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College Football Weekend Watch Party: Boise State-BYU, The Little Big Program Battle

Non-Power Five conference party crashers Boise State and BYU headline this weekend's most appealing college football games.

by Kevin Trahan
Sep 11 2015, 4:20pm

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's note: Every Friday, we'll use this space to tell you about the college football game you absolutely need to watch that weekend, even if it's flying under the radar. It might not always be the matchup of the two best teams, but it will definitely be the most entertaining contest. Because fun is what college football is all about, right?

Every year, there are a few games that make you think, Hey, it would be really nice if those two teams played. Alabama-Oregon, Alabama-Florida State, Ohio State-Notre Dame, etc. This week, we get a game like that, just with slightly smaller names: Boise State vs. BYU.

College football has always been about haves and have-nots, but the College Football Playoff and NCAA conference "autonomy" have only increased the gap between the Power Five leagues and everyone else. Boise State and BYU are the two best non-Power Five teams this year, and their track records suggest that both would be competitive if they played in major conferences.

Read More: Pretty, Stupid, Full Of Grace: Appreciating College Football's Hail Mary

In fact, both took down Power Five teams in their openers: No. 20 Boise State beat former coach Chris Petersen and Washington, while BYU, which is just two spots outside the top 25, used a Hail Mary to beat Nebraska on the road. Those are big-time wins for understated big-time programs.

This game will help us decide which team is the best of the rest, and it has some very intriguing angles. Despite the win, Boise didn't look as good as it should have against Washington. The Broncos will need to win big if they are to crash the big boys' party in the College Football Playoff.

BYU is coming off one of its most exciting wins in years, but it also got some somber news, as the Cougars learned that star quarterback Taysom Hill is done for the year with a foot injury. The team imploded after Hill's injury last season, and this game will be crucial to ensuring they don't suffer deja vu. New quarterback Tanner Mangum was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, and he sure can throw a nice Hail Mary, but can he lead BYU to a top 25, or top 15, ranking?

Three other games to watch

No. 19 Oklahoma at No. 23 Tennessee

Did you know Tennessee might have a breakout season? No? Well, ask a Tennessee fan and they'll tell you about it for hours.

"Anyone remember when Tennessee football was actually good?" Photo by RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

After a near decade of incompetence, Tennessee might finally be good this year. The Volunteers broke through to make a bowl game last year, destroying Iowa in the process, and they recruited top 10 classes in both 2014 and 2015. That talent is still young, however, and Tennessee still has lots of question marks on defense after giving up 30 points to Bowling Green in the opener. If things really have changed, the Volunteers can let everyone outside of Tennessee know by winning this game.

Then there's Oklahoma, which is so overrated every year that it might be underrated this season. All the talk in the Big 12 is about Baylor and TCU, but if the Sooners beat the Vols handily while on the road, more people might see that they're just as capable of winning the conference. At the very least, it would be a far more convincing win than either Baylor or TCU will have for quite some time. For a single early-season non-conference game, there's a lot on the line in this one.

No. 14 LSU at No. 25 Mississippi State

I apologize if I lead you astray with this game, because it could end up being incredibly boring. Mississippi State had a pretty blah opener against Southern Miss, and no one should trust LSU's offense until the Tigers show they can actually, you know, move the ball. That said, this game might give us an early clue as to whether LSU is a legitimate playoff contender. It will also tell us if Mississippi State has a chance to repeat last year's dream season, which saw the Bulldogs rise to No. 1 in the country and make the Orange Bowl. Given the implications, it's worth tuning in.

Kentucky at South Carolina

Hear me out: no, neither of these teams looks particularly good. However, they both are facing somewhat desperate circumstances. After an awful 2014, South Carolina is trying to reestablish itself behind coach Steve Spurrier. Meanwhile, Kentucky has enjoyed a renaissance in recruiting, including a class that was, at one point, ranked No. 1 nationally. Problem is, those players haven't produced a significantly better on-field product, as the Wildcats have failed to make a bowl game since coach Mark Stoops's arrival. This game will be sloppy, but fun sloppy, with inconsistent quarterbacks and inconsistent defenses. There are guaranteed to be some surprises.

Best game you already know to watch

No. 7 Oregon at No. 5 Michigan State

This game has everything: teams that play completely contrasting styles, really fun players, and playoff implications. What can Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams, who transferred from FCS Eastern Washington, do against a top-flight FBS defense? Can Michigan State's defense rein in Oregon's high-powered offense better than it could in a 46-27 loss last season? Does the Oregon defense have enough to stop Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and this suddenly explosive offense, which ranked tenth nationally in offensive efficiency last year? This is a fascinating contest.

"Whose chopper is this?" "It's Chip Kelly's." Photo by Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Don't feel bad about skipping it

Oregon State at Michigan

This game is going to be about a million times worse than the other big game in Michigan this week. Yes, people will want to tune in for Jim Harbaugh's first home game, but both of these teams have awful offenses. Michigan threw three interceptions against Utah last week in a 24-17 loss, while Oregon State struggled with Weber State. Sometimes low-scoring games are due to good defenses. Sometimes they happen because the offenses are bad and the teams are boring. This one is the latter.