USA TODAY Sports
Published 9:02 a.m. ET Nov. 29, 2019
SportsPulse: Dan Wolken and Paul Myerberg discuss the latest CFP Playoff rankings and what the committee got right and wrong.
Shocking disappointments and better-than-expected performances are anticipated each weekend in the wild world of college football. Even if everyone knows they are coming, guessing when and where they will happen is difficult, especially as the College Football Playoff chase gets closer to a conclusion and the stakes are raised higher.
The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, George Schroeder, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weigh in with some bold predictions for Week 14 of the college football season:
It’s fair to say we don’t know a lot at this point about Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. He posted hyper-efficient numbers in his two starts – against SEC-worst Arkansas and FCS Western Carolina. We know a lot more about Auburn quarterback Bo Nix and it’s that he’s … fine? Nix has shown flashes to be sure in his first season, coming up clutch against Oregon in the season opener and winning on the road at Texas A&M. He’s also had his freshman moments, including a brutal game at Florida where he completed just 40% of his passes and threw three interceptions. This Alabama defense isn’t quite up to recent vintage, but Nick Saban has historically been great against freshmen quarterbacks – yeah, yeah Trevor Lawrence ripped ‘Bama apart in January but he’s probably going to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in a year. Nix’s ceiling isn’t that high – and that’s OK! – but it could lead to this: Alabama wins the Iron Bowl.
RIVALRY DRAMA: Five games in Week 14 that will impact the playoff race
I think Auburn finds a way to beat Alabama. But I’m banking on a much bigger upset: Michigan tops Ohio State for Jim Harbaugh’s first win as head coach against the Buckeyes. Not that this will do much to change the final top four in the playoff rankings. Ohio State would still go into the Big Ten championship game at 11-1 and a win against either Wisconsin or Minnesota away from reaching the semifinals. But the impact the win could have for Harbaugh’s tenure with the Wolverines can’t be overestimated.
It has been a very weird – read: very disappointing – season for Washington, which has stumbled to five losses because of an inconsistent offense and a suddenly iffy defense. It hasn’t been a great season for 6-5 Washington State, either. But behind quarterback Anthony Gordon, the Cougs will end a recent stretch of Apple Cup futility, beating the Huskies in Seattle (and raising the temperature of already unhappy Washington fans).
Oklahoma State has been here before. The Cowboys have spoiled Oklahoma’s title hopes in. And even if they don’t beat the rival Sooners, they usually give them a big scare.
The twist this season is Oklahoma State must do it without dynamic freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders. Dru Brown started last week at West Virginia, and the offense didn’t total 300 yards. Chuba Hubbard, the nation’s leading rusher, was also held in check. Not a good sign when facing a team ranked No. 1 in total offense and No. 5 in scoring.
But something has been missing from Oklahoma in recent weeks. Whether it is costly turnovers or defensive breakdowns, they’ve played four consecutive games within one score, including a loss at Kansas State. This one should again be close. If the Sooners don’t avoid the same breakdowns, their title dreams could evaporate.
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Forecasting what will take place when Oklahoma and Oklahoma State get together is often a fool’s errand. There’s a reason they call the series Bedlam, after all. But I will predict this – there will be three 100-yard rushers in the game.
Two of them are obvious. The Cowboys’ Chuba Hubbard leads the nation with an average of 166.5 yards a game on the ground. He’ll be fed the ball early and often.
Jalen Hurts, of course, will get his yards as well. He needs to protect the ball better to be sure, but it’s a pretty safe bet he’s been reminded of that numerous times during this week’s preparations.
The third will be Oklahoma running back Kennedy Brooks. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy wasn’t exactly dissing the rest of the Sooners’ backfield when he referred to the Oklahoma offense as a one-man show, but it was certainly an indication that the Cowboys’ defense is going to devote a lot of assets to containing Hurts. Brooks, who rushed for 149 yards himself last against TCU, will benefit with some holes on the outside. Oklahoma State’s ground defense isn’t bad by any stretch, ranking a respectable 39th nationally allowing just 139 yards a game. But the Sooners’ spread poses a whole other challenge.
As for who will actually win the game? The Sooners should if they eliminate the miscues. But hey, it’s Bedlam. You never know.
Last year’s Apple Cup was a massive game, as the winner was headed to the Pac 12 championship game and the Rose Bowl after that. This year? Not so much, as both Washington and Washington State are 6-5 and headed to minor bowl games. Still, it’s an opportunity for the Cougars to reverse a rivalry where they’ve really been dominated in recent years. Mike Leach won his first Apple Cup in 2012 but has lost six straight since then with most of those games being pretty lopsided in Washington’s favor. But this Huskies team, which has been a pretty big disappointment, just feels like it’s kind of running out the clock on this season. Washington State has had a roller coaster year, blowing big leads and coming back from big deficits including last week in a 54-53 win over Oregon State. Though both teams are pretty flawed, the Cougars are in a better frame of mind and are more capable of scoring points. I predict they will win in Seattle for the first time since 2007.