This is it, the most anticipated week of the college football season thus far. Not only does Week 10 provide a bevy of College Football Playoff-caliber games, it comes just after the selection committee. But with so many important games this week, just how radically different will next week’s rankings look?
Yes, there are games guaranteed to shake things up. No. 1 Alabama at No. 3 LSU has a lot riding on it. So, too, does No. 6 Georgia at No. 9 Kentucky. But there are also a number of ranked teams playing quality unranked opponents this weekend. That’s where things could get really interesting.
Each week, I’ll give you the top five upset alert games based on matchups, injuries/suspensions and other factors. Disclaimer: “upset” is defined first and foremost by the point spread, not perception or rankings, though they are both taken into consideration. I generally avoid games whose lines are within a touchdown with exceptions being made for cases that warrant them. I’m also going on the record with the picks and keeping tabs. The scoring system is exactly the same as it is for our weekly expert picks with season-long tallies against the spread (ATS) and straight-up (SU).
Week 9 results
Upset alert picks: 4-1
Picks to date: 26-19
ATS to date: 22-23
SU to date: 20-25
On to this week’s picks …
Temple at No. 12 UCF
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET | Where: Orlando, Florida | Line: UCF -10.5
Why it’s listed: As UCF athletic director Danny White“There’s a whole bunch of people who want us to lose.” Granted, I don’t want UCF to lose, but it’s possible it happens Thursday. Temple has already knocked off one undefeated ranked team, Cincinnati, challenged one of the ACC’s top teams, Boston College, and beat a 5-3 Maryland. The Owls have been better as the season’s progressed.
Temple’s key to the game: Getting running back Ryquell Armstead (ankle) back would be helpful, even though he hasn’t been an impact player vs. the Knights before. But if there’s a weakness to this UCF defense, it’s against the run. The Owls need to hold serve without letting this get too crazy as they are less likely to win if this game gets into the 30s or 40s. Shootouts aren’t their thing.
UCF’s key to the game: Quarterback McKenzie Milton’s health is also a question. He didn’t play against East Carolina because of an undisclosed injury. The Knights didn’t need him then, but they’ll need him here if he’s available. Temple has the AAC’s best scoring defense over the past month.
Pick: Both teams are excellent against the spread and are coming off an open week. With the AAC East division lead on the line, this one should be close. Ultimately, though, I’m more confident in Milton’s return from injury and impact. ATS: Temple, SU: UCF
Oklahoma State at Baylor
When: Saturday, noon ET | Where: Waco, Texas | Line: Oklahoma State -7.5
Why it’s listed: Oklahoma State was floundering and then got all the way up for a big win over Texas off the open week. Trust in Mike Gundy to draw things up when the occasion calls for it, but this game will tell us if that Texas win was an anomaly. And after playing horribly against No. 13 West Virginia as part of two straight losses, Baylor is looking for a bounce-back game.
Baylor’s key to the game: Whether Charlie Brewer (concussion protocol) or Jalan McClendon starts at quarterback, Baylor has to protect better. West Virginia got all kinds of pressure in the backfield a week ago and it got the Bears behind the sticks and behind on the scoreboard with a quickness.
Oklahoma State’s key to the game: The Pokes finally got the ground game going vs. Texas with Justice Hill and Chuba Hubbard. Even quarterback Taylor Cornelius got involved with some success on zone reads. Baylor’s defense is rough, but Oklahoma State’s offense comes and goes with the rushing attack.
Pick: Neither team is lacking athletes, but they are lacking consistency. If Oklahoma State keeps the ground game working, it’s going to be tough for Baylor to stop it. The Cowboys have found a formula. Can they stick with it? ATS: Baylor, SU: Oklahoma State
No. 4 Notre Dame at Northwestern
When: Saturday 7:15 p.m. ET | Where: Evanston, Illinois | Line: Notre Dame -9.5
Why it’s listed: This game has been circled for a minute as a possible chaos kickstarter. Not only is Northwestern 4-0 against the spread as a dog, it’s 3-1 outright in those situations (the lone loss was 20-17 vs. Michigan and the Wildcats led in that one, too).
Northwestern’s key to the game: It’s running back Isaiah Bowser. Northwestern isn’t known as a good rushing team, but Bowser has churned out 100 yards in each of the past two games. Low-key, the Wildcats’ style of punishment by three yards and a cloud of dust could wear down even the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame’s key to the game: The Irish have a top-10 pass defense and Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is talented, but hit-or-miss. If Notre Dame takes away those short passes, or keeps them from turning into bigger plays, Northwestern could be in trouble.
Pick: The Wildcats are good at grinding things out and keeping it close. I suspect they’ll do that again with linebacker Paddy Fisher being a major problem. And while Northwestern isn’t statistically a good run offense, they’ll lean hard on Bowser to close it out. ATS: Northwestern, SU: Northwestern
No. 7 Oklahoma at Texas Tech
When: Saturday 8 p.m. ET | Where: Lubbock, Texas | Line: Oklahoma -13.5
Why it’s listed: Obviously, the potential for a shootout is insanely high. This is a game of two top-10 scoring offenses and these are the types of games when Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury pulls out an ace or two that he’s been working on during the week.
Texas Tech’s key to the game: The Red Raiders won’t hold Oklahoma to a bunch of three-and-outs, but they’re good when it counts. Texas Tech has one of the better red zone defenses not just in the Big 12, but in the country with a 48.15 touchdown percentage.
Oklahoma’s key to the game: There is no scout team quarterback in the country who can prepare a defense for what Kyler Murray brings. He’s a lethal scrambler and the way he extends plays makes it practically impossible for defenders in coverage to stay on their guy. Texas Tech will take its swings with pressure, but it better get to him. You come at the king, you best not miss.
Pick: Oklahoma’s loss to Texas earlier in October was first and foremost a matchup problem. Texas Tech doesn’t run the the type of power offense that can give the Sooners fits. This one will be fun and borderline ridiculous, but Oklahoma just has too much to try to defend. ATS: Texas Tech, SU: Oklahoma
Cal at No. 8 Washington State
When: Saturday 10:45 p.m. ET | Where: Pullman, Washington | Line: Washington State -10.5
Why it’s listed: Oh heck yes, give me that sweet #Pac12AfterDark nightcap on a busy Saturday. Cal, fresh off an upset vs. Washington, has one of the country’s better defenses — 11th overall, per S&P+ — and have played lights out the past two weeks. Washington State is entering the part of the season where it has a huge target on its back.
Cal’s key to the game: Stopping the pass, obviously. The good news is the Golden Bears are No. 1 in the Pac-12 in that category and tied for first with 12 interceptions. They may even need a pick-six/non-offensive touchdown to pull within real striking distance.
Washington State’s key to the game: An overlooked aspect of Washington State’s surge is that it can’t put together a solid 60 minutes of football. They’re streaky. That’s not uncharacteristic for a Mike Leach team, but it’s something to keep an eye on. If quarterback Gardner Minshew starts cooking, it might be lights out for Cal.
Pick: The Bears are pesky enough defensively to frustrate Washington State, but the Cougars don’t have the same offensive problems Washington does. Cal, on the other hand, can only win this game if it’s a defensive struggle. ATS: Cal, SU: Washington State
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