College Football: B/R Experts Answer Biggest Questions for Week 10
Avert your eyes, SEC haters, because Week 10 is intensely focused on college football's richest conference.
In the mid-afternoon, the newly crowned No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers will take on the No. 3 and reigning champion Georgia Bulldogs. After that matchup, the No. 10 LSU Tigers will host the No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide. Those are two enormous games for the College Football Playoff race.
Elsewhere around the country, the No. 4 Clemson Tigers headline a group of 12 ranked teams hitting the road against an unranked opponent. The weekend could get pretty wacky.
Bleacher Report's expert crew—Max Escarpio, David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller, Morgan Moriarty and Brad Shepard—have assembled to break down the key storylines.
Call Your Shot: Who Wins the Heisman Trophy?
The safe pick is Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. I’d love to give the nod to Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker. Hooker will be the favorite if he somehow pieces up the Georgia defense this weekend, but that’s a tall task that hasn’t been done this season.
Stroud has proved to be effective against some of the best defenses in the Big Ten, including Iowa and Penn State in back-to-back weeks. He has the nation's top QBR at 93.1 and is tied for the top spot with 29 touchdown passes. Stroud also has 2,377 yards with four games with over 350.
The Buckeyes quarterback finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy race last year, and he’s clearly in the hunt for redemption. The most prestigious individual award in college football has been given to an SEC player for three straight seasons, so Stroud should break that streak. He’ll be the first winner from the Big Ten and Ohio State since Troy Smith in 2006.
Have to go with Hooker. He has -110 odds to win it, unsurprisingly, as the Vols are undefeated and just two weeks removed from knocking off Alabama for the first time in 16 years.
Hooker winning the Heisman might be dependent on the Vols playing in the SEC Championship Game—recall that Bryce Young's performance against Georgia in last year's game won him the award. But I also think Hooker can win it even if Tennessee falls to Georgia on Saturday, allowing the Dawgs to win the SEC East.
Even with a loss to Georgia, Tennessee has one of the most explosive offenses in the country under Hooker, averaging 7.4 yards per play. Hooker and the unit shouldn't slow down in the Vols' last three remaining games against Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
Tennessee has never had a Heisman Trophy winner before, and Hooker looks on track to change that. Even if Tennessee ends up sitting at home on Championship Saturday, I don't see a player that's been as valuable to his team.
Right now, Hooker probably leads the race before Saturday’s game against Georgia, but as a longtime follower of Tennessee, everybody knows Vols don’t win Heisman Trophies. Just ask Peyton Manning.
In the back of my mind, I can’t help seeing Stroud looming, getting back Jaxon Smith-Njigba to go along with Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, and getting to play a relatively soft schedule the rest of the way other than The Game against Michigan. An argument could be made that Stroud deserved the award last year, and while things like that shouldn’t matter, lifetime achievement awards sometimes do to the committee.
Stroud is an exceptional QB who's going to have the resume on a team that likely is undefeated heading into the CFP. While I believe Hooker could do the same, I’d give the slight nod to Stroud.
Which Conference Race Are You Most Excited to Watch?
The Pac-12. It won’t have the same College Football Playoff intrigue as some of the other conferences, but it’s been a great deal of fun to watch. And I also don’t expect it to go to form moving forward.
We’ve already seen a solid flow of teams making a move. And with Oregon, USC, Utah and UCLA still hovering around the Top 10, I don’t think we’re done.
The fact that the Pac-12 adopted a new title game format this year—pinning the two best winning percentages against each other—is a welcomed development. This year, with so many meaningful games still to play, the timing couldn’t be better.
Oregon feels like a deserving favorite, although we’ve seen how much home field can swing this race in one night. While we might not have a playoff team in the Pac-12, it will deliver in terms of excitement.
Since you know we love ranking things, let's rank the Power Five conference races, in ascending order of intrigue.
No. 5: ACC. There's already a 98-plus percent chance it'll be Clemson vs. North Carolina. The only "excitement" is finding out whether the Tigers will get there unblemished.
No. 4: Big Ten. While it's cool Illinois and Purdue are duking it out for a first trip to the Big Ten title, this conference race (and a CFP spot) really just boils down to the Michigan at Ohio State winner on Nov. 26.
No. 3: Big 12. I'm obsessed with the "TCU as a CFP dark horse" narrative. I'd love the Horned Frogs to reach championship weekend with a zero in the loss column, if only to watch some of the talking heads try to argue three SEC teams are more deserving. But the three ranked Big 12 teams (TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State) have already played each other, so there's not a "must-watch" game left on the docket aside from Bedlam.
No. 2: SEC. Week 10 is going to be Capital-A Awesome in the SEC, with Tennessee/Georgia and Alabama/LSU determining who enters the home stretch as the overwhelming division favorites. However, the SEC East race will be effectively over this weekend and the SEC West likely after next week's Alabama-Ole Miss showdown. Sorry, but when most of the league plays a mid-/late-November nonconference game, sometimes the regular season ends with a whimper.
No. 1: Pac-12. Since the disastrous start for Oregon and Utah, the quartet of Oregon, Utah, UCLA and USC have gone a collective 22-0 against teams beyond each other. As a result, they're all Top 14 teams and very much in the hunt for the league title. It'll be two weeks until the Pac-12 has its version of the SEC double slobberknocker; Utah at Oregon and USC at UCLA highlight the Week 12 slate. With Oregon, USC and UCLA in the hunt for the playoff, it should be a fascinating sprint to the finish line.
What's the Best Matchup Outside the Top 25?
Two SEC teams that are still searching for their identity will square off in College Station this weekend. Florida vs. Texas A&M was an anticipated game prior to the season, but the hype has definitely been worn down. Both are 1-4 in conference play. While the Gators are riding a two-game losing streak, the Aggies are in the midst of a four-game skid.
Texas A&M has crowded national headlines for the past few months, especially for dominating the recruiting trail. But the campaign has only brought drama and defeat to the program. Florida gets somewhat of a pass with first-year head coach Billy Napier, but the roster is way too talented to be 4-4.
This game is exciting because of the mystery surrounding these programs and their futures. The Aggies have home-field advantage, but the Gators' veteran talent propels them to a victory on the road.
With a nod to the prime-time clash between rivals Miami and Florida State, I'm interested in Liberty's trip to Arkansas.
The late-afternoon kick is a perfect chance for 7-1 Liberty to secure a signature win. Although the Flames weren't included in the first College Football Playoff rankings, a win over a quality SEC program would provide a terrific jolt to their resume.
However, it's also a tryout of sorts for Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. While the former Ole Miss coach has baggage in his past—he didn't get fired because of poor on-field results—Freeze has emerged as a popular name in the Auburn search and surely will be mentioned as other jobs open.
The other side is a simpler outlook. Arkansas is on the verge of bowl eligibility, but a win Saturday avoids a thin margin for error. LSU and Ole Miss are up next, so the Hogs would certainly prefer to lock up that sixth win before possibly needing a victory at Missouri to end the season.
Which Top 25 Team Is on the Highest Upset Alert?
I mean, it has to be Clemson. The Tigers are on the road to play Notre Dame, which has rebounded well from an 0-2 start. Last week, the Fighting Irish knocked off then-No. 16 Syracuse on the road 41-24.
Notre Dame is 5-3, a mark that seemed a bit unlikely after the losses to Ohio State and Marshall. There's no question that if Notre Dame were to knock off Clemson like the Fighting Irish did in 2020, fans will be quick to forgive Marcus Freeman for the tough opening to his tenure.
Clemson, meanwhile, is coming off an idle weekend. The Tigers took care of Syracuse in Week 8, overcoming a 21-10 first-half deficit to win 27-21. The biggest thing to watch will be Clemson's QB situation. Dabo Swinney benched DJ Uiagalelei for true freshman Cade Klubnik after Uiagalelei had three turnovers. Klubnik completed just two passes against Syracuse, but it would be significant if Swinney makes the switch again.
Even if Clemson were to lose to Notre Dame, it wouldn't knock the Tigers out of the CFP race. I think ND has a great chance to upset Clemson.
So many road games to choose.
Outside of Clemson's thorny trip to Notre Dame, the high-alert game is Oklahoma State's journey to Kansas.
Since that well-covered 5-0 start, the Jayhawks have endured three straight losses. But last Saturday's off weekend gave them a chance to regroup, and early breakout QB Jalon Daniels is practicing again. If he's back, that's a huge boost to the KU offense.
Oklahoma State, on the other hand, is an injury-riddled team hoping to shake off a horrid 48-point shutout loss at Kansas State and has to travel for this matchup.
Combine all of those factors, and No. 18 Oklahoma State is firmly in the danger zone this weekend.
No. 1 Tennessee at No. 3 Georgia: Who You Got?
This has to be one of the most anticipated regular-season games in recent memory.
The Vols and Dawgs are both 8-0, playing in the hardest conference in the country. The SEC juggernauts feature a flurry of talent, including both quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and Stetson Bennett and pass-catchers like Jalin Hyatt and Brock Bowers.
Georgia has an elite defense yet again, giving up just 10.5 points per game. But Tennessee fields the most explosive offense in the country with averages of 553 yards and 49.4 points. This is a clash between a UGA defense that’s allowed 30 total points in the last three weeks and a Volunteers team that’s scored 161 points in that span.
The main factors to Georgia being favored in this match are the consistency of its defense and home-field advantage. Tennessee will put fear in the Bulldogs with a couple scores in the first half, but Georgia should capture and maintain a lead during the second half in front of a hometown crowd.
I have Georgia. Let’s not bury the suspense.
It won’t be a blowout. Tennessee, led by its offense, is very much up for this. The Vols are the most fun team in college football, and I’m not sure it’s all that close. (Though TCU may be a close-ish second.)
The fact that this game will be played in Athens is a huge advantage. It also feels like the Georgia defense will have a say in all of this. It won’t shut down Tennessee; it doesn’t feel possible at this point. But it will slow down the Vols just enough.
Tennessee's defense deserves credit for playing better than many have given it credit for. But the task is different this week for a few different reasons, and the environment will play a huge role in that.
It’s Week 10, and this will only be Tennessee’s third road game. Georgia finds a way to prevail and take control in the SEC.
Will Notre Dame Damage No. 4 Clemson's Title Hopes?
Before I pick a winner, I feel it's my responsibility as the resident bowl prognosticator to note that a loss at Notre Dame wouldn't extinguish Clemson's title hopes. Yes, it would put a massive damper on those hopes, as this is nowhere near the caliber of Notre Dame team that the Tigers lost to in double overtime two years ago.
But there is certainly a world in which Clemson loses this week and still makes the playoff. While FiveThirtyEight's projections model isn't exactly gospel, if you toggle in a loss for Clemson in this game, it still has a 36 percent chance of making the CFP.
With that out of the way, no, I don't think Notre Dame will win.
Despite the poor showing at Florida State a few weeks ago, Clemson's run defense ranks among the best in the nation. And save for passes to tight end Michael Mayer, Notre Dame isn't dangerous through the air.
Unless DJ Uiagalelei is out there committing all sorts of turnovers again and repeatedly setting up the Fighting Irish with short fields, it's hard to see them scoring more than 21 points. And though Clemson isn't an offensive juggernaut, it'll take more than that to beat the Tigers. The ACC front-runners improve to 9-0 in a 31-20 type of contest.
There isn’t a bigger poser in all of college football right now than Clemson. It’s remarkable the Tigers got the nod over teams like TCU in the initial CFP poll because they haven’t really played anybody, and they aren’t that impressive.
Even though the Fighting Irish are far from world-beaters this year, something tells me they are going to get Dabo Swinney’s team this weekend.
On paper, you’d think the Tigers would be big favorites considering they are the class of the ACC and are undefeated. Yet why are they only 3.5-point favorites? Vegas knows they aren’t that great, and the Irish have been putting together much better offensive efforts recently.
The Irish just dominated Syracuse 41-24. While this one won’t be that sort of blowout, I like Notre Dame to pull one of the biggest upsets of the season and win 26-21.
No. 6 Alabama or No. 10 LSU in Battle for SEC West?
Which Alabama is going to show up? That’s the biggest question here.
If it's the team that should have lost at Texas and at home against Texas A&M, the Tide are in trouble. But people point to the Alabama loss to Tennessee as an outlier. The Tide played well in that one offensively; the Vols just had more firepower.
The last time out against Mississippi State, though, it looked like Bama found something on defense. The Tide played more press-man coverage on the outside, Eli Ricks was inserted into the starting lineup and was terrific, and they shut down the Bulldogs.
That’ll be hard to do to against the Tigers the way Jayden Daniels is playing, but even though this is in Baton Rouge at night, Alabama has too many horses. Bama wins 40-31.
I will not lie: I counted out LSU as a threat after Tennessee's offense just did anything it wanted—in a week that followed LSU barely escaping a bad Auburn team.
Jayden Daniels apparently read my thoughts and laughed.
Since that embarrassing home loss, LSU has picked up quality wins against Florida and Ole Miss. Daniels threw five and rushed for six touchdowns in those games, rapidly altering the perception of what this LSU offense can accomplish against higher-level competition.
Now, Alabama is a much greater test. This defense is far stingier, and neither Florida nor Ole Miss can throw the ball like Bryce Young and the Crimson Tide. Alabama is still the deserving favorite and pick to win.
LSU, though, is a legitimate upset candidate here. Two big mistakes from Bama's offense, and this gets interesting.