The start of October means more than just colder weather and Halloween decorations; it’s the heart of the college football season. Tune-up games are replaced by tough conference matchups and preseason hype is drowned out by on-field performances.
With multiple contenders in each conference and no clear consensus on the top four teams, the next three weeks will be crucial to help contenders make their case to the college football playoff committee. When the inaugural rankings are released on Oct. 31, it will be these five games that help determine the order.
The Most Important College Football Games in October
*Rankings are as of Week 6
Oct. 7, (12) Oklahoma @ (3) Texas
The 119th rendition of the Red River Showdown might be its most important. No. 3 Texas is still riding high off their win in Tuscaloosa, solidifying themselves as a national title contender. Adding another top-15 win to their resume could convince AP voters that the Longhorns are the top team in the nation.
The Oklahoma Sooners have quietly rejoined the top of the field — climbing from No. 20 in the preseason poll to No. 12 this week. A top-three road win would give the Sooners sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and surely vault them into the top 10.
In what figures to be an offensive shootout with both teams trying to set their place in the hierarchy, the fact that this is a rivalry game is just an added bonus.
Oct. 14, (8) Oregon @ (7) Washington
It’s games like this that give the Pac-12 a bad rep — while other conferences have a team or two dominate, the favorites tend to beat up on each other. In their final season, the Pac 12 has three legitimate contenders, and two of them face off in Week 7.
The loser of this matchup is more significant than the winner. Right now, Washington, Oregon, and USC are 1a, 1b, and 1c; whoever loses is deemed inferior and faces an uphill battle to make both the Pac-12 championship and College Football Playoff.
Oct. 14, (9) USC @ (10) Notre Dame
Later that day, the Trojans take the field in South Bend in a must-win game. Defensive woes made USC’s recent games look closer than they’ve appeared, which cost them four spots in the rankings over the past two weeks.
The struggling defense matches up poorly against the Fighting Irish, who feature a strong run game that will control time of possession. With one loss this season, Notre Dame can either get knocked out of playoff consideration with a loss or put themselves back in the conversation with a win.
This will be USC’s first ranked matchup of the season. The Trojans have yet to move up in the rankings this season despite being undefeated and have since fallen behind their two Pac-12 foes. They need this win to prove they’re a contender and not a pretender.
Oct. 21, (19) Duke @ (5) Florida State
Week 8 should be a fun one, and this game might be the most underrated of the bunch. After a hot start, Florida State struggled to beat both Boston College and Clemson. Yet they went into their bye week undefeated and remain in the top five as of Week 6.
Duke, on the other hand, has been the surprise team of the ACC. Playoff contention may be out of the picture, but serious contention for the ACC title rides on the results of this game.
This implies that FSU might be on upset alert in this one. Granted, it’s still three weeks away, but if the Seminoles fail to rewrite the ship and continue to win games by one possession, their playoff hopes could slip faster than Duke’s rise to the top of the ACC.
Oct. 21, (6) Penn State @ (4) Ohio State
Undoubtedly the best game of Week 8 on paper. Is there a chance this turns into a 13-10 slugfest like Ohio State v. Notre Dame? Yes, but the excitement doesn’t lie in the on-field action. Instead, the implications of this game have made it a must-watch.
As the numbers next to their names suggest, both teams should go into this game undefeated, and the winner should win their Week 9 matchup as well. This means that when the rankings roll around on Oct. 31, the winner of this game will be in a top-four spot.
Recently, Penn State has been the ‘little brother’ of Ohio State and Michigan in the Big 10. Despite being in the top six, the Nittany Lions still rank behind their conference counterparts. If they can march into The Shoe and take down the Buckeyes, that narrative is no more. A Buckeyes win results in another top-10 victory — the most of any team up to this point.
A win for either team doesn’t secure a playoff spot just yet, since Michigan is still on both teams’ schedules. But those games aren’t until November, so no need to worry about that just yet.