By Kevin McGuire-
(CBS) Before the college football season kicked off, one weekend most college football fans from around the country had circled was this weekend. With the College Football Playoff race on from coast to coast, November 8 raises the stakes for championship contenders and could set down the pretenders. Going into the season, this figured to be a huge weekend of college football. It still is, although perhaps not as most expected before the start of the football season.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Big 12. Oklahoma and Baylor face each other this weekend in Norman, Oklahoma. The two top teams in the conference heading into 2014 will still play with a shot at claiming the Big 12 on the line, but the two have combined for three conference losses just getting to this point, thus diminishing the significance of the meeting. Instead, the Big 12 focus shifts to Manhattan, Kansas where Kansas State will host TCU in a clash of top ten teams. First place in the Big 12 is on the line with a path to the playoff possibly being paved beyond it. The Big 12 has managed to provide plenty of drama and the script in the conference has been rewritten to favor the schools in purple. Meanwhile, Oklahoma and Baylor play second fiddle, which few would have predicted at the start of the season.
The Big Ten Championship Game rematch between Ohio State and Michigan State remains just as important as it was at the start of the season. The Buckeyes and Spartans were the top two teams in the Big Ten going into the season, and they are still the two best threats from the Big Ten. With one loss to both teams already, this particular game not only represents a possible elimination game in the Big Ten championship picture, but the loser will face the consequences of being eliminated entirely from the College Football Playoff picture. The winner may still have some obstacles ahead of them beyond their control, but a loss will push the Buckeyes or Spartans off a cliff.
In the Pac-12, Oregon just played Stanford in a game that has been one of the most important in the conference schedule for the past few years. But this week, Oregon travels to Utah in what could turn out to be a Pac-12 championship game preview. With the Ducks looking to soar to a playoff spot, the Utes are looking to rebound in a big way at home. After losing on the road at Arizona State, the Utes could be out for the count in the Pac-12 South title race, and a loss to Oregon would surely make that certain. But the Pac-12 seems to still be up in the air. Chances are running thin for Utah to keep breathing.
Of course, the one game that has been a staple on the top games list over the last few years is Alabama and LSU. The two have played some huge games in early November over the last few years, and the stakes are once again rising in the SEC West with every passing week. Alabama is sitting just one game behind Mississippi State in the SEC West and the big games for Alabama against the Bulldogs and Auburn are still to come at home. But this week Alabama travels to Baton Rouge, looking to hold off a feisty LSU team rested and fresh off a home win against Ole Miss. LSU may not be in the SEC West race, but their role is still vital. LSU can play spoiler with the best of them, and few teams know this as well as Alabama. This may not be 2011, but Alabama and LSU will play a huge role in the College Football Playoff chase this weekend.
This is the beauty of college football. Our expectations before the start of the season can quickly be tarnished in a flash. But no matter what happens, November will always find a way to set the stage for a championship race like no other month can.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football.