With only a couple of weeks left in the regular season, highly-touted programs will attempt to finish strong as they compete for just four Playoff spots. Teams such as Wisconsin and Miami control their own destinies as each program could easily put themselves in one of the coveted Playoff spots by winning the rest of their regular season games and both of their respective conference championships. For programs such as Alabama and Auburn, the regular season still has one critical regular season affair to be decided (Alabama and Auburn will square-off in the Iron Bowl in two weeks) before they can even think about competing in and potentially winning the SEC Championship Game. Which teams will continue their streak of dominance? Will any overly-confident programs succumb to unranked opponents down the stretch? Let’s find out.
Mississippi State Bulldogs (16) vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
For once, the Bulldogs were actually competitive in a close loss to a now top-ranked Alabama program. Granted, the Crimson Tide were severely depleted at the linebacker position, but it was encouraging to see the Bulldogs running back Aeris Williams rush for nearly 100 yards and two touchdowns. However, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald struggled mightily throwing the football (completed just 54.2% of his passes), which most likely cost his team a chance at upsetting one of the best programs in the country. While the Razorbacks are not even close to being as stout defensively as Alabama, they do have a nice running back in David Williams (5.2 yards per rush attempt this season), who will have to carry this offense without quarterback Cole Kelley who was suspended indefinitely after a DWI arrest. Given the latter situation, the Bulldogs should be able to take care of business against a physical albeit one-dimensional Razorbacks program.
Final Score: Bulldogs 30 Razorbacks 20 Spread: Mississippi State -12.0
TCU Horned Frogs (12) vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders
With the exception of the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the Horned Frogs had never given up more than 30 points in a game all season long until they faced Oklahoma last week. Granted, they were going up against Baker Mayfield and the red-hot Oklahoma Sooners, but it was still painful for TCU to break where they had been so consistent all season long. Unfortunately, the Horned Frogs will have to face their demons quickly as they take on another prolific passing attack in Nic Shimonek and the Red Raiders (70% completion percentage this season). Luckily for the Horned Frogs, the Red Raiders do not possess a dominant rushing game and, being a BIG 12 program, their defense is quite porous. If quarterback Kenny Hill can replicate his tenacity from earlier in the season, the Horned Frogs should be able to rebound in a close one on the road.
Final Score: Horned Frogs 33 Red Raiders 28 Spread: TCU -7.0
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Northwestern Wildcats (23)
Despite an unimpressive overall record of 5-5, the Golden Gophers actually have a reputable running back in Rodney Smith (has rushed for more than five yards per rush attempt in three out of his last four games) and a vastly underrated defense (have allowed just 20.4 PPG this season, tied for 25th in the nation). While the Wildcats have a stout defense of their own (have allowed just 23.1 PPG this season, 40th in the nation), their offense is at its best when quarterback Clayton Thorson (2583 passing yards this season) is slinging the football with confidence. However, the caveat with Thorson is his fluctuating accuracy (best completion percentage: 76.7%, worst completion percentage: 52.8%), something that has been detrimental to the Wildcats in their three losses this season. Considering the Wildcats are facing a top-ranked defense this week, I see the wildly inconsistent Thorson having an off week on Saturday, allowing the Golden Gophers to pull off an impressive upset on the road.
Final Score: Golden Gophers 27 Wildcats 23 Spread: Northwestern -7.0
Michigan Wolverines (24) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (5)
After losses to both Michigan State and Penn State earlier in the season, the Wolverines are finally back in the rankings thanks to the steady quarterback play of Brandon Peters (four touchdowns, zero interceptions) and their supremely elite defense (16.4 PAPG this season, 9th in the nation). However, Michigan has not faced a reputable BIG 10 opponent in some time, which the Badgers are to put it lightly. Defensively, the Badgers are both opportunistic and disciplined (13.4 PAPG, 3rd in the nation) while their physical running back in Jonathan Taylor (seven yards per rush attempt, 1525 rushing yards, and 12 rushing touchdowns) who has shown no signs of slowing down. While Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook has been less than perfect this season, he does have more arm strength (9.04 yards per pass attempt) and experience than Peters. As the Wolverines are on the road, the Badgers will have the loud encouragement of their fanbase to spur on what is already an immensely confident and relentless defense.
Final Score: Wolverines 16 Badgers 31 Spread: Wisconsin -7.5
Virginia Cavaliers vs. Miami Hurricanes (3)
Although this may seem like a lock for the Hurricanes at home, the Cavaliers are actually better than their win-loss record indicates (6-4). Despite accuracy issues (59% completion percentage this season), quarterback Kurt Benkert has only thrown seven interceptions this season, which is indicative of a game manager that takes what is given to him on the field. With that being said, the Hurricanes epitomize what it means to be an explosive program as their revitalized rushing game led by Travis Homer (6.7 yards per rush attempt this season) combined with their relentless defense (eight turnovers in their last two games) has been practically unstoppable, especially in their two most recent victories. Providing Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier can avoid throwing careless interceptions, Miami should be able to avoid being upset at home.
Final Score: Cavaliers 16 Hurricanes 27 Spread: Miami -19.5
SMU Mustangs vs. Memphis Tigers (21)
A game that could be overlooked because it involves two teams that are not in a power five conference, this will actually be an exciting contest that pits two of the best passing attacks in the country against each other. What Mustangs quarterback Ben Hicks lacks in accuracy (58.8% completion percentage this season) he makes up for with his diminutive number of picks (seven interceptions this season). It also helps that Hicks has a nice pair of receivers in Courtland Sutton (11 touchdowns, 15.9 yards per reception) and Trey Quinn (1008 receiving yards, 10.5 yards per receptions). Similarly, the Tigers have a quarterback in Riley Ferguson who also struggles with accuracy (60.7% completion percentage this season), but is able to minimize this deficiency as he has only thrown seven interceptions this season. While Tigers wideout Anthony Miller is a stud, the Mustangs have more weapons in the passing game, which will give them a slight edge in will be an exhilarating shootout.
Final Score: Mustangs 43 Tigers 40 Spread: Memphis -13.0
Kentucky Wildcats vs. Georgia Bulldogs (7)
While the cream has clearly risen to the top in SEC, the Wildcats are actually a fairly competitive team thanks to an underrated rushing game (running back Benny Snell Jr. has rushed for 4.9 yards per game to go with 15 rushing touchdowns) and passing attack (Stephen Johson has thrown just 10 touchdown passes but has not turned the ball over often as he has only thrown four interceptions this season). However, the Bulldogs possess one of the best running games in the country (256 rushing yards per game) and a stingy defense that is formidable against the run (14.5 PAPG, 5th in the nation). While this game could be interesting if the Wildcats good but not great defense can stop the run, the Bulldogs have too much firepower on both sides of the ball to be upset at home.
Final Score: Wildcats 27 Bulldogs 39 Spread: Georgia -21.5
Navy vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8)
Although the Midshipmen’s poor defense has cost them three out of their last four contests (30.3 PAPG this season, 90th in the nation), their potent rushing game (369.8 RYPG, 1st in the nation) has kept them in games throughout the season. With that being said, the Fighting Irish have one the better scoring defenses in the country (20.7 PAPG this season, 30th in the nation) and a relentless rushing attack of their own that is led by running back Josh Adams and athletic quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Seeing as how the Fighting Irish will be looking for blood this week after an embarrassing loss to Miami, Navy does not have the defense to break through Notre Dame‘s offensive line and will ultimately be overwhelmed when all is said and done.
Final Score: Navy 24 Fighting Irish 40 Spread: Notre Dame -18.0
NC State Wolfpack (19) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
With quarterback Ryan Finley struggling recently, the Wolfpack have been reliant on their physical defensive line and their battle-tested running game (Nyheim Hines has carried the ball for 5.5 yards per rush attempt while rushing for seven touchdowns this season) to keep them in tight contests. Conversely, the Demon Deacons offense has actually improved as the season has progressed as quarterback John Wolford (12 touchdowns, two interceptions in last four games) has looked locked in recently and running back Matt Colburn (3.6 yards per rush attempt on October 21st, 7.6 yards per rush attempt last week) has been much more effective in the rushing game. Wake Forest’s much-improved offense going up against a resilient yet beatdown Wolfpack program should give them the edge in this affair.
Final Score: Wolfpack 20 Demon Deacons 29 Spread: Wake Forest -1.5
UCLA Bruins vs. USC Trojans (11)
With two of the top three quarterback that could be drafted early in this years NFL Draft going head-to-head in the battle for LA, this becomes one of the most intriguing and incredibly exciting contests of the weekend. While Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen has struggled with his accuracy (has completed less than 60% of his passes in his last four games), his 3094 passing yards on the season combined with his above-average arm strength (8.12 yards per pass attempt) has helped his team be victorious in several shootout victories. Despite struggling earlier on in the season (nine touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first four games), quarterback Sam Darnold has been much more efficient when throwing the football recently (nine touchdowns and two interceptions in his last four games). Darnold’s elevated confidence in conjunction with the Trojans prolific running back in Ronald Jones II (1224 rushing yards, 6.7 yards per rush attempt and 14 rushing touchdowns this season), should allow this USC program to pull away from UCLA in the second half of this contest.
Final Score: Bruins 30 Trojans 37 Spread: USC -16.0