Just Because: College Football Predictions

Junior Aiden Wacksman loves sports, especially college football. This week, he tries his hand at predicting the final scores of the top 25 teams. It will be interesting to see how many of his guesses are correct! Read on for insight on the top 25 teams in the nation:

1 Clemson (4-0) vs. Syracuse (1-4): I believe this pick is quite clear. Syracuse has struggled to run an efficient offense all season, and the defense is allowing more than 30 points per game to opposing offenses. The Orange make its way into Saturday’s game following a 38-24 loss to Liberty University. Clemson, meanwhile, is thriving this season. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is a top Heisman trophy contender, and Travis Etienne is arguably one of the best running backs in the country. The Tigers won its game against Georgia Tech in a dominant fashion, the final score being 73-7. I believe Clemson will also win this one by a country mile: Clemson 45, Syracuse 17

2 Alabama (4-0) vs. Tennessee (2-2): Tennessee is coming off a very rough stretch. After starting the season 2-0, the Vols have lost two games in a row. After a 44-21 loss to fourth-ranked Georgia, Tennessee had a chance at redemption in a match against Kentucky. However, it ended in a loss by a brutal score of 34-7. Quarterback Jarret Guarantano has been inconsistent, and the Vols’ defense leaves much to be desired. Alabama, on the other hand, is thriving. The offense has plenty of weapons, such as running back Najee Harris, wide receivers Jalen Waddle and Devonta Smith, and most importantly, star quarterback Mac Jones. The defense also proved to be strong when fourth-ranked Georgia got shut out in the second half of a 41-21 win. I believe Alabama will take the Vols to the woodshed: Alabama 52, Tennessee 20

3 Notre Dame (4-0) vs. Pittsburgh (3-3): The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have been on a hot streak. In my opinion, however, this team is a bit overrated in the Associated Press (AP) poll. The Irish have yet to beat a ranked team, and only beat Louisville (1-4) by a score of 12-7. In that game, the Irish only generated 106 passing yards with quarterback Ian Book at the helm. I believe Pittsburgh will fall to Notre Dame, and the losing streak will continue. I expect the score, however, to be a bit closer than the experts predict: Notre Dame 30, Pittsburgh 17

5 Ohio State (0-0) vs. Nebraska (0-0): Big Ten football is back! After a long wait, teams such as Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State will take the field for the first time this season. Ohio State returns starters such as defensive end Jonathan Cooper, wide receiver Chris Olave, and most importantly quarterback Justin Fields. He led the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff and threw for 3,373 yards and 41 touchdowns in 14 games last season. While Nebraska had a solid recruiting class in the offseason, I don’t believe it will be enough to match up with the Buckeyes’ excellent coaching and talented roster. I’m taking Ohio State to the bank on this one: Ohio State 45, Nebraska 24

6 Oklahoma State (3-0) vs. 17 Iowa State (3-1): In my opinion, this will be one of the best games to watch this weekend. The Oklahoma State Cowboys are coming off two straight bye weeks, one that was planned and the other due to COVID-19. Running back Chuba Hubbard leads the Oklahoma State offense, as the quarterback situation is currently unknown. Head coach Mike Gundy, however, did tease that he may switch between starting quarterback Spencer Sanders and backup Shane Illingworth during the game. The offense, however, has been underwhelming compared to the defense. The unit has allowed a mere nine points per game to opposing offenses.

The Iowa State Cyclones lost its first game to the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in a 31-14 stunner at home. The Cyclones, on the other hand, looked like a completely different team over the past three weeks. The peak of this three-week stretch came when the Cyclones upset the Oklahoma Sooners, who were ranked 18th in the AP Poll at the time. I believe this will be one of the closest games we’ve seen this season, and I can’t wait to watch it unfold: Oklahoma State 24, Iowa State 20

8 Penn State (0-0) vs. Indiana (0-0): In yet another Big Ten matchup, the Penn State Nittany Lions take on the Indiana Hoosiers. Penn State returns key starters on offense such as quarterback Sean Clifford and running back Journey Brown. On defense, however, Penn State lost some talented starters as they declared for the NFL Draft. A key returning starter is defensive end Shaka Toney, who was named a team captain on Thursday. Toney had six-and-a-half sacks last season, and he is looking to improve upon that number this season. On the other side, Indiana will be somewhat different offensively, as the Hoosiers’ starting quarterback is redshirt sophomore Michael Penix Jr. It is important to note that this game will mark Penix’s first time playing at the college level. Indiana’s defense is not something to brag about either, as it allowed nearly 25 points per game last season to opposing offenses. Last year, this game was won by Penn State in a 34-27 nail-biter. I believe that the Nittany Lions will harass and confuse Penix, causing an offensive collapse, which will leave the defense soon to follow: Penn State 38, Indiana 17

9 Cincinnati (3-0) vs. 16 Southern Methodist University (5-0): I believe this is the game of the week in college football. It will be a classic showdown between the high-powered offense of Southern Methodist University (SMU) and the stout defense of Cincinnati. SMU’s offense is extremely talented, consisting of explosive playmakers such as quarterback Shane Buechele and wide receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. Out of Buechele’s 12 touchdown passes so far this season, Roberson Jr. has caught five. The talented wideout also averages nearly 22 yards per reception. It will be the responsibility of the Cincinnati Bearcats’ defense to keep the explosive offense of the SMU Mustangs in check. So far, this unit is playing at a high level. I would argue that the best defensive showing from Cincinnati came in the match against the Army Black Knights on Sept. 26. This win was not easy by any means, as Army’s defense was rock solid. The Black Knights also run an option-style offense, which can be very tricky for the opposition. The Bearcats played elite football, and held Army to a mere 10 points. 

My main concern in this game is Cincinnati’s offense. Starting quarterback Desmond Ridder has proven to be inconsistent at times and had a sloppy performance in the Bearcats’ last match, which was against the University of South Florida (1-4). SMU has the edge in this game due to Ridder’s inconsistency and indecisiveness. I also believe that Cincinnati’s defense will stand strong in the first half but fall apart in the second: SMU 44, Cincinnati 31

11 Miami (Fla.) (4-1) vs. Virginia (1-3): I think this pick is quite obvious. Miami quarterback D’Eriq King is playing at a high level, and the defense looks much better than it did against Clemson two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Virginia has struggled on defense. Over the last three games, Virginia allowed opponents to score an average of nearly 40 points. I believe the Miami Hurricanes will win this game on Saturday night: Miami 48, Virginia 24

12 Brigham Young University (5-0) vs. Texas State (1-5): Once again, I see this as another obvious pick. Brigham Young University (BYU) quarterback Zach Wilson continues to look great this season and has only thrown one interception in five games. He has passed for 1,641 yards and 12 touchdowns thus far. I believe the BYU Cougars will wipe the floor with Texas State: BYU 49, Texas State 17

14 Wisconsin (0-0) vs. Illinois (0-0): A little more than one year ago, the Wisconsin Badgers were stunned by Illinois in an absolutely shocking 24-23 upset. This year, the Badgers want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan returns for his senior year, but their dangerous weapon is gone as running back Jonathan Taylor declared for the NFL draft last year. Now, the Badgers have to find a new rhythm on offense. Illinois will also be looking to find a rhythm on offense, with senior quarterback Brandon Peters leading the way. While Illinois’ defense returns a solid number of starters, the Badgers lack experience on the depth chart. I expect this game to be a close one, but not quite as close as last years’ bout. Due to the comparative amount of talent on the Badgers’ roster, I’ll have to give that team the edge: Wisconsin 27, Illinois 23

14 North Carolina (3-1) vs. 23 North Carolina State (4-1): The North Carolina Tar Heels are coming off a devastating 31-28 loss to Florida State (2-3). At halftime, the Seminoles led 31-7. This large lead, however, was short lived. The Tar Heels scored 21 unanswered points, and trailed 31-28 with a couple of minutes left in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Sam Howell was putting together a game-winning drive, until receivers dropped three passes in a row. I believe that North Carolina was ridiculously overrated in the last poll. The Heels have a lot to prove if it has ambitions of making it back in the top 10, let alone the top five. 

The North Carolina State Wolfpack have been trending in the opposite direction, as the team has won three games in a row. I would deem the win against Pittsburgh as the only respectable one. In this Top 25 matchup, I believe the Tar Heels will come out on top as N.C. State’s defense cannot keep up with the pace of Sam Howell’s offense: North Carolina 34, North Carolina State 21

18 Michigan (0-0) vs. 21 Minnesota (0-0): In another Big Ten opener, the Michigan Wolverines play the Minnesota Golden Gophers on a chilly Saturday evening in Minneapolis, Minn. Michigan is starting quarterback Joe Milton for the first time, and he hasn’t taken many snaps. This leaves many question marks for the upcoming game. The Wolverines also lack some depth at wide receiver, as starter Nico Collins opted out of the season, and many seniors graduated and started their careers in the NFL. On the other side of the football, the Gophers are returning starters such as quarterback Tanner Morgan and wide receiver Rashod Bateman. This Minnesota team is looking to improve upon what was a great 2019-20 season. You can find more information on the Golden Gophers’ successes here. While I have many questions about this year’s WolverinesI have far less about the Gophers. Although Minnesota lost wide receiver Tyler Johnson to the draft last year, I believe the team has what it takes to be elite this season. I think this will be a nail-biter, but the Gophers have my vote to win this game: Minnesota 26, Michigan 24

19 Virginia Tech (3-1) vs. Wake Forest (2-2): Both teams enter Saturday’s contest off of double-digit wins. The Virginia Tech Hokies dominated the Boston College Eagles in a 40-14 blowout, while the Wake Forest Demon Deacons beat the Virginia Cavaliers 40-23. The Hokies have experienced troubles with the coronavirus but are doing a great job of handling adversity. I believe Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker’s leadership will lead the Hokies to a second straight win. This game is going to be a bit closer than expected: Virginia Tech 41, Wake Forest 31

20 Kansas State (3-1) vs. Kansas (0-4): The Kansas State Wildcats have won three games in a row, and backup quarterback Will Howard will lead the team for the rest of the season, as starting quarterback Skylar Thompson suffered a season-ending injury against Texas Tech. Although the Wildcats may have a troublesome situation at the quarterback position, I believe the Kansas Jayhawks aren’t a threat to the 20th ranked team in the nation: Kansas State 38, Kansas 10

22 Marshall (4-0) vs. Florida Atlantic University (1-0): While the Marshall Thundering Herd have been bulldozing through the competition, the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Owls have not played a single football game in nearly two weeks. The first two games were postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak on the team and squeaked by Charlotte 21-17 on Oct. 3. I believe Marshall will continue to make its case as potential non-group of five contenders for a New Years’ Six Bowl: Marshall 31, FAU 14

25 Coastal Carolina (4-0) vs. Georgia Southern University (3-1): The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers beat the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns last Saturday in a thrilling match that ended in a score of 31-28. Ranked for the first time in program history, the Chanticleers look to make a statement against a Georgia Southern University (GSU) team that has won two in a row. While the GSU Eagles’ offense looks strong, the defense appears weak and even clueless at times. This was demonstrated when a receiver went uncovered in a match against Campbell University (0-4). The defense was lucky that the receiver tripped at the 22-yard line, or else he would have walked into the endzone for a game-tying touchdown. At the end of the day, I believe Coastal Carolina will prove its worth. After all, it would be a shame to lose a spot in the Top 25 one week after receiving it: Coastal Carolina 41, GSU 28