The PAC-12’S return to action would be headline-worthy most weeks. So would a top-10 battle between Florida and Georgia. But even without the sport’s biggest star, no game holds more intrigue than top-ranked Clemson’s trip to No. 4 Notre Dame.
Ultimately, the matchup may be even more interesting without Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who will miss his second straight game due to COVID-19. Now, a 13th straight win for the Fighting Irish — and an inside track to a playoff spot — feels far more attainable.
“We’re 29-3 over the last 32 games,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said this week. “We’re not a team that’s easily overcome with the moment.”
If not by the moment, then by elite opponents.
The Irish, under Kelly, have lost all five games they have played against top-5 teams, including a 30-3 CFP semifinal loss to Clemson in 2018, when Lawrence threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers’ newest five-star freshman, quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, could become a national star against the Irish, too, after throwing for 342 yards with three total touchdowns in his first career start.
Lawrence’s absence wasn’t the issue in the Tigers’ 34-28 win over Boston College. And it won’t be in South Bend, either, where the Tigers defense — which posted a second-half shutout against the Eagles last Saturday — will elevate its play to the competition. Don’t expect Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book to do the same.
In his biggest games last season, Book was intercepted twice against Georgia, then went 8 of 25 with 73 yards passing in a 31-point loss to Michigan. Before that, Book threw for just 160 yards with no touchdowns in the playoff loss to Clemson.
The Tigers (-5.5) still own the ACC. The Irish are only guests.
(Home team in CAPS)
INDIANA (+2.5) over Michigan
Such a spread typically would only make sense on the hardwood. Michigan is 19-1 all-time at Memorial Stadium. Indiana hasn’t beaten the Wolverines since 1987. The Hoosiers have lost 39 of the past 40 meetings with Michigan. The difference now is Indiana may have its best team in 40 years, while Michigan has just another underachieving Jim Harbaugh production.
Arizona State (+10.5) over USC
I’ll believe the Trojans are worthy of their latest round of preseason hype when I see it. A kickoff at 9 a.m. local time against the second-best team in the Pac-12 South could make for an unpredictable affair. The past two meetings have been decided by a total of eight points.
TEXAS (-6.5) over West Virginia
The Mountaineers have built the Big 12’s best defense upon the shoulder pads of some of the nation’s worst offenses. A stat correction is coming in the form of Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns’ top-10 offense.
Florida (+3.5) over GEORGIA
The battle for SEC East supremacy pits one of the nation’s best passers against a former walk-on who was supposed to be Georgia’s fourth-string quarterback. While the Gators’ explosive offense (42 points per game) will do significant damage against a defense which just lost four starters, the Bulldogs remain stuck with Stetson Bennett, whose confidence is crashing after being intercepted five times in the past two games.
Houston (+13.5) over CINCINNATI
This is personal. This is about principle. After two impressive blowout wins over SMU and Memphis with the huge majority of bettors on their side, the Bearcats have attracted even more of the public this week. At some point soon, Cincy is going to roll a seven.
PENN STATE (-25) over Maryland
The Terrapins owned a rare spotlight by playing on a Friday night, taking the opportunity to present the best sides of QB Taulia Tagovailoa, fifth-year running back Jake Funk and friends. But after upsetting Minnesota by dominating perhaps the nation’s worst defense, Maryland — which lost its first road game by 40 to Northwestern — travels to play the Nittany Lions, who have won the past three meetings by a combined score of 163-6.
OKLAHOMA (-37.5) over Kansas
Remarkably, the Jayhawks haven’t lost to the Sooners by more than 38 points since 2016. Clearly, destruction is overdue for a defense giving up more than 46 points per game.
Oklahoma State (-12.5) over KANSAS STATE
The Wildcats responded to their shocking season-opening loss to Arkansas State by beating Oklahoma. Bouncing back from a surprising blowout loss to West Virginia won’t be as easy with true freshman Will Howard — who was intercepted three times last weekend — at quarterback, facing the ninth-ranked pass defense.
SOUTH CAROLINA (+10.5) over Texas A&M
Kellen Mond has already racked up three wins against the Gamecocks. Maybe an extra week of preparation will give supposed defensive specialist Will Muschamp enough time to formulate a sound game plan this time.
OHIO STATE (-38) over Rutgers
Greg Schiano’s first year back in Piscataway has already peaked. A return to Columbus will give the Buckeyes’ former defensive coordinator the chance to reminisce about how easy his job used to be. Ohio State has won each of its six meetings against Rutgers by at least 35 points.
Stanford (+10) over OREGON
After both teams were devastated by opt-outs and departures — the Ducks lost quarterback Justin Herbert (to the NFL’s Chargers), all five starting offensive linemen and three starters in the secondary — Stanford will shrink the talent gap by milking the clock, with one of the country’s best offensive lines.
Best bets: Clemson, Arizona State, Ohio State
This season (best pets): 65-50-1 (12-11-1)
2014-19 record: 772-756-13
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