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MC&J: USC looks to strengthen their case for the CFP when they host Notre Dame

If the Trojans win their next two games it’ll be hard to keep them out of the playoff. Plus, picks for seven other national contests this weekend.

USC Trojans defeated the UCLA Bruins 48-45 during a NCAA Football game at the Rose Bowl. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Last week ATS: 3-10-1 (3-4 B1G, 0-6-1 National)

Season ATS: 85-92-4 (41-47-1 B1G, 44-44-3 National)

Last week was a tough week. Maybe I was looking ahead like some of the top teams in the country were. We won’t dwell on the losses too long, since there is a ton of football this weekend, and even less time than normal to prepare for it.

National games (All games Saturday unless otherwise noted):

(All lines courtesy of Draftkings Sportsbook.)

Mississippi State v. No. 20 Ole Miss (-2.5) - Thursday 7:00 p.m. - ESPN

The Egg Bowl is always a fun appetizer for the loaded slate of football we get Thanksgiving weekend. The battle for the Magnolia State has gotten even spicier over the last few years, with Ole Miss hiring Lane Kiffin and Mississippi State countering with Mike Leach. It’s even more hilarious that Elijah Moore pretending to pee like a dog after scoring a touchdown in 2019 essentially resulted in the hiring of both coaches.

Neither team comes in playing good football of late. Ole Miss has lost three of their last four, while the Bulldogs have dropped three of their last five. Even though the Rebels haven’t been playing very well of late, I trust them more than Mississippi State here. It seems like all the Bulldogs can do is throw the football, and they have struggled to do that lately against any team with a pulse. Ole Miss should be able to wear out their rival with a balanced attack, much like LSU did to Mississippi State earlier in the season.

Ole Miss 34, Mississippi State 23

No. 19 Tulane v. No. 24 Cincinnati (-2) - Friday 12:00 p.m. - ABC

Whoever wins this game is going to be a serious contender for the New Year’s Six Group of Five spot. Really though, we might see this same matchup next week in the American Conference Championship Game. If UCF loses to South Florida, the loser will secure second spot in the conference, since both have already beaten Houston.

There is a simple reason I like Cincinnati here. The Bearcats have been in this position before. The Bearcats have only lost one game in each of the last three years, with two of those losses coming to SEC teams in bowl/playoff games. Luke Fickell has been through the grind so much during his time at Ohio State as an assistant, as well as during his time with the Bearcats. Tulane has been a great story this year, but Cincinnati wins because of their experience in big games.

Cincinnati 27, Tulane 17

South Carolina v. No. 8 Clemson (-14.5) - 12:00 p.m. - ABC

South Carolina just laid a whoopin’ on a ranked team in orange. Maybe the Gamecocks just pretended that Tennessee was Clemson. Prior to last week’s game, quarterback Spencer Rattler had thrown just three touchdowns in his previous four games, and actually had more interceptions on the season than touchdowns passes. Against the Volunteers, Rattler threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns.

Clemson is going provide a stiffer test — at least defensively — than South Carolina saw week. The Tigers aren’t quite as good on defense as they have been in recent years, though. Dabo Swinney’s team has rebounded with a couple of rather easy wins after the loss to Notre Dame, and next week they’ll play in the ACC Championship Game against North Carolina.

The Tigers have dominated this series lately, winning the last seven meetings with the Gamecocks. Clemson wins this game, I just don’t think it’ll be by more than two touchdowns. South Carolina has some confidence after last week, and it’ll be interesting to see if Rattler can build on his tremendous game against Tennessee.

Clemson 35, South Carolina 27

No. 9 Oregon (-3) v. No. 21 Oregon State - 3:30 p.m. - ABC

Oregon State has quietly had a really good season. The three losses for the Beavers have come to USC, Utah, and Washington. Their only loss by more than a field goal was against Utah. Oregon State already has eight wins this year, which is their most since they won nine games in 2012.

Oregon probably has to be wondering what could have been. If the Ducks didn’t lose to Washington by a field goal a couple weeks ago, they would be in line to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game next week against USC with a spot in the CFP possibly on the line. Oregon still heads to Las Vegas next week with a win, they just won’t have quite as much on the line.

While the Beavers are better defensively, Oregon is so much more dynamic on offense. After Chance Nolan started the season at quarterback, Ben Gulbranson has started the last six contests for Oregon State. Gulbranson has only thrown for more than 200 yards twice, putting more pressure on running back Damien Martinez. Even though this game is in Corvallis, it is hard to see Oregon State keeping pace with Oregon, even if Bo Nix is still gimpy from an ankle injury.

Oregon 38, Oregon State 24

Iowa State v. No. 4 TCU (-10.5) - 4:00 p.m. - FOX

I get that TCU has been playing with a lot of fire lately. Three of the last four games for the Horned Frogs have been on the road, which could explain some of their lack of real convincing wins lately. It’s not like Baylor and Texas, who were the last two opponents for TCU, are awful teams. The Horned Frogs handled their business on the road against the Longhorns a couple weeks ago, before beating the clock last week in the 29-28 win over the Bears.

Iowa State has not been an easy watch this season. The Cyclones have scored more than 30 points in a game just twice, with two of those scoring bonanzas coming against Southeast Missouri State and Ohio. The defense for Iowa State has been solid, but Hunter Dekkers is an interception machine, tossing 13 picks so far this year, putting even more pressure on the defense.

Maybe the Cyclones get up for this game since they have a chance to ruin TCU’s season. It’s not like they have much else to play for, since they don’t have a shot at getting to six wins. I would be a little more inclined to side with Iowa State if they were at home. The Horned Frogs breathe a little easier this week and win by at least two touchdowns.

TCU 35, Iowa State 17

No. 5 LSU (-10) v. Texas A&M - 7:00 p.m. - ESPN

Good thing Texas A&M paid Jimbo Fisher $95 million! The Aggies are 4-7 heading into this game, with two of their wins coming against college football powerhouses Sam Houston State and UMass. Texas A&M has scored over 30 points just once this year, and that came in the 31-0 win in the opener against Sam Houston State.

While Jimbo is ready for this season to be over so he can spend some time on his ranches and plot the next step in his grift, LSU still has a lot to play for. The Tigers head to Atlanta to take on Georgia next week in the SEC Championship Game, and if they beat the Bulldogs they could possibly find themselves in the College Football Playoff. Jayden Daniels continues his outstanding play against an uninspired Texas A&M squad.

LSU 41, Texas A&M 20

No. 15 Notre Dame v. No. 6 USC (-5.5) - 7:30 p.m. - ABC

Can Notre Dame eliminate another team from the College Football Playoff? Things were a but different earlier this month when they took on an overrated Clemson team at home. Now the Fighting Irish have to head to Los Angeles to take on a Heisman Trophy candidate. Drew Pyne has done a great job taking over for an injured Tyler Buchner, tossing 19 touchdown passes this year.

USC has righted the ship after losing 43-42 to Utah last month, and followed the loss up with two close wins over Arizona and Cal. It feels like last week we saw a USC team that is capable of making the playoff. They’ll lose in a semifinal because Lincoln Riley loves losing in CFP semifinals, but at least they are in position to make it there! The Trojans got a little scarier now that Jordan Addison is back healthy.

The Fighting Irish have had a nice stretch, recovering from a real tough start to the season. Unfortunately for Marcus Freeman, his team is going to be outmatched by the Trojans here. Even though USC has some issues on defense, Caleb Williams will more than make up for any lapses. The Trojans head to the Pac-12 Championship Game next week with a very real shot at becoming the first team from the conference to make the CFP since 2016.

USC 37, Notre Dame 24

No. 13 Washington (-2) v. Washington State - 10:30 p.m. - ESPN

It feels like the Huskies and Cougars have both overachieved this year. Washington feels a little bit ahead of schedule, while it seems like any year where you have a shot at getting at least eight wins is a good year in Pullman. Of course, none of that really matters if you lose the Apple Cup.

Lately Washington State has been able to get fat on the weaker part of their schedule, beating Stanford, Arizona State, and Arizona in their last three games. Cam Ward has had a strong season, throwing 21 touchdowns, pairing with Wisconsin transfer running back Nakia Watson, who has rushed for five of his seven touchdowns this year over the last three games.

As good as Ward has been, Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been even better. The Indiana transfer is on the verge of throwing for 4,000 yards this year. The Huskies have an outside shot at making the Pac-12 title game, but they are going to need some help to get to Las Vegas. In a game with a short line, I think Washington is the better team and gets some revenge after the Cougars won 40-13 in Seattle last year.

Washington 42, Washington State 31

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.