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Bold predictions for college football’s home stretch

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Focused on College Football Playoff hopefuls.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Since college football is always good for a surprise or seven down the stretch, the closing weeks of the 2018 season should be captivating.

Where might the biggest results happen, though? Which top-ranked programs will falter, and who will secure a place in the spotlight?

These predictions are focused on College Football Playoff hopefuls and how we anticipate they’ll wrap up the regular season.

After all, the national championship is the target.

 

Syracuse upsets Notre Dame

Syracuse head coach Dino Babers

Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

There will be plenty of points scored when Notre Dame and Syracuse meet at Yankee Stadium. Syracuse boasts the seventh-highest average in the country, and Notre Dame has thrived since turning to Ian Book at quarterback. Though he missed the clash against Florida State, Book is expected to start in this showdown. But his return won’t be enough for the Fighting Irish, who haven’t encountered an offense with a quarterback as versatile or productive as Eric Dungey. The first poor showing by Notre Dame’s defense all season will doom the Irish.

 

West Virginia ends with two straight losses

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Dana Holgorsen and his Mountaineers are nearing a sensation year. Holding an 8-1 record entering the final two regular-season weeks, West Virginia is three victories away from a potential College Football Playoff berth. This is as close as the Mountaineers will come, however. They head to Oklahoma State, which clipped Texas and nearly stunned Oklahoma. WVU won’t navigate that road trip to Stillwater. Then, with a Big 12 Championship Game berth at stake, the ‘Eers will fall to Kyler Murray and Oklahoma. A suspect defense will lead to West Virginia’s demise.

 

Washington knocks off Washington State

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Washington hasn’t done much of that “scoring” thing in 2018, mustering only 24.3 points per game against Pac-12 foes. Despite the program’s recent success opposite in-state rival Washington State, this matchup is squarely in Wazzu’s favor. The Cougs have ceded only 22.1 points per game this season and are 5-0 at home with marquee victories over Utah and Oregon. All three of UW’s losses have happened outside of Seattle. Call this the trend-breaker. Washington’s outstanding defense will own the day and give the Huskies a spot in the Pac-12 title.

 

Michigan holds Ohio State to 14 points

Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines have quite the test in college football Week 1

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Buckeyes are in bad shape. A typically sound defense is problematic, and the scoring attack has lost the explosiveness it showed early in the season. When rival Michigan comes to Columbus, Ohio State will not lack motivation. That won’t lead to points, though. The Buckeyes desperately need to attack downfield, but the passing game has devolved into a collection of slants, drags, screens and swings. And running the ball? Forget about it. Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are going to put a thorough smackdown on the Buckeyes and crush their CFP dreams.

 

Clemson wins every remaining game by 21 points

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Dabo Swinney’s team is cruising since making the permanent switch from Kelly Bryant to Trevor Lawrence. The offense has soared to another level of effectiveness. Even against a solid Boston College squad on the road, Clemson earned a 20-point triumph. And none of the Tigers’ remaining opponents — Duke, South Carolina or the ACC Coastal champion, likely Pitt — are more threatening than Boston College. They’re all 57th or worse in yards allowed per play this season. Clemson will cruise to its fourth straight College Football Playoff appearance.

 

Iowa State makes the Big 12 championship

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Winning the crown is a different story, but it’s been quite the season for Iowa State. September included two conference losses, yet the Cyclones are a small string of favorable results from heading to Arlington anyway. If Iowa State defeats both Texas and Kansas State, a West Virginia loss would propel the Cyclones into the Big 12 title. And if the Mountaineers fall twice, a single victory over Texas would secure that spot. Even if Iowa State couldn’t get past OU for the championship, it would be a remarkable year for Matt Campbell’s crew.

 

UCF finishes No. 9 in CFP ranking

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Given the remaining head-to-head matchups between current top-10 teams, several of those programs will dip in the rankings. And UCF? Well, the Knights will keep winning and hoping for a chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage — one that won’t arrive. Instead, UCF will end 12-0 with another AAC title and finish narrowly shy of the College Football Playoff. They’ll be tucked behind LSU, Georgia, Notre Dame and Washington and return to the Peach Bowl. Another showdown with an SEC squad is a fine consolation, but it’s a consolation nonetheless.

 

CFP is Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Oklahoma

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

While this isn’t necessarily a surprising group, it’s our firm prediction for finalists. Alabama and Clemson are obvious choices. Notre Dame’s loss would mean the selection committee can place a one-loss conference champion over the Fighting Irish without much of an argument. That’s a much different conversation if Notre Dame is undefeated. Michigan’s beatdown of Ohio State and subsequent Big 12 title would solidify the Wolverines’ spot. The lucky late-rising squad would be Oklahoma, which would earn the program’s third trip to the CFP in the last four seasons.

 

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