Game of the Week: Washington at Stanford. This matchup has the #15 Huskies facing the #5 Cardinal in Palo Alto, CA. Stanford is a home favorite by 8 in what is probably the biggest threat so far to their undefeated record. Washington beat Stanford a year ago, 17-13, in Seattle. The Huskies stats are actually more impressive than the Cardinal, and except for Stanford’s 42-28 win over Arizona State, Washington has actually played a tougher schedule. Now Washington coach Steve Sarkisian’s name has been linked to the USC job after Lane Kiffin’s firing, although Sarkisian says he is exactly where he wants to be at Washington. Many question if that will be a distraction for the Huskies. Even if it’s not, this will be a tough game to win, and Stanford coach David Shaw will surely have his team ready; he always does. Stanford 31, Washington 19.
Big Game Guarantee: Arizona State at Notre Dame. Notre Dame is now 3-2 after losses to Michigan and Oklahoma, a pair of top 20 teams. Now they will have to beat the nation’s 22nd-ranked team, Arizona State, to avoid falling to the .500 mark. The Sun Devils only loss on the year is to #5 Stanford, and they defeated USC so badly last week Lane Kiffin was fired when the team landed at the airport. The Sun Devils are trying to become the first team in history to defeat USC and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks. Statistically, playing approximately the same strength of schedule, the Sun Devils have better stats on both sides of the ball. Home-field advantage will keep the game close, but the Sun Devils will just be too much for the Irish. Arizona State 27, Notre Dame 20.
Upset of the Week: Ohio State at Northwestern. History is not helping the Wildcats of Northwestern here. Ohio State has the nation’s best winning streak, currently at 17 games, and has beaten Northwestern 28 out of the last 29 meetings. The spread is also against them; the Buckeyes are favored by 7. Northwestern will be hosting not only the game, but also ESPN’s College Gameday show, which will be a very big deal on the Evanston, IL campus. Northwestern is trying for back-to-back 5-0 starts for the first time since 1904-1905. Ohio State is coming off a tough game against Wisconsin last week, and now the 4th-ranked Buckeyes have to face an even tougher opponent, the 16th-ranked Wildcats. Statistically, Ohio State is a little better but not much, and Northwestern actually averages more passing yards per game with QB Trevor Siemian. This is the first time a ranked Northwestern team has played a ranked opponent at home since playing Michigan in 2005. This fan-base has waited a while for this game; expect that to make a difference. If Ohio State loses, it would be coach Urban Meyer’s first loss at the school, after the undefeated regular season last year (they were banned from a bowl game), and the 5-0 start this year. Northwestern 24, Ohio State 21.
Closer Than The Experts Think: Clemson at Syracuse. The Orange (oh, I guess I can’t say that here), that is, Syracuse is a 14-point underdog in their first ACC conference game, and the Carrier Dome will be buzzing when #3 Clemson visits. Syracuse has a history of beating top 15 teams with Heisman-contending quarterbacks, beating Geno Smith’s West Virginia team in 2011 and Teddy Bridgewater’s Louisville team last year. The last (and only) time these two schools met in football, Syracuse had a freshman quarterback named Donavan McNabb (they won that 1995 Gator Bowl 41-0). Syracuse has had two weeks to prepare for this stern test, although Clemson comes off their easiest win yet last week against Wake Forest, 56-7. Clemson does have a good history in domes, winning twice in the Georgia Dome last year. In the end, I think Syracuse gives the other team in orange a scare, but Clemson will hold on to win. Clemson 38, Syracuse 31.
BONUS: Another Closer Than The Experts Think: Kentucky at South Carolina. South Carolina is the perennial favorite in this series, but always seems to make this game closer than it has to be, even being upset a couple of times by the Wildcats. This year, they are big favorites again, as they are favored by 21. Last year, the 6th ranked Gamecocks traveled to Lexington to face a Kentucky team that would finish just 2-10, but the Wildcats led 17-7 at halftime, and the Gamecocks lead was just 4 going to the 4th quarter, 21-17, before the Gamecocks eventually put it away, 38-17. Three years ago, the Gamecocks had just defeated Alabama the week before, but lost 31-28 to the Wildcats after leading 28-10 in the 3rd quarter. To South Carolina’s advantage is the fact that the last time these two teams played in Columbia, in 2011, they won 54-3. That game, though, may be an outlier in this series. Kentucky is better than their 1-3 record, and all of South Carolina’s games have been relatively close, with their biggest win being a 27-10 victory against North Carolina. Trends suggest a close game. South Carolina 28, Kentucky 20.