College Football Picks: Conference bragging rights on line
The first few weeks of the season often set the tone for which conference will be deemed best for the rest of the season.
It’s a debate that can be both fun and tedious. Does it really matter whether Kentucky is better than California when it comes time to figure out if the Pac-12 champion should be in the College Football Playoff?
The Southeastern Conference, which has touted itself on being No. 1 for years (and is usually correct), got off to a great start in week one going 13-1 with four victories against other Power Five conference teams. The Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 combined for four Power Five nonconference victories.
This week, nine nonconference games match Power Five teams, including No. 2 Clemson at Texas A&M (ACC vs. SEC); UCLA at No. 6 Oklahoma (Pac-12 vs. Big 12); No. 13 Penn State at Pitt (Big Ten vs. ACC); No. 15 Michigan State at Arizona State; and No. 18 Mississippi State at Kansas State (SEC vs. Big 12).
There are also numerous opportunities for teams from the Group of Five to make a statement against Power Five opponents. For those conferences, competing against each other for a spot in the New Year’s Six bowls, notable nonconference victories can help separate the competition. The big ones this week include: Georgia Tech at South Florida (ACC vs. AAC); Arkansas at Colorado State (SEC vs. Mountain West); and Utah at Northern Illinois (Pac-12 vs. MAC).
It’s never too early to build those resumes.
No. 16 TCU (minus 21½) at SMU (Friday)
The Horned Frogs have won six straight in the crosstown Battle for the Iron Skillet ... TCU 49-21, BEST BET.
Arkansas State (plus 36½) at No. 1 Alabama
Arkansas State is getting $1.7 million for this game, so don’t feel too bad ... ALABAMA 45-14.
No. 2 Clemson (minus 12) at Texas A&M
The first big test for Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies comes too soon ... CLEMSON 35-17.
No. 3 Georgia (minus 10) at No. 24 South Carolina
Bulldogs have won three straight and four of five in the traditional early SEC opener ... GEORGIA 35-21.
Rutgers (plus 35) at Ohio State
Scarlet Knights have not scored against the Buckeyes since 2015 and have lost all four since joining the Big Ten by a combined 219-24. ... OHIO STATE 55-8.
New Mexico (plus 35½)at No. 5 Wisconsin
Can the Lobos’ option frustrate the Badgers’ typically stingy defense? ... WISCONSIN 48-20.
UCLA (plus 30) at No. 6 Oklahoma
If the Bruins couldn’t handle Cincinnati in the Rose Bowl last week, can’t expect them to be ready to compete with the Sooners ... OKLAHOMA 49-21.
Ball State (plus 34½) at No. 8 Notre Dame
Good week for the Fighting Irish to get their new running backs confidence and carries ... NOTRE DAME 52-13.
No. 17 Southern California (plus 5½) at No. 10 Stanford
Cardinal star Bryce Love had 285 yards on 39 carries and two touchdowns in two games against the Trojans last season, both losses ... STANFORD 31-27.
No. 13 Penn State (minus 8½) at Pittsburgh
It’s a cool old-school rivalry that the Nittany Lions don’t love because there is little for Penn State to gain these days by beating Pitt and a lot to lose ... PENN STATE 35-28.
No. 15 Michigan State (minus 5½) at Arizona State
Sun Devils are 9-0 against Big Ten teams in Tempe, not including losses to Nebraska and Penn State before they were in the conference ... ARIZONA STATE 34-27, UPSET SPECIAL.
No. 18 Mississippi State (minus 9½) at Kansas State
The Wildcats barely escaped an FCS upset last week but expect a better effort from Bill Snyder’s bunch ... MISSISSIPPI STATE 28-21.
UConn (plus 31) at No. 20 Boise State
Poor Huskies go from UCF to the Blue Turf ... BOISE STATE 45-10.
Western Michigan (plus 28) at No. 21 Michigan
Shea Patterson and the Wolverines should be able to work out the kinks in that offense. Right?? ... MICHIGAN 48-16.
Kentucky (plus 13½) at No. 25 Florida
Gators’ winning streak against the Wildcats is at 31 ...FLORIDA 28-20.
Duke (plus 3) at Northwestern — JeffMiles9
Fourth straight season for the Grad Rate Bowl, where Northwestern (99 percent) was No. 1 in most recent football rankings and Duke (96 percent) was tied for third ... DUKE 24-21.
Iowa State (plus 4) at Iowa — @bkupka05
Officially dubbed the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk series just in case corn did not already come to mind when these two play ... IOWA 28-21.
Colorado (plus 4) at Nebraska — @Jordan_Dallas
Fascinating opener for Scott Frost’s Huskers after last week’s game was canceled. You would think the Buffs should have the edge on continuity alone ... COLORADO 31-24.
Arizona (plus 4½) at Houston — @natedub9
Bet QB Khalil Tate has more than eight rushing attempts for the Wildcats this week; All-America DT Ed Oliver will be waiting for the Cougars ... ARIZONA 35-31.
Record last week: 16-5 straight; 12-8-1 against the spread.
Upset specials: 1-0 (straight up).
Best bets: 1-0 (against the spread).
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://www.podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast
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