This week, college football won’t put on its best face. No ranked team plays another. None of the top seven teams is favored by fewer than 19 points. Chaos will take a rest. It may have already worn itself out.
After all of the upsets and mayhem of the past seven weeks, the College Football Playoff could end up looking quite familiar. Even with Clemson set to be a spectator for the first time in seven years, the window to eliminate other usual suspects might have passed. Ohio State found its form. Oklahoma found Caleb Williams. If Alabama wins six straight games (When has that ever happened?) it will be back to defend its title. So, even though Cincinnati achieved its highest ranking in school history by reaching No. 2 this week, the Bearcats can’t feel confident an undefeated season will be enough to be accepted into sport’s most exclusive country club.
Being unbeaten wasn’t enough last year, when the Bearcats finished the regular season ranked sixth, behind three one-loss teams. It wasn’t enough for conference-mate Central Florida in 2017, when the Knights finished the regular season behind nine teams, including three-loss Auburn, or in 2018, when they were ranked seventh, behind two-loss Georgia.
A two-loss Alabama — or Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Michigan, Penn State, etc., with one defeat — would be similarly difficult to leap. Cincinnati’s best win (Notre Dame) and top remaining opponent (SMU) are likely to combine for zero wins against ranked teams.
Remember, the Bearcats aren’t No. 2 in the only rankings that matter. The first official playoff rankings won’t be released until Nov. 2. And even those are prone to deception. Precedent was set in Year 1 of the playoff era, when TCU entered the regular-season finale at No. 3 and fell to No. 6 … after a 52-point win! The committee can do as it pleases. Even if Cincy debuts in the top four, it won’t take a loss for the Bearcats to fall. It won’t matter how badly Cincinnati (-27.5) keeps crushing teams such as Navy. Perfection probably won’t be good enough.
KANSAS (+38.5) over Oklahoma
Yes, I know Caleb Williams is the best player in college football history, but from 2017-19, Lincoln Riley’s juggernaut offenses — led by Heisman Trophy winners (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray) and a Heisman runner-up (Jalen Hurts) — failed to lead the Sooners to wins by more than 38 points against the worst football program in the country. Funnily enough, Spencer Rattler accomplished the feat last year. Remember him?
MICHIGAN (-23.5) over Northwestern
The undefeated Wolverines haven’t been as dominant as their stats suggest, and they could be caught looking ahead to next week’s matchup against undefeated Michigan State. But after beating a pair of last-place Big Ten teams by a total of 10 points, Michigan won’t look past another overmatched opponent.
Illinois (+23.5) over PENN STATE
The Nittany Lions’ offense is just above-average with Sean Clifford under center. Without him, James Franklin has no good options — besides leaving for USC or LSU.
Oklahoma State (+7) over IOWA STATE
I’ve belittled the Cowboys on multiple occasions, but I’ve never disrespected them like this. Even if the underachieving Cyclones are more talented and more balanced, it’s absurd to lay a touchdown against an undefeated team which already has come through twice this season as an underdog. The comeback win at Texas is proof that even if the Cowboys go down, they won’t go quietly.
UCLA (-2) over Oregon
The Ducks can’t count on quarterback Anthony Brown and they can’t rely on the running game here, facing a defense allowing 3.2 yards per attempt. Everyone can see Oregon’s demise coming. But who ever thought Chip Kelly would be landing the knockout blow?
Lsu (+9.5) over MISSISSIPPI
The Rebels can’t dodge golf balls forever. After narrowly escaping with wins in the final seconds of back-to-back games, Lane Kiffin’s awful defense may not be bailed out again by Heisman co-favorite Matt Corral, who is questionable to play.
PITTSBURGH (-3) over Clemson
After multiple weeks with Clemson as a double-digit favorite, Vegas has posted a Tigers line that reflects reality. The unthinkable early end of Clemson’s ACC title reign comes against Heisman candidate Kenny Pickett, who has thrown for 21 touchdowns and one interception this season for the fifth-highest scoring team in the country (42.6 points per game). Clemson hasn’t topped 21 points in four ACC games.
Tennessee (+25.5) over ALABAMA
The Crimson Tide will cruise until meeting Georgia in the SEC title game, but their defense remains below Nick Saban’s standard, offering avenues to the Volunteers’ 10th-ranked offense.
Ohio State (-19.5) over INDIANA
I’d feel comfortable laying another touchdown on top of this. The Hoosiers are 0-5 against the spread and will be without their starting quarterback. The Buckeyes averaged 59 points in their past three games. More importantly, they allowed a total of 37 points in those games.
Usc (+7) over NOTRE DAME
The Trojans have alternated double-digit wins and double-digit losses since the season started. Last time out, USC — which is 2-0 on the road — suffered a 16-point loss to Utah. So, Trojans money line it is!
South Carolina (+20.5) over TEXAS A&M
As sincere as Jimbo Fisher sounded in declaring his desire to remain in College Station and turn down the chance to return to Baton Rouge, I can’t help but recall the words of his former boss at LSU, two years into a five-year contract with the Miami Dolphins: “I guess I have to say it,” Nick Saban said just one week before accepting the job he still holds, “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.” This forgotten quote from the same 2006 session may be even better: “I don’t control what people put on dot-com or anything else.”
North Carolina State (-3) over MIAMI
Since being unexpectedly thrust into the starting role, Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke has faced two of the ACC’s softest defenses. Still, the freshman was intercepted three times and completed fewer than 48 percent of his passes for the Hurricanes (2-4). Next comes the Wolfpack’s 11th-ranked defense, averaging more picks than all but six teams, while ranking second in the ACC in opponent’s completion percentage (55.5).
Best bets: Cincinnati, Lsu, Ohio State
This season (best bets): 45-58-2 (12-9)
2014-20 record: 904-866-15