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College Football Picks 2018: Week Six

(#19) Texas Longhorns vs. (#7) Oklahoma Sooners (neutral site)
Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
For so long, the Red River showdown between Texas and Oklahoma has decided the Big 12 conference, and it appears that could once again be the case in 2018. The Sooners are the three-time defending conference champions, but the Longhorns have recovered nicely from a season-opening loss to Maryland and look like a sincere threat in the conference. Offensively, Oklahoma has picked up right where they left off in 2017 under the leadership of Baker Mayfield, this time with speedster Kyler Murray leading the way. Murray already has 1,460 yards and 21 total touchdowns on the season, and his huge arm is a perfect fit in an OU offense that includes two of the fastest wide receivers in the country in Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb. Oklahoma has absolutely annihilated teams with that vertical passing game all season long, but Texas should offer plenty of resistance. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is well-known for his exotic blitzes and interesting packages, which should put pressure on Murray, who hasn't really faced much of a pass rush all year long. The Sooners are without star running back Rodney Anderson for the entirety of the season, but Trey Sermon has been a worthy backup. With that being said, UT has the second best rush defense in the Big 12, as linebackers Gary Johnson and Breckyn Hager are two of the most consistent tacklers in the conference. Can they contain not only Sermon, but Murray's game-changing mobility? Their ability to contain Murray will determine if the Longhorns come out on top or not. On the other side of the ball, the Sooners' defense has been okay, but still has issues with tackling and letting up big plays. This Longhorns offense doesn't have the big-time playmakers OU possesses, but they find ways to move the ball methodically. QB Sam Ehlinger still has had some growing pains in his second year as starter, but he has underrated mobility and can get the ball down the field. He will rely heavily on the 1-2 punch of Lil'Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson on the outside, but Texas desperately needs a rushing attack to emerge to keep this group more balanced. Outside of California transfer Tre Watson, the 'Horns lack a running back that can really keep the defense's attention. This is a barometer test for Texas and head coach Tom Herman against the best team in the conference, but don't rule out them going into the Cotton Bowl and coming away with a victory. The Longhorns' defense is good enough to contain even the most explosive offense, and the Sooners' defense still leaves a little to be desired. Even so, I like Oklahoma to keep their Playoff hopes alive, as they just have too many weapons to completely stop.
The Pick: Oklahoma, 35 Texas, 23

(#5) LSU Tigers @ (#22) Florida Gators
LSU's resurgence in the second season of Ed Orgeron has been one of the coolest stories of the 2018 season so far, as the Tigers are still the only team in the nation with two wins over Top 10 opponents. However, Orgeron and LSU must now go into Gainesville and square off against a Florida team that is never easy to beat, and looks much improved as well. Perhaps the most important contributor to LSU's improvement this year has been the play of Ohio State grad transfer Joe Burrow at quarterback. Burrow doesn't put up gaudy stats, but he has yet to throw an interception on the season, despite facing some impressive defenses. Receivers Justin Jefferson and Stephen Sullivan offer plenty of playmaking potential on the perimeter, but the Tigers should still stick to their roots and run with Nick Brossette early and often. Florida's defense has been rock-solid for much of the season, but this a good LSU offensive line and they should be able to find yardage. The bigger key for the UF defense is going to be the secondary, which is always turnover-hungry and will look to end Burrow's perfect zero in the INT column. The Gators offense, once among the worst in the SEC and entire country, has made huge strides under Dan Mullen. They already have managed more 40 points in half a season of Mullen than they had in three years of former coach Jim McElwain. Quarterback Feliepe Franks has taken major leaps forward after a rocky 2017, but the real scary thing about this Florida offense is the ground game, which features three different backs that can carry this team at any point in time. Of course, the LSU defense is no slouch, allowing just 15 points per game and trotting out a defensive front that can be incredibly stingy. While that Florida offense will still run the ball, they'll find nothing easy against linebacker Devin White, or a secondary that has stars at nearly every spot. Mullen is going to have to be creative with how he gets Franks into the flow of the game and prevents UF from turning the ball over against this hungry defensive backfield. Even though both teams have much improved offenses from the units they've had in the recent past, I still expect a pretty low-scoring brawl, just because of how strong these defenses are. Going on the road in the SEC is as difficult and treacherous as you can get, but I believe in this LSU team. Maybe they've been a fluke to this point, but they've played with a confidence and energy they haven't had the past few seasons. I think things will be competitive, but I like the Tigers to stay undefeated and add another impressive win to their resume.
The Pick: LSU, 24 Florida, 20

(#6) Notre Dame Fighting Irish @ (#24) Virginia Tech Hokies
Sitting at 5-0 and with impressive victories over Stanford and Michigan, Notre Dame has their eyes on the Playoff. Yet, they can't avoid a trap game against a solid Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg, which is never an easy place to come in and win at. Notre Dame is a defensive-minded team, but that has taken a little twist under new signal-caller Ian Book, who wowed audiences with a masterful showing against a pretty strong Stanford defense. He had 278 yards and four touchdowns, and looked to be in complete control from the first snap. He will once again face a very quality defense in the Hokies' defense, which has a lot of experience and is under the tutelage of long-time coordinator Bud Foster. Book will be aided by a strong supporting cast, namely shifty tailback Tony Jones Jr. and top wide out Miles Boykin, who Book has great chemistry with. Virginia Tech's secondary is still reloading from a rash of injuries and NFL defections over the off-season, so they could be prone to an off game here. On the other side of the ball, the Hokies are also in an interesting spot, as they are without starting quarterback Josh Jackson for the rest of the season after he suffered a broken fibula in their stunning upset loss to Old Dominion. Kansas transfer Ryan Willis has been named the starter in his absence, and looked superb in his first start, shredding Duke's defense for 332 yards and three touchdowns. However, the ND defense is significantly better than Duke's, and he will get nothing easy against this physical Irish defense. Up front, Jerry Tillery has seven sacks on the season and causes consistent chaos, Te'Von Coney keeps things going at linebacker, and the secondary has a lot of experience and depth. Willis will need assistance from his solid ground game, spearheaded by Steven Peoples, as well as help from receiver Damon Hazelton and tight end Dalton Keene. Hazelton and some of the other wide outs have proven they can open up this offense, but this Irish defense is quick and doesn't offer up any free space. The good news is that the young QB will have the home crowd behind him, and they'll be awfully rowdy in such a critical game. Virginia Tech would like nothing more than to finish Notre Dame's perfect season, and I think Willis should be able to be pretty productive. Yet, the Irish are just playing too well right now for me to pick against them at this point, as I see them winning pretty comfortably.
The Pick: Notre Dame, 31 Virginia Tech, 18

Other Picks
(#1) Alabama @ Arkansas: Alabama, 56 Arkansas, 14
(#8) Auburn @ Mississippi State: Auburn, 34 Mississippi State, 27
Nebraska @ (#16) Wisconsin: Wisconsin, 38 Nebraska, 20
Florida State @ (#17) Miami: Miami, 31 Florida State, 17
(#13) Kentucky @ Texas A&M: Texas A&M, 28 Kentucky, 24

Current Picks Record: 32-8

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