The final weekend of the college football regular season is always a highly-anticipated event, and this year’s slate promises to be the best in recent memory. With very little decided in terms of division champions throughout the country, the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. Keep your Thanksgiving dinner portions light — you’re gonna need plenty of leftovers for Friday and Saturday.
No. 3 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State
Line: Ohio State, -6.5
Michigan WR Amara Darboh has confirmed that starting QB Wilton Speight has indeed been taking snaps this week, despite having missed last week’s game due to a left shoulder (or possibly collarbone) injury. His presence would be a significant boost to the Wolverines regardless of his health or effectiveness, as John O’Korn struggled against real and perceived pressure last week and was inaccurate on all levels. Don’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of Jabrill Peppers on offense as well, as the Wolverines are likely to throw the kitchen sink at the Buckeyes not just because of the QB situation, but because of the enormous stakes of the game.
On the other side, Ohio State will want Curtis Samuel to follow the blue print Maryland laid out with Lorenzo Harrison having success getting to the edge on Michigan in week 10 (he averaged 6.4 yards per carry against the Wolverines). Primary RB Mike Weber has forced 40 missed tackles on 165 carries this season, and the hope is his elusiveness between the tackles will translate similarly to how Iowa’s Akrum Wadley shredded the Michigan front two weeks ago. Michigan’s linebackers have also shown themselves to be vulnerable in coverage, and QB J.T. Barrett is significantly more consistent throwing over the middle than working the ball outside on intermediate and deep routes.
With a low-scoring game expected and field position at a premium, the punt teams will also play a huge factor. Peppers has averaged over 15 yards per return this season, but Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston is allowing less than one returnable punt return per game. This could lead Michigan to focus on the punt block, as they’ve gotten to seven this year and a Penn State block changed the fortunes of the Buckeyes in their only loss of the season.
While this game should be extremely close is likely to be decided on one or two key plays, with Michigan weakness in coverage underneath and uncertainty at quarterback (not to mention a reasonable weather forecast in Columbus on Saturday), the Buckeyes look to be the smart bet to win The Game again.
Prediction: Ohio State 13, Michigan 10
No. 13 Auburn at No. 1 Alabama
Line: Alabama -17.5
Excitement for this game was certainly tempered when Auburn lost to Georgia two weeks ago, and with this in mind it’s difficult to envision Alabama being sufficiently challenged by their rival. Against Georgia, Auburn RB Karryon Johnson had 12 carries between the tackles and managed just 33 yards on those touches. QB Sean White also did not complete a single pass more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, and with Alabama’s superior defensive talent they should be able to similarly shut down the Tigers on all fronts.
Prediction: Alabama 29, Auburn 10
No. 5 Washington at No. 23 Washington State
Line: Washington, -6
Washington CB Sidney Jones has given up just 15 catches on 36 targets this season, and opposing QBs have a rating of 26.2 when throwing in his direction. Jones is likely to be matched up with Washington State star WR Gabe Marks, who was targeted 17 times in last week’s loss to Colorado. The primary issue is Washington State’s support around Marks; River Cracraft tore his ACL in Week 11, thus QB Luke Falk will need to lean on Tavares Martin Jr., who does have 56 grabs this season. Washington hasn’t played its best ball the past two weeks, but Colorado showed last week that teams with strong a strong secondary can limit the effectiveness of the normally high-powered Cougar passing attack. Add in play-making ability of Washington’s offense, and it looks like the Huskies are more than capable of holding serve and advancing to the Pac-12 championship game next week.
Prediction: Washington 31, Washington State 24
No. 22 Utah at No. 9 Colorado
Line: Colorado, -10
Despite Utah’s loss last week, this game needs more play in the national media this week as it is clearly one of the top matchups we’ll see over the holiday weekend. The key matchup to watch will be Utah’s star pass-rush specialist Hunter Dimick against Colorado RT Aaron Haigler. Dimick leads the country with 14 sacks, while Haigler has given up just two this season on 214 pass sets. The other area to watch is Utah’s tackling; this has been an issue all season, in particular in the Utes’ last two games, where they missed a total of 39. Expect this trend to continue against Colorado’s diverse attack, which means the Buffaloes will come out on top and win a spot in next week’s PAC-12 championship game.
Prediction: Colorado 32, Utah 20
No. 15 Florida at No. 14 Florida State
Line: Florida State, -7.5
With the Florida State defense averaging five sacks per game in its last five and Florida giving up 10 pressures on just 20 drop-backs last week, presumed starter Austin Appleby could be in for a long afternoon for the Gators. Seminole RB Dalvin Cook forced an obscene 14 missed tackles last week en route to 227 yards and four touchdowns against Syracuse, and while he certainly won’t get anywhere near those numbers against his rival this week, he should have a strong-enough day to lead Florida State to victory.
Prediction: Florida State 23, Florida 12
Toledo at No. 21 Western Michigan
Line: Western Michigan, -9
The explosive Toledo offense is led by RB Kareem Hunt, who is averaging 5.3 yards per rush this season and has forced 52 missed tackles, helping him rank 11th in the country in elusiveness. Toledo also grades out at the top of the conference in receiving grades, thus considering Western Michigan’s own impressive offense, this game is likely to hit the over. I like the Broncos to win and home and stay undefeated, but this is clearly the toughest opponent they will have faced this season.
Prediction: Western Michigan 42, Toledo 39
No. 16 Nebraska at Iowa
Line: Iowa, -3
Iowa has played its best ball of the season the past two weeks, led by DT Jaleel Johnson and his two sacks and eight total pressures. RBs LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley have also been on point, as they have combined to run for 400 yards and force 13 missed tackles in victories against Michigan and Illinois. After sitting out last week, QB Tommy Armstrong is back at practice this week. While his presence could give the Cornhuskers a boost on offense, Iowa is clicking on both sides of the ball and is more than likely to force Armstrong to turn the ball over at least twice.
Prediction: Iowa 23, Nebraska 18
No. 19 Boise State at Air Force
Line: Boise State, -9
Air Force has given up a combined 84 points the past two games to Colorado State and San Jose State, two teams Boise State had little issue dispatching. Boise State RB Jeremy McNichols has forced 58 missed tackles on the ground this season, and has averaged at least 4.0 yards-after-contact per attempt in each of his last four games, and should be able to continue that streak against the Falcons.
Prediction: Boise State 43, Air Force 27
Minnesota at No. 6 Wisconsin
Line: Wisconsin, -14.5
These two teams have faced the same four opponents over the last month of the season, and while both teams easily handled Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern, the Golden Gophers came up short against Nebraska while Wisconsin squeaked by in overtime. The difference against the Cornhuskers was Minnesota’s struggles against Tommy Armstrong’s running (61 yards on nine carries), something they won’t need to worry about this week against Wisconsin. This game will be closer than many are expecting, but Wisconsin should be able to do just enough on the ground to pull out the win at home and secure the Big Ten West.
Prediction: Wisconsin 20, Minnesota 13
Kentucky at No. 11 Louisville
Line: Louisville, -26
Kentucky has four defensive starters with at least 12 missed tackles this season, and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Brandon Radcliff have combined to forced 73 missed tackles. This will not end well for the Wildcats.
Prediction: Louisville 44, Kentucky 21
Michigan State at No. 7 Penn State
Line: Penn State, -12.5
Bad weather helped Michigan State hang with Ohio State until the bitter end this week, and this week’s forecast in Happy Valley is again calling for rain and snow at kickoff. The Nittany Lions are potentially playing for a spot in the Big Ten championship, but the Spartans seemed to have righted the ship to an extent this last month, and RB L.J. Scott is coming off a game in which he averaged 8.4 yards per carry on the ground. This one could look very similar to last week’s game in East Lansing.
Prediction: Penn State 17, Michigan State 14
South Carolina at No. 4 Clemson
Line: Clemson, -24
Freshman Gamecocks QB Jake Bentley has taken a bit of a step back the last two weeks after three impressive starts in the first appearances of his career. After completing at least 65 percent of his passes and posting a QB rating over 110.0 in each of his first three starts, he hasn’t topped 61 percent or 81.0 in either of his past two starts. With Clemson playing at home and having everything to play for, Bentley is likely due for another tough game.
Prediction: Clemson 34, South Carolina 16
Notre Dame at No. 12 USC
Line: USC, -17.5
Virginia Tech QB Jerod Evans completed 75.9 percent of his passes against the Fighting Irish last week, and this week Notre Dame faces USC’s Sam Darnold, who completed 73.5 percent of his aimed throws against a much more formidable UCLA defense last week. The Trojans will continue to roll, and with a little help could find themselves in the PAC-12 championship game.
Prediction: USC 34, Notre Dame 20
Rice at No. 24 Stanford
Line: Stanford, -36
Through the first seven games of the season, the Cardinal scored just 119 points. Stanford’s offense has enjoyed a complete turn-around over the past four games, however, as they have racked up 157 in that span. Rice has averaged 37 points against this season, meaning Stanford’s 39 point-per-game streak over the last month is likely to be sustained this week.
Prediction: Stanford 47, Rice 9
No. 18 West Virginia at Iowa State
Line: West Virginia, -7
Iowa State is coming off consecutive wins for the first time since 2013, as the Cyclones blew through Texas Tech 66-10 last week. Meanwhile, West Virginia’s Big 12 championship hopes were dashed by Oklahoma in a 56-28 loss at home. While these results suggest trends in the opposite directions, this line reeks of recency bias. The Mountaineers had been the steadiest team in the conference all season before running into a hot (and significantly more talented) Sooners squad, and Iowa State has been very much the opposite.
Prediction: West Virginia 39, Iowa State 17
No. 17 Tennessee at Vanderbilt
Line: Tennessee, -7.5
Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs had a career day on the ground last week, as he racked up 192 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries. While he is unlikely to duplicate the performance this week, the Volunteers are clearly the superior side on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Tennessee 30, Vanderbilt 17
No. 20 Houston at Memphis
Line: Houston, -3.5
Houston vaulted back into the top 25 after last week’s dismantling of Louisville, and Memphis has not won a conference home game since Week 6's 34-27 victory over Temple. With Cougars QB Greg Ward finally healthy and the offense clicking both on the ground and through the air, this looks like a juicy spread to attack.
Prediction: Houston 38, Memphis 28
No. 25 Navy at SMU
Line: Navy, -7
The Navy triple option attack has averaged 375.7 yards per game over the last six games, and there is little to suggest SMU will be able to stop the Midshipmen. The Mustangs’ results have been all over the place this season, while Navy has been one of the steadier teams in the country this year.
Prediction: Navy 45, SMU 28