Picks for college football's biggest Week 4 games
While not as loaded a lineup as last week, there are still four games between ranked opponents, which means teams are now into their conference schedules. Here are the picks for the top games from Week 4:
No. 11 Wisconsin at No. 8 Michigan State
Line: Michigan State, -5.5
The Spartan defense can be attacked through the air. The secondary was an issue last year, and last week Notre Dame had success working the ball downfield, as Irish QB DeShone Kizer completed 11 of 19 throws at least 10 yards from the line of scrimmage for 289 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, against Georgia State, starting QB Bart Houston was benched after completing just two of eight throws from the same range (0-5 on throws over 20 yards), while backup Alex Hornibrook completed all four of his.
Hornibrook has since let the cat out of the bag that he is the expected starter last week, and while his play last week was certainly more promising than what we saw from Houston, the sample size is far too small to predict an outright upset from a backup QB in his first start on the road against a team that knows how to win big games. Wisconsin will stay in this game to the end and should cover the curious spread, but ultimately the Spartans will notch their second-straight big win.
Prediction: Michigan State 17, Wisconsin 14
No. 19 Florida at No. 14 Tennessee
Line: Tennessee, -6.5
Gators RBs Jordan Scarlett, Mark Thompson and Lamical Perine have split carries almost evenly through three games, all three averaging over five yards per carry. It’ll be a tough task to maintain those averages this week, as Tennessee has an outstanding defensive front seven, led by DE Derek Barnett who leads the Volunteers with nine run stops. Making it even tougher is the fact that starting QB Luke Del Rio is out with a knee sprain, meaning Purdue transfer Austin Appleby will take over signal-calling duties. Florida’s defense should have some success against the Tennessee offense due to the poor Volunteer offensive line, but Tennessee should come away with another close win.
Prediction: Tennessee 16, Florida 10
No. 17 Arkansas at No. 10 Texas A&M
Line: Texas A&M -6
New Arkansas QB Austin Allen has improved his QB rating every game this year from 81.3 against Louisiana Tech in week one to 145.1 in week three against Texas State. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, they’ve yet to face a defense anywhere near the likes of Texas A&M, which, thanks in large part to potential 2017 number one overall draft pick DE Myles Garrett and his 19 total pressures, has yet to allow a QB rating higher than 75.0 this season. This spread pays appropriate respect to Arkansas, but the Aggies should distance themselves from the Razorbacks in the second half.
Prediction: Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 21
No. 12 Georgia at No. 23 Mississippi
Line: Mississippi, -7
Georgia has played well thus far defensively, but their lack of pass rush (just three sacks and four hits through three games) is likely to catch up with them this week. QB Jacob Eason has completed just 10 of 31 passes at least 10 yards through the air this season, which means Ole Miss fans can rest a little easier this week when their team races out to a multi-score lead (again).
Prediction: Ole Miss 34, Georgia 20
No. 5 Clemson at Georgia Tech
Line: Clemson, -9.5
Last year Clemson won this matchup by three scores thanks to a balanced and explosive approach on offense that saw RB Wayne Gallman rush for almost 9.0 yards per carry and QB Deshaun Watson post a QB rating of 131.7 on 26 of his 34 drop-backs on which he had a clean pocket. Clemson appears to have it’s mojo back after last week’s 59-0 drubbing of South Carolina State, and they should be back to their dominant ways this week, albeit on the road versus Georgia Tech.
Prediction: Clemson 49, Georgia Tech 14
USC at No. 24 Utah
Line: Utah, -3.0
USC is a bit of a train wreck right now, and ranking 10th in the Pac-12 in both run and pass blocking plays right into the hands of Utah’s stout defense, led by DE Hunter Dimick and his four sacks, four hits, 15 hurries and eight total defensive stops. With so much turmoil surrounding the Trojans this shortened week, there’s no reason to expect them to cover on the road against the Utes tomorrow night.
Prediction: Utah 23, USC 13
Kent State at No. 1 Alabama
Line: Alabama, -44.0
While OLB Tim Williams has played well this season, to date he has only tallied three hits and no sacks. Look for that total to change dramatically this week, despite likely playing very limited snaps for the Crimson Tide.
Prediction: Alabama 56, Kent State 10
Penn State at No. 5 Michigan
Line: Michigan, -18.5
This matchup is another case of an offensive line being severely outmanned on the road. Penn State is last in the Big Ten in pass block grading, 13th in run blocking. That’s going to be a significant issue against Michigan team already No. 1 in the country in both run defense and pass rush grading that looks to be getting back Taco Charlton this week, it’s top EDGE rusher. Add in the fact star CB Jourdan Lewis is also expected to return and the Wolverines are significantly healthier this year than they were when they beat Penn State by 12 in Happy Valley in Week 12 of last year. Bettors can feel free to not only take advantage of this spread, but the under as well.
Prediction: Michigan 38, Penn State 10
No. 13 Florida State at South Florida
Line: Florida State, -5.5
While South Florida has enjoyed blowout wins in each of its three games to start this season — and Florida State is likely to be experience some level of hangover after last week’s debacle against Louisville — Bulls QB Quinton Flowers has completed just 40 percent of his passes this season when under pressure, and this should clearly be the toughest challenge his offensive line has faced to date. Yes, the Seminoles are coming off a historically terrible game, but expect a bounce-back this week against a very solid USF squad.
Prediction: Florida State 34, USF 20
No. 18 LSU at Auburn
Line: LSU, -3.5
The LSU passing attack has been slightly improved with Danny Etling at the helm, but don’t expect to see his 39.2 QB rating when under pressure this year to go upward considering he’s facing a CB duo of Carlton Davis and Johnathan Ford, who the past two weeks have yielded just eight total catches for 69 yards. Auburn has a real shot at winning this slugfest under the lights at home.
Prediction: Auburn 16, LSU 13
No. 6 Houston at Texas State
Line: Houston, -34.5
Star QB Greg Ward Jr. banged up his shoulder against Cincinnati last week, but the added rest from playing a Thursday game appears to have benefited him as he expected to be ready to go on Saturday. The end result of this game was never in doubt, but Ward’s availability means the line is now well within Houston’s reach. Look for the Cougar passing game to get going against a team that has managed just six total pressures (no sacks) from its defensive line this year.
Prediction: Houston 45, Texas State 10
Oklahoma State at No. 16 Baylor
Line: Baylor, -7.5
All anyone is ever going to remember about Oklahoma State this year is the ridiculous final two plays against Central Michigan in Week 2, but the Cowboys rebounded nicely with a big win last week against an underrated Pitt team. Meanwhile, although the results have gone their way thus far, it’s clear this isn’t the same elite offense Baylor had grown accustomed to under Art Briles. Oklahoma State’s star playmaker finally got going after seeing a whopping 18 balls thrown his way last week, and expect WR James Washington to build off his 119-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Panthers. Take full advantage of the over on this one.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 48, Baylor 40
No. 20 Nebraska at Northwestern
Line: Nebraska, -7.5
Nebraska owns the country’s third-highest graded offensive line on run blocks through three weeks, and while the Wildcats have been stout defensively, they’ve yet to face an offense anywhere near the talent and depth of the Cornhuskers, and there’s no reason to expect the offense to pick up this week either.
Prediction: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 13
No. 7 Stanford at UCLA
Line: Stanford, -3
While UCLA QB Josh Rosen’s completion percentage stands at just 59.1 percent this season, his accuracy jumps to 69.6 percent when factoring throw aways, spikes, times he was hit while throwing and 10 dropped passes, a ridiculous total through three games. I still don’t trust Stanford, but considering where this line is, neither does Vegas. This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the day, as I expect Stanford to be put to the test by a UCLA squad coming off a road win against a competitive BYU squad.
Prediction: Stanford 20, UCLA 16
No. 3 Louisville at Marshall
Line: Louisville, -26
Marshall gave up 65 points and lost by 27 at home to the mighty Akron Zips last week, who in week two lost to Wisconsin by 44, who beat LSU by three in Week 1, then LSU beat Mississippi State by three in week three, who plays Mississippi every year in the tightly-contested Egg Bowl, but Mississippi lost to Florida State by 11 Week 1, which of course was drubbed by 43 points Louisville, 63-20 last week. What does all of this transitive analysis mean for this week’s game? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Prediction: Louisville 46, Marshall 13