Week 10 college football predictions for the 10 biggest games. LSU hosts Alabama, while the Big Ten West could get a facelift by Saturday night.
All eyes will be on Baton Rouge this weekend, as LSU and Alabama renew their annual battle of NFL-caliber rosters. However, Week 10 features a lot more than just the Tigers and the Tide in primetime. It’ll also be the scene of a launch into the national lexicon for Colorado and a pair of pivotal Big Ten games that could shape the races in both divisions.
Below are the breakdowns and predictions for the 10 most consequential and entertaining games of Week 10.
10. Vanderbilt (4-4) at Auburn (6-2)
Auburn, one of the hottest teams in America, looks to keep its eye on the ball now that it’s moving outside of SEC West play for the first time in over a month.
The Tigers are soaring into top 10 territory after disposing of Mississippi State, Arkansas and Ole Miss in succession behind a dominating defense and ground game. But Vanderbilt boasts a feisty defense of its own, led by linebacker Zach Cunningham, and a chance to make a splash and move a step closer to bowl-eligibility under third-year coach Derek Mason.
The rested Dores are scrappy and not to be taken lightly. But even if the Auburn attack sputters occasionally, Vandy lacks the offensive execution to take advantage. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur versus the pass rush of defensive end Carl Lawson and the coverage skills of the veteran Tiger secondary is a recipe for turnovers and a lot of Sam Loy punts.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Vanderbilt 10
Line: Auburn -25.5
9. Syracuse (4-4) at Clemson (8-0)
Should be smooth sailing from here for Clemson. But that’s when title contenders are often picked off.
The Tigers cleared their tallest remaining hurdle to a playoff berth, getting past Florida State, 37-34, in Tallahassee last week. Impressive. However, now comes the tricky part, maintaining focus against inferior opponents motivated to make a national splash. The Orange, for instance. Syracuse is starting to turn the corner for rookie head coach Dino Babers, beating Va Tech and Boston College in consecutive weeks to reach .500.
Clemson isn’t the same team as a year ago, and that will catch up to it at some point in 2016. Just not here. Eric Dungey passing to Amba Etta-Tawo has been fueling the fun in Upstate New York. But they’re in for a setback this week versus cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and a secondary that’s No. 4 nationally in pass efficiency defense. Plus, the Orange isn’t equipped defensively to stop Deshaun Watson and his myriad weapons, even in a year that the offense has misfired more than anticipated.
Prediction: Clemson 41, Syracuse 20
Line: Clemson -27
8. Iowa (5-3) at Penn State (6-2)
The Hawkeyes and Lions are both mathematically alive in their respective Big Ten divisions, making for an interesting matchup Saturday night in Happy Valley.
True, Iowa and Penn State are longshots in the West and East Divisions, respectively. But the winner will still have hope on Sunday morning. The Lions are surging for James Franklin, riding Saquon Barkley’s legs and an improved defense to four straight wins, including the huge upset of Ohio State. The Hawkeyes exit a bye week looking to recapture their 2015 swagger before taking on a nasty November slate of three ranked opponents in four weeks.
The Lions will make it five in a row, but it won’t be easy. The Hawkeyes are rugged on D, and they can run the ball with Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels. Barkley, though, will carry Penn State to the finish line in a battle that requires all 60 minutes to determine a winner.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Iowa 24
Line: Penn State -7.5
7. UCLA (3-5) at Colorado (6-2)
The Buffaloes are staging their national coming-out party this Thursday night in Boulder.
Mike MacIntyre and his kids get a rare opportunity to showcase how far along they’ve come this season, from last place predictions in the preseason to sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South. How will the Buffs handle the bright lights when they’re expected to win? Over on the UCLA side, the 3-5 Bruins are riding a three-game losing that’s heaped immense pressure on fifth-year coach Jim Mora. It’ll be worth watching UCLA’s body language since almost every one of this year’s goals is no longer attainable.
Colorado will be fired up on Thursday night, maybe a little too much in the early going. But once the Buffs settle down, they’ll methodically take it to UCLA. RB Phillip Lindsay will continue to run well, and Jim Leavitt’s unheralded D will shut down a Bruin attack that can’t run the ball and will be without quarterback Josh Rosen for the foreseeable future.
Prediction: Colorado 30, UCLA 22
Line: Colorado -12
6. Maryland (5-3) at Michigan (8-0)
D.J. Durkin returns to the Big House, this time as the leader of the Maryland program.
It’ll be an interesting chess match between Durkin, who’s done a nice job in his first season in College Park, and Jim Harbaugh, who hired Durkin to be the Wolverine defensive coordinator in 2015. The two are close friends, though that friendship will be put to the side for a few hours on Saturday afternoon. While the Terps need one win in the final four games to bowl, Michigan is laser focused on remaining unbeaten.
Durkin intimately knows the Michigan defensive personnel, and his backfield of quarterback Perry Hills and backs Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison are making plays. Won’t be enough in Ann Arbor. Jabrill Peppers and the front seven will swarm the Terps, while De’Veon Smith and Karan Higdon exploit a Maryland run defense that was just gashed for 414 yards by Indiana.
Prediction: Michigan 42, Maryland 13
Line: Michigan -31
5. Washington (8-0) at Cal (4-4)
Utah is in the rear view mirror. A visit from red-hot USC looms large a week from now. The Huskies better maintain their focus and energy this weekend in Berkeley.
Washington is the far superior team in this matchup, with the perfect record and No. 4 ranking to back it up. But Cal is dangerous, because it’ll play with nothing to lose and it has yet to fall this season in Strawberry Canyon. Plus, with Davis Webb winging the ball around the field, anything is possible, particularly if go-to receiver Chad Hansen can return from an ankle injury.
U-Dub could be walking into a Bear trap. It’s a good thing for the Pac-12 frontrunner that Cal is dreadful defensively. Yup, this could be a game for a half or longer. However, at some point in the third the Huskies will score points in bunches, shelling Sonny Dykes’ feeble D with the accurate passing of Jake Browning and the breakaway speed of running back Myles Gaskin.
Prediction: Washington 44, Cal 28
Line: Washington -16.5
4. Florida (6-1) at Arkansas (5-3)
The Gators enjoy a healthy cushion over Kentucky and Tennessee in the SEC East, but that could shrink a little this Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville.
Florida is coasting after rebounding from a Sept. 24 collapse in Knoxville to reel off consecutive wins over Vandy, Mizzou and Georgia last week in Jacksonville. But the Gators can’t become lax, since improving South Carolina and LSU are still left on the SEC schedule. Arkansas used last week’s bye to regroup and shake up the depth chart following the 56-3 loss at Auburn on Oct. 22. It’s fork-in-the-road time for Bret Bielema and his Hogs.
A rested and revamped Arkansas is poised for a mild upset this week. The vulnerable Hog defense will catch a break by hosting toothless Florida. Yeah, Austin Allen and Rawleigh Williams will have their hands full with the Gator D, but they’ll muster just enough conversions to squeak out a statement win and lock down a bowl berth.
Prediction: Arkansas 24, Florida 23
Line: Florida -5.5
3. Wisconsin (6-2) at Northwestern (4-4)
No rest for the weary, as the Badgers head to Evanston following an October gauntlet that included trips to Michigan and Iowa and visits from Ohio State and Nebraska.
Wisconsin got past the Huskers last Saturday, 23-17, to remain alive in the Big Ten West race. But Paul Chryst’s team is still a full game behind Nebraska, so margin for error is thin. And Northwestern has quietly regrouped since starting 1-3, including losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State. Over the past month, the Wildcats have defeated Iowa and Michigan State on the road, while losing by only four at Ohio State last Saturday.
Both teams are roll-up-the-sleeves tough on D. But the Wildcats will be a shade more efficient on offense, particularly in the quarterback battle between Clayton Thorson and Badgers Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston. It’ll be the difference, as Northwestern, not Wisconsin, moves north in the West Division hunt.
Prediction: Northwestern 23, Wisconsin 21
Line: Wisconsin -7
2. Nebraska (7-1) at Ohio State (7-1)
It’s a battle of one-loss schools in Columbus, with a ton at stake in each of the Big Ten divisions.
The Huskers have a one-game West Division lead in the loss column over four schools, despite losing at Wisconsin last week. Meanwhile, Ohio State is trying to keep pace with Michigan in the East, so that their showdown at the end of the month is for more than just rivalry bragging rights. The sixth-ranked Buckeyes still control their own Big Ten and playoff destiny, but the team hasn’t been sharp in over a month, losing to Penn State and narrowly escaping Northwestern the past two weeks.
While the offense has unexpectedly sputtered, the defense has been a constant for Ohio State, a trend that’ll continue Saturday at the Shoe. The Husker O-line is dinged, and Tommy Armstrong Jr. will struggle to complete passes, much the way he did in Madison. It won’t be pretty, because Nebraska is salty on D as well. But the Buckeyes will use a late drive engineered by J.T. Barrett to remain in the title discussions.
Prediction: Ohio State 28, Nebraska 21
Line: Ohio State -17
1. Alabama (8-0) at LSU (5-2)
Boundless storylines. A rite of passage every November when Alabama and LSU.
The history. The next-level talent. Ed Orgeron’s chance to ditch the interim label. Leonard Fournette’s opportunity to muscle back into the Heisman discussion. Above all else, though, this is about top-ranked Bama looking to protect that ranking, as well as its lead in the SEC West. The Tide has won five straight in the series, holding Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries in last season’s 30-16 win.
Both teams are flush in elite defensive talent. Bama is a notch better in the front seven, where this matchup will be won or lost. The Tigers have defensive end Arden Key and linebacker Kendell Beckwith, but the Tide will counter punch with linebacker Reuben Foster and ends Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson. In other words, another night without creases for Fournette and Derrius Guice. Plus, while neither team will throw the ball with much success, Bama has the luxury of an athletic quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who can improvise with his feet to extend key drives.
Prediction: Alabama 28, LSU 19
Line: Alabama -7.5