SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg provides his opinion of the top three programs in the history of college football.
Shocking disappointments and better-than-expected performances 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, George Schroeder, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weigh in with some bold predictions for Week 9 of the college football season:
Jim Harbaugh will get his biggest win at Michigan. Believe it or not, the Wolverines have only beat a top-10 team once since Harbaugh returned to coach his alma mater, and that was in 2016. But Saturday at the Big House, Michigan has a real opportunity against historic rival Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish offense didn’t set the world on fire against a stout Georgia team, and while Michigan’s offense probably won’t do all that much either the Wolverines’ defense should be able to limit ND. It’ll be an ugly slug fest, but buoyed by their fans the Wolverines will get the victory.
At the end of Saturday night, Miami (Fla.) and Florida State will have the same record as Kansas. The 3-4 Hurricanes are underdogs at Pittsburgh, which has rolled off four wins in a row and is making a case for the Top 25. Florida State, also 3-4, is favored at home against a Syracuse team that has fallen way short of expectations but has lost its last two games by a combined 13 points. Meanwhile, 2-5 Kansas is hosting Texas Tech and looking to rebound from last week’s tough loss to Texas. A KU win and losses by FSU and Miami equals three teams at 3-5 heading into November.
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Given the lofty expectations (or at least hopes), Michigan’s season has been disappointing. And it’s still likely to finish that way, too – based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s difficult to see the Wolverines beating Ohio State for the first time in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure (which, by the way, he insists is not about to end, that he is not considering a return to the NFL). But Saturday, Michigan will upend Notre Dame, producing at least temporary happy feelings among the fan base and optimism for more success ahead.
Is something wrong with the LSU offense? The Tigers have been held to 42 points or fewer in their last three games. Yes, this is sarcasm. But there is something for LSU to be concerned about this week with Auburn visiting. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow hasn’t faced a defense in the same league as Auburn. The offense that is No. 1 in the nation in scoring won’t be lighting up the scoreboard this week because Auburn will pressure him and can stuff the run. And if the Auburn offense can have a little success – even to give its heralded defense a rest – that would cause some concerns for LSU.
So don’t expect fireworks or a comfortable victory for the No. 3 team in the country. In fact, Bo Nix could work some of his magic and keep this close and, yes, maybe pull an upset that could cause a big change in the College Football Playoff race.
As I write this, Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins is the fourth leading rusher in the Football Bowl Subdivision. By the time the weekend is over, he’ll be in second.
His own defense can help him overtake the man currently in third, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. Entering the weekend, Dobbins has a total of 947 yards, just 10 fewer than Taylor. While Taylor might break off a good run or two against the Buckeyes, Dobbins has the added advantage of sharing the backfield with Justin Fields. The Badgers’ defense is also quite good, the best in the country in fact against the run surrendering just 58.4 yards a game on the ground. But it can’t keep Dobbins and Fields bottled up all day. I expect Dobbins will find enough real estate to outgain Taylor for the game.
The guy in second is AJ Dillon of Boston College, whose 968 yards lead Taylor by 11 and Dobbins by 21. But the Eagles are at Clemson Saturday. The Tigers also have a top-25 rushing defense, and Dillon can’t count on getting much air cover. Dobbins has a chance to catch him as well.
It is with nose firmly pinched that I’m going to pick Michigan State this week to pull the upset over Penn State. The Nittany Lions have played well, but they’re fortunate to be 7-0 at this point with three wins by a touchdown or less. They’re also at the end of a tough three-week stretch where they’ve had to hold on for dear life in consecutive games against Iowa and Michigan. That can take some of the emotional starch out of teams, and even though Michigan State has played well below expectations, Mark Dantonio is good for one upset a year and if it’s going to happen, it’ll probably happen coming off a bye week. The Spartans will be rested with some new wrinkles to shake up their lousy offense, and their defense will be good enough to hold Penn State to 17 points or fewer. Can Michigan State score 18? The bet here is that they can, at least for one week.