Ohio State coach Ryan Day was deprived of the opportunity to massacre Michigan in the teams’ annual rivalry game, which was canceled last week, but he gets another chance to make a closing argument to the College Football Playoff committee on Saturday. With a big win, the Buckeyes will be in the four-team field.
On second thought, all Ohio State needs to do is win by one. No style points are needed. There’s no chance the Buckeyes, who are three-touchdown favorites against Northwestern in the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis, would win and be excluded from the playoff.
Day called this season “bizarre,” which is one way to describe it. Ohio State (5-0) had three games canceled for COVID-19 reasons and has played only two games in the past six weeks, so while the Buckeyes’ body of work is thin, it’s still strong enough to earn a playoff spot.
Ohio State’s offense could be out of sync because of recent inactivity, and quarterback Justin Fields is facing a Northwestern defense that allows 14.6 points per game to rank (No. 2 nationally).
This role suits Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is 13-3 ATS as a ‘dog away from home since 2016. For what it’s worth, the underdog in Big Ten title games is 7-1 ATS. There is a good chance this matchup will be more competitive than expected.
The pick: Northwestern + 20
Notre Dame (+ 10.5) over Clemson: Trevor Lawrence changes the rematch, and almost everyone expects the Tigers to win as both of these ACC teams reach the four-team playoff. I also expect Clemson to win, but this line is inflated. Senior quarterback Ian Book has been outstanding in the second half of the season, and the Irish defense is legit. Expect the underdog to put up a good fight the rematch.
Stanford (+ 7) over UCLA: Bouncing back after losing a rivalry game is tough enough, but the way the Bruins fell to USC last week will make coach Chip Kelly’s motivational job even tougher. UCLA ( 3.5) snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, taking a 38-36 lead in the final minute before surrendering a touchdown pass with 16 seconds left in a stunning 43-38 loss.
A winning regular season is on the line for both teams at the Rose Bowl. Stanford’s trend is to play close games, and it has won three in a row by getting narrow victories over California (24-23), Washington (31-26) and Oregon State (27-24). Cardinal coach David Shaw has announced there will be no bowl for his team, so this is it. Stanford has owned this Pac-12 series, winning 10 straight before its streak was snapped last year.
Central Florida (+ 4) over Brigham Young: Instead of landing in a major New Year’s Six bowl, the Cougars (10-1) will settle for a trip to Florida for the Boca Raton Bowl three days before Christmas. BYU’s offense sizzled for most of the season but fizzled late. Motivation will be a question mark -- will this be an unfocused favorite?
Outside of the four-team playoff, this quarterback duel will be about as good as it gets in the bowl season. BYU’s Zach Wilson and UCF’s Dillon Gabriel each have 30 touchdown passes. The Knights’ high-powered offense (44.3 ppg) makes them dangerous ‘dogs.
Hawaii (+ 11) over Houston: The Cougars (3-4) and Warriors (4-4) will meet on Christmas Eve in the New Mexico Bowl, which will be played in Frisco, Texas. The team with a losing record is a double-digit favorite. Only in 2020. Houston lost the only game it has played since mid-November. Dual-threat quarterback Chevan Cordeiro gives Hawaii a shot to pull the upset.
Last week: 2-2