College Football Viewing Guide, Week 10: The Triumphant Return of #Pac12AfterDark
Plus MACtion, a ton of huge matchups, and some Pac-12 predictions.
I hope you’re ready for a jam-packed Viewing Guide this week!
I got a lot of different things to get to, and somehow I even have actual stuff to talk about in this top section! And there’s really so much to talk about, especially this week when everyone is playing for the first time in 2020! UCLA is playing football again! The Pac-12 returns this week! Midweek MACtion is back! Trevor Lawrence got COVID and is out for Clemson’s biggest game of the season! TEXAS IS BACK (note: Texas is not back)!
So with all of that said, I’m going to use the top section here to give my 100% FOOLPROOF PAC-12 PREDICTIONS 2020. You can take these to the bank as being completely accurate unless they’re not in which case I never made these in the first place.
This is Oregon’s division to lose. They have a pretty sizeable talent advantage over the rest of the division, and while they have some holes (notably: they’re breaking in a new quarterback), the rest of the division doesn’t have the horses to compete. Helpfully, their schedule also ramps up, so they’ll have plenty of time to work out the kinks against some lesser competition before finishing with UC Berkeley and Washington.
I…..think Berkeley probably takes second in this division? They’re neck-and-neck with Washington, and critically Berkeley hosts the opening meeting between these two. I think that will be the difference, despite me never really feeling comfortable with the Golden Bears on offense.
The rest of the division feels fairly simple. Oregon State is a program on the upswing and can definitely grab 4th here, but Stanford critically has an easier cross-divisional matchup. Washington State is the clear 6th spot, especially after a wholesale coaching change.
As much as it pains me to say this, Southern Cal is the team to beat in the division. Similar to Oregon, Southern Cal has a ton of talent compared to everyone else in the division, and in this short season that counts more than normal.
The rest of the division….is a bit of a toss-up. My brain says that Arizona State should probably take second here based on their talent and general trajectory, but then I look at their first two games and think there’s a good chance of them collapsing. Similarly, Utah should get a ton of benefit of the doubt just from their coaching track record, but they lost so much from last year’s team that I’ve started coin-flipping whether UCLA wins that game or not. And speaking of the Bruins, everything about the past two seasons leads me to not have much faith in them, and yet I look at those two programs and start thinking “well maybe if things break a certain way”. For now, I think the order will be Arizona State-Utah-UCLA, but everything is screwy enough that you could just pull those three names out of a hat and have equally good odds of getting it right.
What is a bit easier is the last two spots. Colorado is breaking in a new coach, but Arizona legitimately should go 0-7 this season. Somehow, there is a coach on a bigger hot seat than Chip Kelly!
First off, while I think Oregon and Southern Cal are ahead of their division in terms of talent, they also possess coaching staffs that I’m a bit suspect of. So while I think they win their respective divisions, I do think each lose a game along the way, which will effectively remove the Pac-12 from the playoff conversation.
Using my neutral analyst brain, Southern Cal should win the conference. They have an established quarterback and the best coach (Graham Harrell) out of anyone in the matchup. That’s usually enough to secure a win between equally-matched teams. But this is a UCLA site, so give me Oregon every single day of the week and twice on the Friday they play the game.
I’ll have UCLA-specific predictions later in the week. But for now, let’s look at the games!
Game to watch: Ohio @ Central Michigan (4:00 PM PT, ESPN)
MACTIONNNNNNNNNNN! The MAC is back, and honestly while I picked this game, just consider any of the games as solid options. Even Bowling Green @ Toledo, which features a huge spread, will be fun since Toledo is one of the conference favorites while you get a first look at Year 2 of the Bowling Green rebuild. Ohio @ Central Michigan gets the top spot by virtue of being a solid matchup between two good teams (and for having a point spread of -1.5).
Game to watch: Wyoming @ Colorado State (6:00 PM PT, CBSSN)
Neither game on Thursday excites me, but at least this one has a line under 15, so I’d say this one has a better chance of being close. Let’s just move on.
Game to watch: #9 BYU @ #21 Boise State (6:45 PM PT, FS1)
Time to get into the meat of the weekend, starting with a very good matchup on Friday! BYU was the biggest beneficiary of the Mountain West’s return, as they were able to fortify their schedule with this game and a late-season matchup with San Diego State (which takes place a full month after their previous game). The Cougars have set themselves up as a potential gate-crasher to the College Football Playoffs, especially after the Big 12 eliminated itself this past weekend, and if they can win out they’d actually have a case for inclusion.
On the other side, Boise State looks to be as good as usual, which makes BYU’s task that much harder. The Broncos have scored at least 42 points in each of their two games so far, and they are by far the biggest offensive threat the Cougars will face all year. This should be a very good game, and the perfect opener for an absolutely-loaded weekend.
Keep an eye on: #11 Miami @ NC State (4:30 PM PT, ESPN)
This game won’t be as good as that top one, but it has a few advantages going for it. First, it starts two hours prior to the start of the previous game, which means you have something to occupy yourself while you wait. Second, it’s hard to really feel confident in Miami, and while NC State is no better, they are at least at home, which gives them a chance to pull off some kind of upset.
Game to watch: #23 Michigan @ #13 Indiana (9:00 AM PT, FS1)
First off, it is truly bizarre to get to this game and have Indiana be the higher-ranked team. With that out of the way, it’s time to answer one of the biggest questions in the B1G: is Indiana for real? Their opening victory over Penn State featured the Hoosiers being more lucky than good, but they looked the part of a good team in their win over Rutgers last week. This team won’t challenge Ohio State, but 2nd place in the Big Ten East isn’t out of the question at this point, especially with a win over the Nittany Lions in hand.
On the flip side, Michigan! Who looked like a legitimately good team in their opening victory, only to turn around and faceplant repeatedly against Michigan State. Michigan should be past doing that against subpar opponents, and the fact that outings like this are still happening is a huge mark against Jim Harbaugh’s program. The worst part is: I don’t think Michigan is all that bad! They’re probably closer to the team that beat Minnesota than they are losing to Michigan State, but it’s hard to trust them now.
All of which makes this game rather fascinating. Michigan has been this gigantic hurdle that Indiana has failed to climb in recent years, but it’s 2020 and anything is apparently possible now! The question for both teams is which version shows up. If both of their best versions show up, Michigan should take this, but if Michigan shows scars from their previous outing, Indiana is definitely good enough to take advantage.
Keep an eye on: Arizona State @ #20 Southern Cal (9:00 AM PT, FOX)
There are a bunch of other intriguing matchups in the early slate but come on, I know what you all will be watching. I mean, I said Michigan/Indiana is the game to watch in this slate and I’ll still probably watch most of this one instead. We’re UCLA fans, and by extension, that means we’re going to pay the most attention to other Pac-12 games, even if that means watching the Trojans.
I don’t really have much to add to this game, really. Southern Cal has the talent advantage, coordinator advantage, and is the home team in a Pac-12 game kicking off at 9:00 AM. Every part of that screams they should win this game, and yet I can’t fully count the Sun Devils out. I don’t know why, especially since I don’t find Herm Edwards to be a great coach, but you can never discount the chance of the Trojans feeling too confident that they end up throwing the game away.
Game to watch: #8 Florida vs #5 Georgia (12:30 PM PT, CBS)
THE WORLD’S LARGEST (socially-distant) OUTDOOR COCKTAIL PARTY! Even when these teams aren’t highly ranked, this is always a stupid game between teams that revert to their base instincts and I watch every second of it each time. These two teams have taken the “anything can happen in a rivalry game” idea and turned it into an artform of bad football.
Plus, you know how I said I have no idea how good Michigan and Indiana truly are this year? The same thing really applies to this game. Georgia I have mostly figured out - they’re plenty talented but don’t have a top-end quarterback which means they’re playing second fiddle to the Alabama/Clemson/Ohio State trifecta (weird how they could have kept Ohio State’s quarterback if they had just been less racist). Florida I really have no clue though. I mean, they’re probably good, especially after last week’s beatdown of Missouri, but that came two weeks after their last game, a loss to Texas A&M where they looked average at best. There just aren’t enough solid data points to honestly lean one way or the other.
The only thing I do know is that nothing about this game will affect how I think about these teams, because they could have two of the best offenses of all time and this game would still be a rock fight. I love it so much.
Keep an eye on: Vanderbilt @ Mississippi State (12:30 PM PT, SECN)
I did not put this game here because it will be good - there are much better options in this time slot - but mostly as a check-in on how Mike Leach is doing in the SEC. As a reminder, his offense set new SEC record in a first week upset of LSU. Since then? Well, if you did per-game averages of most statistical categories, Mississippi State’s non-LSU offense would be dead last in the conference, and it’s not even close. Alabama did not even pretend they could be scored on last week, where at the very least offensive genius Lane Kiffin was able to put up a bountiful harvest of yards and points on the Crimson Tide. Oh, and the Bulldogs best player officially announced he was opting out of the rest of the season and focusing on the draft after a few games.
So yeah, things are going great for Leach, and I’m sure it will continue to go great for a coach who never changes his playbook ever.
LATE SATURDAY (NON-UCLA EDITION)
Game to watch: #1 Clemson @ #4 Notre Dame (4:30 PM PT, NBC)
Boy, sucks to be these two teams considering everyone will be watching UCLA and Colorado duke it out.
Ok but really, this is the clear game of the week, with a ton of added intrigue in the previous weeks with Trevor Lawrence out for this game due to COVID-19 protocols. St. John Bosco standout DJ Uiagalelei took over for him against Boston College and was impressive, but is now being counted on to win the biggest game of the season for the Tigers on the road at the hallowed Notre Dame Stadium, with Touchdown Jesus looking down on him the entire time. It’s a lot to ask anyone, especially a true freshman, but I got to see Uiagalelei in-person while he was at Bosco, and really believe he has the talent and makeup to rise to the occasion.
And on the other side, Notre Dame has been quietly dominant! They haven’t really faced any challenging teams, but they’ve also won all their games by significant margins, which is what good teams do. This is also their only substantially-challenging game on the schedule, so you could definitely see them going all-out for this one. I don’t know that the Fighting Irish necessarily have the horses that Clemson has, but they have all the other advantages in this game, which could be enough.
Keep an eye on: The UCLA game you dummy
Game to watch: Washington @ UC Berkeley (7:30 PM PT, ESPN)
The first After Dark matchup is a doozy, as it’s a rematch from last year’s ridiculous contest that featured a 2 1/2 hour midgame delay due to weather, ending around 1:22 AM PT thanks to a last-second Berkeley field goal. This year’s matchup has more at stake, as the winner is set up as the clear contender to Oregon for the Pac-12 North. And honestly, it’s just good to be back with this ridiculous time slot.