Attention in college football turns to the Big Ten in Week 6. In just the second meeting of top five teams this season, No. 3 Iowa hosts No. 4 Penn State in a cross-division showdown that will shape the conference and College Football Playoff races.
The Hawkeyes have started with five wins on the strength of their defense that leads the nation in turnover margin and is second in scoring and seventh in yards allowed per game. The Nittany Lions defense might not statistically stack up to its opponent, but they're plenty stingy, setting the stage for what should be a classic, low-scoring Big Ten matchup.
Also on the menu this week is one of college football's biggest rivalries in one of its unique venues. No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 23 Texas meet again in the Cotton Bowl during the State Fair of Texas in what should be another close, dramatic game. The Sooners hope their offensive improvement last week will carry them past the Longhorns, who have been boosted by the play of quarterback Casey Thompson since their loss to Arkansas.
QB RANKINGS: Heisman race runs deep with three ACC QBs in top 10
BOWL PROJECTIONS: Oklahoma moves into College Football Playoff field
Among other ranked clashes, there are two in the Southeastern Conference. No. 2 Georgia pays a visit to No. 19 Auburn. The series known as the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry has been dominated by the Bulldogs recently, but the Tigers have some momentum after their defeat of LSU on the road.
No. 16 Arkansas visits No. 17 Mississippi as both teams try to bounce back after resounding losses to Georgia and Alabama, respectively. The winner stays near the top of the SEC West and puts a foot forward in the race for a New Year's Six Bowl.
In the crazy world of college football, there are always surprises and unexpected results. Some of our experts offer their forecasts for some unlikely events this weekend.
Look for Ohio State to continue rolling offensively against Maryland. While the Terrapins self-imploded with offensive turnovers in getting pounded at home against Iowa, the Buckeyes have struggled some defensively at points this season, but don't and won't need that kind of help from Maryland. The Buckeyes are averaging an absurd 8.57 yards per play, while leading the nation in total offense. Their third consecutive game scoring 50 or more points is certainly not out of the question.
A lot of oxygen is spent every year discussing whether Texas is back, but the Longhorns have been under the radar ever since their Week 2 setback against Arkansas. Since that defeat, Texas has quietly gone about its business in ripping off three consecutive impressive victories with Casey Thompson under center, including one against recent thorn TCU. The Longhorns are ranked again and enter their yearly matchup with Oklahoma with a chance at the biggest victory of the nascent Steve Sarkisian era. Aided by an offense that’s actually ranked ahead of Oklahoma’s in both points and yards per game, Texas will upend the inconsistent Sooners to create even more madness in the College Football Playoff chase.
Iowa puts the clamps down on Penn State and forces multiple turnovers to win a key Big Ten matchup. The win moves the Hawkeyes one step closer to a possible winner-take-all conference championship game with a College Football Playoff berth on the line. Beating the Nittany Lions would also force pundits to recognize Iowa's chances of running the table all the way into the national semifinals.
The wait for the first significant win by Scott Frost at Nebraska will be over Saturday as the Cornhuskers take down No. 8 Michigan and spoil the promising start of Jim Harbaugh's resurgent Wolverines.
Nebraska has played both Oklahoma and Michigan State close on the road, but haven't been able to get over the hump. Getting the Wolverines at home will be the difference as Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez outplays counterpart Cade McNamara in a low-scoring, defensive struggle that boosts the outlook for Frost leading his team to a bowl for the first time in his four seasons at his alma mater.
Cincinnati is not going to lose this weekend, but the Bearcats are going to get a bad result just the same.
UC got the win it needed at Notre Dame last week to make its playoff case, but now the Bearcats need the Fighting Irish to win out to optimize the value of that win. All the remaining games on Notre Dame’s schedule are winnable. But the propensity for the Irish to play close contests is going to get them tripped up at least once more, and it’s going to happen Saturday night at Virginia Tech.
Blacksburg is a tough place for visitors to win on a normal day, and a high-profile opponent in a nationally televised night game will have Lane Stadium moving seismograph needles. On the field, the Hokies remain something of a work in progress, particularly on the offensive side. But the improved defense will keep it close long enough for the home team to pull it out in the second half.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football picks: Predictions for Top 25 NCAA games in Week 6