Week 6 of the college football season is already off to a strong start, as Arizona upset the #2 Oregon Ducks 31-24 on Thursday night.
Saturday’s games will feature five top-10 teams facing off against ranked opponents, as each of them looks to prove why they deserve to be in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Here, we take a look at the big match-ups for this important Saturday in college football.
Wake Forest (2-3, 0-1 ACC) at #1 Florida State (4-0, 2-0 ACC)
After falling behind 24-7 during the first quarter last weekend against NC State, the Seminoles outscored the Wolfpack 52-24 in the last three quarters to avoid the upset. It was the first game back for Jameis Winston, who was suspended for their previous game, so an adjustment period was expected. Winston, who despite having lost consideration for the Heisman Trophy due to his off-the-field issues, has put together a strong season, and he should be strong from the start against the Demon Deacons. Expect Florida State to jump ahead big early and rest Winston and their other starters by the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Florida State 52, Wake Forest 21
#3 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) at #11 Ole Miss (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
Despite being off to a 4-0 start, the Crimson Tide have not looked as strong as they have in past years, especially after surrendering four turnovers against Florida two weeks ago, despite winning 42-21. Meanwhile, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace (1271 yards, 11 TDs) leads an up-tempo offense, which has given Alabama trouble in the past. The Ole Miss defense, including highly touted 2013recruits Robert Nkemdiche and Troy Connor, has matured, helping the Rebel defense hold opponents to 8.5 points per game. If the Rebels can force turnovers, shut down Tide wide receiver Amari Cooper (655 yards, 5 TDs), and Wallace can limit his turnovers (he leads the SEC with 6 interceptions thrown), the Rebels have the chance to pull off the upset on a national stage at home. It’s a long shot though, as the Rebels have lost 10 straight to the Crimson Tide, but the opportunity definitely presents itself for Ole Miss.
Prediction: Ole Miss 42, Alabama 34
#4 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) at #25 TCU (3-0, 0-0 Big 12)
Numerous analysts have argued that Oklahoma has been the most consistent team in college football this season, despite its #4 ranking, and the Sooners will look to prove that against TCU. The Horned Frogs will look to prove that their impressive stats thus far (9th in the nation in points per game with 44.7, 2nd in points against with 7.0) weren’t merely due to weak competition. Oklahoma has some excellent running backs in Samaje Perine and Keith Ford that can help keep pressure off of quarterback Trevor Knight. Look for the running backs to test the TCU defense, while the balanced Sooner attack keeps the game just out of reach for the Horned Frogs.
Prediction: Oklahoma 35, TCU 24
#15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) at #5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
LSU was able to bounce back from their 34-29 defeat two weeks ago to Mississippi State, as they beat New Mexico State 63-7 last week. However, they have some question marks at quarterback, as they’re planning to give freshman Brandon Harris (394 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT) his first career start. They’ll now head to Auburn, which runs a very similar offense to the Bulldogs, although they have not put up the same numbers, mainly due to only scoring 20 points in a win against Kansas State on September 18th.
Expect Auburn to follow Mississippi State’s game-plan, using quarterback Nick Marshall (548 passing yards, 273 rushing yards, 8 total TDs) and running back Cameron Artis-Payne (468 yards, 5 TDs) to establish the run early and keep LSU’s defense off balance. LSU coach Les Miles will prepare his defense to handle this game-plan, and Harris, along with freshman running back Leonard Fournette (322 yards, 4 TDs) will do what they can to lead LSU to victory. If LSU can capitalize on Auburn’s recent inconsistencies, as well as stop the spread the second time around, they have a shot at the upset. At the very least, expect it to be closer than last year’s match; a 35-21 LSU win in Death Valley. Personally, I’m going with the defending SEC champions at home.
Prediction: Auburn 38, LSU 34
#6 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC) at #12 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0 SEC)
The Bulldogs have had an extra week to celebrate their 34-29 win over the then #8 LSU Tigers, and will face off an A&M team that barely escaped Arkansas in overtime. The game will match two of the best quarterbacks in the SEC in Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill (1745 yards, 17 TDs, 2 INTs) and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott (964 passing yards, 378 rushing yards, 14 total TDs). The Bulldogs will be able to hang on with the Aggies until the very end, but the weapons at wide receiver for the Aggies in Malcome Kennedy (378 yards, 2 TDs) and Josh Reynolds (336 yards, 5 TDs), plus a defense that seems to be able to make stops when it needs to, might be too much for them to overcome.
Prediction: Texas A&M 45, Mississippi State 42
#14 Stanford (3-1) at #9 Notre Dame (4-0)
As can be expected, the match between the Cardinal and Fighting Irish will be a defensive battle, with the teams ranking 1st and 4th in the nation in points against, respectively. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson (1142 yards, 11 TDs, 2 INTs) has been a more dangerous quarterback in 2014 than was expected, while Stanford has had issues with scoring in the red-zone throughout the season. The Cardinal are expected to sort that out as the season goes on, but expect the Irish to do everything they can to not let that happen.
Prediction: Notre Dame 23, Stanford 17
#19 Nebraska (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at #10 Michigan State (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten)
Outside of a bad second half in week 2 against Oregon, where they were outscored 28-3 and lost the game, the Spartans have been one of the more dominant teams in college football. Nebraska brings the 3rd-best rushing attack in the FBS to Lansing with 354.8 yards per game, led by Heisman hopeful Ameer Abdullah (FBS-leading 833 yards, 8 TDs) and dual-threat quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (1052 passing yards, 420 rushing yards, 12 total TDs). However, Armstrong has been inconsistent at times as a passer, and Michigan State’s secondary can force mistakes in the passing game, while having the resources to defend the running game. Meanwhile, quarterback Connor Cook has been able to make big plays when the Spartans have needed it, and has mostly avoided big mistakes this season.
Expect the Cornhuskers to stick with the running game early and often, and try to wear out the Spartan defense. This game could easily be decided by turnovers, and go either way. Armstrong is more likely to make mistakes than Cook, and the advantages Michigan State has on defense and playing at home gives them the edge in this matchup.
Prediction: Michigan State 38, Nebraska 31
Arizona State (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) at #18 USC (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12)
It’s been an up-and-down year to say the least for the Trojans, who went from beating Stanford 13-10 in Palo Alto to losing on the road 36-31 at Boston College, to rebounding from a slow start at the Coliseum to beat Oregon State 35-10. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils hope to rebound from a 35-point loss against UCLA at home, despite not having quarterback Taylor Kelly for the second straight game. They’ll go with Mike Bercovici, who went 42-for-68 with 488 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs in his first career start, against a USC defense that has yet to give up a passing touchdown this season.
Meanwhile, USC quarterback Cody Kessler (1107 passing yards, 10 TDs, 0 INTs) has been one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football this season. He’s been able to avoid mistake and has the support of a strong running game and defense to back him up. If Taylor Kelly were starting, I’d lean more towards the Sun Devils to pull off the upset in the Coliseum. However, they lose some offensive options with Bercovici in there and I expect the Trojans to take advantage. Either way, it’ll be a shootout at the Coliseum.
Prediction: USC 48, Arizona State 37
Utah (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) at #8 UCLA (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
After three disappointing performances against unranked opponents, UCLA dominated #15 Arizona State on the way to a 62-27 thrashing. The Bruins were finally able to put together a complete performance on offense, defense, and special teams, and assuming they can keep up that level of play, the Bruins will be a dangerous force as we get closer and closer to the inaugural College Football Playoff.
On the other side, Utah is coming off a heartbreaking loss to Washington State, and will be eager to bounce back on the national stage. The Utes have the personnel on the defensive line to cause problems for UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, and the personnel on special teams to make big plays. However, UCLA has shown it can win close games, and a better-rested Hundley pushes them to a 5-0 start.
Prediction: UCLA 38, Utah 28