Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 9/24/12

Well college football fans, we’ve got some bad news for you: We are sad to report that as the calendar turns to the last week of September on this particular Monday, virtually every team in college football has now finished a third of their season. It sounds crazy, only somehow it’s true.

But with the bad of course comes the good, and that good is the realization that most teams are starting to show their true colors. Some, like Florida, Notre Dame and Oregon State have proven to be better than even the best prognosticators could’ve predicted, while others unfortunately have been far worse (Let’s all take a moment of silence for Arkansas fans, ok?) The reality is though, that for better or worse we are getting to know these teams. In the process, the National Championship picture is starting to clear as well.

So what do we need to know going forward?

Let’s take a peek, with the Monday Morning Look Ahead!

Thursday Night Live:

For the first time since South Carolina opened college football’s opening weekend, a Thursday night game will hold true big picture National Championship implications this week, when Stanford takes a trip up to Seattle for a Pac-12 North show down with Washington.

But after upsetting USC a few weeks back, this will hardly be a cakewalk for the Cardinal. Yes they’re coming off a bye, but Thursday night will also be their first road game of the season and it will come in a truly nutty environment at night at Husky Stadium. Not to mention that with one loss already on their resume (against LSU) and back-to-back games with Oregon and USC in coming weeks, Washington can’t afford a defeat here; in a lot of ways, Thursday evening could very easily make or break the Huskies season.

What do they say about a dog backed into a corner? Stanford better be very careful this weekend.

Opening Night In The Big Ten:

Look, you don’t need me to tell you that as a whole, the Big Ten was collectively terrible in the out of conference portion of their team’s schedules. But the good news is that from here on out, Big Ten teams will essentially only be playing other Big Ten teams. To which we say, it’s a celebration! See ya, pesky MAC, WAC and FCS foes!

As for the particulars of Week 1 of conference play, the most important story line should come when Ohio State travels to Michigan State this weekend. While the Spartans are certainly a long way from their lofty preseason expectations, they reamin the toughest matchup Ohio State has had all season, especially given that the Buckeyes have yet to leave Columbus this season. Even at 4-0 Ohio State has plenty of questions, and could easily have a loss or two already on their resume.

The other matchup worth monitoring appears to be Wisconsin’s trip to Lincoln Field to take on Nebraska. For Wisconsin, this game provides one last gasp to save a quickly fading season, and in an otherwise mediocre league, a chance for the Cornhuskers to prove that maybe in fact, they are the best team in the Big Ten. Nebraska is averaging an impressive 48.5 points per game, although it is against admittedly poor competition.

Time for a Little R&R:

For all the excitement about the games on the field Saturday, some of the biggest storylines involve the teams that will be off it. After four weeks, Notre Dame, Florida, Michigan and others hit a bye week, just in time for a little rest and relaxation.

However of every team who’ll have the weekend off, none needs it more than the USC Trojans. At 3-1 USC isn’t out of the National Championship picture, but given the way they’ve played, it’s clear that some time away from the field is exactly what they need. Center Khaled Holmes remains banged up physically, and mentally Matt Barkley simply isn’t as sharp to start this year as he was to end last year. Not to mention others like running backs Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal are nursing nagging injuries as well.

Could a week off be exactly what the Trojans need to kick-start a late season National Championship push?

We’ll find out. They will next take the field in a road game at Utah next Thursday, October 6.

Texas’ Brutal Three Game Stretch:

While Washington clearly has the toughest next three weeks of anyone in college football (as mentioned above), the Texas Longhorns start a brutal trio of games this weekend as well. It begins this Saturday at Oklahoma State, followed by a visit from West Virginia next week and a trip to the Cotton Bowl to take on Oklahoma the following week.

In the process of those three games, we’ll not only find out if Texas is “for real” or not, but we should get a much clearer picture on the Big XII title race as well. If the Longhorns go undefeated in that three game stretch, it’ll essentially only be the Kansas State standing in Texas’ way of winning the conference crown. If they win two out of three, they’ll be in good shape, and just one win or none would essentially eliminate them from contention before we even hit mid-October.  

But it all starts Saturday with a trip to Stillwater.

The Longhorns have lost two in a row to the Pokes, but that was obviously a different Oklahoma State after losing Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon in the off-season. This year’s version of the Cowboys has put up a lot of points against inferior opponents (the Pokes are No. 1 in the country in scoring at over 62 points a game), but also had problems giving up points in their 59-38 loss to Arizona in their one true test this season.

Basically, we don’t know much about either of these teams right now.

But by midnight Saturday, we should know quite a bit more.

For all his opinion, analysis and insight, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
 

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