Welcome to a weekly in-season series looking at the coming weekend slate of college football games with observations and prognostications of varying degrees. This week, it’s the biggest weekend of the season so far. Also Rutgers and UMass are still playing.
5 Things the First Playoff Rankings (Maybe) Revealed
Oregon and Utah have the same shot Stacking the Pac-12’s top teams right next to each other (while putting both ahead of Oklahoma) means that whoever wins out may only need one or 2 teams ahead of them to falter if they want to get in. That’s big news for the Utes, who don’t have quite the strength-of-schedule argument that the Ducks have.
The ACC’s struggles could hurt Clemson The Tigers have actually won more games against Power 5 opponents this season than any other team in the country. But the committee is obviously not too high on their schedule otherwise. I’m not blown away by Penn State’s schedule, so it says something that, with all things even right now, the Nittany Lions have the edge.
The committee doesn’t believe in Minnesota The Golden Gophers’ toughest stretch of the schedule awaits them in November, but burying them all the way at #17 means the CFP decision-makers are waiting to see if they can actually win those games. I maintain that, if they did actually go 13-0, the Gophers get in. But nobody in the room in Grapevine, Texas seems to be betting on it.
The committee might believe in Baylor The Bears have quite the jump on Minnesota, with Auburn and Florida as the only 2-loss teams ahead of them. This signals that the committee respects the competition in the Big 12 and also sees Oklahoma as vulnerable. If Sic ‘Em wins out, they too will have cleared the hardest part of their schedule and will easily be in, but they might not be completely dead if they only lose once.
The little guys are getting more respect 5 teams from the Group of 5 made it into the debut CFP poll, and while they’re all bunched up next to each other from #20 down, this is progress from the last few seasons. It also shows how tight the race for the New Year’s Six is going to be.
5 Matchups that Matter This Week
LSU secondary vs. Alabama wide receivers The Tigers don’t have traditional great pass rushers off the edge, so defensive coordinator Dave Aranda has to get creative to generate pressure. This will likely leave the Bayou Bengals’ corners on an island with the best receiver corps in the nation. The same can be said about the matchup when ‘Bama has the ball, but Derek Stingley and Kristian Fulton have shown flashes of greatness. Now they have to put it together for a full 60 minutes against Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.
KJ Hamler & Pat Freiermuth vs. Minnesota defense How the Gophers slow down Sean Clifford’s top 2 targets is the biggest key to making the Nittany Lions uncomfortable. The running-back committee has not produced big results. Antoine Winfield Jr. will be the one to watch, as he’s been the biggest playmaker for Ski-U-Mah with 43 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 interceptions, a forced fumble and a touchdown.
Rashod Bateman & Tyler Johnson vs. Penn St secondary On the flip side, the Nittany Lions’ strength on defense is up front. But if Tanner Morgan gets rid of the ball in a hurry, can the back end make enough plays against what might be the best receiver duo in the country? Bateman and Johnson are matchup nightmares and have racked up over 600 receiving yards each while combining for 13 TD catches.
Jalen Hurts vs. Iowa State defense The Cyclones are uniquely suited to stop Big 12 spread offenses, playing a base nickel package. But while only playing 3 down lineman, they haven’t sacrificed an ability to stop the run. ISU is tops in the Big 12 and 23rd in the nation against the run, allowing a little more than 116 yards per game. If the Sooners’ star quarterback is going to get his Heisman case back on track, he’ll need to have a big game with his arm, or at the very least put up the best rushing performance that anyone has had against the ‘Clones.
Wisconsin passing game vs. Iowa secondary The Badgers have the second-highest completion percentage in all the land and average 8 yards per attempt, but consider that the other teams in the top five in completion percentage average better than 10 yards per pass. Bucky needs more explosive plays, especially against a Hawkeye unit that’s 12th in the country against the pass and is 6th in overall defense.
5 Really Sad Rutgers Numbers
143.9 Passing yards per game. The sadder news is there’s 5 non-option teams with lower averages, two of them from the Power 5 (Georgia Tech and Northwestern).
232.6 Rushing yards allowed per game, second-to-last in the Big Ten.
498 Total passing yards for starting quarterback Johnny Langan in 7 games and 5 starts this season. Considering he threw for 192 yards in the win over Liberty, he’s been horrendous in losses, including the infamous 1-yard showing against Indiana.
5 The number of games Rutgers has scored single-digit points, all coming in a 6-game stretch where the one time the Scarlet Knights cracked double-digits was a 30-16 loss to Boston College.
5 again This time, the number of years Rutgers has gone without a bowl game now that the Scarlet Knights have clinched another sub-.500 season.
5 Even Sadder UMass Numbers
570 Total yards allowed per game. dead last in the country.
310 Total yards gained per game. Only 12 teams are worse.
8 The point margin of victory in the Minutemen’s lone win this season against Akron.
63 The number points Liberty scored at UMass. And yes, that’s the same Liberty team that started 2019 by getting shut out by Syracuse.
11 The total wins since UMass moved up to FBS starting in 2016.
5 (or More) Stone-Cold Locks for Week Eleven
Record last week – Straight up: 16-9; ATS: 7-17-1
Temple (-1.5) at South Florida The Owls handed Memphis its only loss of the season and promptly fell apart, but they’ve been blasted the last 2 games by really good teams in SMU and UCF. It might not always be pretty, but they’ll bounce back this week. Temple 31, USF 21
Washington (-10) at Oregon State The Beavers, long one of the worst in the Power 5, are 2 wins away from a bowl game. Jonathan Smith is working wonders in Corvallis, but the Huskies are smarting after losing close at home to Oregon and Utah. Chris Petersen’s team gets one back. Washington 35, Oregon St 28
East Carolina (+22) at Southern Methodist This could have been a serious trap game if the Mustangs had beaten Memphis. Instead, the Ponies will want to turn things around badly, and they shouldn’t be overlooking a Pirate squad that nearly upset Cincinnati. SMU 49, ECU 28
Maryland (+43.5) at Ohio State The quickness with which the Terps’ hot start disappeared is almost impressive. Just not as impressive as what the Buckeyes are doing this season. Ohio St 52, Maryland 7
Baylor (-2) at Texas Christian Playing at your biggest conference rival in the middle of a dream season? That’s a trap game 9 times out of 10, so I understand Vegas’ caution. But the Bears nearly gave one away against West Virginia, so I think they’re zeroed in on the Horned Frogs and take care of business. Baylor 34, TCU 24
Vanderbilt (+26) at Florida The Commodores have three of the best NFL prospects in the land in running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. Yet they’ve also found a way to only score 17 points per game. Sometimes failure is fascinating. Florida 38, Vanderbilt 10
Penn State (-7) at Minnesota I think this one boils down to which defense you believe in. The Gophers have been fairly average, while the Nittany Lions are second in the nation in points and rushing yards allowed. Minnie’s got weapons on the edge, but everything they do on offense goes through the run game and Rodney Smith. I think the PSU front seven shuts him down and keeps the Gophers in check, while Hamler and Freiermuth make a few big plays that win a slugfest. Penn St 24, Minnesota 13
Illinois (+14.5) at Michigan State Did you know the Illini are good at football? I know, crazy, right? Anyways, this is probably the week that gets derailed a bit. Michigan St 27, Illinois 21
Connecticut (+35) at Cincinnati We’ve already talked about how bad Rutgers & UMass are. But the Huskies stink to high heaven as well. They’ve simply gotten the pleasure of playing and beating UMass to look less gross. Cincinnati 45, UConn 7
Iowa (+9.5) at Wisconsin When the Hawkeyes get matched up with a top-10 defense this season, they go nowhere, and QB Nathan Stanley is either flat on his back or making poor decisions. The defense keeps them in it and covers, but a couple long Badger drives are the difference. Wisconsin 20, Iowa 14
Southern California (+1.5) at Arizona State The fact that the Trojans still have a shot in the Pac-12 South is a miracle, considering so many people believe Clay Helton is doomed to be fired at any moment. So I’m sure a trip to Tempe will calm everything back down. It’s not like an SC coach has been fired on the tarmac after going to the desert, right? Arizona St 49, USC 42
Wake Forest (-2.5) at Virginia Tech The Demon Deacons have a chance at a head-to-head win against direct competition for an Orange Bowl bid. I love what QB Jamie Newman is doing this year, and if Ian Book can work around self-inflicted mistakes to beat Bud Foster’s defense late in a game, I think the Deacs can as well. Wake Forest 31, Virginia Tech 24
Alabama-Birmingham (+4.5) at Southern Mississippi BIGGEST GAME OF THE WEEKEND! HUGE SHOWDOWN IN CONFERENCE USA! BIG TIME! There’s nothing else happening, right (seriously though, peek in at this game, it should be fun)? Southern Miss 38, UAB 35
Kansas State (+7) at Texas This feels like one of those years when you’d expect the Longhorns to overlook K-State, or at the very least not match up well with their grinding style of play. So I think they’ll come out fired up. Sam Ehlinger hits a few big plays that provide the winning margin. Texas 28, Kansas St 24
Louisville (+6.5) at Miami (FL) Why on earth anyone would believe the ‘Canes are leveling out is beyond me. This team is an enigma from week to week. Meanwhile, Scott Satterfield as established a consistent level of competitiveness. Louisville 31, Miami 28
Louisiana State (+6.5) at Alabama Oh right, this game.
Joe Burrow and Friends have been too good to not move the ball enough and make this a 4-quarter game. Tua being banged up even if he plays adds an extra dimension. But while both offenses are loaded, the Crimson Tide have the better defense right now, particularly when it comes to generating pressure on the quarterback without blitzing. ‘Bama will be able to drop more guys back in coverage and get one more stop. The Bayou Bengals won’t hurt their playoff chances, but they’ll have to wait for a possible rematch on a neutral field. Alabama 38, LSU 34
Appalachian State (+5.5) at South Carolina Not debuting in the playoff rankings hurts the Mountaineers’ chances at the New Year’s Six, but scoring a Power 5 win puts them back in the race. The problem? There’s simply no telling what the Gamecocks will do from week to week. Those seasons (somehow) tend to end in 6-6 and a bowl game, and this will be a win that gets Will Muschamp there. South Carolina 28, App St 24
Clemson (-31.5) at North Carolina State If you’re looking for the ACC team who will finally take advantage of a sloppy performance by the Tigers…keep searching. Clemson 45, NC St 10
Florida International (+10) at Florida Atlantic The Lane Train is rolling again. Coach Kiffin might have given Ohio State the best game they’ve had all year, and wide receiver Harrison Bryant has emerged as one of the stars of a high-powered offense. The Owls will continue to make Butch Jones salty. FAU 38, FIU 27
Missouri (+16.5) at Georgia A banged-up Kelly Bryant makes a Tigers offense that looked sluggish against Vanderbilt and Kentucky basically useless. Also, your reminder that MU has back-to-back losses to Vanderbilt AND Kentucky. Georgia 31, Mizzou 10
Liberty (+17) at Brigham Young We’re a long ways removed from Hugh Freeze coaching games from a gurney (unfortunately). The Flames are 6-3. Luckily, the Cougars are also on a roll of late, so maybe Coach Meme does something hilarious while getting beat. BYU 34, Liberty 24
Notre Dame (-8) at Duke I understand the hesitancy to trust the Irish. But other than a beatdown of Virginia Tech back in September, the Blue Devils have not only lost to the best competition on their schedule; they’ve been thrashed. Notre Dame 31, Duke 17
Tennessee (+1.5) at Kentucky Both these teams still have a shot at a bowl, the last thing anyone was thinking after the first 2 weeks of the season. But the more stable program is still in Lexington. Kentucky 31, Tennessee 30
Iowa State (+14.5) at Oklahoma While the Cyclones are likely the best defense the Sooners have faced all year, they haven’t always performed like it. They’ll hang around, and it’s not stunner if the team that looks on paper like the second-best in the Big 12 pulls an upset, but CeeDee Lamb is enough of a matchup problem that OU makes enough plays. Oklahoma 35, Iowa St 28
Wyoming (+13.5) at Boise State The Cowboys are 6-2 and can force a 3-way tie for first place in the Mountain. But the Broncos have new life in the race for the New Year’s Six, and they won’t waste the opportunity. Boise St 31, Wyoming 13