Some normalcy will return to college football in the coming days as the first rankings of the College Football Playoff selection committee will be unveiled Tuesday.
But the stark reality of weekly COVID-19 postponements and cancellations continues, with 16 games scheduled for this weekend wiped out, including five involving ranked teams.
Here are some of Saturday’s top games:
No. 9 Indiana at No. 3 Ohio State, noon, Fox29
So, how strange has this season been when one of the Big Ten games of the year is not Penn State or Michigan battling Ohio State but those upstarts from Indiana instead? The Hoosiers (4-0) own their highest ranking since 1967, the last time they won a piece of the conference championship.
The Buckeyes (3-0), whose game was canceled last week because of a COVID-19 outbreak at Maryland, are 20½-point favorites mainly because of quarterback Justin Fields, who has as many touchdown passes (11) as incompletions. They average 46.3 points.
Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of his last two games, wins over Michigan and Michigan State. The Hoosiers’ four opponents to date own a combined record of 3-13, but Indiana has made its own breaks. A plus-8 turnover margin is among the best in the nation.
No. 7 Cincinnati at Central Florida, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
The Bearcats (7-0, 5-0 AAC) put their New Year’s 6 bowl chances on the line against one of the most explosive offenses in college football. The Knights (5-2, 4-2) lead FBS in total offense with a 619-yard average, although Temple limited them to a season-low 419 yards last week.
Cincinnati leads the AAC in total defense (300.9, ninth in the nation) and points allowed (12.4, third). Quarterback Desmond Ridder has thrown for 1,483 yards and 14 touchdowns for an offense that has scored at least 38 points in each of its last four games.
UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel averages an FBS-best 396 passing yards per game and has 23 touchdown passes against two interceptions. The defense leads the nation with 19 takeaways.
No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 19 Northwestern, 3:30 p.m., 6ABC
The Wildcats (4-0), who were 1-8 in the Big Ten last year, are another surprise team in the conference this season, and they’re doing it with defense. They’re allowing averages of 91.8 rushing yards, 301.8 total yards, and 14 points per game.
The Badgers (2-0), who returned from back-to-back weeks off last week and defeated Michigan, are doing even better at the defensive end, ranking No. 1 nationally in scoring defense (9.0 points per game) and total defense (218.5 yards per game).
This is the first meeting of the teams with both in the top 20 since 1962.
Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama, 4 p.m., SEC Network
The Crimson Tide (6-0) are returning to the field after a three-week break that included an open week and a game against Louisiana State that was postponed because of COVID-19 issues on the Tigers. Their powerful offense is led by quarterback Mac Jones (2,196 passing yards, 16 touchdowns) and running back Najee Harris (714 rushing yards, 14 TDs). The defense of the Wildcats (3-4) has picked off 11 passes and scored three touchdowns.
No. 4 Clemson at Florida State, noon, 6ABC
For six straight years through 2016, these teams were ranked in the top 25 when they met on the field. But with the Seminoles (2-6, 1-6 ACC) stumbling through their worst season in 45 years, the Tigers (7-1, 6-1) are ready to resume the chase for their sixth straight berth in the College Football Playoff after a week off following their double-overtime loss at Notre Dame. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is back after missing two games because of the coronavirus.
No. 14 Oklahoma State at No. 18 Oklahoma, 7:30 p.m., 6ABC
The matchup known as Bedlam comes at the right time for the Sooners (5-2, 4-2 Big 12), who have won 15 of the last 17 contests in the series and enter on a four-game winning streak. The Cowboys (5-1, 4-1) need a victory to remain on their path to the Big 12 championship game. It’s a battle of two quarterbacks named Spencer – Rattler for Oklahoma, who leads the conference in passing efficiency, and Sanders for OK State, whose best game was a 400-yard, four-touchdown passing performance against Texas.
Expatriate of the Week
Imhotep Charter graduate Tykee Smith, who plays the linebacker-safety hybrid position known as Spear for West Virginia, is the reigning defensive player of the week in the Big 12. The 5-foot-10, 198-pound sophomore was honored for his performance in last Saturday’s win over Texas Christian that included nine tackles and an interception that he returned 42 yards.
Smith has helped lead a Mountaineers defense that ranks fifth in FBS in total yards allowed at 274.5 per game.