ACC: 19 Wake Forest at Virginia Tech
It is crazy to think that with just four games left, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons still have a very real shot at winning the ACC Atlantic (and likely the entire conference after that). Without the 62-59 loss to Louisville they would like to forget, Wake Forest is undefeated and likely in the top ten. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, has struggled to get much of anything going, but they have looked better in the last month.
The Hokies were on a three-game win streak before falling to Notre Dame in the final seconds last week. They have a rotating door of quarterbacks this year with Ryan Willis, Hendon Hooker, and Quincy Patterson II all getting starts. Hooker has played the best of all three with a completion percentage of 57 and seven touchdowns against no interceptions. The Hokies have always been about playing tough defense, which has carried them this year with 26 sacks and eight interceptions, six of which belong to Jermaine Waller and Caleb Farley.
It has been hard to deny how well the Demon Deacons have played this season and they continued to have dominant quarterback play against NC State last week with Jamie Newman going for 287 yards and three scores. It helps Newman that he has a pretty good receiver in Sage Surratt, who has 948 yards and nine touchdowns on 52 receptions. Amari Henderson has been great on defense, recording four interceptions and 29 tackles. Wake Forest should win this game, but they can’t be focused on their big matchup with Clemson next week.
Prediction: Wake Forest 38, Virginia Tech 20
American Athletic: East Carolina at 25 SMU
My question for a team the week after they suffer their first loss of the year, especially this late in the season, is how will they respond? That is what I am asking SMU this week after last week’s candidate for Game of the Year against Memphis, a 52-48 loss. They absolutely cannot come in slow against an East Carolina team who is hungry for an upset after falling short against Cincinnati last week.
Looking at the records, you would think SMU would win this game going away and this probably mostly true, but the Pirates will not lay down. Holton Ahlers has gotten better as the year has gone on and you can expect to see him do just that as they finish the season. He will need a little help from running back Demetrius Mauney, who has struggled to get going with just averaging 3.6 yards per carry.
Transferring from Texas has proven to be Shane Buechele’s best career move as he has continued to play like a future NFL quarterback. The junior is on pace for over 3,700 yards and 31 touchdowns this year. It helps that he has two receivers over 800 yards and a running back who is pushing for 1,000 on the ground. They have been amazing on defense as well, racking up a nation-leading 40 sacks. Safety Patrick Nelson leads the defense with 9.5 sacks with defensive end Delontae Scott close behind with seven. The Mustangs will pull away late and hope Memphis or Navy fall next week.
Prediction: SMU 49, East Carolina 19
Big 12: Iowa State at 9 Oklahoma
Two weeks ago, this game would have been seen as a possible preview for the Big 12 championship game. Now, Iowa State is in a must-win out situation if they want to get to the conference title game, while Oklahoma can’t afford another loss if they want any shot of making the College Football Playoff after a shocking loss to Kansas State.
The Sooners are still led by their Heisman candidate quarterback Jalen Hurts and he has shown no signs of slowing down, throwing for nearly 2,500 yards and leading the team with 801 yards on the ground. His 34 touchdowns have also been a huge help for the Sooners this year. They will need to get Ceedee Lamb going early in the game if they want to avoid an upset against the Cyclones.
Brock Purdy is going to continue to get better in his career in Aames and he has a chance to take the next step as the next great Big 12 quarterback in the NFL. Leading an upset over the Sooners would certainly put him in a good position as the team leader going forward. He is going to have to play nearly perfect this week and with the Sooners struggling to stop the pass, it could happen. However, it is hard for me to pick the Sooners to lose two games in a row.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42, Iowa State 23
Big Ten: 4 Penn State at 17 Minnesota
The big games get started early this week as Penn State and Minnesota meet up at noon Saturday. The Golden Gophers would love to open Saturday up with an upset as they look to stay undefeated. The Nittany Lions are also looking to stay perfect and keep their College Football Playoff chances alive.
Nobody expected the Golden Gophers to be here at this point in the season, except of course P.J. Fleck, but they have a real chance of shocking the entire country. They have yet to play a great team this season with only three of their past opponents having winning records, with one being FCS South Dakota State. They get their first real challenge this week, but they are more than ready for the challenge. Expect Antoine Winfield Jr. to play a big role on defense as he has five of the team’s 11 interceptions. He will need at least one if they are going to slow down the Nittany Lions. Rodney Smith will also have to get going early as Penn State is second in the country in rush defense with just 68.4 yards per game allowed.
As you would expect, the Nittany Lions will have to rely on their defense if they are going to win this game. While Sean Clifford has played pretty well this year - he has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns against just three picks - the team has predicated their success on the play of their defense. As mentioned, they allow just 68.4 yards per game on the ground with a nation-leading 1.99 yards per carry. They also have 30 sacks on the year, so expect that to play a role.
Minnesota is primed and ready for an upset and a win that would propel them into the top ten for the first time in team history - their highest ranking was number 12 in 1999. Penn State is also desperate for a big win over a good team that would give them some recognition with the College Football Playoff committee. I am expecting to see an upset in front of a raucous crowd at TCF Bank Stadium.
Prediction: Minnesota 24, Penn State 20
Conference USA: Florida International at Florida Atlantic
It was hard for me to pick a big game in the Conference USA this week with UAB also taking on Southern Mississippi, but this in-state rivalry that has big division title implications won out. The Florida International Golden Panthers are playing for both a possible spot in the conference title game, but bowl eligibility as well with them playing Miami and Marshall in their final two games. The Florida Atlantic Owls are also playing for their spot in the conference title game and hope the Thundering Herd lose somewhere else in the last three games of the year.
The Lane Train has continued to roll along in Boca Raton as the Owls have one of the most fun offenses to watch in the conference. Chris Robison has had a good year with over 2,200 yards through the air, but it has been his tight end Harrison Bryant who has emerged as a top target this year. They will have to get after the quarterback early and often and that will be on the shoulders of leading tackler and sacker Akileis Leroy. Meiko Dotson will need to play a big role as he has four interceptions on the year.
The Golden Panthers don’t have much to brag about on offense, but they will have to rely on Anthony Jones if they are going to have any success against Florida Atlantic. Jones has 638 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Other than Jones, it has been tough sledding for the Golden Panthers. This is always a fun rivalry game, but you can expect to see the Owls pull out the win.
Prediction: Florida Atlantic 24, Florida International 14
Mountain West: Nevada at San Diego State
The San Diego State Aztecs’ week certainly has gotten worse since Tuesday night. The team was ranked in the AP top 25 and probably had a lot of momentum going into the last four games of the year. However, the team was left out of the initial College Football Playoff rankings and now they must work their way back into the rankings. That might be bad news for the Nevada Wolf Pack.
All season, the Aztecs have relied heavily on their defense to carry them throughout the season. You can expect that to happen when they take the field against the Wolf Pack. Luq Barcoo will continue to impress and likely add on to his five interceptions. Ryan Agnew has played relatively well at quarterback and he will likely have to manage the game and keep Nevada off the field.
The Wolf Pack know they have no real shot of making the Mountain West championship game. They do, however, need to get at least one more win to get to the bowl season, so they will be fighting hard their last three games. Carson Strong has put to bed any quarterback controversy.
Prediction: Nevada 31 San Diego State 27
Pac-12: Washington at Oregon State (FRIDAY)
It has been a weird season for the Pac-12. Other than Oregon and Utah, none of the teams in the conference have really stood out and with just four games left on the schedule, these two teams are surprisingly pretty equal. The Oregon State Beavers have been notoriously bad over the last decade or so while the Washington Huskies have been a perennial power since Chris Petersen took over, but it is a different story for both teams this year.
While Oregon State is likely not going to win the Pac-12 North (they can still win it if they win out and get some help) the team still has a chance to do something they haven’t since 2013: win six games and make a bowl. Jonathan has made some good strides in his second year as a college head coach and with Jake Luton playing very at quarterback (1,930 yards, 19 touchdowns, 1 interception) the team could be poised to keep their current two-game win streak alive into the final third of the season.
The Huskies have had a much different season from what they expected to have after being in the preseason top ten. They have had some tough breaks, losing by no more than 10 points in their four losses and falling by four and five points to the conference’s top two teams the last two weeks. Jacob Eason has played very well - throwing for nearly 2,300 yards - while their defense has continued to make big plays with Cameron Williams looking like a superstar in the secondary. The Huskies cannot make it to the Pac-12 title game, but I just don’t see them losing to Oregon State, but crazier things have happened, especially on Fridays in this conference.
Prediction: Washington 34, Oregon State 21
SEC: 2 LSU at 3 Alabama
The LSU Tigers did not need any more motivation for this game, but they got it when the first College Football Playoff rankings revealed Ohio State, not them, as the top team in the country. They will now look to prove themselves and a win over the third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.
If there was ever a chance for the Tigers to beat the Crimson Tide, which they have not done since the 9-6 overtime win in 2011, it is this year. They finally have an offense that can score on any offense in the country while their defense has continued to play at an SEC quality level. Joe Burrow leads the Heisman race right now and is on pace for over 4,200 yards and 45 touchdowns. Derrick Stingley Jr will also need to play at the level he has all year with Damone Clark now having to step up in place of Michael Divinity Jr, who left the team due to personal reasons this week.
The Crimson Tide’s main concern this week is the health of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who missed the win over Arkansas while dealing with a high ankle sprain he suffered against Tennessee. He has practiced this week, but he remains a game-time decision for Alabama. If he is deactivated, Mac Jones will have to step up again. He went 18-22 and threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns, but it was against the worst team in the conference so it is hard to gauge that for this week.
The defense for Alabama will have to step up this week as they have not played at the same level they have in seasons passed. Trevon Diggs and Patrick Surtain II have five of the team’s ten picks so they will be key against LSU’s trio of dominant receivers: Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, and Terrance Marshall Jr. Whether Tagovailoa plays this week likely won’t make a difference in the result. LSU wins a great game, likely coming down to special teams.
Prediction: LSU 36, Alabama 27
Sun Belt: Georgia State at Louisiana-Monroe
Both of these teams have a very good chance to win their respective divisions, but the result of this game will likely put one team much further out of the running. The Georgia State Panthers have looked good all year, so even with a big game against Appalachian State on the horizon next week, they will be focused this week. The Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks are in more of a desperate situation in the West division, so a win is a must for them.
The Panthers have been on a roll as of late and are poised to record their best record since moving up to the FBS in 2013. They are on a four-game win streak and have a good shot at winning this week. Dan Ellington has been great for the Panthers, racking up nearly 1,800 yards through the air and over 500 on the ground with 22 total touchdowns. He and Tra Barnett will have to manage the game and keep the Warhawks off the field.
Caleb Evans will try to make this a battle of athletic quarterbacks as he has nearly 1,700 yards through the air and over 500 on the ground as well. He will be the difference maker for the Warhawks, but it is hard to look past what Georgia State has done this year. The Panthers will win this game and roll into their big game with the Mountaineers next week.
Prediction: Georgia State 35, Louisiana-Monroe 20
Bonus Game (FCS): Kennesaw State at Campbell
In lieu of the MAC conference this week (since they played early in the week), I present to you the FCS bonus game of the week. This week, you have a huge matchup of two Big South teams as top-15 ranked Kennesaw State takes on the Campbell Fighting Camels, a team that is itching to crack the top 25 and get to the playoffs for the first time ever.
For the Owls, it has been all about how well they can run the ball this year. The team has over 3,300 yards on the ground with Bronson Rechsteiner and Isaac Foster leading the way with 621 and 508 yards while David Daniel has been the scoring machine with 14 touchdowns on the year. Joel Parker leads the defense with four of their 24 sacks.
Hajj-Malik Williams has been the difference maker for the Fighting Camels this year, throwing for nearly 1,500 yards while leading the team with 586 yards on the ground. He has accounted for 20 touchdowns so far this year so he should be a big playmaker in this game. The Camels also get after the quarterback, recording a whopping 42 sacks and forcing seven interceptions. That crazy stat combined with the team’s ability to make plays on the ground and in the air should lead to a huge upset win for Campbell.
Prediction: Campbell 31, Kennesaw State 14