Week 6 in college football doesn’t feature a lot of ranked matchups but we could be in for upsets as a host of underdog teams are gunning to knock off squads that are flying high. West Virginia travels to TCU in a pivotal BIG 12 conference clash, Maryland looks for a marquee upset against Ohio State, Washington State looks to back up their upset of USC with a win against Oregon. Cal travels to take on undefeated Washington, and in a Thursday night ACC headliner, Louisville takes on NC State. Steen Kirby, Yesh Ginsburg, John Bava, Mike Loveall, and Brett Margolies offer their picks and previews.
#17 Louisville at #24 NC State (Thursday 8:00 P.M. in Raleigh, NC)
Line: Louisville by 3.5
Steen: Louisville is a solid team but I don’t trust their offensive line. NC State feasted on Florida State’s o-line when the Wolfpack upset the Seminoles 2 weeks ago, NC State isn’t the most consistent team in the ACC but they don’t lack talent and in a home game I give them a slight edge. NC State 24, Louisville 17
Yesh: N.C. State has an incredible defensive line, and the Cardinals offensive line is troubling. Lamar Jackson can do amazing things, but he can’t do much without protection. The Wolfpack started out the year with a disappointing loss to South Carolina, but things have very quickly turned around. N.C. State 38, Louisville 24
John: For the first time in years, N.C. State might actually be relevant in the ACC. The Wolfpack come into Thursday’s game against Louisville ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 2010. And they’re just two weeks removed from their first road win over Florida State in 12 years.
But that came against a team whose starting quarterback, Deondre Francois, wasn’t available due to a season-ending knee injury suffered earlier in the year. That won’t be the case this week with defending Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson coming to town. Jackson is the only quarterback in the nation with 13 passing touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns up to this point.
N.C. State is looking for its first home win against a ranked team while also in the top 25 since 1992. Unfortunately, the Cardinals just have too much firepower on offense to contain. Louisville 45, N.C. State 31
Mike: An interesting match-up, to be sure. The Wolfpack were a popular preseason dark-horse pick before getting upset by South Carolina in Week 1. Louisville, after a disastrous finish to 2016, is flying under everyone’s radar. Which is incredible considering the reigning Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson, is still the quarterback. Jackson has picked up where he left off last season, with big numbers and highlight plays. After Louisville’s thrashing by Clemson, they’re going to be a popular upset pick. But a funny thing happened on the way to Raleigh. Louisville’s young and inexperienced defense has shown some progress in the past two weeks. I turned to metrics here, and the points-per-yard and points-against-per-yard favors the Cardinals. Look for the Cardinals to make a semi-statement with a good win against the Wolfpack. Louisville 34, N.C. State 28
#23 West Virginia at #8 TCU (Saturday at 3:30 P.M. Fort Worth, TX)
Line: TCU by 13
Steen: I’m not as bullish on West Virginia as others are, they lack a strong defense and even though they have a passing game, TCU is at home and has simply shown themselves to be a stronger, more competitive team this season. TCU 49, West Virginia 35
Yesh: West Virginia couldn’t stop Kansas. Kansas! TCU is going to run all over this team. The Horned Frogs still don’t have the best of defenses, but it’s good enough to get through this game. TCU 52, West Virginia 34
John: It’s a battle between two quarterbacks who transferred from other schools when West Virginia takes on TCU in Fort Worth. Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier began his career at Florida while the Horned Frogs’ Kenny Hill spent two years at Texas A&M. Both are coming into their own this season for their respective teams.
But don’t let that take away from the fact that both WVU and TCU are also lethal on the ground. They currently boast the Big 12’s top two rushing offenses. Their two bell cow backs, West Va’s Justin Crawford and TCU’s Darius Anderson, are no worse than fourth in the conference in total yards, rushing touchdowns and attempts per game. What will hurt the Mountaineers in this one is their inability to defend the run. They rank 115th nationally in rush defense, something the Frogs should be able to exploit. TCU 38, West Virginia 20
Mike: TCU put themselves into the Big 12 Championship picture with a resounding victory over Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Much like Washington State, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to the pressure of now being out in front. We’ve seen flashes from Kenny Hill, but never a sustained run of consistency. We also know Will Grier has loads of talent, but can he carry the West Virginia team over TCU in Fort Worth? Probably not, but this spread is pretty big for a team that averages 49 points a game. TCU 41, West Virginia 30
Maryland at #10 Ohio State (Saturday at 4:00 P.M. in Columbus, OH)
Line: Ohio State by 30.5
Steen: Maryland has already upset Texas and are proving to be a much tougher team than what was expected of them. That said, traveling to face Ohio State is a tough task for any team, especially one that is on its third string QB in Maryland. The Terps will run hard and possibly generate a turnover or 2 but as long as Ohio State doesn’t have another passing game debacle they should clear this hurdle easily enough. Ohio State 42, Maryland 21
Yesh: Ohio State is a great team. There were questions early in the season, and a disappointing showing against Oklahoma, but the offensive efficiency has increased tremendously in the past month. Maryland, meanwhile, has done some amazing things with a third-string quarterback. Ohio State will run away with this game, but Maryland should be able to beat the spread. Ohio State 49, Maryland 21
John: Maryland is a hard team to gauge this year. They opened the season with a 51-41 road win against Texas, but also got run out of their own stadium by UCF. And last week, the Terps once again pulled off a surprise result on the road, knocking off previously unbeaten Minnesota 31-24.
This comes despite massive attrition at quarterback. Maryland is down to their third-stringer at the position in Max Bortenschlager after both Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill suffered season-ending knee injuries. Through that adversity, they’ve gotten it done on the ground with the Terps averaging 233.5 rushing yards per game, the third best total in the Big Ten.
But Ohio State is two spots ahead of them in that stat. They also boast quarterback J.T. Barrett who’s accounted for more touchdowns than any player in Big Ten history. Combine that with a motivated Buckeye team still in the hunt for a CFP spot should they run the table and win the Big Ten and conditions are ripe for a rout. Ohio State 51, Maryland 17
Mike: Ohio State’s offense looks like it’s starting to click. J.T. Barrett has had two straight games of great passing numbers. Everyone knows Maryland is better. But they’re not quite good enough to compete with Ohio State yet. Still, 30.5 is a big, big spread. This starts a grind for Ohio State – Nebraska, Penn State, and Iowa follow the Terrapins. The Buckeyes might be looking ahead a little. And Maryland is a run-first offense. Ohio State 45, Maryland 21
#11 Washington State at Oregon (Saturday 8:00 P.M. in Eugene, OR)
Line: Washington State by 2.5
Steen: Oregon is better than a lot of people assumed at the start of the season, but Washington State, in particular the Cougar defense, is much better than what was anticipated as well. Mike Leach has built a genuine CFP contender in Pullman, and although this is not an easy game by any standard, the Cougs should rise up again and find a way to win. Washington State 38, Oregon 28
Yesh: Coming off a huge win is a poor time to face a team as talented as Oregon. The Cougars will make a few mistakes, which will be enough for the Ducks to pull the upset and announce that they’re back in terms of national relevance. Oregon 41, Washington State 34
John: After last Friday’s upset of USC who was ranked fifth at the time, Washington State will look to avoid a letdown in Eugene against Oregon. The Ducks appear to be heading in the right direction under first-year head coach Willie Taggart, currently at 4-1. But they may have to play this game with third-string quarterback Braxton Burmeister.
That’s not a recipe for success against a Cougar pass defense which ranks seventh nationally. Not only that, but they’re also exceptional at forcing turnovers with their 12 takeaways tied for sixth best in FBS. Couple that with an experienced quarterback in Luke Falk who’s one of 19 quarterbacks with a passer rating above 160 and everything is pointing to Wazzu avoiding the same fate they handed USC last week. Washington State 31, Oregon 23
Mike: Everyone knows about Luke Falk. But as I said last week, it’s Washington State’s defense that has finally showed improvement this season. The biggest question in this game will center around how well Washington State can handle the success of a Top 15 ranking a week after dLouiefeating USC. And they have to travel to a hostile environment in Autzen Stadium. Add to the pressure and the road trip the fact that it’s a Pac-12 After Dark game, and there’s no telling what happens in this game. Oregon is good, but they’ve been hit hard by the injury bug early in the season. I liked Washington State’s ability to handle USC’s toughness; I’m actually more concerned at how they handle Oregon’s speed. In the end, I think the Crimson continues to fly high. Washington State 45, Oregon 38
Cal at #6 Washington (Saturday 10:45 P.M. in Seattle, WA)
Line: Washington by 27.5
Steen: Washington hasn’t been perfect this season, but unless the Cal defense rises up they are going to run over the Golden Bears this week. The Huskies have been under the radar this year but have the best chance in the PAC-12 of returning to the CFP playoff, I don’t see them running into a stumbling block playing at home in this one. Washington 42, Cal 21
Yesh: This line is huge, especially for a Huskies team that has struggled in the first half too much this year. Cal has impressed at times this year, but also looked really vulnerable. I think they keep it within three scores, though. Washington 41, Cal 24
John: The Pacific Northwest is starting to become a college football hotbed. Two of our games this week involve both FBS schools in the state of Washington, including Saturday’s Pac-12 After Dark matchup between U-Dub and visiting Cal. The sixth-ranked Huskies are lighting up opposing teams, with their margin of victory through five games at 33.2 points.
They might be in for a continuation of that trend Saturday night. Quarterback Jake Browning boasts the nation’s sixth highest passer rating and is tied for tenth in FBS with 12 touchdown tosses. The Golden Bears’ issues defending the pass are well-documented as their 273.8 pass yards per game ranks third worst in the Pac-12. Add in a little Myles Gaskin on the ground Cal may be in for a long night. Washington 55, California 14
Mike: Another big line. Washington is another team, much like Louisville, that got off to a sluggish start in Week 1 and has flown under most people’s radar. With Washington State and Oregon again making noise in the Pacific Northwest, there’s less attention in Seattle than the previous two seasons. But the talent is still there. So is Chris Petersen. After Cal started 3-0, they’ve dropped two straight against USC and Oregon. Travelling to Seattle isn’t the best way to get out of a losing streak. Washington 41, California 20