November has arrived, and college football enters its stretch drive. Usually, that means the schedule offers a menu of increasingly tempting games as the weather cools.
That actually might not be the case this year, and particularly this weekend with just one top-25 matchup on this Saturday’s slate.
Our mission here is to help you choose the best and most compelling games to watch. As such, you aren’t likely to see top-ranked Georgia featured in this space until the SEC championship game with the Bulldogs’ toughest regular-season games behind them. Similarly, you won’t find Alabama here for the next couple of weeks – even Saturday’s annual showdown with LSU doesn’t look terribly competitive. This sport always has the capacity to surprise, of course, so some results admittedly will catch us off guard.
PICKS, BOLD PREDICTIONS: Led by major showdown in the SEC West
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But with all that out of the way, we offer this sixpack of contests we think will prove most worthy of your attention in Week 10.
No. 14 Auburn at No. 12 Texas A&M
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Why watch: This is the lone contest matching ranked opponents this week, and it’s a big one in the SEC West. It’s essentially an eliminator. The Aggies have two conference losses but also have a win against Alabama in the bank, something no one else can claim. The Tigers, of course, will get their crack at the Crimson Tide at the end of the month but must win here in College Station to maximize that game’s importance. Auburn QB Bo Nix has continued his solid play since the near disaster against Georgia State, and RB Tank Bigsby lent plenty of support in last week’s important victory against Mississippi. The Aggies have been largely untested since pulling off the Alabama stunner, but QB Zach Calzada is going to need a similar performance in this contest to keep the Tigers’ defense from keying on RBs Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane.
Why it could disappoint: The most likely blowout scenario involves one team committing a slew of miscues. There’s no apparent advantage in turnover margin as both teams are hovering around even, but the Aggies’ average of 62.3 penalty yards a game could become an issue.
No. 6 Michigan State at Purdue
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: Fresh off their biggest win in several years, the Spartans must now avoid the dreaded letdown from the euphoria from toppling Michigan. The Boilermakers have been up and down but have already shown they have the talent in place to pull off a top-10 upset. Spartans’ RB Kenneth Walker III, now front-and-center in the Heisman discussion after last week’s five-TD performance, will have the undivided attention of LB Jaylan Alexander and the Boilermakers’ run stoppers. Purdue has a game changer of its own in WR David Bell, but he can also expect plenty of scrutiny from Spartans’ S Xavier Henderson.
Why it could disappoint: Purdue was held to exactly 13 points in each of its three losses. The Boilermakers scored 13 in a win as well, but that was against offensively-challenged Illinois. The Spartans could put it on ice if they can get past that total quickly.
No. 9 Wake Forest at North Carolina
Noon ET, ABC
Why watch: You’ll hear this explained during the broadcast, but we’ll restate it here just for clarity – this is not a conference game. Yes, these two schools have been so-called Big Four staples in the ACC for decades. But expansion landed them in opposite divisions, so when they were rotated off each other’s league slates they agreed to a home-and-home that wouldn’t count in the conference standings to keep their long-standing rivalry alive. As far as the ACC race is concerned, the important game for Wake is next week’s home showdown with N.C. State that will likely determine the Atlantic Division title. But don’t think for one minute the Demon Deacons will overlook this contest in any way. It is just as important for the Tar Heels, who have a difficult finishing stretch and need two more wins just to achieve bowl eligibility. UNC won last year’s meeting 59-53. There is similar shootout potential for this encounter, though Tar Heels’ QB Sam Howell has been working with a mostly revamped array of ball handlers this season with mixed results. Deacons’ QB Sam Hartman has thrown for 22 TDs and rushed for six more with just three picks, numbers that will have him in the Heisman discussion if Wake’s unprecedented run continues.
Why it could disappoint: The early kick time might make for a somewhat more subdued atmosphere than this rivalry would normally create, but the action on the field won’t lack for intensity. The somewhat leaky nature of the defenses, both of which struggle to get off the field on third down, means there is probably no such thing as a safe lead.
No. 7 Oregon at Washington
7:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Why watch: Assuming Ohio State handles its business earlier in the day at Nebraska, Buckeyes‘ faithful figure to take an interest in this one. The Pac-12 contenders for the most part have not done themselves any favors, with uneven performances league wide. Oregon is the conference’s lone ranked team with that win at Ohio State in the bank, but even the Ducks haven’t looked the part of league frontrunners – let alone playoff candidates – at times. The Huskies have largely been disappointing, but last Saturday they managed to get the win at Stanford that the Ducks couldn’t a few weeks ago. Oregon QB Anthony Brown has been more efficient in the passing game of late, but the Huskies boast the nation’s stingiest air defense allowing just 146.3 yards a game.
Why it could disappoint: The Washington offense, however, remains a work in progress, and Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux could make it a long night for UW freshman QB Dylan Morris. One wouldn’t be confident in U-Dub’s ability to rally should the Ducks build any kind of a lead.
No. 18 Texas-San Antonio at Texas-El Paso
10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Why watch: Conference USA doesn’t get much love in this space, and most of the news involving the league of late has involved its members planning to depart. But this contest is worthy of mention as the unbeaten Roadrunners look to preserve their longshot hopes for a major bowl bid. The Miners were on a nice run themselves before last week’s stumble at Florida Atlantic, but the fact that UTEP is already bowl-eligible is a significant achievement in itself. The driving force for UTSA is the backfield tandem of QB Frank Harris and RB Sincere McCormick, leading a balanced attack that averages 441.3 yards and 39.4 points a game. The Miners will counter with QB Gavin Hardison, who has a healthy 9.3-yard average per pass attempt but also has nine INTs to go with his 10 scoring throws.
Why it could disappoint: Again, take nothing away from the Miners for getting to six victories, but the five FBS teams they’ve beaten have a combined total of nine wins. The Roadrunners might make short work of this one.
Air Force vs. Army in Arlington, Texas
11:30 a.m. ET, CBS
Why watch: The second game in the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy series will be at this neutral site at Globe Life Field, the home of the Texas Rangers, for the next couple of years. The Falcons, who won at Navy in September, look to complete the service academy sweep, but the Black Knights have no plans to relinquish the trophy they claimed in 2020 for the third time in four years. FB Brad Roberts is the workhorse for the Falcons’ version of the option, ably directed by QB Haaziq Daniels. The Black Knights have a slew of ball carriers, but when they need to throw it they generally turn to QB Jabari Laws, who has hit on 14 of his 17 pass attempts with three scores.
Why it could disappoint: Option football isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so if you like deep throws and big catches this might not be the game for you. It should, however, be close throughout with plenty of fourth-quarter drama.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football schedule, scores: SEC West clash leads way