By Alex Scheer and John Kaufman - College Football Analysts
This week we took a different approach to our Top 25 Preview & Predictions. Two of our college football writers collaborated on this, so Alex Scheer took the Top 15 teams and broke them down for you; and John Kaufman took care of the teams ranked 16-25. Different styles will tackle the need-to-know for how week four is gonna shake out, bringing you all the predictions that you heard here FIRST!! Check out the thoughts of our writers below:
SMU at #25 TCU (-9.5, O/U 55) – 3:30 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on FS1
On the defensive side of the ball, TCU is devastating. Through two games they have given up a total of 209.5 yards on 58 plays. That’s an average of only 3.6 yards per play which is basically impossible in college football. (Even the worst teams can typically get to 4 yards per play.) Granted, they played FCS Arkansas-Pine Bluff in week one. But last week the Horned Frogs stymied Purdue. The Boilermakers had 23 total rushing yards in that contest and were held to 4 for 15 on 3rd down conversions. SMU is in for a world of hurt tomorrow afternoon. TCU’s offense is the only question mark, as they can sometimes get bogged down and look very pedestrian. But the Mustang’s defense is nothing to be overly concerned with. This should be an easy win for TCU.
Colorado at #24 Arizona St. (-8.5, O/U 48.5) – 10:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on the PAC-12 Network
Heading into 2019, Sun Devil running back, Eno Benjamin, was one of a handful of players that the entire country was eager to see. After a bit of a rough start against an up-and-coming and ferocious Kent State Golden Flashes front seven defense (man, whoever the Defensive Coordinator is at that school is doing a hell of a job! Hey, wait, he looks familiar…), Eno stumbled even worse in the next two games vs Sacramento State (yes, that’s a real school) at home and on the road at Michigan State. Sparty is giving up the fewest yards in the entire country on defense so that outcome was to be expected. But 24 carries for 69 yards against Sacramento St.?? That ain’t good, y’all. This feels like the breakout game that we’ve all been waiting to see from Benjamin. Couple that with Arizona State’s surprisingly good defense and you’ve got a recipe for another win and a 4-0 start this year.
As far as the point spread goes, this one looks pretty accurate to me. If you had to bet it you could lay the 8.5 with the Sun Devils here. I’m not super confident in that bet, but the better play in this one is probably betting the over. If Benjamin gets going as we think he will, it could be a loooooong day for the 117th-ranked Buffaloes defense.
#23 Cal at Mississippi (-2.5, O/U OTB) – 12:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on ESPNU
Every few years the California Golden Bears become relevant and end up popping into the Top 25. It seems that 2019 is one of those years. Cal is 3-0 after a very impressive road win over then-ranked #22 Washington in week two. Cal’s running back, Christopher Brown, is one of the more underrated players in the country. Most people probably haven’t heard of him but, man, is he a joy to watch. This entire Bears team is, to be honest.
Ole Miss, on the other hand, is 2-1 and has been fairly underwhelming in three games this year, including a week one loss at Memphis. The Rebels bounced back in week two by defeating conference foe Arkansas, 31-17. But the Rebels looked quite shaky in a week three win over FCS Southeast Louisiana. The Rebels won the game 40-29, but the Lions (who perennially are one of the tougher FCS schools) hung around with the Rebels in Oxford, MS.
Cal has won nine straight regular-season games against non-conference opponents, and Ole Miss has been lackluster at best this year. The wrong team is favored in this one, so take the Bears with confidence in this one. Oh, and be sure to sprinkle some cheddar on the Cal money line in this one.
#22 Washington (-6.5, O/U 51) at BYU – 3:30 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on ABC -OR- ESPN2
BYU began their season by losing the Holy War in at home in Provo. No shame there, as Utah is currently ranked #10 in the country and is a very popular pick to win the PAC-12 this year along with Oregon and Washington. The Cougars were never really in the game against Utah, so their back-to-back overtime wins against Tennessee (29-26 on the road) and USC (30-27 at home) were a little surprising to this sports writer.
The Washington Huskies have a 2-1 record thanks to destroying FCS Eastern Washington (47-14) in week one, and then Hawaii (52-20) in week three. The meat of that sandwich, however, is a one-point home loss to Cal, 20-19. Now, the Golden Bears are good this year (dang it, sorry, spoiler alert – they’re up next in this preview!), so dropping that game is nothing for the Huskies to be ashamed of. But as I mentioned above, Washington has aspirations of winning the PAC-12. If they lose two of their first four games the dreams of winning the conference will officially become nightmares.
This should be an excellent game. Washington’s rushing offense is stellar, and the Cougars have struggled to stop the run this year. But the Huskies’ junior quarterback, Jacob Eason, is average at best. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see him struggle in a hostile environment. Washington’s game plan has got to be to run the ball early and often since that is their strength, BYU’s weakness, and it would help take a lot of pressure off their quarterback. But boy oh boy is BYU dangerous at home. And their quarterback, Zach Wilson, has come up big in some pretty huge moments already this year. It’s tough to pick against BYU in this one… so I won’t! I think they’ll pull off the upset, so at the betting window I’d be all over the points and the money line in this one.
Old Dominion at #21 Virginia (-28.5, O/U 46) – 7:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on ESPN2
This is a pretty lop-sided matchup so there’s not much to discuss here. Virginia is 3-0 this year with nice wins on the road in week one against Pittsburgh (30-14), at home vs FCS William and Mary in week two (52-17), and then against Florida State at home in week three (31-24). The Cavaliers did need 21 fourth-quarter points in their comeback win over the Seminoles, which on the surface seems suspect that they were down that much to a bad FSU team in the first place. But I choose to look at it like this: the Cavaliers were able to mount a comeback that’s pretty tough to accomplish, even in college football when the clock stops seemingly on every play for any reason.
The Monarchs are in over their heads in this one. Easy Virginia win here. I don’t think I’d lay four-plus touchdowns though. Last year’s ODU squad soundly defeated Virginia Tech, so they are capable of showing up against a clearly better opponent. So I suppose I’d take the points with ODU here or just stay away entirely.
Air Force at #20 Boise St. (-7, O/U 55.5) – 9:00 PM Eastern (Fri. 9-20) on ESPN2
This should be a very interesting game. The 2019 version of the Boise St. Broncos are not as good as we’re used to seeing them be. In week two they defeated a suspect Marshall team by only a touchdown. That’s a strange result from the Broncos who typically take care of business on the blue turf. However, in their opening game they were down 31-19 at the half to Florida St. and they stormed back to win by a count of 36-31. Florida St. doesn’t appear to be all the good (again), but still, a Power 5 win is a Power 5 win.
Meanwhile, Air Force is 2-0 coming off an overtime win (30-23) against Colorado in Boulder. The Falcons are soaring this year and they’ll look to continue flying high in Boise. Air Force’s triple option offense is always tricky to deal with, although the Broncos and Falcons are in the same conference and thus, Boise St. sees this offense every year.
Playing on the smurf turf gives me no reservations about picking Boise St. to win this game. But if I were betting this game I’d definitely take the points with Air Force. Additionally, if you like the underdog to cover this game, that strongly correlates with taking the under. If the Falcons can keep this game close it means that they’re offense is controlling the pace by sustaining long drives. That screams under.
UCLA at #19 Washington St. (-18.5, O/U 58) – 10:30 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on ESPN
This one is going to be quick. UCLA is a disaster. Their defense is ranked 115th in the country. Not good. Their offense – impossibly – is worse. They’re ranked 127th in the country. What do you need to know about Washington State? Hmmmm… that they’re not UCLA. Good enough for me. Lay the 18.5 and take the Cougars in this one.
How’s that for hashtag analysis, eh?
#16 Oregon (-10.5, O/U 57.5) – 7:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on ESPN
What a great matchup this should be! And the best part is, it’s not a 10:00 PM Eastern kickoff so the entire country will be able to watch this one before bedtime. (Well, except for my grandfather, of course. It’s Wheel of Fortune, a bowl of oatmeal and then lights out at 8 PM for him.)
Oregon should have beaten Auburn in week one, so their 2-1 record feels like a letdown. They’ve been as explosive as ever in their other two games, whipping Nevada (77-6) and FCS Montana (35-3).
Stanford is 1-2 this year, which makes sense since they have looked downright abysmal at times. After beating Northwestern at home in week one (17-7), they’ve lost two in a row to USC (45-20) and #15 UCF (45-27). Lately USC has been an unmitigated mess but they handled the Cardinal with ease in that contest. Same with UCF – they rolled to an easy win last weekend.
But we’re not going to let this matchup sneak up on us. We know that conference games are always tougher than we think, even when we do give them the proper credit. And Stanford has won three in a row against the Ducks. They just seem to show up big time against Oregon, so don’t think for one second that this year’s Cardinal team isn’t up for the challenge, even if – on paper, at least – Oregon does have the better roster.
One of the simplest ways to decode college football matchups (and really, this goes for football at any level) is this: the team with the better quarterback is most likely going to win. Sure, players have off games and turnovers happen and that silly old football bounces in odd ways sometimes. But when you boil everything down, having the better quarterback matters. So, I’m going with Oregon to win and cover the 10.5 point spread because their QB, Justin Herbert, has been lights out this year.
#15 UCF (-11, O/U 61.5) @ Pittsburgh – 3:30 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on ABC -OR- ESPN2
Pitt is coming off an emotional loss to in-state rival, Penn State. UCF has an offense that is rolling, and they are still undefeated… both in schedule and covering the spread. Pitt makes a few big plays but they can’t hang late as UCF pulls away in the second half, tightening down on defense and earning a critical win over their last Power Five opponent of the season.
UCF: 35, Pitt: 17
Oklahoma State @ #12 Texas (-7, 72.5 O/U) – 7:30 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on ABC
The Cowboys have owned the series the last 4 years, but this Texas team is a little different than the last few seasons. Chuba Hubbard looks to make the game explosive and exciting, but Texas has other plans in mind for their conference opponent. The Longhorns win a close shootout, and this game comes down to the final drive.
Oklahoma State: 35, Texas: 38
#11 Michigan @ #13 Wisconsin (-3, O/U 44.5) – 12:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on FOX
This could very easily be the game of the week and we just don’t know it yet. Jim Harbaugh has to feel the mounting pressure from both the fans and the nation alike as they travel to Madison to play a really good Badgers team. Will Michigan take the W? Can this peculiar Don Brown run defense stop Heisman hopeful Jonathan Taylor long enough to help the offense out? Gonna go with the popular pick, and watch Wisconsin do just enough to down the Wolverines.
Michigan: 14, Wisconsin: 21
#10 Utah (-3.5, O/U 53) @ USC – 9:00 PM Eastern (Fri. 9-20) on FS1
The Utes are not looking to slow down in this key conference showdown. USC, coming off a devastating loss to BYU knocking them out of the Top 25, looks to rebound and knock down Utah a few spots in the rankings. Utah is the favorite, but don’t let that fool you. The Trojans are coming home to play host to Utah, and winning at the Coliseum is easier said than done, especially for Utah, who has never won in the LA Coliseum. USC moves to 2-0 in conference play, upsetting Utah and spoiling their conference opener.
USC: 27, Utah: 24
Tennessee @ #9 Florida (-14, O/U 48.5) – 12:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on ESPN
This game looked really good two months ago. My, how things change. Tennessee is reeling, sitting at 1-2, while the Gators are playing some good football early in the season. Kyle Trask looked good last weekend; now let’s see if he can make it two in a row. If he can, watch for Florida to cover the spread. If not, Tennessee will make it a closer game than it should be. However, close will not be good enough.
Tennessee: 14, Florida: 30
#8 Auburn @ #17 Texas A&M (-4, O/U 48) – 3:30 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on CBS
This game is one of the other two potential games of the week (Screw it, we can have three games of the week, right?), as it has early SEC title race implications. Both teams had a strong week last week to prepare for this key conference match up. Bo Nix gets his first taste of an SEC defense, and not against an easy one. Texas A&M downs Auburn, but it takes all four quarters.
Auburn: 21, TAMU: 24
Miami (OH) @ #6 Ohio State (-39, O/U 56.5) – 3:30 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) BIG10 Network
Justin Fields could probably snap the ball to himself and still beat Miami. Miami hangs early in the first quarter, but the Buckeyes (who refuse to travel to a MAC stadium, as does most of the Big Ten) run away with it, and dominate a team who continually allows 173 rushing yards/game. This one doesn’t stay close.
Miami: 13, Ohio State 55
#4 LSU (-24, O/U 62.5) @ Vanderbilt – 12:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) SEC Network
Vanderbilt benefited from having a bye week to prepare for this SEC showdown. LSU has been extremely dominant against Vanderbilt in the last 30 years, but the extra week to prepare for the Tigers gives Vandy a chance in this game, but in the end, it doesn’t even matter - please don’t sue us, Linkin Park - as LSU rolls.
LSU: 38, Vanderbilt: 14
#7 Notre Dame @ #3 Georgia (-14.5, O/U 57.5) – 8:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) CBS
The last game of the week has a lot on the line. A top 5 ranking, an inside track to the CFP, and the ability to establish a marquee win in a huge showdown. These offensive lines aren’t going to back down and this game is going to have some incredible offensive fireworks. Look for Georgia to establish the run game, and put this game away late in the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame: 20, Georgia 30
Southern Mississippi @ #2 Alabama (-38, O/U 61.5) – 12:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) ESPN2
Alabama has the opportunity to get some practice reps in, but let’s be real, isn’t that what Alabama does most of the regular season? This juggernaut has surprisingly not covered the spread in their previous two games, but as long as they win, Tide fans have nothing to worry about. Southern Miss is averaging 33 points a game, but their defense is leaky, allowing 30 a game. Expect Bama to run away with this.
Southern Miss: 14, Alabama: 55
Charlotte @ #1 Clemson (-41.5, O/U 61.5) – 7:30 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-21) on the ACC Network
The good news for the 49ers? They have high a flying offense, one that averages just less than 50 points a game. They have a decent shot at putting a few of those points up against the Tigers, but it’s not really going to help too much as Clemson stiffens on defense against Charlotte. Clemson marches all over the significantly weaker foe, blowing them out in the second half.
Charlotte: 10, Clemson: 56
Alex Scheer and John Kaufman – Across the Board Sports