No. 7 Auburn has to be accustomed to pressure by now.
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0 SEC) are preparing to play their third top-20 opponent in six weeks, and the fun is just getting started. Gus Malzahn’s team will play its entire October schedule – at No. 10 Florida this Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS), followed by dates at Arkansas and LSU – away from the friendly environs of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Not that the lack of a home-field advantage has bothered the Tigers thus far. They have built the nation’s strongest resume thus far, already having won at Texas A&M and in a neutral-site opener against Oregon. Next, they travel to face a Florida team (5-0, 2-0) with College Football Playoff aspirations that hinge on the outcome of the next several games. After hosting Auburn, the Gators must travel to LSU and South Carolina before facing hated rival Georgia on Nov. 2 in Jacksonville.
But first they will resume a rivalry that has been dormant for eight years. When these teams met annually in the 1980s and ’90s, it was not uncommon for both to be ranked in the top 10, just as they are this week. If the Gators and Tigers manage to produce the kind of wild finish that marked so many games from that era, their fans will be in for a stressful Saturday evening.
Here is more on that game and the other notable contests on tap for Week 6 of college football season:
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 7 Auburn at No. 10 Florida (Auburn -3): Two of the SEC’s best defenses will be on display Saturday in the Swamp, when Florida will celebrate homecoming by wearing a snappy throwback uniform. The Gators had better hope they can throw forward on Saturday, though, because moving the ball on the ground might be a challenge.
Led by Derrick Brown, Auburn boasts possibly the nation’s top defensive line, while Florida’s offensive line continues to struggle. If the Gators fail to open holes for Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce on Saturday, that will ratchet up the pressure on new starting quarterback Kyle Trask. The junior has been up to the challenge so far – he actually broke a school record with his 18th consecutive completion in Saturday’s 38-0 win over FCS opponent Towson – but Trask has not faced anything close to the test that Brown & Co. will represent this weekend.
The Gators’ turnover-crazy defense could get a couple of weapons back before facing a surging Auburn offense that just generated 578 yards and 56 points in a rout of Mississippi State. Gators cornerback CJ Henderson and defensive end Jabari Zuniga both missed recent games with ankle injuries, but are expected back versus Auburn. Adding them to the mix alongside edge rushers Jonathan Greenard (6.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, one interception, one forced fumble) and Jeremiah Moon (5.5 TFLs, two sacks) could make Florida’s defense even more of a challenge for Auburn’s freshman quarterback, Bo Nix. The Gators rank fifth in the FBS in scoring defense (8.8 points per game), having held three of their last four opponents without a touchdown.
Auburn has won four of the last five meetings in this series dating back to 2001. Included in that stretch were Tommy Tuberville-led upset wins over Florida teams ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4. These two programs have not met since 2011 in a series that was once an annual SEC rivalry game, so both fan bases seem extra excited about this one. It would not be a surprise to see it become yet another instant classic in a historic rivalry packed with thrilling games.
Big Ten’s big week: Among the three ranked-versus-ranked games this Saturday are a pair of games from the Big Ten: No. 14 Iowa at No. 19 Michigan (Noon ET, FOX) and No. 25 Michigan State at No. 4 Ohio State (7:30 p.m., ABC). By the end of the weekend, we could know more about the conference pecking order, especially in a Big Ten West race that seems wide-open at the moment.
Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin are all 4-0 entering Week 6. The Hawkeyes and Gophers could join Wisconsin at 2-0 in conference play by winning on Saturday, but Iowa faces a significantly tougher challenge to get there. Minnesota, which has won by seven points or less in all four games to date, will host 2-2 Illinois (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network). Meanwhile, Iowa must travel to Ann Arbor to face Michigan (3-1, 1-1).
While the Hawkeyes have beaten Michigan in five of the last six meetings dating back to 2009, games at the Big House are typically a daunting challenge for visitors. The good news for Iowa is that its offense is coming off a 644-yard performance against Middle Tennessee, a record for a Kirk Ferentz-coached Iowa team.
On the opposite sideline, Michigan benefited from convenient scheduling a week after a humiliating loss to Wisconsin. The Wolverines rolled up 476 yards in Saturday’s 52-0 win over hapless Rutgers, generating much-needed continuity as it prepares to face an Iowa defense that is surrendering 8.5 points per game, third-best in the FBS.
Keep an eye, also, on the outcome of Saturday’s Northwestern at Nebraska game (4 p.m., FOX). Northwestern (1-3, 0-2) and Nebraska (3-2, 1-1) have both disappointed in 2019, although Northwestern’s loss over the weekend – a 24-15 defeat at Wisconsin where it largely held Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor in check – was far more encouraging than Nebraska’s 48-7 obliteration by Ohio State before a national-TV audience. The Huskers hoped to prove that they were back as a top-25 program in Year 2 under Scott Frost, but they are clearly not there yet. Nonetheless, they still have a chance to end a two-year bowl drought, which would be a step in the right direction. The outcome of this game could be huge in that regard.
Ohio State’s offense vs. Michigan State’s defense: Ohio State’s offense has been nearly unstoppable this year, piling up points against a series of underwhelming opponents. The Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) averaged 52.4 points per game against Florida Atlantic, Cincinnati, Indiana, Miami (Ohio) and Nebraska, with new quarterback Justin Fields putting on a show each week. Perhaps this will be the week where the Buckeyes finally face a true challenge.
Although Michigan State’s defense struggled mightily in Saturday’s 40-31 win over Indiana, the Spartans still rank among the Big Ten’s better defensive clubs. Michigan State (4-1, 2-0) ranks seventh nationally in total defense (253.8 ypg) and 14th in scoring defense (15 ppg). It will face a massive challenge from Fields, who has passed for 1,092 yards, 16 TDs and no interceptions, completed 69.8% of his passes and rushed for 222 yards and seven scores.
Ohio State QB Justin Fields vs. Michigan State: Fields and the Buckeyes have been superb thus far against lesser competition. However, Heisman campaigns are built on what players accomplish against the best opponents. Fresh off a dominant outing in a 48-7 win at Nebraska (15-for-21, 212 yards, 3 TDs, plus 72 rushing yards and another score), Fields will now face one of the Big Ten’s better defenses in Michigan State.
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor vs. Kent State: The going was tough for Taylor in Saturday’s 24-15 win over Northwestern, but he still generated 119 rushing yards (and scored his 11th TD of the season) on 26 carries as the Badgers remained undefeated. Taylor has broken the 100-yard mark 26 times in 31 career games and is tied for seventh in the FBS this season with 559 rushing yards. With a big game ahead next week against Michigan State, it would not be a surprise to see Taylor handle a light workload against overmatched Kent State.
Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts vs. Kansas: Another week, another absurd showing by Hurts and the Oklahoma offense. The Alabama grad transfer passed for 415 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in a 55-16 blowout against Texas Tech, while also rushing for 70 yards and another score. Hurts is the nation’s No. 1-ranked player in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating metric, scoring 97.5 on a 1-100 scale. He should have an opportunity to post additional video-game stats against a Kansas defense that just surrendered 51 points to TCU.
Oregon QB Justin Herbert vs. Cal: Herbert remains a fringe candidate for college football’s top individual award, although he will need to capitalize upon a prime opportunity in Saturday’s showdown with Cal. The Bears boast one of the Pac-12’s top defenses, giving Herbert a chance to prove he ranks among the nation’s top QBs with a strong performance. Herbert averaged 281.8 passing yards per game with 14 TD passes and no interceptions in the Ducks’ first four games.
Texas QB Sam Ehlinger vs. West Virginia: Instead of the Red River Rivalry, the Ehlinger-Austin Kendall showdown will instead occur in this matchup of 3-1 teams since Kendall transferred from Oklahoma in the offseason. Ehlinger has been superb thus far, averaging 309.3 passing ypg and connecting on 15 touchdown passes against just one interception. He will face a West Virginia defense that has been slightly above average against the pass, tying for 40th nationally in pass defense (201.5 ypg) and surrendering 6.6 yards per pass attempt.
Oklahoma State RB Chuba Hubbard vs. Texas Tech: After rushing for 296 yards on 25 carries in Saturday’s 26-13 win over Kansas State, Hubbard has nearly reached the 1,000-yard mark after just five games. He leads the FBS with 938 rushing yards – 284 more than the nation’s second-leading rusher (Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins with 654) – having already cleared the 200-yard mark in three different games. It’s time to start considering Hubbard a legitimate Heisman candidate.
Georgia RB D’Andre Swift and QB Jake Fromm vs. Tennessee: As long as their team keeps winning, Fromm and Swift will at least remain on the outskirts of the Heisman conversation. However, they both need to compile more impressive stats to truly contend. Fromm has just six touchdown passes, roughly a quarter of what Heisman frontrunner Tua Tagovailoa has already tallied at Alabama. Meanwhile, Swift is averaging 97 rushing yards per game, good for 26th nationally, and 7.92 yards per carry, which ranks eighth. They have a chance to join the leading contenders with big games against top-notch defenses like Florida and Auburn that are still ahead on the schedule.
BY THE NUMBERS
5: The number of true freshman quarterbacks that might start against Alabama this season in eight SEC games. The Crimson Tide has already faced Ryan Hilinski (South Carolina) and John Rhys Plumlee (Ole Miss), both of whom made their first career start against Alabama. Still to come are potential matchups against Brian Maurer (Tennessee), Garrett Shrader (Mississippi State) and Bo Nix (Auburn).
14: Consecutive Big Ten losses by Rutgers after Saturday’s 52-0 thrashing by Michigan, leading to coach Chris Ash’s dismissal on Sunday. Included in those 14 consecutive conference losses were nine games where the Scarlet Knights scored seven points or fewer.
18: Remaining unbeaten teams after Cal, Kansas State, Virginia and UAB lost over the weekend. The Big Ten (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa, Minnesota) and SEC (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Florida) have five apiece. FBS conferences that no longer have an unbeaten team: Pac-12, Conference USA, MAC
274/5: Receiving yards and touchdown catches (both new school records) by Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith in Saturday’s 59-31 win over Ole Miss. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa also broke a school record with six touchdown passes, having tossed five touchdowns in each of the previous two games.
1986: The last time that SMU was ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 before the 5-0 Mustangs landed at No. 24 in this week’s poll. SMU was last ranked on Oct. 25, 1986, when it occupied the No. 18 spot. The NCAA handed SMU the death penalty the following year over a series of rules violations. In other poll news, Wake Forest also entered this week’s poll at No. 22. It was the first time the Demon Deacons have been ranked since 2008.
3 Ranked-vs.-ranked games this week: No. 7 Auburn at No. 10 Florida, No. 14 Iowa at No. 19 Michigan, No. 25 Michigan State at No. 4 Ohio State
22 Power Five conference games: ACC (Boston College at Louisville, Virginia Tech at Miami, North Carolina at Georgia Tech, Pitt at Duke); Big Ten (Illinois at Minnesota, Maryland at Rutgers, Northwestern at Nebraska, Purdue at Penn State, Iowa at Michigan, Michigan State at Ohio State); Big 12 (Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, Oklahoma at Kansas, TCU at Iowa State, Texas at West Virginia, Baylor at Kansas State); Pac-12 (Cal at Oregon, Arizona at Colorado, Oregon State at UCLA, Washington at Stanford); SEC (Auburn at Florida, Georgia at Tennessee, Vanderbilt at Ole Miss)
Friday, Oct. 4
No. 18 UCF at Cincinnati (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Saturday, Oct. 5
Utah State at No. 5 LSU (Noon ET, SEC Network)
No. 21 Oklahoma State at Texas Tech (Noon, FS1)
No. 6 Oklahoma at Kansas (Noon, ABC)
Kent State at No. 8 Wisconsin (Noon, ESPNU)
Purdue at No. 12 Penn State (Noon, ESPN)
No. 14 Iowa at No. 19 Michigan (Noon, FOX)
TCU at Iowa State (Noon, ESPN2)
No. 7 Auburn at No. 10 Florida (3:30 p.m., CBS)
Bowling Green at No. 9 Notre Dame (3:30 p.m., NBC)
No. 11 Texas at West Virginia (3:30 p.m., ABC)
Baylor at Kansas State (3:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Air Force at Navy (3:30 p.m., CBSSN)
Virginia Tech at Miami (3:30 p.m., ESPN)
Illinois at Minnesota (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)
North Carolina at Georgia Tech (4 p.m., ACC Network)
Northwestern at Nebraska (4 p.m., FOX)
Troy at Missouri (4 p.m., SEC Network)
Arizona at Colorado (4:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
No. 3 Georgia at Tennessee (7 p.m., ESPN)
No. 25 Michigan State at No. 4 Ohio State (7:30 p.m., ABC)
Tulsa at No. 24 SMU (7:30 p.m., ESPNU)
Cal at No. 13 Oregon (8 p.m., FOX)
No. 16 Boise State at UNLV (10:30 p.m., CBSSN)
No. 15 Washington at Stanford (10:30 p.m., ESPN)