Now that we’ve gone over the best college football plays for the early games, we will take a dive into the prime time slate. Whether you are hungry for more or just too drunk to care, the next two matchups will provide enough for any appetite.
North Carolina at Florida State
Doak Campbell Stadium
7:30 PM, EST
This matchup reflects one of many oddities in 2020. No. 5 North Carolina is ranked higher than they’ve ever been on this side of the millennium. Florida State continues to struggle as they search for an identity under new head coach Mike Norvell. It is a division rivalry with unconventional implications. The Tar Heels want to climb the ladder and compete with mighty Clemson, while the Seminoles are scrambling at the bottom of the conference.
Florida State’s only win came against Jacksonville State, a game in which the Gamecocks hung around way longer than needed. On the bright side, Florida State covered for the first time last week in a 42-26 loss to Notre Dame. The Seminoles were three-touchdown underdogs in the contest.
Meanwhile, North Carolina seems to be cruising after a 56-45 victory over Virginia Tech. The Heels have covered the spread in two of three contests. Last week’s offensive performance is a reflection of progress and a sign of trouble for upcoming opponents.
To say the Seminoles are up against a wall here is an understatement. The North Carolina offense is averaging 7.3 yards per play, good for 5th in the nation. They are also gaining 245 yards a game on the ground, led by Michael Williams. The senior has carried the rock 40 times for 413 yards. It doesn’t take a layman like myself to realize that’s an astounding rate of over 10 yards per carry!
This spells disaster for Florida State’s defensive unit. The Seminoles are one of the worst teams in the nation defending the run. Opponents are averaging 6 yards per carry, while the Noles are giving up 238 per contest.
The Heels’ passing attack seems to be getting more dangerous as well. Sophomore sensation Sam Howell is completing over 68 percent of his passes. The 2-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio is worth living with, especially early on in the season. After failing to connect on throws of 20 yards or more through the first few games, Howell made two such plays that resulted in scores versus the Hokies.
The line on this game is hovering around two touchdowns. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see North Carolina cover this easily. It also wouldn’t be a shock to see Florida State get a backdoor cover. The Heels let Virginia Tech hang around despite being in a comfortable position all game.
The play here is to be on North Carolina early in the game. They have led after the first quarter, as well as at the end of each half, in all their games, so far. The Heels even had a three-touchdown lead at the half against a formidable Hokies team. Head coach Mack Brown will have North Carolina motivated to jump on the Noles. Howell will keep the passing game humming, while Williams runs through and around a terrible Florida State defense.
UNC 1H -7 (-110)
Alabama vs. Georgia
8:00 PM, EST
The game of the night is likely to be the game of the year. This tilt provides an intriguing matchup between the nation’s best on both sides of the ball.
Alabama’s offense seems to have improved despite the departure of Tua Tagovailoa. Mac Jones is leading the attack for a unit that averages 8.6 yards per play, by far the best rate in the nation.
The defense, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. The Crimson Tide is giving up 6.1 yards per play, while allowing 473 on average. Pete Golding’s squad is coming off a barn-burner against Ole Miss. Even before Lane Kiffin embarrassed Nick Saban’s defense, the Tide were experiencing unfamiliar struggles on that side of the ball. Alabama finished outside the top-15 in defensive efficiency in 2019. There’s only been one other time a Saban-led Alabama defense has finished in that category.
Even with the Ole Miss game out of the equation, the Tide haven’t executed as well as the scoreboard may indicate. They have a combined third-down conversion rate of 54.5 percent (18 for 33) between games against Missouri and Texas A&M. Kellen Mond and Shawn Robinson also have a combined passer rating of 143 in those contests.
As for Georgia, Kirby Smart is looking to avenge Alabama for the first time as head coach. Smart is winless against his former boss, while the Bulldogs haven’t bested the Tide since 2007.
Georgia brings a balanced offensive attack led by former walk-on Stetson Bennett. The Bulldogs boast a modest 420 yards per contest, while relying on a defense that has the makings of being the best the SEC has seen in quite some time. Smart’s unit has only given up three touchdowns all year. They’ve allowed just 710 yards altogether. Alabama gave up 647 to the Rebels last week.
A high-octane Alabama offense will experience adversity for the first time this season. Collectively, the team may see some struggles in communication and decision-making if Saban is not allowed to coach due to coronavirus protocol. The last time Alabama played without Saban on the sidelines, they lost to Oklahoma State 34-31 in the 2006 Independence Bowl as part of a four-game losing streak.
Even though Georgia’s offense doesn’t possess the potency of Bama’s, they still have play-makers. Kearis Jackson is graded as the best receiver in the conference, according to PFF College. The Bulldogs also have a strong stable of running backs led by Zamir White and James Cook. Don’t be surprised if freshman Kendall Milton bursts on to the scene with a home run play.
Alabama has every right to be favored in this one. But anything more than a field goal favors Georgia. There is simply too much being made of the dichotomy that exists between the quarterbacks in this matchup. If the likes of Robinson and Mond can be efficient against the Tide, so can Bennett. And he doesn’t have to do nearly as much as the aforementioned due to the stable of weapons around him.
I grabbed this play (+6.5) earlier in the week, and was hoping it would see-saw back to its original number by week’s end. It appears with Saban’s questionable status that this number may stabilize where it currently resides. Either way, four points or more should be just fine. Look for Georgia to flirt with an upset and possibly win outright.
Georgia +4.5 (-105)
Other Fan Run picks and predictions: Hayden Wallen: Ole Miss( -1.5), South Carolina (+2.5) Trey Wallace: Georgia (+4.5), South Carolina (+2.5) Billy Williford: UNC (-14.5) AJ Cook: “Fade Mississippi State” Nate Hodges: “I like Ole Miss and Bama”