College football gets a lot wrong.
Universities have too much money. Players have too little. The bowl system is outdated. The four-team playoff system is designed to exclude nearly every school outside a Power Five conference.
Playoff expansion opponents (i.e., the powers that be) don’t want to add another week to the season, yet have no issue wasting weeks with non-conference games in which Goliaths pay Davids to fight, with a no-slingshot clause. Every playoff ranking but the last is pointless. Every other poll is pointless.
It is all exhausting and infuriating and unlikely to change anytime soon. But, when college football gets it right, there is nothing better.
Barely one month into the season, two of the year’s most important games will kick off seconds apart in prime time, with No. 8 Notre Dame hosting No. 7 Stanford, and No. 4 Ohio State visiting No. 9 Penn State.
The loser between the Fighting Irish (4-0) and Cardinal (4-0) will struggle to stay in the playoff picture, each with underwhelming opponents ahead. The loser between the Buckeyes (4-0) and Nittany Lions (4-0) could struggle to reach the Big Ten title game out of the loaded East Division.
Over the past two years, Penn State and Ohio State have played two of the sport’s best games, decided by a total of four points. The Nittany Lions overcame a 14-point deficit in 2016 to win in Happy Valley. The Buckeyes then completed an 18-point comeback in the Horseshoe.
In another thrilling shootout, PENN STATE (+3½) senior quarterback Trace McSorley will thrive without Nick Bosa chasing him, and reenter the Heisman race by outdueling Dwayne Haskins in the toughest road game of the Buckeyes quarterback’s young career.
NOTRE DAME (-5¹/₂) also will benefit from being home, where it has lost one game by one point (to Georgia) in the past two seasons, and already defeated an even tougher opponent (Michigan) than Stanford. And that was before handing the keys to quarterback Ian Book, who just led the Irish to their highest-point total (56) in three years.
Here’s to hoping the wedding I’m attending has TVs behind the bar.
MIAMI (-18½) over North Carolina: Experience is overrated. Expect Mark Richt to join the growing trend and switch from senior Malik Rosier to freshman N’Kosi Perry at quarterback. Then, watch the Hurricanes offense become as potent as their better half.
Ucla (+9½) over COLORADO: Records don’t reveal everything. The Buffaloes (3-0) piled up wins against opponents (Colorado State, Nebraska, New Hampshire) with one combined win. The Bruins (0-3) have faced three teams (Oklahoma, Cincinnati, Fresno State) which are a combined 10-1.
CLEMSON (-25) over Syracuse: The Orange pulled off the massive upset last year when quarterback Kelly Bryant was injured in the first half. This season, Bryant’s absence only lifts Clemson’s ceiling higher, with Dabo Swinney officially naming touted freshman Trevor Lawrence the new starter.
Louisiana-Lafayette (+49) over ALABAMA: The sport should be ashamed this game is allowed to take place. The defending national champions should be embarrassed 25 percent of their regular season is devoted to bye weeks that count in the win column.
West Virginia (-3½) over TEXAS TECH: Don’t be a prisoner of the moment. Before the Red Raiders’ win at Oklahoma State, Kliff Kingsbury’s crew had lost 15 straight games to ranked opponents, while allowing an average of 53.5 points.
Baylor (+23½) over OKLAHOMA: The Sooners defense is starting to look as harmless as it seemed all summer. And the Big 12 race is beginning to look a lot more interesting.
GEORGIA (-31½) over Tennessee: Last year, the Bulldogs won 41-0 in Knoxville. Little has changed, except Vols fans have a new coach to blame.
CENTRAL FLORIDA (-13½) over Pittsburgh: By now you know nothing about these Knights is mid-major. Against the 85th-ranked defense in the nation, UCF should have little trouble approaching its 50-point-per-game average, while embracing the rare opportunity against a power conference foe.
Southern Mississippi (+27) over AUBURN: The Tigers can’t play patsies like Arkansas every weekend.
NORTHWESTERN (+14) over Michigan: The Wolverines have looked spectacular in three consecutive home games against cupcakes, but a step up in competition — combined with their first road game in a month — will slow the momentum.
KENTUCKY (-1¹/₂) over South Carolina: Vegas must have been drunk from the night before. The (4-0) Wildcats — who just convincingly beat No. 14 Mississippi State — opened as underdogs, before a slew of smart money jumped on running back Benny Snell Jr.’s shoulder pads.
The SEC’s top rushing attack should have no trouble against the 75th-ranked run defense in the nation.
Byu (+17½) over WASHINGTON: Perhaps there will come a time when large Huskies spreads are built upon more than just their reputation. Now is not that time. Washington is averaging just over 21 points in three games against FBS opponents this season, and the Cougars defense has already shut down Khalil Tate, while leading their upset at No. 6 Wisconsin.
Mississippi (+11) over LSU: Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow could eventually bury LSU’s SEC title hopes, but the team’s untested secondary is the greater concern this week, facing Ole Miss’ explosive aerial attack. Last week, LSU was lit up for 330 yards by Louisiana Tech.
CALIFORNIA (+2¹/₂) over Oregon: The Ducks began a three-game stretch — featuring their three toughest games of the season — by completing one of the most epic collapses the sport has seen. The hangover continues in Oregon’s first road game of the season.
Best bets: West Virginia, UCF, BYU
This season (Best bets): 30-38-1 (6-6)
2014-17 record: 518-471-10
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