By Saturday, the release of the first College Football Playoff top 25 may feel like an afterthought.
True, the playoff is one of the defining features of the season, but the first weekend of November is a clear indication of the other major storyline for 2014 — unpredictability.
On Nov. 1, teams like TCU, West Virginia, Utah and Arizona State will be playing in games relevant to conference title chases, if not the playoff.
Remember, this is a week in which Stanford-Oregon is a featured game, and games like TCU-West Virginia and Utah-Arizona State are nearly as important.
The SEC West, as usual, is a centerpiece of attention, too, as Ole Miss tries to recover from its first loss of the season while Auburn attempts to solidify its spot among the top contenders in its division.
The Week Ahead: Oct. 30-Nov. 1
All times Eastern. All games Saturday, unless noted.
Florida State at Louisville
When and where: Thursday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... Florida State is on upset alert. Despite being 7-0, the Seminoles rarely have looked like the dominant team they were a year ago. This could be a chance for FSU to flex its muscles or it could be a tricky game against one of the top defenses in the country. Louisville is second in yards allowed per play and first in total defense. The Cardinals have allowed more than 100 rushing yards twice all season and more than 200 passing yards three times.
Vegas says: Florida State by 6
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Auburn at Ole Miss
When and where: 7 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... this may be a crossroads for both teams in the SEC West. Auburn responded to its 38-23 loss to Mississippi State with a 42-35 win over South Carolina. The Tigers’ offense is clicking after they rushed for a season-high 395 yards against South Carolina. Ole Miss, meanwhile, may have its season hanging in the balance after a 10-7 loss to LSU. The Rebels have a handful of injuries (linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil) and shades of internal dissension between quarterback Bo Wallace and coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels may need to take care that a banner season doesn’t crumble in short order.
Vegas says: Ole Miss by 2 1/2
TCU at West Virginia
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
We’re watching because... no two teams improved more since the end of last season. Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia both went 4-8 a year ago and now will play in a game that will factor in the league title race. Besides, given these two offenses, this matchup could be a shootout. TCU is the only team in the country averaging more than 50 points per game, while West Virginia has quietly put together a balanced offense ranked in the top four in the Big 12 in both rushing and passing.
Vegas says: TCU by 5 1/2
Stanford at Oregon
When and where: 7:30 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... the matchup of the year in the Pac-12 now has Stanford playing the role of spoiler. Stanford has all but dropped out of the playoff race, but that doesn’t mean the Cardinal can’t give Oregon trouble. Stanford has won the last two meetings and still has a dominant and physical defense that can give the Ducks fits. The only question is if Kevin Hogan and the embattled Stanford offense can keep up.
Vegas says: Oregon by 9 1/2
Utah at Arizona State
When and where: 11 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... two of the biggest surprises in the Pac-12 will meet for at least a share of the lead in the South. Arizona State has overcome the loss of nine starters on defense since last season and an injury to starting quarterback Taylor Kelly (who returned last week) to beat USC, Stanford and Washington. Utah has been living on the edge in Pac-12 play with each league game decided by less than touchdown. Utah’s game-winning scores in the last three wins have come with 34 seconds left, 8 seconds left and in double overtime.
Vegas says: Arizona State by 5
Talk Back on U-verse Game of the Week
Each week, AT&T U-verse and Athlon Sports will host a live interactive experience for an SEC game in which two greats from each school will take fan questions live throughout the game.
This week, former Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and former Missouri quarterback James Franklin will join Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta for the fun.
Visit att.com/talkback during Kentucky-Missouri to watch the game with us.
Kentucky at Missouri
When and where: 4 p.m., SEC Network
We’re watching because... Missouri has quietly kept itself alive in the SEC East race. Given the way the season has gone, though, that might not be a good omen for the Tigers. Either way, Missouri is 3-1 in the league but needs Georgia to falter to return to the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers also need more from quarterback Maty Mauk, who is completing less than 40 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and five interceptions in SEC play.
Vegas says: Missouri by 6 1/2