By RALPH D. RUSSO
Among the teams contending for a playoff spot, the intrigue is not about who No. 3 Ohio State is playing as much as who will be play playing for the Buckeyes this weekend.
Ohio State seems to be on track to play at Michigan State on Saturday after a spike in COVID-19 cases in the program forced a cancellation of last week’s road trip to Illinois.
Coach Ryan Day said he expected to the Buckeyes to be short-handed but did not elaborate. If Ohio State has one more game canceled it would be unable to meet the Big Ten’s minimum game played to be eligible for the conference title game.
Even with the uncertainty, the Buckeyes (4-0) are more than a three-touchdown favorite against the Spartans (2-4).
No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 4 Clemson are also favored by at least 21 points.
There are two matchups of ranked teams, including one in the Big Ten, and an interesting road test for No. 5 Texas A&M. But otherwise all eyes will be on who is missing for the Buckeyes.
No. 8 BYU at No. 14 Coastal Carolina
After No. 25 Liberty had to cancel on the Chanticleers, the Cougars were quick to grab an opportunity to boost their resume against maybe the most surprising team of 2020.
Coastal Carolina was picked last in the Sun Belt, but freshman quarterback Grayson McCall and the Chanticleers (9-0) have already locked up a spot in the conference title game on Dec 19.
Zach Wilson and the Cougars (9-0) have been rolling through a schedule that lacks ranked opponents by an average margin of 33 points.
BYU and Coastal Carolina will have had barely three days to prepare for each other. That alone makes it an interesting matchup and a truly unique battle of unbeatens.
Quarterbacks usually dominate the Heisman watch lists these days, but this season it looks as if it will be especially difficult for a non-QB to breakthrough.
From Alabama’s Mac Jones and Florida’s Kyle Trask at the top of the leader boards to BYU’s Wilson and Notre Dame’s Ian Book a little farther down and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields in between.
How about a little love for they guys who catch and carry the ball.
Iowa State’s Breece Hall is first in the nation in rushing (140 yards per game) among players with at least eight games played, carrying the 12th-ranked Cyclones to the cusp of a Big 12 title game appearance. Iowa State hosts West Virginia on Saturday.
Trask’s favorite target, tight end Kyle Pitts, returned last week for the sixth-ranked Gators and caught three more touchdown passes against Kentucky. He now has 11 in six games played. Florida faces Tennessee.
Then there is Jones’ top receiver, DeVonta Smith. The senior has 72 catches for 1,072 yards and 12 scores. The Crimson Tide plays at LSU.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
10 — Losing streak for No. 10 Indiana against Wisconsin. The Hoosiers have snapped long skids against Michigan and Penn State this season. They’ll try to have another breakthrough against the 18th-ranked Badgers.
20 — Number of days between No. 9 Miami’s last game and it’s next game Saturday at Duke. The Hurricanes had their last two games postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
27 — Number of days between games for Arizona State, which had three straight games canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak. The Sun Devils return to action against UCLA on Saturday.
59.3 — Completion percentage of Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, 11th in the Southeastern Conference. Mond is coming off a poor game throwing the ball in bad weather against LSU. The Aggies are at Auburn on Saturday. They’ll try to ride their running game again, but to break a three-game losing streak against the Tigers they could use a better game from the senior quarterback.
UNDER THE RADAR
Nebraska at Purdue
Neither team is in the Big West race, but the interesting thing is the Boilermakers (2-3) have won two straight against the Cornhuskers (1-4).
The struggling Cornhuskers are trying to snap a seven-game losing streak against division opponents. Nebraska has currently lost its last game to each of its Big Ten West opponents.
HOT SEAT COACH
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee
The Volunteers have lost five straight overall raising the heat on Pruitt, the third-year coach.
Snapping a three-game losing streak against the rival Gators would salvage a lost season, but it seems unlikely. Pruitt got a contract extension before the season so the chances he might be let go are probably not great.
But the Vols (2-5) are staring at 3-7 season with Florida, Texas A&M and maybe a make-up game against Vanderbilt on the schedule.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/