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Last week I made the mistake of saying that we may not get an exciting weekend of college football. Please forgive me and accept my apologies. My forlorn prediction was as bad as a Butch Jones defense against the Hail Mary. Hopefully I somewhat made it up to you with my advice to take Mississippi State outright to beat LSU. Now the Bulldogs face the SEC's other Bulldogs in a huge Week Four matchup. That, and so much more in our weekly picks:
Temple (+20.5) @ South Florida:
South Florida looked strong last week, beating a Power 5 opponent on limited practice due to Hurricane Irma. Illinois may be a Power 5 school in name only, but South Florida looked good, nonetheless. Quarterback Quinton Flowers was especially impressive, throwing for 280 yards and 4 TD's, plus another 100 yards and a TD rushing. Flowers was one of three South Florida players with over 100 yards rushing last week. Once the Bulls offense got moving, Illinois was helpless to stop it. Temple may have similar challenges this Thursday night. The Owls have struggled to beat FCS Villanova and winless UMass. But the Owls won't beat themselves in Tampa. Their quarterback, Logan Marchi, has thrown five TD's this year and zero picks. South Florida pulled away from Illinois last week in part because the Illini turned it over three times. Temple won't be so sloppy with the ball and that will keep them relatively close in this AAC opener. Charlie Strong's Bulls will win, but Owls to cover this huge number:
Utah (-3.0) @ Arizona:
If you've read our site the last couple seasons you know I like Utah: Like their program, their school, Coach Whittingham. I'm a fan. So no surprise to see us pick one of their games. Arizona's a different story. Can't remember picking many Arizona games. But the advantage to always picking the Thursday/Friday games is that it gives us a chance to spend some time on certain programs that we never really look at. Like Arizona. In 2014 the Wildcats won 10 games, won the Pac-12 South, and went to a New Year's Six game. But the following year they only won 7 games, and last year they went 3-9. So what to expect now in the sixth year of the RichRod era in Tucson? Was last year the outlier and the Wildcats get back to a winning record and a bowl this year? To do that, they'll have to win some games they aren't supposed to win. That will be challenging since they're so young - they've played 24 freshmen so far this year. But that hasn't prevented them from getting to 2-1 and racking up big numbers in their wins. But in their loss to Houston they fell short of those inflated numbers. They went for less than 5 yards per play (YPP) that night, including less than 4 YPP on the ground, which is supposed to be their strength. Utah is playing their typically good team defense to start this season. They're giving up a mere 246 yards per game (YPG), including less than 50 YPG rushing! I like Utah's defense to slow down Arizona's ground game, possibly force a couple turnovers and win this game in the 4th quarter. Utes to cover what could be a fun game to watch if you can stay up till 2 AM Eastern on Friday night:
Texas A&M (-2.5) vs Arkansas @ AT&T Stadium in Dallas, TX:
Haven't had a chance to weigh in on the Kevin Sumlin situation in College Station yet, so let me get that out of the way: The letter's obviously disgusting and both Texas A&M and the SEC did the right thing by responding immediately. I wish they'd also ask jackass regents to worry more about their schools' academic endeavors and less about their football teams. Do we really need non-football people making statements like these? The Texas A&M regent is certainly entitled to his own opinion. And as he's quick to point out, he'll have his "NO" vote ready when the University makes a decision on Sumlin. But his rant came across as whiny, entitled, disrespectful, ill-informed, unprofessional, and most importantly, unnecessary. You're a regent - how about acting like one and taking up these conversations privately with the rest of the university stakeholders? The Aggies had a bad game on opening weekend at the Rose Bowl. The team and the staff, assuredly, were going to get crushed in the media. Did those players need their egomaniacal regents chiming in and making the situation worse? I'd rather have my regents handle their amateur athletics a little differently, but that's just me.
As for Sumlin's overall resume in College Station, he took over in 2012, A&M's first season in the SEC. They've had ups and downs since then, but they've averaged just under 9 wins (8.8) per season and they're just over .500 in SEC play. The 2012 season was their highlight, finishing with 11 wins, a Heisman Trophy winner, and a win in the Cotton Bowl. Now let's review where they were prior to Sumlin: They spent the previous 16 seasons in the Big 12 where they won exactly 7 games per year, and won 53% of their conference games. Once, back in 1998, they won 11 games and went to the Cotton Bowl. They went to back-to-back BCS games following the 1997 and 1998 seasons. So you have to go back 20 years to find [arguably] better production from this program. If you go back 30 years to the late 80s and early 90s era under Jackie Sherrill and RC Slocumb you can find "better" wins totals but be careful - now you're comparing what they do now in the SEC West to what they used to do decades ago in the defunct Southwest Conference where they played some pretty laughable competition. My point is that the Aggies are what they are: A team that generally tops out at 8-9 wins per year, but can occasionally do better when everything falls into place. Keep in mind that they've done this while playing in the SEC West, the best division in football over that five year span.
To argue that Sumlin's 9 win average is insufficient because the Aggies are more talented than their results is fine. Totally acceptable argument. But if you want to see the Aggies move on, keep in mind that Sumlin's an excellent recruiter. So you may still be topping out at 8-9 wins, post-Sumlin, because that's the most you can get from what you're able to recruit at that point. You better be sure your next hire is a better recruiter, a better coach, and a better leader. (Sumlin's pretty damn good at all three...) Your Texas A&M history in the BCS/CFP era doesn't suggest that you'll do better than Sumlin. Proceed with caution.
I don't think you need to ask how I feel about this game. Aggies to cover:
UPenn (-2.5) @ Lehigh:
KAM let me have it on the podcast this week for neglecting to pick the UPenn game last week, their opening win over Ohio Dominican. First, it's not my fault that the Ivies start playing football a couple weeks later than everyone else. Second, we knew the Quakers would have no trouble handling the Panthers, right? So missing their first week wasn't the big deal that KAM made it out to be. Week Two for the Red and Blue, however, is another story. The two-time defending champs of the Ivy League head to Lehigh for an important early season matchup, and they'll make their first road trip in several years without quarterback Alek Torgersen, graduated and playing for the NFL's Washington Redskins. Quarterback was a preseason question for the Quakers and we saw them play "quarterback by committee" in their win last week. Sophomore Nick Robinson had the better day, and we expect to see him get the start at Lehigh. The Quakers impressive senior receiver Justin Watson was reliable and an excellent option for both quarterbacks last week. Robinson will target Watson early and often on Saturday and the Mountain Hawks will struggle to contain him. If they do have any luck defending Watson and the pass game, look for the Quakers to gain yards on the ground behind freshman running back Isaiah Malcome. Malcome had a big game last week and should become an important part of the offense for the Red and Blue this year. Lehigh, defending champs of the Patriot League, has not gotten off to a great start this year. Last week they struggled to put up any resistance to the Yale offense, and ultimately gave up 56 points and 566 yards! It could be worse this weekend - Quakers to cover and begin the 2017 defense of their 2016 Ivy title:
|Matt's Play:||Mountain Hawks|
Alabama (-18.5) @ Vanderbilt:
Last week I thought Vandy was getting too many points at home. This team is improved and they showed us that with their win over K-State. Vandy is now 3-0 and giving up just under 200 YPG and only 4.3 points per game (PPG). Alabama will obviously get a lot more, but can Vandy keep it close? They'll need the excellent defensive efforts that they've been getting all year, but the bigger concern is offense. Their win last week was a good one, but they still failed to get over 300 yards in total offense. Now Alabama comes to town with a bigger, stronger, faster defense than what Vandy saw from K-State. The same Alabama defense that gave up a mere seven points to Florida State in their opener. Alabama is generally up for these road games against stronger opponents. They're 7-0 ATS in their last 7 games on the road against teams with winning records. Vandy is going to be tough out in the SEC East this year, and Coach Derek Mason deserves a lot of credit for how far they've come. And I'd like nothing more than to tune into the 3:30 CBS game and see Vandy give Alabama a scare. But it's a too much of a physical mismatch. Crimson Tide to cover:
|Sam's Play:||Crimson Tide|
|KAM's Play:||Crimson Tide|
USC (-16.5) @ Cal:
While Sam Darnold's heroics from last Saturday night have been well publicized, don't lose site of USC's shortcomings in the double overtime win: The Trojans managed a mere 71 yards rushing against Texas, and made a number of mistakes on offense throughout the night that allowed Texas to stay in that game. And while Darnold was awesome late, he did throw a couple more interceptions, bringing his total to six for the season. The inconsistency is alarming (the Trojans racked up 600 yards of total offense in their win over Stanford the week before). Meanwhile, Cal is off to a 3-0 start which includes a 2-1 record ATS, and a couple big outright victories as underdogs. First-year coach Justin Wilcox has the Golden Bears playing much better on defense. They also try to control the clock with their ground game, and they've had success doing that. That'll be the game plan on Saturday as well, but if USC commits to stopping the run and forcing Cal into passing situation on long third downs, the Golden Bears will struggle to convert. There are reasons to be optimistic about Cal's 3-0 start, but USC has owned this rivalry even in recent years. Even as USC struggled through the Kiffin/Sark years, the Trojans never lost to Cal. And they're 7-1 ATS in their last 8 games with. Unless Aaron Rodgers suits up, Trojans to cover this big number on the strength of their defense.
|Kevin's Play:||Golden Bears|
|Matt's Play:||Golden Bears|
TCU (+13.0) @ Oklahoma State:
Interesting stat from Oklahoma State's big win in Pittsburgh last week: They had four different receivers go over 100 yards in the same game! It's been an impressive offensive explosion thus far from Mason Rudolph and the rest of the Cowboys offense. Not to be overlooked, the defense has only given up 17 PPG, albeit against lesser competition in the non-conference schedule. In the Big 12 opener, Oklahoma State's defense will have to be even better if they're going to cover this big number. TCU's off to an impressive 3-0 start of their own, including a win at Arkansas, and a 600+ yard outburst in their win over SMU last week. With TCU averaging 49 PPG and Oklahoma State scoring 54 PPG, and both teams' quarterbacks enjoying great seasons so far, it looks like we're in for a Big 12 shootout. I wish I was getting another point, but even at (+13), Horned Frogs to cover the big number:
|Sam's Play:||Horned Frogs|
|KAM's Play:||Horned Frogs|
|Matt's Play:||Horned Frogs|
Michigan (-10.0) @ Purdue:
New Purdue coach Jeff Brohm has been flat-out excellent. Most of us knew he was a good hire. We didn't know he'd be immediately impactful like this. Sort of reminds me of his counterpart in this game, Jim Harbaugh, and how fast Harbaugh won at Michigan. But Harbaugh got Michigan's facilities, money, and plenty of talent on its roster when he got there. Brohm got arguably the worst roster in the Big Ten. Yet he's got Purdue at 2-1, 3-0 ATS, and the only loss was an impressive showing back in the opener against Lamar Jackson and Louisville. Michigan's defense has been great this year, and they'll play well on Saturday. But offensively, Michigan has struggled in each of its three games. Quarterback Wilton Speight just can't seem to put together a complete game, and that hurts Michigan. They've had an especially hard time completing drives and scoring in the red zone. Now they have to give a well-coached team ten points at home? In the biggest home game that Purdue has played in years? Boilers to cover the big number:
Syracuse (+23.5) @ LSU:
Last week I predicted that LSU would lose outright in Starkville, but no, I'm not predicting another LSU loss. I do have concerns though. Watching LSU last week, I thought they were simply out-muscled on both sides of the line by Mississippi State. Will Syracuse be able to push LSU around at the line of scrimmage? No, of course not. But they will bring dual-threat quarterback Eric Dungey to Baton Rouge, who could present challenges similar to those that Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald did last week. Even if Dave Aranda's defense prevents Syracuse from getting anything going, it's hard to have a lot of confidence in LSU's offense. I expect Syracuse to commit to stopping LSU's ground game and force quarterback Danny Etling to beat them. If Syracuse can do this we may see a number of three-and-outs from both teams in the first half and that will allow Syracuse to keep it closer than expected. There's also no guarantee that LSU won't fix all of their undisciplined football problems in a week. If they commit a lot of stupid penalties again maybe that keeps Syracuse in this game longer. Finally, LSU is only averaging 27 PPG this year, in large part because they still struggle so much offensively. If they get their average, they essentially have to pitch a shut out on defense to cover. The Tigers have to show improvement before I'm willing to swallow so many points; Orangemen to cover this big number:
Mississippi State (+7.0) @ Georgia:
The game I'm looking most forward to, and a battle for Bulldog bragging rights in the SEC, both teams have been impressive thus far. Georgia's best win was two weeks ago in South Bend, while Mississippi State's best win was last week at home over LSU. Both Bulldog squads won as underdogs. Now they face off in Athens in a much bigger game than most of the preseason commentators saw coming. I got the chance to watch most of the Georgia win over Notre Dame and was really impressed with their defense. It shouldn't have been a surprise: Kevin and I discussed them returning 10 starters on defense back on our college football futures pod. But Mississippi State is looking pretty good defensively too, giving up less than 10 PPG this year. Stats like those can be skewed this early in the season, but since Mississippi State only surrendered 7 to LSU last week, it's hard to dismiss them. But what I really loved in that game was the Mississippi State offense. Early on, before Mississippi State had put up 37 points, the game was close, as expected. But Mississippi State was getting a lot of positive plays, even if just plus-two or plus-three; they were having their way at the line of scrimmage. They ultimately wore LSU down, and started getting big plays. Their dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was able to generate offense on the ground and through the air, both. The former Dak Prescott backup is a dynamic player that you'll hear more about all season. If the TCU-Oklahoma State game should be a Big 12 shootout, then this should be an SEC slug fest. Must-see TV; take the Bulldogs from Starkville while they're still getting a full TD:
|Sam's Play:||Bulldogs... of MSU|
|KAM's Play:||Bulldogs... of MSU|
|Kevin's Play:||Bulldogs... of MSU|
|Matt's Play:||Bulldogs... of MSU|
Penn State (-12) @ Iowa:
Penn State continues to steamroll through the early part of the 2017 season. Iowa is 3-0 and shouldn't be overlooked but they're not dominating anyone. I was high on Iowa after their Week One win over Wyoming, but Wyoming hasn't been as good as I expected them to be. Iowa's Week Two overtime win over Iowa State was fun to watch, but it shouldn't have been that close. Recall that last year in Happy Valley Penn State really worked Iowa over, and you can understand the big point spread here. Although the game's in Iowa City this time so don't forget what the Hawkeyes pulled off last year. I could be talked into taking Iowa to cover a first half line, but James Franklin has the more talented team and they're locked in. I expect their best effort, and Penn State's balanced offense to pull away in the second half. Nittany Lions to cover:
|Sam's Play:||Nittany Lions|
|Kevin's Play:||Nittany Lions|
Florida (-2.5) @ Kentucky:
For about a half-hour last Saturday night after the walk-off Florida TD pass, I couldn't decide if I hated Florida or Tennessee more. I came to my senses and realized it's Tennessee. Only Tennessee could lose by 6 on a 5.5 spread like that. Ridiculous. I'm done getting excited for Tennessee. For a long time.
As for Florida, you'll hear it a lot this week: Florida hasn't lost to Kentucky in over 30 years. Perhaps this is the best chance Kentucky's had in decades? Stephen Johnson is enjoying a good season at quarterback and Benny Snell has been a machine at running back. Snell ran for a tough 102 yards last week in the Kentucky win over South Carolina. But the real story for Kentucky is how well their defense has played in getting to 3-0. They've only allowed 57 yards rushing per game, an excellent number. If they can bottle up Florida's ground game, and that's hardly an impossible task, the Wildcats may force the Gators into some long third downs, and maybe even some turnovers. But that's the best-case scenario for Kentucky. Florida's defense is even better than Kentucky's and they'll show us that on Saturday night. Florida's offense will probably make me regret this, but Gators to cover, win an ugly one, and keep the streak alive:
Washington (-10.5) @ Colorado:
Less than a month into the season, we've had a fair share of drama in the Pac-12: USC was unimpressive against Western Michigan. Then USC was really impressive against Stanford. Then USC was thrilling against Texas, but not sure if that showing counts as impressive or unimpressive. UCLA was amazing in the Texas A&M comeback. Then UCLA was back to being amazingly disappointing in the Memphis game. Stanford looked good to start the season. Now Stanford looks bad. Lost in the mix, Washington is quietly 3-0. After surviving a semi-scare at Rutgers in Week One, Washington has beat up on two lesser opponents, per their typically weak non-conference schedule. Luckily that changes next year when Washington opens with Auburn in Atlanta. But that's beside the point. This year, Washington opens Pac-12 play with a trip to Boulder and a rematch from last year's conference title game. Washington beat Colorado 41-10 in that championship game, and they've actually beaten Colorado seven straight times now. Washington is also 7-0 ATS during that stretch. The Colorado defense is good enough to keep them in this early, but Washington is more talented and better coached. Like last year, the Huskies are about to run through the Pac-12 North. It starts by covering in Boulder:
Good luck with your picks and have a great weekend! Syracuse is down in Baton Rouge for a tough game with LSU, which means no tailgating for me. Instead, I'll be at home enjoying a marathon day of college football and driving my wife crazy. Life is good: Thank God it's football season!
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|Sam often picks with his heart rather than his head. Or he tries too hard to hedge the other way. Don't be afraid to fade his picks; it won't hurt his feelings.|
|The voice of thefootballpod.com, KAM's so good that she's been known to pick both NFL and college games. She'll share her picks as long as you don't trash talk her Packers.|
|Need power picks and the power sweep, both? Then look no further than Kevin's picks. This Western Pennsylvania football product knows the game as well as anyone.|
|Historically the best player in the Tipperary Hill Premier League, Matt's also excellent when it comes to picking college games. Just don't bother him when Iowa's playing!|