If this weekend doesn’t get you excited about college football then maybe you should consider another activity for your Saturdays in the fall. There’s five games matching ranked opponents and three of them feature teams all ranked in the top 12 of the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll.
Two matchups in the SEC lead the way with No. 1 Alabama hosting No. 12 Mississippi and No. 2 Georgia getting a visit from No. 11 Arkansas.
The Crimson Tide and the Rebels combined for 111 points in a memorable shootout last season – Lane Kiffin’s first in Oxford. Now the former Alabama offensive coordinator will try to be the first coach to beat his old boss and shake up the national title race.
The Razorbacks already have wins against ranked opponents Texas and Texas A&M. The Bulldogs, however, are a much bigger challenge, especially on the road. Arkansas would become the story of the season with an upset. Meanwhile, Georgia can add another impressive win and maybe get closer to the No. 1 spot in the poll.
No. 8 Cincinnati travels to No. 7 Notre Dame in a massive résumé game for both teams hoping to make a run at the College Football Playoff. Just one week into October, this would represent the biggest win on the schedule for either team.
The other two ranked games see No. 9 Florida go on the road to No. 23 Kentucky, a third SEC matchup on the list. In the Big 12, No. 18 Oklahoma State welcomes No. 24 Baylor in a showdown that will keep one team unbeaten and atop the league standings.
In the crazy world of college football, there are always surprises and unexpected results. Some of our experts offer their forecasts for some unlikely events this weekend.
Arkansas’ run of good luck is about to run out. After four consecutive wins to start the season, including victories over old Southwest Conference foes Texas and Texas A&M, they take on second-ranked Georgia between the hedges. The Hogs will run into the same issues other Bulldogs opponents have faced, where they can’t run or pass the football. Arkansas better improve its third-down conversion rate, which is next to last in the SEC, or the game will be over by halftime. Regardless, a sobering wake-up call awaits in Athens.
Compared to recent seasons, the 2021 campaign has been fairly chaotic. Clemson, which has made the playoff six consecutive years, has effectively knocked itself out of the race, opening the door perhaps for the Pac-12 to return to the four-team field or even – dare we say it – for a Group of Five team to enter the fray for the first time. No. 8 Cincinnati is the G5’s best hope at College Football Playoff representation in a pre-expansion world and it has no greater opportunity than Saturday at No. 7 Notre Dame, a two-time playoff participant. The Fighting Irish have hardly been dominant this season, and Cincinnati has had two weeks to prepare for arguably the biggest game in program history. Unfortunately for fans of the underdog, I don’t think it will matter. I think Notre Dame finally gets it together and hammers the Bearcats to put itself firmly in the playoff conversation again.
Look for a new No. 1 team in Sunday’s USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. Not because Alabama is going to lose to Ole Miss, though that’s a possibility. Instead, Georgia will put together another complete performance in handing Arkansas a double-digit loss and convince enough voters that the Bulldogs are currently the best team. With JT Daniels back under center and with a defense that leads the nation in yards per play and per game, there’s a very good argument for Georgia.
Wisconsin has managed just 23 combined points in losses to Penn State and Notre Dame as its offense struggles to find an identity. But with Michigan coming to town and the Badgers knowing that a loss to the Wolverines would effectively end their season, look for them to break out with Graham Mertz finding the passing touch that has been missing this season. Michigan has started fast with four wins. This is its first real test and it doesn’t pass.
There’s no good reason to pick Notre Dame to beat Cincinnati – other than the fact that it’s a Fighting Irish home game. It’s a game the Bearcats have had circled since the schedule was released, and they’ve had a week off to prepare. While UC was resting, the Fighting Irish were pulling away from Wisconsin in a game that was much closer than the 41-13 final score. The rest of Notre Dame’s résumé, consisting of an overtime escape from a winless Florida State bunch, a late score to overtake Toledo, and a home victory against Purdue that might or might not turn out to be a good win, doesn’t exactly instill confidence. But Notre Dame is going to win anyway. I’m not sure how. It might take another big play by the kick return team or the defense. It might take a critical mistake by UC. But the Irish will find a way, as they did throughout September.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football picks: Predictions for Top 25 NCAA games in Week 5