The third Saturday in October used to mean one thing: Alabama and Tennessee do battle on the football field. But due to the struggles of the Volunteers (and the fact that there are many teams better than Tennessee this season), it's been relegated to a "can he (in this case Phil Fulmer) save his job?" type of game. Also in that category would be Washington hosting Notre Dame, the school that freed up space on Tyrone Willingham's calendar to take the job in Seattle a few years ago. Could a blowout loss here mean the end for Coach Willingham?
But instead of focusing on who could end up without a job at season's end, it's better to focus on some of the big games on the schedule and go from there. Here's the schedule for Saturday (and #19 Tulsa plays at UCF on Sunday night).
12:00 PM ET No. 8 Texas Tech at No. 23 Kansas on ESPN
The big game between the North and South in the Big 12 is obviously Oklahoma State visiting Texas, but the Red Raiders invading Lawrence isn't a bad appetizer at all. In Graham Harrell and Todd Reesing you have two of the better quarterbacks in the conference, and they could both put up big numbers as they go up against mediocre defenses. With just one conference loss the Jayhawks find themselves in the driver's seat in the North while Texas Tech is one of three undefeated teams in the South. A win here could possibly set up the biggest game even in Lubbock should Texas do the same at home against the Cowboys. In a shootout, I like Tech to win a close one and remain undefeated.
12:00 PM ET Eastern Michigan at No. 20 Ball State
Ball State should rack up some impressive offensive numbers in this one, for the Eagles may be the only team in either MAC division with practically no shot at the conference title game. Of course mathematically they're still alive, but you know better.
12:00 PM ET No. 22 Northwestern at Indiana on Big Ten Network
After seeing what the Indiana defense is capable of the past few weeks, I can't pick against Northwestern. QB C.J. Bacher has been playing well of late, and there's also the matter of stopping Wildcat RB Tyrell Sutton. Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats move to 7-1.
12:00 PM ET No. 24 Minnesota at Purdue on ESPN Classic
Another matchup between a team that's exceeded expectations and one that hasn't lived up to the preseason prognostications. Tim Brewster's Golden Gophers have decided not to wait on the new stadium to put together a winning product, while the Boilermakers haven't done much to ensure that Joe Tiller retires with a smile on his face. But I think this could be the upset that kicks things off on Saturday. If Purdue gets a big day from RB Kory Sheets and Curtis Painter doesn't turn the ball over, look for Purdue to win this game.
12:00 PM ET Cincinnati at Connecticut on ESPN GamePlan
Cincinnati welcomes back QB Tony Pike (broken arm) for this one, while it's anyone's guess who will be under center for the Huskies. Zach Frazer (concussion) is a gametime decision, meaning that if he can't go freshman Cody Endres gets his first career start. Not to mention the switch at kicker from Tony Ciavarino (he missed three kicks in UConn's 12-10 loss at Rutgers last week) to David Teggart. If not for Donald Brown, this one could get really ugly. Look for Cincinnati to win this one and end the Huskies' 10-game home winning streak.
12:00 PM ET Boston College at North Carolina on ESPN GamePlan
What better team to be the poster child for the wild ACC than North Carolina. Just when the nation wants to peg Butch Davis' young team as a favorite to win the league, they go out and blow a lead at Virginia to pick up their second league loss of the season. On the other hand, Boston College has just one loss (Georgia Tech) on the season and that wasn't even an Atlantic Division loss. The Heels are tough at home, and from an offensive standpoint this may be the most athletic team man for man that the Eagles have seen so far. But the poise that the Eagles have shown in the face of adversity (Virginia Tech jumped out thanks to two pick-sixes last week but BC still won) should be enough for them to pull out another close win.
12:00 PM ET Illinois at Wisconsin on ESPN2
One thing that these two teams have in common: they haven't lived up to the preseason hype that had them both as challengers in the Big Ten. Two things they don't have in common: at least Illinois can see the light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a possible bowl berth (Wisconsin is 0-4 in Big Ten Play with Michigan State and Minnesota still on the schedule), and they've got a quarterback that can make plays in Juice Williams. As for Wisconsin's Dustin Sherer, he didn't look too good against Iowa last weekend. Illinois wins.
12:00 PM ET Wake Forest at Miami (FL) on ESPNU
Another tough game to call in the ACC. Which Wake Forest offense shows up in Dolphins Stadium? If they take care of the football and win the time of possession battle, they can win. Interestingly enough, the Hurricanes have also had issues protecting the football this year. But they've got a pair of freshman quarterbacks and an extremely young roster overall. The Demon Deacons don't have the luxury of such reasons. Despite the wide-open nature of both divisional races in the ACC, the loser of this game finds themselves in dire straits when it comes to getting to Tampa for the conference championship game. Look for Wake's experience to win out.
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan at Toledo on ESPN GamePlan
Look for this one to feature a lot of points, but the Chippewa defense is a little better than Toledo head coach Tom Amstutz's unit. CMU wins and keeps pace with Ball State.
12:30 PM ET No. 4 Oklahoma at Kansas State on Fox Sports Net
Kansas State hasn't fared too well against teams with name recognition, losing to Louisville, Texas Tech and Colorado. The "Little Apple" will be jumping...for about a half. Look for Sam Bradford and the Sooners to blow out KSU.
12:30 PM ET Kentucky at No. 10 Florida on ESPN GamePlan
Before you count out the Wildcats, remember that they gave Alabama all they wanted on the road a couple of weeks ago and are coming off of an improbable comeback win over Arkansas last week. But despite a solid defense, they just aren't consistent enough to pull this one off. Or hang around with Tim Tebow and the powerful Gator offense after halftime.
12:30 PM ET Baylor at Nebraska on Versus
Now Nebraska looked pretty good in shutting down Iowa State last weekend. But can they corral the elusive Robert Griffin III? They'll have their srtuggles on defense, but QB Joe Ganz is good enough to outscore the Bears and deliver a win to the Husker faithful.
1:00 PM ET Louisiana Tech at Army
The question for the Bulldogs is a simple one: can they stop the run? Army's option attack will provide a challenge in the early going, but Tech wins because of the play of newly-inserted QB Ross Jenkins.
2:00 PM ET UNLV at No. 21 Brigham Young on The Mtn.
Unfortunately for UNLV, the Cougars have had more than a week to stew over their 32-7 whipping at the hands of TCU last Thursday. So the talk of a BCS berth is now old news, with the hope being that they can win out and win another Mountain West title. Despite the running of RB Frank Summers, the Rebels don't have the firepower on offense that could make this a close game for four quarters. BYU gets back on the right track.
3:00 PM ET Duke at Vanderbilt
With Duke needing a win to get closer to bowl eligibility, the Commodores need just one more win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1982. Which QB does Bobby Johnson play: Mackenzi Adams or Chris Nickson. The offense hasn't been too impressive all season long, but they have been opportunistic when provided with a short field. Duke has a shot at this one if they can protect the football and get some big plays from WR Eron Riley. But if not, look for Vandy to win and get that elusive sixth win.
3:00 PM ET Fresno State at Utah State on ESPN GamePlan
Fresno State has already lost a conference game at home and need this one to keep Boise State within striking distance as they move closer to that regular season finale in Boise. Utah State isn't very good but they have improved some this season. Look for Fresno State to win this one going away.
3:00 PM ET Rice at Tulane
You put a potent Rice offense indoors on a fast track...and they're going to put up a lot of points. The question is whether or not Tulane can keep up when they have the ball. I say no.
3:30 PM ET No. 6 Oklahoma State at No. 1 Texas on ABC
See preview at chnfootball.com. "Three Games, Two Views".
3:30 PM ET No. 7 Georgia at No. 13 LSU on CBS
See above sentence.
3:30 PM ET No. 16 South Florida at Louisville on ESPN GamePlan
Does Louisville still have a shot at the Big East title? Sure they do with just one conference loss so far. But the key to defending their home turf and upsetting the Bulls depends on how well the offensive line protects Hunter Cantwell and opens up lanes for backs Victor Anderson and Brock Bolen. USF will rotate a number of backs and receivers while turning things over to Matt Grothe at quarternack. Bulls win this one by a field goal.
3:30 PM ET Rutgers at No. 17 Pittsburgh
Give Rutgers credit for shutting down Donald Brown in the second half of last week's win over UConn. But can they do the same against LeSean McCoy? No, and that due to the improved play of QB Bill Stull and a number of tall wide receivers that can stretch the field. Pitt win this game and stays in the Big East driver's seat.
3:30 PM ET Virginia at No. 18 Georgia Tech on ESPNU
Virginia folks who want Al Groh gone may have found the one game that could deliver an end to their current win streak. Paul Johnson's option attack has been a hit in Atlanta, and the Yellow Jackets find themselves as a frontrunner in the ACC Coastal. Look for this to remain the case after the game, even though this one will go down to the wire.
3:30 PM ET Virginia Tech at No. 25 Florida State
Once again, I'm not on this bandwagon that seems to show up every couple of weeks just because Florida State won a football game. While it's not the best idea to pick against the Hokies, their offense was terrible last week. Don't be fooled by the twenty-three points scored in their loss to BC, for the two touchdowns came via interceptions. Defenses have spied QB Tyrod Taylor with the hope that keeping him in the pocket would make the offense that much easier to stop. Frank Spaziani did the job last week, and look for Mickey Andrews to do the same.
3:30 PM ET UCLA at California on ABC
The only suspense on the outside heading into this game is the question of who the quarterback will be for the Golden Bears: Kevin Riley of Nate Longshore? Both have had their moments, good and bad, and the Cal offense struggles mightily when either one is off his game despite the presence of backs Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. But UCLA has been just as bad, if not worse, on offense under Kevin Craft. Cal wins.
3:30 PM ET North Carolina State at Maryland
"Good Maryland" would blow NC State out of the water in this one. "Bad Maryland" would find a way to get their collective heads handed to them. Look for something in between, but it will be enough for a Terrapin victory.
3:30 PM ET Michigan State at Michigan on ABC
Rich Rodriguez finally got a contract to sign, inking a multiyear deal for around $2.5 million per season. This game could be a low-scoring affair due to the inconsistent nature of Spartan QB Brian Hoyer and the poor play of Michigan's offense. The difference-maker will be State RB Javon Ringer, who will lead Michigan State to victory.
3:30 PM ET Kent State at Miami (OH)
Look for the Redhawks to defend their home field in a close win.
3:30 PM ET Southern Methodist at Navy on CBS College Sports
Navy didn't look too good in slowing down Pitt last week. But SMU is light years behind the Panthers right now, which makes them a prime candidate to get whipped on the road despite questions surrounding the quarterback position in Annapolis.
4:00 PM ET Bowling Green at Northern Illinois on ESPN GamePlan
A close game in DeKalb, with the Huskies pulling off the minor upset.
5:00 PM ET New Mexico State at Idaho on ESPN GamePlan
Chase Holbrook should have a field day against a porous Idaho defense.
6:00 PM ET Wyoming at No. 14 TCU on The Mtn.
Speaking of field days, Wyoming is in some serious trouble given their inability to value the football combined with TCU's physical defense. This one gets ugly.
6:40 PM ET Colorado at No. 15 Missouri on Fox Sports Net
Two straight losses for the Tigers and a visitor in Colorado that hasn't been impressive on offense this season. Sounds like the recipe for a blowout to me, which will most likely happen in favor of the agitated Tigers.
7:00 PM ET Mississippi at Arkansas on ESPN GamePlan
Houston Nutt returns to Fayetteville less than a year after he resigned to take the Ole Miss job. Wonder what the reaction to him will be, but hopefully Razorback fans realize how successful he was in bringing that program back to a point in which they could compete in the SEC on a weekly basis. As for who wins this game, Arkansas RB Michael Smith has been one of the best backs in the SEC, a contribution that's been huge for an offense that has struggled through the air. This should be a close game, but look for the Rebels to win on a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
7:00 PM ET Texas A&M at Iowa State on Fox College Sports
For Iowa State to be winless in conference play isn't a huge shock. But it is for the Aggies, who have struggled with the offensive change in philosophy under new head coach Mike Sherman. Of course it doesn't help that Stephen McGee was hurt early in the season and Jorvorskie Lane has essentially been chained to the bench (cut the "fullback" nonsense and hand the J-Train the ball. Please.) in his final year of eligibility. But thanks to QB Jerod Johnson the Aggies win this one on the road.
7:00 PM ET Troy at North Texas
If Florida International could eclipse fifty in Denton, what do you think the Trojans can do? Troy wins this one big.
7:00 PM ET Middle Tennessee State at Mississippi State on ESPN GamePlan
Dangerous game for the Bulldogs, who host a Middle Tennessee team that's already defeated Maryland and was one yard short of doing the same at Kentucky. Combine a team that won't be intimidated by conference affiliation with a home team that's been poor on offense and you have all the makings of an upset. Which is what will happen here. Blue Raiders win.
7:00 PM ET Florida Atlantic at Louisiana-Monroe on ESPN GamePlan
The Owls continue their trek up the standings with a win at UL-Monroe.
7:45 PM ET No. 2 Alabama at Tennessee on ESPN
In terms of actual results so far the Volunteers are in serious trouble. But this is a big rivalry game, and it's a chance to salvage a season that's gone downhill. For Coach Fulmer's sake, at least this game isn't in Alabama since he seems to get served with a subpoena just about every time he crosses the border. And Alabama is a young football team that hasn't mastered the concept of finishing off an opponent in the second half. If Tennesee can keep this one close early, they can win. If not, things could get really ugly from a crowd standpoint with a national TV audience offering the angered masses the "perfect" platform to voice their displeasure.
But that won't be necessary. Tennessee wins in a stunning upset. Fulmer's one of those coaches who seems to know how to pull himself off the ledge just before a gust of wind blows him off.
8:00 PM ET No. 3 Penn State at No. 9 Ohio State
See preview at chnfootball.com
8:00 PM ET Southern Miss at Memphis
Two disappointing teams that are playing for some hope of a bowl game at season's end. Take the home team in this one.
8:00 PM ET Notre Dame at Washington
Just like Tennesee, the Huskies need some sort of good news to keep the masses from turning against their head coach in a vicious manner. The fact that it's Coach Willingham's previous employer coming to town certainly won't help matters. Notre Dame has struggled at times on offense, but the Huskies are terrible on that side of the ball without Jake Locker. Irish win.
9:30 PM ET Colorado State at San Diego State on The Mtn.
When two bad teams meet, the winner is usually decided by which team shows some sense of pride in what they do. After SDSU's display against New Mexico last week, losing 70-7, I like CSU to win on the road.
10:05 PM ET Oregon at Arizona State
Time for the Sun Devils to circle the wagons. But when you have a banged-up quarterback, a porous line and no running game guys become sitting ducks. Oregon sacked Rudy Carpenter nine times last year in Eugene and will threaten to reach that number in Tempe. Oregon rolls.
10:15 PM ET No. 5 USC at Arizona on Fox Sports Net
Some people see this as a possible upset, with Homecoming and a national audience taking in the game. Not here. Arizona will stay close for about a half...then the talk will turn to finding out who exactly interim basketball coach Russ Pennell is. When USC plays with a sense of focus, which usually happens in games that they convince themselves are "big", they're one of the best teams in the nation. That kind of talent and focus will be on display in this one.
12:05 AM ET Nevada at Hawaii on ESPN GamePlan
If you've got the energy to stay up, check out this game. Both teams still have an outside shot at catching Boise State in the WAC, although it will be much tougher for Hawaii since they've already lost to Boise. But Nevada gets them at home in a few weeks, which makes every game between now and then that much more important for the Wolf Pack. But I don't see them winning at Hawaii. In a close one, look for Inoke Funaki and the Warriors to win this one.
Sunday: 8:00 PM ET UCF at No. 19 Tulsa on ESPN
UCF gave up 58 points to UTEP. UTEP just gave up 77 points to Tulsa. If you're not a fan of either team, do yourself a favor and watch the World Series. But catch a glimpse of Tulsa QB David Johnson, who has put up some impressive numbers this season.