Every top-five team in the nation will be on display this weekend—four of them will play ranked opponents. College football fans should delight in seeing No. 4 Oregon take on No. 17 USC, or No. 1 Alabama taking on No. 5 LSU.
The top-five should be involved in some real slug fests. Here are projections for each one of them.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 5 LSU
Probably the premiere matchup from this weekend's slate of games, the Bama-LSU game promises to be a defensive slug fest.
Points will be hard to come by as two of the top defenses in the country square off. Even A.J. McCarron and Alabama's top-tier offense could struggle against an LSU defense that allows just 14.1 points per game.
Ultimately, though, Alabama is simply a better team than LSU. McCarron will be the best quarterback on the field by far, and the Alabama offensive line will be the toughest LSU has faced all season. If any offense can handle the Tigers, it will be Alabama's.
On the other side of the ball, LSU will have to rely on its running game to make a dent in the Crimson Tide defense. The Tigers have an excellent stable of running backs that can threaten defenses in a variety of ways, making them the toughest matchup for Alabama's defense all season.
While Zach Mettenberger has yet to come into his own, he has excelled at home. His home passer rating of 147.3 is very solid, as is his 2-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio.
On the flip-side, he is vulnerable after completing just 34 of 79 passes over the past three weeks. He has to be a concern for LSU.
Ultimately, that will be the difference in an Alabama victory. While Alabama is confident in McCarron's ability to win games, LSU doesn't feel the same about Mettenberger. In a close game, Bama's edge at quarterback gives them the edge overall.
Prediction: Alabama 16, LSU 10
No. 2 Kansas State vs No. 24 Oklahoma State
Where Bama-LSU will be a defensive matchup, this game promises tons of points. Kansas State and Oklahoma state are averaging 88 combined points per game.
Oklahoma State, as always, has one of the top offenses in the nation. They are tops in yards per game, sixth in passing yards per game and 13th in rushing yards per game.
As in years past, Oklahoma State can win both on the ground and through the air.
Kansas State, on the other hand, lives and dies by its running game, set up by running back John Hubert and Heisman candidate quarterback Collin Klein. The two have combined for 26 rushing touchdowns this season, and they will be the catalyst for the Wildcats in this one.
With both offenses being so talented, the difference in this game will be the defenses. Kansas State has the numerical advantage, giving up 17.1 points per game to Oklahoma State's 23.1.
The past three weeks, though, the Cowboys have relied on their defense, giving up just 12.7 points per game over that span.
Even away from home, though, Kansas State should be able to handle Oklahoma State and their resurgent defense. The Wildcats are within striking distance of a national championship, so they should be hyper-focused in this one. Klein is the ultimate leader for this squad, and he will have his Wildcats ready for this one.
Expect Kansas State in a high-scoring affair.
Prediction: Kansas State 41, Oklahoma State 31
No. 3 Notre Dame vs Pitt
Notre Dame will be the only top-five team not dealing with a ranked opponent this week, but the Fighting Irish have a tendency to make every game go down to the wire. That could mean Pitt has a chance to keep this one close.
Quarterback Tino Sunseri has been excellent this season, leading the 30th ranked passing attack in the nation and avoiding turnovers. He gives the Panthers a chance to actually score a few points against the Irish defense.
Unfortunately, Pitt doesn't really have a chance to win.
Even though Pitt actually has a higher ranked offense than the Irish, they've done all of their damage against mediocre Big East defenses. They have yet to take on a stop-unit as ferocious as Notre Dame's.
Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish could be caught in a trap game here. This is a team with wins over four ranked opponents and coming off a solid 30-13 win over Oklahoma. Pitt doesn't compare with these teams, meaning the Irish could be in danger of overlooking them.
Fortunately for the Irish, they have tremendous leadership in head coach Brian Kelly and middle linebacker Manti Te'o. These two demand excellence, and they should be able to lead the Irish to a win.
Prediction: Notre Dame 24, Pitt 13
No. 4 Oregon at No 17 USC
As amazing as Oregon has been this season, they have yet to face a real test.
Heisman candidate Matt Barkley is regaining his 2011 form. Even after an upset loss to Arizona, Barkley is starting to have the kind of season most imagined for him after last year's dominance.
Unfortunately, he's doing all this without the strong supporting cast he had last year. His offensive line has not helped his cause, as Barkley has already been sacked more times than he was all last year.
Oregon's pass defense has been excellent, though, holding opponents to 5.3 yards per attempt. They will have their toughest matchup of the season, but they've played some solid passing teams before, like Arizona, Arizona State and Fresno State.
Oregon's offense, meanwhile, should be able to run circles around a Trojans' defense that has failed to match the dominance of previous years' units. The Trojans have given 123.3 rushing yards per game, and Oregon should far exceed that number.
While Oregon is certainly the better team, USC has several factors working in their favor. They will be facing a freshman quarterback in his first big away game. While Matt Barkley is a grizzled veteran, and one who has dominated at home, Marcus Mariota has never played on this big of a stage before. How Mariota responds will be crucial for Oregon.
Oregon needs to be on upset alert in this one. USC is still one of the most talented teams in the nation, and they can't be beaten when they're playing their best. I expect their best as they upset Oregon.
Prediction: Oregon 33, USC 44
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