SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ college football reporter Paul Myerberg breaks down the hottest headlines from Week 9.
USA TODAY Sports
Oh, September. It was an easier time. A simpler time. A time when teams could lose and not lose much sleep, aware of the ability to make up ground in October and November. Those were the days.
But it’s not September anymore. It’s November. It’s time for serious business. For the next month, from this week through championship weekend in early December, there will be no room for error. Only serious College Football Playoff contenders need apply.
This week’s top 10 list looks at the next month: What are the biggest games of November?
1. Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 25
This will be the biggest game of the month if — and it’s really not that big an if — Notre Dame beats Wake Forest, Miami (Fla.) and Navy to enter this Saturday with just that single loss, by a point to Georgia. If so, this is potentially a win-and-get-in game for the Irish, meaning the final result would have a huge impact on the Power Five conferences.
2. TCU at Oklahoma, Nov. 11
This matters more than Oklahoma’s rivalry game with Oklahoma State (this Saturday), since even with a win there the Sooners can be eliminated with a loss to TCU. The same can be said of the Horned Frogs, thanks to that loss to Iowa State. So this one is the biggest game of the regular season for the Big 12. If Oklahoma loses to Oklahoma State and beats TCU, then the Cowboys lose in the conference title game … well, then the Big 12 isn’t putting a team in the Playoff.
3. Notre Dame at Miami (Fla.), Nov. 11
It’s not quite as big a game as the date against Stanford, though a loss to Miami would alter the impact of that season-finale matchup. But if the Hurricanes do top Virginia Tech on Saturday — that game just missed the cut on this list — a win against Notre Dame would set Mark Richt’s team up to potentially run the table and easily land a spot in the top four.
4. Washington at Stanford, Nov. 10
The Pac-12 will have a difficult case to make for the Playoff should Stanford top Washington, since the Cardinal already have two losses — and one, to San Diego State, looks less excusable now that the Aztecs have lost two games. But could Stanford earn a spot in the field? Definitely. It would demand convincing wins against the Huskies and Irish to go with some help, but there’s a chance.
5. Georgia at Auburn, Nov. 11
The logic for putting this key SEC matchup ahead of the Iron Bowl is pretty simple: Auburn has a better chance of beating Georgia than topping Alabama. While not changing anything in terms of the SEC title chase, a Georgia loss would eliminate any thought of the league putting two teams into the four-team field.
6. Alabama at Auburn, Nov. 25
Getting the Tide at home gives Auburn a shot at the rivalry win. Again, however, this won’t have a huge impact on the SEC picture unless Auburn beats Georgia. If so, and if the Tigers have just one conference loss heading into the finale, this will decide the West Division and which team advances to the conference championship game.
7. Clemson at North Carolina State, Nov. 4
North Carolina State’s loss to Notre Dame ends the Wolfpack’s hopes for the Playoff. But don’t forget: N.C. State could still win the Atlantic Division by topping Clemson, which would eliminate the Tigers from the Playoff chase and could make things very dicey for the ACC in terms of putting a team into a national semifinal.
8. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Nov. 4
It’s still one of the defining games of November, just not as important as the Sooners’ later date with TCU. One team will earn its second loss and begin looking at a different postseason destination. The winner will move on to contend for the Playoff.
9. Ohio State at Michigan, Nov. 25
Ohio State should beat Michigan, but things do tend to run against the script in these rivalry games. What’s interesting to consider is the potential ripples of a Michigan win, which would give Ohio State a 10-2 regular season. What if the Buckeyes then beat Wisconsin? That would mean the Big Ten champ is 11-2, meaning the league could be left out of a semifinal or Penn State could follow Ohio State’s recent lead by reaching the Playoff field at 11-1 but without a conference title.
10. USF at UCF, Nov. 24
It’s by far the biggest game among the Group of Five conferences. While USF’s recent loss removes some luster, it’s possible that UCF and the Bulls enter this Friday with zero and one loss, respectively. The winner moves to the American title game, where a hypothetical matchup with Memphis would decide the automatic bid to a New Year’s Six bowl.