The time has come once again for us to help you plan your Saturday college football viewing. To reiterate, we attempt to choose the best games based on the importance of the matchups, likely entertainment value and the potential to surprise. We make these selections as neutral observers, so of course if you have a rooting interest in a particular team your priorities will differ.
With all that out of the way, we submit for your approval this promising handful of Week 6 games. The list includes the season’s second top-five showdown, three other clashes of ranked opponents, and a team looking for an upset in prime time. No, not Texas A&M against Alabama – even though one of our so-called experts pegged it as a candidate for game of the year.
Ahem – but we digress.
No. 4 Penn State at No. 3 Iowa
4 p.m. ET, Fox
Why watch: This is the clear headliner, though it could be repeated later in the Big Ten championship game. The Nittany Lions would appear to have the more treacherous path to get there through the East Division, but while the West might seem more manageable for the Hawkeyes even with a loss here, they won’t be keen to test this theory. The Hawkeyes’ simple formula of forcing takeaways and running the ball worked to near perfection in their most recent outing at Maryland. Veteran Nittany Lions’ QB Sean Clifford might be less inclined to give the ball away, so Iowa will need to mount more sustained drives to put points on the board. QB Spencer Petras can be inaccurate at times, but he knows how to get RB Tyler Goodson the ball in space. Penn State LBs Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks will lead the effort to limit such space. Nittany Lions’ WR Jahan Dotson could be a difference maker. CB Riley Moss and his fellow Hawkeyes’ defensive backs are well aware of his breakaway ability, of course, but he’ll be hard to contain for a full 60 minutes.
Why it could disappoint: There’s a high probability the game will quickly become a punting contest. The Nittany Lions are giving up just 12 points a game, while the Hawkeyes are even stingier at 11.6. That should also mean it will be close throughout, but high intensity with few fireworks might not be your cup of tea. Should one team be able to build a multi-score lead, a comeback could prove difficult.
No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 23 Texas in Dallas
Noon ET, ABC
Why watch: Not that this annual rivalry game needed additional spice, but it’s always preferable when both of the involved teams also have a number before their names. The Sooners made it to Red River week unscathed though it wasn’t always easy, while the Longhorns have rebounded from their earlier setback against Arkansas with a three-game winning streak that got them back into the top 25. QB Spencer Rattler had the Oklahoma offense looking more like fans have come to expect in last week’s win at Kansas State, though he’d still like to get a home-run ball to WR Marvin Mims. The Longhorns’ attack also has found new life since Casey Thompson took over at QB, but the key for Texas should be RB Bijan Robinson. He’s averaging a hefty 6.21 yards per rushing attempt, but the improved Sooners’ ground defense, featuring LB Brian Asamoah, is only allowing 2.73 per run.
Why it could disappoint: It rarely does, but it is conceivable the Sooners will put together an early charge and coast home. The Longhorns’ pass rush is producing just two sacks a game. That won’t cut it against Rattler, who knows how to get the ball out quickly.
No. 16 Arkansas at No. 17 Mississippi
Noon ET, ESPN
Why watch: One might call this SEC West contest the Bounce-back Bowl, as both teams hope to return to the win column after what could only be described as reality checks against the league’s powers. The Razorbacks were overwhelmed from start to finish at Georgia last week, while the Rebels fared little better a few hours later in Tuscaloosa against the Crimson Tide. Ole Miss QB Matt Corral likely will take some deep shots quickly in an attempt to restore his confidence and keep the sound Razorbacks’ front seven at bay. Arkansas will want to reestablish its power running game behind RB Trelon Smith to give QB K.J. Jefferson room to operate.
Why it could disappoint: It’s unlikely, but one or both teams could come out flat after last week’s suboptimal performance. One could also envision scenarios in which either team jumps ahead early and coasts home. The Rebels would theoretically be better equipped to mount a comeback with their quick-strike capability, but the Razorbacks have the potential to dictate the pace of the game in the trenches.
No. 13 Notre Dame at Virginia Tech
7:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
Why watch: The Fighting Irish have little time to mourn their first loss of the campaign. They take to the road where, for the third time in as many weeks, they face a rested opponent coming off an open date. The Hokies began the season with a home upset of then-ranked North Carolina and would love to snag another top-25 win to get back into the poll. Notre Dame freshman QB Drew Pyne led a second-half rally that fell short against Cincinnati. Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly might nevertheless stick with opening-day starter Jack Coan if he’s fully healthy, though Kelly is not making that decision public. Whoever takes the bulk of the snaps will need much better protection; Hokies’ DE Amare Barno and LB Dax Hollifield are sure to be in attack mode from the outset. The Tech offense has not been ultra-efficient, either, but QB Braxton Burmeister can be slippery. He must, however, be aware of the whereabouts of Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton.
Why it could disappoint: Last season was anomalous for everyone, of course, but Virginia Tech hasn’t performed well after open dates in recent years. If the Hokies are slow out of the gate and Notre Dame can take advantage, the home crowd could be neutralized.
No. 2 Georgia at No. 19 Auburn
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Why watch: The Tigers come back home after accomplishing a feat they hadn’t achieved since 1999, beating LSU in Baton Rouge. Their reward is this date with an even more historic rival, and the Bulldogs aren’t all that interested in Auburn’s happy return. As mentioned earlier, the Georgia defense, which has given up just 23 points all season and is coming off back-to-back shutouts, is playing at championship level. Tigers’ QB Bo Nix displayed his improvisational talents leading last week’s rally against the Bayou Bengals. He isn’t likely to have as much freedom to make things happen this time; Georgia has 10 players who have recorded at least one sack, led by LB Adam Anderson’s four. LB Zakoby McClain and the Auburn defense was rock solid against LSU, and they’ll have to be even better to keep Bulldogs’ RB Zamir White in check.
Why it could disappoint: Strange things always can happen in rivalry games, but Auburn, quite simply, cannot fall behind in this one. It hasn’t mattered whether J.T. Daniels or Stetson Bennett has been at QB for Georgia given the dominance of the defense. If either Bulldogs passer gets hot, the rout could be on.
Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Penn State-Iowa, Red River rivalry top college football games to watch