College Football Picks: Showdown Saturday to shape CFP race
This will probably be the best Saturday of the college football season.
With four games matching top-15 teams, including No. 1 Alabama at No. 4 LSU, the stakes are high, the story lines intriguing and the playoff ramifications plentiful.
Both Southeastern Conference divisions could be settled if Alabama wins because the winner of No. 6 Georgia at No. 11 Kentucky in the SEC undercard will be East champions.
No. 12 West Virginia is at No. 15 Texas in a matchup of Big 12 contenders. The conference’s playoff chances could take a hit if the Mountaineers pick up a second loss. The Big Ten has a similar game at the Big House where No. 5 Michigan tries to stay in prime playoff position against No. 14 Penn State.
Outside the ranked vs. ranked games, No. 7 Oklahoma faces a potentially tricky road test at Texas Tech. No. 3 Notre Dame is at Northwestern, with the Wildcats on a four-game winning streak.
Why wait for the weekend? No. 9 Central Florida hosts Temple on Thursday night in a battle for first place in the American Athletic Conference East. On Friday night, No. 23 Virginia hosts Pitt with first-place in the ACC Coastal on the line. Who would have expected that at the beginning of the season?
No. 10 Ohio State plays its first game since losing to Purdue, with Nebraska (fresh off its first victory) coming to Columbus. No. 15 Utah could just about clinch its first trip to the Pac-12 championship game by beating Arizona State.
There’s a lot going on.
Temple (plus 10½) at No. 9 UCF
The Owls defense is salty, with some NFL-caliber talent such as CB Rock Ya-Sin and DT Michael Dogbe ... TEMPLE 34-30, UPSET SPECIAL.
Pittsburgh (plus 7) at No. 23 Virginia
Upstart Cavaliers can surpass six victories for the first time since 2011 ... VIRGINIA 28-20.
No. 1 Alabama (minus 14½) at No. 4 LSU
Tide has won seven straight in series since the 9-6 Game of the Century won by the Tigers in 2011 ... ALABAMA 34-21.
Louisville (plus 39) at No. 2 Clemson
Cardinals look like a team playing out the string for a coach who might not be back next season ... CLEMSON 45-10.
No. 3 Notre Dame (minus 9½) at Northwestern
Irish’s Ian Book is the first QB to win his first five starts while completing at least 70 percent in each game since Russell Wilson for Wisconsin in 2011 ... NOTRE DAME 31-17.
No. 14 Penn State (plus 10) at No. 5 Michigan
Third-down conversions have been a problem for the Nittany Lions (35.8 percent, 103rd in FBS); the Wolverines allow 28.7-percent conversions ... MICHIGAN 35-20.
No. 6 Georgia (minus 9½) at No. 11 Kentucky
Wildcats’ path to their first SEC East title is an ugly, low-scoring game ... GEORGIA 23-16.
No. 7 Oklahoma (minus 13) at Texas Tech
Last time the Sooners visited Lubbock, Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes guided the teams to a record 1,708 yards. Your turn, Kyler Murray and Alan Bowman ... OKLAHOMA 45-35.
Nebraska (plus 17½) at No. 8 Ohio State vs. Nebraska
Buckeyes have beaten the Huskers by a combined 118-17 the past two seasons and have not had to punt once ... OHIO STATE 49-28.
California (plus 10½) at No. 10 Washington State
Last time Cal beat Washington and Wazzu in the same season was 2008 ... WASHINGTON STATE 31-23.
No. 12 West Virginia (plus 2) at No. 15 Texas
Mountaineers and Longhorns have split six games since WVU joined the Big 12 ... WEST VIRGINIA 28-24.
Missouri (plus 6) at No. 13 Florida
Odd season for the Tigers, who have faced a brutal schedule, lost a couple games they probably should have won and now are scrambling to get bowl-eligible with a possible first-round pick at QB in Drew Lock ... FLORIDA 28-24.
No. 16 Utah (minus 7) at Arizona State
Utes are averaging 6.8 yards per play during four-game winning streak after averaging 4.5 in their three previous games against FBS competition ... UTAH 31-21.
No. 17 Houston (minus 13) at SMU
Cougars are the only team in the country to score at least 40 points in all their games ... HOUSTON 45-31.
No. 18 Utah State (minus 18) at Hawaii
Aggies have played just two games as a ranked team, both in 2012, and are 2-0 ... UTAH STATE 38-24.
No. 20 Fresno State (minus 25) at UNLV
Bulldogs average margin of victory in six wins vs. FBS teams is 24.8 ... FRESNO STATE 45-14.
Louisiana Tech (plus 23½) at No. 21 Mississippi State
Mississippi State has allowed the fewest touchdowns in the nation with nine ... MISSISSIPPI STATE 31-13.
No. 22 Syracuse (minus 5½) at Wake Forest
Would be good for the ACC and the Orange if Syracuse finishes strong and stays ranked ... WAKE FOREST 35-34.
No. 24 Boston College (minus 2) at Virginia Tech
Same as above for the Eagles ... VIRGINIA TECH 24-23.
No. 25 Texas A&M (plus 4) at Auburn
With Georgia and Alabama still to come, this is a metal health game for Auburn fans ... AUBURN 23-17.
Michigan State (minus 1) at Maryland — @GriffinTSmith
How do the Terps respond to what has been a strange week at Maryland? ... MICHIGAN STATE 24-20.
BYU (plus 13) at Boise State — @LunalNewport
After a good start, Cougars in danger of a second straight losing season ... BYU 34-17.
UCLA (plus 7½) at Oregon — @GoDuckYourself
UCLA coach Chip Kelly’s return to Oregon, where he led the Ducks to national championship contention, and it’s hardly a footnote this weekend ... OREGON 34-24.
Oklahoma State (minus 8) at Baylor — @tokyotrojan
Cowboys coming off a big win. Bears coming off an ugly loss. Total Big 12 set up ... BAYLOR 38-34.
UTEP (plus 1) at Rice
Miners are the last winless team in FBS and have lost 20 straight overall; Rice’s only victory came against Prairie View ... UTEP 24-21.
Dartmouth at Princeton — @DiMaria05
Battle of unbeatens in the Ivy League ... PRINCETON 38-31.
Last week: 13-8 straight; 13-8 against the spread.
Season: 143-53 straight; 102-92-2 against the spread.
Upset specials: 5-4 (straight up).
Best bets: 3-6 (against the spread).
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://www.podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25