College football rivalry week is always so bittersweet: It’s what we’ve been waiting for, and the buffet of games we have this week is amazing. Meaningful games, day after day, hour after hour, with bowl or championship implications in so many of them.
But then, when Saturday ends, it’s almost over. Sure, championship week is fun, and who doesn’t love bowling, but we’ll have seen the chaotic last Saturday of the college football season until next Labor Day weekend.
Before you shed those tears, though, there are a few great games to watch. The BIG ONE, of course, is No. 2 Ohio State against No. 3 Michigan, an undefeated battle with the Buckeyes favored by 7½ points.
Elsewhere, No. 4 TCU, No. 5 USC and No. 6 LSU must all win to keep their college football playoff hopes alive. All three are favored to varying degrees: Horned Frogs -10 against Iowa State, Trojans -5½ against Notre Dame, and LSU -10 at Texas A&M.
But Ohio State-Michigan is at the center of what should be a great day. Let’s go (and start spinning the odds while we’re at it).
Game of the week
No. 3 MICHIGAN (+7½) at No. 2 OHIO STATE, 11 a.m., Fox: It’s incredibly easy to go back and forth on this pick. Ohio State’s elite offense and the Buckeyes’ desire for revenge for last year’s game should let them part ways with Michigan, right? No, the Wolverines defense is too good to give them more than a touchdown against anyone.
Ultimately, I think both of these statements could be true. Eventually, CJ Stroud and company will make a few plays against the Michigan defense, and the Wolverines could struggle to move the ball, especially if star running back Blake Corum is out or limited with the knee injury he has. suffered last week against Illinois.
But expecting Ohio State to win by more than one score seems like too much to ask. Michigan is a tough team to knock out, and while Georgia pulled it off in the Orange Bowl last year, the Wolverines may have learned a few lessons from that game. Here’s a back-and-forth game that keeps us on the edge of our seat – and is ultimately decided by a single possession.
The choice : Ohio State 28, Michigan 23
RICE at NORTH TEXAS (-2 p.m.), 1 p.m., ESPN+: I’ve been high on the Mean Green all year, taking over 6 of their pre-season win tally, and I need a win here to avoid a push.
I double down, picking UNT not just to win but to cover some touchdowns. Rice is among the worst teams in the nation to defend the run, and outside of the three service academies, North Texas averages the most rushing attempts in the nation. The Mean Green hasn’t always been very good at dashing, but they’ll encounter a moving object here.
What if Rice decides to charge against the race? North Texas is ready to throw every once in a while, and the Owls are also some of the worst defensemen in the country. Hard to see how this one doesn’t get out of control.
The choice : North Texas 34, Rice 13
LOUISVILLE (+3) at KENTUCKY, 2 p.m., SEC Network: It’s hard to know what to make of Kentucky’s season. There seems to be a general idea that the Wildcats had a good season — an early win at Florida, a close call at Ole Miss, a reasonably good performance against Georgia — but looking back, the results aren’t particularly good. This team could be fighting for a .500 season if not for a weird hard call against Missouri three weeks ago.
Louisville, on the other hand, has come out on top as the year progressed. The Cardinals have won five of their last six, with the lone loss at Clemson. That includes a win at NC State last weekend without starting quarterback Malik Cunningham. He’s considered day-to-day for this one, but even if Brock Domann has to start over, Louisville is capable of winning.
That’s partly because Kentucky doesn’t have the ability to part with anyone on offense. The Cardinals had a few big games on special teams last week, and something like that could be the difference here. In any case, take the three points.
The choice : Louisville 24, Kentucky 17
No. 21 OREGON STATE (+3) at No. 9 OREGON, 2:30 p.m., ABC: One of the most underrated teams in the country is in one of the most underrated rivalries in the country – and it’s only in college football that you can say things like ‘I like that the Beavers win the Civil War”.
Oregon State is 8-3 with losses to USC (at home) and Washington (on the road) and wins in both halves of the Mountain West title game . They’re a good team having a great year, and they’d love nothing more than to top it off with an exclamation point against a top 10 rival.
The Ducks managed to beat Utah last week despite quarterback Bo Nix being hobbled in one of the toughest wins of the year, and they can earn a spot in the game for the Pac-12 title with a win here. But Nix still doesn’t seem to be 100%, especially with her normally effective jamming ability. That and a hostile on-field environment could tip the scales in favor of the Beavers.
The choice : Oregon State 31, Oregon 30
No. 15 NOTRE DAME at No. 6 USC (-5½), 6:30 p.m., ABC: Those hoping for the Trojans to come out of the CFP picture won’t want to read this, but it looks like USC has gone from overrated at the start of the season to slightly underrated now.
In the meantime, it’s suddenly time for everyone to love Notre Dame again. The Irish have been much better in the second half of the season, of course, highlighted by a Clemson thrashing on November 5, but the truth is that they are still a hugely inconsistent side, capable of putting routed the Tigers but also lost to Marshall and nearly took a big lead against Navy.
Ultimately, Caleb Williams and USC simply have more consistency and explosive ability than the conservative Irish offense. It won’t be a headlong rush, but I expect the Trojans to have the game in hand by the final two minutes.
The choice : USC 38, Notre Dame 30
No. 10 TENNESSEE (-14) at VANDERBILT, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network: Hendon Hooker is out for the season, and the Volunteers’ strong national title hopes were dashed in a 63-38 clash at South Carolina last week. So the risk of disappointment is very, very real.
With that as a caveat, I just don’t understand that line. Had this game been played last week with Hooker healthy, Tennessee might have been a 30+ point favorite. Hooker is hugely valuable, but no player is worth 15 points on his own, and last week’s results shouldn’t skew a line either.
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel has often feasted on less-talented defenses, and while Vanderbilt played hard under first-year coach Clark Lea, that certainly is one. Even with Joe Milton at quarterback, there should be enough space for the Vols to move the ball easily. Classic rebound opportunity for Vols and extreme value on this line.
The choice : Tennessee 45, Vanderbilt 20
LAST WEEK: 4-2 direct, 2-4 against the spread
THIS YEAR: 49-23 straight, 34-37-1 ATS