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Georgia at Clemson, LSU at UCLA and more

Georgia at Clemson, LSU at UCLA and more

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Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) drops back to pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Clemson, S.C. (Josh Morgan/Pool Photo via AP)

Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei will lead No. 3 Clemson into the showdown against No. 5 Georgia. (Josh Morgan / Associated Press)

Each week, the Los Angeles Times’ national college sports reporter J. Brady McCollough will pick the week’s eight best games — that have a combination of big-brand intrigue and a spread within a touchdown — plus the USC and UCLA games.

Boise State at Central Florida (Thursday)

Two new head coaches face off in this battle of the two Group of Five programs that have come closest to reaching national power status in different stretches. Boise State’s Andy Avalos, the former defensive coordinator at Oregon, matches wits with Gus Malzahn, the former Auburn coach and maligned offensive mind. In what should be Thursday night’s most entertaining game, I like Central Florida at home with the experience of quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Central Florida 31, Boise State 28

No. 10 North Carolina at Virginia Tech (Friday)

This game should lead to a fascinating Friday night. North Carolina is supposed to take the next step as a title contender in Year 3 under Mack Brown, with Heisman Trophy candidate Sam Howell leading the Tar Heels. Virginia Tech needs a big win to bring some life to Justin Fuente’s program. Sadly for the Hokies, their insane fans won’t be able to cover North Carolina’s talented young receivers, Josh Downs and Khafre Brown. North Carolina 38, Virginia Tech 30

Stanford vs Kansas State (Arlington, Texas)

The Pac-12’s battle for national respect begins early Saturday with Stanford traveling to AT&T Stadium to face a disgruntled Kansas State program that didn’t move the meter for the Pac-12 as it considered expansion. Two talented young running backs — Stanford’s Austin Jones and Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn — should star in a game that will be won in the trenches by … the Wildcats. Kansas State 24, Stanford 20

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No. 19 Penn State at No. 12 Wisconsin

A rematch of the 2016 Big Ten championship game won by Penn State features two motivated teams after a wasted 2020. One program is about to take off again quickly in 2021. Look for Camp Randall Stadium and the steady Badgers defense to prevail. Wisconsin 28, Penn State 21

No. 17 Indiana at No. 18 Iowa

Indiana receiver Ty Fryfogle catches a pass for a touchdown over Ohio State defensive back Shaun Wade

Indiana receiver Ty Fryfogle catches a pass for a touchdown over Ohio State defensive back Shaun Wade on Nov. 21 in Columbus, Ohio. (Jay LaPrete / Associated Press)

Not many programs got a bigger jolt from the pandemic-plagued season than Indiana, but can the Hoosiers follow it up and stay in the top tier of the Big Ten East? A brutal opening test at Iowa awaits. Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr. and Ty Fryfogle formed one of the best pass-and-catch duos in the country a year ago, and USC transfer Stephen Carr could give the offense another dimension. Indiana 27, Iowa 23

San Jose State at No. 15 USC

Opening with the defending Mountain West champion is just the challenge USC needs if it wants to prove it can handle its business like a potential Pac-12 champion. San Jose State has a “super senior” quarterback in Nick Starkel, who has seen it all and won’t be fazed by the ambiance of the Coliseum. But Kedon Slovis has spent the whole offseason hearing about his pedestrian 2020, and he’ll be looking to show he’s a potential top pick in the 2022 NFL draft. USC 34, San Jose State 17

Oregon State at Purdue

The Beavers showed some spunk last year in upsetting rival Oregon. To follow that up, they swiped Colorado’s starting quarterback Sam Noyer from the transfer portal. Noyer had a quick impact on the Buffaloes and should do the same for Oregon State. But Purdue’s passing game featuring underrated receiver David Bell will be tough for the Beavers to stop. Purdue 38, Oregon State 28

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No. 5 Georgia at No. 3 Clemson

Two quarterbacks who starred at rival Southern California powerhouses — JT Daniels of Mater Dei and DJ Uiagalelei of St. John Bosco — lead their teams into the top showdown of the nonconference slate. The quarterback who can best handle what the opposing defense, each loaded with former blue-chip recruits, is going to throw at them will win the day and nearly book a spot in the playoff. Georgia feels like it’s on the verge of something special, but Clemson just knows how to win these games. Clemson 27, Georgia 24

No. 16 Louisiana State at UCLA

LSU quarterback Max Johnson passes during a game against Florida on Dec. 12 in Gainesville, Fla.

LSU quarterback Max Johnson passes during a game against Florida on Dec. 12 in Gainesville, Fla. (John Raoux / Associated Press)

UCLA is the team with the most national upward mobility Saturday. Coming off a trouncing of Hawaii in the opener, a win over LSU would vault Chip Kelly’s Bruins into the top 25 for the first time in his tenure. The Tigers were displaced by Hurricane Ida and had to practice in Houston this week. They’ll bring an underdog mentality, too, after a rough 2020. Can the Bruins’ defense disrupt sophomore LSU starting quarterback Max Johnson enough to give Dorian Thompson-Robinson time to figure out how to move the ball on the Tigers? It’s a lot to ask. LSU 35, UCLA 31

Nevada at California

If Cal wants to challenge Oregon and Washington at the top of the Pac-12 North, this needs to be the year with veteran quarterback Chase Garbers back for one more. Justin Wilcox’s defense should be salty as usual. Nevada is on the rise and could challenge for the Mountain West title with its “Air Raid” attack led by quarterback Carson Strong. These programs have different modes of operating, and Wilcox should devise a good strategy to slow down the Wolfpack. Cal 29, Nevada 24

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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