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College football storylines, Week 10: BYU vs. Boise State is one of the season’s most important games

In a week that features two top-10 matchups, Friday night’s appetizer might be better than the main course.

Here’s what to watch this weekend in college football:

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Playoff implications in Boise

No. 7 BYU at No. 21 Boise State, Friday, 9:45 p.m., FS1: Quarterback Zach Wilson and the undefeated Cougars are quickly becoming the best story in college football, and they meet their toughest test yet in the 2-0 Broncos.

Why is this game so important? For the first time, it feels as if a non-Power Five team could secure a berth in the College Football Playoff. Central Florida has come the closest, but never placed higher than No. 8 in the committee’s rankings. This chaotic year could be different.

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Outside of Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama, the fourth spot is wide open. The Big 12 lost its best chance when Texas defeated No. 6 Oklahoma State last weekend. No. 10 Wisconsin, the second highest ranked team in the Big Ten, might never get back on the field because of a COVID-19 outbreak. No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Florida have already lost and meet this weekend. The Pac-12 hasn’t even kicked off yet.

The biggest challenger could come from an undefeated Notre Dame or Pac-12 champion, but the odds of that happening are slim. The Fighting Irish are still an underdog this weekend against a Clemson team without star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who tested positive for COVID-19. Oregon is replacing standout quarterback Justin Herbert. USC might lose its first game against Arizona State. In fact, the Pac-12 hasn’t produced an undefeated champion since Oregon in 2010.

The real challenger might be No. 6 Cincinnati, which was set to play BYU before the pandemic began. If the Bearcats run the table and win the American Athletic Conference, they might be looked at more favorably for playing a tougher schedule.

On Friday, all eyes will be on Wilson, who is catching the attention of NFL scouts and making the case to be the third quarterback selected in the draft behind Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Not to be overshadowed is Boise State’s Jack Sears, a USC transfer and former four-star prospect who was nearly perfect in a win over Air Force in place of starter Hank Banchmeier. And the talent goes beyond the two quarterbacks: According to analyst Parker Fleming, BYU and Boise State are the top two teams in the country in net success rate (the percentage of plays resulting in positive Expected Points Added), filtering out garbage time.

From its importance to the quality of play, this is the game to watch.

Separating SEC contenders

No. 8 Florida at No. 5 Georgia, Saturday 3:30 p.m., CBS: The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party won’t be the same with limited attendance, but the stakes haven’t changed.

The winner is likely to emerge from the SEC East to face Alabama in the conference title game. Florida seemingly has the edge behind a stellar offense led by quarterback Kyle Trask, and to make matters worse for Georgia, its dominant defense is dealing with injuries to starting safeties Richard LeCounte and Lewis Cine.

The reason for Gators fans to be worried is the play of their defense, which ranks 25th in efficiency and is allowing nearly 30 points per game. The Bulldogs offense isn’t a scoring machine with Stetson Bennett IV at quarterback, but Georgia’s rushing attack, led by stellar sophomore Zamir White, could make it a long day for Florida.

Both teams have a relatively easy path to get to 9-1 with a win Saturday. But unless they can significantly improve down the stretch, they’re likely just playing for second place behind the Crimson Tide.

ACC intrigue … maybe?

No. 1 Clemson at No. 4 Notre Dame, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC: This is Part I of the season series. Part II will likely come in the ACC championship game.

Clemson turns to backup quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who led a come-from-behind win over Boston College last weekend in his first career start. The former five-star recruit and son of a famous former bodyguard is 6 feet 4, 250 pounds with a rocket arm and a dangerous set of wheels, so if Notre Dame thinks it can relax with Lawrence out, it’s in for a rude awakening.

If Notre Dame’s defense, ranked ninth in efficiency, can contain Uiagalelei (pronounced oo-ee-AHN-guh-luh-lay), star running back Travis Etienne and Clemson’s speedy receivers, it has a shot. The problem is the Irish offense, which has struggled to move the ball consistently. It will be up to quarterback Ian Book to play some of the best football of his career to lead an upset victory.

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But will any of it matter? If Clemson wins, the playoff picture remains the same. If Clemson loses, it will likely run the table when Lawrence returns and beat Notre Dame in a rematch in the ACC title game to get back to the playoff. Let’s just enjoy this matchup featuring some of the nation’s top players and figure out the rest later.

Breakfast with the Pac-12

Arizona State at No. 20 USC, Saturday, noon, Fox: That’s right, a kickoff at 9 a.m. local time on the West Coast. Give the Pac-12 credit for trying to increase its exposure during a popular weekend time slot, even if it means having players wake up before dawn to prepare for the game.

The conference hasn’t been able to crack the playoff field since 2016. By attracting more East Coast viewers, it might catch the attention of more prospects in talent-rich areas such as Maryland, Florida, Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama.

In the meantime, a national audience is treated to a tantalizing opening game. Herm Edwards has built a strong program in two seasons and might be poised to contend for the Pac-12 title with talented quarterback Jayden Daniels. For the Trojans, living up to the preseason hype hasn’t been easy in recent years under Clay Helton, who is seemingly always coaching to save his job. Quarterback Kedon Slovis might be the kind of difference-maker to elevate USC back into the elite tier, as long as he stays healthy.

Other things to watch

Stop the streak (No. 23 Michigan at No. 13 Indiana, Saturday, noon, FS1): The Hoosiers are home underdogs and riding a 24-game losing streak to the Wolverines, who are coming off a disappointing loss to Michigan State. Michigan is vulnerable, and if Indiana is ever going to put a stop to this streak, it has to happen now.

Bearcats beware? (Houston at No. 6 Cincinnati, Saturday, 3:30, ABC): Cincinnati has been rolling during its 5-0 start, winning by an average of 27.6 points per game. The Cougars might not be able to stop quarterback Desmond Ridder and the Bearcats offense, but Clayton Tune and Co. can put up points in bunches. This could be a shootout that gets decided on the final possession.

Tagovailoa time (Maryland at Penn State, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., BTN): The Terps might be 25-point underdogs, but they have a quarterback to be excited about for the first time in years. Taulia Tagovailoa, younger brother of Miami Dolphins star Tua, became just the third Big Ten player in the last 20 seasons with 350 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in a single game in last Friday’s overtime win over Minnesota. A strong showing against the Nittany Lions would do wonders for Mike Locksley’s rebuilding program.

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Replacing Herbert (Stanford at Oregon, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ABC): Who steps in for quarterback Justin Herbert, who’s now starring for the Los Angeles Chargers after four seasons in Eugene? Tyler Shough and Boston College transfer Anthony Brown are the top candidates, and both could see time Saturday night. This Ducks team can compete for a Pac-12 title because of its dominant defense. If it has a sturdy quarterback to go with it, watch out.

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