The college football world was buzzing this week with the release of the first official College Football Playoff Rankings. Defending champ Clemson was not ranked as one of the four best teams in the country and some people flipped out. In reality, it was an overreaction.
Ohio State was ranked No. 1 followed by LSU, Alabama and Penn State. The bad news for the Buckeyes is that no team ranked No. 1 in the first poll has ever won the playoffs. The good news for Ohio State is that if it wins out, it is going to be part of the four-team playoff.
Clemson is undefeated and even though its schedule is weak, the teams the Tigers are competing against are going to weed themselves out. LSU plays Alabama this week. Ohio State will play Penn State in a few weeks. Before that, Penn State has to get past Minnesota on Saturday. Oregon and Utah are on a collision course in the Pac-12, and Georgia has to win out.
We have a long way to go to find out who is going to be in the playoffs. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This weekend, we have some monster games to pick.
No. 2 LSU at No. 3 Alabama
The first question that has to be answered before we do anything with this game is the status of Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa. If he isn’t playing, then all bets are off for how I’m going to handicap this game. But I’m going to assume that Nick Saban is telling the truth and that Tua is not going to miss the biggest game of the college football season.
That said, there is no way after ankle surgery less than three weeks ago, Tua is 100% healthy. I think that will have a big impact on the gameplan for the Crimson Tide.
The first thing that jumps off the page is the total. Alabama and LSU have played games in the last three years with point totals of 29, 34, and 10. The total of 64 for this game is almost hard to believe.
The reason the books put that number up is that neither team features a defense ranked in the top 10 of the country, a rarity for top 5 SEC teams. LSU’s defense comes into this game ranked 23rd in the country, giving up a plump 315.4 yards per game. This is not your typical Tigers team, but Alabama’s defense isn’t much better. The Tide is ranked 16th in the country in total defense through eight games, giving up 307.5 yards per contest.
Both of these teams have given up more than 4.5 yards per play and that has a lot of people expecting a back-and-forth shootout.
However, I don’t believe Alabama is interested in that type of game. The Crimson Tide have played a much softer schedule than LSU. It’s well documented that the Tigers have beaten three top 10 teams already and they are going to be very confident with their new offense heading to Tuscaloosa. It’s hard to see LSU getting shut out like they were last year but I’m not expecting a ton of points in this game because Bama will be fired up to remind the country that they can still play D.
LSU is averaging 46.8 points per contest. If they get to half that number, I think that will be a big accomplishment. If Joe Burrow beats Bama in Tuscaloosa, he will win the Heisman, but last year, he really struggled in the 29-0 loss at home.
On the other side, Tua’s ankle is going to limit what Alabama will try to do with him. Running the football is a pretty easy strategy to predict from the Tide. Nick Saban won’t want to put Tua in a position to fail like he did in the 2018 SEC title game where he threw two interceptions with an ankle injury before being replaced by Jalen Hurts. In addition, the Tide have a stable of running backs who can exploit the lack of LSU playmakers on D. A commitment to running the football will limit possessions and make it hard for a shoot-out to happen.
I will have three plays on this game, assuming Tua plays. I’m taking the first half under of 32, the under for the game at 64, and I’ll also take the points here for LSU to keep this game close.
PICK: LSU +6.5
No. 4 Penn State at No. 17 Minnesota
Penn State is riding high after being ranked 4th in the first college football poll and I think that makes them vulnerable in this game. The Nittany Lions have speed, power, and the talent to win the Big 10, but last year PSU lost to then-No. 4 Ohio State and then-No. 5 Michigan on the road when they were in a similar position. Now, James Franklin’s club faces an undefeated Minnesota Gophers squad which just got ranked behind multiple two-loss teams in the first college football playoff poll.
I think it’s a big deal that PJ Fleck has agreed to a long-term extension before this game because there was a real worry that he would take the Florida State job when he became a target for the position. Now, the Gophers can focus on proving the committee wrong about their soft schedule and chase their first big win of the season.
The Gophers feature an offense that is rushing the ball for over 200 yards per game. Minnesota has pounded the rock to an 8-0 record and a historic start to the season. Penn State will have its hands full with a team that averages over 4.3 yards per carry but the Nittany Lions are only allowing 68.4 yards per game on the ground. That’s second best in the country. Not only that, but teams are only carrying the ball for 1.99 yards per rush. Minnesota will have to find ways to move the ball through the air if it wants to pull off the upset.
Penn State’s offense is just alright this season. It’s nothing special and I think that is a big reason why this game will stay close. I do think Penn State wins in the end but I think it’s too heavy of a number.
PICK: Minnesota +6.5
No. 19 Wake Forest vs. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has been playing well over the last month. The Hokies are coming off a one-point loss to Notre Dame after victories over Miami and North Carolina. Va Tech controls its own destiny for the ACC Coastal Division and the Hokies are starting to believe in themselves. You could see it in the second half against the Irish last week.
Wake Forest is riding a 10-game streak of putting up at least 400 yards of offense dating back to last season and is trying to stay just one game back of Clemson in ACC Atlantic Division.
This seems like a good time to fade the Demon Deacons, however, as they are coming off their most impressive win of the season over North Carolina State last week. Wake crushed the Wolfpack 44-10 at home. Virginia Tech will be honoring the legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster at halftime as he is retiring at the end of the season and the Hokies will be extra motivated to slow down Wake.
The knee injury that kept QB Hendon Hooker out of the game at Notre Dame appears to have healed enough for him to play in this game and that is important for Va Tech to take advantage of a Wake defense that has given up a bunch of points this season. Louisville scored 62 on the Deacons earlier this season.
I’ll take the points in this one.
PICK: Virginia Tech +2.5
No. 13 Wisconsin vs. No. 18 Iowa
The Heartland Trophy has been won by the Badgers six of the last seven seasons. Wisconsin has won this game by double-digits in the last two seasons. In my opinion, the reason why Wisconsin has dominated Iowa in this rivalry is that the Badgers and the Hawkeyes are near mirror images of each other. The difference is that Wisconsin just does everything better than Iowa in most cases. Their QB is better. Their running back is better. Their defense is better.
Both of these teams are dedicated to running the football. Wisconsin is currently ranked 26th in country, rushing for over 216 yards per game. Yet, Iowa is averaging less than 146 yards on the ground per game.
Both teams pride themselves on their defense but Wisconsin leads the nation in yards given up per game at 223.5. Iowa isn’t much worse, but they are still giving up more yards per game at 265.9.
Wisconsin also has defeated Michigan this year where Iowa lost to Wolverines.
One area where Iowa is better than Wisconsin is points per game. The Hawkeyes are only giving up 10.1 ppg while the Badgers come in just behind them at 11.4 ppg. Those tiny numbers are where I’m going to focus my play.
I don’t think Iowa is going to score much but I don’t trust Wisconsin either. The Badgers have lost 2 straight games after being exposed by Northwestern for being a one-dimensional offense and while I don’t hate taking the points, I think the safer play is on the total. Both teams are coming off open weeks and the defenses will be ready.
PICK: Under 38
No. 12 Baylor at TCU
The Playoff Committee gave Baylor and Minnesota all the motivation that they need for the rest of the season. Both teams were called out for having fraudulent undefeated records and both were ranked behind one-loss and even two-loss teams in the first poll. This is Baylor’s first game since the rankings were revealed and I expect Matt Rhule to use the bulletin board material to his advantage.
Baylor avoided the trap game loss last week against West Virginia at home and now begins a four-game stretch against TCU, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The Bears control their own destiny and even though their schedule hasn’t been the toughest, it would be hard to keep an undefeated Big 12 champ from the playoffs.
TCU is 4-4 on the season and just gave up 223 yards rushing to Oklahoma State’s star back Chuba Hubbard. It was the most ever given up in a single game by a TCU defense in the Gary Patterson era. It was a little shocking to see TCU only lose the game by seven points given the fact the Frogs committed four turnovers. The bad news is that TCU has now lost three of four and Baylor leads the Big 12 in turnover margin. If TCU keeps coughing up the ball, this game could get ugly.
The Bears are averaging 9.44 yards per attempt this season and QB Charlie Brewer has thrown 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions. While the rushing of Okie State lit up the Frog defense last week, I think it’s the passing attack of the Bears that gets it done this week.
PICK: Baylor -2.5