Picks for Friday's biggest games
No. 7 Baylor at No. 19 TCU
Line: Baylor -1.5
Keeping with the string of injuries to offensive operators, TCU’s quarterback Trevone Boykin is questionable with a significant ankle ailment, and Baylor has lost a pair of talented QBs within four weeks to a broken back and fractured fibula. While the Bears will look to third-string QB Chris Johnson, he has already proven battle-tested for primetime after handing previously-undefeated Oklahoma State their first loss with an impressive second-half performance.
Johnson averaged 27.6 yards per completion and 7.0 per rushing attempt against the Cowboys, but Baylor could be without leading rusher Shock Linwood with knee and ankle injuries. With the high-level running back talents of Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson on stand-by, the ground game should be in very capable hands. As for the Horned Frogs, their attempts to find a replacement signal caller have been far from successful. Replacement-QBs Bram Kohlhausen and Foster Sawyer have completed less than half of their attempts (49.1 percent) and posted an equal number of TDs to INTs (four).
The Baylor defense has excelled in defending the run (3.66 yards per rushing attempt) and a offering a porous secondary (93rd-ranked pass defense). As it stands, the advantage will go to Baylor behind their ability to exploit the TCU front-seven with the FBSs fourth-ranked rushing offense and the (to date) inability of TCU to field a reliable passing attack to approach the 249 yards ands 2.4 TDs Baylor has allowed through the air. Without Boykin to right the ship, look for Baylor to meet-and-exceed the spread en route to an impressive final bid for a spot in the College Playoff.
Prediction: Baylor 42, TCU 33.
No. 15 Navy at Houston
Line: Houston -1.0
Were the Cougars to somehow find the ability to provide the exact roster as was in place during their Week 9 shutout of Vanderbilt, the tone of this prediction would be drastically altered. As it stands, Houston may be forced to compete with Navy for the chance to play in the AAC Championship without the services of their first-and-second string quarterback (Greg Ward Jr and Kyle Postma) and running back (Kenneth Farrow & Ryan Jackson).
With account taken for a Navy philosophy fielding a passing offense that ranks 126-of-127 FBS teams, the Midshipmen will hardly look to take advantage of a Houston passing defense that ranks 103rd in the nation. Navy employs the true wishbone triple option/veer that will put the 12th-ranked run defense of Houston to the test. Anything short of the Cougars announcing a quick-and-complete recovery from Ward Jr. and Farrow will result in a second consecutive defeat.
Prediction: Navy 29, Houston 17.
No. 4 Iowa at Nebraska
Line: Iowa -1.5
At first glance, a mere 1.5 points in favor of the CFP committee’s undefeated fourth-ranked team would seem an insult. Although, consider that Nebraska’s games played in Lincoln against Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Michigan State were decided by an average of 1.7 points. The Cornhuskers will not only have the motivation to play spoiler to the Hawkeyes championship aspirations but will have one last chance to meet bowl eligibility.
Calling for the Hawkeyes to lose after posting the greatest season in franchise history would provide a great headline, but there is much more supporting that consideration. Iowa is built around an assembly line production of forceful offensive linemen and a rotating stable of pro-style running backs. With that in mind, a clear reliance on the ground game plays perfectly into the breadbasket of Nebraska that is led by the top-five run-plugging talents of NT Maliek Collins that has vaulted Nebraska to the tenth-best run defense in the country.
The Hawkeyes can also be found within the nations top-ten run defenses, but clear vulnerabilities in the secondary, and a near-complete lack of a pass rush. Nebraska’s offense is centered upon a top-15 group of receivers fed by the hot-and-cold arm of QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. who has averaged 35.8 passing attempts per game. A win for Iowa would great for the program, as well as the Big Ten, but Nebraska pulls the upset to gain bowl eligibility.
Prediction: Nebraska 35, Iowa 32.
No. 20 Washington State at Washington
Line: Washington -6.0
Cougars HC Mike Leach may be forced to close out the regular season without starting QB Luke Falk after he suffered a head injury in Week 12 against Colorado. Go back and watch Washington State’s dramatic victory over UCLA in Week 11 and you’ll find that Falk took a massive hit to the head in the second quarter that left him with an inability to maintain his equilibrium — but somehow convinced the medical staff he was fit to return for the second half.
Without Falk, the Cougars will turn to freshman QB Peyton Bender to face the 25th-ranked passing defense of in-state rival Washington. Bender is, unsurprisingly, well behind the curve in operating the Air Raid offense, relying on – brace yourself – the running game to exploit Colorado’s 100th-ranked run defense. Unfortunately, Washington also boasts a stout run defense allowing a miniscule 3.48 yards per attempt and the nations 15th-lowest scoring average to opposing teams (18.5).
While the Huskies showcase their own true freshman under center, their version (Jake Browning) just so happens to rank as PFF College’s 25h-highest graded QB on the season. Despite Browning’s impressive placement, the offense is balanced in nature and features freshman RB Myles Gaskin – who has simply rushed for more yards over the last seven weeks than Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Without the leadership and precision ball placement of Falk, look for Washington to cover the spread, gain bowl eligibility, and for its defense to maintain a total score south of 54 points.
Prediction: Washington 27, Washington State 20.
Miami at Pittsburgh
Line: Pittsburgh -6.5
It’s nothing short of a full-blown miracle that Miami currently resides with a winning record at 7-4 and holding bowl eligibility. Despite rostering former Hurricanes Duke Johnson, Clive Walford, and Phillip Dorsett in 2014, the program limped to a 6-7 record. It would be wise not to confuse the win column with more credit than is deserved. Consider that the Hurricanes have defeated one FBS team with a winning record all season and that single victory (Duke) was literally bow-gifted by an on-field officiating crew, replay official, and communicator that were subsequently handed multiple-game suspensions as a result of a series of game-deciding blunders.
In games opposing teams with a winning record, Miami has been outscored by an overwhelming per game average of 45-17. On Friday, the Hurricanes will face a Pittsburgh team that has only tasted defeat at the hands of three teams with a combined two losses on the season (Iowa, North Carolina, and Notre Dame). Coming off of convincing back-to-back defeats over post-.500 schools of Louisville and Duke as well as welcoming Miami to Heinz Field … 6.5 points is an overwhelmingly underestimated result.
Among Power-5 programs, only Kansas and Texas Tech have allowed more TDs on the ground than Miami’s defense (27) — setting the stage toward a huge day for Panthers RB Qadree Ollison and WR Tyler Boyd. Boyd has surprisingly averaged 57 rushing yards per game over his last three and the matchup provides Ollison the opportunity to add to the ACCs fourth-most rushing TDs. Take Pitt to cover the spread and for the matchup to exceed the over/under.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 35, Miami 21.
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