We've been returning pretty regularly this past month and a half to our Week 1 harangue about data points and relative worth and how we honestly and truly know nothing heading into each new college football season. Six weeks in, we know next to nothing, which is a start, and which is not a complaint.
There are obvious contenders for January glory — your Oregons, your Louisvilles — that we haven't spent much time on, because they haven't yet needed to work that hard to stay undefeated and well within the Top 25. The moment to get interested in those teams will come — say, when the Ducks go to Washington next week and the Cardinals host Central Florida the week after that — but here in Week 6, it's time to bust out the protractors and star charts and sheep entrails for another handful of ranked would-be contenders who've got legitimately menacing opponents to deal with right now.
In descending order of highest-ranked participants, they are …
On Your Marquee
All times Eastern.
• No. 4 Ohio State at no. 16 Northwestern (Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC). "The best thing about 5-0," said Urban Meyer earlier this week, "is a chance to go 6-0." On paper, this tilt's a fascinating environment in which to try. Two high-scoring teams with stout scoring defenses, prolific rushing attacks, and versatile quarterbacking situations, both undefeated into October and ranked in the Top 25, are about to put on what could be a preview of the Big Ten championship game.
The stakes and movable mysteries don't stop there: Northwestern is averaging fewer points scored and more points allowed than the Buckeyes by about a touchdown in either direction, but is coming off a bye week. Ohio State is down one three-year starting safety in Christian Bryant, who's out for the year with a broken ankle. The Cats have lost four straight to OSU, and last won this game in overtime in 2004, which was their first win in the series since 1971. And Buckeyes vs. Wildcats gets the ABC treatment in prime time, which means we get to hear Brent Musburger's singular and inimitable pronunciation of "Buckeyes," on television, repeatedly. Who loves you? Football loves you.
Between the two squads, we count four highly talented and operational quarterbacks, but after Braxton Miller's four-touchdown return performance last week against Wisconsin — he'd missed two games and most of a third with a knee injury — don't expect to see much of stellar fill-in Kenny Guiton outside of mop-up duty or a trick-play situation. Northwestern, on the other hand, operates a gen-u-ine two-QB system, with senior Kain Colter and junior Trevor Siemian combining forces (this one runs! That one throws!) to maneuver an offense that ranks 30th nationally in yardage and 21st in scoring. With a chance of thunderstorms forecast for Saturday night, maybe also expect to see even more carries than usual doled out to both teams' talented running back stables, led by Jordan Hall (and lately Carlos Hyde) for OSU and Treyvon Green for NU.
Throwback tidbit! This will be Meyer's first game against Northwestern as Ohio State's head coach, but in 2001, he took Bowling Green into Evanston and won 43-42. Reminiscing at his press conference this week, Meyer confessed, "Coaches are weird ducks, man. I don't know my address but I can tell you every play in that game … We had a six-hour bus ride and we refused to leave the locker room for about two and a half hours. Those kids wouldn't leave, and I wouldn't leave with them."
Programming note! Northwestern running back Mike Trumpy is a senior, which means your time to imagine his carries soundtracked to Mystery Science Theater 3000 is running out. Don't waste these precious moments:
• No. 15 Washington at no. 5 Stanford (Saturday, 10:30 p.m., ESPN). "Washington: What the hell?" might have been the most popular refrain of September. What are we to make of a Week 1 dismantling of a Boise State team fielding a bunch of squeaky replacement parts, a respectable neutral-site win over Illinois, and a neat dispatching of an Arizona outfit with roster concerns all over the place? We're about to get good and familiar with what these Huskies can and cannot do as they descend into the thick of a Pac-12 schedule that includes this trip to Stanford and a visit from Oregon next week.
Also not to be overlooked: Whether Stanford deserves this lofty ranking in the first place. The Cardinal's September schedule of San Jose State, Army, Arizona State, and Washington State hasn't made divining the team's true quality an easy task. Let's allow Huskies running back Bishop Sankey, who set the single-game program record for carries (40 attempts for 161 yards) last week against Arizona, and the Cardinal's 21st-ranked rushing defense settle things a bit, shall we?
You're also about to be treated to the novelty of watching opposing head coaches in a football game repeatedly deny into hot microphones that they're interested in replacing Lane Kiffin at USC, so have fun with that.
• No. 25 Maryland at no. 8 Florida State (Saturday, noon, ESPN). Both undefeated, both ranked. One Terps defense that has proven exceptionally stingy on yardage up to Week 6, one Jameis Winston putting up more offensive yards per game than any other freshman outside of Berkeley or Lubbock. Who will be the irresistible forces, who the immovable objects?
Despite the tendency of ACC contenders to get wiggly with surefire wins as the season progresses, the prognosis looks iffy for an upset here, particularly with Maryland down two starting corners. But it's still the most parsimonious resistance the Wee Baby Jameis will have encountered in his collegiate career, and the Seminoles' schedule only gets steeper from here. Watch with interest.
• West Virginia at no. 17 Baylor (Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1). Please understand: We're not all that sure the Mountaineers belong in the "legitimately menacing" column, what with the near miss against William & Mary in the season opener and the utter humiliation at Maryland in Week 4. But after WVU's close, hideous loss to Oklahoma in Week 2 and the startling upset of then–no. 11 Oklahoma State in Week 5, we're absolutely fascinated to see what the most well-rounded squad Art Briles has fielded in Waco makes of these Mountaineers.
Don't forget what kind of grudge match this is, either: Last year in Morgantown, this game featured 133 combined points, 1,507 yards of offense, four punts, and a seven-point Bears loss.
Weeknight Football: Should I Bother?
You don't just waltz into jack trice stadium on a Thursday night and stroll out with a victory#texvsisu pic.twitter.com/xMKDiR3bMJ
— Rece Davis (@ESPN_ReceDavis) October 2, 2013
This week? Yes. Imperative. That Western Kentucky–ULM game can probably be skipped in light of the sad absence of Kolton Browning, and we cannot under any circumstances advise you to take in Texas at Iowa State,1 but a pleasant surprise lurks on Thursday: no. 12 UCLA at Utah in weeknight prime time (10 p.m., Fox Sports 1). Friday's BYU–Utah State contest brings a continuation of the battle for the Beehive Boot (and the Old Wagon Wheel, and other weird Western stuff) and another chance to watch Chuckie Keeton on national television (8 p.m., CBS Sports), followed by what we suspect will be a terribly unfortunate evening at San Diego State thanks to visiting Nevada (9 p.m., ESPN).
This Saturday, the large, old, and powerful Alabama football program, ranked no. 1 in every college football poll for like nine years now and holder of eleventeen2 national titles, will play Georgia State, a football program in existence since 2010. Bama is paying GSU $700,000 to participate. There is an ongoing debate in the sport as to whether this sort of matchup is silly or worthwhile. We spoke with first-year Panthers head coach Trent Miles about the benefits, financial and otherwise, of scheduling games in which his team is a 55-point underdog, and about how he's preparing his players to venture into the lair of the Crimson Tide.
How's Bama prep going?
It's going well. Kids are excited. It's going to be a great environment for them, a great stage. I've been in these environments numerous times, but some of these kids haven't, so I'm excited for them.
So for our readers who may not be familiar with your career path, why Georgia State? What attracted you to this job enough to make you think of leaving your alma mater?
It wasn't just my alma mater, it was my hometown. All my family and friends. Indiana State's a wonderful place. I love it. But the opportunity to be an FBS head football coach, and one of very, very few African American head coaches on this level, it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. It was not just about me. It was trying to help pave the path for other young — well, I don't consider me young anymore — but for other African American coaches to have the opportunity at this level. And then, the fact of where we're going to get a chance to recruit. There are less people in the state of Indiana than there are in the metro Atlanta area. Georgia's one of the top four states in the nation as far as recruiting. I couldn't pass it up.
What's your pitch for your program to these in-state kids, as opposed to Georgia Tech's or Georgia's pitch?
I'm not pitching to the same kids that Georgia and Georgia Tech are pitching to. I understand where we're at. We're in the Sun Belt. The Sun Belt is a mid-major conference. We're not gonna recruit the same kids. We're just not. There's enough really good high school players in the state of Georgia. There's enough to go around. And I'm gonna lose some, but in the state of Georgia, if you wanted to play FBS football, and you wanted to stay in your state, you either had to go to Georgia or Georgia Tech or you had to leave. Georgia, Georgia Tech, they can only sign 25 guys, and now you've got a chance to go to Georgia State if you want. If you're a high school kid in Georgia, you don't have to leave the state. If you're a city kid, you don't have to leave the city. There's a lot of positives.
What lessons do you bring from the turnaround at Indiana State that you hope to apply at GSU?
Patience. It's gonna take patience. It's a process. You have to establish how to compete. You've got to be willing to play young kids early, until you get enough guys in the classes. And you've got to recruit to do that, and that takes years — three, four, five, six years — to be able to do all that. So if you don't understand how building a program works, it can be very difficult.
What are the advantages for your team, playing the no. 1 team in the country so soon after moving to the FBS?
Well, let's not mistake anything, OK? Let's lay it out there. The no. 1 reason that mid-major teams or FCS [teams] play these games: money. I'm not naive. There's very few teams in the nation that make money. Not everybody's an Alabama, or Notre Dame, or Ohio State. Not everybody has that money flow. So you have to play these games. And also for exposure. Our score, no matter what it's going to be? I'm sitting at my desk right now, and I've got my TV on, and at the bottom, on ESPN, it says "NCAA TOP 25 GAMES," and the first one that pops up is Georgia State vs. Alabama. That's exposure! So Saturday, when we play the game, it's an 11:20 kickoff, Central Time, one of the first games in the nation. From the time college football starts Saturday until everybody goes to bed at night watching Coach Holtz, they're going to be talking about Alabama. You can't buy that. You know how much money that would cost us, to market our program on ESPN all day? So the exposure that we're getting, whether you win or lose, it's exposure.
Then, of course, there's always the chance that some team is going to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars and lose.
It happens. I've been on the side that paid the money and lost, and it's not fun.
So is that how you present the game to your team, in those pragmatic terms, or is it more in terms of the overall experience?
I don't present it as any different than any other game we're going to play. We just worry about us. I don't care who we're playing. Green Bay Packers, Alabama, Notre Dame, Troy, it doesn't matter. We just gotta focus on what we do, and execute the best that we can. It's that simple. You just break it down one play at a time, one rep at a time in practice, every day. And that gives us a chance on Saturdays. I don't care what color their jerseys are or what the name is of the team or how many people there are in the stands. We just focus on what we can control, and that's us. That's not going to change this week, or next week, or five years from now.
You had both elite offenses and defenses in your FCS years; where is Georgia State's personality so far? Do the Panthers have one yet, on either side of the ball?
We don't have a personality yet. They're getting used to us as coaches, and we're still, four games in, figuring "OK, this guy can do this, and this guy can't." We're still in a teaching phase.
Where do you want to see the most improvement in your team as it heads into Sun Belt play?
We're still in the phase of just trying to get them to execute what we're asking them to do. I'm trying to get them to learn how to eat! I got dudes shriveling up. College students, they wake up at the last second, brush their teeth, go to class. All of a sudden, you go to two classes, you look up and it's almost noon and you haven't eaten. You can't play D-I football and do that. You have to be dead serious about your body. I'm still trying to teach them that.
If you had to pick one Sun Belt team to become your eventual rival, which would it be?
Well, I think that's going to take care of itself because Georgia Southern's joining. I don't want to pick Georgia Southern, because of the offense they run. But you got GSU and GSU.
Georgia State and Alabama kick off Saturday at 12:21 p.m. The game will be available nationally via ESPN3 streaming.
• Most Promising Undercards, for Football Purposes. TIE: Arkansas at no. 18 Florida (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2) and Northern Illinois at Kent State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3). Alex Collins versus the Gators' top-ranked run defense AND Will Muschamp and Bret Bielema in the stadium? Do you know which part you're most excited about? You don't, liar.3 And over in Kent, you'll get the privilege of watching Jordan Lynch and a freshly healed Dri Archer do terrible things to each other's defensive coordinators' hairlines.
• Most Promising Undercards, Because Something Weird Might Happen. TIE: No. 24 Ole Miss at Auburn (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU) and Washington State at Cal (Saturday, 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1).
• Most Promising Nightcap. Hawaii, your midnight kickoffs continue to bless a grateful nation that wants college football to span all its waking hours. The Warriors host San Jose State at midnight Sunday, on pay-per-view and Mountain West Network streaming.
• What's the deal with the service academy games? As of Wednesday night, the Air Force–Navy and Army–Boston College games are proceeding as scheduled despite this week's federal government shutdown.4 The activities have been approved by the Secretary of Defense and will be staged using "nongovernment funding," according to Brett McMurphy.
• What am I supposed to think of Arizona State's new helmets? That depends almost entirely on what you think of monster trucks, which is what these helmets make every Arizona State player look like. Smallish, bipedal monster trucks. We love them unconditionally.
• Could the FIU–Southern Miss game conceivably end with both teams dropping to 0-5? Yes.
• Why doesn't the Tennessee-Georgia rivalry have a name? The two universities are natural geographical rivals, but didn't play all that often before being placed into the SEC East together. With the Vawls and Dawgs set up as division rivals for the foreseeable future, we suggest that a title and stakes be applied to this game. The prize is easy: That pesky border dispute shall be resolved in the winning school's favor for the following year. As far as the name, we solicited some help:
@HollyAnderson on one side of the border, the "jamal lewis classic." the other, "derek dooley forever." i think it can work.
— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) September 30, 2013
Arbitrary Power Rankings: Gary Patterson's Nature Tweets
TCU head coach Gary Patterson frequently retweets aggressively uplifting Twitter accounts devoted to nature photos, adding his own commentary. This is easily our favorite thing about Gary Patterson.
1. The one with the volcano:
— Gary Patterson (@TCUCoachP) July 22, 2013
2. The one with the TCU-purple lightning storm:
— Gary Patterson (@TCUCoachP) October 2, 2013
3. The one with the dolphins:
— Gary Patterson (@TCUCoachP) July 14, 2013
4. The one where TCU is moving camp to Norway:
— Gary Patterson (@TCUCoachP) August 16, 2013
5. The one with all the sharks:
— Gary Patterson (@TCUCoachP) October 3, 2013
Coach Patterson has not yet provided his thoughts on these two baby tortoises wearing raspberries; we will keep you updated as this situation develops.
"I'm sort of proud of our team right now." —Steve Spurrier, after whom we should probably just go ahead and rename this section, following Wednesday's practice