College Football Picks: Conference plays starts, upsets loom

Sep 20, 2017 - 5:38 PM Familiarity often leads to volatility. For the most part, conference play is here in college football, which means far fewer blowouts and a much greater likelihood for the type of upsets that can really shake up the rankings and change the season. Eleven ranked teams play road games against unranked conference rivals this weekend, including No. 1 Alabama against an unbeaten Vanderbilt team that is feeling pretty good about itself after knocking off Kansas State last weekend. No. 5 Southern California comes off an overtime win against Texas to visit maybe the most surprising team in the country, California (3-0). The Trojans will be a big test for an improved Bears defense. The hottest spot on the slate is probably Iowa City, where No. 4 Penn State rolls into town. We only have to remember back to last season when the Hawkeyes upset Michigan, a result that helped Penn State win the Big Ten East, to know that Iowa is capable of putting up a detour on the road to the College Football Playoff. The picks: THURSDAY AACTION Temple (plus 20 ½) at No. 21 South Florida The Owls were the only American Athletic Conference team to beat the Bulls last season and it cost USF the division title. Revenge game ... USF 42-17. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS No. 23 Utah (minus 3) at Arizona The type of swing game the Wildcats and coach Rich Rodriguez could really use after last year's 3-9 debacle ... UTAH 28-21. SATURDAY MARQUEE MATCHUPS No. 16 TCU (plus 13) at No. 6 Oklahoma State The Cowboys have outscored their opponents 59-0 in the first quarter ... OKLAHOMA STATE 41-31. No. 17 Mississippi State (plus 6) at No. 11 Georgia Nick Fitzgerald, aka Dak Prescott 2.0, can push himself into the Heisman Trophy discussion for Mississippi State with a big game against a tough Georgia defense ... GEORGIA 24-20. UPSET ALERTS No. 1 Alabama (minus 18 ½) at Vanderbilt Commodores have not beaten the Tide since 1984 and have just two wins in the series since 1960. But if there ever was a year to give Vandy a chance ... ALABAMA 31-14. No. 4 Penn State (plus 12 ½) at Iowa The Hawkeyes have shown some firepower early this season, but will it be enough to keep up with Saquon Barkley and the Nittany Lions? ... PENN STATE 31-23. No. 5 Southern California (minus 16 ½) at California The Trojans have won 13 straight against Cal, the longest winning streak in the history of a series that dates to 1915 ... USC 42-21. No. 7 Washington (minus 10 ½) at Colorado Rematch of last season's Pac-12 title game that was dominated by the Huskies' defense ... COLORADO 28-24, UPSET SPECIAL. No. 8 Michigan (minus 10) at Purdue Seems as if there hasn't been this much buzz about Purdue football since Drew Brees was the Boilermakers' quarterback ... MICHIGAN 30-21. Toledo (plus 13) at No. 14 Miami Been a long layoff for the Hurricanes, and the Rockets and QB Logan Woodside are averaging 550 yards per game ... MIAMI 35-20, BEST BET. No. 20 Florida (minus 2 ½) at Kentucky Gators winning streak against the Wildcats is at 30. Kentucky might never get a better chance ... FLORIDA 24-20. No. 22 San Diego State (minus 3 ½) at Air Force Letdown alert for the Aztecs after beating two straight Pac-12 teams ... AIR FORCE 21-17. CONFERENCE CALLS Boston College (plus 34) at No. 2 Clemson Tigers have won six straight in the series, including the last two by a total of 90-27 ... CLEMSON 49-13. No. 3 Oklahoma (minus 28) at Baylor Bears had remarkably won three of four before the Sooners won the last two meetings. The days of OU domination might be returning ... OKLAHOMA 48-14. North Carolina State (plus 10 ½) at No. 12 Florida State Freshman QB James Blackman finally makes his starting debut for the Seminoles ... FLORIDA STATE 21-14. No. 15 Auburn (minus 19 ½) at Missouri If ever there was an SEC team that Auburn should be able to get its offense rolling against, it's Mizzou ... AUBURN 35-21. No. 24 Oregon (plus 16 ½) at Arizona State, Already getting to the point where this is a critical game for the Sun Devils and coach Todd Graham ... OREGON 42-28. RECOVERY GAME Syracuse (plus 23) at No. 25 LSU Tigers could really use a home blowout after last week's mess at Mississippi State ... LSU 42-17. MISMATCHES UNLV (plus 40) at No. 10 Ohio State ... OHIO STATE 48-14. Old Dominion (plus 26 ½) at No. 13 Virginia Tech ... VIRGINIA TECH 42-17. Nevada (plus 28) at No. 18 Washington State ... WASHINGTON STATE 49-20. Kent State (plus 42 ½) at No. 19 Louisville ... LOUISVILLE 59-10. TWITTER REQUESTS Notre Dame (plus 4 ½) at Michigan State — @brantleyLV The Spartans beat Notre Dame last season and then their season fell apart. Big game for two teams looking to 2016 turnarounds ... MICHIGAN STATE 26-24. UCLA (plus 7 ½) at Stanford — @NattyD13 Stanford has won nine straight against the Bruins and never lost three straight under coach David Shaw ... STANFORD 28-24. Texas A&M (minus 2 ½) vs. Arkansas at Arlington, Texas — @baconfed_ninja Losing coach gets a week's worth of calls for his job — though it seems that's almost every game in the SEC these days ... TEXAS A&M 31-27. Duke (minus 2 ½) at North Carolina — @nashman92 Tar Heels' season could go sideways fast ... NORTH CAROLINA 30-27. ___ Record last week: 18-5 straight up; 11-11-1 against the spread. Record this season: 52-13 straight up; 16-35-3 against the spread. Upset specials: 2-1. Best bets: 1-1. ___ Follow Ralph D. Russo at ___ More college football coverage: and

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