1. A number of ranked teams will be tested this weekend. Which team has the most to gain?
♦ I'm going to go with the state of Mississippi as a whole. Ole Miss and Mississippi State. It's the epicenter of college football this weekend and for two programs looking to get back to the 'big time' the past few years -- here's their chance. Beating Bama and Texas A&M, respectively, would be huge for either of them. The last time both teams were ranked this high at the same time was in 1958. And GameDay will be in Oxford for the first time (how is that possible?!!?). I’m one of those who believes neither should be ranked as high as they are, but it would be a fun story if both were still und- … I won’t even say it, children of the Magnolia State.
♦ Look no further than the Magnolia State. I can’t be the only one who is a little wary of No. 11 Ole Miss’ ranking. Its defense is stout, no doubt, but the Rebels haven’t played anyone near the ability of Alabama, which, by the way, has an improved offense to go with its ever-stingy defense. We should know a lot more about Mississippi -- one way or the other -- after this game. As for No. 12 Mississippi State, this is a chance for the Bulldogs to prove their win two weeks ago at LSU was no fluke. Follow it up with a win against Texas A&M and people, including me, will start believing.
♦ I'll go with Nebraska. While there's plenty of hype surrounding the Southeastern Conference's slate of games this weekend -- and rightfully so -- a Huskers win up in East Lansing at Michigan State would give the Big Ten a chance at having an unbeaten team that could compete for a playoff spot. I know it's a tall task and the Spartans are no slouch, but if the Huskers can get by them, it's smooth sailing for the Blackshirts until Nov. 15 at Wisconsin. The Huskers running attack against what's always a stout Sparty defense will be a fun matchup to watch Saturday night. I'm sorry, guys, but I can't buy into Ole Miss having a chance against Alabama.
Jarrod Breeze: You are getting ahead of me Stephen, as you will find out later.
Doug Kroll: Wow, look at that JB -- there's football outside of the SEC West this weekend? I like it. ... Let's also not forget about the Big 12 with Oklahoma getting a test from TCU in Fort Worth.
Stephen Sellner: I think Oklahoma has too much offense for TCU to contain for four quarters. It could be one of those games that's scary close going into the half for the Sooners, but then they come out of the break and remind us why they're national title contenders.
Jarrod Breeze: Don't see TCU giving Oklahoma trouble, but I will go a little farther west ...
Stephen Sellner: USC is a wildcard for me; we just don't know what to make of the Trojans. It's hard to erase the memory of BC getting whatever it wanted against a tired USC defense.
Jarrod Breeze: And yes Doug, there is football outside the SEC West. It's called the SEC East, but Georgia has nothing to gain by beating Vanderbilt, except for staying in the hunt with South Carolina and Missouri.
Doug Kroll: Good call. ... I will say this, the matchups in the SEC this weekend -- let's not forget about LSU and Auburn, either -- will likely leave them all still ranked on Sunday. We could see a five-loss team ranked in the end because, well, SEC SEC SEC SEC.
Stephen Sellner: I can already envision the Iron Bowl ...
Jarrod Breeze: And oh what used to be in the SEC -- Florida vs. Tennessee. In case anyone had forgotten, the Gators and Vols play each other this weekend, too.
Doug Kroll: Yes -- FINALLY a great weekend of college football on paper.
Jarrod Breeze: But let's talk a little about Ole Miss. Does Bo Wallace have anyone convinced he can lead his team to elite status? The Rebels' defense is a nice story, but Bo's gotta step up.
Doug Kroll: Not this year, no. Bo has been annointed the greatest thing since Eli by the fans in Oxford. But he hasn't impressed me against that schedule so far in 2014. He's going to need to be Eli or better on Saturday to stand a chance against a Bama team that has figured things out after starting slow out of the gate.
Stephen Sellner: Certainly he has to step up. Frankly, I think Ole Miss is way overrated, and I expect that to show with the Tide coming to town.
Jarrod Breeze: Remember, Bo and the Ole Miss 'O' put up a big fat zero last year against Bama. Not much has changed in Bear land, except for the aforementioned improved offense. So Bo and Ole Miss need this one.
2. Staying on this topic, what ranked team (if any) should be on upset alert?
Jarrod Breeze: I’ve got two games on my radar, although neither would be considered monumental upsets -- and frankly I have no idea which way they will go. The first is No. 19 Nebraska at No. 10 Michigan State. Sound familiar, Stephen? The Huskers have the nation’s second-best rushing game; the Spartans are fourth in the country in stopping the run. Something’s gotta give. It should be fun. Then there’s No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn. All I know here is that the Tigers will win, but I’m not totally convinced the War Eagles will beat the Bayou Bengals. It always comes back to the SEC, doesn't it fellas?
Stephen Sellner: Geez, we're going to end up repeating ourselves because I'm all in on Mississippi State beating Texas A&M. The Aggies are coming off a scare against Arkansas and there's probably still some leftover sweat on Kevin Sumlin's headset from that one. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were off last week preparing for this one after upsetting LSU the week before. Does a week of rest and preparation equal a recipe for stopping Kenny Hill and company? I think so. Not to mention the stakes are huge for the Bulldogs, as you guys pointed out.
Doug Kroll: I'll go in the Big Ten -- Ohio State at Maryland. The first Big Ten home game for the Terps is their first sellout since 2008, it's a noon start and that Ohio State defense has some holes (hello Virginia Tech and Cincinnati). The Maryland offense has been even more dynamic than those two, averaging more than 300 yards through the air. Just look at what Virginia Tech has done since winning in Columbus. ... I'd be worried if I was a Buckeye.
Jarrod Breeze: In case you didn't know, Stephen, Kenny Hill is ahead of Johnny Manziel's Heisman-winning pace in passing yards, touchdowns throws and games won.
Stephen Sellner: Just makes for that much better of a storyline if/when Mississippi State takes down the Aggies!
Doug Kroll: Is anyone giving LSU a chance? Les Miles always seems to pull a rabbit out of a hat, doesn't he?
Stephen Sellner: There's certainly a chance, but not much. Auburn is a machine right now and being at home is certainly playing to War Eagle's favor.
I still don't know how Virginia Tech beat Ohio State. But the Buckeyes learned their lesson and won't let up against a far inferior Maryland team.
Doug Kroll: Agreed, Harris got his first-team reps against New Mexico State last weekend. It could certainly be a game if the LSU defense shows up. I can't get over how many great games there are when this isn't even close to a headliner.
Stephen Sellner: It's Christmas in October. And the good games are in all time slots, too. Makes it even better.
Jarrod Breeze: And I will say, Stephen, that A&M looked vulnerable last week. And the Bulldogs are riding high. So I won't be surprised if Hail State wins. But they will have to stop Hill. And we haven't even mentioned Stanford-Notre Dame, Doug? Is that one a forgone conclusion?
Doug Kroll: Some are saying a Stanford win wouldn't necessarily be an upset. By far the toughest test yet for Notre Dame and those games with Stanford seem to always be close.
Stephen Sellner: That's gonna be a low-scoring, hit-em-in-the-mouth gem of game.
Jarrod Breeze: Does that mean Halloween will be in December this year, Stephen? New Year's Eve trick or treating? I like it!!
3. What does Oregon's loss to Arizona Thursday night mean for the landscape of the College Football Playoff?
Stephen Sellner: It's hard to say because there's still so much time left in the season. What looks like a strong Big 12 at the moment could fall apart if Oklahoma and Baylor don't live up to the hype. I still think a one-loss Oregon is a contender, especially if Nebraska falls to Michigan State on Saturday. But all of a sudden the question has to be asked: What is the pecking order for potential one-loss conference champions when it comes selection time?
Doug Kroll: It means the SEC's dream of two teams in the CFB playoff is closer to reality. You can look at it like a season-long tournament, and the Pac-12 is down to UCLA and Arizona as the only undefeated teams in the league. One of those two will have at least one loss since they play one another. And when you look around the college football landscape, you don't have to be told for a 832nd time how great the SEC is. I can see the committee favoring that strength of schedule in the SEC for a one-loss team over a one-loss Oregon.
Jarrod Breeze: For now, it knocks the Ducks out of the equation. Florida State and Oklahoma are looking good, and whoever survives the SEC West will be there, too. That fourth spot is wide open now. If all those SEC West teams beat up on each other, maybe a one-loss Oregon sneaks back in -- that is if UCLA doesn't overtake the Ducks. That question will be answered next week.
Doug Kroll: And let's face it with Oregon -- the Ducks were a play or two away from losing at Washington State. They have some holes, most glaringly the offensive line.
Jarrod Breeze: I can totally see two SEC teams making the cut. The West is that strong. It just depends on how many losses those teams absorb playing one another.
Stephen Sellner: And what does this mean now for Notre Dame? I know we all look at their schedule and cringe. But if they can get by Florida State on Oct. 18, things start to get REALLY interesting for the Irish.
Doug Kroll: Any undefeated team was jumping up and down when they woke up and saw the Oregon score on their phones. No doubt about it.
Jarrod Breeze: The Irish can't be discounted ... assuming they win this week against Stanford. But there are still a lot of teams ahead of them who are going to have to lose. Baylor could be the wild card. But the Bears have to play Oklahoma and I don't think two Big 12 teams make the cut ... only the SEC has that hope.
Stephen Sellner: As for the two SEC teams argument, I think I mentioned something about this before the season started ...
Doug Kroll: Yep, that'll be the big question coming down the stretch in December, no doubt about it. And really, nobody knows.
Stephen Sellner: I'm fascinated by Baylor. The Bears have a number of tests, including a showdown in Norman with Oklahoma and even at West Virginia, which is not an easy place to play as the Sooners know all too well.
Jarrod Breeze: If UCLA can somehow go undefeated with the likes of Oregon, USC and Stanford still on the schedule, the Bruins would have to be considered. If not, a one-loss Oregon is still the best chance the Pac-12 has at getting a team in the playoff.
Doug Kroll: I can't wait for the first columnist to make the argument for four SEC teams in the CFB playoff. You know it's coming. :-)
Stephen Sellner: If UCLA goes unbeaten, it's in. No doubt. I don't see the committee turning down any unbeaten from any of the power five conferences.
Jarrod Breeze: Heck, I was thinking it now. Why not, Doug? After all, as someone smart said, it all comes down to the SEC. But we know either Alabama or Auburn will finish with a loss, barring a tie, and would a one-loss SEC West team be a better choice than an undefeated UCLA, or Notre Dame? Doubtful, but if anyone can do it, it's the SEC.
Stephen Sellner: I'd hate to have to make that decision, JB. And if Nebraska beats Michigan State, this conversation will get really interesting because the Huskers' chances of running the table in a clearly inferior Big Ten increases exponentially. Seamingly all they'd have left is at Wisconsin Nov. 15. But in the end, I just can't see the SEC not getting a bid, even if they beat up on each other.
Doug Kroll: They'll be there. At least one. No doubt!
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