At about 7 p.m. CT on Saturday night, it had been a big day of college football but not a season-changing one. Sure, Georgia had given Tennessee its first loss, but the Bulldogs were favored and someone had to win that game.
About three hours later, the chaos had struck in Baton Rouge and South Bend, where LSU and Notre Dame notched huge home victories that likely knocked out two of the College Football Playoff’s most familiar residents: Alabama and Clemson.
There are still three weeks left in the regular season, and one-loss Clemson in particular has at least a narrow path back into the CFP conversation, but those two night games have shifted the conversation.
Now, we have a clear path to the playoff for four teams: Georgia, the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game on Nov. 26, the Pac-12 champion (don’t laugh; the conference you forgot about has three one-loss teams, and if any of them run the table, they’re almost certainly in the CFP); and TCU, which is the only surprise unbeaten team left.
That might not last long, though. The Horned Frogs take their 9-0 record to Austin this week — where they’re 7-point underdogs to Texas. If that seems crazy, it kind of is. At the same time, Texas has been favored in every game this season except one — against Alabama — so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.
In any case, with apologies to Tulane-Central Florida, which is going to be tons of fun, and Alabama-Ole Miss, which looked like an enormous game a month ago, the Frogs and Horns is our Game of the Week.
(Lines from Caesars Sportsbook as of Wednesday)
Game of the Week
No. 4 TCU (+7) at No. 18 TEXAS, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC: Even taking into account that the Longhorns are analytic darlings and that TCU feels a bit like a 9-0 imposter, and even considering the home-field advantage, this line is crazy to me.
That’s not to say Texas can’t win this game. Most power rankings have the Longhorns anywhere between 1 and 5 points better than the Horned Frogs on a neutral field, and their offensive and defensive rankings are about equal even as Texas has played a more difficult schedule and had injury problems at quarterback, so I’ll even buy that Texas should win this game.
But given that TCU has done nothing but found ways to win games while Texas has had trouble getting over the finish line — even last week at Kansas State, the Horns blew almost all of a big lead before hanging on — how is Texas laying 7 points?
I just can’t see Texas running away with this thing with the veteran, explosive Max Duggan running the offense on the other side.
In what should be a close game throughout, I think TCU’s magical unbeaten run comes to an end, but we’re taking the points. (And by the way, you easily could see these teams playing again in three weeks with the Big 12 title on the line.)
The pick: Texas 34, TCU 31
OKLAHOMA (-8) at WEST VIRGINIA, Noon ET, FS1: It’s been a disastrous season for the other half of the Red River rivalry, as Brent Venables’ first season at Oklahoma has gone way off track. The latest setback was a 38-35 home loss to Baylor in which the Sooners gave up 281 yards rushing.
But just like we did last week with Iowa State, we’re going to pick on West Virginia here to help a team cure some ails. The Mountaineers have multiple offensive line starters out with injury, and it showed last week in the 31-14 loss in Ames in which WVU only gained 200 yards.
OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw three interceptions against Baylor last week, and those mistakes are obviously a concern, but there’s nothing wrong with the explosiveness of this OU attack, which averaged better than 6.3 yards per play, actually better than its season average. If that trend continues, West Virginia will have trouble keeping pace.
The pick: Oklahoma 41, West Virginia 24
RICE at WESTERN KENTUCKY (-13), 2 p.m. ET, ESPN+: I’m not just picking the Hilltoppers because they’re finally putting Big Red on the helmets. WKU has covered the spread by an average of more than 7 points this season, a rate that’s among the best in the country. The Hilltoppers look to continue that against Rice, which is 5-4 but has the statistical profile of a much worse team.
Western Kentucky averages 37.2 points per game, tops in Conference USA, and that’s backed up by a yards-per-play number of 6.7 that’s 16th in the nation. The quarterback is Austin Reed, who took over for Bailey Zappe and has been nearly as impressive as his NFL predecessor. Reed has 3,171 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions, including 409 yards and six TDs in a rout of Charlotte last week.
It might surprise you to know that WKU is also 30th in the nation in yards per play allowed. This number is just too low.
The pick: Western Kentucky 45, Rice 16
No. 9 ALABAMA at No. 11 OLE MISS (+12), 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS: The narrative here is going to be that the Crimson Tide will be ticked off to the gills after losing the epic heartbreaker at LSU, but it seems equally likely that they’re emotionally and physically exhausted and facing another tough road trip.
Nick Saban is the GOAT, and if anyone can get a team back up for a big game it’s him, but the truth is we have very little precedent for this situation. Only twice since 2008 has Alabama not controlled its own destiny for the SEC West race before the end of the regular season, and in both 2010 and 2019, the Tide lost to Auburn.
Coincidence? Maybe. Auburn was the national champion in 2010, and both games were competitive. It’s not like Alabama played poorly. But when Bama has averaged less than one SEC loss per year since 2008, it’s notable that two of them have come in this exact situation.
Ole Miss is coming off an open date and still has some hope of its first SEC title game berth. The Rebels have a better defense than they get credit for and should be able to hang around in this one.
The pick: Alabama 33, Ole Miss 27
WASHINGTON at OREGON (-13½), 7 p.m. ET, Fox: Remember when Bo Nix and the Ducks were a laughingstock on the opening Saturday of the season, with Georgia providing the 49-3 whupping?
Remember when Washington pummeled Michigan State, and everyone (myself included) thought the Huskies were a legitimate threat in the Pac-12?
Things have changed dramatically. Nix is among the nation’s most efficient passers (since the loss, he has 75.8% completion, 2,322 yards, 22 touchdowns and three interceptions) and Oregon has scored 40 points in every game.
Meanwhile, Washington has been as pedestrian as a 7-2 team can be since the Michigan State win (which doesn’t look nearly as good now anyway). That’s especially true on the road, where the Huskies are just 1-2 with an uninspiring 28-21 win at Cal. Autzen Stadium will be rocking, and the Ducks should take another step toward a CFP berth (and, gulp, a Georgia rematch?).
The pick: Oregon 44, Washington 23
No. 1 GEORGIA at MISSISSIPPI STATE (+16), 6 p.m. ET, ESPN: No way you can ever pick against Georgia again, right? They demolished No. 1 Tennessee in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 27-13 score would indicate, won the national championship last year and will cruise through to another one, right?
Maybe. But consider a couple of facts: (1) Mississippi State is a top 25 caliber team according to most major analytics. (2) the road game after a huge home win is always an emotional challenge (LSU faces the same situation). (3) Georgia has played with its food quite a bit this year, sleepwalking through a win against Kent State, needing a late charge to beat Missouri and suffering a third-quarter lull against Florida.
There’s some risk involved here, because when focused, Georgia is obviously capable of covering this number. But the cowbells will be clanging, Mike Leach has made a career out of winning games he has no business winning and this is a huge letdown spot. I don’t have enough screws loose to pick the upset, but I’ll take the dogs in a battle of Dawgs.
The pick: Georgia 27, Mississippi State 17
LAST WEEK: 4-2 straight up, 3-3 against the spread
THIS YEAR: 42-18 straight up, 29-30-1 ATS