Each portion of a college football season has its own excitement, from recruiting through bowl season. However, there is something about playing the same squads year in and year out, the familiarity, the history, the general dislike, that gives conference play its own special place in my heart.
Most teams have already played at least one conference game, but this week marks the weekend that every team will be back in conference play, a a time where we start to really delineate pretenders from contenders.
But this week offers quite a bang and is one that we've all been waiting for because there are games from the first kickoff of the day until the "Pac-12 at Dark" finally ends. Get your chores done early...
1) #13 Alabama at # 8 Georgia (-2), 2:30 p.m, CBS
There are many folks around these parts that just assume these programs (and their fans) are sucked into a black hole in Athens. That would be a tragedy most in part because we would lose the treasured duo of Uncle Vern and Cousin Gary. Saban's squad is mad and a loss here would all but assure no SEC title game berth. Richt's team needs to win the big one and this would go far in increasing their playoff chances. This game has been circled on calendars since the Tide came to Athens in 2008 and made sure the Bulldogs never wear those awesome black jerseys again.
2) #3 Ole Miss (-7) at #25 Florida, 6 p.m., ESPN
Both teams come into this week off of hard-fought home wins a week ago. The Rebels relied on special teams to pull them past Vanderbilt. While Florida converted on a number of fourth downs and a Tennessee coaching decision from hell to win. The Gators defense will provide a stout test for Ole Miss, but Rebel coach Hugh Freeze has a strong enough defense to shut down Florida.
3) #6 Notre Dame at #12 Clemson (Pick), 7 p.m., ABC
The Irish have sustained season-ending injuries all over the field and Clempson is trying its best to keep quarterback Deshaun Watson from suffering another one. Watson stands behind what has been a shaky offensive line that will have to play better against an experienced front from South Bend. The running game has been serviceable in Death Valley for the first time in a couple of years. Notre Dame did not look good in its other road psuedo-conference game at Virginia in the rain. Expect similar results, minus the win and this fan at Gameday.
4) #21 Mississippi State at #14 Texas A&M (-6.5), 6:30 p.m., SEC
Thanks to a revamped defense and an offense that has found its identity, the Aggies are a "buy-now" stock. The Bulldog offense has slowed compared to a year ago, but Dak Prescott remains a threat at anytime. Problem is there aren't enough holes in the A&M defense for him to consistently take advantage of it. In a surprisingly low-scoring affair, take the home team.
5) #23 West Virginia at #15 Oklahoma, 11 a.m., Fox Sports 1
The Moutaineers head to Norman with an unexpectedly good defensive unit. Though the competition has been suspect, they have outscored opponents 130-23. The Sooners are coming off of a win that over Tulsa that took a little more than expected, and their win at Tennessee is looking more unimpressive each week. That said, I still like them to win by more than a touchdown in an early start.
6) Arkansas (+7) at Tennessee, 6 p.m., ESPN2
With all of these other big matchups in the primetime slot, watching two under-performing teams is a hard sell. I was going to go to Knoxville for the weekend, but as friend of the program Boothe Baxter said (see video here), "I don't want to go to the football game ever again because the Razorbacks always lose." What's even worse than having to watch it in person? Listening to Brock Huard's color commentary. It's been a tough stretch, Boothe, but there is no way the Hogs can lose four in a row... Right? Keep up the good fight, little man.
7) Texas Tech at #5 Baylor (-14), 2:30 ABC/ESPN2
Expect a classic Big 12 shootout and a 6-hour game this weekend in Waco. The over/under for this game has been as high as 90.5(!!!) before coming back down to 88.5 on Thursday. As for the actual contest, the Red Raiders have to be emotionally fried after losing last weekend to TCU on a tipped ball, a week after embarrassing Arkansas in Little Rock. This weekend will be the Baptist Bears will face a weary defense, which should look familiar since Baylor has yet to play a Power 5 team. It's now October.
8) Arizona State at #9 UCLA (-13), 6:30 p.m., FOX
The third in the series of four featuring Arizona vs. Los Angeles as both teams are coming in on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen was back on track last week in Tuscon after a sub-par performance against BYU. He will be pressured this week like he hasn't been before because the Sun Devils blitz as many as humanly possible at all times. The UCLA rushing attack, led by Paul Perkins, will be the difference.
9) #1 Ohio State (-21) at Indiana, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2/ABC
The Buckeyes hit the road for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in Week 1. While at home, Ohio State hasn't looked as dominant as many thought they would. Indiana is undefeated for the first time this millennium and should be hosting Gameday (that's a whole different story). The Hoosiers, who are lacking a defense, will look to win a shootout. This is a near impossible task. Zeke Elliot rushes for 200 yards and the Bucks win easily.
10) All the others
There are more than 10 games that you must watch on Saturday. It is your duty as a college football fan. So in a selfish attempt to get back to .500 here are some (hopefully) locks for you degenerates out there.
Purdue at Michigan State (-21)
Florida State (-19) at Wake Forest
North Carolina at Georgia Tech (-7)
Eastern Michigan (+44.5) at LSU
Middle Tennessee State at Vanderbilt (+1)
Iowa at Wisconsin (-6.5)
Georgia Southern (-6) at Louisiana Monroe
Oregon (-7.5) at Colorado