College football week 10 previews and predictions

The first week of the the College Football Playoff Rankings left 3 SEC teams in the Top 4 (No.1 Mississippi State, No. 3 Auburn, and No. 4 Ole Miss), and plenty of other one-loss teams looking to break in. With another exciting weekend ahead of college football, headlined by a battle between two top-4 programs, we’ll take a look at this weekend’s slate of games.

#3 Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC) at #4 Ole Miss (7-1, 4-1 SEC)

The biggest game of the weekend pits two teams looking to not only keep their spot in the playoff rankings, but also maintain ground in the SEC West. Both teams are coming off fairly disappointing performances from a week ago, with Auburn barely holding on to beat South Carolina 42-35, while Ole Miss was upset in Death Valley 10-7.

The big test will be whether or not Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace (2075 yards, 18 TDs, 7 INTs) can lead the offense to enough points to put less pressure on Ole Miss’s #1 scoring defense (10.5 points per game). The Tigers, led by quarterback Nick Marshall (1684 total yards, 18 total TDs, 3 INTs), are a much more dangerous offense than LSU (they also beat LSU 41-7 earlier in the season), and mental errors from Wallace could doom the Rebels to a second straight loss. It’ll be a tough, primetime matchup, but I’m going to go with Auburn and the more consistent Nick Marshall.

Prediction: Auburn 21, Ole Miss 17

#7 TCU (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) at #20 West Virginia (6-2, 4-1 Big 12)

Quarterbacks will take center-stage in Morgantown, as Trevone Boykin (2680 total yards, 24 TDs, 3 INTs) and the Horned Frogs will take on Clint Trickett (2763 yards, 17 TDs, 5 INTs) and the Mountaineers. Both have established themselves as comeback players of the year, and have given their teams a chance in the Big 12, which is normally dominated by Oklahoma and Texas.

TCU leads the nation with 50.4 points per game, and is coming off scoring 82 against Texas Tech last weekend. I expect the Mountaineers to do a better job than the Red Raiders at stopping the TCU offense, but not well enough to pull off the upset in what should be a shootout.

Prediction: TCU 49, West Virginia 42

#12 Arizona (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) at #22 UCLA (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12)

The Bruins have been one of the more disappointing teams of the season, starting the season ranked #7 in the polls, but suffering a pair of losses against Utah and Oregon, as well as allowing their opponents to stay close until the end, including Colorado. Their offensive line has had trouble all year, leading to Brett Hundley (2471 total yards, 19 total TDs, 4 INTs) being sacked 24 times (8th in FBS), but has put up enough big plays to keep them barely in the playoff mix.

Meanwhile, Arizona brings their high-powered offense, with the 8th-best passing attack in the nation (348.4 yards per game) and 13th-best offense (40.6 points per game), which will test the Bruins’ defense. That being said, UCLA will look to pounce back from their concerning performance last week, and they should be able to pull off the win in the Rose Bowl, setting themselves back on track in the South.

Prediction: UCLA 38, Arizona 35

#17 Utah (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) at #14 Arizona State (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12)

The Utes will look to build on their momentum of their 24-21 win over USC as they head to Tempe to take on the Pac-12 South-leading Sun Devils. Both teams have risen to the top off of tough defenses, strong running games, and dual-threat quarterbacks. Travis Wilson (1132 total yards, 9 total TDs, 0 INTs) and Taylor Kelly (980 total yards, 10 total TDs, 1 INTs) have largely avoided mistakes this season, and both were able to come away with wins last weekend.

The game should come down to whether Devontae Booker (939 total yards, 8 TDs) or D.J. Foster (1072 total yards, 8 total TDs) can wear down the opposing defense faster, as well as which quarterback makes a mistake first. It’ll be a very evenly-matched contest, but the Utes’ advantages on both defense and special teams with kicker Andy Phillips and kick returner Kaelin Clay should give them the slight edge.

Prediction: Utah 28, Arizona State 24

Stanford (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) at #5 Oregon (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12)

With a spot opening up in the Top 4 after Saturday’s games conclude, Oregon will be the odds-on favorite to nab the No. 4 ranking in the College Football Playoff. Since their 31-24 loss at home to then-unranked Arizona, the Ducks have looked more like the team that beat #7 Michigan State by 19 earlier in the year. Their offensive line has returned some key players, while the combination of quarterback Marcus Mariota (2608 total yards, 29 total TDs, 1 INT) and running back Royce Freeman (748 yards, 13 TDs) continues to be too much to handle for opposing defenses.

That being said, Stanford has kept Mariota in check throughout his career, as the Cardinal are the only Pac-12 team Mariota has not beaten yet. Despite having three losses and two in-conference, the Cardinal have the 2nd best defense in the nation, giving up 12.5 points per game, and look to continue that trend against Mariota and the Ducks. However, Mariota is simply looking better and better as his career goes on, and, despite their defense, Oregon is always a threat to put up big numbers. In addition, it remains to be seen how well Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan (1814 yards, 13 TDs, 6 INTs) will do if the game becomes a shootout. Unfortunately for Stanford, Mariota is going to make sure his offense is firing on all cylinders for this one, so it could be a shootout in Autzen.

Prediction: Oregon 42, Stanford 27

USC (5-3, 4-2 Pac-12) at Washington State (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12)

After suffering another heartbreaking loss against Utah last weekend, the Trojans will have to regroup to face the best passing-attack in college football (489.9 yards per game) in Washington State. Connor Halliday (3833 yards, 32 TDs, 10 INTs) has already set the single-game records for pass attempts and passing yards this season, and will be facing a USC secondary that has been very hit-or-miss against the pass.

The Trojans will also be looking to avenge their 10-7 to the Cougars in the Coliseum last year, a game that did not have as many points as was expected. I expect the exact opposite here, with both offenses looking to make up for last season. The balance of USC’s offense with Cody Kessler (2148 yards, 20 TDs, 2 INTs) behind center and Buck Allen (1326 total yards, 9 total TDs) in the backfield, along with the play-making ability of the USC secondary with Su’a Cravens and Adoree Jackson, should help the Trojans rebound from another tough loss.

Prediction: USC 45, Washington State 35

College Football Playoff Top 4

#1 Mississippi State vs #4 Oregon

#2 Florida State vs #3 Auburn

The Bulldogs should be able to best an Arkansas squad that’s winless in the SEC to keep their spot at the top of college football. Florida State, behind some more superb play from quarterback Jameis Winston, was able to avoid an upset with a 42-31 win over #25 Louisville on Thursday and continue their quest for another undefeated regular season. The match between Auburn and Ole Miss will kick out one of the other two teams (I have Auburn winning that game), and Oregon should be able to pounce on the open spot with a win at home against Stanford.