Week 4 in college football is another schedule without a marquee, stop-what-you’re-doing-and-get-to-a-TV game, but there’s some positive news:
(1) My picks went 5-1 against the spread last week, continuing a strong start to the season; and (2) the rubber is starting to hit the road in the top conferences across the country.
No. 3 Ohio State plays its first Big Ten game, against Wisconsin, the East Division preseason favorite. No. 4 Michigan gets 3-0 Maryland in its first conference game, and Minnesota faces Michigan State in another matchup of early contenders.
The schedule might be even juicier in the Southeastern Conference, where two games will shape the races behind the favorites in both divisions. In the East, No. 20 Florida visits No. 11 Tennessee, with the winner emerging as a title contender along with Georgia and Kentucky. And in the West, at Jerry’s World in Arlington, Texas, it’s another top 25 matchup between Arkansas and Texas A&M, with the winner joining Alabama and Ole Miss atop that race.
The Atlantic Coast Conference starts the day with a huge game: No. 5 Clemson at No. 21 Wake Forest. In the Big 12, it’s Baylor-Iowa State and Texas-Texas Tech. In the Pac-12, Oregon-Washington State and USC-Oregon State.
Conference play is here. Soak it in.
(Lines from Caesars Sportsbook as of Wednesday)
Game of the Week
No. 20 FLORIDA at No. 11 TENNESSEE (-10½), 3:30 p.m., CBS: The eyeball test and the numbers back up the fact that Volunteers coach Josh Heupel has a tendency to win easily — piling up points and covers — against overmatched opponents while struggling against tougher foes.
The question is, which is Florida? The Gators opened with an impressive home win over Utah but have followed it up with a loss to Kentucky and a narrow escape against South Florida, a game in which the 28-point underdog Bulls had a field goal to win as time expired just miss.
Now UF hits the road for the first time, and Neyland Stadium is sure to be rocking with ESPN’s College Gameday in town and the Vols fan base ever-starved to return to the program’s glory days. Oh, and Tennessee has the nation’s No. 3 offense, compared to No. 26 for Utah and No. 91 for South Florida.
That all points to a Tennessee win. Against the spread, this pick is much trickier, but with Florida seemingly regressing each week, I’ll take the Vols to cover, too.
The pick: Tennessee 41, Florida 24
TCU at SMU (+2), 12 p.m., ESPNU: A battle of Texas schools known best by their initials who both could use this win to springboard a top 25-type season.
This line has caught some steam in TCU’s direction, and I don’t quite understand it. The teams have similar statistical profiles, and the Mustangs have played a more difficult schedule, with their game at Maryland last week much tougher than TCU’s trip to Colorado.
SMU lost that game to the Terrapins, but it still gained 520 yards and was able to pass the ball to the tune of 6.8 yards per pass. Even against the weak schedule, the Horned Frogs — remember, Gary Patterson has gone to Texas — are only No. 73 nationally against the pass, so Tanner Mordecai and his top receiver, Rashee Rice, should have a field day in a shootout victory.
The pick: SMU 41, TCU 35
BUFFALO at EASTERN MICHIGAN (-6), 12 p.m., CBSSN: One result you may have missed from late last Saturday night, while Texas A&M was finishing its slog past Miami and USC was pulverizing Fresno State: Eastern Michigan went to Tempe and beat Arizona State 30-21.
And this was not some fluke victory. Samson Evans ran for 258 yards, part of a team-wide attack that averaged 7 yards per rush, and EMU never trailed. The Eagles did struggle to run in a loss to UL in Lafayette the week before, but their bigger problem was five turnovers.
In any case, EMU clearly found something last week — and Buffalo happens to be a sieve against the run, ranking 127th nationally at 5.95 yards per carry allowed. If Eastern Michigan can fight off any hangover from its big win, it should be a nice day for fans in Ypsilanti.
The pick: Eastern Michigan 33, Buffalo 23
No. 22 TEXAS (-6½) at TEXAS TECH, 3:30 p.m., ESPN: Would have been nice to lock this one in earlier in the week at -4½, but we’ll still lay the points.
The Longhorns had a blah performance against UTSA last week, but wouldn’t you, after the near-miss against Alabama? Besides that, after falling behind 17-7, Texas recovered to out-score UTSA 34-3 the rest of the way. That’s closer to this team’s true talent level.
Texas Tech, on the other hand, was exposed offensively last week against NC State, when the Red Raiders averaged just 2.1 yards per rush and were 3 of 16 on third/fourth downs. That won’t cut it against Texas, which played the Crimson Tide nearly to a draw and got over a quick hangover early last week.
The pick: Texas 33, Texas Tech 21
INDIANA at CINCINNATI (-16.5), 3:30 p.m., ESPN2: We picked on the Hoosiers last week and got a cover from Western Kentucky, though the Hilltoppers’ late-game ineptitude cost us the straight-up upset pick.
Still, nothing Indiana did last week nor their 3-0 record convinces me they’re ready for prime time. This is not an efficient team on offense or defense (they’ve been out-gained on a per-play basis, something that’s really hard to pull off in three consecutive wins).
Plus, this is the Hoosiers’ first road game, and Cincinnati, while not quite the Group of Five juggernaut it was a year ago, played to a statistical draw in a loss at Arkansas and would have thumped a solid Miami (Ohio) team even worse last week if it hadn’t been for 10 penalties and three turnovers.
The pick: Cincinnati 37, Indiana 16
KANSAS STATE at No. 6 OKLAHOMA (-13), 8 p.m., Fox: I was afraid Kansas State’s shock loss to Tulane would have pushed this number even higher, but it stayed under the two-touchdown line and therefore is a nice bet on the Sooners.
Brent Venables’ Sooners, as expected, have shown more defensive teeth than most of Lincoln Riley’s teams ever did, particularly in last week’s domination at Nebraska. But Oklahoma also hasn’t lost its offensive firepower, though it looks a little different: The Sooners are 15th nationally in rushing.
A solid defense and good running game sounds a bit like Kansas State, come to think of it, and when you’ve got two similar-style teams squaring off, the one with more talent usually cruises. Particularly in K-State’s first road game (notice a theme?).
The pick: Oklahoma 34, Kansas State 13
LAST WEEK: 5-1 straight up, 5-1 against the spread
THIS YEAR: 13-5 straight up, 12-6 ATS