Welcome to Baker’s Breakdown where I will be previewing some of the big college football matchups each week. With conference play largely beginning this week, it’s time to see what schools are contenders or pretenders.
#12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at #18 Wisconsin Badgers
Former Badger quarterback Jack Coan leads the Irish (3-0) into neutral territory in a homecoming game against his former school. Coan transferred to Notre Dame this past offseason after losing the starting job to sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz. Even though the Irish come in with a record of 3-0, they have yet to look like the team that made the College Football Playoff last Winter. The Irish were able to squeak by against Florida State and Toledo thanks to some late-game heroics by Coan, but they must play better in order to beat Wisconsin. The Irish will need a balanced attack on offense and a big game from star running back Kyren Williams when attacking a stout Badger defense which ranks second in yards allowed per game.
For the Badgers (1-1), Mertz will look to turn around a poor start to the season which has seen him throw no touchdowns and two interceptions. He will look to find his favorite target, Danny Davis III and will need to avoid throwing in the direction of Irish safely Kyle Hamilton, who leads the FBS with three interceptions. Hamilton is the one bright spot for a defense that has struggled in its first few games. Running back Chez Mellusi will have a big game against a team that has failed to consistently stop the run so far this season and will lead the Badgers to the win at Solider Field.
Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Notre Dame 20
#7 Texas A&M Aggies at #16 Arkansas Razorbacks
The upstart Razorbacks (3-0) open up SEC play at home against the Aggies (3-0). This is the start of a brutal four-game stretch for the Razorbacks in which they play all ranked opponents. The Razorbacks bring a top 10 running game into this matchup led by running back Trelon Smith and dynamic quarterback KJ Jefferson. Second-year head coach Sam Pittman will need to get creative with his playcalling against a strong Aggies defense that has only given up two touchdowns on the year. The A&M defense, led by lineman DeMarvin Leal, will look to contain Jefferson in the pocket and force him to throw the ball downfield.
The Aggies have turned to backup quarterback Zach Calzada after their starter, freshman Haynes King, injured his leg vs. Colorado. He was able to lead the Aggies from behind against the Buffaloes, and threw for three touchdowns in a shutout win against New Mexico, but will have his hands full against the Razorbacks. Calzada needs to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers. Running back Isiah Spiller and tight end Jalen Wydermyer will need to make big plays if they want to come away with a victory. Calzada’s lack of experience will cost him as the Razorbacks pull off the upset.
Prediction: Arkansas 24, Texas A&M 21
#24 UCLA Bruins at Stanford Cardinal
The Bruins (2-1) look to bounce back after a heartbreaking loss to Fresno State against the Cardinal (2-1) in Palo Alto. After starting the season with wins against Hawaii and LSU, the Bruins lost a shootout to a good Fresno State team at home. They have a great opportunity to get back in the win column against a Cardinal team that has really turned it around after benching senior Jack West for sophomore Tanner McKee. He has really shined as the starter for the Cardinal leading them to two road victories over USC and Vanderbilt. He has thrown for four touchdowns without turning the ball over in those starts. Although Stanford likes to run the ball, they will need wide receivers Brycen Tremayne and Elijah Higgins step up against a lackluster secondary as the strength of the UCLA defense is their ability to stop the run.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson should have equal success against a poor Stanford defense. Running backs Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet should have huge holes to run through against a defense that gives up over 200 yards per game on the ground. UCLA will outpace Stanford just enough for them to take home the victory.
Prediction: UCLA 38, Stanford 34
West Virginia Mountaineers at #4 Oklahoma Sooners
The Mountaineers (2-1) travel to Norman to take on fourth ranked Sooners (3-0) to open Big 12 play. The Mountaineers are coming off a big win over Virginia Tech and hope to carry that momentum into their matchup against the Sooners. The Sooners have looked shaky this season despite their undefeated record. West Virginia is led by senior quarterback Jarret Doege who has had a strong start to the season but will need to work on limiting turnovers (four turnovers in three games) if he wants to guide his team to the upset win. While running back Leddie Brown might not have too much success running the ball against a tough Sooner front seven, Doege will have no problem airing the ball out against subpar secondary.
Top NFL Prospect and Heisman-hopeful Spencer Rattler leads a high powered Sooner offense into this matchup. Rattler has not dissapointed this season, completeing 75% of his passes coupled with nine total touchdowns through three games. Look for him to find his favorite targets Marvin Mims and Jadon Hasselwood on the outside. I like the Sooners in this one but don’t be surprised if the Mountaineers pull off the upset.
Prediction: Oklahoma 30, WVU 24
#9 Clemson Tigers at NC State Wolfpack
Dabo Swinney and the Tigers (2-1) travel north to take on the Wolfpack (2-1). Clemson has bounced back from an opening weekend loss to #2 Georgia with back to back wins, but quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has yet to look like the quarterback that filled in for Trevor Lawrence last fall. He has only completed 59% of his passes and has only one touchdown pass on the year. Despite Uiagalelei’s struggles, the shorthanded Wolfpack defense will still have their hands full with a dynamic Tiger offense. The Wolfpack lost preseason All-ACC Linebacker Payton Wilson and safety Cyrus Fagan to season ending injuries and will need the rest of the defense to step up in order to stop the Tigers.
On the other side of the ball for the Wolfpack, sophomore quarterback Devin Leary will need to step up against a Clemson defense that has been lights out all season. They have forced four turnovers and have yet to give up a touchdown on the year. Leary will need to lean on running back Zonovan Knight in order to shorten the game and keep the ball away from Clemson’s playmakers on offense.
Although Clemson doesn’t look like the same team has made the college football playoff the past six seasons, but they are still the best team in the ACC. Tigers should cruise in a blowout.
Prediction: Clemson 31, NC State 9