The College Football Playoff picture is starting to get some clarity, and the competition off the field among fans is nearly as heated as the competition on the field on game day.
The Athlon Sports College Football Experts Club presented by Nexium & Advil gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:
Rutgers at Michigan
Was the Minnesota game a fluke for Michigan or a sign of the Wolverines regressing to the mean? After a dominating defense carried the way for Michigan through he first half of the season, Minnesota outgained the Wolverines 461–296. The lackluster offense can be attributed in part to an injury to starting quarterback Jake Rudock and a shaky performance by backup Wilton Speight, but 461 yards to Minnesota? That’s a concern. First and foremost, Michigan needs to jumpstart its run game. Two of the Wolverines’ worst three performances on the ground this season have come in the last two games. Rutgers’ offense is in even worse shape. Quarterback Chris Laviano has led one offensive touchdown drive in the last two games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Fox’s pick: Michigan 28–10
Florida State at Clemson
The most important game of the ACC season in shrouded in mystery. Florida State hasn’t committed to either Everett Golson or Sean Maguire as the starting quarterback, and running back Dalvin Cook has been hobbled with an ankle injury. Both Golson and Cook missed the Seminoles’ last game against Syracuse. Clemson gave up 41 points to NC State, including one touchdown on a kickoff return and two others on short fields. The Tigers, though, answered each time. Clemson has demonstrated time and time again that it’s ready for the stretch run while Florida State may be starting over.
Fox’s pick: Clemson 41–28
Utah at Washington
Washington made a statement with a 49–3 rout of Arizona last week, perhaps giving us some reservations about picking Utah. The Huskies have a solid defense, and freshman quarterback Jake Browning is coming into his own. Even though Arizona was without running back Nick Wilson, Washington still impressed by holding a Rich Rod offense to 2.9 yards per carry. Both teams will try to ugly the game up with turnovers. The advantage goes to the team with the veteran quarterback.
Fox’s pick: Utah 27–14
Kentucky at Georgia
Georgia’s move to start Faton Bauta against Florida proved to be disastrous, and it remains to be seen if he’ll get another shot at the job. Kentucky had two tough losses through the first six games of the season, but those close losses have turned into blowouts the last two weeks. The Wildcats lost by a combined score of 94–37 to Mississippi State and Tennessee, and now Kentucky will be without starting running back Stanley “Boom” Williams.
Fox’s pick: Georgia 24–17
Navy at Memphis
Navy is not getting the attention of undefeated Temple, Houston and Memphis, but the Midshipmen — whose only loss is to Notre Dame — is every bit the American Athletic Conference contender as the other three. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds’ next touchdown, his 78th, will break the career record, not for quarterbacks, but for everyone who has played major college football. Navy will look to control the clock with the option and keep Memphis QB Paxton Lynch off the field, and we’ve seen little out of the Tigers’ defense that shows Memphis can slow Reynolds. Then again, Navy has played only two top-50 offenses and one of them, Air Force, was another service academy.
Fox’s pick: Memphis 41–35
Arizona at USC
Arizona is going back to the drawing board on offense. Nick Wilson has been hurt, and Anu Solomon is coming off the worst performance of his career in a 49–3 loss to Washington. Rich Rodriguez said he’s changing his approach with Solomon after two sub-par performances. USC has played its best football of the season under interim coach Clay Helton, but the Trojans need to overcome a hand injury to one of their best playmakers, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Fox’s pick: USC 42–28
LSU at Alabama
As usual, this game should be a tense, physical matchup that will be determined by which team can run successfully and which team puts the pressure on a first-year starting quarterback to make a play in a pressure situation. Alabama and LSU rank first and second in the SEC in rush defense, each holding opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards. Yet neither has faced an elite running back like they’ll see on Saturday between Heisman contenders Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry.
Fox’s pick: Alabama 24–20
TCU at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State scored 70 points on the road against a not-terrible Big 12 opponent, and the Cowboys still have doubters. That’s with good reason. Wins over Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia were all by a touchdown or less, and Texas Tech put up 53 points against the Pokes. The Cowboys are good, but they haven’t shown exactly what separates this team from the other three Big 12 contenders. TCU, though, can stake a claim on having the best quarterback and wide receiver in the Big 12 (though Baylor’s Corey Coleman may object to the latter). All signs point to this being another Big 12 shootout, but the team with Trevone Boykin will have the advantage.
Fox’s pick: TCU 56–42
Vanderbilt at Florida
The Commodores’ defense can’t be overlooked. Vanderbilt held Western Kentucky and Houston to their lowest scoring and yardage totals all season. Trouble is, Florida did the same against Ole Miss and Georgia. The Gators aren’t getting world-beating quarterback play from Treon Harris, but the Commodores duo of Johnny McCrary and Kyle Shurmur have been turnover prone all season.
Fox’s pick: Florida 31–7
Arkansas at Ole Miss
For the first time this season, the Rebels ran the ball well against two SEC opponents, albeit against two of the three worst run defenses in the league. And despite three takeaways against Texas A&M two weeks ago, Ole Miss has been on the wrong end of the turnover margin in each of the last six games and at minus-10 overall since the Alabama win. Arkansas beat UT Martin last week as expected, but the Hogs gave up a season-high 519 yards in the process.
Fox’s pick: Ole Miss 31–21
South Carolina at Tennessee
After weeks of frustration, Tennessee finally got the lopsided win it needed with a 52–21 win at Kentucky. Now, the Volunteers will try to extend a modest two-game win streak against South Carolina. The Gamecocks have their issues, but Perry Orth (192 passing yards, 90 pre-sack rushing yards) gave their offense a spark against Texas A&M. The overall talent for the Vols should be too much.
Fox’s pick: Tennessee 37–20
Cal at Oregon
Cal’s momentum has come to a halt with three consecutive losses in the Pac-12 South to Utah, UCLA and USC. Is Oregon better than any of those teams? Perhaps not. The Ducks look awfully ordinary on offense and just plain awful on defense. That might help Cal quarterback Jared Goff get back on track, but after two close road wins over Washington and Arizona State, Oregon may be ready to reboot its season when it returns to Autzen.
Fox’s pick: Oregon 38–30
Penn State at Northwestern
Northwestern and Penn State both have nice records and stout defenses, but neither bas been a sure commodity. Northwestern’s offense failed to reach 200 yards against Michigan and Iowa, so it will be looking to acquit itself against Penn State. Behind a strong defensive front, the Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in tackles for a loss by a wide margin and rank fifth in total defense. The offense has been a work in progress, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been on a hot streak of late, averaging 9.9 yards per attempt the last three weeks. Not surprisingly, this trend coincides with freshman running back Saquon Barkley’s return to the lineup.
Fox’s pick: Northwestern 24–21
Duke at North Carolina
Miami’s improbable win over Duke means this won’t be the ranked Duke-North Carolina game Tobacco Road would have hoped to see, but it’s no less meaningful. North Carolina is undefeated in ACC play, and Duke can lead the Coastal with a win over the Tar Heels. North Carolina has been under the radar, especially after an inexplicable season-opening loss to South Carolina, but the Heels have been stout on both sides of the ball. Coordinator Gene Chizik has turned around the offense, and quarterback Marquise Williams has responded to a near-benching with three straight weeks of standout play.
Fox’s pick: North Carolina 31–27
Iowa at Indiana
When quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard are healthy — as they are now — Indiana’s offense is among the best in the country. Iowa counters with cornerback Desmond King, who is tied for the national lead with seven interceptions. The big question will be if Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, who has been hobbled with a groin injury, is healthy enough to answer punch for punch if this turns into a back-and-forth affair.
Fox’s pick: Iowa 35–24
Arizona State at Washington State
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk passed for 601 yards against Arizona State in only his second career start. The Sun Devils’ pressure, though, contributed to four interceptions. Falk will be a different quarterback this time around. He’s thrown only six picks in 448 attempts after throwing seven in 243 attempts last year. Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici can match Wazzu’s Air Raid, especially against that vulnerable Cougars defense.
Fox’s pick: Washington State 49–42
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
This game might not be pretty with Notre Dame coming off a slugfest with Temple and Pittsburgh coming off a loss to North Carolina. Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer continues to acquit himself as the Irish’s No. 1 QB and not just a sub for Malik Zaire. Meanwhile, Pitt’s vulnerability on both sides of the ball finally caught up with the Panthers against North Carolina.
Fox’s pick: Notre Dame 31–21
Auburn at Texas A&M
Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin benched Kyle Allen last week and turned to his freshman — a freshman who has the benefit for playing the two worst defenses in the league in his first two starts. Murray flourished against South Carolina, passing for 223 yards and running for 156. Auburn finally got defensive end Carl Lawson back last week, and while he was disruptive (three QB hurries), Ole Miss still put up 558 total yards in the Tigers’ loss.
Fox’s pick: Texas A&M 42–28
Michigan State at Nebraska
Purdue was supposed to be the type of opponent that would help Nebraska turn its season around. Instead, the Cornhuskers lost 55–45 to the Boilermakers and are in a state of disarray just before facing a rested and undefeated Michigan State team. Nebraska’s run game has gone cold the last two weeks with 82 yards against Northwestern and 77 against Purdue. Michigan State’s defense isn’t as stout as it has been in recent years, but the Spartans still rank in the top 30 against the run. On the bright side for the Huskers, Nebraska expects to get Tommy Armstrong Jr. back at quarterback after backup Ryker Fyfe turned the ball over five times in his first career start.
Fox’s pick: Michigan State 38–21
Minnesota at Ohio State
Ohio State will need to return to Cardale Jones at quarterback after J.T. Barrett was suspended for a game due to a DUI citation. Jones was shaky in September, ultimately leading to Barrett taking a larger role as Ohio State’s season went on. Perhaps buoyed by the emotion of a rivalry game with Michigan and the departure of coach Jerry Kill, Minnesota played its best game of the season against Michigan before a clock management snafu at the goal line contributed to a 29–26 loss. Quarterback Mitch Leidner has topped 300 passing yards in back-to-back games for the Gophers, which usually isn’t a great sign for Minnesota, but he came up with a gutsy effort against the Wolverines that gave Minnesota chance for the upset.
Fox’s pick: Ohio State 35–14
Last week: 16–4
Season to date: 135–18