Every Friday throughout the season we’ll highlight the five best games of the coming weekend. This year, we’ll pick those games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
Welcome to November.
Week 10 marks the most significant weekend of the season so far, with four ranked-vs.-ranked games and plenty of others with College Football Playoff implications. Beyond that, the conference title races will continue to take shape across the country.
The first CFP rankings came out on Tuesday without much to argue. Expect that to change ahead of Week 11.
(Games on Saturday unless otherwise noted, all times ET)
5. No. 4 Notre Dame at Northwestern
Time: 7:15 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Notre Dame -9.5
For the second straight season, Notre Dame had a spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings. In Week 10 of 2017, the 7-1 Irish came in at No. 3. By Week 12’s rankings, the Irish dropped to No. 8 and fell all the way to No. 14 by the time the season ended. Now undefeated and ranked No. 4, Notre Dame — 8-0 after beating Navy 44-22 last week — is hoping to avoid a repeat. That starts this weekend in Evanston against a tough Northwestern team that has won four games in a row. Notre Dame really flipped a switch offensively when Brian Kelly put Ian Book in at quarterback. Book is completing 76.5 percent of his passes, best in the country.
Northwestern is the surprise leader of the Big Ten West. Entering last Saturday, the Wildcats were one of four teams in the division with just one conference loss. One of those teams was then-No. 20 Wisconsin, but Northwestern upset the Badgers, 31-17. The win put Northwestern at 5-3 overall, 5-1 in Big Ten play — quite a turnaround from losing three straight to Duke, Akron and Michigan in September. Northwestern isn’t a factor in the CFP picture other than potentially playing spoiler for Notre Dame. Next week’s trip to No. 16 Iowa is far more important in Northwestern’s quest for a division title.
Picks: Sam: ND -9.5, Nick: NW +9.5
4. No. 13 West Virginia at No. 17 Texas
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: FOX | Line: Texas -2
The Big 12 race is wide open, and Saturday’s game in Austin could end up being a big factor in ultimately deciding the league’s champion. Texas sat alone in first place in the conference after beating Oklahoma on Oct. 6. The Longhorns still have a tiebreaker over the No. 7 Sooners, but things changed when UT lost to Oklahoma State last week. Now UT, OU and West Virginia are tied with matching 4-1 conference records. Texas could essentially lock up a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game if it beats the Mountaineers.
With two losses, Texas is effectively out of the playoff picture, but WVU is still relevant from a national perspective. WVU and its high-powered offense started the season 5-0 but things fell apart Oct. 13 in Ames in a 30-14 loss to Iowa State. After a bye week, the Mountaineers rebounded in a big way, smashing Baylor 58-14 at home. Will Grier, once a Heisman candidate, had only 100 yards passing in the ISU loss. He bounced back with 353 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears. Grier will be relied on for a big performance against the Longhorns.
Picks: Sam Cooper: WVU +2, Nick Bromberg: WVU +2
3. No. 14 Penn State at No. 5 Michigan
Time: 3:45 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Michigan -10.5
Will Michigan’s revenge tour continue this weekend against Penn State? UM has already dominated two teams it lost to in 2017, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Next is Penn State, a team that throttled the Wolverines 42-13 in Happy Valley last fall. Michigan players have been outspoken about the bad taste that game has left in their mouths all these months later. And not only would a win mean revenge, it would get the Wolverines a step closer to the College Football Playoff. After dropping its opener to Notre Dame, Michigan has won seven in a row, earning placement as the Big Ten’s top CFP contender in the process. And if UM beats PSU, only Rutgers and Indiana stand between a likely Big Ten East division title game between Michigan and Ohio State.
It’s a long shot because of losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, but Penn State is still technically alive in the Big Ten East. A more realistic goal is a chance to play CFP spoiler for Michigan while taking another step closer to a New Year’s Six bowl berth. The Nittany Lions rebounded from their two losses with one-possession wins over Indiana and Iowa the last two weeks. The Nittany Lions, now 6-2 (3-2 Big Ten) are not as explosive on offense as the last two years, but still have Trace McSorley. McSorley is one of the most-experienced quarterbacks in the country. With a guy like that, PSU will always have a shot.
Picks: Sam: UM -10.5, Nick: Penn State +10.5
2. No. 6 Georgia at No. 9 Kentucky
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Georgia -9
Kentucky (7-1, 5-1 SEC) is playing meaningful football in the month of November. It’s been quite a while since the last time that was true. The Wildcats can clinch the SEC East title and a spot in the conference championship game by beating Georgia at home on Saturday. UK has never finished better than tied for second in the East since the SEC split off into divisions in 1992. That’s how big this game is for Kentucky, a team that relies heavily on SEC rushing leader Benny Snell. And it goes beyond the SEC, too. Because UK came back to beat Missouri on an untimed down last week, the team is firmly in the College Football Playoff race.
Georgia (7-1, 5-1 SEC), the 2017 national runner-up, can also clinch a spot in the SEC title game and keep its CFP hopes alive with a win. The Bulldogs started the year 6-0 before a disappointing loss to LSU in Baton Rouge on Oct. 13. A bye followed the LSU debacle and it paid dividends. Georgia looked exponentially better on offense in last week’s 36-17 win over Florida. UGA leaned more on its running game against the Gators, with D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield combining for 175 yards on 32 carries while QB Jake Fromm threw three TD passes. It remains to be seen if that carries over against Kentucky. The Wildcats are tied for first in the country in scoring defense (13.0 ppg).
Picks: Sam: UK +9, Nick: Georgia -9
1. No. 1 Alabama at No. 3 LSU
Time: 8 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Alabama -14.5
Alabama hasn’t been tested all year. With the emergence of Heisman favorite Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback, the Crimson Tide has completely dominated every one of its opponents en route to an 8-0 start. Alabama has been so dominant that Tagovailoa has not taken a single fourth quarter snap all season. Perhaps a trip to Death Valley will finally provide some resistance for Nick Saban’s group. LSU presents, by far, the toughest opponent for Alabama, but the Tide are still two-touchdown favorites. A win over the Tigers would clinch the SEC West, leaving two SEC home games (Mississippi State and Auburn), plus an FCS opponent, in the way of another undefeated regular season.
The stakes are considerably higher for LSU. The Tigers came in at No. 3 in the initial CFP rankings despite a loss to Florida. That’s because of the strength of their wins over the likes of Miami, Auburn, Georgia and Mississippi State along the way. A win over Alabama would put LSU in the driver’s seat in the SEC West and cause a bit of chaos in the College Football Playoff picture, presumably presenting a scenario where Alabama makes the playoff again despite not winning its own division. With a loss, LSU would likely be out of the CFP picture but would still be in good shape to make a New Year’s Six bowl.
Picks: Sam: Alabama -14.5, Nick: Alabama -14.5
Record ATS to date: Sam: 25-20, Nick: 16-29
Week 10’s best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 15-12)
Stanford at Washington (-10): This line feels a little large. Bryce Love is hampered by that nagging ankle injury but the Huskies lost to Oregon and lost last week at Cal. This has all the looks of a slog that Stanford keeps close at the very least. Pick: Stanford +10
BYU at Boise State (-13): The Cougars lost 7-6 at home to Northern Illinois last weekend. This feels like a gift at less than two touchdowns. Boise State isn’t the top dog in the MWC this year with the emergence of Fresno State and Utah State. But if Boise keeps winning a showdown with the Aggies on the last week of the season is for the division title. Pick: Boise State -13
Air Force at Army (-7): If you like football that harkens back 50 years and takes less than three hours to complete, the Air Force vs. Army game is your nirvana. I’ve gotta stick with Army, who is on a four-game win streak. The Knights are the only team that’s beaten Buffalo this season. Pick: Army -7
Sam Cooper (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 12-15)
Oklahoma State at Baylor (+7.5): This line feels a little inflated because of Oklahoma State’s big win over Texas last week. Going on the road to Waco for an early kickoff could present a bit of a slow start for the Cowboys, especially against a Baylor team that has to be itching to put a better showing together after getting blown out by West Virginia. I’ll take Matt Rhule’s group to cover. Pick: Baylor +7.5
Nebraska at Ohio State (-18): Don’t be fooled by Nebraska’s two-game winning streak. The Huskers still can’t stop anyone defensively. After the Purdue debacle, you know Urban Meyer will have Ohio State ready to roll on Saturday. There had to have been some defensive adjustments during the bye week, too. Nebraska can put up some points, but it is going to have trouble hanging with Dwayne Haskins and the Buckeyes. I think OSU covers fairly comfortably. Pick: Ohio State (-18)
Duke at Miami (-9.5): This is one of those lines that makes no sense to me. Miami’s passing game stinks and it makes no sense that Mark Richt continues to favor Malik Rosier over N’Kosi Perry. On the other side, Duke is coming off a bad loss to Pitt but has won outright all three times it was an underdog this season. I doubt a win is in the cards this time, but I’ll take the Blue Devils to cover. Pick: Duke (+9.5)
For Pat Forde and Pete Thamel’s Week 10 picks, check out Race for the Case: