College Football Forecast: 10/24

Last week in college football, the top two teams reiterated why they should remain the best in the nation. Number one Clemson allowed Georgia Tech to stick around early when they tied the game at seven halfway through the first quarter, but that was shortlived as the Tigers went on to a 73-7 route of their conference counterpart.

Number two Alabama faced off with number three Georgia in their most critical matchup of the season this past Saturday. Georgia has gone on to blow three straight halftime leads over the Crimson Tide, including in this ball game as the Tide rolled onto a 41-24 victory led by Najee Harris’ 152 yards and one touchdown.

As these two teams attempt to reign supreme in the top spots of the college football rankings, they will have new competition as the Big Ten schedule kicks off this weekend.

With the new contenders on the block, let’s breakdown the top five matchups this weekend.

5. #14 North Carolina vs. #23 NC State

Mack Brown’s second stint as North Carolina’s head coach had them heading in the right direction after they began the season 3-0 while climbing to the number five spot in the AP poll. Last Saturday, unranked Florida State had other ideas for the Tar Heels’ high hopes as they piled on a 24-0 lead late in the second quarter. North Carolina would battle back but lose to the Seminoles leaving a blemish on the Tar Heels record as they near the midway point in the season.

With a bounce-back mentality revelating in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels are poised for a matchup with in-state rivals, NC State. The Wolfpack enter this matchup ranked for the first time since 2002. In a season that may have found the Wolfpack in the middle of the shuffle with the division-less ACC, they have made strides towards an ACC championship appearance. They currently sit third in the ACC with a 4-1 record and have an extremely favorable schedule besides UNC and Miami next week.

The Wolfpack will have to do deal with the absence of quarterback Devin Leary, who suffered a Fibula injury and will miss up to eight weeks, just after he emerged as the starting QB for the team. Bailey Hockman will replace Leary as he was the second member of the quarterback duo earlier this season.

For the Heels, both the offensive and defensive units need to start better as they fell into an insurmountable hole last week. Sam Howell found his trustee receiving weapons in Beau Corrales and Dyami Brown just a little too late, but they will need to be up for the task once again this Saturday.

This game comes down to who can control the ball longer and with a healthy Tar Heels offense and Hockman being thrown in at quarterback for the Wolfpack, there is no question which team is better equipped to win.

Prediction: Tar Heels win 42-30

4. #3 Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh

In the historic rivalry’s 71st meeting, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Pitt Panthers will clash at Heinz Field this Saturday on ABC. Notre Dame has beaten the Panthers in the past two matchups and historically has had the upper hand in this rivalry.

Although standing as the third-best team in the nation, the Fighting Irish may not deserve to be in that spot. Their opponents in which they have played thus far have a combined overall record of 4-16. Yes, the Fighting Irish have beaten their first three opponents with a winning margin of no less than 14 points, but their most recent win against Louisville has cause for concern.

The Irish only scored 12 points including one touchdown with a failed two-point conversion against a team that currently sits at 1-4 overall. Ian Book only completed 11 passes for 106 yards. This came against a Louisville defense that is allowing nearly 30 points per game. Book was in the Heisman conversation to start the season but has faltered out very quickly.

Running back Kyreen Williams has been the bread and butter for this Notre Dame offense, but he will face off against the best run defense in the nation in Pitt. The Panthers are only allowing 61.5 yards per game on the ground. Williams will get the support though of arguably the best offensive line in the country.

In seven out of the past eight matchups in this rivalry, it has come down to a one-score game. Although Notre Dame has shown some dominance early in the season, last week’s shakiness will play a big factor if it continues this week. With an ankle injury to Kenny Pickett sidelining him last weekend against Miami, Joey Yellen may get the start once again. Both of these quarterbacks have the potential to lead an offense who has struggled to find an identity this far into the season.

Prediction: Notre Dame wins 24-18

3. #2 Alabama vs. Tennessee

Last weekend, Alabama showcased once again why they are the most dominant program in college football. After handling the Bulldogs easily in the second half, the Crimson Tide improved to a 4-0 start for the fifth straight season.

Bama’s offense has been explosive so far this year as Mac Jones has stepped in tremendously after the departure of Tua Tagovailoa. The Crimson Tide sit at number two in passing yards per game and points per game respectively. Along with Jones’ 1,518 passing yards, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle has ended up on the receiving end of 557 of those yards. With Harris and receiver DeVonta Smith, Alabama has hands down the most potent offense in the nation.

Defensively, they have struggled thus far as they have allowed 28.8 points per game, their lowest mark since the 2007 campaign when they gave up an average of 21.8 points per game. Despite a down year statistically, this defense is still filled with playmakers and NFL talent.

Tennessee began the season 2-0 and reached the number 14 spot before falling to Georgia and then getting blown out by Kentucky, 34-7. This was Kentucky’s first win in Knoxville since 1984.

As Tennesse aims to stay in the SEC East race they will have a chip on their shoulder as they faceoff against the best team in the conference. Jarrett Guarantano will most likely remain as the Volunteer’s starter at quarterback. If this team has any chance of keeping this game close, they will have to keep their offense on the field and control the game clock. Also, limiting Najee Harris is critical to have any shot to keep the score close.

Prediction: Alabama wins 42-17

2. #9 Cincinnati vs. #16 SMU

Outside of UCF, the American Athletic Conference has received very little love when it comes to the big picture of college football. This matchup will be the biggest conference game in regards to team rankings since number 16 Memphis took on number 12 UCF in the 2017 AAC conference championship game.

Cincinnati starts the season with a 3-0 record, including a 24-10 victory over then number 22 Army. The Bearcats have had two weeks to prepare for SMU after canceling last week’s game with Tulsa due to COVID-19 concerns.

Gerrid Doaks has been their go-to guy as he has found success on the ground and out of the backfield as he has combined for 275 yards and six touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, cornerback Ahmad Gardner and defensive tackle Myjai Sanders have been highly effective on a solid overall defense.

Southern Methodist has a lot more appeal to their squad than the Bearcats. The team has raced out to a 5-0 start including a 30-27 win over number 25 Memphis. This team currently places fourth in the nation averaging 563.2 yards per game along with 43.6 points per game.

Ulysses Bentley IV has emerged as one of the premier running backs in the nation as he has rushed for 506 yards and eight scores, which is the second-best in the country. Quarterback Shane Buechele has been no slouch this season either as he has thrown for the second-most passing yards in the nation with 1,710. Buechele set himself as one of the top passers in the AAC last season and is on his way to reaching that mark this year.

This game has the potential for a shootout as each team’s offenses overpower the defenses. However, SMU’s firepower will give them the edge in this contest.

Prediction: SMU wins 48-42

1. #17 Iowa State vs. #6 Oklahoma State

This week’s top matchup comes from the Big 12 as Oklahoma State continues to make its case on why they deserve to be in the college football playoff picture. The Cowboys have numerous potential NFL players on offense including Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace. The quick-strike ability of the offense led by Shane Illingworth has turned them into a threat against any defense.

Defense typically is not a strength for this team, but the Cowboys have only allowed nine points per game through three games this season. The ability to get to the quarterback this year has been a vast improvement of the Cowboys’ defensive front.

As for Iowa State, they had the potential to be one of the surprise teams of the season and still have that chance to be. A loss to Louisiana in their first game spoiled their hopes for a strong start into the season. Since then, the Cyclones have scored at least 31 points, including a takedown of the 18th best team in the nation in Oklahoma.

The Cyclones are another team with pro talent as both Brock Purdy and Breece Hall have seen their names flash in the Heisman conversation. With 531 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, Hall has solidified himself statistically as the third-best rusher in the nation. In the passing game, Purdy has several weapons, which makes this offense very versatile.

In this matchup, if there is a major weakness on either team, it is the Cyclones’ defense. They have a solid linebacker group, but the entire unit has struggled to contain opponents’ offenses.

This is another game that has the potential to be a shootout, but for the first time in a long time, Oklahoma State actually has a defense, which will stifle the Cyclones’ attack.

Prediction: Oklahoma State wins 31-21