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College Football Picks: Tennessee, Miami take big swings

By RALPH D. RUSSO AP College Football Writer
Enough talking about whether Texas is back.
Time to talk about whether Tennessee and Miami are back!
Like the Longhorns, the Volunteers and Hurricanes are programs with national championship pedigrees that have been lost in the college football wilderness for about two decades, searching for past glory and relevance.
Both are showing early season signs of being dark horse contenders in their conferences and face foes Saturday who are where they aspire to be.
The 14th-ranked Volunteers are at No. 3 Georgia and No. 7 Miami visits No. 1 Clemson.
The Vols faithful are as hopeful as they have been in years. Tennessee has won eight straight games, the longest active streak in the Southeastern Conference. That streak includes zero victories against ranked teams, but this is a program that is on its fourth coach since it last had a double-digit win season (2007).
Jeremy Pruitt’s progress has been good enough to earn 15 victories and a contract extension two games into his third season. The Volunteers look like a very different team under Pruitt than they ever did for his predecessor. Butch Jones was 13-14 in his first 27 games with the Volunteers and headed toward the first of two consecutive nine-win seasons. Pruitt is now 15-12.
Yearly games against Alabama and Georgia have been stark reminders of how far the Volunteers have to go to get back to the national championship contention days of the late 1990s. The Bulldogs have won the last three meetings 122-26.
“We’ve continued to improve over the last three years,” Pruitt said. “We’re nowhere near where we want to be.”
Miami’s last national championship was in 2001. Since then, it has won just one Atlantic Coast Conference division title, back in 2017. That surprising run to playoff contention and No. 2 in the country was marred by a three-game slide to end the season that included a 38-3 loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game.
Unlike Tennessee, Miami is not forced to confront the realization of its aspirations every season. Before that conference title game, Miami last played Clemson in 2015 and lost 58-0. The worst loss in program history ended the coach Al Golden era in Coral Gables, Florida.
Clemson since then has won two national titles and lost in the title game two other times.
“This is not a big game at Clemson,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “This is just what they do. We’ve got to get our program where it’s the same way.”
The picks:
SATURDAY
No. 7 Miami (plus 14) at No. 1 Clemson
‘Canes are 9-5 against No. 1 ranked teams in last 40 years, with the last victory coming in 2000 vs. Florida State and last loss coming to Clemson three years ago … CLEMSON 38-21.
No. 2 Alabama (minus 23) at Mississippi
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin gets first crack at old boss Nick Saban since he was an offensive coordinator for the Tide. Saban improved to 20-0 against his former assistants last week … ALABAMA 52-32.
No. 14 Tennessee (plus 12 1/2) at No. 3 Georgia
Vols’ last victory against a top-five team came in 2005 against No. 4 LSU … GEORGIA 31-14.
No. 4 Florida (minus 6 1/2) at No. 21 Texas A&M
Aggies are 3-8 against ranked teams in two-plus seasons under coach Jimbo Fisher, including 1-8 vs. top-10 opponents … FLORIDA 30-27.
No. Florida State (plus 20 1/2) at No. 5 Notre Dame
Irish last played Sept. 19 because of a COVID-19 outbreak … NOTRE DAME 35-17.
No. 19 Virginia Tech (plus 5) at No. 8 North Carolina
Hokies have won the last four meetings, including a six overtime thriller last year … NORTH CAROLINA 31-24.
Arkansas (plus 14) at No. 13 Auburn
Nothing has perked up Auburn’s offense quite like the Razorbacks in recent years; Tigers have won the last four meetings and averaged by 48.3 points … AUBURN 35-17.
UTSA (plus 34 1/2) at No. 15 BYU
Cougars QB Zach Wilson has thrown 11 incomplete passes and accounted for 11 touchdowns … BYU 42-14.
No. 17 LSU (minus 14 1/2) at Missouri
Game was scheduled to be played at LSU but Hurricane Delta forced a move to Columbia … LSU 31-14.
No. 22 Texas (plus 2 1/2) vs. Oklahoma
Last time both the Longhorns and Sooners lost the week before the Red River Shootout was 2014 … TEXAS 35-34.
Coastal Carolina (plus 7) at No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette
Get to know Chanticleers QB Grayson McCall, who is fourth in the nation in yards per pass (11.6) with nine TD passes and only one INT … LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE 31-23.
Texas Tech (plus 12 1/2) at No. 24 Iowa State
Cyclones have won four straight against the Red Raiders … IOWA STATE 34-24.
TWITTER REQUESTS
THURSDAY
Tulane (plus 6 1/2) at Houston — @jefe172
Cougars finally get to open the season (fingers crossed) after COVID-19 issues forced three opponents to call off games … HOUSTON 27-24.
SATURDAY
Kansas State (plus 9) at TCU — @DCAbloob
Status of Wildcats QB Skylar Thompson (throwing arm) is uncertain; freshman back-up Will Howard relieved in a win against Texas Tech last week … TCU 28-21.
Mississippi State (plus 1 1/2) at Kentucky — @DarrylKerr
Bulldogs’ Air Raid vs. Wildcats’ ground and pound … KENTUCKY 27-23.
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Record
Last week: 13-6 straight; 7-12 against the spread.
Season: 40-15 straight; 27-27 against the spread.
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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/
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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25