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2014 season preview: Five games to watch in week 10

Oregon v Stanford
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PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 07: Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks congratulates Kevin Hogan #8 of the Stanford Cardinal after Stanford beat Oregon at Stanford Stadium on November 7, 2013 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The college football offseason is long and arduous, but its end is almost in sight. We’re going to take a look at five games you have to look forward to for every weekend of the season. (This is also a handy guide to decide how to RSVP for any autumn weddings.)

All times are Eastern and all games are played on Saturday unless otherwise noted.

These games take place the weekend of November 1.

 Previously: Week One (August 30) ~ Week Two (September 6) ~ Week Three (September 13) ~ Week Four (September 20) ~ Week Five (September 27) ~ Week Six (October 4) ~ Week Seven (October 11) ~ Week Eight (October 18) ~ Week Nine (October 25)

Stanford at Oregon (TBD)

The last two seasons Oregon has carried an undefeated record into a November game with the Cardinal where they were double-digit favorites. The last two seasons they have also been ranked within the top two spots in the polls and the last two seasons they have imploded against Stanford, dropping their division and any chance at a PAC-12 title or national title game berth. Last year was particularly embarrassing, as Marcus Mariota and the Ducks offense were held scoreless for three quarters before finally putting on a rally in a 26-20 loss. (Oregon lost 17-14 in overtime two years ago, their only 2012 black mark.) A few of the main roadblocks for Mark Helfrich’s offense have departed (Cardinal linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy are gone, as is defensive coordinator Derek Mason, now running the show at Vanderbilt), which should make it a little easier to score points, but David Shaw has enough holdovers who’ve won at Autzen remain to make this supremely interesting. There is little room for error in the PAC-12 in 2014, particularly against the team you’re most likely to need a head-to-head tiebreaker.

Florida State at Louisville (7:30 p.m., Thursday)

If you want to point to one moment that started Louisville’s rise from Conference USA to the ACC, you could do worse than a 2002 Thursday night game against No. 4 Florida State. In a driving rain the Cardinals battled for a 26-20 overtime win against the heavily favored Seminoles, picking off Chris Rix on the first play of overtime before punching in the winning score on a 25-yard Henry Miller run. (The whole game is available on YouTube, with a Mike Tirico/Kirk Herbstreit/Lee Corso booth. Bless the internet.) The two are now conference and division rivals, and while they would need to survive trips to Clemson and Syracuse, it is possible Louisville could be 8-0 and coming off a bye as they prepare for the national champs. But the Seminoles also have a bye prior to this game. And they have Jameis Winston. And Mario Edwards at the front of a rangy, powerful defense. And a beastly offensive line to get everything going. Jimbo Fisher’s defending champs are stacked, but a weeknight trip to Papa John’s Stadium could be their toughest test of the season. Must see TV on a Thursday night.

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Georgia running back Todd Gurley. (Melina Vastola/USA TODAY Sports)

Georgia running back Todd Gurley. (Melina Vastola/USA TODAY Sports)

Florida vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville, TBD)

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party was the Gators’ annual reminder of their dominance over the Bulldogs under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, who combined to go 18-3 between 1990 and 2010. However the last three years have belonged to Mark Richt’s Dawgs, scraping by with four, eight and three-point victories. Florida is considered a bit of an outsider in the SEC East race despite their loads of talent and 12-2 finish in 2012, and with Georgia not only a hated rival but the division favorite, this is a big, big game for Will Muschamp’s future in Gainesville. Georgia brings back eight starters from a defense that was forced to reload in 2013 along with a bevy of skill position talent, giving Richt a potential playoff contender. The Gator offense will try to find some semblance of life under new coordinator Kurt Roper (coming over from Duke) and young blue-chip talent at the skill positions (tailback Kelvin Taylor and wideout Demarcus Robinson could shine as sophomores). Florida almost has to be healthier and luckier than last year, right? Both teams are coming off byes.

Auburn at Ole Miss (TBD)

To show you how low the expectations were at the start of the 2013 season for Gus Malzahn and the Tigers, Ole Miss was favored by a field goal when these two teams played in early October – at Auburn. That was a bit of a coming out party for Nick Marshall, who ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns on the way to a 30-22 win, but it was the Tigers defensive line that handled things late, sacking Bo Wallace on third and fourth down to end the Ole Miss comeback threat. Marshall is back, along with most of his offensive and a potentially destructive new backfield mate in Racean “Roc” Thomas, a five-star freshman from Oxford, Alabama. (Go ahead and spend a few minutes with his highlight reel.) But the Rebels are at home and return nine starters on defense, including a five-star counter to Thomas in sophomore tackle Robert Nkemdiche (his highlights). Just another brutal chapter in the 2014 SEC West round robin.

Northwestern at Iowa (TBD)

It’s conceivable Iowa is 7-0 coming into this game, which begins a Big Ten West run that will decide whether they make the title game or not. Northwestern is primed for a bounce-back year, with their entire offensive line, a quarterback in Trevor Siemian who got plenty snaps last year following starter Kain Colter’s injury and a veteran receiving corps that will be bolstered by the arrival of Kyle Prater, a USC transfer who was one of the top players in the country coming out of high school. Iowa’s defense will need to reload their linebacking crew but they bring back a majority of their offense (including some improbably healthy running backs) and get the Wildcats in Iowa City. Both teams will be coming off byes and Northwestern has a recent history of ruining Hawkeye seasons, winning as a double-digit underdog against ranked Iowa teams in both 2009 and 2010.

Other games to consider:

Cincinnati at Tulane (8:00 p.m., Friday)

This takes place Halloween night in New Orleans. I don’t think we need to go much further on the potential weirdness that could occur.

North Carolina at Miami (TBD)

Everyone is really a potential favorite in the Coastal (except Virginia), but this pits perhaps the two most talented teams in the division against one another. These two actually tied for the division crown in 2012 but neither was eligible for the postseason, which sent Georgia Tech to the title game.

Texas at Texas Tech (TBD)

When discussing Baylor/Texas we mentioned the Longhorns current place in the state’s college football hierarchy. The Red Raiders are comfortably below the flagship school in Austin (five straight wins), but Kliff Kingsbury is building something in Lubbock with nine returning starters on the offense.

Arizona at UCLA (TBD)

In 2012, Rich Rodriguez’s first season as Arizona head coach, the Wildcats were drilled by the Bruins 66-10. Last year that improved to a respectable 31-26 loss at home, but he hasn’t been able to best Jim Mora during their PAC-12 tenures. Expect at least a few points here.

Wisconsin at Rutgers (TBD)

The Scarlet Knights are coming off their third straight bowl appearance and return 16 starters, including all five offensive linemen to go with their leading passer, rusher and receiver. A potential Badger upset in the swamps of Jersey, but Gary Anderson’s defense should have found a combination that works by this point in the season after needing to replace eight defensive starters.

USC at Washington State (TBD)

The loss that likely started the ball rolling on Lane Kiffin’s axing last year was a 10-7 week two defeat to the Cougars, which came at home in a game where Mike Leach’s team didn’t score an offensive touchdown. Would likely be wise for Steve Sarkisian to avoid a similar misstep against his old Apple Cup foe.

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