Welcome to the best week of the college football season.
Will this also be the week we see chaos atop the college football rankings, or will we see the top teams hold serve against their archenemies? There are big games up and down the schedule with several teams competing for playoff spots having to go on the road in hostile environments.
Could South Carolina shock the world for a second time and beat Clemson? What about Texas A&M on the road at LSU? We’ve got “The Game”, “The Iron Bowl”, “Bedlam” and “The Heroes Game” being played along with a battle for Paul Bunyan’s axe. If you can’t get excited for these games, you don’t like college football.
Let’s make some picks!
No. 2 Ohio State at No. 13 Michigan
Jim Harbaugh is a ‘Michigan Man’. It’s a big reason why he got the head coaching job in Ann Arbor after the university fired Brady Hoke in 2014. As a Michigan Man, Harbaugh knows that becoming the first coach in Wolverine history lose his first four games against THE Ohio State University is not the type of record you want your name on. However, until Harbaugh beats the Buckeyes, that’s going to be a big topic of conversation for Michigan fans who are tired of losing to the rival that refers to the Wolverines as “that team up north.”
Ohio State is undefeated under first-year head coach Ryan Day and any thoughts about the Buckeyes slowing down their dominance of the Big 10 after Urban Meyer retired have been put to rest. This team is talented at every level and has been destroying opponents all season long. However, the Buckeyes looked mortal in the second half against Penn State with sloppy play and uncharacteristic turnovers. Up 21-0, QB Justin Fields had a hard time finding open receivers and the running game stalled allowing the Nittany Lions to score 17 unanswered points to nearly pull off an unbelievable comeback. This will be Day’s first Ohio State-Michigan game and there is real pressure on the young Buckeye coach to win this game and keep Ohio State in the college football playoff picture.
Even with the slight scare from Penn State last week, Ohio State still leads the nation in points allowed and points scored per game. The Buckeyes have already clinched the Big 10 East division and will play for the conference title next week, but “The Game” is more important to some OSU fans than winning next week in Indianapolis.
For Michigan, the offense promised by new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has finally arrived. QB Shea Patterson and company have averaged over 40 points per game over a four-game winning streak that has given many Wolverine fans hope that their team can keep up with the high-flying Buckeyes. Michigan has one of the most talented groups of wide receivers in the country, led by Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nicco Collins who have combined to catch 12 touchdowns this season and getting them involved early will be a key in this game. Patterson will also have to identify where superstar OSU defensive end Chase Young is before every snap. No player in college football has the ability to wreck an offense more than Young and he has already recorded 16.5 sacks and 6.5 forced fumbles.
The forecast for this game is important to watch. Temps at kick off are projected to be under 40 degrees with the potential for snow showers during the game. A wet, cold football could lead to mistakes, and if the Buckeyes are loose again with the football like they were last week, Michigan might have a shot at pulling off the upset.
I’m going to take the points here with a home dog in a massive rivalry game. Ohio State most likely wins this game, but I think the Wolverines keep it close.
PICK: Michigan +9.5
No. 5 Alabama at No. 15 Auburn
The Iron Bowl isn’t just a game. It’s an annual event where the entire state of Alabama stops what they are doing and watches their favorite team play against their archrival. When I moved to Alabama in 2001, the first question I was asked by everyone that I met was which side of the rivalry was I going to pick. It wasn’t just one person who asked that question. It was literally one of the first questions I was asked until people started to realize that I was in the media and from Massachusetts. I did end up siding with Alabama however, after covering five seasons of Tide football.
The Crimson Tide have dominated this game under Nick Saban, but outside of the Cam Newton years, Bama normally has the better quarterback. While we don’t know a lot about Mac Jones yet, he hasn’t seen the level of competition that Bo Nix has for Auburn this season. The true freshman’s father Patrick Nix beat Alabama at Jordan-Hare in November of 1993 and Bo would love to match his father’s accomplishment. However, there is little debate that Nix is the better QB going into this game and Alabama knows it.
Tua Tagovailoa’s injury combined with the loss to LSU has put Alabama in a very tough spot with the College Football Playoff Committee. The Tide cannot win the SEC West and they can’t play in Atlanta for the SEC title. However, a win in this game would at least put them at 11-1 and give them a road victory over a top 15 team. They would be in the picture for the No. 4 slot in the playoffs but they would still need help to get in.
Auburn’s defense has yet to give up 24 points in a game this season and this will be their sixth game against a team ranked in the top 20 when they faced them. The Tigers defensive line might be the best in the country and they held No. 1 LSU to a season-low 23 points in their road loss in Baton Rouge. Alabama’s defense gave up 46 points to the Bayou Bengals in their loss at home to LSU. It’s extremely unlikely that Mac Jones puts up the numbers against Auburn that he did against Arkansas or Western Carolina.
Alabama scored 52 points against Auburn last year in this game but it’s really hard for me to see the Tide coming anywhere near that this year. For starters, with Tua out, I think the Tide will look to run the ball more than usual. Secondly, this game is on the road in one of the most hostile environments in the country and the first road start for Mac Jones at QB. The last time Auburn hosted the Iron Bowl, the Tigers won 26-14 and a final score around that total feels more likely in the 2019 version of this game.
While I don’t hate laying the points with Bama, I’m going to take the under here.
PICK: Under 50
No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 21 Oklahoma State
Welcome to Bedlam, the 2019 edition. For the Cowboys, this game historically has been filled with heartbreak and disappointing losses. Oklahoma State hasn’t won this game since 2014 when the Pokes beat the Sooners 38-35 in overtime. Since that victory, OU has run off four straight, including a 48-47 thriller last season in Norman.
OU is headed to the Big 12 Championship game next week to face Baylor for a second time this season. In the first meeting, Baylor was up 28-3 before the Sooners stormed back to win the game. For Oklahoma to make the playoffs, they need to win Bedlam and the Big 12 next week plus get some help. The Sooners’ loss to Kansas State was not good for their resume and it will be interesting to see how the committee evaluates them if they are 12-1 and a conference champion. Alabama could be 11-1 but not a conference champ but the Tide are ranked ahead of the Sooners at this moment.
The Sooners lead the nation in yards per game with a ridiculous average of 574.7 yards per contest. Oklahoma State’s defense is going to be tested on every snap that OU QB Jalen Hurts takes in this game, and holding the Sooners below their average of 45 points per is going to be a challenge. OSU’s defense comes into the matchup allowing 26.4 points per game and over 415 yards per game. That’s not a good sign for the Cowboys.
On the other hand, Oklahoma’s defense has not been good again this year. The Sooners are giving up over 336 yards per game and 25.5 ppg. The last four opponents have scored at least 24 points on OU and Iowa State scored 41 on them. Cowboys running back Chubba Hubbard has rushed for 20 touchdowns and over 1,800 yards so far this season. It’s hard to think that the Sooners will slow him down in this game.
Last year, these two teams combined for 95 points. The year prior they combined for 114 points. With OU’s defensive issues and Oklahoma State having to deal with star wideout CeeDee Lamb and the other Sooner weapons, I just don’t see how this game doesn’t hit the over.
PICK: Over 69.5
No. 12 Wisconsin at No. 8 Minnesota
The battle for Paul Bunyan’s axe will be a defacto Big 10 West title game on Saturday as ESPN’s College Gameday heads north to Minneapolis for the other monster game in the Big 10 this weekend.
Minnesota has been the little engine that could all season and they have a chance to win the Big 10 West division for the first time in school history. The Gophers are home underdogs mostly because of the road loss to Iowa two weeks ago. In that game, the Hawkeye defense was able to slow down Minnesota and hold them to just 19 points.
For many, the bloom was off the rose after that and left for dead. That happened even with the Gophers’ win over Penn State the week before in what was dubbed the biggest home game in decades. Minnesota QB Tanner Mason bounced back after a rough trip to Iowa City last week to throw for four touchdowns on the road at Northwestern. He will have to be great in this game and not turn the ball over if the Gophers want to win.
A victory on Saturday would secure Wisconsin’s fifth trip to the Big 10 Championship game and a chance to face Ohio State again in Indianapolis. The last time that happened, in 2017, the Buckeyes beat the Badgers 27-21. When the two teams played for the Big 10 title in 2014, Ohio State crushed Wisconsin 59-0. Maybe the third time is the charm, but getting past Minnesota will not be easy.
We should have seen the Gophers coming after what they did to Wisconsin last year in Madison where Minnesota blasted the Badgers 37-15 in the last game of the regular season. That victory, combined with the 34-10 win in the bowl game over Georgia Tech, set the stage for this run in 2019. Minnesota is undefeated at home and the home crowd energy for this game is going to be off the charts.
Wisconsin recovered from the two-game losing streak they suffered against Illinois and Ohio State to beat Iowa, Nebraska and Purdue but I’m not convinced they can win this game. Nebraska hung around for too long and the wins over Iowa and Purdue were at home. I love Jonathan Taylor — he is stud — but the Badgers offense is too one dimensional.
I would love this at +3 but I’ll take the home dog here.
PICK: Minnesota +2.5
No. 17 Iowa at Nebraska
While these two aren’t playing for a trip to Indianapolis or to keep their playoff hopes alive, there is still a lot riding on the Heroes Game for both teams.
Nebraska has a chance to become bowl eligible with a win and if you know anything about the Husker fanbase, getting to go on a bowl trip and out of the Nebraska winter is a big deal. It would also end the year on a high note for the second season under head coach Scott Frost after an otherwise disappointing year. The Huskers came into 2019 as one of the hottest picks to break out and win the Big 10 West, but a stretch of five losses in six games in the middle of the year ended any talk of that happening this season.
The Hawkeyes are 8-3 and if you don’t think their fans want Iowa to make sure Nebraska stays home this winter, you don’t understand this rivalry. While it’s not as heated as Ohio State-Michigan or Georgia-Florida, these two states do not like each other. Iowa’s defense is playing at an elite level and they have only given up more than 20 points twice in a game this season. Nebraska is coming off a 54-7 blowout of Maryland but everyone has done that to the Terps this season. It’s hard to see the Huskers scoring a ton of points in this one.
However, the Iowa offense on the road this year has not been explosive at all. The Hawkeyes scored 18 points at Iowa State, three points at Michigan, 20 at Northwestern and 24 at Wisconsin. Iowa is 2-2 on the road this season and Memorial Stadium is not an easy place to play. QB Nate Stanley has been steady this season but I wouldn’t expect him to put up big numbers on Saturday.
I’ve seen Memorial Stadium be a house of horrors for visiting teams during my five seasons of covering Husker football. However, defense travels and Nebraska just doesn’t have the horses. While I would love to Nebraska win this game and become bowl eligible, I just don’t think Adrian Martinez and the Husker offense will be able to do much against one of the best defenses in the country.
PICK: Iowa -5.5