The matchups in the second to last regular season week of College Football are not elite, but undefeated Notre Dame and UCF are looking to keep their Playoff Hopes alive in the two biggest games of the week. Our panelists break down all the action.
#12 Syracuse vs #3 Notre Dame (Saturday at 2:30 in New York, NY) Line: Notre Dame by 10.5
Steen: A showdown in the Bronx that few expected. The Fighting Irish are in the thick of the playoff hunt, while Syracuse is the ACC’s second best team by some margin. The Orange would be in the playoff discussion without consecutive single digit losses against Clemson and Pitt earlier in the season. Notre Dame has been tested this season, and they will be again, but they should have too much firepower to fall short here. Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 24
John: At the beginning of the year, few would be surprised if Notre Dame found themselves in the CFP top 12 at this point in the season. But not many had Syracuse at such a lofty position in the rankings. The Orange are flying high under third-year coach Dino Babers. Part of their resurgence is due to an electrifying offense led by dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey.
Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into this clash at Yankee Stadium is the status of Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book. He sat out last week’s game against Florida State due to a rib injury but honestly wasn’t needed as the Irish won in a rout. Regardless of whether it’s him or Brandon Wimbush behind center, ND needs another solid performance on the defensive side of the ball to avoid their first loss to Cuse since 2008. Notre Dame 30, Syracuse 20
Mike: Dino Babers has done a great job at Syracuse. But don’t let that near upset of Clemson cloud the picture. Notre Dame is getting better and Syracuse is always one Eric Dungey injury away from being the old Syracuse. Notre Dame 35, Syracuse 24
Lukas: This could be a potential trap game for Notre Dame, who has struggled in years past to go undefeated and put themselves in the Playoff conversation. The Fighting Irish will need to slow down Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey, who is one of three active quarterbacks with at least 8,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in his career. It will be close but I like Notre Dame to remain undefeated and in the Playoff conversation. Notre Dame 23, Syracuse 17
Yesh: This is a home game for Notre Dame, but it’s in Yankee Stadium, which is technically closer to Syracuse. Irish fans will dominate the seats, and both are used to the cold weather. The conditions could affect this game, though the forecast doesn’t call for rain or snow. This is the most excited Syracuse has been about a game in well over a decade, and the Orange want a chance to rectify not closing out Clemson. I’m seeing an upset over a Notre Dame team that has looked vulnerable on multiple occasions this year. Syracuse 34, Notre Dame 27
UAB at Texas A&M (Saturday at 7:00 P.M. in College Station, TX) Line: Texas A&M by 16.5
Steen: Jimbo Fisher has TAMU bowl eligible but hasn’t had a marquee win in his first season. UAB is the best team in C-USA, and one of the best teams in the G6 with a stifling defense and a strong ground game leading the way. TAMU has an edge in most positions as they are at home, but this feels like UAB’s moment, I’ll back the Blazers to get a program shaping win. UAB 28, Texas A&M 21
John: UAB is one of the feel-good stories of college football. The Blazers program was infamously shut down after the 2014 season but returned last year and now they find themselves atop Conference USA with a 9-1 record. This week, they have a golden opportunity to make a statement with a road win against an SEC opponent in Texas A&M.
Their defense certainly gives them a fighting chance in College Station. They come into this game giving up just 260.8 yards per game which ranks third nationally behind only Clemson and Michigan. Running back Spencer Brown is one of seven running backs in FBS with at least 14 touchdowns on the ground. But he might have issues getting things going against an Aggie side which leads the SEC in rush defense. Texas A&M 27, UAB 21
Mike: Bill Clark is the coach of the year, hands down. But UAB’s incredible program resurrection doesn’t mean they’re ready for a quality SEC opponent. The Aggies’ first season under Jimbo Fisher has largely been a quiet one, which might come as a relief to the fan base. But the Aggies have talent and Kellen Mond is getting better every week. Texas A&M 42, UAB 23
Lukas: Despite being 9-1, UAB faces a daunting test in a much-improved Texas A&M squad. UAB is about to get the wrath of an SEC football school. I like A&M to dominate from start to finish and take this game in a blowout. Texas A&M 35, UAB 17
Yesh: UAB is really solid this year. Unfortunately for the Blazers, they’re not on the level to compete with a decent Power 5 school yet. This 17-point line seems like a good one. Texas A&M should win by 2-3 scores. Texas A&M 37, UAB 21
#24 Cincinnati at #11 UCF (Saturday at 8:00 in Orlando, FL)
Line: UCF by 7
Steen: If UCF goes undefeated for two straight seasons and still doesn’t make the playoff they are going to be at the points they have grounds for a lawsuit. They have won three games this season by less than 2 scores but scoring 30+ in every game is a good recipe for winning. The Cincy Bearcats have had a great season in the AAC as well with just one less to Temple marring their surprisingly good record this season. Both programs are aiming for long term success, but at home the more experienced Golden Knights should prevail. UCF 42, Cincinnati 31
John: The AAC is getting the prime time national television treatment with ABC providing coverage of this contest. UCF comes into it with the longest winning streak in the nation at 22 games. They face an upset-minded Cincinnati squad that’s clearly heading in the right direction under second-year head coach and former Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.
McKenzie Milton, one of the nation’s top pro prospects at quarterback, might have his hands full with a Bearcat defense that ranks 14th nationally against the pass. But they might have their own issues on offense with UCF extremely adept at forcing turnovers. Plus, the Knights should come into this game highly motivated to prove to the CFP committee that they’re immensely under-ranked. UCF 41, Cincinnati 24
Mike: UCF has a weak schedule. They almost lost to <fill in the blank>. They don’t play in a Power 5 Conference. Blah, blah, blah. All they do is win. They’re better than Cincinnati at almost every position. They’re home on a big stage and they’re a team that thrives in the big moment. UCF 52, Cincinnati 31
Lukas: UCF has not lost a game in two years. Will Cincinnati be the team to end the undefeated streak? I say no. UCF continues to remain undefeated and capture the nation. UCF 28, Cincinnati 14
Yesh: Luke Fickell’s defense is really good. It will, by far, be UCF’s biggest test of the season. What can Cincinnati do to stop Milton and co.? I think it will be enough to keep it close, but it’s hard to pick Cincinnati to grind out the win. UCF 35, Cincinnati 31
#16 Iowa State at #15 Texas (Saturday at 8:00 in Austin, TX) Line: Texas by 2.5
Steen: Two teams that should be relatively happy with how the year has gone. Matt Campbell has made ISU relevant for the first time in years, while Texas is seeking it’s best W-L record since 2013. Iowa State has a better defense and I’ll back them to continue their recent run of form in a close game. Iowa State 27, Texas 21
John: Iowa State is quietly putting together a hugely impressive campaign. The 16th-ranked Cyclones handed West Virginia its only loss of the season and they come into this contest with Texas on a five-game unbeaten run. They certainly have a chance to make the first Big XII title game since 2010 if they can run the table and the Mountaineers slip up.
This is just the second time ever that Iowa State and Texas have met when both are ranked teams. The Longhorns will be looking to continue their dominance in the all-time series. Saturday’s clash in Austin is the 16th matchup between the programs with Texas having won 13 of the 15 previous meetings. This one should be a hotly contested affair with the Horns prevailing in a close one. Texas 31, Iowa State 27
Mike: I don’t trust Texas’ consistency, but I do trust their talent. The Cyclones might have reached the program ceiling, with bowl eligibility and one big win a season under Matt Campbell. Texas, for Saturday at least. Texas 31, Iowa State 24
Lukas: Both teams have had solid seasons and are trying to stay alive in the Big 12. Given this game is being played in front of the raucous Longhorn fans, I like Texas to squeak out another close game. Texas has had eight games that have been decided with seven points or less and in the final 30 seconds. I see the same thing happening here. Texas 27, Iowa State 24
Yesh: Iowa State is very solid right now. Texas, meanwhile, has been inconsistent all year. I think this Cyclones defense will shut down the Longhorns. The final score won’t be a blowout, but this game won’t be particularly close either. Iowa State 31, Texas 21
Line: Oregon by 3.5
Steen: Winning on the road will be tough for ASU but the Sun Devils remain alive in the race to reach the PAC-12 title game from the South Division, and a struggling Oregon program is just playing for pride here. ASU is coming off two quality wins to become bowl eligible and I’ll back them to win a shootout to pickup their third straight win and make a run at the title game. Arizona State 42, Oregon 35
John: It’s been an up and down campaign for Oregon in Mario Cristobal’s first year as head coach. The Ducks appeared to be on the cusp of returning to relevance after an upset of seventh-ranked Washington. But since then, they’ve dropped three of their last four. They’ll be looking to reverse that trend as they welcome Arizona State to Autzen Stadium for some Pac-12 After Dark.
Both these squads boast players receiving interest from NFL scouts. Most draft analysts see Oregon’s Justin Herbert as the top quarterback prospect in this year’s class. For the Sun Devils, N’Keal Harry is the player NFL teams in need of a feature receiver have their eyes on. Both will be looking to impress and help lead their respective team to win number seven on the season. Oregon 38, Arizona State 24
Mike: Hardest game of the week to call. I believe in Herm Edwards and what he’s doing, but it’s going to take some time. Oregon is ahead of schedule, but they haven’t found championship consistency yet this season. In a track meet, the fastest team wins. Oregon 31, Arizona State 28
Lukas: This game will be the difference maker in who wins the Pac-12 South. Both are 6-4 and are looking to end the season on a high note. I like the Ducks up tempo offence to prevail and get them a win. Oregon 31, Arizona State 28
Yesh: Arizona State controls its destiny in the Pac 12 South. Oregon is looking to right the ship after losing three of its last four. Arizona State has been amazing at home this year, but pretty bad on the road. Considering this game is in Autzen, I like the Ducks. Oregon 35, Arizona State 20