As conference play in college football heats up, fans will be rewarded with several pivotal match ups that will decisively determine the kings of each respective conference. This week, the Pac-12 and the ACC will be in the spotlight as there are several teams that will look to continue their reign of dominance to take their place at the pinnacle of their respective conferences. While the successes or failures of each team this week will not completely determine their ultimate destinies, it is paramount that the legitimate contenders continue to build off their previous victories to put themselves in a prime position to qualify for the College Football Playoff.
1. Miami Hurricanes (14) vs. Duke Blue Devils
The first of many meaningful conference contests, the well-disciplined Blue Devils will finally have an opportunity to prove themselves against a worthy opponent in the Hurricanes. While the Blue Devils’ defense has been tenacious and resilient in all of their previous match ups, they have not faced a veteran passer with the pedigree that junior quarterback Malik Rosier brings to the table. An accurate (68.8 CMP%) and efficient downfield passer (8.59 yards per pass attempt), Rosier will truly test a Blue Devils secondary that is prone to giving up big plays. However, the Blue Devils have been impressive when protecting the end zone and have one of the more physical defensive fronts in college football. It’ll be a difficult test for both teams, but the Blue Devils have the dynamic capabilities on both offense and defense to outlast a persistent Hurricanes team.
Final Score: Hurricanes 24 Blue Devils 28 Spread: Miami -6.5
2. USC Trojans (5) vs. Washington State Cougars (16)
If you like fierce offensive shoot outs, you will most definitely enjoy this Pac-12 match up between two undefeated opponents. While USC quarterback Sam Darnold’s touchdown to interception ratio has been unimpressive this season (9 touchdowns, 7 interceptions), he has done a fantastic job at putting the ball on target (67.1 CMP%) and is not afraid to take shots downfield, especially against the AP top 25 (12.15 yards per pass attempt against the AP top 25). However, senior quarterback Luke Falk has been sensational when it comes to protecting the football (14 touchdowns, 1 interception) and sports one of the best completion percentages in college football (76.9%). While the Trojans have a superior rushing attack, the stingy defense of the Cougars will do just enough for them to secure a surprising and important victory at home.
Final Score: Trojans 38 Cougars 45 Spread: USC -3.5
3. Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Florida Gators (21)
While the struggles for these two teams have been similar, the results have been noticeably different for these SEC teams that are overly-reliant on their respective defenses. Although they played the Crimson Tide, the once stout and disciplined Commodores defense was decimated at home to the tune of a 59-0 blowout. Although the Gators have won their last two contests against conference opponents, they needed two late comebacks to come out on top. While both teams have their issues on offense, the Gators at least have a competent rushing attack and quarterback Felipe Franks has enough big play ability to allow the Gators to win this contest albeit by the slimmest of margins.
Final Score: Commodores 20 Gators 21 Spread: Florida -9.5
4. Northwestern Wildcats vs. Wisconsin Badgers (10)
Although it would be easy to deem this particular match up as a defensively dominated grudge match, the improved quarterback play for both programs could present a different story. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is clearly a much more confident passer as his yards per pass attempt number has improved dramatically in his junior season (6.66 YPA as a sophomore, 8.68 YPA as a junior). For the Badgers, sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook has looked like one of the most improved players in college football in every way from his completion percentage (58.6% as a freshman, 70% as a sophomore) to his yards per pass attempt (6.97 as a freshman, 10.01 as a sophomore). While these much improved passesr will be worth keeping an eye on, the stout defense of the Badgers will ultimately overwhelm the offensive line of the Wildcats.
Final Score: Wildcats 23 Badgers 28 Spread: Wisconsin -15.5
5. Georgia Bulldogs (7) vs. Tennessee Volunteers
Given the overall records of these two teams, it would initially seem that this match up could be considered a tightly competitive affair. However, a closer look at each teams capabilities and degree of competition they have faced and it becomes clear that the Bulldogs are the favorites to win this SEC contest. While the Bulldogs sport an anemic passing attack, their dynamic rushing attack and formidable defense has been their recipe for success as they secured legitimate victories against Notre Dame and Mississippi State. The Volunteers on the other hand are barely an above average team on paper and even these numbers are skewed as they have played only one ranked opponent and barely beat UMASS at home. Based on those results and the fact that Bulldogs are proven winners against legitimate competition is more than enough to anoint Georgia as the clear victors in this contest.
Final Score: Bulldogs 35 Volunteers 17 Spread: Georgia -7.5
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs (24) vs. Auburn Tigers (13)
After losing in blowout fashion on the road against the Georgia Bulldogs, the Mississippi State Bulldogs will look to get back on track against another defensively gifted opponent in the Tigers. While both teams struggle to pass the ball, they possess physical running games and have relied on them heavily to pound opposing defenses into submission. Up to this point, both teams have been particularly hard to gauge as they have legitimate wins on their resume while also having an embarrassing loss in the books as well. While the Tigers have the slightly better defense, the Bulldogs are a bit more proficient at scoring the football and will ultimately eek out a much needed victory as a result.
Final Score: Bulldogs 24 Tigers 20 Spread: Auburn -9.0
7. South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Texas A&M Aggies
Although both of these teams are completely one-dimensional, the fact that they are completely predictable in two very different ways could actually make this a compelling contest. For the Gamecocks, they are a solid defensive unit that is reliant upon solid quarterback play to score just enough points to escape with a win. Conversely, the Aggies are a high-scoring team that is devoid of a reliable passer but has a tremendous rushing attack led by sophomore running back Trayveon Williams. While the Gamecocks are more than capable of leaning on their defense to win crucial games, the big play ability of Williams will be too much for the Gamecocks to handle in this instance.
Final Score: Gamecocks 21 Aggies 29 Spread: Texas A&M -8.5
8. Oklahoma State Cowboys (15) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Initially, it would appear that the Cowboys have a distinct advantage in this contest if only because they have a notable Heisman candidate on their roster in quarterback Mason Rudolph. However, the Red Raiders could be considered slightly more prolific in terms of passing yards as senior quarterback Nic Shimonek has done an incredible job at dismantling opposing defenses. While both of these quarterbacks will be expected to carry their teams to a shoot out victory, the Cowboys are much more balanced on offense as running back Justice Hill can easily be relied on as a capable scorer if Rudolph gets into a funk. It will be a classic Big 12 affair that contains all offense with defenses barely factoring in to determine the final outcome.
Final Score: Cowboys 49 Red Raiders 38 Spread: Oklahoma State -9.5
9. Clemson Tigers (2) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (12)
The battle for the ACC heats up once again as the versatile Tigers will face an immensely tough road challenge in the Hokies. While Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant has looked fantastic in his inaugural season as the Tigers starting passer, freshman quarterback Josh Jackson has proven to be a true dual threat quarterback. His 11 touchdowns to one interception passing ratio combined with his capabilities as a rushing threat (4.5 yards per rush) will give the Tigers defense all it can handle. While Clemson boasts a superior rushing attack, albeit one that pales in comparison to what they had last year, I love what Josh Jackson does as a smart and versatile offensive asset. Jackson’s strong connection with wide receiver Cam Phillips combined with the Hokies intimidating defense should allow the home team to persevere in the waning seconds of this contest.
Final Score: Tigers 27 Hokies 29 Spread: Clemson -7.5
10. Ole Miss Rebels vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (1)
While it would be nice to finally say that the Crimson Tide have finally met their match, that statement cannot be made just yet. Although the Rebels have one of the best passing attacks in the country with quarterback Shea Patterson at the helm, their lack of a capable rushing game will prevent them from excelling against a Crimson Tide defense that is well-coached and can quickly sniff out an opponents weakness. It will be fairly close contest initially, but Alabama’s tenacious defense combined with their formidable running game will be too much for the Rebels average defense to hold off in the end.
Final Score: Rebels 26 Crimson Tide 41 Spread: Alabama -27.5