IOWA AT WISCONSIN (SaturDAY noon, espn)
Our preseason pick to win the Big Ten West raised some eyebrows, as we are the ONLY preseason publication in the nation to NOT have Wisconsin winning this side of the conference. We are "sellers" this year for a few reasons. The lineage of Wisconsin coaches have done an incredible job with player development, but Paul Chryst has not shown any reason to compare him to his 3 predecessors. With a 4th-year QB with as many flaws as Joel Stave, naturally Wisconsin is a run-first (and second, and third, etc) team. But gone from the 2014 machine are 3 all-conference lineman and a Heisman runner-up. AND that stud "back-up" Corey Clement is out. All of that said, it is Wisconsin's defense that gives them a chance to stay afloat in the division, and will give them a strong shot in every remaining game. For Iowa, Kirk Ferentz finds his team 4-0 and his "warm" seat has finally cooled off a bit. CJ Beathard has been a breath of fresh air at QB, as his predecessors have been conservative game-managers. Beathard brings mobility, and a gunslinger attitude to the offense. Meanwhile, the pair of defensive ends of Drew Ott and Nate Meier has risen to an even higher level. This division is more wide-open than the ACC Coastal - and that says it all. We will learn a lot about two contenders in Camp Randall Saturday. While I see Wisconsin dropping a few more this season, the homefield makes the difference.
WISCONSIN 23 IOWA 17
WEST VIRGINIA at OKLAHOMA (SATURDAY noon, FOX)
We have been lobbying for West Virginia to be ranked for a few weeks, and finally the polls reflect that opinion. The Mountaineers have looked strong, especially defensively, and are the #1 scoring defense in America (7.7 ppg). Usually opening week games against lower-tier teams are ignored, but take note of how dominant this WVU defense was in its 44-0 shutout of Georgia Southern - one of the most prolific rushing attacks in Division 1. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has been up-and-down, strong at times, sleepwalking at others. After a rough first quarter in Neyland Stadium, Baker Mayfield willed his Sooners to a comeback, overtime win. Next, OU was able to jump out to a decisive lead over Tulsa, but sleepwalked in the 2nd half, allowing them to close the gap. We haven't seen a complete 4-quarter game by Stoops' Sooners, and they will need all 4 Saturday. Further, we haven't seen the 2014 level of dominance of bowling ball RB Samaje Perine, who has been contained to just 263 yards in 3 games. I expect the stout WVU defense to clamp down the rushing attack, making OU one-dimensional. Both enter undefeated, but I am calling for an upset in Norman.
WEST VIRGINIA 26 OKLAHOMA 23
ALABAMA at GEORGIA (SATURDAY 3:30ET, CBS)
The Crimson Tide is finally an underdog in a regular season bout. It seems like just yesterday Alabama was the heavy underdog as it traveled to Athens to play the preseason number one Bulldogs in front of a “blackout” crowd. Of course, that game was essentially Nick Saban’s coming out party at Alabama and foreshadowed one of the most impressive runs in college football history. While we look at Alabama in a different light now than we did back then, scrutinizing every flaw rather than appreciating their greatness, Mark Richt knows he is up for a huge challenge. Georgia has breezed through lesser competition and won by an average of 32 points, which includes SEC games against Vanderbilt and South Carolina. However, they have been able to out-talent teams thus far. This week, we will get to see what Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert is all about. In what is perhaps the best run-stuffing defensive front against the best offensive line in the SEC, this game will surely come down to the trenches. Nick Chubb has averaged 8.44 yards per carry and Alabama’s defense has only given up 1.97 yards per carry—pretty good considering two of their games played were played against Wisconsin and Ole Miss. While I expect Georgia to average better than 2 yards per carry, I don’t expect Lambert to play his usual game set up by the run. He will be tested, and I am not convinced that he can do what Chad Kelly was able to do. Not to mention, I don’t think he will be granted the same luck that Kelly had as chucked up balls resulted in deflections for touchdowns. In short, Alabama’s defense will be able to neutralize Georgia’s greatest strength just enough to control this game. If Lambert steps up and Georgia wins this game, it will mean a lot more than one big win; it will mean the Bulldogs are true National Title contenders.
Alabama 29 Georgia 20
BAYLOR vs. TEXAS TECH (Saturday 3:30ET, ABC)
Ready. Set. Go! When Texas Tech and Baylor meet on the gridiron Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, it could turn into a track meet between two of college football’s best offenses. Quarterbacks Seth Russell and Patrick Mahomes have accounted for 32 combined touchdowns in seven games. A week ago, TCU barely outlasted Tech in an exciting down to the wire finish in Lubbock. Meanwhile, Baylor put together a dominant performance against an outmatched Rice squad, piling up 70 points and nearly 800 yards of offense. When these two met in 2014, it was one of the conference’s most exciting games of the season. Mahomes hit Marques Bradley with under two minutes to go to set up a game-tying two-point conversion. The conversion ultimately failed, and Baylor escaped, 48-46. Mahomes, who got the nod over Davis Webb, threw for almost 600 yards in the matchup. Tech outgained the Bears by more than 150 yards, but turned the ball over four times and had 11 penalties for 125 yards. Baylor and Tech each returned 17 starters this season, tied for most in the Big 12, so this year’s game could look remarkably similar. Seth Russell isn’t the quarterback Bryce Petty was, however. What happens in Arlington could shake up the Big 12.
BAYLOR 56 TEXAS TECH 45
OLE MISS AT FLORIDA (Saturday 7:00ET, ESPN)
The Rebels may have hit the snooze button last week after defeating Alabama in Tuscaloosa just the week before. Vanderbilt put up just enough fight to make the 27-16 game interesting enough, but talent prevailed and the Rebel defense proved too stout. However, Chad Kelly was a bit too egregious with his throws and ended up tossing two interceptions. Still, the big plays were there as they have been all season, which ultimately decided the game as Kelly eclipsed 300 yards passing for the third time this season. Laquon Treadwell finally found his form in the second half of the Alabama game, and continued it last week. The Treadwell-Vernon Hargreaves matchup will have the attention of every single NFL scout this week, and the individual matchup will have a big impact on the overall result of this game. While Adeboyejo and Core have been great deep threats at WR, Treadwell is going to have to play well in games against top competition to provide Kelly a safety blanket. He is simply the most reliable option. The Florida defense has been playing very well thus far, and should have better success against Mississippi than Alabama’s defense given its strengths on the back end and its pass rush. Jonathan Bullard, Alex McCalister, and Joey Ivie have combined for 10 sacks already and will be in Chad Kelly’s face all day. However, the Rebel defense—even without Tony Conner—will give this undermanned Florida offensive line fits. Florida has only gained an average of 3.5 yards per carry against Kentucky and Tennessee, and neither defense is as good as this Ole Miss unit.
OLE MISS 30 FLORIDA 16
NOTRE DAME AT CLEMSON (SATURDAY 8:00ET, ABC)
I truly do not know what to make of this game. Notre Dame has looked lights out in a few games this season, and not so great against Virginia. Texas has had well-documented struggles, and Georgia Tech’s offense seems to have its own issues that have nothing to do with how Notre Dame’s defense performed. Still, Notre Dame does not have a bad resume thus far. Clemson has looked very good against some not-so-great teams, while looking very mortal against Louisville. The Cardinals’ defense has the potential to be one of the better units in the country, but have not reached that point yet. So basically, this is the least hyped matchup of undefeated teams I’ve seen in a while, especially since Malik Zaire went down with an ankle injury and Mike Williams injured his neck. Still, this is a huge game with national implications. Deshaun Watson has a chance to catapult himself to the forefront of the Heisman race as Clemson’s run game has not gotten going yet, and Notre Dame’s defense is one of the nation’s best. Max Redfield and KeiVarae Russell are two potential All-American candidates in the secondary, and Jaylon Smith is probably the nation’s best linebacker. If the Golden Domers can maintain their “eye discipline” as Brian Kelly says, they can line up with any offense in the country. However, for all that secondary talent, Clemson can match it with its talented skill players. Charone Peake, Artavis Scott, and Ray-Ray McCloud are all very talented playmakers on the outside, and Wayne Gallman looks even better at running back in year two. This game is very difficult to predict because of Deshaun Watson’s presence and DeShone Kizer’s inexperience. Overall, Notre Dame is a better team than Clemson, but Watson can make that irrelevant. And Kizer will be exposed to his first hostile environment (sorry, Charlottesville), so the chances of him making critical errors goes up. Only one of these two things needs to happen for Clemson to win, so I am picking the home team.
CLEMSON 28 NOTRE DAME 22