News & Analysis

College Football Week 15 Preview: Picks, predictions, players to watch and more

Oct 31, 2020; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA; Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) celebrate a touchdown pass from Jones to Smith at Bryant-Denny Stadium during the second half of Alabama's 41-0 win over Mississippi State. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

Four of the five Power 5 conference championship games may already be set, but there are still quite a few big games on the Week 15 college football slate.

There are impactful games that could help decide the New Year’s Six slate, such as Georgia versus Missouri and North Carolina versus Miami, and there is also a major game that could impact the 2021 NFL Draft with Zach Wilson taking on a great San Diego State defense. On top of all that, the matchup for the 2020 Pac 12 Championship Game will be decided!

With the help of PFF grades and advanced statistics — which are now available to PFF's CFB Premium Stats+ Subscribers — we can give you everything you need to know ahead of this week's top college football matchups. Please note that any picks and predictions made here are not reflective of PFF Greenline or our expert betting analysts. For betting insights into the Week 15 slate, click here!

NO. 1 ALABAMA @ ARKANSAS

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

This Alabama team has the season’s best-performing quarterback, wide receiver and secondary, a.k.a. the three most important areas in the game of football.

Both Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith are on pace to shatter the PFF College record for the highest single-season grade at their respective positions. They have been instrumental in the Crimson Tide fielding the most efficient passing offense in the FBS this year — and by a large margin, I may add.

They then have the highest-graded outside cornerback tandem in the country with Patrick Surtain II and Josh Jobe. There was a bumpy start for slot corner Malachi Moore, but ever since that Ole Miss game back in Week 6, the true freshman has been on point. Moore has led college football in slot coverage grade since Week 7.

That all being said, it’s seemingly impossible for Arkansas to pull off the upset. Still, we'll stay positive: The Razorbacks have been better than expected this season; Kendal Briles has had Feleipe Franks use play action at an astronomical rate of 55%, and it has significantly aided his downfield passing (eighth in the FBS in passing grade on 10-plus-yard throws).

Treash’s prediction: Alabama. Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith are right behind Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase as the best college QB-WR duo I have ever seen.

Seth’s prediction: Bama. It's the last tune-up game before the championship game, and while Arkansas has played above its weight this year, Bama still wins by a lot.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 9 GEORGIA @ NO. 25 MISSOURI

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 12:00 p.m. ET, SECN

What Eli Drinkwitz has done with this Missouri offense in Year 1 is one of the most underappreciated stories of the 2020 season.

This passing offense was widely considered a bottom-of-the-barrel group entering the year, but they have defied those odds so far. Led by Connor Bazelak, Mizzou has the fifth-most-efficient passing offense in the SEC. They rank 20th in the Power 5.

Bazelak has been incredible from a clean pocket, earning a 90.5 passing grade on such plays (13th in the Power 5) in his first season as the starter. But just like most quarterbacks in their first year of action, he has struggled when under pressure, and his grade falls to 13th-worst when the defense moves him off his spot. And Georgia can sure get after the quarterback, as their sixth-best team pass-rush grade in the Power 5 can attest.

For Georgia, all eyes are on quarterback J.T. Daniels. He had arguably the best performance of any player this season in his Georgia debut back in Week 12 when he posted a 95.0 PFF grade against Mississippi State. In his next start, against South Carolina, we only got to see him attempt 16 passes due to the backfield carrying the load and running all over the Gamecocks.

As incredible as that debut was, we still need to see a lot more from Daniels before we declare him the next premier quarterback in college football.

Treash’s prediction: I think these two teams are each a little overhyped, but I do think they are closer than the 13-point spread says. I'll take Georgia but in a close one.

Seth’s prediction: Georgia. I'm excited to see J.T. Daniels again. It's a small sample size, but so far, so good for the QB that Dawg fans have been waiting for.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

 


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ILLINOIS @ NO. 14 NORTHWESTERN

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Northwestern’s passing offense has taken a step back recently. The Wildcats generated a successful pass rate of 54% over their first four games (third in the Big Ten) but have dropped that rate by nearly 20 percentage points in their two games since. The good news is that this is a prime game for the Wildcats to get back on track before they head to Indianapolis to take on Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. Illinois has allowed the highest successful pass play rate in the Big Ten this year (54.8%).

Treash’s prediction: Northwestern.

Seth’s prediction: NW. It will certainly be low-scoring, but Northwestern's defense is going to be too good against Brandon Peters.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


UTAH @ NO. 21 COLORADO

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 12:00 p.m. ET, FOX

Colorado was expected to be one of the worst teams in the Pac 12 this season, but they have surprised everyone with a 4-0 record to start. How they've got to that undefeated record is interesting, though.

Their first two wins came courtesy of a productive passing offense that managed to overcome their struggling pass defense. Their last two wins have been the exact opposite.

In their first two games, the Colorado offense generated 0.26 EPA per pass play, and Sam Noyer's 90.6 passing grade led the Pac 12. Meanwhile, their coverage unit finished as the lowest-graded group in the conference over that span.

Over their last two games, Colorado has stumbled to -0.39 EPA per pass play, while Noyer's grade has dropped to just 46.5, the second-lowest grade in the conference. However, the coverage unit rallied, carrying the team en route to earning the conference's highest grade over the last two weeks.

The good news for the Buffs is that they are facing the least-efficient passing offense in the Pac 12 — Utes QB Jake Bentley has a 32.1 passer rating and a 49.4 passing grade on passes thrown over 10 yards downfield this year.

Treash’s prediction: I think we may be overreacting to Colorado just a smidge, but they’re going to win this one. The Utah offense is only way too concerning.

Seth’s prediction: Colorado. It'll be a really tough test for a young QB against a defense that did lose a bunch of players but is still good.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

Sep 12, 2020; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Coastal Carolina Chanticleers quarterback Grayson McCall (10) throws a pass against the Kansas Jayhawks during the second half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

NO. 13 COASTAL CAROLINA @ TROY

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 3:00 p.m. ET, ESPN+

Coastal Carolina has shocked the college football world this season. They are fresh off knocking off Zach Wilson and the BYU Cougars, and the team now sits with a perfect 10-0 record.

The Chanticleers run a triple-option offense with a twist that defenses have struggled to handle, and it is made possible because of quarterback Grayson McCall. They are dangerous on the ground, as we saw against BYU when they generated a successful run 51% of the time (17th in the FBS that week), but even more so when McCall throws the ball. McCall has earned a 91.8 passing grade this season behind his pinpoint downfield passing. The Coastal Carolina quarterback ranks sixth in the FBS in uncatchable-pass rate (25%) on throws of 10-plus yards.

Treash’s prediction: Coastal Carolina. I can’t pick against them after seeing what the offense did against BYU last week.

Seth’s prediction: CCU. It's a potential drop-off game, but I don't see it. McCall is too good. The offense is too good. The defense is sneakily great, too.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 17 NORTH CAROLINA @ NO. 10 MIAMI (FL.)

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

This is one of the best quarterback matchups of the regular season. UNC’s Sam Howell and Miami’s D’Eriq King rank fifth and 11th, respectively, among FBS quarterbacks in PFF grade, and both quarterbacks will enter this game with a season-long grade above 90.0.

This game might not come down to the quarterbacks, however. This game could ultimately be decided in the trenches between Miami’s stout pass rush and North Carolina’s offensive line.

The Tar Heels’ offensive line got destroyed the last time they went up against a top-tier pass rush. Of course, that was in their game against Notre Dame a couple of weeks ago when their offensive line posted the fourth-worst single-game grade among Power 5 units this season. Their repeated losses in pass protection didn’t give Howell and the Tar Heels' passing offense enough time, so the playcalling became conservative, and that limited their shots downfield.

The Hurricanes have the highest-graded pass rush in the ACC and one of the best edge tandems in college football. Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips have each earned a pass-rush grade above 85.0 this season, ranking eighth and 10th, respectively, among all Power 5 edge rushers.

Treash’s prediction: Miami. I have faith in Sam Howell, but I do not trust the OL or the playcalling.

Seth’s prediction: Miami. Back on the D'eriq King hype train. Hopefully, this is a 40-point barnburner.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


WISCONSIN @ NO. 16 IOWA

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 3:30 p.m. ET, FS1

Given Wisconsin's performance to kick off the year, few would have anticipated that the Badgers would enter Week 15 as the unranked team in this matchup. But here we are!

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz opened up the season with a remarkable performance against Illinois. Every single one of the 21 passes he threw was charted as catchable, and he earned a 93.9 passing grade for the game.

Since then, though, he and the Wisconsin offense has fallen flat. The Badgers rank 13th-to-last in the entire FBS in passing efficiency since their big win against the Illini. The coverage unit, however, has stayed strong throughout this season and ranks fifth among all Power 5 defenses in EPA per play allowed. That’s one spot ahead of their opponent this week, Iowa.

The Hawkeyes opened up the 2020 season with two losses to Purdue and Northwestern but have since rallied with five straight Ws. Though, a lot of their most recent success can largely be attributed to their defense shutting down poor offenses.

The Iowa passing offense, led by Spencer Petras, has struggled massively this season. This is Petras’ first season as their starter, and among Big Ten quarterbacks entering Week 14, he ranks last in big-time throw rate, second-to-last in passing grade (56.2) and last in accurate-pass rate (46%).

Treash’s prediction: Wisconsin. I really like this zone-heavy Iowa coverage unit, but the last time Petras faced a defense this good (Week 9 vs. Northwestern) it got really ugly.

Seth’s prediction: Wisconsin. I Think we see Wisconsin bounce back, but if Iowa wins we're gonna have to go back and figure out how we slept on them the whole year.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.

Nov 28, 2020; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts (84) scores a touchdown during a football game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Nov. 28, 2020. Credit: Brad McClenny-USA TODAY NETWORK

LSU @ NO. 6 FLORIDA

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

This LSU-Florida matchup may not be very competitive this season, but this game has a very intriguing player-against-player matchup.

Tight end Kyle Pitts is doing historically great things and is on pace to shatter the PFF College record for the best single-season receiving grade earned by a tight end. He has recorded an 80.0 PFF grade in each of his seven games played this season, while every other tight end in the country has two or fewer 80.0-plus-graded outings this season.

That kind of production from Pitts is almost hard to believe and, quite frankly, unlike anything we have ever seen. He plays inline more than anywhere (over 66% of the time), but Pitts is also known for putting together highlight-reel plays at outside receiver. Pitts has been targeted on over 38% of his routes after lining up out wide, and he has caught 12 passes for 167 yards, five touchdowns and a 92.8 receiving grade on those targets. He's averaged almost 4.0 yards per route run and generated a 147.7 passer rating when targeted at that alignment.

We could see Pitts get some snaps against LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. in this one. Last year’s Florida-LSU game was one of the few blips Stingley had in his historically good year, and I'm sure he remembers allowing a couple of explosive plays while in coverage against the Florida tight end.

Treash’s prediction: Florida. I think Kadairus Toney is going to feast in the slot and have a monster game.

Seth’s prediction: Florida. Hopefully they cancel this game before kickoff.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 22 OKLAHOMA STATE @ BAYLOR

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU

These two offenses are not just near the bottom of the Big 12 in per-play efficiency; they are both near the bottom of the entire Power 5. Oklahoma State and Baylor rank 51st and 53rd, respectively, among the 65 Power 5 programs in EPA per play generated.

The Pokes can thank their defense, namely their secondary, for the patches of success they have been able to find this season, as they rank third in the Power 5 in successful-pass rate allowed (37%).

Rodarius Williams and Jarrick Bernard-Converse have combined to give Oklahoma State the third-highest-graded outside cornerback tandem in the entire FBS this season. Meanwhile, Tre Sterling has been a certified playmaker wherever he is on the field, but especially when covering the slot. Sterling even comes in at No. 1 in the FBS in slot coverage grade.

Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer — the Big 12's leader in turnover-worthy plays — could have some issues in this one.

Treash’s prediction: Oklahoma State. I am flabbergasted that they are favored by less than six points.

Seth’s prediction: Baylor. Oklahoma State is clearly the better team, but they haven't played exceptionally well recently. I'm also a Dave Aranda stan, so here's an upset pick.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


NO. 15 USC @ UCLA

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Expectations were high for USC quarterback Kedon Slovis following his 80.8 passing grade as a true freshman in 2019. He had all the fixings to take his play to elite status and make his name known as one of the premier passers in the country, but instead, he underwhelmed to start 2020. Slovis recorded just a 71.1 passing grade through his first three games, and the pinpoint accuracy seemingly vanished.

Slovis bounced back against Washington State last week, however, and looked like the quarterback we were expecting to see from the get-go. He earned a 92.8 passing grade for the game and was deadly accurate. In fact, Slovis’ 90.3% accuracy rate that night was the fourth-highest single-game figure of the 2020 season.

USC can clinch a spot in the 2020 Pac 12 Championship Game with a W here, and they need Slovis to stay the course and pick up from where he left off last week.

Treash’s prediction: USC. Kedon Slovis has arrived!

Seth’s prediction: USC. Slovis is back.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


SAN DIEGO STATE @ NO. 18 BYU

Saturday, Dec. 12 — 10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2

This game no longer carries College Football Playoff implications since BYU lost to Coastal Carolina last week, but it could very well impact the 2021 NFL Draft.

If Zach Wilson smokes this San Diego State defense — a defense that has performed at an extremely high level, I might add — he will convince more and more NFL executives that he is the real deal, subsequently raising his stock (he’s already No. 3 on our big board).

Wilson had yet another impressive outing last week against the Chanticleers,  earning an 82.4 passing grade for the game. That brings his season-long mark to 95.0 — and that’s on pace to break the PFF College record.

Wilson will go toe-to-toe with a ferocious San Diego State coverage unit, the likes of which he hasn't seen so far this year. The Aztecs have allowed a successful pass play just 33.5% of the time this year, the best in the FBS, and they've been beaten on a deep pass (a pass thrown 20 or more yards downfield) just six times all season.

Meanwhile, Zach Wilson — college football’s highest-graded deep passer — has unloaded multiple deep big-time throws in all but one game this season.

This is set up to be a great one.

Treash’s prediction: BYU. Wilson is just too good; I’m expecting another Heisman-worthy performance.

Seth’s prediction: BYU. I think Wilson bounces back with another really good game against one of the better secondaries in college football.

For our PFF Greenline game preview that includes win and cover probability, click here.


 

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