"Pressure is something you feel when you don't know what the hell you're doing." - Peyton Manning
Despite ending September with a losing record at 33-37, I wasn't feeling the pressure. I was a few losing weeks away from being placed firmly on the hot seat. Planes started to circle my house on Saturdays, with banners calling for various animals to randomly pick games instead. I almost pulled a Steve Spurrier, deciding to disappear midseason. Instead, I ignored the noise, focused more than ever, and responded to the pressure with two straight winning weeks. While my weeknight picks have been worse than Lincoln Chafee's debate prep, I've been solid on Saturdays, going 11-7 last weekend. The NCAA was skeptical of my strong performance and immediately had me drug tested. My caffeine levels were off the charts, but I was clean otherwise and avoided penalty. I have a one game lead on Precise Mediocrity and will be looking to add some breathing room this week. Enjoy your week of college football.
MIAMI -6.5 vs Virginia Tech - 330pm
I wrote a piece on the current state of Canes football earlier this week. This game is the definition of a must-win game for Miami and Al Golden. With #5 Clemson coming to Sun Life Stadium next Saturday, the Canes have to beat 3-3 Virginia Tech to keep ACC hopes alive. We've all seen the stats on how Miami collapsed following losses to Florida State in 2013 and 2014. The players insist that won't happen again, but we'll find out soon enough.
Miami will have to prepare for both of Virginia Tech's quarterbacks. Brenden Motley has improved this season and his confidence has clearly grown as a passer. Michael Brewer was the starter in the opener against Ohio State and may return from injury against Miami. He's been practicing, but hasn't been medically cleared for game action yet. Regardless of who starts or plays, the Canes should be able to contain the Hokies' offense. There is no Dalvin Cook suiting up for Frank Beamer. VT has fewer playmakers on offense than we're used to seeing. Brad Kaaya played well on the road against FSU, helped significantly by the return of Stacy Coley and Braxton Berrios to the lineup. Both are healthy and will be ready for Saturday's game. Miami should have success throwing against Hokies who are without their best defensive player, injured CB Kendall Fuller. If the Canes show up and play with close to the same intensity we saw in Tallahassee, things will be fine. Miami's players rally around each other and their coaching staff and win by double digits.
AUBURN -2 at Kentucky - 7pm
Auburn's bye week came at the perfect time. I expect the Tigers to look much better tonight, led by a big game from RB Peyton Barber. QB Sean White will be more comfortable and Gus Malzahn's team has enough talent to win on the road in Lexington. UK doesn't have enough firepower on offense to keep pace if this becomes a shootout.
STANFORD -6.5 vs Ucla - 1030pm
The Stanford we all expected to see has returned. After a shocking loss to Northwestern, David Shaw's team is back on track led by QB Kevin Hogan and RB Christian McCaffrey. Without Myles Jack, UCLA was exposed in a road loss to Arizona State a few weeks ago. Freshman QB Josh Rosen will struggle against the Stanford defense and the Cardinal win by two scores.
HOUSTON -19 at Tulane - 9pm
Houston is rolling with QB Greg Ward Jr. and RB Kenneth Farrow putting up huge numbers. Tulane will be without starting QB Tanner Lee who is dealing with a concussion. The Green Wave defense won't have any answers for Tom Herman's offense on Friday night. The Cougars win by 30+.
UTAH STATE +9.5 vs Boise State - 9pm
This game will be closer than people expect. The Aggies have an experienced defense that played well against both Washington and Utah earlier this season. Boise State RB Jeremy McNichols is questionable and if he can't play, that will be a huge loss for the Broncos. Utah State QB Kenton Myers is a talented runner and should be able to have success if he can avoid turnovers. Boise State is the better team, but with this game being in Logan I'm picking Utah State to keep things close.
UNLV -6.5 at Fresno State - 1030pm
Fresno State's QB situation is in disarray and the Bulldogs will struggle to win again this season. UNLV has bigger aspirations and is still alive in the weaker West Division of the conference. Look for the Rebels to win this game easily.
PURDUE +24 at Wisconsin - 12pm
Wisconsin is banged up on the offensive line and still hasn't found a good replacement for RB Corey Clement. QB Joel Stave has been decent at times this year, but he doesn't scare me. I like young Purdue QB David Blough and RB Markell Jones. They'll put up at least two touchdowns and stay close enough to earn me an early win on Saturday.
NORTHWESTERN +3 vs Iowa - 12pm
Northwestern will play much better than the team we saw get blown out in Ann Arbor last week. RB Justin Jackson should have a big afternoon. The Wildcats are always great as home underdogs and have a talented defense that is eager to bounce back. Iowa is still undefeated, but the Hawkeyes play a lot of close games. This matchup will be decided by a field goal.
MISSISSIPPI STATE -13.5 vs Louisiana Tech - 12pm
With QB Dak Prescott back, Mississippi State should roll in this one. La Tech won't have an answer for the Bulldogs offense and we've seen LT QB Jeff Driskel struggle against SEC defenses before. La Tech's star RB Kenneth Dixon is questionable for Saturday's game.
TULSA +12 at East Carolina - 12pm
East Carolina has had success playing two quarterbacks - James Summers and Blake Kemp. Tulsa runs one of the fastest offenses in the nation, led by QB Dane Evans who has thrived in new HC Phillip Montgomery's system. Neither defense will provide much resistance in this matchup. Expect a shootout where whichever team has the ball last wins the game.
FLORIDA STATE -7 vs Louisville - 12pm
Louisville is getting a lot of respect for a team with three losses. It feels like a trap, but I'll pick the Noles and hope there isn't a letdown from the Miami game. FSU RB Dalvin Cook should continue to put up big numbers. After having success against the Canes, Jimbo Fisher will keep involving QB Everett Golson in the running game. Louisville freshman QB Lamar Jackson won't be very effective against a talented FSU defense. The Noles win by two touchdowns.
GEORGIA TECH -3.5 vs Pittsburgh - 1230pm
Georgia Tech has inexplicably lost four straight games. The Yellow Jackets have been exposed on defense and have struggled to create big running plays out of the triple option, even with QB Justin Thomas running the show. With their backs against the wall, I expect that to change this weekend. Pitt is 4-1, but the Panthers haven't beaten anyone of consequence.
TEXAS A&M +4.5 vs Alabama - 330pm
It's time for Kyle Allen and the Aggies to prove they are real contenders in the SEC West. Alabama has been better on offense in recent weeks, but I still don't trust QB Jacob Coker, especially with A&M's star DE's Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall in his face all afternoon. Nick Saban's defense shut down traditional offenses (Georgia and Arkansas), but tends to have issues against spread teams. Texas A&M upsets the Crimson Tide and vaults into the Playoff conversation.
OKLAHOMA -4.5 at Kansas State - 330pm
Oklahoma will bounce back from an embarrassing loss to Texas. KState blew an 18-point lead against TCU and is vulnerable on defense. The Sooners will control the line of scrimmage and win by two scores on the road. Baker Mayfield should have a big day in the passing game.
LSU -9.5 vs Florida - 7pm
I know Treon Harris has starting experience, but there is a reason he was beat out for the starting job in September. The loss of Will Grier will slow down the Gators' momentum and LSU will take care of business at home. Leonard Fournette won't put up his usual numbers against a formidable UF defense, but he'll do enough to help the Tigers pull away in the second half.
CLEMSON -15.5 vs Boston College - 7pm
Boston College cannot score points. It's as simple as that. The Eagles were shutout by Wake Forest and FSU and were fortunate to score a touchdown against Duke. Clemson's defense is one of the best in the nation. BC's defense has been great in 2015, but the Tigers and Deshaun Watson will be the best offense they've seen thus far. Clemson wins by 20+ and stays perfect heading into an exciting matchup with Miami.
WAKE FOREST +17.5 at North Carolina - 7pm
Wake's defense has improved and won't be intimidated in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are being labeled as the favorites in the Coastal, but we should know not to trust UNC by now. QB Marquise Williams will play well and lead his team to a win, but Wake Forest and QB John Wolford will keep things interesting.
MISSOURI +16 at Georgia - 730pm
Georgia is deep at RB with Michel and Marshall so the loss of Nick Chubb won't have a significant impact on Saturday. That being said, the Bulldogs are coming off two losses and QB Greyson Lambert has come back down to earth against quality defenses. Missouri struggled against Florida last week, but UGA's defense isn't nearly as good. The Tigers will do just enough to hang around and lose by 10-14.
OHIO STATE -17 vs Penn State - 8pm
Ohio State has been sleepwalking for weeks against inferior teams, but this is finally a big game against a marquee opponent. Urban Meyer found something to build on with the success of using QB J.T. Barrett in the red zone. Ohio State will jump on Penn State early, forcing Christian Hackenberg into obvious passing situations. He won't be able to deal with the pressure from OSU's defensive line and linebackers. The Buckeyes blow out PSU and remind us why they're ranked #1.
ARIZONA -8 at Colorado - 9pm
With Anu Solomon back at QB for Arizona, there's no stopping this offense. The Wildcats have one of the best rushing attacks in the nation and will put up 40+ points on Colorado. I've been disappointed with the Buffaloes this season, especially on defense. Rich Rod and company coast to a relatively easy win on the road.
UTAH -6.5 vs Arizona State - 10pm
Thanks to five interceptions by Jared Goff, the Utes survived against Cal despite a poor game from QB Travis Wilson. Look for Wilson to play much better on Saturday night. The Sun Devils are turnover prone and will make a least a few mistakes an opportunistic Utes defense. I'm a believer in this Utah team. The Utes stay undefeated, led by a big night from RB Devontae Booker.