Each week, the Times’ national college sports reporter J. Brady McCollough will pick the week’s eight best games — that have a combination of big-brand intrigue and a spread within a touchdown — plus the USC and UCLA games. Through nine weeks, McCollough is 46-44.
No. 3 Michigan State at Purdue
This has emotional letdown game written all over it for the Spartans, who came back from a 16-point deficit to knock off rival Michigan last Saturday and fully inserted themselves into the playoff race. They might know that Purdue under Jeff Brohm has been an assassin of top-five opponents — then-No. 2 Iowa the most recent victim — but there’s no denying that this trip to West Lafayette should be fraught with difficulty for Michigan State. Still, there just seems to be something special about these Spartans, who will be led once again by Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Walker III. Michigan State 31, Purdue 26
No. 9 Wake Forest at North Carolina
What does Wake Forest have to do to get respect? The Demon Deacons, 8-0 and ranked in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings, are nearly a field-goal underdog against North Carolina, 4-4 and one of the country’s grand disappointments. Maybe a convincing win in Chapel Hill would do it? Too bad Wake Forest’s defense will have trouble getting off the field against Sam Howell and the Tar Heels. The Demon Deacons will have to settle for survival. Wake Forest 48, North Carolina 44
Here’s a look at college football games worth watching, including No. 3 Michigan State at Purdue and No. 13 Auburn at No. 14 Texas A&M.
Nov. 4, 2021
No. 12 Baylor at Texas Christian
This week, after two decades at the helm of Texas Christian, Gary Patterson and the school parted ways as the Horned Frogs struggled at 3-5. Will TCU’s players rally together to prove something about the program Patterson built? They might, but they’re running into an opponent in Baylor that has a Big 12 championship on its mind and a budding young coach in Dave Aranda making the right moves each week. Baylor 35, TCU 24
No. 11 Oklahoma State at West Virginia
Like Baylor, Oklahoma State has everything in front of it in regard to the Big 12 championship and a potential playoff spot. But the Cowboys have to visit Morgantown, where West Virginia just beat Iowa State and knocked the Cyclones out of the Big 12 race. Defense travels, though, and Oklahoma State has a unit that is tough enough to escape those country roads. Oklahoma State 24, West Virginia 20
The initial college football rankings are sure to upset a lot of teams, most notably Luke Fickell’s Bearcats at Cincinnati. But that could benefit the Trojans.
Nov. 2, 2021
No. 13 Auburn at No. 14 Texas A&M
The SEC West division is not fully within Alabama’s grasp just yet. Auburn and Alabama each have one conference loss and will meet in the Iron Bowl at season’s end. Texas A&M has two SEC losses but has that big win over Alabama to help with a potential tiebreaker. The Aggies need to win out and have Auburn and Alabama lose two games, and their easiest path is to knock off the Tigers and hope Auburn wins the Iron Bowl. Texas A&M will take the first step Saturday. Texas A&M 28, Auburn 24
No. 17 Mississippi State at Arkansas
Mississippi State was the highest-ranked three-loss team in the first CFP rankings because of its wins over North Carolina State, Texas A&M and Kentucky. The Bulldogs showed they could win on the road in College Station, but can they do it again against a capable Arkansas team that is hungry to lock up a bowl trip? That’s asking a lot for Mike Leach’s team. Arkansas 30, Mississippi State 27
It remains to be seen how playing time might be split between Kedon Slovis and Jaxson Dart, but USC’s chance for success likely rests in the run game.
Nov. 5, 2021
Tennessee at No. 18 Kentucky
Josh Heupel’s first season at Tennessee has been up and down, but the Volunteers have real upside with Hendon Hooker at quarterback. Kentucky’s dream season has taken back-to-back hits against Georgia and Mississippi State, but the Wildcats can conceivably go 10-2 if they get back on track against their old rivals. Tennessee has what it takes to get its first validating victory of the Heupel era. Tennessee 28, Kentucky 23
No. 4 Oregon at Washington
As if Washington coach Jimmy Lake hasn’t gotten himself into enough trouble this season, losing to Montana and Oregon State on the way to a 4-4 start, he kicked off Oregon week by stating that the Ducks weren’t the Huskies’ rivals in recruiting because their academics didn’t stack up. Lake said that prestigious private universities Stanford, USC and Notre Dame were more like Washington’s rivals on the recruiting trail. Oregon, trying to stay in the race for a playoff spot, was already going to attempt to destroy its rival. Now imagine how those comments went over in Eugene. Oregon 38, Washington 16
Texas at Iowa State
Each week, we keep waiting for Steve Sarkisian’s first Texas team to live up to his motto of “all gas, no brakes.” But during a three-game losing streak that has dropped the Longhorns to 4-4, the better phrase would be “all gas, no breaks.” Is Texas snakebit or just not that good? We’ll get another chance to find out about Texas against an Iowa State team that always relishes messing with the Longhorns. Iowa State 35, Texas 31
USC at Arizona State
For the Trojans to get to six wins and bowl eligibility under interim head coach Donte Williams, they’re going to have to win at least one game as a clear underdog. And the task will be even tougher without injured wide receiver Drake London, who was on his way to winning the Biletnikoff Award. Arizona State’s offense should present a lot of challenges for USC’s injury-ravaged defense, and the Trojans’ offense will not enjoy its first experience of life without Drake. Arizona State 42, USC 24
J. Brady McCollough is a sports enterprise reporter for the Los Angeles Times, focusing on national college football and basketball topics. Before joining the Times in May 2018, he was a projects reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a 2017 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.