| October 26, 2019 06:00 AM
Unlike Wisconsin, I had a good day last Saturday. My picks went 3-0 straight up and 2-1 against the spread. I’m rounding into form as we approach the home stretch of the season. There are some big games with playoff implications on Saturday. Settle into your favorite football-watching spot and get ready for these back-to-back games.
Record after week eight: straight up – (20-4), against the spread – (17-7)
No. 13 Wisconsin (6-1) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (7-0) (12:00 p.m. EST on FOX)
Wisconsin’s shocking upset loss to Illinois last week leaves the Badgers with little margin for error if they want to make the College Football Playoff. They will almost definitely have to win out and win the Big Ten title to get in. That means this game is essentially a must-win for Wisconsin, and the Badgers will have to do it on the road in Columbus against a very talented Ohio State squad.
The Badgers have two things going for them: the run game and defense. Wisconsin is still very good at both. Jonathan Taylor, who has run for 15 touchdowns so far this season, is arguably the best running back in the country and just became the fastest player ever to reach 5,000 career rushing yards. Wisconsin has the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense and is allowing under eight points per game.
The X-factor is Badgers quarterback Jack Coan against the Ohio State secondary. If Coan can’t keep the Buckeyes honest with his arm, they’ll load the box and keep daring him to beat them. Coan’s numbers on the season are quite good. He has thrown for nearly 1,400 yards and has thrown nine touchdowns and just two picks while completing 76% of his passes. He’ll need to spread the field and beat the Buckeyes over the top. Taylor will get his on the ground, but Wisconsin can’t afford to be one-dimensional offensively.
Remember how I said that Wisconsin has the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense? Ohio State is second. While Wisconsin’s scoring offense is ranked 12th in the country, Ohio State’s is ranked third at just under 50 points per game.
Ohio State’s Justin Fields has thrown for just under 1,500 yards this season and is completing 70.7% of his passes. He has also thrown for 22 touchdown passes, run for eight more, and thrown just one interception. His absurdly good play has him in the thick of the Heisman race. J.K. Dobbins has nearly 1,000 rushing yards on the season, is averaging over seven yards per carry and has run for eight touchdowns. I’m not trying to compare Dobbins to Taylor, but I think it’s worth pointing out that Wisconsin isn’t the only team with a powerful run game that can wear down opponents.
The spread: Ohio State (-14.5)
My pick: I think Fields’ mobility will present too many issues for the Wisconsin defense. I think the Badgers will have to keep Ohio State under 30 points to have a good chance to win, but I don’t see that happening. I’m taking the Buckeyes to win and cover.
No. 9 Auburn (6-1) at No. 2 LSU (7-0) (3:30 p.m. EST on CBS)
It’s the Tigers versus the Tigers in the SEC game of the week in Baton Rouge. LSU beat Florida by two touchdowns at home and Florida had just come off of a dominant 24-13 win against Auburn. Does that mean SU will automatically win this game? Of course not, but this is a huge opportunity for this LSU squad to make a statement before their next game at Alabama, a titanic battle that will decide the SEC West.
Joe Burrow has planted himself firmly in the Heisman conversation by leading the nation’s second-ranked scoring offense. LSU is scoring 50.1 points per game and Burrow’s evolution, growth and maturity is a huge reason why. Burrow has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards with 29 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He’s also completing a ridiculous 79.4% of his passes.
The X-factor in this game will be Auburn’s front seven against LSU’s offensive line. Auburn’s defensive line is nearly as good as Florida’s. The Tigers will have to get pressure on Burrow and move him out of the pocket. If he has a clean pocket and time to throw, it could be a very long afternoon for Auburn in the Bayou. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the rest of the LSU running back corps will have to make the most of their opportunities against Auburn’s 12th-ranked rushing defense.
JaTarvious Whitlow is the straw that stirs the drink for the Auburn offense. He has over 500 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns and is averaging nearly five yards per carry. He’ll need to be effective for Auburn to have a chance. The real question is how true freshman Bo Nix will do. He struggled on the road against Florida in the Swamp and the Tigers lost. Will he struggle at Tiger Stadium against LSU? The numbers aren’t particularly encouraging. He has thrown for 1,301 yards this season with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions and an inadequate 56.2% completion percentage.
This is a gut-check game for Auburn. A loss would eliminate the Tigers from the playoff discussion and they’d still have to play two more top-10 teams (Georgia and Alabama) in their final three games. They’d have to split one of those two to have a shot at playing in a big bowl game on New Year’s Day.
The spread: LSU (-10.5)
My pick: This LSU offense has been incredible all season long and I don’t think Auburn’s defense will be able to slow the Tigers down. I’m taking LSU to win and cover.
No. 8 Notre Dame (5-1) at No. 19 Michigan (5-2) (7:30 p.m. EST on ABC)
Notre Dame is incredibly balanced on offense, something that I think will serve the Fighting Irish well when they roll into The Big House. Notre Dame is ranked 42nd nationally in passing offense and 41st nationally in rushing offense. Ian Book has continued his steady and stellar play. He has thrown for over 1,400 yards along with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His accuracy could certainly use improvement since he’s only completing 63.2% of his passes.
Notre Dame has the country’s 64th ranked rushing defense but the nation’s 15th-ranked scoring defense. Even if Michigan, with its 80th-ranked rushing offense, is able to effectively run the ball, will the Wolverines be able to make the most of their scoring chances?
Shea Patterson and Zach Charbonnet will need to have good games in order for Michigan to have a great chance to win. Charbonnet is averaging nearly five yards a carry and has run for seven touchdowns. He has 197 rushing yards and three touchdowns in his last two games. Meanwhile, Patterson has thrown for more interceptions than touchdowns against ranked opponents this season and his completion percentage in those games is 52.5%. He’ll need to get back on track quickly because Notre Dame is sixth nationally in team tackles for loss. The Fighting Irish are very good at getting into the backfield and disrupting plays.
Can Patterson avoid the noise and the pressure that come along with this game? Is Jim Harbaugh’s job in jeopardy if the Wolverines lose? A second loss would give them three on the season with two very tough home games remaining against Michigan State and, of course, Ohio State in the season finale.
My X-factor in this game will be Michigan’s wide receivers against Notre Dame’s secondary. Despite blowing the Wolverines to smithereens when they played them, Wisconsin’s elite defense still had some issues with Michigan’s tall and athletic wide receivers. Penn State did too. The receivers didn’t do Patterson any favors last week, dropping a potential touchdown pass among other mistakes. I don’t think the Wolverines will find much success against Notre Dame’s stout front, so they’ll have to target their big wideouts early and often. If the wide receivers can spread the field and make some plays in space, it’ll open up the run game a little more and give Michigan more balance on offense.
The spread: Notre Dame (-1.0)
The pick: I’m very surprised the line is this close. Michigan hung tough with Penn State but Notre Dame is coming off the bye week and I think its physicality will give the Wolverines serious issues. I’m taking the Fighting Irish to win and cover.
Noah Niederhoffer (@NNiederhoffer) is a producer at SiriusXM and a graduate of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Originally from Atlanta, he now lives in Washington, D.C.