College Football Week 6 Preview: Storylines, matchups and predictions for the six biggest games

2RWCJR3 Missouri wide receiver Luther Burden III (3) during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023 in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

• No. 3 Texas-No. 12 Oklahoma: This year’s Red River Rivalry game will reveal the team to beat in the Big 12 and one of the top contenders to make the College Football Playoff.

• No. 20 Kentucky-No. 1 Georgia: Can the top-ranked Bulldogs finally look like their dominant selves in their first game of the season?

• No. 11 Alabama-Texas A&M: Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher continue their rivalry that’s produced back-to-back close games and some fighting words off the field.

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

We’re starting to get spoiled, college football fans.

This is the third week in a row with at least four games between top-25 teams. However, if you go by my top 25, there are six games between ranked teams this week. Here are the storylines to know, matchups to watch and predictions for the six biggest games of Week 6.

No. 3 Texas Longhorns vs. No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners (12 P.M. ET on ABC)

Storyline to know: Who is the team to beat in the Big 12?

The Red River Rivalry, with its storied history, is always one of the biggest games of the college football season. This year’s version has added importance, as the winner will be the clear front-runner to both claim the Big 12 and make the College Football Playoff. Texas and Oklahoma are the conference’s only currently ranked programs.

If the Longhorns win, it’d be hard to argue against them as the No. 1 team in the country. It would already be Texas’ third top-25 victory in six games, after the team took down then-No. 3 Alabama and then-No. 24 Kansas. If the Sooners win, they’d be established as a legitimate top-10 team in the country after falling below .500 in 2022, the first time that’s happened in the 21st century.

Matchup to watch: Will the real Quinn Ewers please stand up?

You never know which version of Ewers you’re going to get. In his two games against Alabama, the Power Five’s third-highest-graded defense over the past two seasons, Ewers earned a 90.6 passing grade. In all other games since 2022, he posted just a 68.5 passing grade.

Ewers delivered an impressive 80.5 grade in a blowout victory over Oklahoma last year, one of his best games of the season. However, the Sooners have a much stronger defense than they did a year ago. Oklahoma ranks second in the country in overall defensive grade and 10th in expected points added per play. The Sooners also lead the FBS in run-defense grade (92.5), so Ewers faces even more pressure to perform.

Prediction: Texas 31, Oklahoma 28

In what could end up as one of the best games of the year, Texas survives and earns the status of being the No. 1 team in the country.

No. 23 LSU Tigers at No. 21 Missouri Tigers (12 P.M. ET on ESPN)

Storyline to know: A tale of two Tigers

LSU opened the season as the fifth-ranked team in the country, one with legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations. But two losses before the calendar flipped to October all but dashed those playoff dreams.

The plummeting Tigers are now on the road to take on a soaring Missouri Tigers team. Mizzou currently has its highest ranking in eight years, thanks to its first 5-0 start since 2013.

Matchup to watch: Can LSU contain Missouri’s passing attack?

Brady Cook has gone from a quarterback who once held Missouri’s offense back to one driving it forward this season. In 2022, he placed 94th among all signal-callers in college football with a 66.7 passing grade. This season, he’s 17th with an 88.7 passing grade. However, he’s not the biggest star on the Tigers’ offense. That would be sophomore wide receiver Luther Burden III, who’s playing like the best receiver in America right now.

Luther Burden III | Ranks Among FBS WRs, 2023
Overall Grade 92.1 1st
Receiving Yards 641 1st
Yards After the Catch 400 2nd (1st in Power Five)

LSU, meanwhile, is having significant problems slowing down opposing aerial attacks. The Tigers have the fourth-worst coverage grade (60.3) in the Power Five and are allowing the second-most expected points per pass in that same group.

This game could come down to whether LSU is able to generate pressure on Cook. LSU owns the 12th-best pass-rushing grade in the Power Five, while Missouri is tied for 10th in pass-blocking grade. If Cook is given time to find Burden and his other receivers, it could be a long day for LSU’s defense.

Prediction: Missouri 34, LSU 31

Missouri continues its dream season and LSU's nightmare worsens.

Maryland Terrapins at No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (12 P.M. ET on FOX)

Storyline to know: Maryland’s best start in decades

Maryland is 5-0 for the first time since 2001. Not only have the Terrapins won their first five games, but they’re blowing everyone out by an average margin of victory of 25.4 points.

Now, their legitimacy is tested on the road against a top-five team in Ohio State that is now well rested coming off its bye week.

Matchup to watch: Can Taulia Tagovailoa keep Maryland in this game?

Tua isn’t the only Tagovailoa who is slinging the rock right now. His younger brother, Taulia, continues to show why he’s one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football. Tagovailoa’s 88.2 passing grade this season ranks 13th among Power Five quarterbacks.

Ohio State’s defense won’t concede an inch, though. The Buckeyes are one of two Power Five teams to rank in the top 10 in both coverage grade (eighth) and pass-rushing grade (sixth). If the Terps are to have any chance at an upset, it's on the shoulders of one of the best quarterbacks in program history.

Prediction: Ohio State 35, Maryland 21

The Terps keep it close enough to establish themselves as the Big Ten’s best of the rest, after the big three of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

No. 11 Alabama Crimson Tide at Texas A&M Aggies (3:30 P.M. ET on CBS)

Storyline to know: The rivalry between Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher

Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher went from colleagues to fierce rivals, both on the gridiron and off it. Fisher was Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU for five seasons before Saban left to coach the Miami Dolphins.

The once amicable relationship turned sour last summer when Saban said Fisher and Texas A&M “bought every player” through NIL deals. Fisher responded by calling his former boss a “narcissist” who should’ve been slapped. While Saban has since apologized and the two have seemingly moved on, it’s still a juicy storyline whenever these coaches meet.

Matchup to watch: Texas A&M’s passing game vs. Alabama’s defense

Even after losing star quarterback Conner Weigman to a season-ending foot injury, Texas A&M’s electric passing attack hasn’t lost much steam, if any. In fact, Max Johnson’s 92.2 passing grade this season ranks fourth among all quarterbacks. The Aggies are also tied for 10th in the Power Five with a 79.3 receiving grade, headlined by Evan Stewart and Ainias Smith.

Meanwhile, Alabama leads the nation with a 94.5 coverage grade and allows only 4.62 yards per coverage snap. Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold are two of the Power Five’s 10 highest-graded cornerbacks this season, the only duo to crack the top 10. Dallas Turner is also tied for fourth among FBS edge defenders with 24 pressures on the season, while Texas A&M ranks just 103rd in the nation in pass-blocking grade.

Prediction: Alabama 27, Texas A&M 21

This game could come down to the last play for the third straight meeting. In the end, Alabama emerges victorious and continues to rebound from its loss to Texas a month ago.

No. 20 Kentucky Wildcats at No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs (7 P.M. ET on ESPN)

Storyline to know: Is Georgia still the best team in the country?

As the reigning back-to-back national champions, Georgia earned the right to open the season as the top-ranked team in the country. Nearing the midway point of the season, though, there are some serious doubts as to whether the Bulldogs are still the team to beat.

Georgia struggled with South Carolina and Auburn this season, two schools that are outside the top 45 teams in PFF’s power rankings. The Bulldogs trailed in the second half of both games before pulling away for the win. Now, Georgia faces its toughest test yet in an undefeated Kentucky squad that comes in at 14th in PFF's power rankings.

Matchup to watch: Kentucky’s run game vs. Georgia’s run defense

Few players are running the ball better than Kentucky’s Ray Davis this season. The fifth-year senior is fresh off a 280-yard, three-touchdown performance in a win over No. 22 Florida this past weekend. On the season, the Vanderbilt transfer ranks second among all running backs in the country with 5.9 yards after contact per attempt.

Georgia’s run defense has been a middle-of-the-pack unit this season, placing 40th in the Power Five in expected points allowed per rush. The Bulldogs should stack the box against Davis and the Wildcats and force quarterback Devin Leary to beat them.

Prediction: Georgia 31, Kentucky 20

Georgia gets its first ranked win of the season and silences some of its doubters.

No. 10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at No. 25 Louisville Cardinals (7:30 P.M. ET on ABC)

Storyline to know: Can Notre Dame keep this energy up?

Notre Dame is one of only two Power Five programs that’s already played six games this season, with the other being Vanderbilt. Not only have the Fighting Irish played half of their season already without any bye weeks, the last two games were physically and emotionally taxing as well. Notre Dame’s loss to then-No. 6 Ohio State and win over then-No. 17 Duke both came down to the wire.

A third top-25 opponent in as many weeks awaits the Fighting Irish this week. Louisville is off to its first 5-0 start in a decade under new head coach Jeff Brohm and will be looking for a statement victory at home over a top-10 team this week.

Matchup to watch: Which running back will have more success?

This game features two of the most productive running backs in college football. Notre Dame’s Audric Estime leads the nation with 672 rushing yards and 412 yards after contact, and he paces Power Five running backs with a 90.0 grade this season. Louisville’s Jawhar Jordan ranks seventh among Power Five running backs with 510 rushing yards and places fourth with a 7.7 yards per carry average. He’s also third among that same group with 159 receiving yards this season. While both are dominant, they are very different backs. Estime is more of a bruising back between the tackles at 227 pounds, whereas Jordan uses his explosiveness and agility to his advantage at 185 pounds.

Both teams have also done well to stop the run this season. Notre Dame is fifth in the Power Five with a 90.3 run-defense grade, and Louisville is tied for eighth with a 3.31-yard average depth of tackle in the run game. This game could come down to which running back wills his team to victory.

Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Louisville 24

The Fighting Irish begin the second half of their season with a win in their third straight ranked game. If you can believe it, a fourth awaits Notre Dame next week in No. 9 USC.

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