By RALPH D. RUSSO
The starting positions have been set for the College Football Playoff race. They will get an immediate makeover this weekend.
For the first time in college football history, there will be two games matching teams that are at least 8-0 on the same day, according to ESPN researchers.
Top-ranked LSU visits Alabama to play the first regular-season game matching AP Nos. 1 and 2 since 2011 — when No. 1 LSU beat No. 2 Alabama 9-6 in overtime. The CFP selection committee has LSU and Alabama ranked second and third, respectively, this week, but what fun is that? The Crimson Tide has won eight straight meetings since the last Game of Century in ’11.
Regardless of the numbers, the winner is likely to be (almost) everybody’s No. 1 next week, while the loser will be No. 2 — in the SEC West.
The other big game nobody would have seen coming back in September, when No. 13 Minnesota was barely scraping by against South Dakota State, Georgia Southern and Fresno State. The Gophers, 8-0 for the first time since 1941, host No. 5 Penn State.
The selection committee wasn’t so impressed with Minnesota and ranked the Gophers 17th on Tuesday night, well behind the Nittany Lions (No. 4 CFP).
In a twist, you’ll be able to watch both big games, have a late dinner and still be asleep by 11 p.m. on the East Coast. The Big Ten game is at noon and, for the first time since 2010, LSU-Alabama is an afternoon game, kicking at 3:30 p.m.
Score one for the early to bed, early to rise crowd. The picks:
No. 1 LSU (plus 6) at No. 2 Alabama
Only once since 2007 have the Tigers and Tide combined to reach the 50-point mark; They come into this game averaging a combined 95 points … ALABAMA 35-28.
Maryland (plus 42½) at No. 3 Ohio State
Can Buckeyes DE Chase Young build on his Heisman momentum against an overmatched opponent the way offensive players can? … OHIO STATE 56-10.
No. 4 Clemson (minus 32½) at North Carolina State
Defending national champion Tigers, fifth in the CFP rankings, might be a little ticked … CLEMSON 45-10.
No. 5 Penn State (minus 6½) at No. 13 Minnesota
It is really hard to run against the Nittany Lions; No team in the Big Ten runs more and passes less than the Gophers … PENN STATE 23-17.
Vanderbilt (plus 26½) at No. 6 Florida
Gators are 27-1 against the Commodores dating to 1989 … FLORIDA 42-14.
Missouri (plus 17) at No. 8 Georgia
Tigers QB Kelly Bryant (left leg) is uncertain against the SEC’s No. 1 defense … GEORGIA 28-13.
Iowa State (plus 14½) at No. 10 Oklahoma
Sooners have already taken their almost annual upset as a double-digit favorite. Another one would be devastating … IOWA STATE 35-34, UPSET SPECIAL.
No. 12 Baylor (minus 2) at TCU
Horned Frogs have won four straight in an underrated, old Southwest Conference rivalry … BAYLOR 31-27.
No. 15 Notre Dame (minus 8) at Duke
Blue Devils’ offense is last in the ACC in yards per play at 4.84 … NOTRE DAME 24-13.
No. 18 Iowa (plus 9½) at No. 16 Wisconsin
Hawkeyes are averaging 18.2 points in Big Ten games and that includes 30 against Rutgers … WISCONSIN 16-9.
UConn (plus 35) at No. 17 Cincinnati
Bearcats needed a late rally to escape last week at East Carolina. Shouldn’t be a problem this week … CINCINNATI 45-7.
East Carolina (plus 21) at No. 15 SMU
Pirates have shown some fight, but still have lost four straight … SMU 48-21.
Wyoming (plus 13) at No. 21 Boise State
Cowboys turn to backup QB Tyler Vader Waal after a season-ending injury to Sean Chambers … BOISE STATE 28-17.
No. 22 Kansas State (plus 7) at Texas
A loss here and a 6-6 season becomes a very real possibility for the Longhorns … TEXAS 35-30.
No. 23 Wake Forest (minus 2) at Virginia Tech
Demon Deacons victory sets up a first-place showdown at Clemson next week. How about that? … WAKE FOREST 31-27.
Nevada (plus 17½) at No. 24 San Diego State
Another Rocky Long coached Aztecs team winning with stingy defense … SAN DIEGO STATE 34-13.
Tennessee (minus 1) at Kentucky — @JeffMuirBP
Wildcats WR-turned-QB Lynn Bowden Jr. has run for 499 yards in last three games and has not thrown an interception in 33 attempts … TENNESSEE 21-17.
Appalachian State (plus 5) at South Carolina — @JacksonFrancoi3
Mountaineers go for Carolina sweep after beating North Carolina in September … APPALACHIAN STATE 23-20.
Southern California (plus 1½) at Arizona State — @walkerRcarey
Going to Tempe as USC coach has not always guaranteed returning to campus as USC coach … USC 27-24.
Louisville (plus 6½) at Miami — @laruerobinson
Hurricanes were an unlucky team early in the season and could still finish strong … MIAMI 28-20.
Illinois (plus 15) at Michigan State — @GARandall
One of these teams is on a three-game winning streak and the other on a three-game losing streak, but you wouldn’t know which by the point spread … MICHIGAN STATE 28-17.
Last week: 14-6 straight; 9-10 against the spread.
Season: 172-51 straight; 118-97-6 against the spread.
Upset specials: 3-7 (straight up).
Best bets: 3-6-1 (against the spread).