It’s the last full weekend of college football. Next week most conferences have their championship games and we get an idea of which teams will make the college football playoffs. We’ve got a lot of great rivalries including the Iron Bowl, Ohio State v Michigan, the Apple Cup, the Civil War, and more.
LET CHAOS REIGN
R: LSU (-3.5) at Texas A&M
The Aggies are without quarterback Trevor Knight. They have since lost to Mississsippi State and Ole Miss. Last week they pulled off an underwhelming win against UT-San Antonio. A constant for the Aggies has been their D. They have a great pass rush ranked 23rd in S&P+ on passing downs.
A key factor in this game will be if the LSU offense is able to succeed on first down. The Tigers are the 8th ranked offense on success rate and have the 5th best rushing attack in the country. I think they will do fine making all their third downs reasonable distances.
S: LSU (-3.5) at Texas A&M
LSU has done poorly against all teams with good defenses (Wisconsin, Auburn, Alabama, Florida). Texas A&M has lost its QB for the year, and relies on a defense that has not been good against the run. I'll take LSU here in a bounce-back spot after an embarrassing home loss to Florida.
R: Washington (-6) at Washington State
Washington State has had back-to-back great years under Mike Leach. It should be a bylaw in the athletic department that they have to schedule a FCS team for every season-opener and the Cougars are required to lose to that FCS team. It’s science. You can’t argue with it.
The Cougars showed up big in their games against Oregon and Stanford but then had a few close wins. They are coming off a road loss to Colorado and now they are in the most important Apple Cup since 2008. It would maybe the greatest win of Mike Leach’s career, topping the win over Texas in 2008.
Washington is a team that is just better on both sides of the ball in nearly every way. Their loss was to a USC squad that is one of the hottest teams in the country. The performance by Jake Browning, I believe, was an anomaly. He has not fallen off and will most likely be his normal, extremely efficient self this weekend. Also, Washington’s ability to get pressure on the quarterback with only four rushers will be huge in this matchup.
S: Washington at Washington State (+6)
Gimme some chaos. I like Wazzu at home. All their worst performances have come on the road, but they're markedly better at home. And with so much on the line - winner goes to Pac-12 Championship Game - I think the Cougs will be fevered, and ready to play some defense against Washington's balanced attack. Would love to see WSU make things interesting.
R: Auburn (+20.5) at Alabama
For this year’s Auburn squad, the defense has been carrying a lot of the weight. With Gus Malzahn as head coach one would have thought that the defense would be the liability on the team but that hasn’t been the case. The Tigers are excellent on standard downs and against the run. Where Auburn has been above average running and passing, but above average isn’t going to bring a win for the Tigers against one of the better Alabama teams that I can remember.
Alabama’s quarterback Jalen Hurts has had multiple performances where he ran and threw for 100 yards each. Quarterbacks in a Saban offense have never been asked to do much and instead play mistake-free while not taking any risks. More often than not that means hitting checkdown passes and handing the ball off to a big running back running behind an even bigger offensive line.
The Crimson Tide are still a nearly unstoppable force on the ground and their defense would be talked about much more if not for Michigan having a historic defense this year. On paper Alabama will easily win, but there is just enough chaos left in this college football season and in the Iron Bowl for the game to be closer than the experts think.
S: Auburn (+20.5) at Alabama
Auburn's defense is the difference maker here. They have held down every single offense they have faced. That won't change here. Alabama has shown itself to be susceptible to good defenses, especially with a true freshman at QB whose accuracy and decision-making is not always super great. Give me the points in the Iron Bowl.
R: Oregon (-3) at Oregon State
I expect Oregon State to follow a similar game plan to the one they used last year. No matter what they score was they kept running the ball. The Beavers have one of the better rushing offenses in the country while Oregon is one of the top 5 worst run defenses in the country. The performance against Utah was promising but I don’t think that success is sustainable. It is only proof of what they are capable of doing.
The Beavers are just slightly better defending the run. The one statistic that doesn’t seem to add up is Oregon’s rushing attack. Royce Freeman is still hampered by the injury from the game against Nebraska. Tony Brooks-James has taken over and producing at a high level on a per carry basis but as fans it still seems the offense can struggle moving the ball on the ground. However, Oregon has a top-20 offense on the ground.
One of the most important matchups to watch is Oregon’s passing offense against Oregon State’s pass defense. The Beavers defend the pass extremely well and while Oregon is good through the air, the Ducks are very good on passing downs. I think Justin Herbert will do well with the tight ends to score enough points to win and cover.
S: Oregon (-3) at Oregon State
I think I have officially picked every Oregon game wrong, other than picking Stanford to beat us. But I am pretty damn sure that we are not going to lose the Civil War in Reser.
R: Utah (+10) at Colorado
Colorado’s defense has been the key component of their success this season. They defend against the pass very well, especially on passing downs. The playoff committee is very high on Colorado and for good reason. After being one of the worst teams in the conference last year the Buffs are a win away from winning the PAC-12 South and playing the winner of the Apple Cup in the PAC-12 Championship Game.
Utah is well known for it’s lines, both on offense and defense. But the Utes are rebounding from their loss to Oregon. Anyone who watched Utah and Oregon play this year would have thought going in that Utah would demolish Oregon because of the war in the trenches. The Utes struggled on offense and needed a huge special teams and ref mistake to score a touchdown late. I expect that Utah will return to form in the game on Saturday.
Colorado is just so good in all three phases and they really are a great team. I’ve got them winning here but see Utah getting a backdoor cover.
S: Utah at Colorado (-10)
Utah might be secretly bad after getting shut down in every phase of the game by an Oregon team that has not been impressive all year. Now they have to travel to boulder to face a white-hot Colorado team with an elite defense? LAY THOSE POINTS AND GO BUFFS.
R: Florida at Florida State (-4.5)
The difference between Florida State’s offense and Florida’s defense is not very big. The difference between Florida’s offense and Florida State’s defense is extremely wide.
Florida’s defense is able to defend the run and pass exceptionally well and they are also fantastic on keeping teams in bad down and distance scenarios. The offense is where the real problems happen. The Gators benefitted from two LSU turnovers in their game last week. On a per-play basis they are not good at passing the football and are even worse at running.
Florida State’s offense is run by Dalvin Cook who can truly transcend the play of his offensive line. When Francois is comfortable in the pocket and in his environment he is one of the best quarterbacks in the country so he will really benefit from playing at home. With Cook in the backfield, maybe the best running back in college football, carrying the workload I think the Seminoles will win by at least a touchdown.
S: Florida at Florida State (-4.5)
Tough pick in a rivalry game. I can see value in both sides. But FSU's offense is not as anemic as the LSU offense that Florida just beat up. Florida is guaranteed an SEC Championship Game berth, and they might let off the gas a bit with that realization. Lay those few points on Florida State.
R: Michigan at Ohio State (-6.5)
Advanced Stats have Michigan’s defense as one of the best in college football history. The most points they have given up in a game is 28, to a now top-10 ranked Colorado team. The Wolverines have given up only 74 points in all of their conference games thus far. With Jabril Peppers on defense they have a playmaker who is on the field at all times. Michigan’s defense can also bust a lot of plays open that can push the divide between them and their opponent very wide, very quickly. In my opinion, the Michigan offense feeds off the successes of the defense and I don’t think the defense will be very successful against Ohio State.
Ohio State’s offensive line is a slight cause for concern. They were handled by Penn State’s defensive line in Happy Valley. In the last quarter JT Barrett couldn’t find any time or space in the pocket and had to constantly be on the move. By virtue of Urban Meyer having been a coach at Ohio State longer than Harbaugh has been a coach at Michigan, I think the Buckeyes have more talent and the talent is best suited for Meyer’s offense and defense. This is the same Ohio State team crushed Oklahoma at the beginning of the season.
Ohio State is a team that is on a different level than any other Michigan opponent this year. The Wolverine’s toughest opponent was Colorado who were leading until they lost their starting quarterback to injury. Michigan’s defense won’t be able to feast on Ohio State’s offense the way they have in the past. I don’t see Michigan being able to keep up over the course of four quarters. I like Ohio State to win by a couple scores.
S: Michigan at Ohio State (-6.5)
Michigan will struggle to score in this one. Essentially no quarterback play for the Blue as they go on the road in assumedly tough weather conditions in Columbus. Ohio State has been tough to pin down all year, but I think they can win by double digits with their perimeter speed and ability to make plays in space. Michigan doesn't have that and will struggle to score 20 points. Lay the 6.5 on the Buckeyes. (Also, I'm secretly rooting for this so that Penn State sneaks into the B1G Championship Game and causes some chaos.)
R: Notre Dame at USC (-17)
Notre Dame has been really bad on defense this year. They are not good at defending passes and gave up 33 or more points in most of their games. On offense they are fairly balanced with above average running and passing. Unfortunately for the Irish, the Trojans are playing as well as anybody in the country.
With Sam Browning at quarterback the Trojans have the second-most efficient passing attack in the country according to S&P+. Their running game has also been executing very well against anyone they go up against. When the Trojans are able to run easily they tend to win by a lot. I like the Trojans a lot.
S: Notre Dame at USC (-17)
Lay all of the points. Notre Dame is a freaking train wreck right now, and has had crazy difficulty scoring second-half points for months now. USC is peaking at the right time, and have a balanced offense to complement its very talented and improved defense. Notre Dame gets beat down in LA, and goes into the offseason with 8 losses.