We have a fantastic weekend of college football ahead of us folks. The day begins with the Horned Frogs taking on the SMU Mustangs and the #4 Florida State Seminoles battling the Clemson Tigers on ABC, both games will be aired at 11:00 a.m. CT. Next, the 2:30 p.m. CT slate provides us with four ranked matchups. The upstart #19 Colorado Buffaloes take on the explosive #10 Oregon Ducks, the #22 UCLA Bruins travel to Salt Lake City to battle the #11 Utah Utes on Fox, and Lane Kiffin’s #15 Rebels square off against the #13 Alabama Crimson Tide on CBS. Later, at 6:00 p.m. CT, we get #14 Oregon State versus #21 Washington State in what should be an entertaining matchup on Fox. And perhaps one of the most interesting matchups of the year begins at 6:30 p.m. CT on Saturday evening. The game of the week, #6 Ohio State travels to South Bend to face the #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
#9 Notre Dame vs. #6 Ohio State (-3) 6:30 p.m. CT Saturday, September 23 on NBC
Both Notre Dame and Ohio State enter the weekend with spotless records. Notre Dame began the season with a game in Ireland in week zero. Thus, the Fighting Irish are 4-0, while the Ohio State Buckeyes are 3-0. Both squads have glided through their non-conference schedules thus far, with both teams winning every game by at least 20 points. This matchup will finally decipher whether each team is for real or not.
The Fighting Irish average more than 500 yards per game, and maintain an equally lethal ground and air game. Former Wake Forrest quarterback and graduate transfer Sam Hartman leads the way. Hartman has already thrown for 1,061 yards and 13 touchdowns with a 71.1 percent completion rate. A season ago, the Fighting Irish aerial attack was far less threatening, as Notre Dame only averaged 207.1 yards per game through the air. With Hartman now in the fold, this offense tells a different story. Lining up next to Hartman, running back Audric Estime leads the nation in rushing yards. Estime has averaged an otherworldly 8.3 yards per tote.
The Fighting Irish don’t have a dominant receiving weapon but do have four receivers and a tight end over the 100-yard mark. And of course, whenever discussing Notre Dame football, the offensive line comes to mind. The Fighting Irish have only allowed four sacks all season. And on the line, Joe Alt reigns supreme. The left tackle will likely go top-5 in the NFL draft. The premier tackle will have his hands full with pass rushers Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau.
As for the Buckeyes, the offense has typically been the Ohio State calling card in recent years. This season, the offense began on a slower note than usual. The Buckeyes scored a measly 58 combined points in their first two games, the least combined score through two games since the 2014 season. The reason the Buckeyes may have started a bit slow this year was due to the insertion of quarterback Kyle McCord into the lineup. Head coach Ryan Day waited until week three to finally anoint McCord as the unquestioned starter.
In the Buckeyes' first two contests, the offense played it relatively safe. McCord didn’t toss a touchdown in week one, and star receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka only combined for five catches and 34 yards. In week two, McCord looked more confident and it paid off. His star receivers both had big days, combing for 12 catches, 254 yards, and 3 touchdowns. But, the ground game suffered as the Buckeyes continued to air it out. In week three, the offense came together. McCord threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Running back TreVeyon Henderson rushed for 88 yards and scored twice. And the stud receiving duo, Harrison Jr. and Egbuka, notched a combined nine receptions and three touchdowns.
The Ohio State defense has played well but hasn’t been battle-tested. This Saturday, things will change. The Buckeyes defense will need to make plays against Notre Dame. Ohio State has only registered five sacks and five takeaways to this point in the season. With limited pressure and playmaking, quarterback Sam Hartman may just have a field day on this defense. Hartman is experienced and has a fantastic ground game to aid the passing attack.
Besides the Buckeyes defense, the offense will also be put through the wringer. This will be the biggest game of McCord’s young career, and to make matters worse, it won’t be on his home field. The game will ultimately come down to McCord’s ability to get the ball to his playmakers. If McCord struggles early and the run is quickly abandoned, the game could easily get out of hand. While I know Ohio State has too many weapons on offense not score a few touchdowns, I do believe Notre Dame actually has the upper hand in this one.
My pick: Notre Dame wins 27-24
#10 Oregon vs. #19 Colorado (+21) 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday, September 23 on ABC
Finally, this could be the week the Buffaloes come to a screeching halt. But, there’s no shame in a loss to the Oregon Ducks. The Ducks have only lost more than four games twice since 2010. Oregon has been a premier squad for some time now. On the other sideline, the Buffaloes have lost more than four games eleven times since 2010. The contest will be a clash of decade-old success versus a revamped squad with the most transfers in all of college football.
Rightfully so, Oregon is favored by three scores. The loss of Travis Hunter gravely affects the Buffaloes' chances. Hunter was knocked out of last week’s contest against Colorado State by a late hit on the sidelines while the do-it-all player went deep for a pass. Without Hunter roaming the backend and locking down the best opposing receiver, head coach Deion Sanders must audible. The Buffaloes have allowed 260.5 yards per game through the air thus far. Conversely, the Ducks average 357.7 passing yards per game.
Led by quarterback Bo Nix, the Ducks will look to damage through the air against the weak Colorado secondary. Receiver Troy Franklin will likely have a field day against the weak backline. Franklin has already accumulated 17 receptions, 292 yards, and 3 touchdowns this season. Although the Ducks have a vaunted aerial attack, their run game is just as good. Oregon averages 229.3 yards per game on the ground and has three players with more than 100 rushing yards.
This game will likely be a high-scoring affair. The over/under total in this affair is the highest in all of college football. Set at 71.5, everyone from the sportsbooks to analysts are projecting the Shedeur Sanders-led offense to score in bunches. But, it won’t be enough to overcome the Ducks’ offense. Colorado just doesn’t have the defense to stop the Ducks. Look for Oregon to score at-will against the Buffaloes en route to a big victory.
My pick: Oregon wins 52-35