College Football Picks: Big games, then playoff rankings

By Ralph D. Russo - AP College Football Writer

Three days before the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season are released, No. 2 Penn State and No. 6 Ohio State will play a game that could complicate the selection committee’s task down the road — if the Buckeyes win.

The Nittany Lions will try to win back-to-back games against ranked Big Ten East rivals in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday and put the Buckeyes’ championship hopes — both Big Ten and national title — in critical condition.

Penn State (7-0) staying undefeated against the Buckeyes (6-1) means the Nittany Lions can put a vice grip on the division with a win the following week against No. 16 Michigan State. Penn State’s final three games are against Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland. A Penn State-Wisconsin Big Ten title game might not guarantee the winner a playoff spot — but it might. It would probably make the Big Ten fairly easy to sort through in the national picture.

If Ohio State wins it gets trickier because that home loss to Oklahoma is still sitting there, working against not just the Buckeyes but the whole Big Ten. And for the Michigan State fans saying, ‘Hey, don’t forget about us,’ the Spartans’ lopsided loss to Notre Dame could turn out to be a stumbling block, too.

Penn State-Ohio State is one of several games the committee surely will be focused on this weekend. No. 14 North Carolina State starts what is set up to be the most significant two-week stretch of football in who knows how long with a road game against No. 9 Notre Dame. The Wolfpack gets No. 7 Clemson at home next week. For the second week in a row, the Irish host what amounts to a playoff eliminator after they bounced Southern California last week.

On Tuesday, Halloween night, the committee will provide its first impression of the season.

The picks:


No. 20 Stanford (minus 21) at Oregon State

The Beavers’ run defense ranks 100th in the nation, allowing 4.83 yard per carry. And that’s before facing Stanford’s Bryce Love … STANFORD 38-14.


Tulane (plus 10 ½) at No. 24 Memphis

Since 2014, the Tigers are 12-0 in games not played on Saturday … MEMPHIS 35-21.



No. 2 Penn State (plus 6 ½) at No. 6 Ohio State

Nittany Lions star Saquon Barkley has run for 293 yards on 38 carries in two games against the Buckeyes … OHIO STATE 28-24.

No. 14 North Carolina State (plus 7) at No. 9 Notre Dame

NFL scouts will enjoy the matchup between Wolfpack DE Bradley Chubb and Irish OT Mike McGlinchey … NORTH CAROLINA STATE 28-24.


No. 3 Georgia (minus 14) vs. Florida at Jacksonville, Florida

Gators have a three-game winning streak at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party … GEORGIA 35-14.

No. 4 TCU (minus 6 ½) at No. 25 Iowa State

The last time the Cyclones played a home game as a ranked team was Nov. 2, 2002, against Missouri. They won … TCU 28-20.

No. 5 Wisconsin (minus 25 ½) at Illinois

Badgers freshman star Jonathan Taylor meets the Big Ten’s worst rushing defense … WISCONSIN 45-10.

No. 8 Miami (minus 20) at North Carolina

Tar Heels have collapsed so maybe this is the week the Hurricanes get a laugher … MIAMI 41-17, BEST BET.

Houston (plus 10 ½) at No. 17 South Florida

While the Bulls try to stay unbeaten, the Cougars try to avoid sliding out of the AAC West division race … USF 34-26.


Texas Tech (plus 20) at No. 10 Oklahoma

Red Raiders have averaged 33 points per game against the Sooners over the last five games and lost them all … OKLAHOMA 48-31.

No. 11 Oklahoma State (minus 7 ½) at No. 22 West Virginia

Mountaineers WR David Sills V leads the nation in touchdown receptions, with at least two in six of his seven games … WEST VIRGINIA 35-28, UPSET SPECIAL


Georgia Tech (plus 14 ½) at No. 7 Clemson

Tigers expect to have QB Kelly Bryant back after a concussion in the loss two weeks ago at Syracuse … CLEMSON 35-17.

UCLA (plus 17) at No. 12 Washington

Huskies try to get their offense on track against the 128th-ranked run defense in the country. UCLA is giving up a ghastly 6.10 yards per carry … WASHINGTON 42-21.

Duke (plus 15 ½) at No. 13 Virginia Tech

Blue Devils and Hokies have split the last four meetings by a total of nine points … VIRGINIA TECH 28-14.

No. 15 Washington State (minus 3) at Arizona

Fun matchup between two very different variations of spread offense. Cougars have thrown the most passes in the Pac-12 with 407; Wildcats have thrown the fewest with 158 … ARIZONA 38-35.

No. 16 Michigan State (minus 2) at Northwestern

Spartans have won four straight by an average score of 19-14 … MICHIGAN STATE 19-14.


No. 21 Southern California (minus 3) at Arizona State

Who would have guessed Trojans-Sun Devils would be a huge Pac-12 South game? … USC 31-23.


Florida State (minus 3) at Boston College — @nolesq

Seminoles have won seven straight meetings with the Eagles … FLORIDA STATE 24-16.

Mississippi State (minus 1 ½) at Texas A&M — @DCAbloob

Big game for the Aggies and coach Kevin Sumlin as they try to avoid another second-half swoon … TEXAS A&M 24-21.

Rutgers (plus 23 ½) at Michigan — @Moose1857

Battle for fourth place in the Big Ten East … MICHIGAN 35-3.

Utah (minus 3) at Oregon — @Duckfan7712

Both teams come in on three-game losing streaks … OREGON 21-17.


Record last week: 17-5 straight up; 13-9 against the spread.

Record this season: 138-42 straight up; 82-84-5 against the spread.

Upset specials: 3-5 (straight up).

Best bets: 6-1 (against the spread).

By Ralph D. Russo

AP College Football Writer