After a week in which five previously unbeaten teams lost, the season is getting more clarity and yet championships and playoff spots are as hotly contested as they've been all year. This is a season of crazy outcomes and heated competition on and off the field.
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:
College Football Podcast: Week 10 Recap
Michigan at Indiana
Michigan is among the nation’s best defensive teams because of a physical approach and plenty of talent, but the Wolverines also haven’t faced a ton of fully functioning offenses, particularly an effective spread offense. BYU and Michigan State are the only top-50 offenses Michigan has faced this season. Indiana ranks 30th, but the Hoosiers have played stretches this year without quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard. If anything this might give UM a barometer of how it will fare against Ohio State. Indiana is winless in the Big Ten, but the Hoosiers have proven they can play with anyone for three quarters. Unfortunately for Indiana, those fourth quarters have been problematic — to put it lightly.
Fox’s pick: Michigan 38–24
Arkansas at LSU
The loss to Alabama was humbling for all around for LSU. Fournette had his worst game of the season. Brandon Harris threw his first interception of the year and completed only 6-of-19 passes. The defense also gave up a season-high 250 rushing yards. Arkansas is playing with the most confidence it has had all season. The Razorbacks are getting hot at the end of the season just as they did last season when the Hogs shut out LSU and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks in November. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has suddenly fallen in love with the passing game, mainly because he has a quarterback who can do some damage. Brandon Allen has completed 52-of-76 passes for 975 yards with nine touchdowns and an interception in his last two SEC games, wins over Auburn and Ole Miss. Will Allen put up similar numbers against LSU on the road? Probably not, but it will be interesting to see Arkansas try.
Fox’s pick: LSU 28–24
Memphis at Houston
Memphis’ loss to Navy exposed what we’ve known for a few weeks: The Tigers were only going to go as far as their defense would carry them. Navy was the perfect team to exploit Memphis’ weakness, rushing for 374 yards and controlling the clock with the option. Three turnovers by Memphis didn’t help. Houston’s offense could be even more effective against the Tigers. The Cougars and Baylor are the only teams in the country that rank in the top 10 in both rushing and passing offense — and Houston has played a more challenging schedule relative to its talent level. This is an entertaining game that should end in Houston’s favor.
Fox’s pick: Houston 56–42
Utah at Arizona
In a game that flew under the radar because of its time slot and teams involved, Utah put up an impressive performance by scoring 34 points on an above-average Washington defense on the road. The Utes got back to what they do best, forcing turnovers and playing solid defense. Arizona has few answers this season. The Wildcats pressed USC last week, but Arizona’s defense can’t get off the field, and the quarterback situation has been uncertain for most of the season.
Fox’s pick: Utah 35–21
Clemson at Syracuse
The only risk for Clemson is that spending two weeks at No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, clinching the ACC Atlantic and beating their chief competition before the postseason results in some kind of emotional letdown. Syracuse has lost six in a row and ranks 13th in the ACC in total offense and 14th defense.
Fox’s pick: Clemson 42–10
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
The Wildcats’ season has come unraveled. Kentucky has lost four in a row, the last three by an average of 27 points. If the Wildcats are going to rebound and get to six wins, the next two weeks (Vanderbilt and Charlotte) are their best chance to do it. The Wildcats expect running back Stanley “Boom” Williams to return, but they’re also mulling a quarterback change after Patrick Towles had one of the worst starts of his career against Georgia last week. Despite a 3–6 record, Vanderbilt has one of the SEC’s better defenses, and head coach/defensive coordinator Derek Mason has been able to devise schemes to keep opposing quarterbacks off balance.
Fox’s pick: Vanderbilt 14-10
Oklahoma at Baylor
Buying into Oklahoma is a tricky proposition. The Sooners have a way of showing well for a few weeks and then collapsing soon after — look no further than the loss to Texas earlier this season. Despite our better judgment, we’re back on the Sooners’ bandwagon. The Sooners have been dominant on both sides of the ball, albeit against Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State. Here’s what’s to like about OU right now: A balanced offense that can play in a shootout behind quarterback Baker Mayfield or slow the pace of the game with Samaje Perine in the run game. Jarrett Stidham looks like he’ll be fine as Baylor’s quarterback of the future, but he’ll be asked to take on the Sooners in a game with Playoff implications in only his second start.
Fox’s pick: Oklahoma 41-38
Oregon at Stanford
The marquee game in the Pac-12 the last few years won’t have the same luster it’s had in the past. Oregon’s three losses are to blame, but the Ducks are getting better. This is clearly a different team with a healthy Vernon Adams at quarterback. The Ducks put up 777 yards against Cal last week and 501 two weeks ago against Arizona State in overtime. This game will be more competitive than many will expect, but Stanford had Oregon’s number when both were at their best in 2012-13.
Fox’s pick: Stanford 41–28
Pittsburgh at Duke
These teams were once in front of the pack for the ACC Coastal, but both have lost two in a row. Duke has lost in more spectacular fashion, first on the wild kickoff return against Miami and then in a rout against rival (and current Coastal leader) North Carolina. Pitt lost to Carolina and Notre Dame, making this a de facto elimination game in the Coastal. Neither team is particularly great. Trust the team with more overall balance and may be less susceptible to an emotional hangover.
Fox’s pick: Pittsburgh 28–21
Miami at North Carolina
The Tar Heels are rolling now, mainly behind the play of Marquise Williams. He’s accounted for seven touchdowns in the Heels’ pair of wins over their chief competition for the ACC Coastal, Pitt and Duke. The defense has been the turnaround story of the year. Brad Kaaya has returned for Miami, but even with their star quarterback, the Hurricanes limped to a home win over Virginia. A let down might be a concern for the Heels, but this is also the last home game of the season for UNC.
Fox’s pick: North Carolina 38–24
Georgia at Auburn
The question heading into the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry” is which team will be able to extend its momentum. Georgia ditched the Fauton Bauta experiment at quarterback and installed a plan in which Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey shared QB duties and running backs Sony Michel and wide receiver Terry Godwin took direct snaps. The result was 5.5 yards per play and 390 yards of total offense in a 27–3 win over Kentucky. At the same time, Auburn had its best rushing day of the season with 311 yards behind the emergence of Jovon Robinson, but the Tigers quarterback position will be in question. Starter-turned-backup Jeremy Johnson stepped in to completed 13-of-17 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in place of an injured Sean White.
Fox’s pick: Auburn 28–21
Oklahoma State at Iowa State
Oklahoma State has a few more believers after the Cowboys intercepted TCU’s Trevone Boykin four times in the Pokes’ breakout game. What will Oklahoma State do with their newfound attention? The Cowboys have one last road game before Oklahoma and Baylor and it’s against the same team and coach who ruined their national championship hopes in 2011. The Cowboys played close games with lesser competition earlier this year, so they’d be advised to leave no doubts in Ames.
Fox’s pick: Oklahoma State 42–20
NC State at Florida State
Jacoby Brissett may have unfinished business after playing the best game of his career in a loss to Florida State last season. The Seminoles won’t be caught off guard this time around, but they will be facing a rare bit of adversity for the first time in several years. The Seminoles lost earlier this year to Georgia Tech, but they haven’t had to play many seasons under Jimbo Fisher where their major goals — the national title and ACC championship — are out of reach.
Fox’s pick: Florida State 38-31
Washington State at UCLA
UCLA remains one of college football’s great mystery teams: Look like title contender one week, a dud the next. Meanwhile, we know what Wazzu is: an Air Raid team with questionable defense. That’s not enough to win every game, but it will win many. UCLA has faced a similar scheme an flourished in a 40-24 win over Cal on Oct. 22. UCLA has every reason to win this game, but we simply have a hunch. Washington State has won three of four, the only loss by two to Stanford.
Fox’s pick: Washington State 49–42
Florida at South Carolina
Florida is coming off a dismal offensive performance against Vanderbilt in a 9–7 win. South Carolina has been more competitive under interim coach Shawn Elliott, beating Vanderbilt and playing one-score games at Texas A&M and at Tennessee. That said, facing the South Carolina defense has been a nice confidence booster for SEC offenses. The Gamecocks are allowing a league-worst 454.6 yards per game in conference play. If there’s any upset potential it’s because Florida’s offense picks up where it left off against Vanderbilt and the absence of defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard — Florida’s top player in the front seven — allows quarterback Perry Orth and running back Brandon Wilds to pick up yards on the ground.
Fox’s pick: Florida 21–10
Maryland at Michigan State
The Spartans shouldn’t have too much trouble with a Maryland team that has lost six in a row and whose only victories are over Richmond and USF. If anything, this game could be a confidence builder for the Michigan State secondary that has been burned for 628 yards and five touchdowns the last two weeks. Maryland has thrown 25 interceptions in nine games this season, five more than any other team and 10 more than any other Power 5 team. The Terrapins thrown an interception every 11 passes — an astounding rate for a major team.
Fox’s pick: Michigan State 31–13
Alabama at Mississippi State
Alabama’s 25–20 win last year was the closest game the last six meetings, but Alabama led 19–0 at one point and intercepted Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott three times. Prescott has been far more secure with the football during his senior season, throwing only one interception to 18 touchdown passes. Prescott has proven he is the top quarterback in the SEC, but the Bulldogs don’t have much else. Prescott leads MSU with 418 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground; no one else on the roster has more than 220 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Alabama is coming off arguably the best defensive performance of any team this season, considering the opponent. Heisman frontrunner Leonard Fournette managed only 1.6 yards per carry against the Crimson Tide. Prescott presents a different challenge, but with the exception of the Ole Miss game, Alabama’s defense has been arguably the best in the country.
Fox’s pick: Alabama 31–14
Wake Forest at Notre Dame
Wake Forest has a decent defense, but the Demon Deacons’ offense is dismal. This is a team whose high point was beating Boston College 3-0 because the Eagles were even more inept on the goal line. Notre Dame will have to try hard to lose this one.
Fox’s pick: Notre Dame 38–10
Minnesota at Iowa
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard is battling through bumps and bruises, but he’s about to get some help. Leading rusher Jordan Canzeri is on track to return this week from a ankle injury, joining a running back corps that returned LeShun Daniels Jr. two weeks ago. The run game that was down to a third-stringer could be healthy for the stretch run. Minnesota has lost three in a row and four of the last five games, but included in that mix are games against three ranked teams (Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State) and one close call with the Wolverines. Minnesota has put more on the arm of quarterback Mitch Leidner in recent games, and it’s easy to see why: Three of Minnesota’s last five opponents have held the Gophers to fewer than 100 yards rushing. Leidner is averaging 299.7 passing yards per game in the last three with mixed results.
Fox’s pick: Iowa 35–21
Last week: 16-4
Season to date: 151-22