Two weeks in a row, the No. 2 team in the country has lost. No, that fails to capture what really happened. Let me try again.
Two weeks in a row, a team that looked and played like they were just adjacent to the best team in the country. Two different rosters where observed, top to bottom, overly evaluated, and backed for almost the maximum approval. Out of all the teams in the country, these two seemed to rise above all but one. Then, two teams invited them in, gave them the impression they could win, and promptly beat them by 20 points.
It is a fantastic reminder that no one is safe and college football is basically a fresh season of “The Purge” every single year. With that in mind, here are the top games to watch.
My Record: 21-14
5 - (14) Washington State Cougars vs. (24) Stanford Cardinal - Stanford the three-point favorite
If the victory over Oregon was quarterback Gardner Minshew’s coming out party, rolling over Stanford will be a stepping stone towards coronation. Washington State is on a rampage behind a quarterback that is second in the nation with 2,745 passing yards and only the Apple Bowl between him and a conference title game.
The Cardinal are comically outmatched in this contest. They fail to bring a pass rush that can stymie Minshew, while also lacking the offensive punch to keep pace with a squad averaging 40.7 points per game. The Cougars lead the country in passing yards per game, with an average of 400.7. Stanford manages 263.1. The mismatch is all very unfortunate for the Cardinal home crowd.
Prediction: Washington State wins 41-26
4 - (2) Clemson Tigers vs. Florida State Seminoles - Clemson the 17.5-point favorite
FSU is a bad team, that is not getting any better. On defense, they allow an average of over 100 yards on the ground and 250 through the air. They are inefficient on the ground, averaging only 2.9 yards per attempt, scoring a modest 25.1 points per game.
The only way that FSU stays in this game is throwing the ball all over the yard and finding some rivalry magic. But in the far more likely event that the Tigers defense crushes the life out of FSU, it will be fun to watch those tomahawk chopping fans sully with disappointment yet again (aren’t FSU fans annoying? I am ok with Clemson roughing their team up).
Prediction: Clemson wins 40-20
3 - (18) Iowa Hawkeyes vs. (17) Penn State Nittany Lions - Penn State the 5.5-point favorite
It is easy to judge a book by its cover. It is easy to see Iowa’s loss to Wisconsin, their lone ranked opponent, and remain unimpressed. It is easy to see a Penn State squad that nearly toppled Ohio State, and roll with them. But it doesn’t mean you should.
Regardless of what you would like to say about their competition, Iowa’s defense has been fantastic. They rank seventh in the country in total yardage allowed (1,807) and 5th in points allowed (14.1 on average). The front seven stifles the ground and pound (allowing 79.6 rushing yards per game) which in turn helps a secondary that keeps teams under 130 yards passing.
The Hawkeyes can trust their defense to keep them in the game, giving them an edge on the road.
Prediction: Iowa wins 24-17
2 - (21) South Florida Bulls vs. Houston Cougars - Houston the 7.5-point favorite
The over-under for this American Athletic conference clash sits at 75 points, which actually may be too low for these electric offenses.
Quarterback Blake Barnett has been a perfect replacement for Quinton Flowers from a season ago. Barnett has racked up over 2,037 total yards of offense and 11 total scores.
Barnett and company square off against an offense that averages 48.7 points per game. Points will be easy to find, and it may just come down to who finishes with the ball last. But the arm to trust here is Barnett’s, who has been the consistent motor on the Bulls through the air and on the ground. Plenty of offense means lots of skill position players will shine, but Flowers will be the athlete to seal the game, as he has so many times through South Florida’s perfect season.
Prediction: South Florida wins 51-45
1 - (9) Florida Gators vs. (7) Georgia Bulldogs - Georgia the seven-point favorite
There are plenty of reasons to love college football. The compressed stadiums, the anarchy of the student sections, the conference rivalries, or any number of other reasons. But the dominant reason college football is consistently compelling year after year, for every program, is the desperation it inspires each outing to the turf.
Every game, a deciding factor between the continuation of your season or the end of it, every clash holding doom or survival. One chance to beat the rival, the prime time opponent, the conference king. Pressure lies thick every time the shoulder pads are strapped on, the cleats laced up and the helmet secured.
That weight seems to lay even heavier on these SEC opponents taking the field Saturday. The Bulldogs are desperate to shake a 20-point loss to the LSU Tigers, while the Florida Gators early loss to the Kentucky Wildcats forces them to run the table. Two teams trying to run the race in their loaded conference can smell defeat licking at their heels, a mere loss from a fruitless season.
Both teams have dominated opponents, but Florida’s best win is over LSU, while Georgia’s is over... South Carolina?
The Gators have an elite pass rush, led by Jachai Polite and his 9.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. The key to bogging down the Bulldogs is getting to quarterback Jake Fromm, something the Gators defense (a unit with 21 sacks and 18 turnovers) can accomplish.
On the other side of the ball, the Gators offense has come alive this season, averaging 34.4 points per game and 408 yards. Finally, a high scoring offense to go with a defense that relents only 16.6 points per game. The Gators are the hot hand to watch.
Prediction: Florida wins 28-19