Since we’re only two weeks into the college football season, the number of teams still harboring realistic hopes of earning a spot in the four-team playoff remains quite high. As such, there is no shortage of games this weekend that will have a direct impact on the race.
Outside of those direct-impact games, however, the Week 3 slate also includes a number of games that could have indirect or residual impact on the pursuit for the national championship.
There is, for example, Thursday night's contest featuring No. 7 Houston at Cincinnati (4:30 p.m. PT, ESPN). The Cougars, the top candidates from the group of five leagues to crash the playoff party, need to hold serve in the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats, however, have been known to spring surprises in these weeknight tilts.
Here are a few other matchups to keep an eye on Saturday while the higher-profile games are unfolding.
No. 21 Oregon at Nebraska, 12:30 p.m. PT, ABC
It’s a meeting of unbeaten teams from power conferences, so its result could be a factor for consideration down the road if either or both end up contending for the title in their respective leagues. As of this moment, we don’t know if that will be the case.
The Cornhuskers have won their games to date by wider margins, and the Ducks struggled early. Nebraska coach Mike Riley is quite familiar with what Oregon likes to do from his tenure at Oregon State, though he didn’t have much success keeping the Ducks grounded.
No. 20 Texas A&M at Auburn, 4 p.m. PT, ESPN
There’s another clash in the SEC West that will be getting a bit more attention, but this one also will have a lot to do with how the race in the division takes shape. It will also shed some light on whether Auburn’s fairly strong showing in a loss to Clemson or A&M’s winning performance against UCLA will be more indicative of how their seasons will progress.
No. 16 Texas at California, 7:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
The meeting with the Golden Bears a season ago probably is the game the Longhorns and their fans lament the most. A late Texas rally was undone by a missed extra point in a wild 45-44 shootout, and the Longhorns would go on to finish a disappointing 5-7.
They’d like to exact a measure of revenge and keep their solid start in 2016 going, and the rest of the Big 12 hopes they do as well. Cal has shown vulnerabilities on defense, both in their win against Hawaii in Australia and last week’s loss to San Diego State, but their prolific passing attack will keep them in a lot of games.
Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State, 12:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
The Coastal Division of the ACC looks a lot less formidable than the crowded Atlantic. But its champion gets a shot at the league title, and the Panthers appear to be ready to challenge the likes of Miami (Fla.) and North Carolina for that honor. This weekend, they have a chance to pick up another non-conference win against a Power Five opponent.
The Cowboys are still smarting from last week’s unfortunate ending against Central Michigan and could use a pick-me-up heading into Big 12 play. They must improve in a lot of areas if they expect to compete for the conference crown.
UCLA at Brigham Young, 7:15 PT, ESPN2
BYU continues its early run through the Pac-12, and if it’s anything like the first two (an 18-16 win at Arizona and a 20-19 loss at Utah) it will be worth giving up a little sleep to watch. UCLA, considered a Playoff dark horse by some before the season began, is likely out of that discussion with the loss to A&M.
The Bruins now hope to avoid a second loss outside the Pac-12, but of course every game the rest of the way they win will be helping the Aggies as well.
North Dakota State at No. 11 Iowa, 9 a.m. PT, ESPN2
We throw this one out there just as a precaution. NDSU is the No. 1 team in the Football Championship Subdivision, and as such is more of a threat than many FBS teams.
The Hawkeyes were more than ready for their beleaguered in-state rivals from Ames last week and aren’t likely to be caught napping by the Bison, but don’t be shocked if it’s still interesting in the second half.