ACC: Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech
With three weeks left in the regular season, this is easily the biggest game in the ACC this week as these two teams and Virginia are all locked in a three-way race for the Coastal division crown. The loser of this game will likely be eliminated from the picture, so this is certainly going to be one to watch.
Virginia Tech has been on a roll so far after starting the year an ugly 2-2, which included close wins over Old Dominion and FCS Furman, a season-opening loss to Boston College, and a brutal 45-10 drubbing to Duke. The Hokies have won five of their last six games and nearly upset Notre Dame three weeks ago, but now have to focus in on winning out to get to the ACC title game. They have been great on defense, as has been the case for the last two decades, and have seen Hendon Hooker come in and perform very well at quarterback in place of the injured Ryan Willis.
The Pittsburgh Panthers need a little more help to win the Coastal as they will need to win out and hope the Hokies can beat the Cavaliers next week. They need to hope quarterback Kenny Pickett continues to play like he has all season, but, like the Hokies, they have put a lot of success on their defense, which has recorded 45 sacks this year. This should be a defensive slugfest and it could ride on which offense makes a play late. I think that will be the hot team right now.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Pittsburgh 14
American Athletic: Temple at 19 Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Bearcats are still very much alive for the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl appearance, but they will need to continue winning if they want to get in. Right now, it seems that spot is reserved for the AAC champion and the Bearcats want to be it. They will have to get past a tough Temple Owls team to get there, however.
Temple is the only team that can keep Cincinnati from getting to the conference championship game and if they win, it is a very real possibility that the Owls will win the East division. Anthony Russo has played great all year at quarterback, but it certainly helps that he has receivers like Jadan Blue and Branden Mack catching passes for him. It is also pretty rare to see all of a team’s sacks come from the defensive line, but that is true for Temple. Quincy Roche leads with 9.5 sacks while Ifeanyi Maijeh has six.
The Bearcats have not lost since that 42-0 blowout to Ohio State, which looks like an amazing loss for Cincinnati at this point. It seems that loss flipped a switch for this team and they have been on fire since. Ja’Von Hicks leads the way with four interceptions on defense and Michael Warren II has been their go-to guy on offense as he has over 800 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns.
The Bearcats lock up the AAC East with a win, but with Memphis on the horizon next week in what could be a preview of the conference title game, they cannot look ahead. They have a good shot of making the Cotton Bowl with a conference championship, but a 12-1 record would help them out much more.
Prediction: Cincinnati 31, Temple 20
Big 12: Texas at 14 Baylor
Baylor suffered a collapse comparable to the Atlanta Falcons’ Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots when they fell to the Oklahoma Sooners last week. Now, they have a lot of work to do if they are going to have any chance of playing for a national championship. They will have to bounce back this week as they host the Texas Longhorns, who are also coming off a shocking loss to Iowa State.
One good thing the Bears can take away from their loss last week is that essentially shut down Jalen Hurts for three quarters. They forced him to turn the ball over three times and nearly recovered a third Hurts fumble in the fourth that would have sealed the game. They should have a pretty good time against Texas if they can do the same, but they will need to get a rushing attack going and not have their quarterback lead with 65 yards.
The Longhorns had a rough time against the Cyclones last week as Iowa State hit a last second field goal to steal the 23-21 win. Sam Ehlinger had another NFL type performance, throwing for over 250 yards and three touchdowns, but the team couldn’t get anything going on the ground as Ehlinger led the team with only 27 yards on 12 carries.
Expect this game to be an air raid shoot out, but I think the Bears get this win by making enough plays down the stretch.
Prediction: Baylor 42, Texas 33
Big Ten: 8 Penn State at 2 Ohio State
I don’t think anyone has questioned Ohio State’s position in the top four all year and many believe they should be sitting atop the College Football Playoff rankings. They will get a chance to prove themselves this week as they play host to the Penn State Nittany Lions in a top ten matchup that will likely decide the Big Ten East division and will be the site of College GameDay this week.
The Buckeyes have beaten teams by an average of 41.7 points a game this year and that includes a 51-10 beatdown of Indiana and a 38-7 domination of Wisconsin, both teams that are either in or have been flirting with the top 25 all year. They have their toughest tests of the year when they host Penn State and then go to Michigan next week. Justin Fields will have to keep his team nailed down on offense and star defensive end Chase Young could be returning this week, so that will help them out tremendously.
Penn State bounced back from their first loss and held off the Hoosiers last week. They are going to have play much better this week and they won’t have the luxury of playing a backup quarterback like they did with Indiana. Their upset is going to fall solely on the defense and if they can stop Heisman Trophy candidate Fields this week. While they will do their best and give them a scare, I just don’t see it happening this week.
Prediction: Ohio State 34, Penn State 24
Conference USA: Louisiana Tech at UAB
It could be a wild finish to the college football season in the Conference USA and it starts with this week. This game and the Southern Mississippi-Western Kentucky game will help decide who plays in the conference title game in December. While the UAB Blazers’ chances to win the West division are slim, winning out will give them a shot. Louisiana Tech, on the other hand, still controls its own destiny but the loss to Marshall last week made their path just a little more difficult.
With the loss to Marshall last week, the Bulldogs now only hold the head-to-head tiebreaker lead over Southern Mississippi for the West division. They go into this game without starting quarterback J’Mar Smith, who was suspended for two games ahead of the loss to the Thundering Herd last Friday. That leaves Aaron Allen to lead the team and he proved that he is not the same athlete as Smith after going 19-32 with 159 yards and no touchdowns last week. The offense looked lost without Smith, but they will hope than a full week of practice with Allen will fair better for them against the Blazers.
Speaking of, the Blazers will need to get pressure on Allen this week and hopefully force him to make mistakes if they are going to pull out the win. Kristopher Moll and Jordan Smith have 14 of the team’s 34 sacks on the year, so blitzing them will give them a chance. Tyler Johnston III will have one big job this week as well: get the ball to Austin Watkins.
After watching how confused the Bulldogs looked without Smith at the helm, it is hard for me not to pick the Blazers to pull the upset and give them some hope for the Conference USA West crown.
Prediction: UAB 30, Louisiana Tech 17
Mid-American: Ball State at Kent State
Let’s be honest, the best football from the MAC happens early in the week, so this leaves us with just one game from the conference on Saturday. However, with both teams sitting at 4-6, they are fighting for bowl eligibility, so this could be fun to watch. The Ball State Cardinals have not made a bowl since 2013 while the Kent State Golden Flashes have not made one since a year prior in 2012.
The Kent State Golden Flashes are coming off a huge win over Buffalo last week and in their three games prior were seven, seven, and two points away from getting wins, so they could be sitting at 7-3 and looking at a division championship had things gone differently. Dustin Crum has had a great season so far, throwing for over 1,700 yards while running for over 400 and accounting for 19 touchdowns against just two interceptions. He is going to be a big factor for Kent State in this game.
The Ball State Cardinals have not had a ton of luck since being in the lead for the West division a month ago. They have lost three straight games - albeit by an average of six points - and are on the verge of missing the bowl season altogether. Drew Plitt is having a great season as well, throwing for nearly 2,400 yards and accounting for 24 touchdowns against seven interceptions. The difference maker for the Cardinals, however, will be running back Caleb Huntley, who is pushing closer to the 1,000-yard mark. Their defense has also brought in a league-high 13 interceptions, including Antonio Phillips’s four picks. This will help lead to Ball State’s win and keep them in high hopes for a bowl game.
Prediction: Ball State 27, Kent State 13
Mountain West: 20 Boise State at Utah State
There is no game bigger than this one in the Mountain West this week as the winner of this game will essentially clinch the Mountain division and likely face off against San Diego State for the conference title. Boise State has been the odds on favorite to win the conference this year, but Utah State has stuck around and could pester the Broncos’ chances to vie for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Since Hank Bachmeier’s injury about a month ago, the Boise State offense has not been the same. Chase Cord was pretty ineffective in his three starts, one which was a loss to BYU, and Bachmeier’s return against San Jose State was not what the team had hoped. So they found a new signal caller in senior Jaylon Henderson. He came off the bench and got his opportunity against New Mexico and went 15-28 for 292 and three touchdowns in the 42-9 win. That could be good enough to win him the starting job against the Aggies.
The Aggies got a huge win against Wyoming last week and kept themselves in the hunt for the Mountain division. Jordan Love threw for 282 and two scores, but still threw two interceptions, which is something they will need to fix. The defense had a big showing forcing four turnovers, including a late interception that sealed the victory. If their defense can continue to make big plays like they did against the Cowboys, they could get the upset. But I am afraid that Love might make one too many mistakes in this game.
Prediction: Boise State 37, Utah State 21
Pac-12: UCLA at 23 USC
This rivalry has lost some luster over the last few years and with the UCLA Bruins facing a losing season again, this doesn’t have much riding on it for them. However, the USC Trojans are faced with a must-win situation if they want to get to the Pac-12 title game.
The Trojans are 6-2 in the conference and a win over UCLA coupled with at least one Utah loss would put them in the championship game in December. Kedon Slovis has locked up the starting job for the rest of the season and for the foreseeable future as he has thrown for over 2,700 yards and could eclipse the 3,000-yard mark this week. He will be the biggest factor in the Trojans’ win this week.
While the Bruins aren’t playing for much in this game, they are wanting to win to stay in the hunt for bowl eligibility. They are looking for back to back wins over the Trojans for the first time since 2013 and 2014. Dorian Thompson-Robinson has played very well as a young quarterback in a great conference and Joshua Kelley is approaching the 1,000-yard mark on the ground. The team won’t beat USC this year, but they have something to look forward to in 2020.
Prediction: USC 40, UCLA 24
SEC: Texas A&M at 4 Georgia
The Georgia Bulldogs pulled off a big win over the Auburn Tigers last week, despite giving their best efforts to blow the game late. The team will need to finish the year on a high note if they are going to keep the momentum for the College Football Playoff. They host a Texas A&M Aggie squad that has been on a role since losing to Alabama over a month ago.
The Aggies have dominated their last four games - albeit against four teams that likely won’t make bowl games. They have two tough games to end the season on the road against Georgia and then LSU next week. They want to avoid losses to lock up a better bowl game than what they are likely expected to get. Kellen Mond has played very well this season and will likely return next year for his senior season, which could be the year for him to rise up NFL draft boards. They have also done a good job of intercepting passes, so if they make Jake Fromm make mistakes, they could be on the verge of an upset.
The Bulldogs have not played great for all four quarters in pretty much any game all year. Last week was much of the same after they allowed the Tigers to get back in the game and didn’t score for the last 15:13 of the contest. Fromm did not look great, throwing for just 110 yards - 51 of which came off one play - and three touchdowns. They don’t face another defense like Auburn’s all year, but they can’t take the Aggies likely, or they could end the SEC season with another upset loss.
Prediction: Georgia 23, Texas A&M 20
Sun Belt: Georgia Southern at Arkansas State
The Georgia Southern Eagles bounced back from a blowout loss to Troy with a blowout win of their own over Louisiana Monroe. They travel to Arkansas State this week and this game is going to go a long way in determining the Sun Belt championship game.
The Eagles are 4-2 in conference play after losing to Troy two weeks ago and made their path to the conference championship a little harder. They need to win their last two games and hope Appalachian State drops one to get to the championship game. To get the win this week, they are going to have to rely on their two-headed monster at running back Wesley Kennedy III and JD King, who have accounted for 1,200 yards and 14 of the team’s touchdowns.
The Red Wolves’ path to the title game is just a little bit tougher right now. The Ragin Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette must lose their final two games and the Red Wolves must win their final two to play for a conference championship. They have won their last three games against weaker opponents, but this game will be tougher. Layne Hatcher and Logan Bonner have split duties at quarterback with the former performing just a little better so far. Their defense has allowed an average of 215.4 yards per game on the ground, one of the worst numbers in the country. This will likely lead to the Eagles pulling out the win and giving the Cajuns the West division championship.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 28, Arkansas State 17