Tenth-ranked Miami scored late to pull one out at North Carolina, 27-23, on Thursday night. No. 8 Louisville may have a similarly hard time with under-appreciated UCF on Friday (7 p.m., ESPN). At least we hope to see the Cardinals really have to earn their next victory.
The appeal of the college football season is in the tension that builds when championship hopes are on the line. That the Hurricanes, for example, had to execute a 13-play, 90-yard touchdown drive to remain unbeaten and stay in the national title hunt was thrilling. That they got the job done was all we could ask for and more.
Do you think Miami — or, for that matter, Louisville — can win it all this season? I don’t, either. But you know what? Every higher-ranked team that falls makes it more possible. And at least one higher-ranked team — No. 5 Florida State or No. 3 Clemson — is guaranteed to go down on Saturday. Hopefully, other top 10 teams will lose or come tantalizingly close.
1. NO. 22 FLORIDA AT NO. 14 MISSOURI
The facts: 11:21 a.m., ESPN GamePlan.
The records: Florida 4-2, 3-1 SEC; Missouri 6-0, 2-0.
The story line: Look, I’m not going to make up my mind that Maty Mauk can’t get the job done for Mizzou just because he so clearly is missing a “t” in his first name. Maybe the redshirt freshman quarterback — who’s about to make his first collegiate start against, um, the best defense in college football — will be all injured starter James Franklin was and more for the surprisingly good Tigers. Sure, his last start came in high school, but do you have any idea what Mauk did back in Kenton, Ohio? Dude threw for more yards (18,932) and touchdowns (219) than any high school quarterback — HELLO — ever. And ever is a mighty long time. Who’s crazy enough to doubt this kid? The future is bright. The present, against this fire-breathing Gators D, would be a big challenge for anybody.
The line: Florida by 3
Greenberg’s pick: Florida, 24-19.
2. IOWA AT NO. 4 OHIO STATE
The facts: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 7.
The records: Iowa 4-2, 1-1 Big Ten; Ohio State 6-0, 2-0.
The story line: Urban Meyer never loses out of bye weeks. Ohio State never loses to Iowa. All the blazing speed — not to mention the skill, the depth, the kitchen sink — is on the side of the Buckeyes. So give the Hawkeyes no chance to win this game, but something tells me it’ll be rather low-scoring and fairly close. It could be the weather report that predicted rainy, windy conditions in Columbus. Also Iowa’s outstanding linebackers. But mostly the weather.
The line: Ohio State by 17½.
Greenberg’s pick: Ohio State, 27-14.
3. NO. 9 UCLA AT NO. 13 STANFORD
The facts: 2:30 p.m., ESPN2.
The records: UCLA 5-0, 2-0 Pac-12; Stanford 5-1, 3-1.
The story line: This would’ve been a top 10 matchup had Stanford avoided the upset bug last weekend at Utah. UCLA has the higher ranking, but how many folks really believe the Bruins are better than the Cardinal? Jim Mora has his program on a big-time rise, though, and that’s a good thing for college football. Not sure terrific quarterback Brett Hundley and his offensive mates can do enough to counter Stanford’s gigantic — and angry — defensive front.
The line: Stanford by 5.
Greenberg’s pick: Stanford, 31-24.
4. NO. 24 AUBURN AT NO. 7 TEXAS A&M
The facts: 2:30 p.m., Ch. 2.
The records: Auburn 5-1, 2-1 SEC; Texas A&M 5-1, 2-1.
The story line: Ellis Johnson may have been the worst head coach in college football last season. No, check that: He was. His first and only Southern Miss team, rather incredibly, went 0-12. But Johnson has a tremendous track record as a defensive coach, and the Auburn coordinator will try to do to Aggies superstar quarterback Johnny Manziel what most opponents have been afraid to do: Go after him hard and try to deliver some heavy-duty shots in the backfield. Will it work? Shoot, probably not. Manziel’s the most elusive QB in the game. But Auburn has the right attitude, not to mention the ability to score points itself.
The line: Texas A&M by 14.
Greenberg’s pick: Texas A&M, 42-37.
5. USC AT NOTRE DAME
The facts: 6:30 p.m., Ch. 5.
The records: USC 4-2, 1-2 Pac-12; Notre Dame 4-2.
The story line: USC has become a place where fans and observers are genuinely surprised when the Trojans play their guts out. “I’m sure come Saturday night, when we walk out onto the field in South Bend, Ind., it’s going to mean a lot to the team,” said interim coach Ed Orgeron. Aww, it’s nice to know they care. The Trojans are an unsteady mix of talent, distraction, negativity and desperation. They haven’t played anything close to their best game yet. Doesn’t mean it’ll happen on Saturday, or at any point before the end of the season, but what if it does? USC hasn’t lost in South Bend since 2001.
The line: Notre Dame by 3.
Greenberg’s pick: Notre Dame, 23-21.
6. NO. 5 FLORIDA STATE AT NO. 3 CLEMSON
The facts: 7 p.m., Ch. 7.
The records: Florida State 5-0, 3-0 ACC; Clemson 6-0, 4-0.
The story line: The Tigers are higher in the polls. They’re playing at home. Their Heisman candidate, senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, has gobs more experience than FSU’s Heisman candidate, redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. So why are the Seminoles favored to win? It’s a real puzzler. It’s possible FSU has the higher ceiling, but Clemson has too much going for it right now to pick the other way.
The line: Florida State by 3.
Greenberg’s pick: Clemson, 36-31.
LAST WEEK, STRAIGHT UP: 3-3.
LAST WEEK, AGAINST THE SPREAD: 3-3.
SEASON, STRAIGHT UP: 25-11.
SEASON, AGAINST THE SPREAD: 18-16-2.