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Sports Pulse: Will the PAC-12 be able to overcome the delayed start? We talk to Paul Myerberg about a couple of teams in this conference who may have a chance at making the playoff.
The Pac-12 makes its arrival to the college football season fashionably late and with ground to make on the rest of the country if it hopes to get a team into the College Football Playoff.
The two biggest contenders to make the field — Oregon and Southern California — face divisional rivals at home and have an opportunity to get off on the right foot. But there can’t be many missteps along the way with such little margin for error with a seven-game schedule.
Four other playoff hopefuls in the top 10 square off in the two biggest games of the weekend. Clemson and Notre Dame meet in what could be the first of two matchups in the ACC. Georgia and Florida should decide the SEC East in their annual Jacksonville showdown.
An intriguing Big Ten schedule for the third week is highlighted by Michigan looking to bounce back from a shocking loss. Brigham Young is hopeful of cementing its place in the New Year’s Six against Boise State, which has its own aspirations of being in a major bowl.
Here are the five biggest questions for Week 10:
Will the Pac-12 favorites start strong?
Already late to the party, the Pac-12 could see its playoff hopes evaporate should the favorites for national contention stumble out of the gate. One is USC, which will be challenged by Arizona State. Given Utah’s loss of talent and UCLA’s unpredictability, beating the Sun Devils could set the Trojans on track for an unbeaten push to the conference championship game. Oregon gets started against rival Stanford with a new quarterback and without star left tackle Penei Sewell, who opted out of the season. While on the outside of the Top 25 in the Amway Coaches Poll, California and Washington meet as legitimate contenders for the Pac-12 title. The Golden Bears’ defense looks like the best in the conference.
BOWL PROJECTIONS: Cincinnati creeping closer to the College Football Playoff
HEISMAN WATCH: Alabama’s Jones now ahead of Clemson’s Lawrence
Can Stetson Bennett lead Georgia to a top 10 win?
The Bulldogs have one of the best defenses in the country. They’ve also got a strong running game. What is holding back their offense, though, is the inconsistent play of their quarterback. Bennett was fine against Arkansas and Auburn. He struggled with critical mistakes against Alabama and Kentucky. That can’t happen this week. For as good as Georgia’s defense is, it can’t hold Kyle Trask and Florida down for 60 minutes. Bennett is going to have to be effective throwing to allow the Bulldogs to keep the ball and put points on the board. If not, it’ll be the end of the College Football Playoff hopes.
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett throws a pass in the second half of his team’s game against Kentucky at Kroger Field. (Photo: Katie Stratman, USA TODAY Sports)
Who is the best quarterback in Clemson-Notre Dame?
The answer would’ve been easy if Trevor Lawrence wasn’t out after testing positive for COVID-19. The Tigers will again turn to true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei, who was outstanding in pulling off last week’s comeback win against Boston College. The future is blindingly bright for the five-star recruit. But where Uiagalelei has the physical tools to be an immediate success, his lack of experience is highlighted by the comparison to Notre Dame senior Ian Book. While working with a rebuilt receiver corps has cut into Book’s numbers, he continues to be the focal point of an offense that is averaging more yards per attempt and per carry than a season ago. In a close game, Book’s maturity could give the Irish the edge.
How does Michigan respond to loss?
The positive wave from an opening road win against Minnesota was washed away by a surprise loss to rival Michigan State last week. Where the 25th-ranked Wolverines go next can say a lot about this season and possibly the rest of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure. Talk of a departure seems premature, but the pressure will rise if Michigan is unable to beat Indiana. It won’t be easy. The No. 13 Hoosiers have already taken down Penn State at home and are one of just five Big Ten unbeatens remaining. A win could step them up for a historic season.
Can Boise State slow down BYU?
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson has been one of the top stories of the regular season and the main driver behind the Cougars’ push for a perfect regular season. If not against the most demanding schedule, Wilson has more touchdown passes (19) than Mac Jones, is averaging more yards per attempt (11.2) than Justin Fields and has a higher completion percentage (74.2) than Trevor Lawrence. Boise State will present the toughest test of the regular season. While stopping Wilson is unlikely, the Broncos may have the personnel to at least slow down this passing game. But that might not be the ultimate solution: BYU’s overshadowed running game ranks 24th nationally in yards per carry and third in touchdowns.