By Brad Carroll
The College Football Playoff came into clear focus this week for the first time, perhaps ever. The clueless Playoff committee did get a ton of help in getting there, however, as a couple of teams felt the sting of their first losses (Oklahoma State and Ohio State) and another (Notre Dame) was so bad in a victory there was no choice but to drop them out of the final four. But, still, for the committee to get the rankings right for once was a shocker in and of itself.
Nobody can complain with Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Iowa being the final four as of now. And even if you're a fan of Michigan State, the fact remains you'll get your shot if you win the rest of the games on your schedule. Baylor, too, could slip in if things break in its direction as well, including a win over TCU and a loss by Oklahoma, both on Saturday. So, even the "outsiders" have a realistic shot.
The Playoff might have a solid look to it now, but there is still plenty of football left to be played, and with this being Thanksgiving week, there is a group of Friday games to go along with the usual Saturday helping of big-time matchups. Below we preview, analyze and our college football experts pick the Friday games against the point spread. Check back for our Saturday previews and selections and make sure to follow us on Twitter. And, it's Thanksgiving, so we'll say thank you for following us by following you back.
No. 15 Navy at Houston, 12 p.m., ABC
The Spread: Navy +1; Houston -1
Analysis: If Navy was part of a bigger conference, it would be getting serious College Football Playoff consideration right now. The only loss for the Mids this season came against Notre Dame on the road. They also won at then-No. 13 Memphis, 45-20. Navy also has a Heisman trophy candidate in quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who is more a threat to run than pass, but can do both well, making him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. He has Navy within one win of the program record for victories in a season, with 10, and could start 10-1 for the first time since 1905. If Navy wins this game they will also play in the AAC championship game, where the winner will likely get a berth into a huge bowl game. Standing in Navy's way is Houston, who was a perfect 10-0 going into last week's game against UConn. So, of course, the Cougars are 11-0 now, right? Well, wrong, as the Huskies pulled off the 20-17 shocker. Houston can still play in the conference title game with a win here, but are reeling not only after its first loss, but from the possible loss of its quarterback, too. Greg Ward Jr. barely played against UConn and the differences showed in the Cougars' offense, as they notched just 17 against a sub-par team. On the season, Houston averages 41.1 points per game. With Ward at least somewhat hobbled from that ankle injury, and the special run Navy is on, this one is going to be all Mids.
Brad's Score: Navy 35, Houston 31 (upset pick)
Craig's Score: Navy 31, Houston 28 (upset pick)
Glenn's Score: Navy 35, Houston 13 (upset pick)
Matt's Score: Navy 35, Houston 20 (upset pick)
No. 4 Iowa at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m., ABC
The Spread: Iowa -2.5; Nebraska +2.5
Analysis: Iowa finally has the respect it deserves from the College Football Playoff committee, currently holding a spot in the final four. Of course, as one of only two undefeated teams in the country, Iowa had to be guaranteed a spot. The work is far from over for the Hawkeyes, however, as they have to win what should be a tough road game here against Nebraska and then the Big Ten championship against either Michigan State, Ohio State or Michigan. Win those two and Iowa is a no-doubt choice for the Playoff. Lose either and the Hawkeyes will be eliminated. Last year, this new rivalry game with Nebraska was a thriller, with the Cornhuskers coming from 17 points down to eventually win in overtime, 37-34. Nebraska is just 5-6 this season but won't go down easily, as it has won three of the four matchups with Iowa since it joined the Big Ten, and it also knocked Michigan State from the ranks of the unbeatens earlier this season. Nebraska has won two straight, against MSU and Rutgers, but lost four of its previous five games, against Illinois, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Purdue, not exactly a who's who of the Big Ten. Iowa's dream season may not come to fruition with a Playoff berth, but the Hawkeyes will keep that dream alive for at least another week.
Brad's Score: Iowa 24, Nebraska 21
Craig's Score: Iowa 28, Nebraska 17
Glenn's Score: Iowa 27, Nebraska 20
Matt's Score: Iowa 28, Nebraska 10
Oregon State at No. 17 Oregon, 4 p.m., FS1
The Spread: Oregon State +35; Oregon -35
Analysis: Oregon is finally playing like the Ducks we all remember, while Oregon State is playing like one of the worst teams in the nation, so it's no surprise the spread is as high as it is in this game. Oregon is 8-3, a down season by its standards, but have five in a row, including big victories over Stanford and Southern Cal the last two weeks. The win over Stanford knocked the Cardinal out of the Playoff hunt for now. The way the Ducks are playing, finally finding their high-powered offense again, is a far cry from the team that was 3-3 and hit rock bottom with a home loss to Washington State. Oregon will get another chance to prove how far its come from those dark days just weeks ago in a rivalry game against Oregon State. The Beavers are 2-9 but have lost eight straight games, including a 52-7 defeat to Washington last week at home. If the Huskies can put up 52 points on the Beavers, imagine what Oregon can do?
Brad's Score: Oregon 56, Oregon State 10
Craig's Score: Oregon 48, Oregon State 20
Glenn's Score: Oregon 54, Oregon State 17
Matt's Score: Oregon 56, Oregon State 17
No. 7 Baylor at No. 19 TCU, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Baylor -1.5; TCU +1.5
Analysis: Unfortunately, the hits keep coming for Baylor, who will be starting its third string quarterback the rest of the season. Sophomore Chris Johnson should be under center for a Bears team now missing star quarterback Seth Russell and freshman Jarrett Stidham, who played very well in a victory over previously undefeated Oklahoma State last week. Even with the quarterback quandary, the stakes couldn't be higher for the Bears, who could still slip into the College Football Playoff with a victory here and get some help elsewhere, starting with a loss by Oklahoma to Oklahoma State Saturday night. If those two things happen, Baylor would be the Big 12 champion and could take Oklahoma's current spot in the Playoff's final four. There would also be the task of jumping Notre Dame and the fact Baylor would still have to beat Texas the week after this game against TCU. Despite missing Trevonne Boykin and Josh Doctson, TCU nearly upset Oklahoma last week, missing on a two-point conversion that would have won the game. Boykin is still questionable to play, which could mean this game will be played on even ground, with non-starters under center. If Boykin plays, TCU will be that much better. But Baylor has everything to play for, and with three star wide receivers and an equally good running back, the Bears will win a high-scoring, close game.
Brad's Score: Baylor 49, TCU 45
Craig's Score: Baylor 42, TCU 35
Glenn's Score: TCU 45, Baylor 38 (upset pick)
Matt's Score: Baylor 49, TCU 42