Four teams in the top 10 of the first College Football Playoff rankings will put their championship hopes on the line against top-tier competition in Week 10, and while all are favored to win, it's a rare Saturday that all goes according to plan. So, if someone has to take an 'L' and wave goodbye to playoff dreams, who's it going to be?
Alabama at LSU
LSU's chance at an upset: 21.6 percent according to FPI
How do we even begin to dream up a scenario in which things go bad for Alabama? Everything has gone oh-so-right through nine weeks that it's hard even guess at a formula that would translate to someone upending the Tide's march toward another national title. But perhaps that's the real weakness for Bama -- not so much the rat poison coming from the outside, but the fact that Tua Tagovailoa and Co. simply haven't been really challenged yet. As Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." And to be sure, this LSU defense can do a little mouth-punching.
The Tigers' pass rush will be among the best Alabama sees this year, and while Tagovailoa is remarkable, he's slightly less remarkable under pressure. Tagovailoa is completing just 46 percent of his throws with his lone turnover (a sack-fumble) when under pressure, compared to a nearly 80 percent completion percentage when not pressured.
And Greedy Williams will be by far Tagovailoa's biggest nemesis this season, too. Opposing QBs are just 4-for-25 with three interceptions when targeting Williams this year, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Of course, none of that addresses the question of how LSU manages to score on Alabama's defense. But hey, one step at a time.
Georgia at Kentucky
Kentucky's chance at an upset: 19 percent according to FPI
The scenario for a Wildcats upset is actually pretty easy to draw up: Just follow the blueprint LSU set forth three weeks ago. UK's defense has been every bit as good as LSU's, after all, with Josh Allen utterly tormenting opposing O-linemen and the Wildcats leading the nation in scoring defense. Meanwhile, even in what passed for an offensive explosion against Florida, Georgia still struggled to run the ball at key moments and failed on 10 plays inside the 7 to put the ball in the end zone. Kentucky's game plan is simple: Get after Jake Fromm, keep the scoring low, have a chance to win in the end. It's worked for the Wildcats so far, and it's as suitable a blueprint for UGA as anything.
Michigan vs. Penn State
Penn State's chance at an upset: 31.4 percent according to FPI
The Nittany Lions are two plays away from being the team with playoff dreams in this matchup. A late collapse against Ohio State and a final-drive failure vs. Michigan State blemished the record for a team that, based on the underlying metrics, still looks like one of the country's best. So there's little doubt Penn State can compete with Michigan. The question is, can anyone really push around the Wolverines' defense? Trace McSorley's athleticism might be the best bet for such a job. Sure, he can sling it downfield, but his ability to get outside the pocket and make yards with his legs give him a weapon that could confound one of the most blitz-happy defenses in the country. And while the Wolverines have been exceptional at stifling opposing QBs -- they lead the nation in opposing passer rating -- they've also not played anyone as talented as McSorley. And on the flip side, Penn State's D is allowing just 4.7 yards per dropback to opposing QBs, meaning Shea Patterson is in for his biggest test of the season.
Notre Dame at Northwestern
Northwestern's chance at an upset: 27.8 percent according to FPI
How has Northwestern pulled off any of its upsets? The Wildcats have wins over Purdue, Michigan State and Wisconsin -- none expected. But they also have losses to Duke and Akron and went to overtime with Nebraska -- arguably even less expected. So who's the real Northwestern? If the recent four-game winning streak is a little smoke-and-mirrors, it's augmented by a legitimately tough defense and an offense that, while far from spectacular, has done a nice job of making plays at just the right moments.
Ian Book has certainly helped change Notre Dame's offense from a play-action oriented system to a more dynamic threat, but Northwestern's D will be his biggest test. So the game plan for the Wildcats is the same as it is every week -- play stifling defense, then convert a few big plays that swing the game.
Which contender is most likely to lose this week?— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 29, 2018
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