As we approach a full month into the college football season, the competitive output from every notable team will ramp up noticeably as conference play begins. While we have had our fair share of classic match ups thus far, the elevated stakes for every program will undoubtedly make these already intense affairs even more nerve-wracking as fans represent their beloved colleges as they face their hated conference rivals. From here on out, cupcake games become practically non-existent and every team will have to put forth a concerted effort to win each crucial match up to determine their post season fates as the season wears on.
1. Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Houston Cougars
Whenever their is matchup that pits two opposing competitive styles against each other, the results are usually very intriguing. Looking at the top passing game of the Red Raiders (496 passing yards per game, first in FBS) and the relentless defense of the Cougars (9.5 points against per game, 7th in FBS) it becomes clear that the compelling clash between these foes will be a competitive sight to behold. While the high-flying offense of the Red Raiders is hard underestimate it has yet to face a formidable defense that the Cougars posses. Considering the latter with the fact that the Cougars have a solid passing attack of their own (289.5 passing yards per game, 32nd in FBS) and it becomes clear that Houston has a slight advantage going into this game.
Final Score: Red Raiders 28 Cougars: 34 Spread: Houston -6.0
2. NC State Wolfpack vs. Florida State Seminoles (12)
The matchup between these conference rivals is immensely difficult to gauge simply because of the small sample size for the Seminoles and the lack of stiff competition for the Wolfpack thus far. With Deondre Francois out for the season, true freshman quarterback James Blackman will be asked to lead the Seminoles offense to a decisive victory over a sneaky good Wolfpack offense (334.7 passing yards per game, Tied-13th in FBS). Unlike Francois, red-shirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley is an experienced passer who has looked fantastic this season (75.6 CMP%, 6 TD’s, 0 INT’s) albeit against relatively soft competition. While I believe Finley will handle the pressure better than some pundits may expect, the Seminoles defense led by defensive back Derwin James will be too much for the scrappy Wolfpack to handle
Final Score: Wolfpack 17 Seminoles 24 Spread: FSU -11.0
3. Duke Blue Devils vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
In a matchup that is almost always close regardless of respective records, the surging Blue Devils are hoping to crush their arch rivals in Chapel Hill when they face a struggling Tar Heels program. Despite their 1-2 record, the Tar Heels actually have a intriguingly reliable freshman quarterback in Chazz Surratt as he likes to throw the ball downfield (10.79 per pass attempt). However, the Blue Devils have one of the most well-balanced teams in college football as sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones has already taken major strides this year thanks in part to a strong supporting cast in running backs Brittain Brown and Shaun Wilson. Combine that with an experienced and opportunistic defense (14.7 points against, tied-24th in FBS) and the Blue Devils are the clear favorites in this affair.
Final Score: Blue Devils 27 Tar Heels 24 Spread: Duke -2.5
4. Alabama Crimson Tide (1) vs. Vanderbilt Commodores
When it comes to making prognostications on the outcome of a Alabama football game, it’s nearly impossible not to pick the Crimson Tide. After a decisive victory in week 1 against the Seminoles, the Crimson Tide have cruised through their previous two games and will finally get some pushback against SEC competition. While not the class of the conference, the Commodores sport the best defense in the country, which proved itself when they stifled a Kansas State offense that was above average going into the match up. While Commodores do not have enough pieces on offense to outscore Alabama, their fearless defense will give the top ranked Crimson Tide fits and will actually keep the game fairly respectable.
Final Score: Crimson Tide 29 Commodores 19 Spread: Alabama -18.5
5. TCU Horned Frogs (16) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (6)
A matchup that will have serious College Football Playoff implications, the Cowboys will face their toughest opponent yet in a underrated Horned Frogs team that has a potent offense of their own. Senior quarterback Kenny Hill has looked the part of a well composed and reliable passer as his completion percentage (75%) and eight touchdown passes (had only 17 touchdown passes last season) are indicative of a mature leader that can command his team confidently down the stretch of big games. However, the elevated confidence and performance of Mason Rudolph this season has exponentially increased the hopes that the Cowboys can realistically make the College Football Playoff by the end of the season given their dynamic offense. It’ll be an intriguing shoot-out through the first half, but the Cowboys’ plethora of offensive weapons led by Rudolph will become insurmountable for the competitive albeit inferior Horned Frogs.
Final Score: Horned Frogs 38 Cowboys 52 Spread: OKST -12.0
6. USC Trojans (5) vs. California Golden Bears
While the Trojans overcame the Texas Longhorns last week, the victory came after two overtimes with quarterback Sam Darnold looking particularly shaky against a porous Longhorns defense. While the Golden Bears can hardly be considered a serious threat to the Trojans, they will be much more apt to make the Trojan’s pay for silly mistakes in the passing game. Although the Golden Bears are fairly well-balanced on both sides of the ball, they lack serious playmakers on their roster and will inevitably come back down to earth over the coming weeks as a result. Still, the Trojans need to prove they can win big and avoid careless errors if they want to be considered the kings of the Pac-12.
Final Score: Trojans 35 Golden Bears 21 Spread: USC -16.5
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs (17) vs. Georgia Bulldogs (11)
After a dominant victory over the LSU Tigers, the Mississippi State Bulldogs vaulted themselves into the top-25 and are arguably the hottest team in college football. Their potent rushing attack led by Aeris Williams coupled with the cerebral game managing abilities of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has allowed Mississippi State to score big while relying on their elite defense to keep opposing offenses off the field. However, the Georgia Bulldogs have an effective and dynamic rushing attack of their own as Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are one of the best running back tandems in the country. However, quarterback Jake Fromm still has a lot of growing to do and may not be ready to overcome the other Bulldogs even at home.
Final Score: Miss. St. 31 Georgia 23 Spread: UGA -6.5
8. Penn State Nittany Lions (4) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes
Although the Nittany Lions have yet to face serious competition, their top-tier offense that is led by running back Saquon Barkley (leads team in receiving and rushing yards) and quarterback Trace McSorley (67.1 CMP%) is the real deal. Their defense is nearly as dominant as they have shutout two of their three opponents and allowed in state rival Pittsburgh to score just 14 points. While the Hawkeyes will prove to be far more formidable than Penn State’s previous foes, the make up of their overall roster is underwhelming compared to who the Nittany Lions have on their side. While quarterback Nathan Stanley and running back Akrum Wadley are not scrubs, they lack the big play ability needed to topple a college football giant. The fact that Hawkeyes play well at home will keep this game somewhat respectable initially, but the fire power that the Nittany Lions will bring to this match up will be way more than this resilient Iowa program can handle.
Final Score: Nittany Lions 43 Hawkeyes 24 Spread: PSU -12.5
9. Washington Huskies (7) vs. Colorado Buffaloes
Although this matchup will be viewed as a contest that will be dictated by how well quarterbacks Jake Browning and Steven Montez perform, it is their physical defenses that will end up stealing the show. Considering both teams have had issues with their running games this season, both defenses will look to consistently blitz the other quarterback to force a fumble or an errant throw that will result in a crucial turnover. While the Buffaloes have a slightly better defense, the Huskies are much more efficient at scoring and will have a slight edge at garnering favorable field position in this defensive grudge match.
Final Score: Huskies 20 Buffaloes 17 Spread: Washington -10.0
10. UCLA Bruins vs. Stanford Cardinal
Considering the embarrassment both teams suffered at the hands of their unranked opponents, you can bet that this particular conference match up will be particularly physical. While Bruins have one of the most proficient passing attacks at their disposal, their defense is abysmal and was one of the reasons why they lost to Memphis on the road. Conversely, the Cardinal have a solid defense but lack a reputable passing game and become too reliant on running Bryce Love to carry the offense. Ultimately, this contest will be fairly messy and undisciplined on both sides but UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen will do enough to get the win by the end of the game.
Final Score: Bruins 37 Cardinal 30