It’s the biggest week of the college football season yet, and we’re not just talking about the Colorado-Oregon game guaranteed to deliver yet another monster ratings number as the Coach Prime show rolls on. We typically limit our picking to five games, but this week necessitates a different tact. It’s a seven-wide picks extravaganza because the week is just too good to pass up.
No. 4 Florida State (-1.5) at Clemson
Johnson: Florida State. The Tigers aren’t as bad as they showed in Week 1 against Duke, but this is finally the year Florida State unseats them in the ACC. They may end up playing twice when all is said and done, but I’ll take the Noles in the first meeting. Coach Mike Norvell was clear that last week was just a look ahead for the team and it was good to have almost been caught sleeping against Boston College. Jordan Travis was banged up against the Eagles but will be good to go Saturday. FSU has not beaten the Tigers since 2015. There are moments when an ascending team stamps its arrival on the national stage. A decade ago, FSU had one of those moments with a blowout of the Tigers in Death Valley. Can it happen again?
Forde: Florida State. The Seminoles have the edge at quarterback, receiver and the kicking game. Their offensive line has done a nice job protecting Jordan Travis, and his mobility makes him doubly hard to sack. If FSU gets rolling it could be difficult for Clemson to match scores. The Tigers did make it through the last game (against Florida Atlantic) without a Cade Klubnik turnover, so that could be a sign the sophomore is rinsing the brain lock plays out of his game. But it appears to be time for Florida State to reassert itself in the ACC for the first time since 2014.
No. 22 UCLA at No. 11 Utah (-6)
Johnson: UCLA. Good news for the Utes, Cam Rising seems to have a chance of playing in this game. Without him, Utah is a significantly different proposition on offense. But even with him, I think this UCLA team does have a different gear with freshman Dante Moore at QB. Gimme the Bruins.
Forde: Utah. The Bruins are taking a significant step up in competition and hostile environment after facing Coastal Carolina, San Diego State and North Carolina Central in Southern California. And as enticing as Moore has been, Rising's possible return for the Utes pushes this pick over the top. UCLA does appear to have its best defense under Chip Kelly, which can keep the Bruins in the game if Moore struggles.
No. 19 Colorado at No. 10 Oregon (-21.5)
Johnson: Colorado. I gotta be honest, I’m playing the number here. Three touchdowns and the hook is too much to pass up given how key numbers work in betting parlance. One thing about the Buffs is that their explosive offense may end up keeping them in games that they may otherwise be overmatched in some areas of the roster. For that reason, the backdoor remains open even if Oregon is able to put this out of reach at some point.
Forde: Oregon. Everything points toward a Ducks blowout. The Buffaloes are coming off a double-OT rivalry game that ended after midnight and now will go on the road into the toughest environment in the Pac-12. The injury to two-way star Travis Hunter is a major blow. Oregon can run the ball, Colorado cannot. Unless Shedeur Sanders is superhuman, this could get away from the Buffs quickly.
No. 15 Ole Miss at No. 13 Alabama (-7.5)
Johnson: Mississippi. The Rebels certainly don’t have Bama’s number from a wins and losses perspective, but they do from a sheer frustrating the Tide perspective under Lane Kiffin. Last year ended in a one-score game, and Ole Miss has pushed Bama to the brink a couple times in the Kiffin era. The Rebels don’t have to win for this to cash, but they do have to keep it close and I think they will. On the other side, Bama’s quarterback situation means they likely will be able to.
Forde: Mississippi. Rarely has crisis and consternation swirled around Nick Saban’s Alabama program the way it is this week. Saban has reverted to Jalen Milroe as his starting quarterback after bizarrely benching him—and nearly having it bite the team in the behind—against South Florida. The offensive line is not good. The pressure is rising on offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. And now here comes Lane Kiffin, of all wiseacre coaches, with a team that gives him a chance to beat his old boss in Bryant-Denny. Kiffin has begun the PsyOps campaign already, declaring that he suspects Saban has changed his de facto defensive coordinator. Keep in mind that Alabama hasn’t lost two home games in the same season since 2007 and hasn’t lost two home games in September since ’03.
No. 14 Oregon State (-2.5) at No. 21 Washington State
Johnson: Oregon State. The Beavs are just plain good. And I think they’re just going to be too much for Washington State in this game. Quarterback Cam Ward and the Cougars are a fun team and their win over Wisconsin means they’re more than just squirely, but I won’t be coogin’ it on Saturday.
Forde: Oregon State. Don’t let the Pac-2 championship game get shoved off your radar—it should be a really good one. Ward is showing what the 2022 hype was about when he transferred to Washington State from Incarnate Word, throwing for 990 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions through three games. The Beavers counter with what might be the best defense in the conference and a potent running game in support of QB D.J. Uiagalelei.
No. 6 Ohio State (-3.5) at No. 9 Notre Dame
Johnson: Notre Dame. Gimme the Irish at home with the points. This Notre Dame team is good. It seemed reductive to think that all you had to do was drop a good quarterback into the mix and the Irish offense would develop a sixth gear. Well, that’s basically what they did over the offseason with Sam Hartman. In the matchup of QBs, I take him over unproven Kyle McCord despite all the talent Ohio State has at its disposal. The Buckeyes’ defensive front is good, but I think ND’s people movers are better.
Forde: Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish defense has been disruptive in the passing game, producing five interceptions, six sacks, 15 passes broken up and 23 quarterback hurries. That presents an interesting challenge for McCord, who has looked progressively better in each start. Is this a game where Marvin Harrison Jr. performs like the best non-quarterback in college football? Offensively, Notre Dame has been able to maintain balance with Audric Estime leading the ground game, while Hartman has elevated the Fighting Irish passing attack. This could be the validation game for second-year Irish coach Marcus Freeman.
No. 24 Iowa at No. 7 Penn State (-14.5)
Johnson: Penn State. Jokes about Brian Ferentz’s necessary offensive benchmarks aside, Iowa just doesn’t have the offensive firepower to stay with a Penn State team that I think will put up some points here. I don’t expect this game to be a 17–12 rockfight like it was a couple years ago despite all efforts from the road team to drag PSU down to their level. Am I scared of the hook? A little. But scared money don’t make money.
Forde: Iowa. This has all the makings of a root-canal game for the Nittany Lions—not much fun, just endure it and hope it ends well. They’ve not been great hitting big runs and finishing drives in their two games against commensurate competition, and the Hawkeyes specialize in both limiting big plays and keeping opponents out of the end zone. But it’s also hard to see Iowa scoring points with the No. 116 pass efficiency offense in the country going up against the No. 11 pass efficiency defense. Penn State wins, Iowa covers.