Starting to fall into a nice little groove in College Football. I went 3-1 last week and that was coming off a 4-0 showing in week 2. Now 7-1 in the last two weeks and feeling very confident in my plays, numbers and reads at the moment. Hopefully it continues as we move into week 4, here’s what I’ve got….
Illinois (+28): I think we can catch Penn State in a look ahead spot here as they have a massive showdown on deck next week when Ohio State comes to town. The Nittany Lions know they can probably name the score in this game, but how much do they really care? How much does Franklin really want to show game plan wise with the Buckeyes on deck? It feels like the kind of game where they might come out with a vanilla game plan and could be sleepwalking a bit. For Illinois however this is pretty much their super bowl. A home game on a Friday night against Penn State is as big of a game as they have on their schedule all season. Talent wise they are clearly in over their heads but motivation wise I could see them having a big edge. Quite frankly I expect them to care about this game more than Penn State does. At the moment the QB situation for Illinois is up in the air. AJ Bush won the job out of camp but after suffering an injury it was MJ Rivers who relieved him against Western Illinois and then played the whole game against South Florida. Bush is working his way back from injury and his status for this one is still uncertain, but I assume if he’s healthy enough to go that he’ll be the guy who plays. Rivers is the better passer, while Bush is more of a dual threat and elite overall athlete. The passing side of things is still a struggle for Bush who is learning as he goes, but there’s no denying the speed and explosiveness he shows as a runner. As a team they are running the ball very well as the RB duo of Epstein and Corbin are combining for about 165 rushing yards per game on nearly 7 yards per carry. This is an all of the eggs into the basket kind of game for the Illini. I mentioned how it’s the biggest game on their schedule and with a bye next week there’s no reason to hold anything back at all. I fully expect Penn State to win but when you factor in where each team should be motivation wise I think Illinois can hang around a little bit. I could see something like a 38-20 win for Penn State.
Michigan State (-4.5): It’s been a slow start for Michigan State and now coming off a bye I think they get it together and take care of business against Indiana. You may recall back in their opener they needed a late score to beat Utah State and then followed that up with a 16-13 loss at Arizona State. This is a team I thought highly of coming into the season and I’m not ready to give up on them quite yet. On the offensive side they’ve been fine passing the ball as Lewerke is averaging 300 yards per game and completing 70% of his passes. The issue for them has been running the ball. Scott is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry and as a team they are only rushing for 114 yards per game. I expect the ground game to be a point of emphasis for Dantonio this week and they should be able to have some success against an Indiana team that’s allowing nearly 200 yards per game on the ground. Even last week in a 38-10 win they did allow 204 yards rushing to Ball State. The Hoosiers at 3-0 are off to a nice start but they haven’t seen an opponent nearly to the level Michigan State is. I made this line 7 and I think there’s some two way overreaction going on here. Indiana isn’t as good as they’ve shown so far and Michigan State certainly isn’t as bad. Most people don’t realize it but Utah State is a solid team with a very underrated offensive attack. They took Sparty down to the wire in week 1 and while no admittedly Michigan State wasn’t at their best that isn’t as bad of a showing as many are acting like. Then as far as the Arizona State game you have a team traveling west to play a night game in the desert and losing by a field goal, again that isn’t exactly the end of the world. Manny Wilkins had some nice success throwing the ball in that one but that isn’t really the kind of team Indiana is. They prefer to keep it on the ground and that plays into the strength of the Michigan State defense. I’ll admit it does seem like you can throw on them a bit, but that just isn’t how this Indiana team is built. Off the bye I think you see a hard nosed punch you in the mouth showing from the Spartans. They’ll look to re-establish their ground attack and I think they can slow down the rushing game of the Hoosiers. I see a grind it out, low scoring, physical football game where Sparty gets back on track and wins something along the lines of 27-17.
U Conn (+27.5): I’ll admit this is kind of a plug your nose and hope for the best play, but the situational spot is too good to pass up. Syracuse is coming off a 30-7 blowout win over Florida State and even though the Noles are way down this year that’s still a big win for a school like Syracuse. For as bad as FSU is they are still a college football blue blood and when a basketball school like Syracuse beats them, it’s a big deal. Not only that but next week the Orange travel to Clemson to take on the Tigers. Going into the season those were arguably the two biggest games on the Cuse schedule and to sandwich in lowly U Conn between them is a very tricky spot. Now don’t get me wrong U Conn sucks but this play isn’t really about them, it’s about going against Cuse in a spot where I don’t know if they are going to be level headed enough to do what they need to do. It looks like Dungey who left the FSU game due to injury will be back, but I wonder if Cuse builds an early lead if Babers gets him out of there to keep him healthy for Clemson. On the U Conn side there isn’t much I can say that’s very good. Defensively they are right there with the worst FBS teams in the nation. In all 3 games they’ve let their opponent march up and down the field lighting up the scoreboard. There is no denying how bad this team, especially defensively. Offensively however there is at least a little reason for hope. They were completely shut down in their second game of the year by Boise State but in their opener they did manage nearly 500 yards of offense against UCF. With Pindell at QB they actually have a nice weapon there. He’s a dual threat guy who is completing 65% of his passes and rushing for 111 yards per game to boot. Syracuse had a nice defensive showing against Florida State but I honestly think that had more to do with how bad FSU’s offense is rather than how good the Syracuse defense has become. Look back no further than week 1 when West Michigan put up 621 yards of total offense against this Orange defense. You can move the ball on this team and with Pindell at the helm I think U Conn is going to be able to put up some nice yards and points. This figures to be a shootout and while I don’t think there’s any real shot that Cuse should lose, the sandwich spot is enough of an issue that I expect U Conn to keep it somewhat interesting. I see a 48-31 type of game or something right around there with Cuse winning.
Purdue (+7): Purdue is off to an 0-3 start but those 3 losses have been by a combined 7 points. You could argue that with a few breaks this team could just as easily be 3-0 right now. On the other side we have Boston College who has worked their way into the top 25 with a 3-0 start led by a high powered offense. The offensive stats for the Eagles are pretty gaudy but it’s worth pointing out that two of their opponents were U Mass and Holy Cross. I’ll concede that I do think their offense is very good but you have to take some of the numbers they’ve put up so far with a grain of salt. For Purdue the offensive situation is a little more up in the air due to health issues surrounding Elijah Sindelar. Sindlear didn’t play last week and in stepped David Blough to throw for a massive 572 yards against Missouri. Sindlear has been limited in practice so far this week and my guess would be that Blough is the guy who ends up starting. It’s also possible we could see a bit of both of them. Either way they should be in good hands as both are plenty capable of leading the offense and moving the ball. To compliment their passing attack is the RB duo of DJ Knox and Markell Jones who combine for about 7 yards per carry. Don’t let that 0-3 record fool you, this is pretty decent team especially on the offensive side of the ball. As mentioned earlier with Boston College the offense despite the weak opponents is very good but defensively there could be some trouble. Last week against the only decent team they’ve played so far this season they allowed 512 total yards against Wake Forest. Frankly both offenses should be able to move the ball and that’s reflected in the total which is now all the way up to 68. I just can’t help but look at this as a buy low, sell high spot. Boston College is due for a stub your toe kind of game and Purdue is more than hungry for that elusive first win. I’m not quite ready to say Purdue wins the game outright but I do expect this one to be tight all the way throughout. In such a game I’ll happily take my chances with the home team and a touchdown in my back pocket.
USC (-3.5): Another buy low, sell high angle here as Washington State travels to LA to take un USC Friday night. The Trojans have come out of the gate slow this year and are currently 1-2 after back to back poor showings against Stanford and Texas. Now however they’ll get to come back home and take on a Washington State team that hasn’t really been tested yet. Yes the Cougars are 3-0 but the wins have come against Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington. Not surprisingly the offensive stats are through the roof but as was the case in the last write up with Boston College they need to be taken with a grain of salt. It is worth pointing out that while the Cougars offense has had plenty of success this year they are very one dimensional. They average only 80 yards per game rushing which is one of the lowest marks in the nation. They are a pass first, pass second, pass third kind of team and that isn’t exactly how you beat the Trojans defense. Against both Stanford and Texas it was the ground game that gave USC problems as they were actually pretty solid against the pass. When you look deeper at that 37-14 loss to Texas last week you realize the game wasn’t as ugly as that final score would lead you to think. Yes Texas outgained them but only by a 394-317 margin, it was a similar story against Stanford where the Cardinal only outgained them 342-332. At QB USC is still breaking in hot shot recruit and true freshman JT Daniels. Daniels definitely had a rough showing at Stanford but was actually pretty good last week against Texas. Now with 3 games under his belt I think this is a spot where he can start to get things moving in the right direction. Due to playing behind so much the last few weeks they haven’t been able to run the ball as much as they’d like, but when they do the duo of Ware and Carr is averaging about 5 yards per carry. At the end of the day USC is at home and I think it’s worth something they have faced a few difficult opponents already. Washington State on the other hand hasn’t played anyone of note and now hits the road against a team badly needing a win. I think the Trojans take care of business and win by double digits.
Liberty (+13): A nice spot to back Liberty here off a bye and with North Texas coming off that big win at Arkansas. It’s not often you see a team from Conference USA go on the road and beat up on a SEC team but that’s what happened last week when the Mean Green knocked off Arkansas 44-17. A look at the box score shows the beating wasn’t as bad as the score shows but this still feels like a hangover spot for North Texas. For as ugly as the score looked however it was actually Arkansas with more first downs and the Mean Green only outgained them by 40 total yards. No doubt they outplayed them and deserved to win, my point is simply it wasn’t as dominant as you might think. With Mason Fine at the helm there’s no denying this is a high powered North Texas offense that’s capable of putting up big points. On the other side Liberty has an offense that isn’t exactly chopped liver either. In two games Liberty is averaging over 500 yards of offense and with Stephen Calvert at QB they are going to put up plenty of points of their own. The total on this game is 70 which speaks to the kind of shootout we are likely to have. North Texas now sits at 3-0 and with that Arkansas game as their most recent showing I do think this line is a few points higher than it should be. My line for this game is only 9 and even though it’s come down from it’s open of 14 I think it’s still too high. In the Flames most recent game a 38-14 loss to Army they were only able to manage those 14 points despite 417 yards of offense. I already mentioned Calvert at QB and they have a nice RB duo in Matthews and Pickett who combine for over 150 yards a game on over 7 yards per rush. This is a nicely balanced offense that can really do some damage. Off the bye they should be well rested and ready to get after it. In general I like what this North Texas team is doing but I can’t help but feel the hangover angle is really going to be in play here. They’ll still find a way to get their points but I expect Liberty to match them and keep this thing tight into the 4th quarter. North Texas probably finds a way to hold on and win but I expect it to be closer than the oddsmakers do. I’m looking at a 41-34 North Texas win.
Michigan State (-4.5)
U Conn (+27.5)