To combat the looming predictability of a weekend of potentially one-sided games, we are losing our minds. There’s only a single game between two ranked opponents (No. 24 Michigan vs. No. 5 Wisconsin), and many of the best teams in college football have lined up lambs to slaughter the weekend before their season-ending rivalry games.
Yes, there are some conference matchups that are potentially tricky enough to knock teams out of the playoff hunt—looking at you, No. 7 Georgia vs. Kentucky and No. 11 USC vs. UCLA—but for the purposes of this week’s column, we’re going to focus on results a little farther outside the realm of possibility. The criteria: Each game features a top-10 team that’s favored by double-digits (with the exception of No. 2 Clemson, whose game against an FCS opponent has no line) against a non-Power 5 foe. This is not a prediction all three underdogs will win—just an exploration of whether they might have some semblance of a shot, and why.
No. 6 Auburn vs. Louisiana-Monroe: Auburn is riding high after beating Georgia handily last weekend, and it gets UL-Monroe Saturday before finishing out the season against Alabama. It would only be natural for the Tigers to be focusing on their chance to beat the Crimson Tide next week and crash the SEC title game. The Warhawks are 4–5 and on the upswing after winning just two games two seasons ago. They beat Wake Forest in 2014 and put up two touchdowns against Georgia in ’15, and last weekend they handed Appalachian State its first Sun Belt loss of the season. Monroe has a balanced offense, with two players (including quarterback Caleb Moore) who have topped 450 rushing yards and three players with more than 450 receiving yards. Auburn went through moments of inconsistency this year, such as when it squeaked by Mercer 24–10.
No. 2 Clemson vs. The Citadel: Again, this one is a long shot. The Citadel is 5–5 and hasn’t won in Death Valley in 91 years. The Bulldogs play in the Southern Conference, and their triple-option offense has yielded one of the best rushing attacks in FCS. The Citadel is averaging more than 300 rushing yards per game (compared to just 98.1 yards per game through the air) and the defense is fine—ranked 25th among FCS teams—but any prayer of a historic upset lies with a tight, disciplined attack, almost devoid of dumb penalties. That was present two years ago, when the Citadel upset South Carolina, 23–22, in 2015. In that game, the Bulldogs rushed for 350 yards and passed for just 37. If there’s a recipe to pulling off the upset against Clemson, it looks a lot like that.
No. 8 Notre Dame vs. Navy: This is the most likely upset on the list. I went with Navy in our staff picks list this week, in part because the Midshipmen are good, in part because their triple-option scheme can pile up yards and points on even the most prepared opponents, and in part because Notre Dame’s offense is sputtering. Running back Josh Adams, after playing only a quarter against Wake Forest two weeks ago because of myriad unspecified injuries, didn’t look himself against Miami and barely played in the second half. It’s still unclear what’s going on there, but without him at full strength, Notre Dame’s offense wasn’t able to do much of anything against Miami. Granted, Navy doesn’t have a turnover chain, but it beat Notre Dame during last year’s down campaign and is more than capable of pulling it off again.