Penn State has its bye week, but Saturday is no time to go apple picking. There are games this weekend that could help or hurt the Nittany Lions’ College Football Playoff chances, which are still very much alive.
For the most part, Penn State fans should be pulling for teams ranked above the Nittany Lions to lose. But let’s all be realistic here: No. 1 Alabama isn’t going to falter as 35.5-point favorites against Arkansas, No. 2 Georgia won’t get tripped up over Vanderbilt, and No. 3 Ohio State has a 96.3 percent chance to beat Indiana.
Instead of investing in pipe dreams, here are five games to watch — and five teams you should be rooting against.
All game lines from Bovada Sportsbook.
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No. 5 LSU at No. 22 Florida
When: 3:30 p.m., CBS
Favorite: LSU -1.5
Breakdown: It’s not likely that LSU is a playoff team by season’s end. The Tigers, stuck in the SEC West with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, have just a 1.9 percent chance to win the conference and are projected for 8.9 wins, according to ESPN’s FPI.
But Penn State almost can’t afford two playoff teams from the SEC, and if LSU wins in Gainesville, watch out for Ed Orgeron’s squad. A victory over the Gators would set up a top-5 matchup next weekend when LSU hosts Georgia, and two weeks later, Alabama comes to Baton Rouge. After mauling Miami in the opener and edging Auburn a couple weeks back, LSU showed its mettle. But with just a 6.1 percent chance to beat both the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide, a loss to Florida would go far in making the SEC a two-team race.
No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 24 Virginia Tech
When: 8 p.m., ABC
Favorite: Notre Dame -7
Breakdown: The Nittany Lions cannot have the Fighting Irish be undefeated at the end of the regular season, and this might be Notre Dame’s last real chance to lose in 2018. Here is the rest of the Fighting Irish’s schedule: Pitt, Navy, at Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse and at USC. Those six teams have a combined record of 15-13 and none of them are ranked. With the Trojans struggling mightily, Syracuse, which gave Clemson a game in Death Valley last weekend, might be Notre Dame’s toughest test after Virginia Tech.
Notre Dame — which beat Michigan in the opener and dominated Stanford last weekend — has the fifth-best odds to reach the national semifinals, according to ESPN’s Playoff Predictor. A loss in Blacksburg to the Hokies would knock the Fighting Irish down several pegs.
No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 19 Texas
When: Noon, FOX
Favorite: Oklahoma -7.0
Breakdown: There are two early playoff contenders in the Big 12: Oklahoma and No. 9 West Virginia. The Mountaineers — who are 28.5-point favorites this weekend against lowly Kansas — host the Sooners in the regular-season finale. But Nittany Lion fans should pull for Oklahoma to lose before then.
Here’s the Sooners’ schedule with FPI winning percentages prior to their trip to Morgantown: Texas (73.3 percent), at TCU (76.6), Kansas State (94.7), at Texas Tech (67.1), Oklahoma State (75.3) and Kansas (96.3). There are some tricky games in there, especially a potential shootout with the Red Raiders. But there’s always something different about Oklahoma-Texas. And the Longhorns — who beat USC and TCU earlier this year — are dangerous after a puzzling loss to Maryland in the opener.
No. 8 Auburn at Mississippi State
When: 7:30 p.m., ESPN2
Favorite: Auburn -4
Breakdown: The AP Poll will be null and void by time the playoff rankings come around in November, but Auburn is currently the highest-ranked one-loss team. And the Tigers have opportunities ahead of them. Auburn goes on the road to Georgia and Alabama in the final three weeks of the season, and if Gus Malzahn’s team is 8-1 entering Athens, who knows what might happen?
But a second loss this early would knock Auburn out of contention. Plus, how can Penn State fans not root for Joe Moorhead and the Bulldogs? Perhaps the Nittany Lions’ former offensive coordinator can indirectly help out his old squad.
No. 20 Michigan State vs. Northwestern
When: Noon, FS1
Favorite: Michigan State -10
Breakdown: For Penn State to make the playoff, it not only has to run the table, but those wins need to impress the committee. While Appalachian State might finish as a top-25 team, that’s not going to do it.
Nittany Lion fans need Sparty — and Michigan, too — to be ranked as high as possible for their upcoming meetings. But Michigan State, which lost at Arizona State in Week 2 and looked iffy against Central Michigan last weekend, could fall against Northwestern. The Wildcats gave Michigan all it could handle in Evanston last week and beat Mark Dantonio’s team last year.
During the Red River Rivalry commercial breaks, keep an eye on Michigan State-Northwestern. It could greatly impact Penn State’s standing with the playoff committee come December.