Two group of six matchups feature this week as undefeated South Florida, and #25 Appalachian State put their records on the line against tough competition. Our panelists predict those matchups along with the top 10 matchup that pits Georgia vs Florida in Jacksonville.
#25 Appalachian State at Georgia Southern (Thursday at 7:30 in Statesboro, GA)
Line: Appalachian State by 9.5
John: Appalachian State comes into this Thursday night showdown as one of the hottest Group of Five teams. They took Penn State to overtime in the season-opener before ultimately losing but are on a five-game winning streak since, outscoring their opponents by an average of 36.4 points. As a result, they find themselves ranked in the AP poll for the first time since they moved up to FBS.
Standing in their way this week is a Georgia Southern team whose only loss on the season was to national title contender Clemson. Expect ground and pound galore with both teams ranked top 10 nationally in rushing offense. Each employs a committee approach in the backfield while also getting production on the ground from their quarterbacks, App State’s Zac Thomas and the Eagles’ Shai Werts. This has all the makings of an entertaining “Fun Belt” affair. Appalachian State 38, Georgia Southern 34
Steen: I’ve been bullish on App State since they pushed Penn State to the edge to start the season. The Mountaineers are one of the best G6 teams in college football and they should finish the year strong, perhaps even making the G6 NY6 bowl game slot. Georgia Southern is a great traditional option team and their home fans will be excited for this one but I’ll back the Mountaineers to emerge with a win. Appalachian State 35, Georgia Southern 21
Mike: The Mountaineers, by now, are accustomed to big time, pressure situations. Earlier this season, even, they took Penn State to overtime in Happy Valley. Statesboro isn’t Happy Valley, and Georgia Southern isn’t quite ready to knock the two-time defending Sun Belt co-champions off their pedestal. The “Deeper Than Hate” rivalry winner will have the inside track to the first ever East Division championship and bid into the Sun Belt Championship Game. Appalachian State 33, Georgia Southern 20
Lukas: Appalachian State, coming off its first national ranking, is taking on Georgia Southern. They are coming off five straight wins and have generated some stellar production on offense. Look for Darrynton Evans who has 425 rushing yards this season, to have a big game. I like Appalachian State to continue its success with a win. Appalachian State 31, Georgia Southern 21
Yesh: This is a very big line. Appalachian State is good, but it’s hard to know just how good that Penn State loss really was. The Nittany Lions are seriously playing down to their competition this year. Georgia Southern, meanwhile, just quietly doesn’t lose. They’ll lose this one, but it will be a one-score game. Appalachian State 34, Georgia Southern 31
#9 Florida at #7 Georgia (Saturday at 3:30 in Jacksonville, FL)
Line: Georgia by 6.5
John: Saturday’s border battle in Jacksonville will be the first since 2008 where both Florida and Georgia came into the game ranked in the AP top 10. The Gators, under first-year head coach Dan Mullen, appear to have the edge in terms of momentum. They’re in the midst of a five-game win streak that includes a statement win over LSU who was ranked fifth at the time. That same Tiger squad dominated Georgia a week later.
#18 Iowa at #17 Penn State (Saturday at 3:30 in University Park, PA)
Line: Penn State by 6.5
John: It’s been a rough few weeks for Penn State. Their CFP hopes all but ended when they narrowly lost to Michigan State at home one week after an even narrower home loss to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions got back on track last Saturday, albeit slightly given they weren’t exactly convincing in a win over Indiana. Things don’t get any easier with Iowa coming to town. The Hawkeyes are giving up just 14.3 points per game which rank fifth nationally.
Penn State dealt with some coaching turnover in the off-season when offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead departed for Mississippi State. They seem to have taken a bit of a step back under Ricky Rahne who assumed the job after coaching tight ends previously. Part of the problem has been quarterback Trace McSorley forced into shouldering a fairly heavy workload both in the pass and ground game. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in Happy Valley against the Hawkeyes on Saturday. Penn State 31, Iowa 20
Steen: Penn State suffered an upset loss to Michigan State that really dented their shot at both national and conference glory. Iowa remains a one loss team that is focused on hard nosed defense rather than high powered offense.This game will be close, and if the Hawkeyes can contain the Penn State offense I think they’ll pull off a notable road win. Iowa 17, Penn State 10
Mike: Iowa is a good team, and they’ll be a popular upset pick. But they’re a different team on the road than they are at home. And the Big Ten West doesn’t present the same challenges that the Big Ten East does. Penn State is in survival mode after losses to Ohio State and Michigan State sunk their College Football Playoff hopes. But the Nittany Lions have shown resiliency before, and they’ll show it again on Saturday. Penn State 35, Iowa 24
Lukas: A critical Big Ten matchup that has lots of implications. If Penn State wants to make it to the Big Ten Championship, they must win this game. Iowa is playing some terrific football, likely to be a representative in the Big Ten Championship. I like Penn State’s Trace McSorley to have a big game. Nittany Lions won a thriller. Penn State 28, Iowa 21
Yesh: Penn State is more talented than Iowa, but the Hawkeyes are playing really well and are playing perfect FerentzBall. This defense will give up two big plays but will otherwise stymie an out-of-sorts Penn State team. Iowa 24, Penn State 21
#21 South Florida at Houston (Saturday at 3:30 in Houston, TX)
Line: South Florida by 7.5
John: Somehow, someway, South Florida is one of the five remaining unbeaten teams in FBS. Two weeks ago, the Bulls trailed Tulsa 24-10 heading into the fourth quarter but stormed back and narrowly escaped with a 25-24 victory. Even last week, they were tied with a 1-5 UConn team at halftime and narrowly won 38-30. So with a road game looming against a Houston team who’s unbeaten in AAC play, one can’t help but think the Bulls are due for a slip up.
The notion gets further reinforced by the fact that only Alabama is scoring more points per game than the Cougars. The offense is buoyed by quarterback D’Eriq King whose three interceptions is tied for second in FBS among signal-callers with at least 20 touchdowns so far. Not only that, but they have Ed Oliver who’s one of the top defensive line prospects in next year’s NFL Draft. All good things must come to an end and in this case, it’s USF’s 2018 unbeaten run. Houston 41, South Florida 38
Steen: South Florida is currently undefeated as Charlie Strong is building a winner in Tampa. Houston has just one loss though, and their high powered offense and competitive defense make them one of the toughest teams in the AAC. Playing at home they should have a slight advantage but I think South Florida will shake off the cobwebs and rise up to secure a win and continue their undefeated season. South Florida 28, Houston 27
Mike: This is the most undervalued game this week. A defensive Heisman candidate and Top 10 NFL Draft pick in Ed Oliver, a dynamic Cougars gunslinger at quarterback in D’Eriq King, and a high powered Bulls offense led by Jordan Cronkrite. There’s sure to be a lot of points scored in this game. The deciding factor for me is consistency. Houston has looked great at times this season, but has looked suspect at times as well. USF has played consistent for most of the season. South Florida 45, Houston 42
Lukas: South Florida may be undefeated. But they are coming into a tough matchup against Houston on Saturday. South Florida has been down early in many of their games this season, requiring massive comebacks. Houston won’t let them do that this week. It will be close but I like Houston to end the undefeated streak. Houston 27, South Florida 23
Yesh: Don’t be shocked by this line. South Florida is not that good a team this year. They’re a decent team with an easy schedule. Houston is actually a very good team. The Cougars are probably ruing their defensive struggles against Texas Tech. That won’t happen again this week. Houston 52, South Florida 31
#14 Washington State at #24 Stanford (Saturday at 7:00 in Stanford, CA)
Line: Stanford by 3
John: Vegas is not a fan of upper-echelon Pac-12 teams playing away from home. Last week, Oregon came into their contest against Washington State as a road dog despite a massive win over Washington the week before. Now the Cougars are in the same situation as they head to “The Farm” to take on Stanford. Both sides are in the thick of the Pac-12 North race as each has just one conference loss.
With Bryce Love battling a nagging ankle injury, Stanford’s running attack has sputtered and currently ranks fourth-worst in FBS. K.J. Costello has tried to shoulder an added load as a result and ranks third in pass yards per game among Pac-12 quarterbacks. But his counterpart for the Cougs, Gardner Minshew, is the nation’s leading passer, averaging a whopping 392 yards per game. But though the Cardinal give up a lot of yards through the air, they lead the conference in opponent red zone touchdown percentage. That could serve them well on Saturday. Stanford 27, Washington State 23