After last week’s stellar performance in Norman, Ohio State has earned a bit of a breather, don’t you think? The Buckeyes have already shattered the modest expectations bestowed upon them in preseason and have arguably looked like the best team in the country through three weeks.
While there’s lot of season left, it’s been quite the impressive start for a team that lost 16 starters from 2015. Before Big Ten play begins next weekend, however, the Buckeyes have the luxury of watching week four from home. Luckily for us, there are still plenty of things happening across the college football landscape to keep up with.
If you haven’t heard yet, former Purdue quarterbacks are major players in the SEC! What a time! While the quarterback situations, and ranked match-ups in the SEC, are the big stories heading into the weekend, conference play in the Big Ten, and Pac-12 also begins with a bang.
With that in mind, here are five things to watch during Buckeyes’ bye week:
Les Miles and Gus Malzahn have created some pretty crazy moments at their respective schools. The two have also combined for a National Championship, three title game appearances, and three conference championships. Unfortunately, they also share a division with Nick Saban. That, coupled with some recent sputtering, makes Saturday’s game between LSU and Auburn feel like a must-win for both:
Also super weird that LSU/Auburn is so far off the radar this week except for the storyline of "let's see who's gettin' super-fired"— SPENCER HALL (@edsbs) September 22, 2016
Not only is this game essential for the job status of each coach, but their respective teams still have a bevy of tough conference games left, so the loser is basically guaranteed three losses, and probably at least one more.
As far as the game goes, Miles is trusting his job security to a former Purdue quarterback, while Malzahn’s once potent offense doesn’t seem to have an identity anymore. The first three meetings between the two haven’t been close games, so it’ll be interesting to see if a lack of offense keeps the 2016 edition closer than usual.
You should watch this game for storyline purposes alone, but if you need extra incentive, count how many times you appreciate who the head coach at Ohio State is during it.
More southern drama
Continuing the SEC theme, most of the marquee games this weekend take place in the south, highlighted by three games between ranked teams.
The Tennessee-Florida game comes with storylines aplently, (and more former Purdue quarterbacks!) and is a pretty big game for the long-term status of Butch Jones. The Vols have looked unimpressive offensively through their first three games, and now must face a stingy Gators defense. It would also be a good idea to get another win while they can:
Speaking of looking unimpressive; Despite a 3-0 record, Georgia enters its game versus Ole Miss a bit of an enigma. The Dawgs have looked downright bad offensively at times in back-to-back games versus Nicholls State and Missouri, and have quickly fallen to 27h in S&P+. To their credit, they’ve also found ways to win each game. They’ll need to play much better to win on the road tomorrow.
It’s also a crucial game for the Rebels, who are already 1-2, thanks to early losses to Florida State and Alabama. A win against a talented team like Georgia would be a nice reset heading into the second portion of the season, but a loss has the potential to completely derail what looked to be another very promising campaign in Oxford.
And finally, some HAM (literally) to end the night. BERT and company are no strangers to close games as of late, and Saturday night’s game in Arlington versus Texas A&M should be no different. They’ve gone to overtime the past two seasons, and it wouldn’t be a shocker to see it happen again.
The winner might also quietly have the inside track to being the second best team in the SEC West, depending on how LSU-Auburn shakes out. No matter what other games you decide to watch tomorrow, this is the one you absolutely should not miss.
Big Ten (B)East
With three teams in the AP top ten — and Wisconsin at 11 — there’s been a lot of love for the Big Ten this week, and even talk that it might be taking the SEC’s place as the premier conference in the country. While that’s debatable (at best), it’s clear that Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State have established themselves as the cream of the conference crop. That may be even more apparent after tomorrow.
The Wolverines are currently 18-point home favorites versus Penn State, and a few hiccups against Colorado aside, have very much looked the part of a top-5 team early in the season. The offense has been perfectly solid, while the defense is loaded with playmakers. Also — for the love of god — if you play Michigan, find a way to get a damn punt off without giving up a block or a return touchdown.
The Nittany Lions have been up-and-down for the most part, but the offense still has Saquon Barkley and the requisite talent out wide to try and duplicate some of the success the Buffaloes had last week. Still, it’s hard to see a team as young as Penn State doing enough to win in that environment, and a Michigan victory will only widen the perception gap between Penn State and the top three in the Big Ten East.
Wisconsin and Michigan State is the only game between two top-15 teams this week, so it feels like it should be getting a little more attention, right? Well, the Badgers are coming off of a 23-17 home win over Georgia State, and are giving a redshirt freshman quarterback his first career start in East Lansing. Good luck with that.
While a loss by one, or both, of Ohio State’s division rivals would be hilarious, it’s quite likely that both roll and we march ever closer to what should be an epic race for the Big Ten East crown at the end of the season.
Watch other conferences!
Because of the bye week, your whole day is now free. If you choose to spend it with family, friends — or by doing something constructive with your life — kudos to you. For the rest of us, week four’s schedule is good enough to be firmly planted on the couch all day.
While you won’t want to miss any of those bigger games, the undercard abounds with intrigue, especially outside of the B1G. The worst thing you can do with your free day of college football is watch Iowa-Rutgers, so here are three other games to keep an eye on:
- Florida State at USF
- Colorado at Oregon
- South Carolina at Kentucky
After an embarrassing loss to Louisville last week, Florida State travels to Tampa to take on a very scrappy South Florida bunch that can make a case as the best non-power five team in the country with a win. The ‘Noles are banged up, and USF already gave them a reasonably tough game in Tallahassee last season. It’s a huge game for the Bulls, and a win isn’t totally out of the question.
The Buffs are coming off a surprisingly good performance against Michigan and despite the injury to quarterback Sefo Liufau, have another shot to prove they’ve escaped the bottom tier of power five teams. Oregon looks to rebound after losing to Nebraska, and might want to call better two-point conversion plays this week.
Lastly, please don’t actually subject yourself to watching South Carolina-Kentucky. You’re better than that.
Pac-12 after dark
What better way to end this column than the way each college football Saturday concludes? The Pac-12 has already gifted us with some incredible late-night gems this season, and that’s sure to continue this weekend. Unless you’re a #mad #online east coast sportswriter — or hate touchdowns — do yourself a favor and find a way to watch these two games.
The matchup between Cal and Arizona State in the desert should live up to the standard of a stereotypical late-night Pac-12 game: Offenses that can score, and defenses with an aversion to making tackles in the open field. Combine the two and it’s no surprise that the over/under for this one is currently at 82.5.
While Washington at Arizona doesn’t fit the profile of a high scoring game, it certainly has other things going for it.
The Huskies were seemingly everyone’s sleeper team to start the year, and despite not facing strong opposition yet, S&P+ has backed that initial faith up. The offense has been good enough, but the defense’s ability to render explosive plays almost non-existent has stood out through three weeks. They get their first chance to make good on that off-season promise versus a bruised up Wildcats bunch. Regardless, winning in a place where weird things tend to happen would be a another nice step for the young Huskies.
This is something you should do every weekend anyway, but be sure to take some time out of your night to bask in the glory that is #PAC12AFTERDARK.