After a wild weekend of upsets, there was a major reshuffling at the top of the rankings. Seven ranked squads, including four in the Top 10, lost to unranked teams on Friday and Saturday. Defending national champion Clemson and defending Pac-12 champion Washington were the highest-ranked teams to lose, which just goes to show that there’s no such thing as a given in college football, even if you’re a heavy favorite.
As the second half of the season gets underway, the margin for error for each team with a shot at receiving one of the coveted playoff slots shrinks. And in this weekend’s two marquee games, three of those squads will be staring at being eliminated from competing for the ultimate prize if they lose.
The hottest games on the ticket are No. 19 Michigan vs No.2 Penn State and No.11 USC vs No.13 Notre Dame.
The winner between the Trojans and the Fighting Irish will remain in the mix. Whoever loses will be knocked out of the national championship discussion entirely. Both teams must win the remainder of the games on their schedule from here on out.
Pac-12 Networks’ football analyst Yogi Roth previews the big matchup between USC and Notre Dame. The Trojans have won 11 of the last 15 against the Fighting Irish. See the game on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. PT/5:30 MT on NBC.
Ditto for Michigan, who already has a loss against Michigan State. Penn State could survive a loss to the Wolverines, but would have to beat No.6 Ohio State on the road next week and win each of their remaining games to stay in contention.
The Nittany Lions had last week off and jumped into the No.2 spot after Syracuse upset Clemson, the defending national champions. But they’re heading into a brutal, season-defining three game stretch with Michigan State waiting for them in two weeks after they tussle with the Wolverines and the Buckeyes.
Last year, Michigan blitzed Penn State 49-10, but they went on to win their remaining nine games en route to the Big 10 title. Head coach James Franklin’s crew has gone 15-1 since then, with their lone loss being a white knuckle 52-49 classic to USC in the Rose Bowl.
Highlights from Penn State star RB Saquon Barkley’s week 4 performance against Iowa. Twitter: @SkyDesignsgfx Instagram: @skydesignsgfx
Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley is a man among boys on the college level, averaging 217 all-purpose yards per game. He’s averaging 6.4 yards per carry and 13.6 yards per reception, but Saturday night’s game should be a defensive gem.
Penn State’s defense leads the FBS by only surrendering a mere nine points per game, while Michigan’s leads the country in total defense by only giving up 223.8 yards per game. The name of the Wolverines game is defensive pressure, with lineman Maurice Hurst leading the way with seven tackles for loss and 31 overall. His unit will have to carry the weight of any winning expectations because their offense has simply not been getting it done.
After losing to Michigan State, the Wolverines struggled to walk away with a 27-20 overtime victory against Indiana last week. Running back Karan Higdon was superb in rushing for 200 yards and three touchdowns, including his game-winning 25-yard scamper.
Highlights from Michigan RB Karan Higdon’s week 7 performance against Indiana. Twitter: @SkyDesignsgfx Instagram: @skydesignsgfx
But quarterback John O’Korn was more dismal than an Iggy Azalea album, completing only 10 of his 20 passes for 58 yards.
If Penn State shuts their running game down and their passing attack continues to look like an asthma attack, Michigan’s playoff hopes will be done.
The USC vs Notre Dame rivalry is one of the best and most storied in all of college football, with both programs considered to be royalty as far as history is concerned. Between them, they claim 14 Heisman Trophy winners and 22 national championships. And this weekend’s game in South Bend is the first time they’ve both been ranked in the Top 25 since Jamie Foxx and T-Pain were blaming it on the ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ahkahol eight years ago.
Notre Dame is off to a 5-1 start, with its lone loss being a 20-19 nailbiter to No.3 Georgia. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has passed for 783 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 402 and eight more scores.
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush put on a record-setting performance Saturday afternoon against Boston College. Wimbush rushed for 207 yards against the Eagles, a school record for a quarterback. He also added a school record 4 rushing touchdowns in a 49-20 win over BC.
The multi-dimensional threat augments a running attack that is led by Josh Adams, who averages 129.3 rushing yards per game, along with an incredible nine yards per carry.
At this critical juncture, both teams are national title contenders, but by a very slim margin. The Fighting Irish defense has surrendered only one rushing touchdown all year, while on offense, they pound the ball on the ground to the tune of over 300 yards per game.
The stakes are always high when these two teams clash because of the richness of the rivalry, but this year’s game takes on some extreme significance. No team has beaten Notre Dame more than the Trojans, and conversely, no one has defeated USC more than the Irish.
Last weekend, USC showed what they were made of by rallying from a 21-7 halftime deficit to upend Utah, 28-27.
Highlights from USC QB Sam Darnold’s week 7 performance against Utah. Twitter: @SkyDesignsgfx Instagram: @skydesignsgfx
The answers to the following questions will determine who marches on with championship hopes, and whose season falls short of the ultimate prize.
Can USC slow down Notre Dames rushing attack and force Wimbush to throw?
If so, can the Notre Dame QB utilize the talents of six-foot-five junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and six-foot-four sophomore Chase Claypool in the passing game to compliment their rugged running attack?
Will the Trojans defensive strength in the red zone win the battle against the Irishs powerful red-zone offense?
Can gifted USC sophomore QB Sam Darnold stop throwing interceptions?
Can The Trojans running game assert its will against Notre Dame’s defense and help Darnold and the passing game make things happen downfield?
Other teams who can’t afford another loss this weekend includes No.10 Oklahoma State, who visits Texas, and No.9 Oklahoma, who visits Kansas State.