Whenever reality intrudes on the sporting world in the form of a major storm like Hurricane Matthew, we are reminded that the games we love are of secondary importance. The participants in some of the scheduled matchups this weekend might have other matters on their minds, if indeed those games are staged at all.
But for the most part, the Week 6 slate will go forward. Here are the games that will have the biggest impact on the College Football Playoff race.
No. 9 Tennessee at No. 7 Texas A&M
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS | Pregame.com line: Texas A&M by 6½
This is not an outright elimination game since both teams have upcoming dates with Alabama. The winner, however, enters its meeting with the Crimson Tide in much better position.
Tennessee, in theory, eventually is going to have to play a good first half to avoid the necessity of a comeback. While there are yards to be had against the Aggies’ defense, A&M excels in the red zone. That’s where the Vols’ offensive line must perform. The A&M offense works best when QB Trevor Knight is able to exploit the middle of the field with his feet, something Tennessee S Todd Kelly Jr. might need to watch.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 17 Arkansas
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN | Pregame.com line: Alabama by 14
Nick Saban would never admit it, of course, but the Crimson Tide can be forgiven for appearing disinterested at times last week against Kentucky knowing what was on the horizon. This trip to Fayetteville begins a three-game gauntlet that even the No. 1 team might not get through unscathed. That’s all right, as long as they only drop one.
The Razorbacks are already behind the eight ball with a loss to Texas A&M, but a home upset of the Tide vaults them right back in the SEC West picture.
Perhaps because it’s Alabama it hasn’t garnered as much attention as Tennessee, but the Tide have been somewhat slow out of the gate themselves on several occasions this season. Part of that is attributable to having a freshman at QB, so a quick score on the road would be huge for Jalen Hurts. Arkansas QB Austin Allen has a solid ratio of 12 TD throws to only two picks, which he’ll likely have to maintain under duress.
No. 21 Florida State at No. 10 Miami (Fla.)
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ABC | Pregame.com line: Miami by 3
The greater Miami area will have more pressing concerns, but if this game can be played as scheduled it might be a welcome diversion for some. On its face, it’s a bigger deal for the Hurricanes. A victory against a name-brand opponent, albeit a struggling one, would certainly elevate interest in several of their upcoming ACC Coastal matchups. The Seminoles’ playoff hopes are extinguished, but they certainly wouldn’t mind spoiling Miami’s day.
But the FSU defense is officially in crisis mode, and Hurricanes’ QB Brad Kaaya has the weapons to take advantage of it if conditions on Saturday night permit. The Seminoles would like to get RB Dalvin Cook involved to help the defense stay off the field, but Miami is surrendering just 2.6 yards per rushing attempt.
Virginia Tech at No. 16 North Carolina
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2 | Pregame.com line: UNC by 1½
UNC’s takedown of Florida State last week was not only a big win for the Tar Heels themselves, but it brought more focus to the league’s Coastal Division. The Hokies, meanwhile, have been quietly going about their business since coming up short against Tennessee at Bristol Speedway. They’ll be quiet no more if they come out of Chapel Hill with a ‘W.’
Tar Heels’ QB Mitch Trubisky has been just about perfect in the passing game, completing 76% of his throws with 13 TDs and no INTs. But the Virginia Tech defense, still under the direction of Bud Foster, has swiped five passes while allowing only a 41.2% completion rate. Ball security has been an issue for the Hokies with nine lost fumbles, but QB Jerod Evans has only been picked off once.
No. 6 Washington at Oregon
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Fox | Pregame.com line: Washington by 9
Unfortunately for the Huskies, who are coming off their most important victory since Chris Petersen took over the program, they’re in something of a no-win situation this week. Make no mistake — another victory against yet another Pac-12 North nemesis will feel mighty good, especially since they haven’t beaten the Ducks since 2003. But it won’t move the needle much as far as helping their playoff resume, and a loss would be devastating both for UW and the Pac-12’s chances of sending a team to the playoff.
None of this matters to Oregon, which needs to make a stand here to save its season. But there’s little evidence the Ducks will be able to do it, especially in the aftermath of the domination the Huskies showed on both sides of the line of scrimmage last week against Stanford. Oregon might turn things over to freshman QB Justin Herbert hoping to build for the future.
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