Im­prov­ing Texas makes Red River game en­tic­ing

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - SPORTS - Ed­die Ti­manus

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.

MATT CASHORE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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.

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