21 points.
“Sometimes it’s adversity in the form of a loss that wakes everybody up,” said Ducks coach Mark Helfrich.
The Utes are scary-tough and will be motivated to the extreme against the glamor program of the West. I don’t think they have enough juice to make the upset happen, though. It’s Oregon, 35-26.
Last up: No. 5 Alabama at No. 16 LSU (7 p.m., Ch. 2), which isn’t often “last up” and perhaps shouldn’t be in this column or anywhere.
Both teams are coming off bye weeks, so the game plans should be sharp; expect a trick play or three on both sides. Alabama has won three straight in the series, but LSU is 46-4 under the lights in Death Valley during the Les Miles era.
This will be brutally physical and — now that the Tigers’ running game has come alive — close throughout. It could come down to a turnover or one of those trick plays. Have to roll with the Tide, 23-20.