A weekend in the world of college football can be expected to produce shocking disappointments and better-than-expected performances in conferences throughout the country.
The unpredictable results are especially routine late in the season where teams are playing with the most pressure or have nothing to lose. However, guessing when and where they will happen is difficult even if everyone knows they are coming.
The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, Brent Schrotenboer, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weigh in with its bold predictions for Week 14 of the college football season:
Texas A&M enters Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday with the No. 6 ranking in the Amway Coaches Poll and sits at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings. But are the Aggies actually that good? Their resume is littered with a lot of “meh” performances, including just a five-point win over bottom-dweller Vanderbilt in the season opener and last week’s victory over LSU where they managed just 13 offensive points and 267 total yards against a team that’s hardly been good on defense this season. The win over Florida in October was admittedly impressive, but Texas A&M also lost by 28 to Alabama. The Aggies do a lot of things well (they are 20th in total defense and 47th in total offense) but they’ve hardly looked the part of a true championship contender. I think the playoff picture becomes much clearer this week as Auburn – which hasn’t lost at home this season – upsets Texas A&M.
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Coastal Carolina bites off more than it can chew against fellow unbeaten Brigham Young, which rides another Heisman Trophy-level performance from quarterback Zach Wilson to beat the Chanticleers by 14 points and move to 10-0. The win would bring BYU one step closer to earning an at-large bid to a New Year’s Six bowl despite not having access to the automatic bid given to the best team in the Group of Five, currently Cincinnati.
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M’s $75-million coach, takes his No. 6 Aggies to Auburn Saturday in a battle of bank accounts against Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, whose contract buyout if fired was about $21 million as of Dec. 1. After getting blown out of the Iron Bowl last week against Alabama, Malzahn naturally became subject to speculation about whether the size of that buyout was enough to keep him from losing his job this year. It probably is, but the cost-benefit analysis will intensify after the Aggies win easily behind a run defense that ranks fifth nationally and is bound to chew up Auburn’s beat-up offensive line.
Ohio State had a week off while the program dealt with COVID-19, including a positive test by coach Ryan Day. Now the Buckeyes head to Michigan State and Day will not be on the sideline for a game that could be more challenging than expected.
The Spartans have already defeated two ranked opponents at home. The key last week against Northwestern was the turnovers. They forced four and only committed one. Following that recipe can shock the college football world Saturday. Justin Fields threw three picks in his last game and Ohio State survived Indiana. He can’t repeat that performance on the road or the Buckeyes might not have to worry about whether they get six games in because their playoff hopes will be already done.
Predicting the outcome of a game that wasn’t finalized until just two days before kickoff is a fool’s errand. Yes, I know, we’re all fools here.
So I won’t make a definitive call on who I think will win the hastily arranged battle of unbeatens BYU and Coastal Carolina. OK, click over to the staff picks if you really want to know – just don’t look at my record.
What I will predict is this – it’s going to be the most fun game of the weekend. The Cougars can put up points in bunches, averaging 47.6 a game, and quarterback Zach Wilson would probably be getting more Heisman consideration if he had more chances to show what he could do against stronger defenses. The Chanticleers have been just as dominant despite still being relatively new to the Sun Belt Conference, scoring 38.7 a game with all their wins but one coming by double digits. The catalyst for Coastal is freshman QB Grayson McCall, who has thrown for 20 scores, run for five more and spreads the ball among a bunch of talented receivers and running backs.
Given the abbreviated prep time for the defenses, I expect we’ll see a back-and-forth affair that won’t be decided until the final minutes. On a day of mostly mismatches, let’s enjoy this one.
For whatever reason, over multiple years and coaching regimes, Georgia Tech has just had North Carolina State’s number. Since 1995, in fact, the Yellow Jackets have won 13 of the 16 meetings including last year (28-26) when Georgia Tech was one of the ACC’s worst teams. Tech is kind of sneaky improved over the course of the year but nobody has really noticed because of some postponements that stopped its momentum. NC State is 7-3 but the lack of offensive firepower will make this a close game. I’ll take the Jackets to pull an upset here.