Upsets always make the biggest headlines. It’s rivalry week in college football, and the biggest upset so far was Phil Mickelson taking down Tiger Woods in a golf match in Las Vegas.
There have been minor surprises — Virginia Tech over Virginia, and Washington knocking off Washington State in a snowstorm in Pullman — but nothing to shake up the playoff picture. It’s highly unlikely Alabama, Clemson or Georgia will get a scare on the final Saturday of November, but there is a decent chance of Michigan or Notre Dame going down on the road.
Since the Fighting Irish pulled off a small upset of the Wolverines on the first Saturday of September, Jim Harbaugh has passed every big-game test. Now comes the final exam Harbaugh has failed three years in a row.
It’s possible the fourth meeting between Harbaugh and Urban Meyer will be the final chapter. Meyer has an assortment of problems, including health issues, and could be on the way out in Columbus. He has had his way with Harbaugh in this rivalry, winning by margins of 11, 3 and 29 points. Ohio State was a 5-point home favorite in a 30-27 two-overtime victory two years ago. This is Harbaugh’s opportunity to get one back and get Michigan into the playoff, provided the Wolverines can beat Northwestern for the Big Ten championship.
Michigan’s defense is allowing 13.5 points per game, and while that defense is legit it has not faced an offense with the Buckeyes’ firepower. Dwayne Haskins has 36 touchdown passes and he’s surrounded by plenty of weapons — running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber and wideouts K.J. Hill and Parris Campbell.
On the flip side, Ohio State’s defense has been a mess and Harbaugh finally has the quarterback he needs to beat the Buckeyes. Shea Patterson has 18 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, while running back Karan Higdon has 1,106 yards on the ground.
The eye test clearly indicates a play on Michigan, which is why a majority of the money is on that side. Over the summer, Ohio State opened as a 7½-point favorite in this game. The line this morning — at the South Point, Golden Nugget and a few other Las Vegas books — is Michigan -5. That’s far from a bargain price on the road favorite.
Harbaugh tends to get conservative in the biggest games, and this one should be no different because he knows he can bank on his defense to deliver a win in Columbus. Expect the Buckeyes’ best effort. I’ll take plus-5 and call for the Wolverines to win by a field goal.
Six more plays for Saturday:
* Arizona State (-2) over ARIZONA:
Herm Edwards silenced his critics and has the Sun Devils (6-5) headed to a bowl. Arizona State has won three of its past four, beating USC, Utah and UCLA before a two-point loss at Oregon. The Sun Devils boast three big-time playmakers in quarterback Manny Wilkins, wideout N’Keal Harry and running back Eno Benjamin. It has been a disappointing year for Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate, and coach Kevin Sumlin’s debut in Tucson has been a bust.
* USC (plus-12) over Notre Dame:
Season finales often come with the storyline of a coach on a hot seat. That is the story surrounding Clay Helton, who has been pushed to the brink after USC’s loss to UCLA. The Trojans, losers of four of their past five games, need to upset the Irish to reach a bowl. Good luck with that. Notre Dame, with a sturdy defense allowing 17.3 points, is much better on both sides of the ball. USC freshman JT Daniels passed for 337 yards against the Bruins, but he was intercepted twice and lacks the big arm, experience and mobility required to beat the ND defense. Irish quarterback Ian Book returned from a rib injury last week and looked good in the 36-3 slaughter of Syracuse. ND rolled over USC 49-14 last year in South Bend. Brian Kelly is one win from a playoff spot. The Irish have not won at the L.A. Coliseum since 2012, when they secured a spot in the national title game. The preseason line on this game was USC -1½. It would be no surprise if the Irish win in a blowout, but roll the dice on the ‘dog at this inflated price.
* Other plays: MIAMI (-5) over Pittsburgh; Stanford (-7) over UCLA; INDIANA (plus-4) over Purdue; Utah State (plus-3) over BOISE STATE.
Last week: 8-3 against the spread