From a top-10 Southeast Conference matchup to a prime-time Group of 5 showdown to more Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal chaos, there’s something for everyone this weekend.
Here are the most intriguing questions for Week 10:
Can Georgia get back in the playoff race?
The No. 8 Bulldogs’ bye week came at an opportune time, as Georgia was able to rest up, figure out its problems on offense and prepare for Saturday’s matchup with No. 6 Florida.
Despite their shocking loss to South Carolina a few weeks ago, the Dawgs are still in contention for an SEC title and possible playoff berth. But they’ll need to win out to accomplish those lofty goals, and given the tough slate ahead, it seems unlikely to happen. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Georgia just a 6.0% chance of winning out and 18.4% chance of winning the conference. The Dawgs are more likely headed for a 9-3 season than a trip to the national championship game.
But the opportunity is still there for the taking. Georgia’s defense ranks among the best, and the offense, despite its inability to make big plays, rates as the 11th best in SP+, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of efficiency.
Georgia has the blue-chip talent necessary to make a run at an SEC title, but Kirby Smart’s questionable in-game coaching decisions and a reluctance to be more aggressive on offense and unshackle quarterback Jake Fromm might hold the Dawgs back.
Florida, led by its own strong defense and a more talented offense, will be Georgia’s biggest test to date. How the Dawgs fare Saturday will tell us whether a conference title run is realistic.
Who’s set up better for future success: SMU or Memphis?
No. 15 SMU (8-0) and No. 24 Memphis (7-1) meet in prime-time Saturday night, and the winner will be in the driver’s seat in the American Athletic Conference West as it looks to win its first conference title and secure a Cotton Bowl bid. It’s a clash of two programs on the rise, and it’s impossible to overstate how meaningful it will be.
The Mustangs hadn’t been nationally ranked since 1986, the year before receiving the NCAA death penalty, and have been to just one bowl game in the past six seasons. Suddenly, under Coach of the Year candidate Sonny Dykes, SMU is 8-0 and has a chance to win 10 or more games for the first time since 1984.
The Tigers, meanwhile, have been to five straight bowl games after reaching just five total in their first 53 years. Justin Fuente built Memphis back into a competitive program before leaving for Virginia Tech at the end of the 2015 season, and Mike Norvell has picked up where he left off, guiding the Tigers to a 33-15 record. But Memphis has only finished in the end-of-season Top 25 twice since 2014, and both times the Tigers were barely hanging on at No. 25.
Saturday’s game not only has major implications for the AAC, but the Group of 5 at large. Both of these programs are set up to become perennial contenders on par with UCF and Boise State, especially if they can recruit well in the talent-rich areas they reside. It won’t be surprising if, in a few years, we regard SMU and Memphis as among the best G5 programs in the country. Saturday could be the start of an intriguing rivalry.
Is USC really a Pac-12 contender?
For all the questions surrounding coach Clay Helton’s job security, the Trojans hold the top spot in the Pac-12 South and can earn their second victory over a top-10 conference opponent Saturday when they host No. 7 Oregon.
Because of their win over Utah earlier this season, the Trojans own a valuable tiebreaker with the Utes, who are poised to finish the season with just one loss. If USC can win out — a task that becomes much easier if it can get past the Ducks, with games remaining against Arizona State, California and UCLA — the South title goes to the Trojans, despite their inferior overall record.
USC did well to rally past Colorado last Friday, but the Trojans struggled against a Buffaloes team that’s just 3-5 this season. USC’s defense has been hampered by injuries and routinely gashed, allowing nearly 7 yards per play against Colorado. How will it fare against Oregon star quarterback Justin Herbert and Co.?
The bigger question is how USC’s offense handles a resurgent Oregon defense. The Ducks are allowing just 14.8 points per game, but rising star Kedon Slovis and the Trojans’ talented receiving corps will test them. Washington and Washington State both have effective offenses, and they each nearly took down Oregon in the past two weeks, losing by a combined six points.
The buzz is building for Oregon to get back into the playoff discussion if it can finish the season 12-1 and win the Pac-12. First, the Ducks will have to prove they can get past a talented USC team that has its own conference title hopes.
Will North Carolina vs. Virginia decide the ACC Coastal?
While it’s unlikely we get the incredible seven-way tie it deserves, the ACC Coastal is still among the most confusing divisions in the country.
Virginia sits on top, for now, at 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the conference. Right behind the Cavaliers is North Carolina, which has taken nearly every game down to the wire but has just a 4-4 overall record and 3-2 league mark to show for it.
The game opened as a pick ’em in most sportsbooks, which shows you just how unpredictable the division has been. North Carolina, which has emerged as a slight home favorite, gets a chance to make up for its close losses by taking control of the Coastal with just three games to go. Mack Brown’s team is better than its record indicates, and this is a must-win game if it wants a rematch against Clemson in the ACC title game.
Some smaller questions worth asking
Can Utah keep its playoff hopes alive? Not only are the Utes gunning for a Pac-12 title, but a chance to get into the playoff. Saturday’s game at Washington, which has disappointed this season but remains formidable, is by far Utah’s toughest remaining test on its quest to go 12-1.
How will Notre Dame bounce back? A week after losing 45-14 to Michigan, effectively eliminating the Fighting Irish from playoff contention, Notre Dame hosts a hot Virginia Tech team that has won three straight games and is coming off a bye. There’s a chance the Irish can still sneak into a New Year’s Six bowl game, but they might just be playing for pride the rest of the season.
Have Tennessee and UCLA turned a corner? Don’t start booking postseason travel plans just yet if you’re a Vols or Bruins fan, but there’s hope that these recent turnarounds are signs of progress for Jeremy Pruitt and Chip Kelly. What once seemed like disastrous seasons have become competitive, with Tennessee winning two of its past three (and hanging tough against Alabama) and UCLA winning two straight. They each get winnable games this weekend (Tennessee hosts UAB, UCLA hosts Colorado) to keep the good vibes going.
Who’s in worse shape: Miami or Florida State? The rivalry game between these programs lacks its usual luster given their records — both sit 4-4 overall — but there’s plenty of intrigue given just how disappointing each team has been. While Manny Diaz is likely safe in just his first year on the job with the Hurricanes, Willie Taggart has drawn the ire of Seminoles fans after missing a bowl game last year and getting off to another slow start this year. Given Florida’s resurgence under Dan Mullen — and even UCF’s growing national brand — both programs are in danger of falling behind in the state’s pecking order.
Is #9-WINdiana really possible? The Hoosiers have won nine games twice in their history, going 9-2 and reaching the Rose Bowl in 1967 and finishing 9-0-1 in 1945. This is usually the time of year the Indiana fanbase shifts its attention toward basketball, but if the Hoosiers can win two of their final four regular-season games — and maybe even upset Penn State or Michigan — and win their bowl game, this would go down as one of the most successful seasons in school history. That’s a huge accomplishment for third-year coach Tom Allen.
Can Kansas upset a ranked opponent? The last time the Jayhawks toppled a ranked foe was Sept. 11, 2010, a 28-25 win over No. 15 Georgia Tech. The last time they beat a ranked conference opponent was a 40-37 win over No. 12 Missouri on Nov. 29, 2008. Kansas hosts rival Kansas State on Saturday, which brings its No. 22 ranking to Lawrence. The Jayhawks need to win three of their final four games to become bowl eligible. Is this the start of a dramatic turnaround for Les Miles?