[caption id="attachment_1267" align="alignright" width="178"] Michigan is rolling, but can the Wolverines overcome Northwestern's stingy D?[/caption] The mid-point of college football season is just about here. Some games this week mean something. Here is a breakdown of three of those games, with the Smack Zone fearless forecast. Read it, then register for the Smack Zone weekly football picks contest for a chance to win Smack Apparel merchandise (see link below). (Yes, we know Texas plays Oklahoma this week, but we figure anyone who picks the Longhorns in that one isn't qualified to be here or even watch sports.) No. 13 Northwestern (5-0, 3-0 BIG 10) vs. No. 18 Michigan (4-1, 1-0 BIG 10) Anyone who tells you that they predicted a 5-0 start for Northwestern is, quite simply, a liar. After a stunning upset of Stanford to open the season, the Wildcats have somewhat quietly climbed their way into the top 15. A win in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon would solidify Pat Fitzgerald’s squad as a team to be reckoned with in the second half of the season. While their offense is far from overwhelming, their defense has been stifling. Led by Senior DL Dean Lowry, Northwestern is allowing an FBS best seven points per game. Under first-year coach and Michigan man, Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines have wasted little time returning to national relevancy. With a victory this Saturday, Michigan will have already matched their win total from 2014. Although their passing game has left much to be desired, the Wolverines’ rushing attack has picked up the slack, averaging more than 230 yards per game during their four-game winning streak. Of course, like Northwestern, they have relied heavily on a defense that has posted back-to-back shutouts against BYU and Maryland, and is giving up just 7.6 points per game. Smack Zone’s Pick: If you’re a fan of defense and tough, old-school football, this game is definitely right up your alley. Barring Jim Harbaugh making a return to play quarterback for his alma mater, don’t expect many fireworks in the Big House Saturday afternoon. We like the Wolverines in a slugfest, 17-13. No. 23 California (5-0, 2-0 PAC 12) vs. No. 5 Utah (4-0, 1-0 PAC 12) It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, the Golden Bears finished 1-11 and were one of college football’s worst teams. Now in their third season under head coach Sonny Dykes, Cal is seeking its first 6-0 start since 1950. Junior quarterback and NFL prospect Jared Goff has already thrown 15 touchdowns this year and is completing better than 70 percent of his passes for a Golden Bears’ offense that is averaging over 43 points per game. Not to be outdone, their defense leads the FBS with 18 takeaways through 5 games. Utah has climbed all the way up to No. 5 in the AP Poll after a 63-20 rout of Oregon in Eugene. Senior quarterback Travis Wilson picked a great time to play one of the best games of his career, accounting for nearly 330 yards of total offense and torching the Ducks’ secondary for four touchdown passes. Coming off a bye week, the Utes will look to keep that momentum going with another victory over a Top 25 team. Through five games, this is a team that certainly deserves much consideration as a legitimate playoff contender. Smack Zone’s Pick: College GameDay will be on campus in Salt Lake City for this matchup of the PAC 12’s lone remaining unbeatens. Both offenses will surely put up points, however, Utah’s defense, and a rowdy home crowd will seal this one in the fourth quarter. We’ll take the Utes in a good one, 38-31. [caption id="attachment_1268" align="alignleft" width="300"] Florida State will roll. Right? Oh, yeah. That's right.[/caption] Miami (3-1, 0-0 ACC) vs. No. 12 Florida State (4-0, 2-0 ACC) We’re only a week into October and Miami fans are already calling for Al Golden’s job. (Again) If he loses to rival Florida State for the fifth time in five tries on Saturday night, the Hurricane faithful may not even welcome him back to South Florida. Miami’s offense has largely been led by two sophomores, quarterback Brad Kaaya and running back Joseph Yearby, who have combined for nine touchdowns. They’ll certainly look to get the Hurricanes off to a fast start offensively, just as they did in last year’s matchup against Florida State, when they jumped out to a 16-0 lead. After suffering a hamstring injury in the first quarter of a win over Wake Forest last weekend, ACC rushing leader, Dalvin Cook, is currently listed as day to day. Although Jimbo Fisher is confident that his star running back will be ready to go Saturday night, Johnathan Vickers and Jacques Patrick can be expected to see additional snaps with backup Mario Pender still hospitalized with complications due to a collapsed lung. Thankfully for Florida State, their defense has been stout thus far this year allowing just 11.5 points per game, good for sixth in the country. Smack Zone’s Pick: This has been a historically great rivalry, and that’s enough of a reason to tune in. Everett Golson hasn’t been lights out so far (he’s no Jameis Winston) but he has yet to throw an interception this year. Meanwhile, Miami ranks second-to-last in the FBS in third-down efficiency and Kaaya is just 2-6 on the road as a starter. Miami will make mistakes and Florida State will take advantage. We’ve got the Noles, 31-17. Think you can do better? Test your pigskin prognostication prowess in the Smack Zone weekly football picks contest. Register and pick at CONTEST.SMACKAPPAREL.COM. The weekly winner receives three Smack Apparel t-shirts and the runner-up gets one t-shirt. DO IT!
By Erez Ladetzky, Smack Zone contributor Now is as good a time as any to take an early look at five under-the-radar teams that could influence the college football national championship playoffs:
- UCLA – they came into the season ranked No. 13 and now have climbed up to No. 7. The Bruins are coming off back to back victories against BYU and at Arizona. The middle of October will show us if the Bruins are a contender or pretender. They face Stanford and Cal back to back weeks.
- Georgia – the Bulldogs were the heavy preseason favorite to win the SEC East this year, and have not disappointed so far. They currently sit at No. 8 and have a big showdown against Alabama this Saturday. Nick Chubb is a Heisman frontrunner and with a victory against Bama, Georgia could run the table heading into the SEC Championship.
- Utah – Utah was unranked to start the season, but an opening weekend win against the Michigan Harbaugh’s moved them up to No. 24. Last week, they absolutely destroyed Oregon on the road, 62-20, and have vaulted all the way up to No. 10. They are one of 4 teams to receive a first place vote in the AP poll.
- Clemson – the Tigers have faced a cupcake schedule so far, and have stayed at their preseason rank of No. 12. They have their first test of the year as they host #6 Notre Dame Saturday night. Clemson’s season always comes down to the showdown with FSU. Could this be the season that Clemson gets over the hump?
- Oklahoma – the Sooners sit at No. 15 after a thrilling comeback win at Tennessee a couple weeks ago. Expectations are always high in Norman, even with TCU and Baylor stealing the thunder away from Oklahoma and Texas. Oklahoma faces TCU and Baylor in back to back weeks at the end of the season, that should determine the Big 12 champion.