Last weekend’s college football slate completely rattled the national landscape’s foundation. Four Top 10 teams lost in conference upsets, others in the Top 15 like Oklahoma and USC barely escaped nail-biters.
As unpredictable as last week may have been, I have the sneaking suspicion that was merely the clouds rolling in before college football is deluged with earth-shattering results. The separation between most of the top-ranked teams and their conference counterparts appears minuscule. Keep in mind, No. 2 Penn State — which faces a test from Michigan this week — needed a heroic drive to beat Iowa not long ago.
More upsets will come and fundamentally alter the College Football Playoff race. Will it be this week?
Last Week: 5-1, 3-3 ATS
Overall: 30-23, 31-19 (note: FCS games previewed early in the season had no lines)
SATURDAY’S SIX-PACK: Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter
The Saturday Six-Pack has recommended numerous California-brewed offerings this season. After Arizona State shocked Washington, and Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate has been taking college football by storm after two weeks, it’s time for my birth state to get some love.
The Six-Pack’s October pumpkin theme continues, this time with Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter. Tempe-based Four Peaks is probably the most recognized Arizona brewery. It’s most celebrated product, Kilt Lifter, is a Grand Canyon State staple. However, when it comes to pumpkin beers, few do it as well as Four Peaks.
Autumn cold is beginning to creep in; at least, it is momentarily here in Southern California, before temperatures jump to triple digits next week. I wish I was kidding. But it’s 60 now! Perfect to break out the pumpkin porter.
No. 10 OKLAHOMA STATE at TEXAS
Kickoff: Noon ET/9 a.m. PT
Line: Oklahoma State -7
Texas had a cup of coffee in first place atop the Big 12, but last week’s loss to rival Oklahoma relegated the Longhorns to just .500 on the season. Now, it’s damning faint praise to deem Texas the best 3-3 team in the nation, but consider that the Horns two losses since giving up 51 to Maryland in the opener were to USC and Oklahoma by a combined eight points.
Texas is going to knock off a Big 12 title contender at some point this season. The Longhorns defensive front is much too talented, and quarterback Sam Ehlinger is demonstrating flashes of the being the stud play-maker Texas has lacked since Colt McCoy injured his shoulder at the 2010 BCS Championship Game.
That said, Oklahoma State is a matchup nightmare for the Horns.
Opponents average 265 passing yards per game on the Texas defense, and just last week, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield historic performance exploited the vulnerability of the Longhorns secondary. Opposite Mason Rudolph and James Washington, both of whom appear in the most recent Heisman Top 10, Texas will be hard-pressed to slow the Pokes.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma State 38, Texas 27
IOWA STATE at TEXAS TECH
Kickoff: Noon ET/9 a.m. PT
Line: Texas Tech -7
Iowa State’s upset win of Oklahoma two weeks ago is one of the most ground-shaking outcomes of the 2017 season. However, that win was merely the exclamation point on an impressive first half for Matt Campbell’s Cyclones.
Iowa State is 4-2, and with an overtime loss to rival Iowa, could very well be 5-1 and ranked in the Top 25. Still, the Cyclones have work to do to reach bowl eligibility. After smashing Kansas a week ago, Iowa State’s only pencil-in victory remaining on the calendar is winless Baylor. Upward mobility in the parity-rich Big 12 comes at a premium, so Iowa State needs to score another major upset.
That brings us to Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were cruising for three quarters last week at West Virginia, playing some quality defense on the prolific Mountaineers offense and putting up points in bunches. Nic Shimonek threw four touchdown passes by the midway point of the third quarter.
Tech was seemingly on its way to the kind of marquee win that has eluded the Red Raiders in Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure, and securing a spot in the Top 20 of the AP Poll. Instead, a brutal meltdown in which West Virginia rolled up 29 unanswered points, including 22 in the fourth quarter, relegated Tech to an unenviable spot heading into the second half of its season.
This has historically been the point at which Texas Tech drops off, and blowing an 18-point lead in the late third quarter feels like a pivotal moment in that very direction.
Iowa State is again without Jacob Park at quarterback, but Kyle Kempt has been a revelation through two games. He’s thrown four touchdowns without an interception. The Cyclones need to reestablish David Montgomery, who bludgeoned Kansas with three rushing touchdowns but has not put together a 100-yard game in the last three outings.
Texas Tech’s run defense has been solid with an impressive three-man front of Eli Howard, Tony Jones and Kolin Hill. I don’t know that I trust defense to set the tone for Texas Tech, however. I’m calling for another Iowa State road upset.
PREDICTION: Iowa State 42, Texas Tech 38
WESTERN MICHIGAN at EASTERN MICHIGAN
Kickoff: 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT
Line: Western Michigan -3
Texas might be the best 3-3 team in the nation, but Eastern Michigan holds the dubious distinction of being the best 2-4 team college football has to offer.
Head coach Chris Creighton opted to go for a two-point conversion and the win last week against a good Army squad — and the Eagles came literally inches shy of converting. With the one-point loss, Eastern Michigan sits 17 points away from a perfect start. Its losses came by a touchdown in overtime to preseason MAC East favorite Ohio; four points at Kentucky; five points against preseason MAC West favorite Toledo; and last week’s photo-finish at Army.
The Ohio matchup on Sept. 23 was Eastern Michigan’s last outing at home. When EMU deems this its Homecoming Game, it ain’t kidding. And here comes a Western Michigan that has played its own wacky schedule.
After competing with USC for three quarters and staying relatively close to Michigan State — two teams both ranked in the current Top 20 — Western Michigan ran off a four-game winning streak that included a 71-68 defeat of Buffalo in seven overtimes.
It’s no wonder the Broncos seemed sluggish the following week in a 14-13 loss to Akron. That outcome puts WMU in something of a must-win situation in this MAC matchup; but the stakes are similarly high for Eastern Michigan.
Eastern Michigan’s outstanding passing defense will make Western Michigan one-dimensional offensively, but the Broncos also have a rotation of four capable ball-carriers. Conversely, Brogan Roback will need help from his ground game.
But after so many close losses, I expect the Eagles to break through with a close win this time around.
PREDICTION: Eastern Michigan 30, Western Michigan 28
No. 20 UCF at NAVY
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
TV: CBS College Sports
Line: UCF -7.5
Coming into Saturday’s American Athletic Conference showdown, every game Navy has played since waxing FAU in the season opener has been decided by 10 points or fewer. That includes the Mids’ 30-27 loss last week to Memphis, which bumped Navy from the Top 25.
Conversely, UCF has not played a game closer than 27 points. The Knights’ roster of victims include holding Maryland to just 10 points two weeks after the Terps scored 51 at Texas; and a 40-13 rout of Memphis on Sept. 30.
UCF is gaining considerable groundswell as the favorite to represent the Group of Five in the New Year’s Six this season, and head coach Scott Frost is already one of the most buzzed-about names in the profession. Remarkable how fast this program recovered from an 0-12 finish just two seasons ago.
This matchup features two of the most exciting quarterbacks in all of college football. Navy’s Zach Abey trails only Stanford Heisman contender Bryce Love in rushing yards per game with 169.3. Abey’s also second in the nation with 12 rushing touchdowns.
Frost may be celebrated for his past work with a rushing quarterback in 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, but it’s easy to overlook just how great a passer both Mariota and Vernon Adams were in Frost’s scheme at Oregon. Likewise, McKenzie Milton is quietly putting up some of the most impressive passing numbers in college football (15 touchdowns to just two interceptions, 70 percent completion rate).
Navy’s option offense and aggressive defense, anchored by linebacker D.J. Palmore, ensure a competitive game. How UCF responds to a tightly contested matchup on the road will reveal much about the Knights’ New Year’s Six bonafides. I anticipate UCF answering the challenge.
PREDICTION: UCF 34, Navy 28
No. 19 MICHIGAN at No. 2 PENN STATE
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT
Line: Penn State -9.5
Oh, super. James Franklin vs. Jim Harbaugh. Hooray.
Well, Penn State had a long offseason to stew about its 49-10 last September in Ann Arbor. With Michigan losing basically its entire starting lineup in the offseason, and Penn State retaining just about everyone from a Big Ten championship team, the conditions are ripe for a Nittany Lions beatdown.
If the scenario plays out as anticipated, Franklin can make some passive-aggressive comments that Harbaugh will passive-aggressively respond to, and pundits can throw out misleading statistics to disparage the work Harbaugh’s done at Michigan.
You know, despite pitting two historic powerhouses and burgeoning rivals in a Top 20 match, the outside implications of this game feature so much of what I find most exhausting in the sport. So let’s focus on the good as much as possible, which there’s plenty of.
Obviously Saquon Barkley is one of the most electrifying players in the nation. An odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy at this juncture, he’s presented the first of three straight opportunities to essentially lock up the award. Quarterback Trace McSorley adds the necessary dynamic to keep defenses from selling out entirely on Barkley.
However, I expect Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, one of the sharpest minds in the game, to replicate the issues Iowa presented Penn State’s offense.
Michigan needs to turn this into a rock fight to compensate for the Wolverines’ offensive ineptitude. They have not scored in the 30s since blowing out Cincinnati in Week 2, and have managed just 30 points total in regulation of their last two contests.
The Michigan defense will give the Wolverines opportunities to win, but the offense will not capitalize.
PREDICTION: Penn State 21, Michigan 10
No. 11 USC at No. 13 NOTRE DAME
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT
Line: Notre Dame -3.5
Y’know, it’s about damn time the USC-Notre Dame game had so much at stake. It’s been eight years since both were ranked when facing off, and 11 since the two were positioned as highly as they are heading into Saturday’s matchup.
With both suffering close losses to quality opponents earlier in the season, the rivalry also functions as a de facto Playoff elimination game. What more could you ask for in such a matchup?
Well, if you’re a USC fan, you’d probably like to have a healthier lineup. The loss of offensive lineman Viane Talamaivao for the season three weeks ago at Washington State looms against the Notre Dame defense, and Trojans preseason All-American defensive end Porter Gustin remains sidelined with a biceps injury.
Both could factor into Saturday’s outcome. Notre Dame has won the last two at home in the series, and this is probably the best all-around team Brian Kelly has had over that stretch. The rushing tandem of Josh Adams and Brandon Wimbush — the “two-headed monster,” as USC head coach Clay Helton deemed it — powers a fun Fighting Irish offense.
USC’s defensive front has been excellent this season, but also prone to giving up a handful of explosive plays. The Irish might need just a few to take control.
Sam Darnold showed flashes of being THAT Sam Darnold in the second half against Utah. The Utes front of Filipo Mokofisi and Lowell Lotulelei is as good as any in college football, and Darnold spent much of the second half operating from a clean pocket. Jerry Tillery, Daelin Hayes and Co. need to slow Ronald Jones II and the USC run to turn up the pressure on Darnold.
This should be an exciting, back-and-forth contest that lives up to the historic roots of the series. Sadly for USC fans, it might also mark the end of the Trojans’ national championship dreams.
PREDICTION: Notre Dame 35, USC 31