MICHIGAN STATE at OHIO STATE
Ohio State had looked like it was vulnerable in recent victories over Penn State and Nebraska. Purdue had just come off an upset of No. 3 Michigan State, and many bettors believed last weekend was the place for Ohio State to stumble. Well, Ohio State reminded everyone that it is still Ohio State and rolled to a 59-31 victory over potent Purdue, which threw for 390 yards. The Buckeyes generated 624 yards of total offense, and C.J. Stroud looked as sharp as he has all season, going 31-for-38 for 361 yards and five touchdowns. The Buckeyes also ran for 263 yards (8.5 ypc). Meanwhile, Michigan State got back on track with a 40-21 victory and cover over Maryland. Payton Thorne was 22 of 30 for 287 yards and four touchdowns, and running back Kenneth Walker III continued his Heisman Trophy campaign by rushing 30 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns. However, the Spartans continue to rank last nationally for passing yards allowed after giving up 350 to Maryland. The Terps made enough mistakes not to threaten Michigan State, but now the Spartans travel to Columbus to face the Buckeyes, who lead the nation in total offense (550.4 ypg) and scoring offense (46.3 ppg). Michigan State got dragged at home 52-12 last year and has lost five straight in the series but won three of the five previous meetings, so Ohio State must be on high alert. Though a game with “the school up north” looms the following weekend, Ohio State should not be looking ahead as it faces another Top 10 opponent this week. Ohio State opened as an 18-point favorite, and the line moved up to 20 before some resistance came on the Spartans. The total sits at 67, down from a high opener of 72.5. Michigan State’s pass defense will not be able to stop Ohio State. But can the Spartans generate enough offense to keep this competitive without turning the ball over?
— Wes Reynolds
IOWA STATE at OKLAHOMA
Oklahoma’s 17-game regular-season winning streak ended last weekend in a 27-14 loss to No. 13 Baylor. The Sooners were held to 260 total yards, their fewest under Lincoln Riley as head coach or offensive coordinator. Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams was creeping up the Heisman Trophy odds boards, but he threw two interceptions and was replaced late in the third quarter by the man he supplanted, Spencer Rattler. The Sooners still control their own destiny to play in the Big 12 championship game, but their College Football Playoff hopes took a massive hit. Now they need to win out and get a lot of help. On the other side, Iowa State was widely expected to be the conference team to challenge Oklahoma. The Cyclones were off a dominating win over Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl and ended last season ranked ninth in the AP and coaches polls, the best season-ending rankings in school history. Now Iowa State sits at 6-4 and is looking at a middle-tier bowl game. The Cyclones fell 41-38 at Texas Tech on Saturday when the Red Raiders hit a 62-yard field goal on the final play. Texas Tech was nearly a two-touchdown underdog, starting a third-string freshman quarterback and playing in just its second game under an interim coach. Oklahoma split two meetings with the Cyclones last season but did beat them 27-21 in the Big 12 title game. Iowa State has not been scared of traveling to Norman, defeating the Sooners in 2017 as a 31-point underdog and losing by a single point in 2019 as a 14.5-point underdog. This time the Cyclones are getting only 4, down from an opener of 6. Early bettors could be thinking Oklahoma’s bubble finally burst in last weekend’s loss and that this could be the game Iowa State treats as its bowl game in what has to be considered a disappointing season.
— Wes Reynolds
OREGON at UTAH
Oregon is the Pac-12’s only hope for a spot in the College Football Playoff, and the Ducks’ path goes through Utah, with the first stop in Salt Lake City. The teams are likely to play again in the conference championship game Dec. 3 in Las Vegas. The Ducks will need quarterback Anthony Brown to be a dynamic playmaker. Brown passed for 135 yards, ran for 123 and totaled two touchdowns Saturday in a 38-24 victory over Washington State. Oregon rolled up 306 yards rushing, with Byron Cardwell and Travis Dye combining for 186 yards and three touchdowns. The Ducks’ ground attack is the key to the matchup because Utah’s defense has had problems stopping the run. The Utes went to Tucson last weekend as 24-point favorites and tried to sleepwalk through the game against one-win Arizona, but the Wildcats put up a surprisingly tough fight. Cameron Rising passed for 294 yards and two touchdowns as Utah overcame a 17-14 deficit late in the first half to win 38-29. “That’s what you call winning ugly,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. With Oregon on deck, Utah was in a lookahead spot, and Whittingham decided to hold out leading rusher Tavion Thomas, who had minor injuries. The Utes have scored 34 points or more in six straight games and might need to win a shootout against the high-scoring Ducks. Circa Sports opened Utah -3 with a total of 58.5. The Utes have been a slow-starting team in first halves, so keep that trend in mind. Also, the loser of this game should be a good bet to get revenge in the league title game.
— Matt Youmans
GEORGIA TECH at NOTRE DAME
Coach Brian Kelly has Notre Dame headed for 11 wins and a major bowl game with only Georgia Tech and Stanford left on the schedule. The Fighting Irish are 15.5-point favorites against the Yellow Jackets and will be double-digit road favorites Nov. 27 against the Cardinal. The Irish caught a lucky break last weekend against Virginia, which played without star quarterback Brennan Armstrong because of a rib injury. The Cavaliers were no threat with Armstong on the sideline in a 28-3 loss. Armstrong was announced as out on game day, and Notre Dame closed as a 9-point favorite after the line opened -5. Jack Coan was an efficient 15-for-20 passing for 132 yards and three touchdowns, and Kyren Williams had 70 of the team’s 249 rushing yards. Williams has 583 rushing yards during the Irish’s five-game winning streak. Georgia Tech (3-7) has lost four in a row and appears headed for its third straight three-win season in coach Geoff Collins’ third year. The Yellow Jackets allowed 505 total yards in a 41-30 loss to Boston College last week and close the season against No. 1 Georgia. Notre Dame has 40 consecutive wins against unranked opponents and 38 straight wins as a favorite. The Irish have not been laying big numbers this season and enter this game 1-1 ATS as double-digit favorites. Kelly might be thinking about style points the next two weeks as Notre Dame sneaks back into the College Football Playoff conversation.
— Matt Youmans
UCLA at USC
For the first time in Chip Kelly’s four years as coach, UCLA will play in a bowl. The Bruins are not guaranteed to finish with a winning record, however, and they have not beaten USC since 2018, so they have plenty more to play for down the stretch. UCLA (6-4) faced a 20-7 deficit against Colorado last weekend before ripping off 37 straight points to win 44-20. Dorian Thompson-Robinson returned from a thumb injury to pass for 257 yards and run for 99, and Zach Charbonnet had three rushing touchdowns. UCLA’s offense rolled up a season-high 502 yards. Kelly defeated USC 34-27 in his first season, but the Trojans whipped the Bruins 52-35 in 2019 and staged a late comeback to steal a 43-38 win last year in Pasadena. UCLA is favored (-3.5) against USC for the first time since 2014. The last three meetings totaled 81, 87 and 61 points, and Circa Sports opened the total at 66 this week. The Trojans limp into rivalry week with a 2-3 home record and a faltering offense. Remember when quarterback Kedon Slovis was mentioned among the Heisman Trophy favorites? Slovis, who has 11 touchdown passes with eight interceptions this season, will miss injured wide receiver Drake London, the team’s top playmaker. It will require some unpredictable heroics from Slovis — or backup quarterback Jaxson Dart — and running back Keaontay Ingram for the Trojans to pull off the minor upset. USC needs to win two of three to reach bowl eligibility. The Trojans host BYU on Nov. 27 and play a rescheduled game at California on Dec. 4. This appears to be UCLA’s time to shine, but Kelly has been a flop in too many big spots, so bettors who lay the points should play the favorite with some caution.
— Matt Youmans
COLORADO STATE at HAWAII
It’s time to start questioning the job security of Hawaii coach Todd Graham, who just made a trip to Las Vegas and lost more than a game. Graham is losing support with the fan base after the Warriors’ fourth loss in five games, a 27-13 decision at UNLV that was more embarrassing than the score. Hawaii, a 3.5-point favorite, was outgained 465-240, even after Chevan Cordeiro’s 79-yard touchdown pass 20 seconds into the game. The Warriors finished with only 57 rushing yards on 28 attempts. Cordeiro, who threw two interceptions, has regressed this season, and dubious play-calling has something to do with it. The bottom line is Graham was outcoached by UNLV’s Marcus Arroyo, who has won two games in two years. Colorado State coach Steve Addazio, who was a questionable hire, is 4-10 in his second year. The Rams have dropped four in a row. Hawaii is in its best role as a home underdog Saturday night. The Warriors are 3-0 ATS this season as Honolulu dogs, upsetting Fresno State and covering the spread in narrow losses to San Diego State and San Jose State. Hawaii often looks like a totally different team at home, and Graham had better hope that’s the case this week. The Warriors ( 1.5) should be the right side against a pedestrian Rams team.
— Matt Youmans
AIR FORCE at NEVADA
In culinary terms, this is meat and potatoes vs. a vegan plate, as it would be hard to draw contrasts much starker than the run-heavy Air Force option and the pass-happy Nevada spread. We saw the latest examples a week ago, when the Wolf Pack effectively gave up trying to establish any semblance of a running game against San Diego State, rushing for a mere 8 yards and letting QB Carson Strong wing it and hope to pass the Aztecs silly. Strong complied as usual with 350 yards passing and three TDs, enough to get Nevada the narrow spread cover, but it was also a devastating loss and a blow to Nevada’s hopes of landing in the LA Bowl instead of the usual December trip to Boise or Albuquerque. Speaking of trips, the Falcons haven’t minded them at all this season, going 4-0 SU and ATS as true visitors after the nation’s top rushing offense pounded Colorado State for 388 yards in Saturday’s win. But that victory also highlighted another Troy Calhoun twist with Haaziq Daniels making the most of his four completions. He threw for 121 yards and a pair of TDs as he has mastered the sneaky downfield passing dimension the best Air Force option QBs have owned. With Air Force also No. 2 in the nation, averaging 36 minutes of possession, Calhoun can likely also play an important game of keepaway from Strong.
— Bruce Marshall
SMU at CINCINNATI
A quick look at the schedule, combined with a review of recent performances, suggests the Bearcats have plenty of work to do before thinking about the College Football Playoff. Wearing a big target in the AAC, Cincinnati has taken everyone’s best shot the last month but has failed to clear four straight point spreads, which began to inflate a bit too much as Luke Fickell’s team kept on winning. With the dangerous Mustangs, surging East Carolina and a likely matchup against potent Houston in the conference title game still on deck, it is hardly certain that the Bearcats can stay clean. SMU might have more than a puncher’s chance. Sonny Dykes’ team is a couple of plays from being undefeated and has a gunslinger QB in former Oklahoma transfer Tanner Mordecai — with 37 TD passes — to put a scare into Fickell’s defense. The Bearcats’ offense has tended to lean a bit too heavily on QB Desmond Ridder in recent weeks, so it was important to see RB Ryan Montgomery break clear on a 55-yard TD run to sew up last week’s win over pesky South Florida. Cincinnati operates best in a balanced look, and since Ridder can be counted on to produce most weeks, it will be up to the infantry to pull its weight. The Mustangs have been itching for more than a year to get another crack at Cincinnati after absorbing a 42-13 beatdown in the COVID-19 season last October in Dallas. The names of Fickell and Dykes are swirling in the rumor mill with more high-profile coaching spots opening before we even get to Thanksgiving. Plenty of moving parts to follow this week.
— Bruce Marshall
TEXAS at WEST VIRGINIA
That snickering you might be hearing in the distance could be Tom Herman, who was run out of Austin for transgressions far less than successor Steve Sarkisian’s current five-game losing streak. This is the Longhorns’ longest slump since 1956, which helped get Ed Price fired and Darrell Royal hired. It’s reaching the point that some are beginning to think hiring Sarkisian, who has hardly suggested that much of recent boss Nick Saban has rubbed off on him, might have been a mistake. This debate could turn into a raging fire should Sarkisian lose at West Virginia. But not much suggests Texas is ready for a turnaround, with the defense having allowed Kansas 49 points in regulation plus the winning TD and two-point conversion in overtime, and Sarkisian still juggling QBs Casey Thompson and Hudson Card. And word that top RB Bijan Robinson is out for the season can’t help. The Mountaineers aren’t exactly rolling down the stretch, either, off heavy losses to Oklahoma State and Kansas State. But Neal Brown has at least seemed more organized than Sarkisian, as West Virginia has maintained about a 50-50 run-pass split. Leddie Brown has run for 751 yards, and QB Jarret Doege has mostly played within himself, though victimized by his 10 picks. Still, West Virginia’s issues seem rather minor compared with the Longhorns’.
— Bruce Marshall
WAKE FOREST at CLEMSON
You could have won a few bar bets last summer if offering that a) Wake Forest would be more likely to be involved in the College Football Playoff discussion than Clemson and b) Dabo Swinney would be laying only a field goal to the Demons Deacons in Death Valley the week before Thanksgiving. We’re hardly sure the number is legitimate, either, based mostly on reputation and not reality. Swinney’s three-game winning streak hardly resembles the Trevor Lawrence days. Clemson produced a last-minute score to beat a sub-.500 Florida State, needed a last-minute goal-line stand to repel Louisville and failed to cover vs. UConn. Clemson has dropped all but two spread decisions this season and nine of 11 dating to last year’s Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State. Granted, Clemson holds a significant defensive edge, but Brent Venables’ platoon has never been involved in the sort of accelerator-to-the-floor games of Wake, with opponents chasing a high-powered Deacons offense scoring 45 ppg. At times it has looked like it could take the Tigers three weeks to score 45 points, and Wake QB Sam Hartman has emerged as a much more lethal big-play threat than Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei, with 30 touchdown passes to the Clemson QB’s eight. The Deacons’ recent painful three-point loss to North Carolina didn’t count as an ACC game, so Wake remains in position to seal the ACC Atlantic next week against Boston College regardless of this result.
— Bruce Marshall
CAL at STANFORD
The Big Game ain’t what it used to be, and we’re left crossing our fingers that they’ll play this one at all after the Golden Bears were so ravaged by a COVID-19 outbreak that last week’s game against USC had to be postponed to Dec. 4. Shades of 2020, when such occurrences were a weekly ritual across the country. Among many things that grate in Berkeley are that the Golden Bears looked to have turned their season around in late October, thumping Colorado and Oregon State after pushing highly ranked Oregon into the final minutes at Eugene. Hard-luck QB Chase Garbers was also putting up good numbers until he was one of the 24 Bears sidelined for the loss at Arizona, which in retrospect probably shouldn’t have been played. If Cal is beyond the virus problems, it should be able to take care of business against a Stanford team that has lost its way for David Shaw, no longer able to play power football. Stanford hasn’t been able to run or stop the run, which used to be its staples, and the QB situation has become a mess since Tanner McKee’s leg injury Oct. 30. Three quarterbacks took snaps in last week’s heavy loss at Oregon State, including Ari Patu, who became the first true Stanford freshman to start at QB since John Elway in 1979. Minus McKee, the offense has managed just 199 yards per game the last two weeks in blowout losses to Utah and the Beavers, and Shaw is now mired in a five-game losing streak, his longest since taking over for Jim Harbaugh a decade ago. At least the Stanford band can still entertain. If Cal is allowed to travel down the peninsula, this one looks teed up for the Bears.
— Bruce Marshall
ARKANSAS at ALABAMA
We’re guessing Sam Pittman and the Arkansas coaching staff are studying video of LSU’s recent near-miss at Alabama like it was the Zapruder film. Ed Orgeron’s defense unleashed a series of blitz packages that had Bryce Young on the run and the Crimson Tide ground game grinding to a halt as Alabama barely survived 20-14 on Nov. 6. We suspect Saban and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien are doing the same sorts of strategizing to make sure that doesn’t happen again, though there has been season-long concern in Tuscaloosa that the offensive line isn’t quite up to standards. The Razorbacks haven’t beaten the Tide since 2006, when Mike Shula was on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa. In the many years since, Arkansas has been unable to get its power-run game to cause much of a peep for Saban’s rushing defense, which ranks third in the nation at 81.5 ypg. As much as quarterback KJ Jefferson has made occasional deep throws this season and mostly avoided killer mistakes with 17 TD passes against just three picks, we’ve seen this scenario too many times in the last decade-plus. We suspect this might be a good chance for Young or Tide LB Will Anderson to make their Heisman cases to a big TV audience.
— Bruce Marshall