With Ohio State not kicking off until this evening, let's take a look at a host of other college football matchups from around the country we’ll have our eyes on this Saturday.
Northwestern vs. #6 Michigan, 12 p.m. on FOX
The Guide recommended tuning into Michigan back in Week 2 when it had its most impressive out-of-conference win, and in Week 3 once again when the school squared off with Northern Illinois after entering the top 25. Five weeks later, the Wolverines sit one spot behind the Buckeyes in the top 10 of both polls.
Despite the rise in the rankings, Michigan has sputtered quite a bit from its impressive play last month. This is an unsurprising development, given the general rhythm of TTUN football seasons that has emerged over the last decade. Perhaps the best example would be the habit Denard Robinson made of winning the September Heisman every year from 2010-2012 before his editions of the Wolverines would inevitably flounder through the final two months of their seasons.
Meanwhile, Northwestern brings extremely funky pigskin vibes along to Ann Arbor. In all three of their losses this season, the Wildcats have allowed opponents to score the game's first 21 points at a minimum. However, Northwestern's most recent victory over Rutgers saw Pat Fitzgerald's crew handle the Scarlet Knights with much more grace than when Michigan beat them about a month ago but were shutout in the second half.
Granted, Northwestern also got annihilated 56-7 by Nebraska two weeks ago while Michigan at least managed to survive the Cornhuskers by three points last weekend. It also bears repeating that the Wildcats give off horrendously offensive vibes to the football universe — such as this fake punt that consists of just snapping the ball back 15 yards and hoping the punter's running start will slam him through the line of scrimmage.
Oh no, that fake punt didn't go as planned pic.twitter.com/jlJI86m51p— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 16, 2021
On that play, Northwestern lost five yards going for a fourth down conversion while also accomplishing the rare task of injuring a punter. Blood-curdling football behavior.
But it is important to remember that Pat Fitzgerald is only three years removed from being the same coach that lost to Akron and still won the Big Ten West. The Wildcats have proudly served as the scholarly football terrorists of their division and greater parts of the conference for well over a decade by now.
In the bucket of crabs that is the Big Ten West, Northwestern remains the hideously ghoulish purple crustacean with whiskers that keeps pulling the other Great Lakes shellfish back down to the bottom whenever any try reaching the top. Fitzgerald improving to 10-6 all-time against Kirk Ferentz when Evanston hosts Iowa next month is almost certainly written in the stars.
Michigan has somewhat served as a white whale for Fitzgerald over the last fifteen years. Of the four Wolverine head coaches he has faced going back to Lloyd Carr, Fitzgerald has only managed to defeat Rich Rodriguez. Brady Hoke beat Fitz four seasons in a row from 2011-2014.
The Wildcats came close to taking down Jim Harbaugh three years ago, but the Wolverines scored a go-ahead touchdown with four minutes remaining in the contest. There have been no other meetings since.
Four games at noon feature top 10 teams against unranked opponents. This is the most likely of the bunch to keep the score close — or at least bizarrely watchable in the spirit of Big Ten attrition warfare football.
#16 Wake Forest vs. Army, 12 p.m. on CBSSN
Nearly all of the teams expected to compete for an ACC championship this year are currently facing seasons on the brink at the halfway point. Clemson's fall from grace has already been well-documented by the Eleven Warriors Viewing Guide this season — and there will be more later on regarding their game this afternoon. Meanwhile, other early favorites North Carolina and Miami each began the year inside the top 25, but have since collapsed into a combined record of 6-7.
In the absence of the usual ACC names in the conference title chase, three new teams have entered the discussion that will all be eligible for viewing in quality games today. The first will be Wake Forest, currently at the top of the ACC Atlantic with an overall record of 6-0 that already includes four victories over conference opponents.
The Demon Deacons' early success has largely materialized due to the chemistry that quarterback Sam Hartman has developed with receivers Jaquarii Roberson and 6'5" A.T. Perry. Perry has caught half of Hartman's passing touchdowns this season, and three of them occurred on as many receptions in Wake Forest's most recent win against Syracuse — including the game-winner in overtime.
No. 19 Wake Forest holds off Syracuse in overtime! Great catch by A.T. Perry -- who had 3 receptions, 137 yards, 3 touchdowns -- for the win.— The Comeback (@thecomeback) October 9, 2021
Wake Forest is 6-0 for the first time since 1944. pic.twitter.com/1PYlzMLJ23
Army started the year 4-0, but fell into a two game skid over the last couple of weeks. Consecutive road trip losses to Ball State and Wisconsin derailed the momentum of a team that otherwise looked carbon-copied from this season's slightly more successful servicemen squad at Air Force.
Hardly anyone other than the Demon Deacons likely expected them to be in the driver's seat for a divisional title midway through the season. Army's frustrating brand of relentless triple option football paired with a defense adept at limiting the damage of passing games makes them an intriguing matchup for almost any unproven team visiting West Point.
#10 Oregon vs. UCLA, 3:30 p.m. on ABC
The college football season sees wild swings from month-to-month. Merely six weeks ago, Oregon took down Ohio State in Columbus while running over the Buckeyes to the tune of just under 270 rushing yards. That effort was largely led by the effort of running back C.J. Verdell — a performance that included just under 200 total yards of offense and three total TDs.
The Ducks went largely unthreatened against Stony Brook and the FBS bottom-dwelling Arizona Wildcats, but an injury cost Verdell the season during Oregon's road trip to Stanford. In Verdell's absence, Mario Cristobal tried to lean too heavily on quarterback Anthony Brown towards the end of the game, and the Cardinal managed to bring down the Ducks in overtime as a result.
Last week, Oregon trailed by a touchdown to California early on in the fourth quarter before rallying to a win. The Ducks are certainly in a vulnerable position at the moment having split their last two games against opponents with a combined record of 4-9. However, new starting running back Travis Dye had an exceptional game on his way to leading Oregon in both rushing and receiving via 218 total yards of offense.
Travis Dye has no problem playing with a chip on his shoulder.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) October 21, 2021
The @oregonfootball running back joins @BruceFeldmanCFB to talk stepping up in Verdells absence, playing in the Rose Bowl, and proving himself.
Full interview https://t.co/imAwDXoFCd#GoDucks | #Pac12FB pic.twitter.com/BKDW852rzm
Meanwhile, UCLA has plenty of variables in its favor to make this game an interesting one. Aside from the fact that the Bruins are seeking their first home win since upsetting LSU in the opening week, Chip Kelly enters this game with a quarterback in Dorian Thompson-Robinson that has scored 14 touchdowns in the last five weeks while only throwing one interception.
The key to this contest will likely come down to Oregon's ability to generate pressure on the quarterback. UCLA's offensive line allows sacks on passing downs at one of the worst rates in college football (11.9%, 111th overall), but the Ducks' defensive line seldom brings down the quarterback in the same situations (3.9%, 117th overall).
The Bruins have allowed at least four sacks in three of their games going back to the start of September. If Oregon emerges victorious today, it will likely owe future first round draft pick Kayvon Thibodeaux the lion's share of the credit.
Clemson vs. #23 Pittsburgh, 3:30 p.m. on ESPN
It feels slightly dirty to recommend that Ohio State fans watch a Clemson football game for the third time in five weeks. However, the tire fire Tigers are such a laughable scoring contrast to that of the Buckeyes at the moment, Ohio State fans would be doing themselves a disservice not to watch this lovely car accident of an offense.
D.J. Uiagalelei has finally started playing with more of a dual-threat emphasis after shying away from running the ball early on this season, but his throwing accuracy remains of great concern for the entire outlook of Clemson's offense. He has achieved a completion rate of 70% and exceeded 200 passing yards in merely one game each this season — and has yet to achieve the marks together in the same contest. By comparison, C.J. Stroud has accomplished both feats in each of his last two games and registered a spare 336 combined passing yards along the way.
Pittsburgh may have trouble playing ball control if they find themselves with a lead, but it presents a much more efficient and potent attack through the air than what Clemson currently offers. Senior quarterback Kenny Pickett is currently operating within a touchdown/interception ratio of 21/1. Put another way, Pickett at the moment has thrown for well over twice as many yards and more than five times as many touchdowns as Uiagalelei through the midpoint of the season.
Worse yet for the Tigers, the key to staying in this game will likely come down to how much Uiagalelei is able to correct his ball placement mistakes. Granted, Clemson's rushing attack has picked up a bit of steam of late, as the team has gradually done a better job of emphasizing Kobe Pace over Will Shipley at running back.
But Pittsburgh boasts one of the top run defenses in college football with a front that surrenders only three yards per rush (9th best in FBS). The Panthers' secondary that ranks in the bottom third of the FBS in opponent passing yards per game will require significant exploitation if the Tigers want to walk out of Pennsylvania with a win.
All of Clemson's games against FBS opponents this season have been decided by single-digit margins. Playing a ranked opponent for the first time since their season opener against Georgia, the Tigers will need to turn their fortunes around today or risk completely falling behind Wake Forest and N.C. State in the race for their division.
A Stacked Saturday Night
It figures that Ohio State finally gets a game in primetime this season that does not feature Akron on the other side of the ball — just as college football serves up one of the more interesting evenings of the year.
While there are no showdowns between ranked teams on the schedule at all this week for the first time in 2021, there are still a host of games worth tracking even as the Buckeyes do their best to fend off the Hoosiers in Bloomington.
Here are five additional games worth keeping an eye on tonight:
Tennessee vs. #4 Alabama, 7 p.m. on ESPN
The Third Saturday in October rivalry game... is taking place on the fourth Saturday in October 2021. The Volunteers' offense is capable of big numbers under the guidance of Hendon Hooker, but opponents that have achieved poll rankings this season so far outscore Tennessee by a combined 36 points.
Even if this game does not turn into a shootout, Alabama may be worth watching alone for the opportunity to witness Jameson Williams score yet again from the Crimson Tide's side of the field.
#22 San Diego State vs. Air Force, 7 p.m. on CBSSN
Last week, the Viewing Guide officially broke it off with BYU in favor of Air Force as the late-night college football guilty pleasure of choice. The Falcons took down Boise State on the road and now enjoy a record of 6-1, standing just outside of the top 25 with only the Aztecs of San Diego State in their way.
Brady Hoke broke into both polls last week after a sixth win on an undefeated record, but the lone impressive triumph on SDSU's schedule so far is a two point victory at home over Utah. The Aztecs' passing attack that only has six touchdowns this season could find it difficult to throw against a Falcons pass defense that allows the fifth lowest completion percentage in college football (51.67%).
Nevada vs. Fresno State, 7 p.m. on FS2
W I L D C A R D of the W E E K
One must exercise caution these days when endorsing Nevada on an Ohio State website. Even so, the Wolf Pack have a very compelling matchup with a Fresno State team this week that has already provided more than its fair share of impressive performances through the first half of the fall.
The Bulldogs most recently shut out Wyoming on the road last weekend, but also previously upset UCLA in Pasadena and came within a touchdown of beating Oregon a week prior to its game with Ohio State. They will have an interesting test in the form of a versatile Nevada aerial attack that already features seven players with double-digit catch totals and nine different players with at least one receiving touchdown.
#18 N.C. State vs. Miami, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2
Why settle for one Wolf Pack when two are available? Since toppling Clemson a month ago, N.C. State has gone on to prove its underdog victory may not have been much of an upset after all. The Pack will have three more games before a meeting with Wake Forest's Demon Deacons that could end up deciding the fate of the Atlantic Division representative in the ACC Championship.
Across the conference, gut-check time has arrived in South Florida. A second half comeback bid that ended in a three point loss to North Carolina last week was the latest setback in what has been a highly disappointing season for Miami. Traveling to Pittsburgh next week, back-to-back losses would drop Manny Diaz down to .500 during his three years with the Hurricanes.
USC vs. #13 Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. on NBC
Before Ed Orgeron recently agreed to stay away from the wives of LSU officials for six more weeks, USC had the most high-profile in-season ousting of a coach through the first half of the 2021 season. Clay Helton has been gone from Los Angeles for over a month, but the Trojans are already seeking their third straight road win since interim coach Donte Williams assumed the mantle.
Notre Dame and USC each had a bye week to prepare for this Jeweled Shillelagh showdown. Even if the Irish come out sharp and put an early lead together, look for star Trojan receiver Drake London to make plays all over the field. London has at least 130 receiving yards in all but one game this season and absolutely remarkable athleticism.
On the Radar for Next Week
- Noon (likely): #6 Michigan vs. #9 Michigan State, 12 p.m. on ABC/ESPN
- Afternoon: #1 Georgia vs. Florida, 3:30 p.m. on CBS
- Buckeyes: #7 Penn State vs. #5 Ohio State, 7:30 p.m. on ABC