Tuesday night’s revelation of the initial College Football Playoff rankings didn’t serve much purpose beyond driving interest in the sport, but who am I kidding? I’m a born sucker for this kind of stuff.
It’s nice to know — and fun to squawk about — how different teams rate in the eyes of the selection committee, even at this early juncture. The final rankings will look nothing like the first ones, of course. Even next week’s rankings will be full of major changes.
And that brings us to the most-anticipated game of Week 10 — and of the season to date — No. 2 LSU at No. 4 Alabama (7 p.m., Ch. 2). This is the seventh time in the last 11 years that both of these teams are in the top 10 of the polls at the time of their matchup. (CFP rankings are used in this column.) Both could be in the top 10 again next week, but there’s little chance both will stay in the top four, and four is the key number where the playoff is concerned.
Just how big is Tigers-Tide? Put it this way: Each year, SEC gets one — and only one — regular-season game on CBS in prime time. Five years in a row, CBS has chosen this matchup. Considering the enormous profile of the SEC, that’s really saying something.
Alabama (7-1) has won four in a row in the series, beginning with the national title game to end the 2011 campaign, and that streak undoubtedly plays into the fact the Tigers (7-0) are 6½-point underdogs. But if there’s a more confident team than LSU these days, I’d love to see it.
With national rushing leader and Heisman Trophy favorite Leonard Fournette working behind the most physical offensive line in the country, there’s no secret where that confidence comes from.
“They should look forward to it,” Tigers coach Les Miles said of his players. “They should relish it. It’s why you come to LSU, to be a part of this game.”
The Tide have a monster at running back themselves in Derrick Henry and a more balanced offense overall. Both defenses are littered with NFL talent, but Alabama has been better at keeping points off the scoreboard. It could be LSU is the best team in the country, but some of us will just have to see it first. I’m picking Bama, 26-20.
No. 16 Florida State at No. 1 Clemson (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7) isn’t all it would’ve been if both teams were 8-0, but it’s not like the 7-1 Seminoles are pushovers. Then again, they are double-digit underdogs in an ACC game for the first time in their 24 seasons in the league. Isn’t that kind of crazy? FSU is on a 4-1 mini-tear in this series, with each of the five meetings having decided the Atlantic Division title.
This could boil down to how well former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson plays for the Seminoles. That’s assuming Clemson — which is terrific on both sides of the ball in run and pass situations — doesn’t romp and stomp like the No. 1 team in the land should.
“For our guys to keep finding a way to win every week is a beautiful thing,” said Tigers coach Dabo Swinney.
They get to 9-0 — by the skin of their teeth.
Not a dang thing wrong with No. 8 TCU at No. 14 Oklahoma State (2:30 p.m., Fox-32), which offers turnstile offenses and a near-guarantee that one of these 8-0 squads will jump multiple spots in the next CFP rankings. No league is more fun at the top than the Big 12, whose best teams will battle it out all November long.
The Cowboys are coming off a 70-53 victory at Texas Tech — a game they once trailed 24-0 — but can they afford to try to outscore TCU, which ranks second (to Baylor) nationally in scoring and total offenseThis one’s going to be nuts. TCU wins by a touchdown, covering the five-point spread.
I see a few other teams with playoff chances that could lose Saturday. There’s real danger in No. 7 Michigan State at Nebraska (6 p.m., ESPN), No. 12 Utah at Washington (6:30 p.m., Fox-32) and Navy at No. 13 Memphis (6 p.m., ESPN2).
That 8-0 Spartans are favored by only six points over the 3-6 Huskers speaks to this danger, but I continued to be blown away by MSU’s bottom-line success — 21-1 in its last 22 Big Ten games and, dating back further, 19-3 in its last 22 Big Ten road games. Sparty wins, 31-24.
Washington (4-4) is coming off a 49-3 throttling of Arizona — Chris Petersen has his team ready to spring an outright upset of the Utes (7-1). It won’t surprise me if Memphis loses at home to Navy, but I’ll go with the Tigers to win and the Middies to cover the eight-point spread.
My favorite favorite: North Carolina State (-4) at Boston College (11:30 a.m., ACC Network). BC has a great defense, but its offense is historically bad. Wolfpack have too much offense to be held down.
My favorite underdog: Arkansas (+10½) at Ole Miss (2:30 p.m., Ch. 2). The Hogs aren’t as good as the Rebels, but they have a way of playing to the level of their opponent. Ole Miss in a close shave.
Last week: 5-2 straight-up, 3-3-1 vs. the spread.
Season: 43-15-1 straight-up, 29-27-3 vs. the spread.
Illinois at Purdue
The facts: 11 a.m., BTN; 670-AM.
The records: Illinois 4-4, 1-3 Big Ten; Purdue 2-6, 1-3 Big Ten.
The line: Illini by 2½.
The story line: How bad have things been at Illinois in recent years? Here’s one way to look at it: In their last 10 games against Purdue, the Illini have won — it doesn’t even seem possible — only twice. And interim coach Bill Cubit’s team is coming off a 39-0 defeat at Penn State, a real low point as the Illini try to salvage something they can point to as actual improvement over 2014. But losing to the Boilermakers yet again would be even lower, and you know what? The Boilers are kind of scary after their 55-point eruption in last weekend’s victory over Nebraska. Um …
Greenberg’s pick: Purdue, 24-20.
Penn State at No. 21 Northwestern
The facts: 11 a.m., ESPNU; 720-AM.
The records: Penn State 7-2, 4-1 Big Ten; Northwestern 6-2, 2-2 Big Ten.
The line: Wildcats by 2½.
The story line: Pat Fitzgerald is only 1-5 against PSU, so maybe he ought to let defensive lineman Dean Lowry give the pregame speech. Lowry was unreal last time out in the win at Nebraska, making a school-record six tackles for loss. Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a terrific talent, but he has a tendency to hold on to the ball for too long and his wall of blockers isn’t the sturdiest. It’s another chance for the Wildcats to shine defensively, but they’ll need Clayton Thorson and the offense to pitch in. Coming off a bye week, things look promising.
Greenberg’s pick: Northwestern, 20-14.
No. 5 Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
The facts: 11 a.m., Ch. 7; 890-AM.
The records: Notre Dame 7-1; Pittsburgh 6-2, 4-1 ACC.
The line: Irish by 8.
The story line: We’ve been here before with the Irish, haven’t we? They were 7-1 a season ago, only to undergo a rather spectacular collapse over their next four games, all losses. Notre Dame’s last visit to Pitt, in 2013, ended in defeat. The year before that, the unranked Panthers took an Irish team that would reach the national title game to triple overtime in South Bend. You see where we’re going here? This is a dangerous game. For what it’s worth, Pitt — pretty strong defensively under first-year coach Pat Narduzzi, the former defensive coordinator at Michigan State — was far off its game in a loss to North Carolina last weekend.
Greenberg’s pick: Notre Dame, 31-27.
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