College Football Picks: Top-10 matchups shape playoff race

November 4, 2020 GMT
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Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) runs past Missouri's Martez Manuel (3) and linebacker Nick Bolton, back left, during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) runs past Missouri's Martez Manuel (3) and linebacker Nick Bolton, back left, during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

In a normal college football season, the College Football Playoff rankings likely would have debuted this week.

In this pandemic-altered season, the Pac-12 and the Mid-American Conference are debuting this week instead. The first selection committee rankings won’t be unveiled until Nov. 24, but a couple of top-10 matchups this weekend should bring some clarity to the race.

The late and staggered starts by conferences have thrown off college football’s body clock. How else to explain Arizona State and No. 20 Southern California kicking off at 9 a.m. PST Saturday?

This weekend No. 1 Clemson plays its eighth game, No. 2 Alabama plays its seventh, No. 3 Ohio State plays its third, No. 12 Oregon plays its first and No. 14 Oklahoma State plays its sixth.

That’s assuming all of them actually play. One never knows.

Despite all the oddness, this weekend does have a chance to clear up the playoff picture.

The winner of Clemson at No. 4 Notre Dame comes out in a really strong position. The loser isn’t out, but its path becomes narrow and fairly defined.

No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 8 Florida is pretty much an SEC East and playoff elimination game.

Whether No. 9 BYU actually has playoff hopes is debatable. AP voters typically treat non-Power Five conference teams better than the selection committee. Whatever chances the Cougars have at cracking the final top four plummet to zero if BYU can’t beat No. 21 Boise State on Friday night on the Blue Turf.

The picks:


No. 9 BYU (minus 3) at No. 21 Boise State

No team has more riding on a game this season than the Cougars: long shot CFP hopes, New Year’s Six prospects and QB Zach Wilson’s Heisman campaign ... BYU 31-24.

No. 11 Miami (minus 10) at North Carolina State

Hurricanes have not inspired a ton of confidence in winning two straight since getting pounded by Clemson ... MIAMI 28-17.


No. 1 Clemson (minus 5 1/2) at No. 4 Notre Dame

Combined record of Notre Dame’s opponents: 12-28 ... CLEMSON 31-24.

Rutgers (plus 37) at No. 3 Ohio State

In six meetings since Rutgers joined the Big Ten, the Buckeyes are averaging 54.5 points per game ... OHIO STATE 55-14.

No. 5 Georgia (minus 3) vs. No. 8 Florida at Jacksonville

Bulldogs didn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with Alabama; can they do better against Florida’s two Kyles (Trask to Pitts)? ... GEORGIA 34-28.

Houston (plus 13 1/2) at No. 6 Cincinnati

Bearcats look to make it three straight clampdowns on fast-paced and potent AAC offenses after holding Memphis and SMU to a combined 23 points ... CINCINNATI 35-20.

No. 7 Texas A&M (minus 10) at South Carolina

Matchup of two star sophomore running backs in Aggies’ Isaiah Spiller and Gamecocks’ Kevin Harris ... TEXAS A&M 35-28.

Stanford (plus 10) at No. 12 Oregon

Ducks won’t tip their hand on a QB competition between Tyler Shough and grad transfer Anthony Brown; Shough is the presumptive favorite ... OREGON 24-16.

No. 23 Michigan (minus 3) at No. 13 Indiana

Wolverines have won 24 straight in the series dating back to 1987; the Hoosiers were ranked higher than Michigan that season, and the next season when they lost 31-6 to start the streak ... MICHIGAN 24-20.

No. 14 Oklahoma State (minus 12 1/2) at Kansas State

Cowboys lost a game to Texas they should have won by almost every measure but turnovers last week; the Wildcats lead the Big 12 in turnover margin (plus-6) ... OKLAHOMA STATE 28-14.

South Alabama (plus 18) at No. 15 Coastal Carolina

Chanticleers QB Grayson McCall is second in the country in efficiency rating (201.77) among players who have played more than two games ... COASTAL CAROLINA 35-20.

Massachusetts (plus 44 1/2) at No. 16 Marshall

Minutemen have played only one game so far, losing 41-0 to Georgia Southern ... MARSHALL 56-7.

Baylor (plus 14) at No. 17 Iowa State

The Bears have no running game, averaging 2.84 yards per rush (97th in the country) ... IOWA STATE 28-13.

No. 18 SMU (minus 17 1/2) at Temple

It has been a rough season for the Owls, who started late because of COVID-19 issues and seem to be playing worse every week ... SMU 38-17.

Kansas (plus 38) at No. 19 Oklahoma

Jayhawks are making a strong run at being the worst Power Five team ... OKLAHOMA 56-13.

Arizona State (plus 10 1/2) at No. 20 Southern California

Sun Devils have played 17 one-score games under coach Herman Edwards in two seasons, going 9-8 ... USC 28-21.

West Virginia (plus 6 1/2) at No. 22 Texas

Since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 in 2012; they have split eight games with the Longhorns ... TEXAS 27-23.

No. 25 Liberty (plus 15) at Virginia Tech

Flames have already beaten an ACC team, though the Hokies should be much tougher than Syracuse ... VIRGINIA TECH 42-24.


San Jose State (plus 9) at San Diego State, Friday — @Texiancurtis

Aztecs have won seven straight in the series ... SAN DIEGO STATE 31-20.

Washington (plus 1 1/2) at California — @C_J_J—

Bears have won two straight by a total of three points ... WASHINGTON 24-17.

Nebraska (plus 3 1/2) at Northwestern — @saunders45

Huskers hold a 5-4 lead in the series since joining the Big Ten ... NEBRASKA 24-21.

Tennessee (minus 1 1/2) at Arkansas — @dpiggler

Vols have lost three straight and have a loaded schedule after the Razorbacks; big game for Tennessee ... TENNESSEE 24-21.

Texas Tech (plus 9) at TCU — @tbaum15

Horned Frogs looking to even their record and try to avoid consecutive losing seasons for the first time in 21 season under Gary Patterson ... TCU 38-24.



Last week: 17-6 straight; 12-10-1 against the spread.

Season: 81-33 straight; 55-57-1 against the spread.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at and listen at


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