It’s week seven of college football season and we’ve got some great games on tap! I went 2-1 straight up last week and 2-1 against the spread. That brings my numbers (through three weeks of picking games) to 6-3 straight up and 5-4 against the spread. Here are three games to keep an eye on this Saturday:
No. 2 UGA at No. 13 LSU — 3:30 p.m. on CBS
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is hell-bent on creating the next Alabama in Athens, and he appears to be doing an incredible job of it. In his second year at the helm, he took the Bulldogs to the national championship game where they came up a play or two short of pulling off the upset against ‘Bama in an all-time classic game.
As is the case with the Crimson Tide, the running game is the straw that stirs the drink for the Bulldogs. Georgia averages 245 yards per game on the ground. That sets up Jake Fromm and the passing game. Fromm was efficient against Vandy, going 17-for-23 for 276 yards with three touchdowns and no picks.
The Tigers’ defense is stout, only allowing 17 points per game. The defensive line got worn down in the fourth quarter of their upset loss to Florida last week. They were gashed repeatedly on the ground, allowing Florida to control the tempo late and get the go-ahead score.
Nick Brossette was outstanding against the Gators, carrying the ball 15 times for 95 yards and two scores. If he can average 6.3 yards per carry against UGA, the Tigers will happily take it. Here’s a key stat on Brossette this season: He averages more yards per carry and gets most of his rushing yards in the fourth quarter. That means both Brossette and LSU’s offensive line get better as the game goes on. They’ll rely heavily on the ground game because while Joe Burrow had some nice moments against Florida, he’s not getting it done from an accuracy standpoint. He has only had one game this season where he completed at least 60 percent of his passes. LSU can’t be one dimensional against Georgia and expect to win. They need to be able to stretch the field to keep the Dawgs honest.
Remember when I wrote that LSU was only allowing 17 points per game? That puts the Tigers in a tie for the 16th-best scoring defense in the country. Georgia ranks 2nd. This is the Bulldogs’ biggest test of the season and their matchup with LSU will show us what they’re really made of.
The Line: Georgia (-7.5)
My Pick: This is a lot of points to offer up in a road game against a Tigers team that already has two wins against top-10 teams this season. However, a pick-six at the end of the game gave Florida an eight-point win over LSU last week. I could see the same scenario playing out if the Bulldogs jump in front and Burrow has to air it out to try and get the Tigers back in the game. I’m taking Georgia to win and cover.
No. 7 Washington at No. 17 Oregon — 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN2
Washington’s College Football Playoff hopes are on the line in Eugene, Ore. The Huskies not only need to win, they’ll need to do so convincingly. Washington doesn’t currently have any ranked opponents left on its schedule and has been unimpressive in wins against Utah, Arizona State, and UCLA. Stanford, who UW plays in November, was supposed to be a top-10 or top-15 team, but two straight bad losses to Notre Dame and Utah dropped the Cardinal out of the top-25. Washington’s best win right now is a 35-7 win against No. 20 BYU. You think the playoff committee is going to include a one-loss Washington team with that weak resume over a potentially undefeated or one-loss Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Notre Dame, or Ohio State? Think again.
Oregon has the same problem except its loss to Stanford looks even worse in the eyes of the committee. The Ducks could win out and win the Pac-12 and still not make the playoff.
Washington will lean on its defense, a unit tied for the third-best scoring defense in the country, to try and neutralize Oregon’s explosive offense. The Huskies allow less than 14 points per game while the Ducks average nearly 47 points per game. Something’s gotta give.
There are three players you should keep an eye on in this game:
Myles Gaskin is the real deal. The first true freshman ever to run for over 1,000 yards at Washington, the senior running back now holds the school records for career rushing yards (4,609), career rushing touchdowns (50), and total career touchdowns (54). He’s currently sixth on the Pac-12’s all-time rushing yards list, but by the end of the season, he should pass Marcus Allen, Ken Simonton, and LaMichael James and settle into the third spot behind only Charles White and Royce Freeman. He’s nine rushing touchdowns shy of tying Simonton for second-most in Pac-12 history, but he’ll pass Lendale White and James to reach the third spot behind Freeman and Simonton. He’s 10 total touchdowns shy of Freeman, but if he gets six, he’ll pass Skip Hicks, White, and James to tie Simonton for second-best in conference history. Bottom line: Gaskin is one of the greatest running backs in Pac-12 history.
Oregon’s Justin Herbert is the best quarterback in the conference this season. He has thrown for over 1,400 yards at a nearly 65 percent clip while tossing 15 TDs against five interceptions. He’s 6-foot-6 and some scouts think he’ll be one of the first quarterbacks taken if he declares for the NFL draft. You’re going to see him playing on Sundays.
Jake Browning owns or will own every significant passing record in Washington history by the end of the season. He’s already UW’s all-time leader in career total offense, career passing yards and career passing touchdowns. He needs just 100 more passing yards to vault into the top-10 in conference history and he’s on pace to pass Carson Palmer for fifth on the all-time list. Nine more passing touchdowns puts him in a tie with Jared Goff for fifth-most in conference history. Perhaps more impressively, he’s eight total touchdowns away from having the fourth-most total touchdowns in conference history. He won’t catch Marcus Mariota at the top, but if he catches fire, he could get into range of Luke Falk and Matt Barkley at number two and three, respectively. Browning, like Gaskin, is not only arguably the greatest ever at his position at Washington, he’s one of the best in conference history.
The Line: Washington (-3.5)
My Pick: I think Herbert will have a very good game, but, ultimately, I think Gaskin and the Huskies’ defense will be the difference makers. I’m taking the Huskies to win and cover.
No. 15 Wisconsin at No. 12 Michigan — 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
Bottom line: This is a College Football Playoff elimination game. Each team has one loss and can’t afford another.
Shea Patterson has not been stellar under center for the Maize and Blue, but he has been good with some very good sprinkled in. His play has put the Wolverines in position to make the CFP if they manage to win out.
Before last week’s win against Maryland, Patterson hadn’t thrown for over 237 yards in a game this season. He might be required to beat the Badgers with his arm. Luckily for him, Karan Higdon can help open up some passing lanes. The senior has had a great season as the Wolverines’ top rusher. He’s averaging nearly six yards a carry and is 20th in the country in rushing yards on the season with 582.
Wisconsin will counter with one of the best running backs in the country in Jonathan Taylor. Last year, as a freshman, Taylor ran for an astonishing 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. He picked up right where he left off. He leads the nation in rushing yards per game with 169.8 and already has eight touchdowns on the year. Unsurprisingly, the Badgers are fourth in the country with 287 rushing yards per game. They need Taylor to be his usual, sensational self.
Like Patterson, Alex Hornibrook hasn’t been outstanding, but he has definitely been good enough to win with. He was fantastic against Iowa earlier this year in a huge road game, but was very disappointing against Nebraska at home last week coming off of a bye. Badgers fans better hope that was a result of looking ahead to this game because Hornibrook will need to make plays both with his arm and his legs in order to keep the chains moving.
Michigan enters this contest allowing fewer than 16 points per game while Wisconsin is allowing just 16.4. That means we get a match-up between the 11th and 13th-best scoring defenses in the country.
The Line: Michigan (-10)
My Pick: Wisconsin is too competent a team for me to think they’re going to get rolled in the Big House by double digits. I think we’ll see a defensive struggle for most of the game, but I think Taylor leads Wisconsin to an upset, leading to a lot of upset Michigan fans. I’m taking Wisconsin and the points.
Noah Niederhoffer (@Noah715) is a producer at SiriusXM and a graduate of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Originally from Atlanta, he now lives in D.C.