It’s rivalry week in college football as South Florida clashes with UCF with G5 bowl bid hopes on the line, Ohio State hopes to hold onto their slim playoff chances by defeating Michigan, Alabama and Auburn battle for the SEC West title, Notre Dame takes on Stanford looking to keep their playoff hopes alive, and Washington and Washington State will contest the Apple Cup. Steen Kirby, John Bava, Yesh Ginsburg, Brett Margolies, and Mike Loveall are on hand to offer their predictions.
USF at #15 UCF (Friday 3:30 P.M. in Orlando, FL)
Line: UCF by 10
Steen: Two great teams, QB McKenzie Milton has UCF dreaming of a NY6 bowl berth, and possibly more if chaos breaks out. Quinton Flowers leads a versatile USF attack though and the 9-1 Bulls are not going to be an easy matchup for the Golden Knights. UCF has only played two close games this season, this will be their third, but they should emerge victorious. UCF 38, USF 27
Mike: For the second time in two weeks, we go to a contest between two Florida directional school. UCF is in control for the American Athletic Championship and the Group-of-Five New Year’s Day Bowl Bid. But they still haven’t clinched their own division. This game is make-or-break for both teams. UCF has been rolling lately with a high-powered Scott Frost offense. But USF has Quinton Flowers, who can affect the game with both is arm and his legs. I think USF’s defense can keep it close. UCF 38, USF 31
John: This is a fairly young rivalry, with Friday’s clash between the Bulls and Knights just the ninth all-time meeting. But this year’s edition of the “War on I-4” is clearly the biggest yet with undefeated UCF hosting South Florida whose lone loss on the season came to Memphis. It’s essentially a division title game with the winner advancing to next week’s AAC conference championship.
But the Knights have even bigger aspirations. As the highest ranked Group of Five school in the CFP rankings, they’re currently in line for a berth in one of the New Year’s Six bowls. They boast a talented quarterback in McKenzie Milton who currently owns the second highest pass efficiency rating in FBS. He’s in for a challenge, though, against South Florida’s conference leading pass defense. UCF 34, USF 27
Yesh: UCF is one of the best teams in the country this year. Everyone has forgotten about USF, and Quinton Flowers is still incredible at quarterback. UCF isn’t quite the powerhouse it was to start the season, but it’s still close. UCF 45, USF 21
Brett: Going in to the season I would’ve never thought that UCF-USF would be better and bigger than UF-FSU. Scott Frost has done a good job staying focused with all the coaching rumors swirling around and has the knights undefeated and probably not getting enough respect amongst the committee. UCF’s high powered offense against Charlie Strong’s defense has the potential to be fun. I like UCF’s chances, but they won’t put up as many points as they have been and the bulls will keep it close. UCF 30, USF 27
#9 Ohio State at Michigan (Saturday 12:00 P.M. in Ann Arbor, MI)
Line: Ohio State by 12
Steen: Michigan has lost to the better teams they have played and Ohio State has been dominant after a shock loss to Iowa. The Buckeyes know they can’t slip up and Michigan doesn’t have an offense. This could get ugly. Ohio State 38, Michigan 14
Mike: Ohio State has been Jekyll and Hyde this season. The Buckeyes struggled against Oklahoma, Iowa, and the first half against Penn State. But they’ve like the top team in the nation at other times – notably two weeks ago against Michigan State and the second half against Penn State. The Buckeyes still have a shot at the College Football Playoff, and I think they’re able to put together a solid game today. It all depends on J.T. Barrett’s passing. Ohio State 35, Michigan 20
John: When it comes to college football rivalries, few if any are as heated as the one between Ohio State and Michigan. These two schools and their fans love to hate one another and that sentiment will be profoundly evident on Saturday in the 114th meeting between them. Michigan leads the all-time series but in recent years it’s been complete and utter dominance from the Buckeyes who’ve won 16 of the last 18 games.
OSU still clings to slim CFP hopes if they can continue that trend on Saturday and defeat Wisconsin next week in the Big Ten title game. Getting solid play out of J.T. Barrett in his final career regular season game in Scarlet and Gray will also help. He comes into this game ranked top 12 nationally in total offense, touchdown throws and passing efficiency. But Michigan’s top ranked pass defense should be ultra motivated to shut him down in the Big House. Ohio State 35, Michigan 31
Yesh: Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country. The game against Iowa was atrocious, but advanced metrics still show just how much better Ohio State is than anyone else, except Alabama. The Buckeyes will make a statement on Saturday. Ohio State 45, Michigan 3
Brett: Going back to his time at Florida, Urban Meyer always seemed to have a little extra something for these rivalry games. There’s no game bigger than this one so why would this be any different. The buckeyes just have way more talent, and Michigan’s uncertainty at quarterback won’t help. JT Barrett is looking to become the first OSU quarterback to go 4-0 as a starter against Michigan, look for him to do so in dominant fashion. Ohio State 34, Michigan 17
#1 Alabama at #6 Auburn (Saturday at 3:30 P.M. in Auburn, AL)
Line: Alabama by 4.5
Steen: Kerryon Johnson is a special player and although Alabama is the more talented team, Auburn seems to have figured out their offense, while both teams have a stifling defense. This will be close regardless, but Auburn has nothing to lose and Jarrett Stidham is a better QB than Jalen Hurts. Look for Auburn to be more creative and steal the SEC West in the final game. Auburn 31, Alabama 24
Mike: The most intriguing game of the weekend. Alabama is still Alabama, but injuries have made their defense susceptible. Auburn has finally gotten their offense in high gear, and their defense is very underrated nationally. This is a big Iron Bowl – the SEC West title is on the line, and most people think both teams still control their own destiny in the CFP (certainly Alabama). After an impressive win at home against Georgia, Auburn is a popular pick. The money has driven the line down considerable in the last three days. But Auburn doesn’t have the Alabama’s historical kryptonite: the highly mobile quarterback. Jarrett Stidham is athletic, but he’s not Deshaun Watson, Nick Fitzgerald, Bo Wallace, or Johnny Manziel. This might be another classic on The Plains. Alabama 34, Auburn 31
John: For the second time in five years, the Iron Bowl has national championship implications for both schools. Last time around, fans were treated to arguably the greatest finish in college football history as Auburn triumphed via the famous “kick six.” But that was a rare stumble for Alabama in the recent history of this series as they’ve claimed wins in seven of the past nine games.
This is the Tigers’ best chance to upend their in-state rivals since that historic win in 2013. Running back Kerryon Johnson leads the SEC in rushing yards. Of the 61 FBS quarterbacks with at least 2,000 yards passing, only three have fewer than quarterback Jarrett Stidham’s four interceptions. But Bama’s defense is ridiculously stingy, ranked no worse than third in all four major defensive categories. Auburn’s pretty sound defensively themselves, so expect a low-scoring affair on the Plains. Alabama 17, Auburn 10
Yesh: This line keeps dropping, as Alabama struggled against Mississippi State and Auburn demolished Georgia. That’s a mistake, though. Betting against Alabama is always the wrong plan, and Auburn hasn’t been consistent enough to earn faith in them. Alabama 42, Auburn 31
Brett: I don’t know if any Iron Bowl game can match the excitement of the kick six, but this game certainly has the hype surrounding it. Alabama looked beatably a couple weeks ago against Mississippi State, but Nick Saban will have Alabama ready to go knowing the significance of this years Iron Bowl. I think Auburn will be able to hang with them in the beginning, but Alabama is going to wear them down by the fourth. Alabama 31, Auburn 20
#8 Notre Dame by #21 Stanford (Saturday 8:00 P.M. in Stanford, CA)
Line: Notre Dame by 2.5
Steen: After a slow start to the season Stanford has stepped it up and with a talented RB in Bryce Love, Notre Dame won’t back down easy though. The Irish were embarrassed by Miami though and they aren’t a consistent team. Stanford should find a way to grind out the win. Stanford 28, Notre Dame 24
Mike: Two teams that need miracles to make it in to the CFP. Notre Dame looked great early, but they ran in to a buzzsaw in Miami two weeks ago. Stanford has quietly righted the ship after losing two of their first three games. The Cardinal are still alive for a Pac-12 North Championship, needing only a win against the Irish and a Washington State loss in the Apple Bowl. We might be in for an offensive showdown in the Bay Area. Stanford’s defense might be a little bit better, at least in a bend-but-not-break way. A Notre Dame turnover might be the difference in this game. Stanford 38, Notre Dame 35
John: Notre Dame needs complete and utter chaos to sneak into the CFP. But they must also go on the road and get a win against a Stanford team they’ve struggled against recently. The Cardinal own six wins in their last eight against the Irish and are riding quite a bit of momentum heading into this one. They’ve lost just once since starting the season 1-2 and could still claim the Pac-12 North if Washington wins the Apple Cup.
Both sides boast dynamic ground games. Stanford’s Bryce Love currently leads the nation with 172.3 rushing yards per game and only six other players have more than his 16 touchdowns on the ground. Meanwhile, the Irish’s rushing attack is functionally a one-two punch with Josh Adams and quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Adams is tenth nationally with 7.82 yards per carry and is second in runs greater than 50 yards behind Love. But Love’s status for this game is uncertain due to a nagging ankle injury. If he can’t go or is rendered ineffective, it’s advantage ND. Notre Dame 27, Stanford 20
Yesh: Notre Dame is a really good team, but so is Stanford. The two will match up well against each other, and we should see a great battle in the trenches. This should basically be a pick ’em, so I’ll trust the home team (and Bryce Love). Stanford 28, Notre Dame 27
Brett: Notre Dame hasn’t looked the same after the beat down in Miami. The struggled to get past a talented Navy team, but playing at Stanford won’t be any easier. Bryce Love has one more chance to make a statement on the national stage against a powerhouse like Notre Dame. Look for the talented junior to have a big game in what will likely be his final time playing at home for Stanford in an upset win. Stanford 38, Notre Dame 24
#13 Washington State at #17 Washington (Saturday 8:00 P.M. in Seattle, WA)
Line: Washington by 10
Steen: Washington has slowed down in recent weeks and although playing at home is an advantage, Washington State should play with reckless abandon and put it all on the line in this massive rivalry clash. Washington State gets a trip to the PAC-12 title with a win, and I don’t see them letting that chance slip away. Washington State 41, Washington 31
Mike: Not a lot of respect for the Cougars here. Washington State controls their destiny for the division title and a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but finds themselves double-digit dogs to the Huskies in the Apple Bowl. The Cougars, like Ohio State, has had an up-and-date season. Washington is the more complete team with a balanced offense and a decent defense – including a good pass rush. Luke Falk has been inconsistent this season. In the end, Washington takes a bite out of the Cougars NY6 bowl hopes. Washington 28, Washington State 24
John: There was a time earlier in the season when it looked like this year’s Apple Cup might carry national title implications. But the Cougars and Huskies have pulled back quite a bit since then, dropping two games apiece. Nevertheless, Wazzu still clings to hopes it can win its first conference title in 15 years. The first step in that quest is defeating their in-state rival to take the Pac-12 North for the first time since the league went to two divisions.
They certainly have the quarterback to help lead them to that end. Luke Falk is already the Cougars’ and Pac-12’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown tosses. Only six players in college football history have thrown for 400 or more yards in more games than Falk’s 11. That said, the Huskies have the tools to slow him down. They’re currently one of nine schools giving up fewer than 170 pass yards per game and only Alabama’s had fewer passing touchdowns scored on them. Washington 38, Washington State 27
Yesh: It’s hard to see why the Huskies are favored by this much. Washington has been in free fall for the past month, and Washington State is one of the most underrated teams in the country. I don’t know if Mike Leach’s squad has enough to pull off the upset on the road, but they’re not losing by double digits. Washington 34, Washington State 31
Brett: Washington looked a little sluggish last week in their 33-30 win over Utah. Jake Browning against Luke Falk should be interesting depending on what WSU team shows up on Saturday night. Falk has historically performed poorly in the Apple Cup having not won against Washington in his career so far. Mike Leach and WSU have looked good ever since the loss to Arizona, I like their chances to pull off the upset on the road. Washington State 30, Washington 20