Big non-conference games headline weekend schedule

AP College Football Picks

The first few weeks of the season often set the tone for which conference will be deemed best for the rest of the season.

It’s a debate that can be both fun and tedious. Does it really matter whether Kentucky is better than California when it comes time to figure out if the Pac-12 champion should be in the College Football Playoff?

The Southeastern Conference, which has touted itself on being No. 1 for years (and is usually correct), got off to a great start in week one going 13-1 with four victories against other Power Five conference teams. The Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 combined for four Power Five nonconference victories.

This week, nine nonconference games match Power Five teams, including No. 2 Clemson at Texas A&M (ACC vs. SEC); UCLA at No. 6 Oklahoma (Pac-12 vs. Big 12); No. 13 Penn State at Pitt (Big Ten vs. ACC); No. 15 Michigan State at Arizona State; and No. 18 Mississippi State at Kansas State (SEC vs. Big 12).

There are also numerous opportunities for teams from the Group of Five to make a statement against Power Five opponents. For those conferences, competing against each other for a spot in the New Year’s Six bowls, notable nonconference victories can help separate the competition. The big ones this week include: Georgia Tech at South Florida (ACC vs. AAC); Arkansas at Colorado State (SEC vs. Mountain West); and Utah at Northern Illinois (Pac-12 vs. MAC).

It’s never too early to build those resumes.

The picks:

No. 16 TCU (-21¢) at SMU (Friday): The Horned Frogs have won six straight in the crosstown Battle for the Iron Skillet … TCU 49-21, Best bet.

Arkansas State (+36¢) at No. 1 Alabama: Arkansas State is getting $1.7 million for this game, so don’t feel too bad … Alabama 45-14.

No. 2 Clemson (-12) at Texas A&M: The first big test for Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies comes too soon … Clemson 35-17.

No. 3 Georgia (-10) at No. 24 South Carolina: Bulldogs have won three straight and four of five in the traditional early SEC opener … Georgia 35-21.

Rutgers (+35) at No. 4 Ohio State: Scarlet Knights have not scored against the Buckeyes since 2015 and have lost all four since joining the Big Ten by a combined 219-24. … Ohio State 55-8.

New Mexico (+35¢)at No. 5 Wisconsin: Can the Lobos’ option frustrate the Badgers’ typically stingy defense? … Wisconsin 48-20.

UCLA (+30) at No. 6 Oklahoma: If the Bruins couldn’t handle Cincinnati in the Rose Bowl last week, can’t expect them to be ready to compete with the Sooners … Oklahoma 49-21.

Ball State (+34¢) at No. 8 Notre Dame: Good week for the Fighting Irish to get their new running backs confidence and carries … Notre Dame 52-13.

No. 17 Southern California (+5¢) at No. 10 Stanford: Cardinal star Bryce Love had 285 yards on 39 carries and two touchdowns in two games against the Trojans last season, both losses … Stanford 31-27.

No. 13 Penn State (-8¢) at Pittsburgh: It’s a cool old-school rivalry that the Nittany Lions don’t love because there is little for Penn State to gain these days by beating Pitt and a lot to lose … Penn State 35-28.

No. 15 Michigan State (-5¢) at Arizona State: Sun Devils are 9-0 against Big Ten teams in Tempe, not including losses to Nebraska and Penn State before they were in the conference … Arizona State 34-27, Upset special.

No. 18 Mississippi State (-9¢) at Kansas State: The Wildcats barely escaped an FCS upset last week but expect a better effort from Bill Snyder’s bunch … Mississippi State 28-21.

UConn (+31) at No. 20 Boise State: Poor Huskies go from UCF to the Blue Turf … Boise State 45-10.

Western Michigan (+28) at No. 21 Michigan: Shea Patterson and the Wolverines should be able to work out the kinks in that offense. Right?? … Michigan 48-16.

Kentucky (+13¢) at No. 25 Florida: Gators’ winning streak against the Wildcats is at 31 …Florida 28-20.

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Duke (+3) at Northwestern: Fourth straight season for the Grad Rate Bowl, where Northwestern (99 percent) was No. 1 in most recent football rankings and Duke (96 percent) was tied for third … Duke 24-21.

Iowa State (+4) at Iowa: Officially dubbed the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk series just in case corn did not already come to mind when these two play … Iowa 28-21.

Colorado (+4) at Nebraska: Fascinating opener for Scott Frost’s Huskers after last week’s game was canceled. You would think the Buffs should have the edge on continuity alone … Colorado 31-24.

Arizona (+4¢) at Houston: Bet QB Khalil Tate has more than eight rushing attempts for the Wildcats this week; All-America DT Ed Oliver will be waiting for the Cougars … Arizona 35-31.

Record last week: 16-5 straight; 12-8-1 against the spread.

Upset specials: 1-0 (straight up).

Best bets: 1-0 (against the spread).­