Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
The shortest season in major sports moves into its second month, and there’s still a ton to learn.
The ACC has two frontrunners in Florida State and Clemson, but neither have been able to get out of their own way in the past. The best of the two could be decided later this month, but a big win for either team will mean little if the Boston Colleges, NC States and Wake Forests of the world continue to be stumbling blocks.
The consensus is that Oregon and Stanford are the one-two punch in the Pac-12. Washington and UCLA will learn if there is room for any other teams among the league’s elite. Either that, or the Huskies and Bruins will find they’re not ready for the national spotlight.
And then there’s the offense-centric SEC, where Ole Miss’ daunting schedule continues into October and Florida tries to move on without two key players.
September was great, but October is when the weather cools and the first BCS standings are released. Here’s a guide to your appointment viewing for the next four weeks.
October’s Top 10 College Football Games
1. Oct. 19 Florida State at Clemson
The ACC Atlantic race and likely the ACC’s only hope of producing a national championship contender hinges on two things: This game in Death Valley and the ability of both teams to avoid their traditional stumble against a league also-ran. Florida State fell behind Boston College by two touchdowns in the second quarter before surging to a 14-point win, and Clemson won ugly in a Thursday night game against NC State two weeks ago. With the way quarterbacks Tajh Boyd and Jameis Winston are playing, this also could be a game to determine postseason hardware. One thing to watch: Maryland could be a spoiler this month, facing Florida State this week and Clemson in College Park on Oct. 26.
2. Oct. 5 Washington at Stanford
The Huskies handed Stanford one of its two losses last season by defeating the Cardinal 17-13. That was before Kevin Hogan took over as starting quarterback for Stanford and before Washington found solid ground offense. The Huskies’ offense is much improved from last season, particularly along the line. Keith Price has been sacked only three times in four games (Washington allowed 38 sacks last season). And Bishop Sankey leads the Pac-12 in rushing. The Stanford defense, though, is just as physical and punishing as ever.
3. Oct. 12 Oregon at Washington
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will earn his pay this month. In the second leg in critical two weeks for Washington, The Huskies go from facing a methodical Stanford team to the track meet that is the Oregon offense. As for Oregon, this will be their stiffest test to date this season.
4. Oct. 19 UCLA at Stanford
After Washington, Pac-12 South contender UCLA will take its turn facing the Pac-12 North tandem. Stanford took both meetings last season, defeating the Bruins 35-17 in Pasadena and then 27-24 the following week in the Pac-12 title game. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley had two of his three worst games in terms of passing efficiency last season against the Cardinal, so he may need to be the difference.
5. Oct. 26 UCLA at Oregon
This is Round Two in UCLA’s road swing from Mordor. Like Washington, UCLA faces Stanford then Oregon. The Bruins have lost four in a row to Oregon as the series returns to Eugene for the fourth time in five meetings (the last was a 49-31 loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Autzen Stadium). If the Heisman is going to come from the Pac-12, this could be the key game as Hundley faces Marcus Mariota for the matchup of the best dual-threat quarterbacks West of College Station.
6. Oct. 5 Ohio State at Northwestern
The biggest game in Evanston since at least when Pat Fitzgerald was on the field as a player instead of a coach. The Wildcats will hope Venric Mark is healthy, adding him to an offense that’s been dynamic without him for the first month of the season. With Mark, the Wildcats have the versatile playmakers and dual-threat quarterbacks who have given the Buckeyes trouble during their 17-game win streak.
7. Oct. 18 UCF at Louisville (Friday)
Louisville is cruising and the American Athletic Conference has given the Cardinals little reason to be intimidated by their upcoming schedule — three AAC teams are 0-4, and one has fired its coach. UCF, though, is the exception, The Golden Knights went toe-to-toe with South Carolina last week as the Gamecocks’ needed 28 consecutive points in the second half to put the Knights away. After Blake Bortles passed for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Gamecocks, he showed he might be ready to take on the Cards.
8. Oct. 12 Texas A&M at Ole Miss
The Rebels perhaps showed they weren’t ready to take on the SEC’s elite after losing 25-0 to Alabama, but the brutal schedule continues into October. This will be the first game in Oxford since the Rebels faced Southeast Missouri State on Sept. 7. Will the Grove be preparing for a triumphant 4-1 team or an Ole Miss team riding a two-game losing streak after the road trip to Auburn?
9. Oct. 12 Florida at LSU
Even in this new-look SEC where offense reigns, Florida remains built on tough, physical defense and an offense that prefers to control the clock. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his impressive group of receivers were able to pick up points against Georgia, but Florida may have the best pass defense in the league. For the Gators, they’ll find out quickly if injuries to Jeff Driskel and Dominique Easley have eliminated them from SEC contention.
10. Oct. 5 Georgia Tech at Miami
The ACC Coastal has had a quietly eventful two weeks with Georgia Tech defeating North Carolina and Virginia Tech taking out the Yellow Jackets less than a week later. Miami will try to notch its first major win in the division race when it hosts Georgia Tech — which could go from division frontrunner to 2-2 in a span of two weeks.
Other games to watch
Oct. 5 Maryland at Florida State
Oct. 5 Arizona State vs. Notre Dame (in Dallas)
Oct. 12 Oklahoma vs. Texas (in Dallas)
Oct. 12 Michigan at Penn State
Oct. 19 LSU at Ole Miss
Oct. 26 Texas Tech at Oklahoma
Oct. 26 Clemson at Maryland