After the release of the initial College Football playoff rankings teams are looking to both improve their position and stay alive in the race for the playoff. This week our slate features five games with teams ranked 15 or better in the initial playoff rankings including an SEC West showdown, Alabama vs LSU.
#13 West Virginia at #17 Texas (Saturday at 3:30 in Austin, TX) Line: Texas by 1.5
Mike Loveall: Texas’ hopes of a surprising run to the CFP probably ended last weekend. The Mountaineers still have an outside shot. They’ve also got Will Grier and an explosive offense. But their aggressive defensive line will make the difference here. West Virginia 35, Texas 24
John: The winner of this top-20 showdown puts themselves in a favorable position to make the Big 12 title game. West Virginia comes into it getting back to winning ways with a blowout win over Baylor a week after an upset loss to Iowa State. Texas, meanwhile, saw their six-game win streak come to an end in Stillwater against Oklahoma State.
Will Grier can make the case that he’s a legit Heisman candidate with a standout performance against the Longhorns. He’s currently one of three FBS quarterbacks averaging over 10 yards per reception. If Grier can get some help from the Big 12’s top scoring defense, they have every chance to escape Austin with a win. West Virginia 34, Texas 28
Steen: Texas defense was exposed last week against Oklahoma State, the West Virginia offensive attack is explosive as well and the Mountaineers should be favored even in a road game. I’m not convinced Texas is that strong of a team. West Virginia 42, Texas 31
Lukas: Will Grier is an elite college quarterback, having himself a great season. Texas is coming off a devastating loss to a weak Oklahoma State team. I like West Virginia to pull this game off. West Virginia 31, Texas 21
#6 Georgia at #9 Kentucky (Saturday at 3:30 in Lexington, KY) Line: Georgia by 9
Mike: Depth is what separates the championship contenders from the teams riding a hot hand. Kentucky is a good team, but they can’t matchup position-by-position with the Bulldogs. Georgia is accustomed to this position. It’s been a great season for the Wildcats, but a trip to Atlanta isn’t in the cards. Georgia 38, Kentucky 24
John: You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who predicted that both teams would be in the top-10 at this point in the season. It’s expected to see Georgia in this position but Kentucky is undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises in all of college football in 2018. They’re a narrow loss to Texas A&M away from coming into this one undefeated. It’s a testament to the job Mark Stoops has done in his six-year tenure as head coach and a case study in patience with regard to letting a coach build a program.
The Wildcats will certainly have their hands full. They have just two wins over Georgia since 2000 and face an offense that’s one of the most balanced in the SEC. And they may be limited in the passing game with sophomore quarterback Terry Wilson averaging 123.5 yards per game. That said, they do boast the conference’s leading rusher in Benny Snell. With DeAndre Swift and Elijah Holyfield in the opposing backfield, expect a lot of ground and pound in this one. Georgia 31, Kentucky 20
Steen: Georgia rebounded last week with a great win against Florida. Kentucky has the same record but they’ve had to fight and claw to get there and this week should see Georgia take control of the SEC East. Kentucky will hang around but fade in the second half. Georgia 28, Kentucky 17
Lukas: This matchup will go a long way in determining the SEC East representative in the championship game. Kentucky has had a Miracle season, only losing once. The Georgia Bulldogs had an impressive win over Florida last week. I think Jake Fromm leads this Bulldogs team to a hard fought victory this week. Georgia 21, Kentucky 17
#14 Penn State at #5 Michigan (Saturday at 3:45 in Ann Arbor, MI) Line: Michigan by 10.5
Mike: Is Michigan on the road? No, good for the Wolverines. Michigan is rolling with a potential Division decider against Ohio State looming. Penn State has played with fire all season, first with Appalachian State, then with Indiana and Iowa the last two weeks. Michigan continues their revenge tour. Michigan 42, Penn State 27
John: Michigan is slowly but surely starting to look like the best team in the Big Ten. The Wolverines’ last two games consisted of fairly dominant wins over ranked Wisconsin and Michigan State sides. Week 10 might be their biggest challenge in-conference yet against Penn State whose two losses came by a combined five points.
Jim Harbaugh is getting it done with a hugely formidable defense that’s number one among FBS teams in all but one significant category: defending the run. They’re still ranked 12th in that department but it might signify that the Nittany Lions should dial up the ground game quite a bit in Ann Arbor. Both Miles Sanders and Trace McSorley are capable, with the latter leading the Big Ten in rushing among quarterbacks. Karan Higdon is a player to watch for the Wolverines as he’s rushed for 100 or more yards in all of Michigan’s wins. Michigan 28, Penn State 21
Steen: Penn State remains alive in the BIG 10 race but Michigan is the better team and at home they should show their defensive dominance against PSU. Michigan 27, Penn State 14
Lukas: With Michigan on the outside looking into the College Football Playoff, they take on a pesky Penn State team looking to pull off an upset. Trace McSorley has had a great season. But he is taking on a Michigan defense that is number one in yards allowed in the country. I really like the way Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson is playing. Michigan wins to remain in the CFP conversation. Michigan 35, Penn State 17
#4 Notre Dame at Northwestern (Saturday at 7:15 in Evanston, IL) Line: Notre Dame by 9.5
Mike: Northwestern might be able to score the upset once a season, but the Irish are too complete this season. Ian Book gives the Irish the passing attack that puts them in the elite group among the nation’s teams. Notre Dame 38, Northwestern 17
John: Expect fans of the Fighting Irish to be in full force for this road contest not far from South Bend. It marks just the second meeting between these two schools in the past 22 years and the first in Evanston since 1976. Northwestern may prove challenging given the fact that the Wildcats would represent the West Division in the Big Ten Championship Game if the season ended today.
The 8-0 Irish appear to control their own destiny with respect to the CFP. They find themselves at number four in the first rankings of the season and have some tough games to close out their 2018 campaign including USC and a ranked Syracuse team in addition to this one. That should bolster their resumé should they win out. Their quarterback, Ian Book, is the nation’s most accurate quarterback and ranked 16th in yards per pass. This indicates he excels at making pinpoint throws downfield. If he can keep it up, ND should prevail. Notre Dame 35, Northwestern 17
Steen: The run home for Notre Dame going undefeated includes a road game at Northwestern, a team that has rebounded nicely from a slow start to win four straight. Notre Dame’s offense has been improving game by game though and I don’t think Northwestern has the firepower to compete. Notre Dame 38, Northwestern 24
Lukas: The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame are looking to remain undefeated. This is their toughest test of the season. Northwestern has a talented offense and nearly beat Michigan this season. It will be close but I think the Fighting Irish pull this off at home. Notre Dame 28, Northwestern 24
#1 Alabama at #3 LSU (Saturday at 8:00 in Baton Rouge, LA) Line: Alabama by 15
Mike: It’s really hard to give LSU 15 points in Death Valley on a Saturday night. But the Crimson Tide offense has been next level and LSU has been good, but not quite great (minus the Georgia game). The line here should be “Will Tagovailoa take a fourth quarter snap.” Alabama 38, LSU 20
John: It’s been a very long time since the oddsmakers installed LSU as a home dog of at least two touchdowns. What makes it even more amazing is that the first CFP rankings of the year have them third in the country. But they face a veritable buzzsaw in top-ranked Alabama, a squad which doesn’t seem to have very many weaknesses.
They sure seem set at the quarterback position. Tua Tagovailoa is probably the Heisman frontrunner at this point, especially considering he’s the only quarterback in the country not to have thrown an interception. Not bad for a player who leads the nation in yards per attempt, indicating he’s attempting a lot of high-risk throws. But he may be due for a slip-up against an LSU defense whose 14 interceptions is tied for the best mark in FBS. Alabama 38, LSU 24
Steen: LSU has a chance to upend the conventional wisdom and take control of the SEC West with an upset win against Alabama. Playing at home, the Bayou Bengals will take on Alabama team that hasn’t been tested thus far. Alabama is the better team and they should win, but for the first time this season I expect the 4th quarter to matter. Alabama 38, LSU 28
Lukas: This is Alabama’s first big test for their high powered offense led by Tua. The LSU defense is legit and they have beaten six teams with above .500 records. Death Valley is one of the toughest places to play in college football. I like the Tigers to squeeze out a thrilling victory. LSU 20, Alabama 17