Every Thursday during the season, we'll take a look at the big game(s) during the upcoming weekend that will have the biggest impact on the playoff chase.
You know how everybody likes to assign nicknames to important college football Saturdays? Well, then, consider this "Armageddon Saturday" in the SEC West.
Each of those six teams has numerous tough games after this weekend. Still, this should be a good gauge as to the SEC West championship hopes for Mississippi and Mississippi State, especially. And if you're in position to win the SEC West, you also will be in a position to earn a spot in the playoff.
And the SEC West showdowns aren't the only games Saturday that could have a huge bearing on the race for the playoff.
Here's a look at the six big games this weekend, which is the best one of the season to date by far. It also could end up being the biggest weekend of the season when all is said and done. (All rankings are from the College Football 24/7 Top 25 Power Rankings .)
No. 17 LSU at No. 5 Auburn
The implications: LSU has to win out to have a shot at the playoff. Given the inexperience at key positions -- quarterback, tailback, wide receiver, defensive tackles -- for the Tigers, that isn't going to happen. So this is more important for Auburn than it is for LSU. Auburn is at Mississippi State next week and also has road games remaining against Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, as well as a home game against Texas A&M. Even with the tough schedule, Auburn's offense is going to be fine, though the Tigers do miss tailback Tre Mason. The question is whether Auburn's defense can hold up over the next two months. Saturday will give us an idea if it can, especially against a power-rushing attack.
No. 3 Alabama at No. 13 Mississippi
The implications: Both are unbeaten, and this is the first true road game of the season for Alabama, which is at Arkansas next week and also will make visits to Tennessee and LSU. Mississippi is at Texas A&M next week and will visit LSU on Oct. 25, and it gets Auburn and Mississippi State at home. Everyone expects the Tide to be fine. How will Ole Miss handle its first time in the big spotlight? That will continue to be an overriding theme for the Rebels, who can erase a lot of (all?) doubt about their ability to succeed with a victory over the Tide.
No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 13 Mississippi State
The implications: Both are unbeaten. Mississippi State plays host to Auburn next week, and still has road tests against Alabama and Mississippi. And Texas A&M has Mississippi and Alabama in the next two weeks (with the Alabama game on the road), as well as a road game against Auburn and a home game against LSU in November. Questions still remain about A&M's defense, but the Aggies again seem well-equipped to win shootouts. Mississippi State passed its first test by winning at LSU two weeks ago, but the Bulldogs still have their doubters. A win in this one should clear out any remaining doubters, and put the Bulldogs squarely in the SEC West title chase.
No. 18 Nebraska at No. 9 Michigan State
The implications: Nebraska (5-0) is the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten, but this is the Huskers' first real test. A victory in East Lansing would do two things: It would thrust the Huskers into the hunt for a playoff spot and it almost certainly would mean Nebraska would be 9-0 when it travels to Wisconsin for a game that very likely would determine the Big Ten West title on Nov. 15 (truth be told, even if the Huskers lose this week, the game vs. Wisconsin likely will be for the division title). Tailback Ameer Abdullah leads the nation in rushing, but the Huskers' secondary looks ripe for the picking for Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook. The Spartans already have one loss, falling at Oregon, but they're the highest-ranked Big Ten team -- and also look to be the most complete team in the league. This is their toughest remaining game, and they obviously have to win out to have a shot at a playoff bid.
No. 11 Stanford at No. 8 Notre Dame
The implications: Notre Dame is 4-0 and has scored at least 30 points in each game; it's the first time since 1943 -- a season in which they won the national title -- that the Irish have scored at least 30 points in each of the first four games. But the opposition level gets ramped up considerably. Notre Dame has beaten Rice, Michigan, Purdue and Syracuse, and an all-star team of players from those teams wouldn't beat Stanford. The Cardinal's defense has been stifling, especially its pass defense, but Stanford's offense is underwhelming. Stanford already has one loss, and a setback in this one means the Cardinal's playoff hopes are gone. The Irish, meanwhile, still have road games left against Arizona State, Florida State and USC, so this is step one on their playoff road.
No. 4 Oklahoma at TCU
The implications: Oklahoma and TCU are two of the three unbeatens in the Big 12 (Baylor is the other; we will get to the Bears in a minute). But TCU, as with Notre Dame, really hasn't played anybody (Minnesota, Samford and SMU). The Horned Frogs' defense looks salty, but the offense doesn't appear to have the firepower necessary to subdue Oklahoma. But if they beat OU, you can start taking the Horned Frogs seriously as a Big 12 contender -- and as a playoff contender. Meanwhile, the Sooners (4-0) are on the road for the third time already, and they are coming off a road win at West Virginia. If they get past TCU -- and they should, given they have more talent -- they look to have a two-game schedule (Kansas State on Oct. 18 and Baylor on Nov. 8, both at home) in their playoff chase.
The bottom line: This weekend is just the first step on a treacherous trek for the SEC West contenders. Still, an early misstep makes the rest of the journey that much more difficult -- as in removing any margin for error because no team is going to want to rely on the kindness of the selection committee if it has two losses. And as for the teams in the "big" non-SEC games this weekend, no matter who wins those games, they should benefit from the carnage that will ensue over the next two months in the SEC West.
Other games with implications
» No. 25 Arizona at No. 1 Oregon, Thursday: Both are unbeaten, but it's tough to take Arizona seriously as a playoff contender -- well, unless the Wildcats win this one. Arizona did hammer the Ducks last season, rolling up 482 yards and winning 42-16. Oregon's problems on the offensive line -- the Ducks are missing their top three tackles -- makes you wonder if QB Marcus Mariota can remain upright; if he is upright, he will put up huge numbers, and the Ducks will win. Wildcats redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon is an exciting playmaker who has thrown 13 TD passes.
» Utah State at No. 16 BYU, Friday: BYU doesn't have a legitimate shot at a playoff bid, but the Cougars do have a legit chance at finishing unbeaten, which could put them in a position to earn a bid to one of the "big" bowls. Utah State is without its best players on offense (QB Chuckie Keeton) and defense (LB Kyler Fackrell).
» No. 7 Baylor at Texas, Saturday: Baylor is unbeaten and ranked in the top 10, but the Bears have beaten no one with a pulse. Whether Texas has a pulse is to be determined. Texas owns this rivalry; the Longhorns have a 74-25-2 advantage and have won 13 of the past 16 and 17 of the past 21 in the series. But Baylor looks to be a lot better this season. A lot better.