As an independent program not affiliated with a Power 5 conference, it is an uphill battle to enter national discussions, much less Playoff talk. BYU has done everything possible – they had six Power 5 opponents scheduled for 2020 but when those leagues went “conference-only,” BYU’s strength of schedule took a huge hit. To their credit, BYU has destroyed everyone in their path so far – a 7-0 start with a 30-point average margin of victory, and an average +230 in yardage differential. In my opponent-adjusted Game Grader formula, BYU is currently ranked #5 in the nation.
Zach Wilson has emerged as a Heisman candidate, currently 3rd nationally in touchdown passes (19) and QB Rating. The defense now has giant nose tackle Khyiris Tonga back, and his presence on the defensive line allows BYU to drop eight into coverage and puzzle opposing quarterbacks.
But this will be a season-defining moment for BYU. A ranked opponent with the entire college football world tuning in Friday night. It’s also ironic that they face Boise State, the winningest program in Division 1 since 2000, and also a program known for breaking into BCS bowl games as the non-AQ outsiders.
Boise State is 2-0, and while Hank Bachmeier is listed as questionable, Jack Sears is a former USC quarterback and together they haven’t tossed an interception yet.
For BYU to follow Boise State’s path, they need to win, and win big. I expect them to. BYU is now 6-1 (87%) ATS and is covering by an average of 19 points above the spread.
PREDICTION: BYU 34, BOISE STATE 23
PICK: BYU -3 @ -110
I think we are getting Clemson at a bargain price of just 5 points. Yes, Heisman candidate Trevor Lawrence is out Saturday. Yes, Clemson trailed Boston College by 15 at half. But new five-star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei played well in his starting debut, completing 73% of passes for 342 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. He was not the reason for Clemson’s flat start and one-score win. Clemson shut them out in the entire 2nd half, and outgained BC by 200 yards which is a margin that usually carries a 17 to 21 point win. Look no further than the goal line fumble that was returned 99 yards the other way. That 14-point swing itself explains that score margin.
Notre Dame gets this opportunity every few years. They played Clemson in the Playoff (2018), played them in the pouring rain (2015), earned a national championship spot against Alabama (2012), faced Leinart/Bush USC (2005), and even Heisman winner Eric Crouch and #1 Nebraska (2000). Each of these were Top 5 matchups with the national stage and a chance for Notre Dame to “wake up the echoes.” But they lost every time. Notre Dame is 1-19 against their last 20 Top 5 opponents, and hasn’t won a BCS/NY6 bowl game since 1994 (yet 45 of 65 Power 5 programs have).
The 2020 Irish have a strong offensive line, and a veteran quarterback Ian Book who is taking care of the football, and is crafty in short-yardage and red zone running, pulling the ball down for 5 rushing scores. However, they lack playmakers on the outsides to stretch Clemson’s defense vertically. Notre Dame loves to power the ball between the tackles, but Clemson is the wrong opponent for that. I trust Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables more than Notre Dame new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. Uiagalelei will be fine, they will give Travis Etienne a workhorse 20 or 25 carries, and the 20 other starters around them are Playoff caliber.
PREDICTION: CLEMSON 31, NOTRE DAME 20
PICK: CLEMSON -5 @ -110
Speaking of misleading final scores, Oklahoma State outgained Texas by 240 yards yet came up just short on the scoreboard. Going negative four in the turnover margin will do that. Turnovers can be fluky and seem to even out week to week, while yardage differential and per-play metrics are more predictive.
Oklahoma State still has the best defense in the conference, and are now facing a backup quarterback who has completed just 50% of passes with a 2-4 TD-INT ratio (excluding Kansas). Kansas State was blown out 37-10 by West Virginia last week. A one-loss Big 12 champion would still have a strong Playoff argument, and expect Oklahoma State to bounce back with that goal still intact.
PREDICTION: OKLAHOMA STATE 31, KANSAS STATE 17
PICK: OKLAHOMA STATE -12.5 @ -110
I was very high on Oregon coming into 2020, and even picked them for the Playoff in my annual season preview book (published June). Since then, their season was cut in half, and several star players opted out including half of their nation-best secondary, and Outland winner Penei Sewell.
For the first time since national recruiting rankings started in the 1990s, a Pac-12 program has surpassed USC for the #1 5-year average. Oregon now has the best talent on paper and a staff that builds strong defenses and a strong offensive line. Even with transitions along the line and at quarterback, expect Oregon to handle a Stanford team that has struggled since their mid-2010s peak.
PREDICTION: OREGON 27, STANFORD 17
PICK: OREGON -8 @ -110