Week 8 didn’t disappoint. Purdue surprised the college football world with a big 49-20 victory over Ohio State and Washington State knocked Oregon off its brief perch as the favorite in the Pac-12. With those upsets fresh in our minds, it’s time to make a few bowl predictions. Here’s how we think the New Year’s Six bowl games will look like.
Georgia vs. Texas
The Bulldogs and Longhorns were both off in Week 8. Best case, both teams should lose only one more game this season. Georgia looks like a favorite in every one of its games the rest of the year until the SEC Championship Game against Alabama. The same goes for Texas, who will be favored in each of its five remaining regular-season games and could be a pick-em against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game. A College Football Playoff appetizer of two 10-2 blueblood programs isn’t too shabby.
Central Florida vs. Oregon
The Knights are still far and away the best Group of Five team. McKenzie Milton missed Saturday’s game against East Carolina because of an ankle injury and the Knights didn’t need him in an easy win. It was a tossup here between Oregon and either Iowa or Wisconsin for the other spot. We went with the Ducks because Oregon has an easier schedule the rest of the way. Both Big Ten teams have Purdue and Penn State on the road left on their slates. With games against Arizona, UCLA, Utah (home), Arizona State and Oregon State, Oregon could finish 10-2.
Ohio State vs. Washington State
Ohio State sure doesn’t look like a playoff team after that loss to Purdue. The Buckeye defense was gashed through the air and on the ground and the offense couldn’t run the ball at all. A lack of a running game will make for quite the aerial battle with a Washington State team that would throw it 100 times a game if it could. The Cougars are now the favorites in the Pac-12 after beating Oregon. Washington and Washington State are the only two teams in the conference without two or more losses.
Oklahoma vs. LSU
The Big 12 champion vs. the SEC’s second-best team in a rematch of the 2004 Sugar Bowl, a game that decided the BCS Championship for the 2003 season? Yes, please. Watching LSU’s Devin White and Greedy Williams against Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray will be worth it alone, not to mention the matchup between Oklahoma’s pass defense and LSU’s passing offense. LSU’s passing game has been just good enough so far this season. Could it expose Oklahoma like Texas did? And yes, we’re making this prediction with the assumption that Oklahoma beats Texas in a Red River rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game.
1. Alabama vs. 4. Michigan
The nation’s best team and likely Heisman winner against a defense that could be the best-equipped to stop it? This is sneakily intriguing. Michigan’s offense still needs to make a few strides to pose a threat to an Alabama defense that has looked slightly more mortal this season. But we’re salivating over a potential matchup between Tua Tagovailoa and Michigan’s defense. The Wolverines have picked off seven passes and allowed just six passing touchdowns all season and have the No. 5 passing defense in the country. Alabama probably wins, but the Nick Saban-Jim Harbaugh press conferences will certainly be fun.
2. Clemson vs. 3 Notre Dame
Pitt game aside, Notre Dame’s offense has been exceptional since Ian Book became the team’s starting quarterback. How would Book and the Irish’s offensive line look against Clemson’s star-studded defensive front? Would Trevor Lawrence be able to pick apart Notre Dame’s defense or would the Tigers have to rely on Travis Etienne once again? A fourth-straight season of a Clemson-Alabama playoff matchup seems implausible but it’s looking more and more likely every week.
Let’s take a look at this week’s winners and losers.
Virginia: It’s true, folks: Virginia is good. The Cavaliers improved to 5-2 with a 28-14 road win over Duke on Saturday behind another strong effort from QB Bryce Perkins. The junior college transfer threw for 189 yards and a score while adding 61 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Winners in four of its last five games, Virginia is now 3-1 in ACC play and, thanks to last week’s upset over Miami, in very good position in the Coastal Division. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but there’s a very real scenario where Virginia’s trip to Virginia Tech decides the division. UVa hasn’t beaten the Hokies since 2003.
Utah: Utah fell behind USC 14-0 early, but stormed back with an impressive effort in a 41-28 win. The win is the third in the row for the Utes, who are now 5-2 on the season and 3-2 in Pac-12 play. The Utes and Trojans now have the same conference records but Utah holds the tiebreaker and is in first place in the Pac-12 South as a result.
Utah has never won the Pac-12 South, but is now in a great position thanks to Colorado’s loss to Washington. Three of Utah’s last four Pac-12 games are on the road, so it won’t be easy. However, the team’s most difficult opponent, Oregon, has to travel to Salt Lake City.
UAB: UAB is bowl eligible once again. Better yet, UAB is the front-runner in Conference USA’s West division. The Blazers stormed back from a 21-10 halftime deficit to beat North Texas 29-21 on Saturday at home. Running back Spencer Brown led the way with 100 yards and three touchdowns. UAB is now 6-1 with a perfect 4-0 mark in league play, including a win over Louisiana Tech, the division’s second-place team.
Shaka Toney, DE, Penn State: Toney, a redshirt sophomore, tied a Penn State record on Saturday with four sacks in PSU’s 33-28 win over Indiana. Incredibly, all four of Toney’s sacks came in the fourth quarter. The Nittany Lions needed them, too. His fourth and final sack came after Indiana recovered an onside kick and was looking to take the lead in the final minute. Toney came roaring off the right side and pulled down IU’s Peyton Ramsey, causing IU to use its last timeout. A few plays later, IU threw inside the boundaries and the final seconds ticked off.
Army: It seems like almost every season Army plays a game like it did on Saturday. The Knights beat Miami (Ohio) 31-30 in double-overtime and won the game without completing a single pass. Cam Thomas did attempt two throws, but both fell incomplete. Instead, Army’s option offense accumulated 347 yards on 74 carries, including 137 yards by Thomas.
Army did allow Miami to score twice in the final five minutes of regulation to force OT, but got the stop when the RedHawks decided to go for two and the win in 2OT. With the win, Army improved to 5-2 and increased its home winning streak to 10 games.
Georgia Southern: Georgia Southern has bounced back in a big way under Chad Lunsford after 2017’s disastrous 2-10 season. The Eagles clinched bowl eligibility on Saturday with a 48-31 win over New Mexico State in Las Cruces, accumulating 389 rushing yards in the process. Not only is Georgia Southern bowl eligible at 6-1, but it is also tied with Appalachian State and Troy atop the Sun Belt’s East division. All three teams are 3-0 in league play with App State coming into Statesboro on Thursday night.
Clemson: Clemson completely dominated NC State on Saturday and it got some well-executed trolling done in the process. During the Tigers’ 41-7 win, this play card was spotted on the sideline. The laptop is a reference to Dave Doeren’s complaint after last year’s game when the NC State coach called for an investigation into the presence of a laptop on Clemson’s sideline (it belonged to Clemson’s social media team). People don’t forget!
Delaware: Delaware dominated New Hampshire, 38-14, on Saturday. And the Blue Hens’ final touchdown, a 92-yard kickoff return by Nasir Adderley, was their best. Adderley completed trucked through a UNH defender, broke through a wall of defenders and took it the distance. Wow.
Cole Tracy: Tracy, a graduate transfer from Assumption College, made all four of his field goal attempts (he’s now 21/23 on the year) in a 19-3 win over Mississippi State. He got some pregame love from the ladies, too. LSU is much different than Assumption, huh?
Oregon: Oregon had to chance to put itself in first place in the Pac-12 North, but played a horrible first half against Washington State. The Ducks trailed 27-0 at the break but managed to cut the WSU lead to 27-20 in the fourth. It was too little, too late. WSU tacked on a late TD and won 34-20. Saturday’s loss, coupled with the brutal blown lead against Stanford, will mar what has been an upward trajectory for Oregon over the last two seasons.
Indiana: How does Indiana always do this? The Hoosiers had a great chance to upset Penn State on Saturday, but instead they were doomed by self-inflicted wounds. After taking a 21-20 lead with 4:01 left in the third, the wheels fell off. Penn State took the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to the IU five-yard line and scored the next play to retake the lead. Down 25-21, IU forced a PSU punt but fumbled on the punt return, setting up another PSU touchdown. And even after all of that, IU still had a chance. The Hoosiers scored and recovered an onside kick in the final minute. Down 33-28, IU had 49 seconds to go 58 yards. Instead, the Hoosiers gave up a sack and had time run out on a play in the middle of the field.
Cincinnati: UC, 6-0 entering Saturday, led Temple 17-10 for much of the second half. The Bearcats’ defense dominated the Owls — until the final few minutes. Temple’s Anthony Russo threw two red zone interceptions but managed to put together a game-tying drive that went 75 yards in seven plays to force overtime. Russo then threw his third TD pass on third down to open overtime. Cincy, on its possession, went backwards. The Bearcats lost 15 yards on three plays before losing for the first time this season with an interception on third-and-36. Ugly.
Earlham College: Earlham, a Division III program from Indiana, set a DIII record by losing its 51st consecutive game on Saturday. Earlham lost 64-20 to Franklin, breaking a 38-year-old record previously held by Macalester College of Minnesota. Yes, that’s a real college. Earlham has not won a game since 2013.
Maryland: Maryland was destroyed 23-0 by Iowa on Saturday, mustering only 115 yards of offense in the process. And there was one play that was particularly representative of Maryland’s performance. Below is Tyrrell Pigrome botching a handoff attempt with Brian Cobbs. Pigrome then kicked the ball into the end zone. Iowa’s Anthony Nelson then pounced on the loose ball in the end zone for a room service touchdown.
NC State: The folks who were skeptical of NC State were proven right. The Wolfpack were dominated by Clemson, 41-7, in a performance that included three turnovers. NC State entered the game 5-0 but without a truly impressive victory. Clemson showed that the Wolfpack’s 5-0 start was pretty misleading.
Florida Atlantic: This is not how we envisioned FAU’s 2018 going. The Owls lost 31-7 at Marshall on Saturday to drop to 3-4 on the season and just 1-2 in Conference-USA. FAU QB Chris Robison threw four interceptions as the Owls had five turnovers in the loss. RB Devin Singletary was held to just 39 yards on 16 carries and didn’t score a rushing touchdown for the first time since the 2017 season opener against Navy.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons had a 10-0 lead on Florida State. Things went downhill from there. FSU scored 38-straight points on the way to a 38-17 win that ends Wake’s chances at finishing near the top of the ACC Coastal. The Demon Deacons are now 0-3 in the ACC and have lost four of their last five games. At 3-4, Wake needs to get three wins against Louisville, Syracuse, NC State, Pitt and Duke to be bowl eligible.
Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State: Fitzgerald has not lived up to expectations this year. Saturday’s performance against LSU was especially bad. Though he rushed for 131 yards, his passing performance — 8-of-24 for 59 yards and four interceptions — was miserable. Fitzgerald has been a prolific runner, but just hasn’t improved much as a passer throughout his college career. This year, his stat line looks like this: 69-of-147 (46.9 percent) for 768 yards, four touchdowns, and seven interceptions.