College football is exciting – we know that. But we also know how unpredictable it is. Take Arkansas, for example. The Hogs were a pre-season dark horse favorite to win the SEC West – then they lose to Louisiana-Monroe and get throttled by Alabama. Want more proof of the unpredictable nature? Four top 25 teams went down in upsets this past weekend. That doesn’t include South Florida, who is now 0-8 on Thursday night ESPN games.
Through this point last year, I was 6-9-1 ATS (did four picks week 1 and five picks week 2). After another less than stellar week last week, at 1-5-1, I’m 5-15-1 on the season.
With week three of the college football season in the books, week four starts on Wednesday, with the Kent State Golden Flashes visiting the Buffalo Bulls at 7:00 PM ET on ESPNU. On Thursday, the Brigham Young Cougars visit the (#24) Boise State Broncos on ESPN at 9:00 PM ET. On the eve of college football’s biggest day of the week, the Baylor Bears visit the dangerous Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN.
If you followed the Upset Watch last season, you know I pick five underdogs to cover the points, a favorite to cover, and I preview the Michigan game.
@ Michigan (2-1) -45.5 Massachusetts (0-3). Result: Michigan 63 Massachusetts 13.
Navy (0-2) +8.5 @ Penn State (1-2). Result: Penn State 34 Navy 7.
North Carolina (1-2) +3.5 @ Louisville (3-0). Result: Louisville 39 North Carolina 34.
Bowling Green (1-2) +7.0 @ Toledo (2-1). Result: Toledo 27 Bowling Green 15.
Colorado (0-3) +15.0 @ Fresno State (2-1). Result: Fresno State 69 Colorado 14.
@ Michigan State (2-1) -2.5 Notre Dame (3-0). Result: Notre Dame 20 Michigan State 3.
@ Maryland (2-1) +3.0 Connecticut (2-1). Result: Connecticut 24 Maryland 21.
As the season goes on, the matchups become all the more important and all the more high profile. This week is no exception, as four games involve top 25 teams – the most to date. All four games are night games, (#18) Michigan Wolverines visit South Bend to take on the (#11) Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who are off to their best start since 2002; that game will be at 7:30 PM ET on NBC. The (#15) Kansas State Wildcats visit the (#6) Oklahoma Sooners at 7:50 PM ET on FOX. Ten minutes later, the (#10) Clemson Tigers look to open their defense of the ACC Atlantic Title, visiting Tallahassee to take on the (#4) Florida State Seminoles on ABC. ESPN picks up the late game, at 10:30 PM ET, with the (#3) Oregon Ducks playing host to the (#22) Arizona Wildcats.
Kansas (1-2) +10.0 @ Northern Illinois (2-1). These teams met last season in Lawrence, with Kansas being a 4.5-point underdog. The Jayhawks won outright, 45-42, despite the presence of Chandler Harnish. Northern Illinois is 3-0 hosting BCS teams since 1998. Kansas is 74th in total offense (92nd in passing, 53rd in rushing), while the Huskies are 76th in total offense (95th in passing, 54th in rushing). The Jayhawks are 91st in total defense (44th in passing, 78th in rushing), while Northern Illinois is 58th in total defense (49th in passing, 112th in rushing). Northern Illinois Coach Dave Doeren is 13-4 (8-9 ATS, 5-7 ATS as a favorite); Kansas Coach Charlie Weis is 36-29 (28-36-1 ATS; 14-9 as an underdog). NIU got gashed on the ground by Army last week, not surprisingly. And while Kansas doesn’t have as strong of a running attack as Army does, they are a more balanced team. I like Kansas to keep this at single digits.
New Mexico (1-2) +8.5 @ New Mexico State (1-2). New Mexico State has won three straight in the Rio Grande Rivalry; before then, the Lobos had won six straight, including eight of the last nine. The Aggies are 8-7 ATS in the last 15 meetings against their in-state foes. New Mexico is 118th in total offense (123rd in passing, 32nd in rushing), while the Aggies are 87th in total offense (42nd in passing, 111th in rushing). The Lobos are 107th in total defense (109th in passing, 88th in rushing), while New Mexico State is 106th in total defense (110th in passing, 90th in rushing). New Mexico State Coach DeWayne Walker is 10-32 (20-20-1 ATS, 2-3 ATS as a favorite); New Mexico Coach Bob Davie is 1-2 (1-2 ATS; 0-2 as an underdog) since 2002. Neither team has been very good, as of late. Two of the last three meetings have been decided in the final minute of play. I like the Lobos to keep this within a touchdown – they have a great shot at springing the upset.
Utah (2-1) +7.5 @ Arizona State (2-1). Last year, Arizona State won in Salt Lake City, defeating the Utes 35-14 and easily covering the 3.5-point spread. The Utes are 1-2 ATS this season (1-0 as underdogs), while Arizona State is 2-0-1 ATS (2-0 as favorites). Utah is 105th in total offense (77th in passing, 98th in rushing), while the Sun Devils are 43rd in total offense (51st in passing, 39th in rushing). The Utes are 15th in total defense (19th in passing, 26th in rushing), while Arizona State is 24th in total defense (9th in passing, 60th in rushing). Arizona State Coach Todd Graham is 51-30 (44-33-2 ATS, 23-24-1 ATS as a favorite); Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham is 67-26 (56-43-2 ATS; 13-10 as an underdog). The Utes are coming off a big win over rival Brigham Young, while Arizona State lost a close one to Missouri. Utah is off next week; Arizona State travels to California. Expect Utah’s rushing game to receive more attention, especially with the retirement of Jordan Wynn. Arizona State had the benefit of playing Northern Arizona and Illinois – two weaker teams. Don’t be surprised if Utah wins this one, especially with the better defense, although they have struggled offensively, this season.
Clemson (3-0) +14.5 @ Florida State (3-0).Clemson is 6-1 ATS in the last seven meetings; 9-6 ATS since 1997. Tigers are 5-2 SU in last seven meetings. Clemson is 21st in total offense (23rd in passing, 30th in rushing), while the Seminoles are 12th in total offense (41st in passing, 11th in rushing). The Tigers are 56th in total defense (32nd in passing, 84th in rushing), while Florida State is 1st in total defense (1st in passing, 1st in rushing). Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher is 22-8 (17-13 ATS, 14-9 ATS as a favorite); Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney is 32-19 (26-24 ATS; 6-6 as an underdog). Home team is 9-1 in the last ten meetings. No doubt that Florida State is playing very well right now, outscoring opponents at a 176-3 clip. But Clemson is their toughest game to date, having faced two FCS opponents to open the year. Clemson hasn’t been all that impressive defensively, but Sammy Watkins is back now, after missing the first two games of the year – he had four catches for 52 yards and one rushing attempt for 58 yards and a touchdown. I think FSU gets the win, but Clemson keeps it close.
Central Michigan (1-1) +18.0 @ Iowa (2-1). Iowa leads the series 2-0, with the last game taking place in 1998. CMU is 2-31 on the road against BCS schools; they are 4-21 against Big Ten schools, being outscored by an average of 19 points per game. Central Michigan is 82nd in total offense (109th in passing, 42nd in rushing), while the Hawkeyes are 103rd in total offense (101st in passing, 86th in rushing). The Chippawas are 74th in total defense (61st in passing, 83rd in rushing), while Iowa is 23rd in total defense (27th in passing, 36th in rushing).Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz is 87-43 (69-55-2 ATS, 41-36 ATS as a favorite) since 2002; Central Michigan Coach Dan Enos is 7-19 (6-19-1 ATS; 4-12 as an underdog). Since 2006, Iowa is 3-1 SU against MAC opponents (2-2 ATS). Under Enos, CMU is 0-3 SU against Big Ten foes (1-2 ATS). Iowa’s offense has averaged 17 points per game. Until the Hawkeyes show an ability to win a game convincingly, take the Chips with the points.
Marshall (1-2) -2.5 @ Rice (1-2). The visitor has lost all three prior meetings. Last meeting resulted in a 24-20 win for Marshall, as they failed to cover the five-point spread. In 2008, the teams last met in Houston, with the Owls emerging victorious with a 35-10 win; Marshall was a nine-point underdog. Marshall is 10th in total offense (1st in passing, 91st in rushing), while the Owls are 60th in total offense (88th in passing, 37th in rushing). The Thundering Herd are 99th in total defense (69th in passing, 119th in rushing), while Rice is 117th in total defense (74th in passing, 110th in rushing). Marshall Coach Doc Holliday is 13-15 (12-14-2 ATS, 4-6 ATS as a favorite); Rice Coach David Bailiff is 24-40 (31-31-1 ATS; 21-27-1 as an underdog). Marshall’s passing numbers are inflated, largely, by virtue of the opening game against West Virginia. Still, the Herd have a solid passing attack – JUCO’s make their pass defense adequate. The run defense gives me a bit of concern though. Marshall is the better team here, and they should win, at least, by a field goal.
Brian Kelly is 72-32 straight up (19-10 at Notre Dame, 34-6 at Cincinnati, and 19-16 at Central Michigan). Coach Kelly is 35-12 in games at home and 11-7 against teams in the top 25, at the time of the game. Coach Kelly is 52-42-4 against the spread and 27-30-2 ATS as a favorite (7-9-2 at Notre Dame, 13-15 at Cincinnati, and 7-6 at Central Michigan).
Brady Hoke is 60-53 straight up (13-12 at San Diego State, 34-38 at Ball State, and 13-3 at Michigan). Coach Hoke is 58-46-4 ATS (38-30-1 at Ball State, 12-10-2 at San Diego State, and 8-6-1 at Michigan) and 31-26-1 (22-20-1 at Ball State, 7-4 at San Diego State, and 2-2 at Michigan) against the spread as an underdog.
Michigan is 8-5 against Notre Dame since 1997. The underdog has won the game, straight up, in the last four meetings, and seven of the last eight. Overall, in the last 13 meetings, the underdog has won 9. The underdog is 11-2 ATS in the last 13 meetings.
Michigan is 2-1 SU and 2-1 ATS as a single-digit underdog under Coach Hoke (he is 0-2 SU and 1-1 ATS at San Diego State and 2-1 SU and 2-1 ATS at Ball State since 2007).
The over/under last year was 55, with a total of 66 easily hitting the over. Denard Robinson led Michigan down the field in the closing seconds, securing the win for the Wolverines with a late touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree. As in the past, expect Notre Dame to try to limit Robinson’s legs, forcing him to go to the air. With a banged up Irish secondary, Michigan should have some success, if Denard can hit his targets. I’m nervous about this game every year. That said, history says the underdog has a lot of success in this game. I’ll hang my hat on that. I feel more confident in the over, as opposed to my pick.
Michigan +6.5 @ Notre Dame.
Michigan 31 Notre Dame 28.
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