SportsPulse: Teams like Texas, LSU and Penn State have ample opportunity this week to jump into the national conversation and potentially a college football playoff spot.
By and large, the playoff picture hasn’t changed much from what observers thought it would look like when the college football season began. That might finally change over the next few weeks, starting this Saturday, as competition in the major conferences intensifies.
Here are the five games that could have the most impact in Week 7.
No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Texas in Dallas
Saturday, noon ET, Fox
The annual Red River showdown, one of the most anticipated games of the regular season, has finally arrived. Of course, it could turn out once again to be just the first of two encounters between the Sooners and Longhorns should they finish atop the Big 12 standings as expected. It will also serve as a showcase for a couple of Heisman Trophy contenders.
Sooners QB Jalen Hurts remains in the driver’s seat for the sport’s most prestigious individual honor, despite throwing a rare interception at Kansas last week. He’s still gaining 8.8 yards a carry when he takes off as well, as if speedy WR CeeDee Lamb and veteran RB Trey Sermon didn’t provide enough of a headache for the Longhorns’ depleted secondary. But Texas QB Sam Ehlinger is also worthy of consideration. He has 17 scoring tosses himself and also isn’t afraid to tuck and run. When he does air it out, his primary targets are WRs Devin Duvernay and Brennan Eagles.
STAFF PICKS: LSU-Florida, Oklahoma-Texas highlight weekend
No. 7 Florida at No. 6 LSU
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Gators don’t have long to enjoy last week’s huge home victory against Auburn as another top-10 showdown looms. Such is life in the SEC, where the Bayou Bengals hope to take advantage of a high-energy crowd to pick up another quality victory at home.
While Florida made its share of mistakes against Auburn, the Gators’ cause was helped by forcing a few more from a freshman quarterback. They won’t have that luxury this week against LSU QB Joe Burrow, whose hot start has been a major reason for the Tigers’ ascendency to front and center in the playoff hunt. He’ll be down one receiver with Terrace Marshall recovering from a foot injury, but Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase will still give S Shawn Davis and the Florida secondary plenty of concerns. Gators QB Kyle Trask, who played on a bad knee in the second half last week but is ready to go, must hope his pocket holds up and that he continues to get ground support from RB Lamical Perine. LSU LB Jacob Phillips and S JaCoby Stevens want to make sure he doesn’t.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 21 Texas A&M
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
With a ‘2’ already in the loss column, the Aggies are for all practical purposes relegated to a spoiler role as far as the playoff race is concerned. But a major bowl invitation remains in play, and an upset of this magnitude would help that cause considerably. The Crimson Tide, whose most difficult games remain ahead of them, will try to extinguish those upset aspirations as quickly as possible.
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa has done nothing to take himself out of the Heisman conversation thus far, amassing 23 TD throws without an interception through his first five games. But he has yet to face a defense equipped to put him under duress. The Aggies might not be able to do it, either, but DT Justin Madubuike will do his best leading the pass rush. A&M QB Kellen Mond has faced a couple of elite defenses and struggled due to protection issues. That doesn’t bode well with the likes of Crimson Tide LB Anfernee Jennings coming to town.
Florida State at No. 2 Clemson
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
The Tigers were last seen two weeks ago needing to stave off a two-point conversion attempt to escape unranked North Carolina, a result that cost them the No. 1 ranking despite the win. They now find themselves needing to not only beat the struggling Seminoles but to win in impressive fashion as they try to recapture the form they showed en route to last year’s national championship. FSU has looked more like FSU of late after a rocky start, so this trip to Clemson will serve as either a turning point or a reality check.
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence has made some flashy throws but has lacked the consistency he demonstrated over the latter half of the 2018 campaign. He already has five interceptions with just eight scoring throws this year. The Florida State defense is coming off its most complete performance of the season two weeks ago against N.C. State, avoiding the second-half meltdowns that plagued the unit in early September. Seminoles QB James Blackman will return to the starting lineup, though Alex Hornibrook is likely to take snaps as well. Regardless,a porous offensive line must do a lot better keeping them upright, but DE Xavier Thomas and the Tigers’ defensive front will pose matchup problems.
No. 9 Penn State at No. 18 Iowa
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
The Nittany Lions look like the only bunch standing in the way of Ohio State in the Big Ten East. First, however, they must take care of business in this trip to Iowa City, where strange things have been known to happen under the lights. The Hawkeyes will be happy to be back home after last week’s dismal offensive performance at Michigan.
The Big House proved to be a big nightmare for Iowa QB Nate Stanley as he was sacked eight times and threw his first three interceptions of 2019. That might not bode well against the Nittany Lions, who are averaging five sacks a game themselves led by DEs Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney. LB Christian Welch and the Iowa defense held up well despite the offense’s woes, but the group might have its hands full with PSU’s dual-threat QB Sean Clifford.