Which college football dark horse can compete for the national championship?
USA TODAY Sports’ Mackenzie Salmon talks about the team that has a chance to sneak into the CFB playoff.
Surprise performances and unexpected outcomes are anticipated each weekend in the wild world of college football. Even if everyone knows they are coming, guessing when and where they will happen is difficult.
The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, Brent Schrotenboer, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus, and Dan Wolken — weigh in with some bold predictions for Week 10 of the season:
Clemson will be playing Saturday’s game under the lights at historic Notre Dame Stadium without star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, still out of the lineup as he follows ACC protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. The circumstances seem to benefit the No. 4 Fighting Irish, but I think the Tigers will still win the game – in blowout fashion.
Touted prospect D.J. Uiagalelei was impressive in last week’s victory over Boston College, showing little panic as the Tigers fell behind early before staging one of their bigger comebacks in school history. The high-pressure experience Uiagalelei got against the Eagles will prove valuable for this environment, but it’s the other side of the ball that will turn this game into a laugher.
The Notre Dame offense can bog down at times, and in its most recent home game the Irish managed a concerning 12 points against a mediocre-at-best Louisville team. While the Fighting Irish can run the ball well, they’re 71st in passing offense. Can Ian Book and Co. actually get the passing game going against the No. 1 Tigers? It doesn’t seem like a safe bet, and that could make it a long night for ND fans in South Bend.
WHAT TO WATCH: Five Week 10 games with the biggest playoff impact
LOOKING AHEAD: Pac-12, Clemson-Notre Dame lead biggest quesiton of week
Michigan rebounds from last week’s loss to Michigan State with a win against Indiana. While it might not technically qualify as upset (the Wolverines are about a field goal favorite) beating the Hoosiers would remove some of the sour taste from losing to the rival Spartans and set Michigan up as the second-best team in the East division. Not that it says much about the Wolverines’ chances at beating Ohio State, but still.
Saturday mornings before 10 a.m. are almost as dead as it gets during daylight hours in Los Angeles. But here we have Southern California hosting Arizona State at 9 a.m. PT, part of the Pac-12 Conference’s quest to become more relevant to the television masses watching after noon on the East Coast. It’s a marquee quarterback duel to start the season for both teams: Kedon Slovis of USC vs. Jayden Daniels of ASU, both sophomores capable of taking over a game like this. The weird time and empty stadium just won’t do the Trojans any favors at home, making it easier for Daniels to derail any playoff train the Trojans had hoped to board.
Texas A&M has looked very good through five games with its lone loss coming against Alabama on the road. However, the brightest moments have come in the friendly confines of Kyle Field. The Aggies must now travel to South Carolina and avoid a potential upset. They’ll have experience at quarterback with Kellen Mond, though he can be inconsistent at times. But is A&M, a double-digit favorite, overlooking the Gamecocks?
It would do so at its own peril. Will Muschamp’s team is feisty and sure to play with intensity against a top 10 opponent in front of its own fans. The Gamecocks have had a week off to address issues from the LSU loss. Some solid play from quarterback Collin Hill is critical. He’ll do enough to keep this close and maybe even more to stun the Aggies.
You’ve undoubtedly noticed that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was a popular punching bag for pigskin pundits this week.
This was not without cause, of course. The Wolverines’ loss to Michigan State was as unexpected as it was uninspired.
Michigan’s upcoming opponent, by contrast, has been the toast of the college football world. Indiana is No. 13 in the Amway Coaches poll this week, it’s highest ranking since USA TODAY began administering the poll in 1991, and is 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since – wait for it – 1991.
Well, get ready for a reality check. The Hoosiers, let’s face it, probably shouldn’t have won that Penn State game – and I don’t just mean because that two-point try in OT might actually have been short. The Nittany Lions outgained IU 488 yards to 211 and had 11 more first downs but were undone by several costly mistakes. Enter a ticked-off Michigan squad that also has more talent across the board than the Hoosiers.
So sorry to be a killjoy, Hoosiers’ fans, but Michigan wins this one big.
The Liberty story has flown a little bit under the radar this season, but Hugh Freeze has built a pretty good football team amid his personal redemption tour. The Flames rank 21st nationally in yards per play but have also been very good defensively, allowing just 294 yards and 21.3 points per game. Virginia Tech is certainly more talented than the teams Liberty has played thus far to be 6-0, but the Flames showed in a 38-21 win at Syracuse that they won’t necessarily be overwhelmed by ACC level size and speed. Virginia Tech has had a really up and down season on a number of levels but should be feeling pretty good coming off a 42-35 win last week. Still, this is a great chance for Liberty to pull an upset and I think they’ll get it done in Blacksburg.