Ohio State limped through the middle part of the regular season. It survived one-point wins at Penn State and Maryland, played competitive games against Minnesota and Nebraska and lost by 29 at Purdue.
Many questioned whether Urban Meyer would remain the Buckeyes’ coach beyond this season.
Yet as the calendar turns to December, Ohio State (11-1) is one of six teams with a legitimate chance to win the national championship.
The Buckeyes will need help to make the College Football Playoff. But they can help themselves by beating Northwestern (8-4) as thoroughly as possible Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Wildcats’ statistical profile reflects a team that should be 6-6. Northwestern lost to Akron and won seven games by 10 points or less, including an 18-15 win at Rutgers. I don’t have Northwestern in my top 40, and the talent advantage and motivation Ohio State enjoys will lead to a big win. I like the Buckeyes as 14½-point favorites.
Four more plays (home team in CAPS):
Georgia (+13) over Alabama: This is a good matchup for the Bulldogs. Alabama’s defense has allowed explosive plays against the run, and D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield are each on track to run for 1,000 yards on almost 7 yards per carry. Georgia’s pass defense ranks second in the country in marginal explosiveness and will force Alabama to put together actual drives. The Bulldogs have a considerable special teams advantage. I expect Alabama to win by 10 points at the most.
BOISE STATE (Pick) over Fresno State: After a 3-2 start, Boise State has won seven consecutive games. The Broncos probably aren’t going to make a New Year’s Six game, so this might be senior quarterback Brett Rypien’s biggest chance to impress on a national postseason stage. He’s completing 68.8 percent of his passes and could reach 4,000 yards passing. Fresno State leans on ball security (plus-14 turnover margin) and defense (fourth in rushing in the S&P+ ratings). But the Bulldogs don’t have enough offense to outscore Rypien on the road.
Oklahoma (-8) over Texas: This line is getting depressed by two things: Tom Herman’s 12-1 ATS record as an underdog and Texas’ 48-45 win over Oklahoma this season. The Sooners averaged 9.2 yards per play to the Longhorns’ 6.7 ypp in that game, but two of the Sooners’ three turnovers led to short scoring drives. That game took place in Austin; Saturday’s is at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The S&P+ ratings project Oklahoma to win the rematch by 15½ points. The Sooners are happy getting into a high-scoring game because Kyler Murray and the offense are going to land more haymakers. This line should be double digits.
Marshall (+3½) over VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies’ beleaguered defense ran on adrenaline in the first half against rival Virginia last week before collapsing into its usual form. But Virginia Tech held on for a 34-31 win and a chance to extend its bowl streak with an added game against Marshall. The Thundering Herd feature a stout rush defense that is capable of shutting down a Hokies team that doesn’t run well. It will be up to Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis to win this game with his arm, as the Hokies defense isn’t good enough to stifle Marshall, which is the better team and should be favored.
Last week: 4-1 against the spread
Christopher Smith of AL.com, NOLA.com and MyBookie is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow@cfblocksmith on Twitter.