Every Friday, NCAA.com will run ‘Third and Long,’ a look at three different questions facing the college football world. This week, our three respondents are Joe Boozell, Courtney Martinez and Eric Vander Voort.
1. Michigan State-Michigan. Alabama-Texas A&M. Florida-LSU. What are you most excited for on Saturday?
Joe Boozell: Have to go with Michigan State-Michigan here. I mean, when was the last time both of these teams were this good? The Spartans have always been considered ‘the little brother’ in the rivalry, and going into the season, that script seemed to be flipped. But after three consecutive shutouts from Michigan, I’m not so sure.
Michigan State is one of the hardest teams in the country to evaluate after underwhelming performances against the likes of Rutgers, Purdue and Oregon. And yet, they’re still unblemished in 2015. That could all change in Ann Arbor this Saturday.
Courtney Martinez: It has to be the game in Ann Arbor. It’s the first taste as a head coach for Jim Harbaugh in this rivalry. The coaching battle between him and Dantonio is something I’ve been looking forward to this year. Michigan has been lights out on defense and Michigan State has struggled in recent games. The Big House will prove to be electric on Saturday afternoon, and I, for one, cannot wait.
Eric Vander Voort: Any time Leonard Fournette is on, there's a good chance that's where my TV will be. And with Florida coming to Baton Rouge this weekend, this is the first major test for the No. 6 Tigers. Florida seems to have silenced the "are they for real?" questions, having yielded just 13 points in their past two games (against then-No. 3 Ole Miss and on the road vs. Missouri). It's easily the best defense Fournette has faced this season. Sure, the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy that Joe and Courtney spoke to should be all sorts of fun, but LSU-Florida is the one game I'll be most glued to this weekend.2. More and more teams are seeing their playoff hopes dwindle, or even die. Which team is most in a must-win situation this weekend?
CM: Alabama. The Crimson Tide understand that if they want to make it to Atlanta, they can’t afford to lose any more games. Alabama looked shaky against Arkansas last week and Texas A&M is a much better opponent that can give them more issues than the Razorbacks did. If the Tide can go into College Station and do what it did in Athens, it will greatly help their playoff stock. But if they get another loss, it won’t be a easy path to Atlanta down two games in the division.
EV: I'm going to go with Georgia. As disastrous as things feel in Athens right now, after losing Nick Chubb and coming off of a blowout loss vs. Alabama followed by a heartbreaker vs. Tennessee, things aren't over yet. If the Dawgs can beat Missouri this week, a huge, potentially divsion-deciding matchup with Florida would be next. Win that one, nothing's out of the question. But if they lose to Missouri, they fall to 4-3 and 1-3 in the SEC, and it's a much different story.
JB: The Iowa-Northwestern tilt is huge for both teams, but the Hawkeyes could legitimately make the College Football Playoff if they win this game. That’s strange to see in writing, but it’s true.
Northwestern is by far Iowa’s best remaining opponent on the schedule. Their next five games are: home vs. Maryland, at Indiana, home vs. Minnesota, home vs. Purdue and at Nebraska. I’d be surprised if the Hawks don’t run the table in that slate, so if they can overcome the Northwestern obstacle, there’s a good chance they could go undefeated.3. There are 16 remaining unbeaten teams (much more on that here). Which is most likely to finish with a perfect record?
EV: If we're talking most likely, I'll take Houston. Teams like TCU and Baylor are more talented, but their matchup with each other is a tougher test than anything the Cougars will face the rest of the way. Houston is sixth in the country in total offense, at 573.4 yards per game. Its game against Memphis will be a shootout, but I don't see any other big potentional pitfalls on the schedule. Get ready to see Houston in a New Year's Six bowl.
JB: Baylor, because in my mind, they have a 50 percent chance of going undefeated. I can’t say that about any other team.
The Baylor-TCU matchup at the end of the season feels like a play-in game of sorts. Frankly, I just don’t see anyone other than the Horned Frogs knocking off the Bears, and I give Baylor a slight defensive edge over TCU.
To me, Art Briles’ bunch seems like the best combination of consistency and having a relatively easy path. That sounds like a recipe for an undefeated campaign to me.
CM: I’m bringing my guts with this one because I think it could Clemson. The match up that worries me is the Florida State game, but it’s at home. The rest of the schedule is favorable in an otherwise weak ACC. The Tigers avoided a trap game after their big win over Notre Dame and showed no signs of letting up last week against Georgia Tech. I’m confident Dabo Swinney can guide his team to an undefeated season.