As teams across the country enter the second half of their schedules, there might be more questions now than there were at the beginning of the season. Races for several conference titles and the Heisman Trophy remain wide open, and the College Football Playoff picture is still very much unclear thanks to a logjam in the SEC West. Here are some of the biggest games to watch this week as the college football season enters its home stretch.
Texas at No. 11 Kansas State
Last Saturday, Bill Snyder and the Wildcats reminded everybody just how lethal they are as the underdog. Kansas State went on the road and knocked off the Oklahoma Sooners, its 10th win as an underdog since 2011.
More importantly, the Wildcats have announced themselves as the team to beat in the race for the Big 12 title. With TCU trouncing Oklahoma State and West Virginia shocking Baylor last weekend, Kansas State is the only team left unbeaten in conference play in the Big 12 this season.
Now, coming off their victory over the Sooners, the Wildcats will look to avoid falling victim to a letdown loss when they welcome Texas to Manhattan, Kansas, this Saturday.
The Longhorns are off to a 3-4 start in Charlie Strong’s first season as head coach, and haven’t looked great against tough competition. However, they did defeat Iowa State in a thriller last week and still have the potential to throw the conference into greater chaos by upsetting Kansas State.
If Wildcats quarterback Jake Waters, who has 17 total touchdowns on the season, continues to shine, they shouldn’t have too much trouble beating Texas at home.
No. 22 West Virginia at Oklahoma State
West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen entered the 2014 season squarely on the hot seat, but now has the Mountaineers in the thick of the Big 12 race.
West Virginia played both Alabama and Oklahoma tough earlier in the year, but finally broke through this past Saturday against Baylor. Quarterback Clint Trickett threw a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to lead the Mountaineers to a 41-27 victory over the Bears.
Trickett has passed for 2,525 yards, third-most in the FBS, and 15 touchdowns so far this season, and will need to be sharp again as his team travels to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys were embarrassed on the road last Saturday, losing 42-9 to TCU. Mike Gundy’s team is still alive in the battle for the Big 12 title, but with Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma all remaining on their schedule, the Cowboys absolutely need to knock off West Virginia this weekend to stay in the race.
No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU
No, you’re not dreaming. The state of Mississippi actually boasts two of the best teams in all of college football. This year’s Egg Bowl could have College Football Playoff implications, though both Ole Miss and Mississippi State have to take care of their business first.
The Rebels, off to a 7-0 start, will travel to Baton Rouge this Saturday to take on Les Miles and the LSU Tigers.
The Tigers have struggled at times this season, needing a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat a mediocre Florida team and getting blown out against Auburn three weeks ago. However, they responded well, decimating Kentucky 41-3 in their last game.
LSU will have its hands full against the Rebels, who are holding opponents to just 10.6 points per game this year, the lowest in the FBS. Quarterback Bo Wallace has also been solid for Ole Miss, throwing for 17 touchdowns and running for another two.
Though Hugh Freeze has the Rebels looking dominant, winning under the lights in Death Valley is never an easy task.
No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah
With pretty much every team besides Colorado still alive in the Pac-12 South, every game the rest of the way is huge for all teams involved.
The Trojans are off to a good start in Steve Sarkisian’s first season as head coach, currently sitting atop the division with a 4-1 conference record. They could even be undefeated in Pac-12 play right now, had it not been for a last-second Hail Mary by Arizona State earlier in the month.
USC quarterback Cody Kessler is quietly putting together a stellar season, throwing for 1,884 yards and 18 touchdowns while completing 69.5 percent of his passes.
Meanwhile, the Utes look poised to have their best season since moving to the Pac-12 in 2011. Utah went just 18-19 in its first three seasons as a member of the conference, including a 9-18 record in Pac-12 play, but are off to a much better start in 2014.
After upsetting UCLA and beating Oregon State in double overtime in their past two games, the Utes have an opportunity to assert themselves in the battle for the Pac-12 South with a win over USC.
No. 14 Arizona State at Washington
The Sun Devils also in the mix in the Pac-12 South, owning victories over USC and Stanford in their past two games. Now, they’ll head to Seattle to take on the Huskies in a cross-divisional matchup.
Washington was the program that finally lured Chris Petersen away from Boise State, and he’s guided them to a 5-2 record through the first seven games. However, both of the Huskies’ losses have come against the only ranked teams they’ve faced this year.
The Washington secondary has struggled this season, giving up 283.4 passing yards per game, the 14th-most in the FBS. This could be especially problematic given that the Huskies are going up against a potent Arizona State passing attack that ranks 11th in the country with 324 yards per game.
That being said, the Pac-12 has been wildly unpredictable in 2014, so don’t be too surprised if Washington is able to pull off the upset against the Sun Devils.