Improving Texas makes Red River game enticing
October has arrived, and with it comes an increasingly compelling array of conference clashes on the college football schedule. The Week 6 slate includes what might be the last big test for a potential College Football Playoff party crasher without a league affiliation.
Without further ado, the five biggest impact games:
No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 20 Texas
The annual Red River showdown in Dallas wasn’t looking nearly as attractive a month ago as the Longhorns were dropping their season opener at Maryland and the Sooners were on an early roll. Texas has since rebounded with four consecutive wins, admittedly not all comfortable, while OU has looked dominant at times but vulnerable at others during its 5-0 start.
Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray has been as good as advertised, his late arrival to practice that delayed his appearance in the Baylor game notwithstanding. Overall he’s accounted for 21 total touchdowns, 17 by air, despite the loss to injury of top RB Rodney Anderson. Trey Sermon has helped, averaging a respectable 5.35 yards per carry, but the primary scoring threats are WRs Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb. Brandon Jones and the Longhorns secondary must be sharp. Texas QB Sam Ehlinger has improved his efficiency since the opening-day setback, but the Longhorns don’t want to get into a shootout. This means he’ll need ground support from RB Tre Watson, and Sooners LB Kenneth Murray will try to make sure he doesn’t get much.
No. 6 LSU at Florida
September couldn’t have gone much better for LSU, arguably the biggest surprise of the season thus far with wins against two ranked opponents and a rapid rise up the polls. But the upcoming slate, beginning Saturday in Gainesville, looks quite daunting. Things haven’t been quite as smooth for the Gators and first-year coach Dan Mullen. But their lone loss to still undefeated Kentucky isn’t looking so bad (more on the Wildcats later), and they return home after knocking Mullen’s former team, Mississippi State, out of the top 25.
LSU hasn’t exactly been lights-out on offense, although QB Joe Burrow is coming off his best outing as a Tiger with three touchdown passes against Mississippi. The Gators defense, featuring S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and LB Vosean Joseph, should be harder to solve. But Florida figures to have an equally difficult time acquiring points. Gators QB Feleipe Franks is completing just 57.1 percent of his throws, and the LSU secondary has snared seven interceptions through five games. Franks will want to avoid the Tigers’ aptly named CB Greedy Williams in particular.
No. 7 Notre Dame at No. 23 Virginia Tech
With the huge clash with Stanford in the rearview mirror and a new starting quarterback adding punch to the offense, the Irish have their fans dreaming big. Upsets are part of college football, but the second half of Notre Dame’s schedule appears quite manageable if it can get past this road trip. The Hokies are Playoff long shots at best, but they rebounded from the inexplicable loss at Old Dominion with a solid performance at formerly unbeaten Duke.
Night visitors to Blacksburg will always get Tech’s best shot, and a namebrand program such as Notre Dame will create a festive atmosphere. But Fighting Irish QB Ian Book doesn’t appear bothered by the big stage. The Notre Dame attack got another boost with the season debut of RB Dexter Williams, who had sat out the first four games for unspecified reasons. S Reggie Floyd and the Virginia Tech defense must keep the big plays to a minimum. Hokies QB Josh Jackson remains out with a leg injury, but Ryan Willis was solid with three scoring passes and no picks in the Duke win. He’d do well to steer clear of Notre Dame senior DT Jerry Tillery, who has bagged seven sacks.
No. 15 Kentucky at Texas A&M
The upstart Wildcats already have two key Southeastern Conference East victories in hand and appear poised to make a run at Georgia for the division crown. But hang on. UK is still sailing in uncharted waters as football contenders in the conference. The Aggies, who’ve already met a couple of top-five squads up close, can’t be taken lightly.
The winning formula for the Wildcats has been fairly basic, playing stout defense with LB Josh Allen leading the charge and letting RB Benny Snell pound away with a strong ground game. QB Terry Wilson can be prone to ball security issues, and Texas A&M LB Otaro Alaka will do his best to coax a miscue or two. The Aggies have shown more explosiveness at times with QB Kellen Mond posing a dual threat, but they had trouble putting away a struggling Arkansas team in last week’s rivalry contest. They’ll need to give RB Trayveon Williams room to operate.
No. 4 Clemson at Wake Forest
The Trevor Lawrence era at Clemson got off to a rocky start last week. The Tigers survived with a late rally against Syracuse, but what was shaping up to be a smooth ride through the Atlantic Coast Conference might have hit a speed bump. The journey continues with this trip to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where the Demon Deacons have dangerous playmakers.
Lawrence, whose injury was described as a neck strain rather than a concussion, was back at practice during the week and is expected to play. Chase Brice was able to deliver the needed fourth-down throw on the Tigers’ winning drive, which should help the team’s confidence should he be required again. The Wake defense that has surrendered 14 TD passes might also be accommodating. Deacons QB Sam Hartman and WR Greg Dortch connected early and often against Rice in their last outing, but Tigers DE Clelin Ferrell and friends won’t give Hartman nearly as much space.
Virginia Tech running back Steven Peoples scored against Notre Dame in the schools’ only previous matchup, a 34-31 Hokies win in South Bend, Indiana, in 2016.