We are deep in the weeds of what may be the most chaotic college football season since 2007. There are 13 teams with playoff hopes intact and one undefeated Group of Five team that ranks fifth in S&P+ and will be angry about not getting considered. (Sorry, Central Florida).
This season is crazy and it’s not going to calm down now. We’re at the point of the year where every week features at least two games that function as de-facto playoff eliminators. This week: Bedlam and Virginia Tech-Miami — not to mention teams like Alabama and Clemson facing down tough matchups.
Here are your studs and duds for those games and more.
Tuesday night MACtion is back!!! For some reason the MAC decided to hold off on this wonderful tradition until Week 10, but we had it in full force this week with Bowling Green-Kent State and Miami (Ohio)-Ohio. Sure, neither of those games featured great teams, but it’s football on a Tuesday. What more could you ask?
This feels like a litmus test game for Josh Rosen. The Bruins are going on the road for the second straight week facing a Utah team that’s lost four in a row. Rosen should win this game, yet it’s hard to believe he will. The Utes have a top-30 pass defense by S&P+ and Rosen is dealing with a hand injury that could make things tough, assuming he plays. And that’s without even mentioning UCLA’s own defensive issues. Utah running back Zack Moss may run the Bruins into the ground.
Stud: Penn State
We might be discounting the Nittany Lions a little too quickly after their second-half implosion against Ohio State. This is still an offense that features the best player in the country coupled with a top-15 defense by S&P+. Going into East Lansing is another big challenge for Penn State, but Saquon Barkley and Co. have earned this scribe’s trust. The Big Ten East is far from locked up for Ohio State. However, if the Nittany Lions drop this game, they’re out of it. Penn State won’t lose another must-win.
Dud: Texas Tech
After a hot start, the Red Raiders came back to Earth and landed hard. They’ve lost three in a row and played outright poorly in their last two — even on offense. Against Iowa State and Oklahoma, Texas Tech’s offensive performances ranked in the 22nd percentile, per Football Study Hall. Kansas State — their opponent this week — doesn’t have the best defense in the world. However, the Wildcats have limited big plays in the passing game fairly well. That could cause some problems for the Red Raiders, as will a massive special teams disparity. Bill Snyder’s squad is fifth in special teams S&P+; Texas Tech is 123rd. That will be enough for K-State to win in Lubbock.
The first game with an interim coach bounce-back is always a strong possibility. Given the Gators’ opponent this week, it feels like a certainty. Florida faces a Missouri squad that, despite beating two G5 opponents in the last two weeks, has yet to win a conference game. Even on the road, this is a great game for Randy Shannon to start his unofficial tryout for the long-term gig. Even the woeful Gators may be able to move the ball against the Tigers, who rank 115th in defensive S&P+.
We should be a little more worried about Auburn’s chances this week than we currently are. Not only will they be playing in College Station, one of the toughest environments in the country, but Texas A&M has quietly recovered from a disastrous start. The Aggies are still very much beatable and Auburn will probably escape with a win. But with Georgia coming up next week, the Tigers may start looking ahead a little early. If so, this could be a lot closer than expected.
Oklahoma-Oklahoma State may be the most exciting college football game of the year. An in-state rivalry featuring two of the top-five offenses in the country with the loser out of the playoff conversation. Oh, and this could also be one of the biggest wins in Oklahoma State’s recent history if they go on to win the Big 12 and make the playoff. It doesn’t get any better. If you can make time for just one game this weekend, it’s this one and there’s not much question about it.
Dud: The Big 12 Toilet Bowl
It had to happen eventually: 0-8 Baylor is heading to Lawrence this week to take on 1-7 Kansas. If you’re interested in going, for some reason, the good news is that you can buy tickets in the first row for $6 on the secondary market. The bad news is that you’d be getting ripped off. Free sideline passes for this game would be a ripoff. This is likely the worst college football game of the year and should be avoided at all costs.
Stud: Notre Dame
Two weeks ago, we were saying that the Fighting Irish were about to go through a scheduling gauntlet, get tested, and probably drop a couple games along the way. Well, two games into that gauntlet, the outlook has changed. Notre Dame blew away both USC and NC State. Now, it’s Wake Forest’s turn. The Demon Deacons are quietly a formidable team. However, winning in South Bend is a Herculean task right now. The Irish are crushing everybody who comes in the door. Unless they’re made to throw the ball, there’s no formula to beating them. And Wake Forest — 45th in run defense S&P+ — isn’t good enough to make them throw it.
Of all the five-win teams, Virginia is the one whose bowl eligibility we should be most worried about. After dropping two games they seemed likely to win on paper against Boston College and Pittsburgh, it’s suddenly hard to find another victory on the Cavaliers’ schedule. If they can’t stop the triple-option against Georgia Tech this week, Bronco Mendenhall’s squad will have to beat either Louisville, Miami or Virginia Tech, the first two of those three being on the road. It may be time to start panicking in Charlottesville — or at least thinking about basketball season.
Stud: Iowa State
For the last month, the Cyclones have been playing like a playoff team. Their two early-season losses will prevent them from being in the conversation. However, the Cyclones still have a chance at the Big 12 title since one loss was out of the conference. Since Kyle Kempt took over at quarterback, the offense has been great, scoring over 30 points in three of four games — all wins. As for the defense, Iowa State ranks 22nd in S&P+ on that side of the ball. If they slow down West Virginia, the Mountaineers don’t have much of a chance this Saturday, even in Morgantown.
Dud: NC State
Perhaps the Wolfpack’s biggest weakness on offense has been run blocking. NC State is 85th in adjusted line yards and 105th in stuff rate, per Football Study Hall. Running back Nyheim Hines could also miss Saturday’s game with a leg injury. That is a formula for disaster against Clemson’s front seven. The Tigers can force the Wolfpack into one-dimensional offense with ease. And if everyone on the field knows NC State is throwing it, Clemson won’t have much trouble slowing down quarterback Ryan Finley either.
Stud: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys don’t just have home-field advantage over Oklahoma, they have a better defense by a country mile. Oklahoma State is 33rd in defensive S&P+, the Sooners are 103rd. With two offenses that could be dead even, that’s a pretty important distinction. The best way for Oklahoma to win this game may be to try and dominate possession by running it with Trey Sermon — the Sooners lead the country in rushing, passing and overall offensive S&P+. However, taking the ball out of Baker Mayfield’s hands is a hard thing to do if you’re Lincoln Riley, and it may not stop the Cowboys from building a lead. All it takes is one or two stops from Oklahoma State and that strategy could crumble.
If you were looking for the all-time low point in Nebraska football, we may have found it. The Cornhuskers are one-point underdogs against Northwestern. At home. Yes, that Northwestern, the one that Darren Rovell came from, that isn’t exactly known for its sporting acumen. And Nebraska is probably going to lose — making six wins and bowl eligibility a tough ask. Northwestern can run the ball on the Huskers’ defense with success. On the other side of things, the Wildcats are quietly 23rd in run defense S&P+. If they can win in the run game on both sides, it’s really hard to see any outcome other than a Northwestern win.
Stud: Southern Mississippi
At this point, it’s become almost comical that Tennessee has yet to fire Butch Jones. The proverbial chickens have already come home to roost, but things are going to get a lot worse for the Vols this week with Southern Mississippi coming to town. The Golden Eagles are a top-30 team in the country by S&P+, 76 spots ahead of Tennessee. If fans thought this year was embarrassing, wait until they get blown out at home by a G5 team.
Miami’s inability to blow out bad teams has been more than a little concerning. Especially because they have to play a good team this week. The Hurricanes have scored over 30 points just once in an ACC game this year and that was against Duke. Suffice it to say that they’re going to have a lot of trouble moving the ball against Virginia Tech, which ranks fourth in the country in defensive S&P+. Maybe the ‘Canes’ defense keeps them in it at home, but they won’t get by on talent in this one. Miami has to truly outplay their opponent and they haven’t done that in a month.
As much fun and chaos as an LSU upset over the Crimson Tide would add to this season, let’s not get carried away and think it’ll actually happen. The Tigers have no passing game and Alabama has the best run defense in the country. The game is in Tuscaloosa, where Nick Saban hasn’t lost since 2015. There’s a better chance of a shutout than an LSU win.
A win over Arizona this week would give the Trojans a pretty good chance of salvaging the Pac-12 South and getting a chance to play for a conference title. But it is not easy to see them slowing down the Wildcats. Arizona ranks fifth in offensive S&P+ and has put up 45 or more points in each of its last four games, including 58 against Washington State last week. And USC’s defense wilted the last time it faced a good offense in Notre Dame. Unless Sam Darnold puts up the type of game we haven’t seen from him, this season will go from bad to worse for the Trojans.
The Huskies are the Pac-12’s last hope for a playoff team and it’s hard to see them losing a game before the end of the year. This week, they get Oregon at home and regardless of who plays quarterback for the Ducks, they won’t score much. Washington has the second-best defense in the country by S&P+. If the offense finds rhythm for the second straight week, this has all the ingredients for a blowout.
There’s a temptation to take the Hawkeyes over Ohio State this week as a sneaky upset pick. Kinnick Stadium is a tough place to play and this could be a trap game for the Buckeyes. Don’t buy into it. There’s only one type of game Iowa is capable of winning against a team any better than decent: the low-scoring, grind it out, 18-13 game. That’s fine and good, but Ohio State has the third-best offense in the country by S&P+ and quarterback J.T. Barrett just played the best game of his college career. Iowa won’t get the Buckeyes to play on their terms, which means an upset isn’t in the cards.