As we close the books on September and start to turn our attention towards the meat of the college football schedule - there’s a lot that we know:
We know that whoever comes out of the B1G this season deserves a spot in the CFP, no questions asked.
We know that with their single loss, UCF won’t get to hang another “national championship” banner in their stadium.
And we know that Jalen Hurts goes to sleep at night whispering “Nick Saban, Tua Tagovailoa…” like Arya from Game of Thrones. (Okay I made this last one up - but what a fun idea, right?)
And if September is all about setting up narratives moving forward, October is where those narratives hit the pressure cooker. But even with one more week left to go in college football’s first full opening month, there could still be some surprises in store before the calendar turns.
Here’s what we’re watching this week…
Game of the Week
(10)Notre Dame vs. (18)Virginia
Saturday, September 28 | 3:30PM EST
Notre Dame Stadium
ESPN Spread: Notre Dame -12.5
For the second week in a row, the Irish have landed in our game of the week - not the least of which is because their loss in Athens a week ago makes every game a must-win for Notre Dame, especially without a conference championship game that can act as a resume booster at the end of the season.
But this game is just as much about who the Irish are playing, as it is about the Irish themselves.
In just four years in Charlottesville, Bronco Mendenhall has taken the Virginia program from the bottom of the ACC (the Hoos were 2-10 in 2016 when Mendenhall arrived, including a loss to FCS Richmond), to a 4-0 start in 2019… and the possibility of an ACC Coastal Division title in their sights.
It’s all led Virginia here, and no, losing to Notre Dame won’t hurt their chances at claiming that Coastal crown. But it’s the kind of game that could solidify them amongst the top brass of college football this season, by beating one of the sport’s most storied programs. If that’s not an example of how poetic sports can be, I don’t know what is.
The match-up to watch in this game is the battle between Ian Book and Virginia’s defense. Book struggled to make plays when it mattered most against the Dawgs a week ago, but it won’t get much easier against the team currently ranked 14th in yards allowed per game, and 18th in the defensive SP+. They’re fast, aggressive, and are currently tied with Florida and Ohio State for most sacks in the country this season - so Book and this offense will need to be on their toes from the opening kickoff.
Game That Suddenly Means a Whole Lot
(17)Washington vs. (21)USC
Saturday, September 28 | 3:30PM EST
ESPN Spread: Washington -10.5
Somewhat unsurprisingly, things still feel like a whole bunch of chaos out west in the Pac-12 to start 2019 - and this match-up between the Huskies and Trojans is an excellent microcosm of just how wild things seem to be.
For Washington, a season that began with a real shot at a conference championship took an immediate hit following a week two loss to the California Bears. Now, Georgia transfer Jacob Eason is leading a team on the back foot - even as they remain statistically dominant at 9th in the SP+ - and even just a single loss moving forward could kiss those hopes goodbye.
On the other side, however, things feel even more off the rails. USC lost star QB JT Daniels in week one to a season-ending injury, then lost Kedon Slovis last week, as well. Third stringer Matt Fink played well against Utah following Slovis’ departure, and he has some great options in the receiving game to play with in Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown, but against Washington’s defense he’ll have his hands full - especially behind an offensive line that’s been suspect to say the least thus far this season. Also, they’ll be backing Fink up with walk on safety Brandon Perdue, so if something happens to Fink… things will get even dicier for Graham Harrell’s pass-heavy offensive schemes.
Can Jacob Eason keep Washington’s Pac-12 hopes alive? Is Matt Fink the QB of destiny in Los Angeles?
Tune in to the country’s Wild West conference this weekend to find out…
Mississippi State at (7)Auburn
Saturday September 28 | 7:00 PM EST
ESPN Spread: Auburn -11
There’s no denying that Auburn seems to have found a working formula behind freshmen QBs Bo Nix and Joey Gatewood - and their two wins over ranked opponents away from the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare this season were enough for me to through them into my mix of playoff-potential teams you should be talking about… even with Bama losing.
But this weekend presents a different kind of challenge for the Tigers. Yes, they’ll be back home and no, Mississippi State isn’t nearly the best team they’ll have faced yet this season. But coming off a huge win over Texas A&M a week ago runs the risk of walking into a letdown game - something Auburn showed they were susceptible to in their week two match-up with Tulane, when they got off to an eye-rising slow start.
And unlike that Tulane team, the Bulldogs are hardly the team you want to have a slow start against.
Mississippi State’s defense has been phenomenal around the red zone this season (allowing just eight TDs in 15 red zone defenses), which will test an Auburn team that is scoring at a red zone rate of just 63%. Add to that an offense that can score behind RB Kylin Hill, currently the SEC’s leading rusher… and things might get dicey for the Tigers this weekend at home.
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