OHIO STATE at MICHIGAN
Last year’s cancellation of “The Game” between Ohio State and Michigan due to COVID-19 was the first time the matchup had not taken place since 1917. The good news for Jim Harbaugh is that another loss to the Buckeyes was not added to his ledger. The bad news is that he went another year without defeating Ohio State, as Harbaugh is 0-5 facing the Buckeyes as Michigan’s coach despite the Wolverines leading the series 58-51-6. Ohio State jumped Alabama and Cincinnati to No. 2 in the AP poll after shellacking No. 7 Michigan State 56-7. C.J. Stroud (32 of 35, 432 yards) tied a school record with six touchdown passes, all in the first half. The Buckeyes piled up 655 yards and held the Spartans to 224. Ohio State scored touchdowns on all seven first-half possessions and eclipsed 50 points for the sixth time this season. Meanwhile, No. 6 Michigan suffered no letdown in a lookahead spot as the Wolverines traveled to Maryland and toyed with the Terps 59-18. Michigan mustered over 500 yards of total offense but also scored a touchdown on defense with a 42-yard interception return and special teams with an 81-yard kickoff return. The Wolverines’ offense has improved to 23rd in the FBS at 447.9 ypg but does not approach Ohio State’s numbers. The Buckeyes rank No. 1 in total offense at 559.9 ypg and No. 1 in scoring offense at 47.2 ppg. Michigan ranks in the Top 10 in scoring defense, total defense and passing yards allowed. The South Point sportsbook opened Ohio State as a 13-point favorite last summer. Circa Sports opened Ohio State -7 on Sunday before an uptick up to -8. Ohio State has won 15 of the last 16 meetings, which includes the longest Buckeyes winning streak in series history at eight games from 2012 to the present. Harbaugh has perhaps his best team ever at Michigan. But has Michigan closed the gap enough?
— Wes Reynolds
KENTUCKY at LOUISVILLE
After being canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Governor’s Cup game returns as Kentucky and Louisville meet for just the 33rd time. Kentucky leads the series 17-15. The Wildcats’ SEC season wrapped two weeks ago at 5-3, and they will finish second behind No. 1 Georgia in the East Division. Last weekend, like most SEC teams, they played an overmatched opponent and annihilated New Mexico State 56-16. Kentucky generated 707 yards in total offense but had four turnovers, including three fumbles. The Wildcats rank second to last in turnover margin among 130 FBS teams. Will Levis threw four touchdown passes and became the first Kentucky quarterback to surpass 400 yards in a game since Andre Woodson in 2007 with 419 yards, but he also threw an interception and lost a fumble. Louisville finally clinched bowl eligibility with a 62-22 victory Thursday night at Duke. Quarterback Malik Cunningham accounted for seven touchdowns, five passing and two rushing, with 303 passing yards and 224 rushing yards. Cunningham became just the second player in FBS history to pass for 300 yards and rush for 200 yards in a game despite sitting out the last 12 minutes. The junior leads the nation’s No. 16-rated offense (459.1 ypg) for a team that finished conference play winning back-to-back ACC games for the first time since 2019. Scott Satterfield is in his third season at Louisville, but his first Governor’s Cup did not go well as the Wildcats welcomed him to the rivalry with a 45-13 defeat in 2019. The Wildcats have won three of the last four meetings but are 2.5-point underdogs. The South Point sportsbook made Kentucky a 1.5-point road favorite in its Games of the Year lines early in the summer. These games have been shootouts in recent years, as the combined point totals have been 84, 62, 79, 61, 66 and 58. The total opened at 57.
— Wes Reynolds
INDIANA at PURDUE
Indiana and Purdue have been meeting since 1891 and playing for the Old Oaken Bucket since 1925. Purdue leads the series 74-42-6, but the Hoosiers have won five of the last seven meetings. Indiana has been one of the more disappointing programs in the FBS this season. Indiana was expected to build on the 2020 season, when it finished ranked No. 13. But the Hoosiers are 2-9 and the only Big Ten team without a conference victory, and they were winless at home in conference play for the first time since 2015. Scoring only nine touchdowns over eight conference games gets you a winless record. The numbers show that Indiana has been a bad team: 122nd in total offense, 109th in rushing offense, 112th in passing offense, 129th in passing efficiency, 121st in scoring offense and 127th in turnover margin. Indiana has been beset by injuries, including at quarterback, where it was playing a true freshman and a sophomore walk-on last weekend against Minnesota. The Hoosiers travel to West Lafayette to face a Purdue team that will be returning to a bowl game for the first time since 2018. The Boilermakers are one-dimensional on offense, but that dimension — seventh in the nation at 345.9 passing yards per game — has brought Purdue a 7-4 record. While the defensive numbers took a dive after giving up 59 points at Ohio State two weeks ago, the unit has dramatically improved over last year. Indiana was laying -4.5 on the road for the South Point Games of the Year lines last summer. Now the Hoosiers are getting 16 at Purdue. The Boilermakers seem to have regained some momentum after an offseason that included whispers regarding Jeff Brohm’s status. Indiana’s program has lost momentum and will have a lot of roster turnover among players and assistant coaches.
— Wes Reynolds
WISCONSIN at MINNESOTA
Wisconsin and Minnesota meet this weekend in the most-played rivalry in the FBS. The teams have met 130 times since 1890, with Wisconsin leading 62-60-8, and have been playing for Paul Bunyan’s Axe since 1948. The situation is simple for Wisconsin — win, clinch the Big Ten West and head to the conference championship game to face the winner of Ohio State-Michigan. To get to the title game, Minnesota needs to win and for Nebraska to beat Iowa and Purdue to beat Indiana. Wisconsin has owned the ax in 16 of the last 17 meetings. The No. 15 Badgers got a battle Saturday in Madison but prevailed 35-28 over Nebraska behind 252 yards from the nation’s No. 9 rushing attack, including 228 from freshman Braelon Allen. The Badgers did give up 452 yards to Nebraska, dropping them to No. 2 in the nation in total defense at 237.7 ypg. Meanwhile, Minnesota scored two touchdowns in the first half’s final minute to put away Indiana 35-14. The Gophers’ No. 4 defense (289.5 ypg) held Indiana to 218 yards. With two of the nation’s best defenses taking the field, the total is a low 38.5. The South Point’s Games of the Year lines over the summer had Wisconsin as a 2-point favorite in Minneapolis. Circa Sports opened the Badgers -7 on Sunday, and some early support dropped the Gophers to 6.5. The adjustment from last summer is largely due to Wisconsin being on a seven-game winning streak after an inauspicious 1-3 start. Points are expected to be at a premium, and both teams have a chance to reach the Big Ten championship game, so this appears to be one that will go down to the wire.
— Wes Reynolds
BOISE STATE at SAN DIEGO STATE
Andy Avalos has encountered plenty of adversity in his first year as Boise State coach, but he has something to be encouraged about. The Broncos dropped three home games, a stunning development considering their two decades of dominance on the blue turf, and had a losing record in late October. Boise rebounded and will take a four-game winning streak into this regular-season finale at San Diego State. Actually, the game is on the Aztecs’ temporary home field in suburban Los Angeles. The 9 a.m. PT kickoff was set for CBS because the Mountain West is desperate for national TV exposure, but the strange situation will mean thousands of empty seats and no home-field advantage. The Broncos have a huge edge at quarterback with Hank Bachmeier, who has 18 touchdown passes. The Aztecs’ quarterback production has been dismal all season, and their 10-1 record has a smoke-and-mirrors look. San Diego State defeated UNLV 28-20 last week despite getting outgained 394-290. A good passer like Bachmeier can exploit the Aztecs’ defense. It’s a must-win game for Boise, which is tied for the lead in its division, and these teams could meet again in the conference championship game. The Broncos should be the right side as 2.5-point favorites.
— Matt Youmans
KANSAS STATE at TEXAS
Turn back the clock to Oct. 9, when Texas led Oklahoma in the second half and all arrows seemed to be pointing up for the Longhorns. There was no way to foresee the disaster that awaited Texas coach Steve Sarkisian that day and the rest of the season. Sarkisian surely wishes he could turn back the clock. The Longhorns’ 55-48 loss to the Sooners has turned into a six-game skid, and there will be no bowl. This is Texas’ longest losing streak since 1956, so Sarkisian wants to stop it and take some sort of positive feeling into a long offseason. Sarkisian has frequently switched quarterbacks, but the results from Casey Thompson and Hudson Card have been erratic. Star running back Bijan Robinson, who had 1,127 rushing yards, is done for the season with a dislocated elbow. All that aside, a porous defense that surrendered 459 yards to West Virginia last week has been a bigger problem than the offense. Kansas State, 2-2 ATS in the underdog role this season, had its four-game winning streak stopped last week in a 20-10 loss to Baylor. The Wildcats drew sharp betting action in that game to close -2. It’s Texas that is the 2-point favorite this week. It’s important to monitor the status of K-State senior quarterback Skylar Thompson, who was carted off Saturday with a left leg injury. If Thompson is out, Texas should finally find the win column again.
— Matt Youmans
BYU at USC
If USC officials were planning on a turnaround when firing Clay Helton as coach in September, they misfired. Helton was doomed eventually, yet the Trojans’ situation has gone from bad to worse. As ugly as the season has been for USC, a bowl game is still possible. The Trojans (4-6) need to upset Brigham Young and win Dec. 4 at California, so the odds are stacked against them, and a minor bowl is irrelevant anyway. USC’s future in the big picture is all about making the right coaching hire, and the Trojans have major competition in the market with Florida, LSU and Washington also looking to fill high-profile openings. The worst part of it for USC happened last weekend in a humiliating 62-33 home loss to UCLA. It’s reasonable to expect the Trojans to lack motivation this week after taking a lopsided beating from their rival. In his first career start, freshman Jaxson Dart passed for 325 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Dart has shown the potential to be the program’s quarterback of the future, for those who want to search for positives. USC is 1-4 straight up and 0-5 ATS in its last five games. BYU opened -6 against USC, the line was bet to -7 and it’s probably the right move. The Cougars have more scoring potential with quarterback Jaren Hall and running back Tyler Allgeier, plus BYU is much better defensively. In a 34-17 win last week at Georgia Southern, Hall passed for 312 yards and Allgeier rushed for 136 yards. The Cougars will be more motivated too. BYU can win its 10th game and improve to 5-0 against Pac-12 opponents after beating Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Washington State.
— Matt Youmans
OREGON STATE at OREGON
Now that Oregon is eliminated from the College Football Playoff debate, the conversation will turn to the future of coach Mario Cristobal, who is a hot candidate for the Florida opening. Will the Cristobal rumors be a distraction to the Ducks, or will they stay focused on getting revenge against Oregon State? The Beavers were 13-point underdogs in a 41-38 victory over the Ducks last year. Cristobal has a win at Ohio State on his resume, but it can be argued Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith has done a better job this year. Smith inherited a 1-11 team and finished 2-10 in 2018, his first year. The Beavers are 7-4 and headed to a bowl in his fourth year. Oregon State’s financial resources, facilities and recruiting reach pale in comparison with what Cristobal has to work with at Oregon. The Beavers are the little brothers in this rivalry and will certainly be more fired up. Chance Nolan’s development at quarterback has been a big boost to Oregon State, which got 150 yards rushing from B.J. Baylor in a 24-10 win over Arizona State last week. Meanwhile, the Ducks were getting drilled 38-7 at Utah. Anthony Brown passed for 231 yards, but Oregon was limited to 63 rushing yards in the lopsided loss. The Ducks need to win to clinch the Pac-12 North and get a title-game rematch with the Utes. Oregon is favored by 6.5 to 7 points, which some bettors will see as a buy-low price on the Ducks.
— Matt Youmans
ALABAMA at AUBURN
Auburn coach Bryan Harsin is about to get his first taste of the Alabama rivalry, and he’s not going to like it. Circa Sports opened the Crimson Tide -18.5, and early money moved the line to -20. The Tigers’ losing streak hit three games with a 21-17 setback at South Carolina. Auburn blew a 14-0 lead against the Gamecocks a week after squandering a 28-3 lead in a stunning loss to Mississippi State. With quarterback Bo Nix out for the season with a broken ankle, T.J. Finley started for the Tigers and passed for 188 yards. Tank Bigsby carried the offense by rushing for a season-high 164 yards on 22 attempts. The Alabama defense was far from dominant last week in a 42-35 victory over Arkansas, which totaled 468 yards. The Tide offense is rolling behind quarterback Bryce Young, who passed for 559 yards and five touchdowns to help Alabama clinch a spot in the SEC title game against Georgia. Alabama was a 24-point home favorite in a 42-13 win over Auburn last year. However, the Tigers have won their last two home games against the Tide — 48-45 in 2019 and 26-14 in 2017. Alabama has appeared vulnerable in recent weeks, but coach Nick Saban will have his players focused, and the Tide’s offensive firepower makes an upset in the Iron Bowl highly unlikely. The 20-point line will be enough to get some dog players interested. Harsin’s first season at Auburn has been a bust. With a loss this week, he’ll be 6-6 with wins against Akron, Alabama State and Georgia State.
— Matt Youmans
PENN STATE at MICHIGAN STATE
Remember the Heisman Trophy campaign for Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III? It was fun while it lasted. Walker had six carries for 25 yards last week in a 56-7 loss at Ohio State. The Spartans allowed 500 yards and trailed 49-0 at halftime. Walker was obviously slowed by an ankle injury, while Michigan State’s pass defense, the worst in college football, was further exposed in another embarrassment. It was reported last week that the school is planning to offer second-year coach Mel Tucker a 10-year, $95 million contract. Tucker has a great agent and should accept the deal as soon as possible. Walker’s status is questionable for this game against Penn State, which blanked Rutgers 28-0 last week. Freshman quarterback Christian Veilleux replaced veteran Sean Clifford, who had an illness, and passed for 235 yards and three touchdowns in the first action of his college career. Clifford is expected to return to start the regular-season finale, and Penn State should have a good shot to win because of its defense. It would help the Nittany Lions’ case if Walker is unable to go. Circa Sports opened Michigan State -1, and the favorite flipped to Penn State -1. The buzz about Lions coach James Franklin leaving for LSU or USC has quieted amid his disappointing season, but Franklin could get a boost with a win this week. Tucker should sign immediately. How can a defensive-minded coach with the nation’s worst pass defense get $95 million?
— Matt Youmans
OLE MISS at MISSISSIPPI STATE
On the fast-moving coaching carousel, it’s safe to say no coach will get as much mention in the rumor mill this week as Lane Kiffin, with the Florida opening creating another chance for agent Jimmy Sexton to get Kiffin a new landing spot or an enhanced deal at Ole Miss. But with all the attention on Kiffin, Mike Leach for once might be getting overlooked. Leach’s Mississippi State squad is a missed field goal at Arkansas from bringing a five-game winning streak into the Egg Bowl. Leach covered this game last year at Oxford when QB Will Rogers was in his first year. Consistent with the overlooked theme in Starkville, Rogers hasn’t gotten nearly the spotlight this season as Rebels counterpart Matt Corral, even though he has thrown for more yards (4,113 to 3,100) and more touchdowns (34 to 19). Rogers has also rallied the Bulldogs from a 28-3 deficit at Auburn to an astonishing 40 straight points, while Leach has at least tried to establish a bit of a running game the last few weeks. Though an Egg Bowl trend favors the visiting team, which has covered six in a row, the series angle we might prefer is the Under, which has cashed four straight and is augmented by the Rebels’ six Unders in a row.
— Bruce Marshall
IOWA at NEBRASKA
Considering a landscape that has claimed a record 12 coaches and counting before the regular season has even concluded, Scott Frost can feel fortunate that Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts is giving him one more chance to turn things around next season. But in a nod to the times, Frost has already had to sacrifice some assistants. The season has been frustrating for the Huskers, with all their losses by nine points or fewer, but it suggests a turnaround might not be far away, likely prompting the stay of execution for Frost. Considering all that, especially how competitive Nebraska has been in its losses, it’s no surprise this spread was hovering near pick-’em early in the week. Iowa is not exactly storming down the stretch, failing to cover four of its last five, and Kirk Ferentz made a switch at QB last week, with game manager Spencer Petras benched in favor of the enhanced playmaking ability of Alex Padilla. That move played to mixed reviews in the latest win-and-no-cover against Illinois, but the Hawkeyes’ recipe of defense and field position seems the best course of action for Ferentz, whose offense won’t be mistaken for Ohio State’s. The Hawkeyes need help from Minnesota against Wisconsin to get to the Big Ten title game next week. But as unimpressive as Iowa has looked since mid-October, we’re hardly sure that the Hawkeyes won’t be eliminated from the West race even before the Badgers and Gophers kick off.
— Bruce Marshall
NORTH CAROLINA at NC STATE
This autumn hasn’t gone as planned at UNC, which last summer was thinking about throwing a Heisman party for QB Sam Howell as the Tar Heels prepared to face Clemson in the ACC title game. Instead, the latter looks like it will be Pitt vs. Wake Forest, and any serious thoughts about the former probably ended opening night when Howell tossed three picks at Virginia Tech. Howell’s status for this regular-season ender is in question. He skipped last week’s scrimmage against Wofford with an upper-body injury but is expected to return for what might be his last college game in Raleigh. Mack Brown is hoping not only that Howell will be available after little-used sophomore Jacolby Criswell ran a scaled-back version of the offense against Wofford but that NC State’s Dave Doeren has a short memory after Brown ran up the score on the Wolfpack each of the last two seasons. The 8-3 Wolfpack is in line for a more desirable bowl bid with another win and hasn’t lost all season at Carter Stadium. NC State is 6-0 SU there, with its only spread loss laying nearly three TDs in a nonconference game against Louisiana Tech. The school’s second 10-win season is still within reach, and the best NC State defense in a generation, which ranks 17th, is spearheaded by tackle machine Drake Thomas at linebacker. Wolfpack QB Devin Leary, with 31 TD passes, has outplayed Howell, and we doubt revenge-fueled NC State will pull back on the throttle.
— Bruce Marshall
WAKE FOREST at BOSTON COLLEGE
The ACC Atlantic race requires a bit of an extra explanation. Though Wake Forest lost at Clemson last week, remember the schedule quirk this season — the Demon Deacons’ Nov. 6 loss at North Carolina was contested as a nonleague game and thus doesn’t count in the ACC standings. Thus, all Wake has to do to sew up the Atlantic is to beat Boston College. That might not be as easy as it would have been earlier when Eagles QB Phil Jurkovec, an NFL prospect, was out, as BC is 2-1 SU since his return. But Dave Clawson has never been too comfortable with his defense, which has allowed under 34 points just once since the end of September. Part of that is teams trying to keep pace with Sam Hartman and the 43-ppg Wake offense, which has also created a 6-1 Over mark in the last seven Deacons games. That trend will get tested by a robust Eagles defense and BC’s corresponding 6-1 Under mark in its last seven. But Clawson has been unable to breathe easily in any game except Duke since the calendar turned to October, and Jeff Hafley is likely to open up the offense for Jurkovec, who has been executing a lower-risk game plan since his return but also let loose for 310 yards passing in the recent win at Georgia Tech. The Deacons can likely survive, but maybe not too easily.
— Bruce Marshall
GEORGIA at GEORGIA TECH
Georgia hasn’t lost to Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field this millennium and hasn't dropped a spread decision against the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta since 1997. And now the Bulldogs have roared to the top spot in the polls with a generational defense, and the Ramblin’ Wreck has become a wreck indeed with a collapse in which the Jackets have beaten only Duke since September and dropped a numbing seven of their last eight against the line, hitting rock bottom in last week’s 55-0 loss at Notre Dame. Geoff Collins is rapidly running out of time to make the Jackets relevant again, and it’s hard to see that changing this week. Collins’ recent switch to QB Jordan Yates has hardly proven a boon for the offense, with Yates tossing all of one touchdown pass across the last two games. This shapes up as not much different from last week’s Georgia tune-up against Charleston Southern, when Kirby Smart subbed liberally, especially after the Dawgs led 49-0 at halftime. Even Georgia’s lookahead to the SEC title game against Alabama is unlikely to prove enough of a distraction for Tech to avoid another humiliation.
— Bruce Marshall
OKLAHOMA at OKLAHOMA STATE
So why isn’t Oklahoma State being given a bit more love by the pollsters and the selection committee? Maybe it was close early-season calls against Missouri State and Tulsa, when QB Spencer Sanders was hurting. Pollsters also might need reminding that Tulsa also handily covered at new playoff darling Ohio State and was within one play of having a chance to force OT against unbeaten Cincinnati. Oklahoma State has slipped only once, a controversial 24-21 loss to preseason Top 10 Iowa State, or the Cowboys would be unbeaten coming into Bedlam this week. The Jim Knowles defense, with its variety of blitz packages, has wrecked opposing Big 12 offenses and has allowed only 23 points combined across the last four games. Indeed, Oklahoma State has been more impressive than one-loss Oklahoma, which has had several other close calls and was fortunate to survive last week against Iowa State. Freshman QB Caleb Williams even generated some Heisman buzz for a few weeks, but his two bad picks in the recent loss at Baylor reminded everyone that he’s still a freshman. These two could meet again next week in the Big 12 title game if Oklahoma prevails, though an OSU win coupled with Baylor taking care of Texas Tech will pit the Cowboys against the Bears in Arlington, Texas. Keep in mind, too, that OSU hasn’t dropped a spread decision in nine straight since early September but also hasn’t beaten the Sooners since 2014.
— Bruce Marshall
FLORIDA STATE at FLORIDA
In retrospect, you probably could have won a few bar bets in September if offering that Dan Mullen but not Mike Norvell would be fired before Florida and Florida State met Thanksgiving week. The coaching carousel now spins at warp speed after Sunday’s news from Gainesville, with names from Mario Cristobal to Lane Kiffin linked to the Gators’ job. Now it’s up to interim coach Greg Knox to get Florida bowl-eligible, though who knows if the Gators will want to go bowling in Memphis or Birmingham with a 6-6 record amid the coaching chaos? As we’re hardly convinced that Florida suddenly circles the wagons, we aren’t thrilled about backing a team on a five-game spread slide that recently fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and now its head coach. The Seminoles need a win to get bowl-eligible, too, but FSU has at least hinted at progress. The Noles have displayed sterner stuff than we envisioned in back-to-back hair-raising wins over Miami and Boston College. Sophomore QB Jordan Travis has emerged as a competent leader, as he hasn’t thrown a pick in five games and has managed a couple of road wins at North Carolina and at BC. That might be more of an endorsement than anything we can think of on the Florida side, unless the Gators decide to win one for their departed coach. (But if that meant a lot, why didn’t they play better the last few weeks to help save Mullen?)
— Bruce Marshall
TEXAS A&M at LSU
Though Jimbo Fisher has tried to squelch chatter that he could move to LSU, the rumor mill will continue to whir until a successor to Ed Orgeron is named. That will be the main topic of discussion all week as Texas A&M looks to burnish its credentials for a New Year’s Six bowl slot. SEC Nation, however, is still abuzz at how LSU could slow down Bryce Young and the Alabama offense to a crawl this month in Tuscaloosa, with Orgeron’s variety of blitzes spearheading a late-season defensive upgrade. That’s meaningful after Aggies QB Zach Calzada was noticeably rattled once more when tossing two picks in A&M’s recent loss at Ole Miss. Another late-season angle to note, however, is the slower pace of LSU games since offensive coordinator Jake Peetz stopped trying to be Mike Leach at midseason and reintroduced the ground game. No matter, in combination with a new mindset on defense, LSU is Under four straight, which along with A&M’s 8-3 Under mark suggests that might be the initial preference. The Tigers also need another win for bowl eligibility, though whether they’ll accept and perhaps extend Orgeron’s regime one more game remains to be seen, especially as the Baton Rouge coaching search likely hits full boil over the next two weeks.
— Bruce Marshall