By Hunter Hart
Huge upsets told the story of week six of college football. The top four teams, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, cruised on their way to their sixth win of the season. No. 6 Notre Dame impressed the committee with a dominant on the road against No. 24 Virginia Tech. The rest of the top ten didn’t fare so well. No. 9 West Virginia and No.10 Washington struggled against very bad Kansas and UCLA teams, respectively. No. 5 LSU was unable to overcome the raucous crowd in the Swamp and fell to No. 22 Florida, 27-19. No. 7 Oklahoma was outscored 48-45 by rival No. 19 Texas. And #8 Auburn looked pitiful on against Mississippi State, scoring only nine points in their 14 point loss. The playoff picture became much clearer after the weekend but many questions still remain. This upcoming weekend should answer a few of them.
No. 2 Georgia @ No. 13 LSU. 2:30 CT in Baton Rouge, LA.
With LSU’s loss to Florida, the game doesn’t have the top five appeal it did a week ago. Still, both teams are very much in the playoff hunt and a win on Saturday would be a huge step in that direction.
Why Georgia needs a win:
The Bulldogs are heading into the toughest part of their season. After the matchup at LSU, they have a bye week before facing No. 14 Florida, No. 18 Kentucky and No. 21 Auburn in consecutive weeks. It is crucial for Georgia to start off the stretch with a win against the Tigers. While the Bulldogs have looked impressive through their first six games, they haven’t been truly tested. The only ranked game on their schedule was No. 24 South Carolina, and the Gamecocks have since fallen out of the top 25 since. However, Georgia has been doing what any good team needs to do- blowing out bad teams. The Bulldogs average margin of victory is almost 30 points. This is in large part due to the extremely balanced offensive attack. Georgia has 14 touchdowns through the air and 15 on the ground. 12 different Bulldogs have found the endzone on offense this season. The strong offense is only outshined by a dominant defense. Only Missouri has scored more than 17 points on the Georgia defense and the Bulldogs have forced six turnovers in as many games. The Florida defense was able to slow down quarterback Joe Burrow and the LSU offense last weekend; we will see if Georgia is able is able to do the same.
Why LSU needs a win:
The Tigers finally came back down to Earth. After an incredible 5-0 start with wins against No. 8 Miami and at No. 7 Auburn, LSU suffered its first loss of the season in Gainesville against Florida last Saturday. The Tiger offense sputtered against a tough Gator defense. After scoring on their opening drive, LSU didn’t find the endzone again until the fourth quarter. Despite the disappointing offensive performance, LSU is by no means out of the race for an SEC Championship and possibly a playoff berth. If they are able to take down Georgia on Saturday, they would jump back into the top ten. Games against No. 22 Texas A&M, No. 24 Mississippi State and a showdown in Death Valley with No. 1 Alabama still remain on the Tigers’ schedule. With plenty of chances to make a statement, LSU still has a lot of potential. That all starts with an upset on Saturday.
No. 7 Washington @ No. 17 Oregon, 2:30 CT in Eugene, OR.
The Pac-12 seems like a long-shot to get into the playoff, but both of these teams have a lot to play for. This Pac-12 North matchup will go a long way to determining the division.
Why Washington needs a win:
Despite its early season loss to Auburn, the ESPN Playoff Predictor gives Washington the seventh-best chance to make the playoff. The Huskies are going to need some help though, with undefeated teams remaining in each of the other Power 5 conferences and Notre Dame in the mix as well. All Jake Browning and Washington can worry about right now is taking care of business on their way to their second Pac-12 title in three years. This may be a challenge, as the Huskies have not looked great through their first five games. They were projected to run away with a relatively weak Pac 12 conference. Even after their opening loss to Auburn, the Huskies were still favored to win the conference. However, close games against bad conference opponents (3-3 Arizona State and 0-5 UCLA) have many questioning if Washington is truly the top of the Pac-12. Fortunately for the Huskies, they have a chance to silence the doubters with a win in Eugene on Saturday.
Why Oregon needs a win:
It appeared as if the Ducks might have been the best team in the Pac-12 during the first half of their game against No. 7 Stanford. What ensued was one of the biggest letdowns of the college football season. Oregon held a 17-point advantage at halftime. The Cardinal quickly stormed back to make it a 31-28 game. Still, the Ducks had the ball with just minutes left in the fourth quarter. With 51 seconds left, Oregon running back CJ Verdell fumbled to give the ball back to Stanford. The Cardinal then marched down the field and kicked a game-tying field goal, before completing their comeback win in overtime. The second half exposed the inexperience, especially on defense, of the young Oregon team. They responded well, with an 18-point victory at No. 24 California. Now, their resolve will be tested again against Washington on Saturday. The Ducks hope that junior quarterback Justin Herbert (a top prospect for next year’s NFL draft) can shine against Washington and help keep Oregon’s defense off the field. If they are able to win, they will gain control of the Pac-12 North and be in great position to make a New Year’s Six bowl.
No. 15 Wisconsin @ No. 12 Michigan. 6:30 CT in Ann Arbor, MI.
Both teams suffered a tough non-conference loss but still expect to be in the race for a Big Ten Championship. The primetime matchup on Saturday provides an opportunity for both teams to get back into the national conversation.
Why Wisconsin needs a win:
The Badgers’ 24-21 September home loss to BYU remains one of the biggest upsets of the season. The defeat was a huge hit to Wisconsin’s playoff chances. Fortunately for the Badgers, they still have plenty of chances to prove themselves throughout the rest of the season. They already traveled to Iowa to take down the Hawkeyes at one of the toughest venues in college football (just ask 2017 Ohio State). The game against Michigan, along with a showdown at No. 8 Penn State still remain on their schedule. And if Wisconsin is able to win the Big Ten West, they will most likely face No. 3 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. Because of their difficult schedule, the Badgers are certainly not out of the playoff race. Still, they need to win out to be considered. That starts on the ground with star sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor. After rushing for 1977 yards in his freshman year, Taylor is back at it with 849 yards and 8 touchdowns through just five games this year. He will face the challenge of a Michigan defensive line that is one of the best in the country. Taylor has had 100+ yards rushing in 10 out of his last 11 games, including a 132 yard game against Michigan last season. The Badgers need him to have a big game in order to pull off the upset on Saturday.
Why Michigan needs a win:
Have the Wolverines finally found their quarterback? Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson has been impressive in his first six games in the maize and blue. He has ten passing touchdowns – not a mind-boggling number- but incredible considering Michigan had nine passing touchdowns all of last season. The offensive has improved drastically as a result. The Wolverines are averaging 38 points per game, compared to just 25 points per game last season. What has remained unchanged is Michigan’s dominant defense, led by defensive linemen Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary. Michigan is the No. 1 defense in the country statistically, only allowing 230 yards per game, 96 of those being on the ground. It will be a huge clash between Wisconsin’s veteran offensive line and Michigan’s talented front seven. Like Wisconsin, despite the Wolverines early season loss to Notre Dame, they still have plenty of opportunities to prove their worth. They host No. 8 Penn State on Nov. 2 before traveling to Columbus for “The Game” to close out the season. Michigan still has a shot at a playoff berth but they need to win out to get there. It starts with a win over Wisconsin.