Around The Nation: Games To Watch
Notre Dame fans will need to do some scoreboard watching the next two weekends. The Fighting Irish aren’t in the College Football Playoff hunt anymore, but there is still a path to a New Year’s Six Bowl bid in play.
Notre Dame has not won a major bowl game since January of 1994, so getting into such a major bowl and having an opportunity to win it is huge for the program. It’s just another road block the Irish need to knock down, so clearly there is still plenty to play for.
The Irish will need help, which is why I’ll be paying attention to the games broken down before (All times Eastern)
#8 Penn State (9-1) at #2 Ohio State (10-0)
Game Time: 12:00 PM
Spread: OSU -18.5
Prediction: Ohio State
There are five Big Ten teams ranked ahead of Notre Dame, and Ohio State plays three of those squads. Ohio State blasting those teams is certainly good for Notre Dame, and Penn State is up first.
I have long felt that Penn State is an overrated team. Their win against Michigan was solid, but their win at Iowa doesn’t impress me, neither does their ugly win at home over Pittsburgh. Minnesota out-played them from start to finish, and I don’t think things are going to go well for the Nittany Lions in this game.
Penn State has been scuffling in a big way on offense over the last month. The Nittany Lions have topped 30 points just once during that stretch (26.6 PPG) and averaged just 353.6 yards per game and 5.2 yards per play. Defensively, Penn State has allowed at least 21 points in three of its last four games, giving up 401 yards per game and 5.6 yards per play. In its two most recent games (Minnesota, Indiana), Penn State gave up an average of 29 points and 461 yards.
Ohio State has not scored less than 34 points all season, and its lowest yards in a single game was 431 against a Wisconsin defense that ranks 4th in the country in total defense. Oh, and Ohio State has the No. 1 defense in the country. A blowout loss by Penn State gives Notre Dame a real shot at leaping them should Penn State be the third-best team in the Big Ten at the end of the season.
Texas A&M (7-3) at #4 Georgia (9-1)
Game Time: 3:30 PM
Spread: Georgia -13.0
Prediction: Texas A&M
I’m going out on a limb with this one, but Texas A&M has quietly put together a solid defensive season this year. Texas A&M ranks No. 25 in total defense, No. 26 in scoring defense, No. 35 in rush defense and No. 27 in defensive efficiency according to the Fremeau Efficiency Index. It’s offense struggled for much of the season, but in its last two SEC games the Aggies averaged 39.5 points and 522.5 yards, with QB Kellen Mond completing 66.1-percent of his passes, averaging 289 total yards and accounting for seven touchdowns.
The Bulldog offense is reeling. Georgia hasn’t scored more than 27 points since an Oct. 5 win over Tennessee. Georgia has averaged just 22 points and 345.2 yards in its last five games. Unless Georgia can figure out a way to finally gets its pass game going, this is primed for a Texas A&M upset.
Should Georgia go down it would provide a huge boost to Notre Dame’s NY6 hopes. Georgia has already clinched the SEC East title, which means it will have to face LSU in the title game, which means another 3-loss season is highly likely.
#13 Michigan (8-2) at Indiana (7-3)
Game Time: 3:30 PM
Spread: Michigan -9.5
Prediction: Michigan … but I’m not happy about it
I expect Michigan to win this game, but it’s certainly a game I’m watching for a possible upset. Indiana OC Kalen Deboer has done an excellent job with the Hoosier offense, which ranks No. 24 in offensive efficiency (ND is No. 23) despite losing his starting quarterback. Indiana has scored between 27 and 38 points in each of its last seven games and averaged 481.6 yards per game in its last five contests. The Hoosiers racked up 462 yards and 6.4 yards per play in its 34-27 loss at Penn State.
Indiana should be able to move the ball relatively well against Michigan, but the question is can the defense, which has been wildly erratic, slow down a solid Wolverine offense. If the defense can make stops the Hoosiers could pull off the upset.
Indiana has played Michigan tough the last two times the Wolverines came to Bloomington. Michigan won by just seven points in both contests, and the 2017 contest went to overtime. If Indiana can finally pull off the upset it would almost assure Michigan falling behind Notre Dame.
UCLA (4-6) at USC (7-4)
Game Time: 3:30 PM
Spread: USC -13.5
USC checked in at No. 23 in the latest CFP rankings, which means Notre Dame does have one win over a Top 25 opponent. A USC win over UCLA would ensure that Notre Dame has at least one Top 25 victory.
There’s also some interesting future implications going on in this game. According to Adam Maya at Trojan Maven, a USC win over UCLA would result in head coach Clay Helton returning for the 2020 season. That would put off any talk of Urban Meyer to USC for at least a year.
Pittsburgh (7-3) at Virginia Tech (7-3)
Game Time: 3:30 PM
Spread: Virginia Tech -3.5
Prediction: Virginia Tech
Right now USC is the only ranked opponent to lose to Notre Dame. The more that number grows the better Notre Dame’s resume will look. Virginia and Virginia Tech are the two best bets for a Top 25 ranking. Virginia hosts Liberty, so they’ll be 8-3. If Virginia Tech beats Pitt it could very well vault the Hokies into the Top 25. That would set up a matchup of 8-3 teams when the Cavaliers travel to Blacksburg next Friday.
There’s at least a good chance that the winner of that game - assuming both are 8-3 - vaults into the Top 25 before having to play Clemson in the ACC title game.
Purdue (4-6) at #12 Wisconsin (8-2)
Game Time: 4:00 PM
Spread: Wisconsin -24.5
Purdue has played Wisconsin close in each of head coach Jeff Brohm’s first two seasons in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers dropped a 17-9 game in 2017, and last November the Badgers outlasted Purdue 47-44 in a three-overtime game. If the Big Ten season were to play out perfectly for Notre Dame, Purdue would upset Wisconsin, Wisconsin would beat Minnesota and then Ohio State would blast Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin.
It has been a rough year for a Purdue squad that has been ravaged by injuries, but Brohm’s boys are 3-2 in their last five contests, have won two games in a row and are playing much better defense over the last month.
The bad news is that Purdue has struggled to stop the opposition ground game and the Badgers have arguably the best running back in the country in Jonathan Taylor. I’m predicting a Wisconsin victory, but I’ll be paying attention to this one.
#6 Oregon (9-1) at Arizona State (5-5)
Game Time: 7:30 PM
Spread: Oregon -13.5
In my breakdown of what needs to happen for Notre Dame I mentioned that a Pac 12 team being upset would open things up quite nicely for Notre Dame. Utah’s schedule is weak, as it has been all season, which makes this game the best bet for an unlikely upset.
Oregon is playing excellent football and Arizona State has lost four straight. Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels missed the 31-26 loss to USC but returned to throw for 334 yards and three scores in the 35-34 loss at Oregon State. Oregon’s pass defense has been a bit up-and-down this season, which makes this game a bit interesting.
Of course, Arizona State could move the ball up and down the field against Oregon and still lose if the Sun Devils play like they have the last two games. If Arizona State can force a couple of turnovers and Daniels can get hot, this game could end up being closer than the spread. The Sun Devils are 32nd nationally in turnovers forced.