Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Essentials - Week 10

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You know it's November when the college football matchups go from good to great. It doesn't take too long a glance at Saturday's top offerings to see that's certainly the case when dissecting a fantastic card on the month's opening weekend:

Alabama (-14.5/53) at LSU, 8 p.m. ET, CBS: The Crimson Tide hasn't had to sweat a game out in the fourth quarter yet, defeating all of their opponents by over three touchdowns. Texas A&M came closest but were down 30 to open the fourth. The goal for LSU, admittedly a modest one, is to open the final 15 minutes with its crowd still engaged and both sides of the ball still playing to win the game rather than to save face. LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette tweeted that this will be the most media-attended event in Tiger Stadium history. We'll see if they'll see a competiitve contest.

Complicating matters for the Tigers will be the absence of LB Devin White for the first half after being ejected for targeting against Mississippi State two weeks ago. He's among the fastest, fiercest defenders in the college game and a lock Top-10 pick, so being without him is a serious blow and puts LSU in a bind trying to hang around until he's able to return in the second half. Tua Tagovailoa will face the top DB he's seen this season in Tigers' corner Greedy Williams but has yet to be intercepted. 'Bama is averaging 54.1 points despite often packing up the playbook in lieu of just killing time late in games, so we'll see what it looks like going full throttle for four quarters if that's what the game calls for. Tigers QB Joe Burrow has been impressive most of the way but did have game-altering issues at Florida that should worry Ed Orgeron and the LSU staff since the Alabama defense will get after him with a lead. Weather won't be a factor on a perfect night for football.

Penn State at Michigan (-12/52.5), 3:45 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Nittany Lions saw their season drastically change when they failed to hold a lead against Ohio State on Sept. 29 and aren't a very popular pick to get things back on track with an upset here. One reason for that is the health of Trace McSorley, whose right knee appeared to get twisted up against Iowa last week. If he's not able to move the way he normally does to keep Michigan's fearsome defense guessing, Penn State has no shot here.

Penn State head coach James Franklin was prickly when asked about McSorley's injury but it would be surprising to see the veteran QB duplicate his performance against Michigan last season after scoring three times and picking up 87 yards. He won't be able to win in the Big House hanging around in the pocket and using solely his arm. It further complicate matters that Michigan may get DE Rashan Gary after an extended absence. Penn State is 2-2 over its last four games, but each contest was decided by six points or less. Franklin had lost to the Wolverines three straight times before last season's 42-13 rout in Happy Valley.

West Virginia at Texas (-2/58), 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX: The Longhorns went from leading the Big 12 with an unbeaten conference mark to tasting a loss in Stillwater that now complicates matters considering only one of their remaining four games can be chalked up as a win. The conference race is wide open, but the winner of this one will be in excellent shape. After allowing 260 first-quarter yards at Oklahoma State, Texas is placing a priority on getting off to a strong start as it looks to keep Mountaineers QB Will Grier from finding a rhythm.

Grier was injured in the first quarter of last year's duel against the Longhorns, breaking his finger as his junior season came to an end in a 28-14 home loss that destroyed the team's lofty goals. West Virginia seeks revenge in Austin, where it's expected to be a little windy but shouldn't derail either offense. Texas has the longer injury report entering this one and won't have excellent nose tackle Chris Nelson up front. Linebacker Mlacolm Roach is likely to play.

Georgia (-9/45) at Kentucky, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: This is the biggest game in Kentucky football history, a statement that has accurately been made already a couple of times this season. After serving notice that this can be a special group by ending a run of three-plus decades of losing to Florida, the 'Cats have managed to win all but one of their games after escaping Missouri with a magical late rally last week. A win over the 'Dawgs would give them the SEC East title, but they would have to end an eight-game losing streak against UGa to get it done.

Kentucky may lack the quality depth that Georgia enjoys but does have the playmakers to pull off an upset if QB Terry Wilson can avoid turnovers and keep drives alive with his feet. The 'Cats have only averaged 14.3 points over the last three games, relying on the Josh Allen-led defense to get stops and create short fields. The senior defensive end leads the SEC in sacks (10), forced fumbles (5) and tackles for loss (10). If Kentucky wins this game, it's because he's had the desired impact in disrupting Georgia QBs Jake Fromm and Justin Fields. UK ranks first in the nation in scoring defense (13.0), tied with Clemson.

Missouri at Florida (-6.5/57), 4 p.m. ET, SEC: The Tigers are looking to win their first SEC game after being caught from behind by Kentucky but still should gain bowl eligibility since they'll be favored against Vandy and Tennessee to end the season. Still, it's been a disappointing season for Mizzou given expectations and the productivity of QB Drew Lock, so pulling off an upset over a Florida would be a season-maker, not to mention taking some pressure off a must-win situation over the last two contests. Aiding the Tigers' cause will be the return of WR Emanuel Hall, whose absence over the past few games has severely limited Lock and the offense.

The Gators hope Homecoming will help wash away the disappointment from losing to Georgia last weekend and got good news with defensive backs Brad Stewart and C.J. Henderson returning to face Mizzou's pass-happy offense. Florida's goal from here on is to win out, and given Florida State's current level, this should be their biggest obstacle. Missouri has won three of five in the series and routed UF 45-16 last season.

Oklahoma (-13.5/79) at Texas Tech, 8 p.m. ET, ABC: On a day that features a number of games with astronomical totals, this one is the largest and may end up reaching 80 by kickoff. For the Red Raiders, it's a golden opportunity to remain a player in the Big 12 race with an upset at home against a Sooners squad that has looked extremely vulnerable over the past few weeks. Considering co-leaders Texas and West Virginia are squaring off, OU can put itself in great shape to reach the conference championship game once again by avoiding a surprise.

There will be wind to be concerned with in Lubbock, but it shouldn't be substantial enough to bother the high-octane offenses that QBs Kyler Murray and Alan Bowman command. Bowman, a prolific freshman passer, returned from a rib injury last week and struggled in his first three-interception game last week against Oklahoma State. Murray continues to put up huge numbers in his lone season as Oklahoma's starter and has accounted for 20 TDs over the past five games. Wide receivers Cee Dee Lamb and Hollywood Brown are as productive as their names are cool and should be in line for a huge night.

Stanford at Washington (-10/46), 9 p.m. ET, Pac-12: Losing to Washington State was deflating for a Cardinal squad that never envivsioned entering November with three losses. They'll look to win out and then hope for the best going forward, which includes help from the team they intend to beat today. Washington was also expected to be a CFP threat but opened the season with a loss to Auburn and fell to Oregon and Cal on the road. Despite featuring future NFL running backs in Bryce Love and Myles Gaskin, both teams have been disappointments and seen their senior seasons sabotaged by injuries.

Gaskin is expected to play, while Love may participate but could also choose to protect his pro future by continuing to rest his injured ankle. The Huskies haven't lost at home since 2016 and have exceptional personnel in the secondary that could contain JJ Arcega-Whiteside and force KJ Costello to utilize his other options in order to prevail on the road. Without Love to occupy the Huskies defense, we could see Stanford struggle offensively. Rain is in the forecast too, so moving the ball could be an adventure for both disappointing squads.

Notre Dame (-10/52) at Northwestern, 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Irish are looking like a very strong option to ultimately reach the college football playoff but face a sneaky challenge in this visit to Evanston. After opening No. 4 in the initial rankings released on Tuesday, all Notre Dame seemingly has to do to find itself on the big stage come New Year's is hold off upset bids from Florida State, Syracuse and USC after taking care of business here. After the Wildcats stunned Wisconsin to take control of the Big Ten West, today's challenge in Evanston suddenly looks more daunting.

The Irish may have to go without LB Drue Tranquill, though he did practice on Thursday and could try to gut it out through a severe ankle sprain. After losing RB Jeremy Larkin, who was forced to retire, the Wildcats have had to get more creative and have allowed QB Clayton Thorson to take more chances with the football. He must team with WR Flynn Nagel and superback Cam Green to consistently move the ball against a stingy Notre Dame defense. Northwestern has only won nine of 38 career meetings but won the most recent meeting, 43-40, back in 2014. Ian Book has fared well in opposing stadiums, winning at Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and in last week's neutral setting of San Diego vs. Navy.

Others to watch: Utah at Arizona State, Boston College at Virginia Tech, Texas A&M at Auburn, Syracuse at Wake Forest, UCLA at Oregon, Nebraska at Ohio State, South Carolina at Ole Miss, Navy at Cincinnati, Duke at Miami, Florida State at N.C. State, BYU at Boise State, Houston at SMU, Utah State at Hawai'i, California at Washington State, Georgia Tech at North Carolina, Air Force at Army, Louisville at Clemson, Michigan State at Maryland, Kansas State at TCU

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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