Picks for college football's biggest Week 6 games
With five weeks in the books, we’re now getting into the part of the season where teams are starting to accumulate costly injuries that will test the depth and inexperience of many rosters. Stanford was the example of this from last week, as Washington QB Jake Browning had his way with a depleted Cardinal secondary as the Huskies thrashed Stanford 44-6 on Friday night. Stanford’s starting cornerbacks, Alijah Holder and Quentin Meeks, are expected to again be out for this week’s matchup against Washington State, but the Cardinal aren’t the only ranked team currently licking its wounds.
No. 9 Tennessee at No. 8 Texas A&M
Line: Texas A&M, -7
This game has long been circled on the calendar at PFF College HQ, as it’s a chance to see potential top-five 2017 draft picks Myles Garrett (of Texas A&M) and Derek Barnett (from Tennessee) on opposite sides of the same field. The fact both teams remain undefeated to this point is an added bonus, as it will now clearly be one of the most important SEC regular season games.
Garrett currently sits third among all FBS 4-3 DEs in pass rush productivity, and has been so dominant both on the pass rush and against the run, our own Steve Palazzolo recently made a strong pitch for him as a viable Heisman candidate. Barnett sits just behind him in sixth in pass rush productivity, and is also in the top 20 in run stop percentage.
Both teams in general are fielding very strong defenses, with the Aggies in particular highlighted with the second-highest graded pass rush, behind only Alabama. With such a strong push coming from the defensive lines, the key matchups for this game will naturally on the other side. This is where the home team appears to have the upper hand, as the Volunteers don’t have a single offensive lineman that hasn’t graded below average thus far. While the five sacks and seven hits given up by the starting line aren’t pretty (especially considering this is on just 135 pass drop-backs), the fact that RT Chance Hall’s 50.8 run blocking grade is the best mark of the group is downright terrifying.
The cherry on top to sway this game in the Aggies’ favor is the fact Tennessee LBs Jale Reeves-Maybin and Darrin Kirkland again look as if they will both be unable to play. Texas A&M already have two huge home wins against high-quality opponents in UCLA and Arkansas, and their defense should help them attain a third on Saturday.
Prediction: Texas A&M 27, Tennessee 17
No. 1 Alabama at No. 16 Arkansas
Line: Alabama, -14
Alabama has the nation’s top-graded defense thanks to No. 1 rankings in run defense and pass rushes, but Arkansas actually owns our second-ranked offense, due in large part to its excellent passing game. Generally the defense is expected to win out in these types of matchups, but while I think Alabama has too much in all three phases for the Razorbacks to overcome, our analytics suggest Arkansas can keep this close. The most encouraging statistic for Arkansas has to be the play of QB Austin Allen against the pass rush, as he has thrown for five touchdowns and has a QB rating of 107.9 when faced with pressure this season. Against Texas A&M in week four, Allen was pressured on 21 of 44 drop-backs but only took one sack and had a QB rating of 94.8 when threatened by the rush, and impressive 80.1 overall grade for the game.
On the other side of the ball Arkansas has top-end talent like CB Ryan Pulley (opposing QBs this year have a 41.7 completion percentage and 35.2 QB rating when throwing at him) and DE Deatrich Wise (four sacks and five hits this season), but certainly not the depth Alabama puts on display every week.
Look for the home crowd to help the Razorbacks keep this one close for three quarters before Alabama’s elite play in all three phases proves to be too much in the fourth.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Arkansas 20
No. 23 Florida State at No. 10 Miami
Line: Miami, -3
Miami is certainly off to a better start this year than its in-state rival, but unlike the Seminoles, the Hurricanes have yet to face a serious foe. QB Brad Kaaya is more than capable of putting on a show, especially against a vulnerable secondary that is still without star S Derwin James. However, Kaaya’s efficiency under pressure this season suggests he could have significant struggles against a Florida State pass rush that has already pressured QBs 66 times this season. With a clean pocket, he’s completed 74.0 percent of his passes with a QB rating of 130.9, but his completion percentage plummets to 27.8 percent when faced with pressure (24.3 QB rating).
Prediction: Florida State 35, Miami 31
No. 25 Virginia Tech at No. 17 North Carolina
Line: North Carolina, -2.5
This is one of the biggest games off the ACC Coastal division this year, and should be one of the most entertaining considering North Carolina has given up at least 33 points in three of its four Power-Five matchups this season, and Virginia Tech is averaging more than 40 points per game. This being said, Virginia Tech’s front seven was exposed in week two against Tennessee’s rushing attack, as the Hokies gave up 185 yards on the ground after contact (248 total yards at 5.9 yards per carry) and missed 11 tackles. Expect this one to be a shootout, but the Tarheels’ dynamic offense will prove to be too much for the visiting Hokies.
Prediction: North Carolina 34, Virginia Tech 31
No. 3 Clemson at Boston College
Line: Clemson, -17
If Clemson doesn’t beat this spread it wouldn’t be the first time this year they’ve had a “let-down” after a big win (after beating Auburn on the road in week one the Tigers only managed a six-point victory against Troy in week two), but the team’s play the last three weeks suggests they’re back to the form that put them in last year’s national championship game. Clemson’s starting offensive line has given up just one sack and three hits this season; this is notable because in Boston College’s 49-0 drubbing at the hands of Virginia Tech, the Hokies passing game shredded the Eagles due in large part to the offensive line giving up just one sack and no hits. Expect the final score of this game to be similar to the Eagles’ ill-fated game in Blacksburg in week three.
Prediction: Clemson 42, Boston College 7
No. 19 Boise State at New Mexico
Line: Boise State, -17
Star Broncos receiver Thomas Sperbeck gained less than 100 yards for the first time this year against Utah State last week, as he was only able to manage 2.4 yards per catch. Expect him to return to his dominant ways this week, as the Lobos’ starting secondary has already missed 16 tackles this season. The Boise State defense’s 45 missed tackles this season suggest the over will be approached, but expect the visitors to pull away from New Mexico in the second half.
Prediction: Boise State 41, New Mexico 23
LSU at No. 18 Florida
Line: LSU, -3
Florida is hoping to get a big boost with the return of QB Luke Del Rio this week, but his 40.0 percent completion percentage and 23.5 QB rating when faced with pressure this year likely means the Gators will still struggle to put points on the board against a Tigers’ front seven that has pressured QBs 82 times this season. Edge rusher Arden Key leads LSU with seven sacks, seven hits and 18 hurries this year, and has had at least six pressures in each of the last four games. Although star RB Leonard Fournette looks likely to miss his third game of the season, LSU looks to have enough defense to pull this one out. This game will look similar to last week’s Big Ten contest between Wisconsin and Michigan.
Prediction: LSU 14, Florida 7
No. 20 Oklahoma vs. Texas
Line: Oklahoma, -10.5
Oklahoma and QB Baker Mayfield “got right” in last weekend’s victory over TCU by torching the Horned Frogs between the numbers for 245 yards passing with an 85.0 percent completion percentage. Texas’ three Power-5 opponents have torched the Longhorns on throws to the middle of the field, posting a 73.0 percent completion percentage for 575 yards and six touchdowns. The Sooners will make amends for last year’s hiccup against their hated rival.
Prediction: Oklahoma 45, Texas 31
No. 6 Houston at Navy
Line: Houston, -17
Navy’s normally explosive option attack has been somewhat stunted by their high standards this year, as the Midshipmen rank just 61st in FBS in run blocking, and would be graded significantly worse if not for Junior wide receiver Tyler Carmona being ranked at the top of all players at his position in the category. This plays right into the hands of a stingy Houston defense giving up only 2.9 yards per carry this year.
Prediction: Houston 38, Navy 17
Indiana at No. 2 Ohio State
Line: Ohio State, -29
Beating a wounded Spartan squad at home is one thing, but challenging the Buckeyes on the road, still possibly without their top player in guard Dan Feeney, is another task altogether for the Hoosiers. Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore has three interceptions and four pass breakups on the season to go with a QB rating against of just 16.7; look for him to notch another pick this week on Indiana QB Richard Lagow.
Prediction: Ohio State 49, Indiana 13
No. 21 Colorado at USC
Line: USC, -5
With Colorado’s outstanding cornerback play, the Trojans will have to lean heavily on RB Justin Davis, who leads all backs in elusive rating with 27 forced missed tackles on 70 total touches. While backup QB Steven Montez has played well while subbing for the injured Sefo Liufau, there’s a chance to the star signal-caller could be ready to go this week. If he’s pronounced active before kickoff, get after this line before it disappears.
Prediction: Colorado 28, USC 24
No. 4 Michigan at Rutgers
Line: Michigan, -28
While it’s hard to imagine Michigan beating Rutgers by more than the 58-0 score we saw last week — and it’s unrealistic to expect them to give up less than three pass completions to the Scarlet Knights — it’s very reasonable to project them to exceed the Buckeyes’ three sacks and two hits on defense. I apparently over-estimated Michigan’s ability to kick field goals (among other things) last week when I predicted a 34-3 victory, but Rutgers isn’t exactly of the same cloth as Wisconsin.
Prediction: Michigan 34, Rutgers 3
No. 5 Washington at Oregon
Line: Washington, -8.5
A statement win and an extra day of rest can often mean a team comes in rusty for the next game, but I don’t see that happening considering the opponent. The Ducks are expected to start redshirt freshman QB Justin Herbert, and it’s difficult to expect him to have much success against our third-highest graded defense that already has 101 QB pressures on the season.
Prediction: Washington 43, Oregon 23
Arizona at No. 24 Utah
Line: Utah, -9.5
Arizona is averaging 6.3 yards per carry on the ground this season while forcing 36 missed tackles, while the Utah defense has missed 53 tackles. The Utes had a nice comeback win against USC in primetime two weeks ago, but hasn’t done anything this season to suggest they’re capable of covering a spread this large against a conference opponent.
Prediction: Utah 23, Arizona 20
Washington State at No. 15 Stanford
Line: Stanford, -7.5
“Getting right” on offense and untimely injuries has been a theme throughout this week’s predictions, and both hold true for this final matchup. With the two cornerbacks out again and a matchup against an explosive offense with the highest-graded pass blocking line in the country, this is an opportunity to take a calculated risk and pick the road dog to win outright.
Prediction: Washington State 26, Stanford 24