BYU at UTAH STATE
As good as Jaren Hall was in BYU’s first three games, he’s not the No. 1 quarterback by a wide margin. Baylor Romney is also capable of moving the offense and winning. Romney completed 20 of 25 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns Saturday as the Cougars held off South Florida 35-27. BYU scored on four of its first five possessions and led 28-6. Hall, who sat out with bruised ribs, is expected to return this week at Utah State. The 125-mile drive north to Logan will be the first true road game for the Cougars, who defeated Arizona in Las Vegas to open the season before winning at home against Utah, Arizona State and South Florida. Circa Sports opened BYU -9. The underdog was the straight-up winner in the teams’ last three meetings. BYU was a 3-point dog in a 42-14 win at Utah State in 2019. In that game, Hall passed for 214 yards and ran for two touchdowns in the first half before leaving with a concussion. Romney threw for 191 yards and two scores in the second half. The Aggies are reeling from a deceiving 27-3 home loss to Boise State. Utah State’s offense rolled up 443 yards in what should have been a close game, but Logan Bonner threw two interceptions as several mistakes sabotaged the Aggies. This is a good time for Utah State to take advantage of BYU’s banged-up defense, so look for a high-scoring game as the offenses set a fast pace.
— Matt Youmans
NEVADA at BOISE STATE
After a rare loss on the blue turf, the Broncos hit the road and rebounded with a 27-3 win at Utah State as Hank Bachmeier passed for 287 yards and two touchdowns. Bachmeier has 1,132 passing yards through four games, but Boise State’s offense has not been effective on the ground (2.5 yards per carry) and its defense is showing some holes. The Broncos still rate as the top team in the Mountain West, with Fresno State, Nevada and San Jose State on their heels. Circa Sports opened Boise as a 5-point favorite and the line moved to 6.5 against Nevada, which had a bye to heal its wounds after taking a 38-17 beating at Kansas State on Sept. 18. The Wolf Pack rallied to tie the Wildcats before getting blitzed 21-0 in the fourth quarter. Nevada’s inability to stop the run was its biggest problem, but Boise is not displaying a powerful rushing offense. Carson Strong, who led the Wolf Pack to an upset win at California in the season opener, has completed 68 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He went 27-for-40 for 262 yards with one TD and one pick in the loss to K-State. The Wolf Pack offense has plenty of playmakers, including running back Toa Taua and receivers Romeo Doubs and Elijah Cooks, but big plays have been few and far between so far. This is an opportunity for Nevada to make a statement in the conference race. On the flip side, Boise can show the rest of the league it is still the team to beat. The Broncos are unlikely to lose back-to-back home games.
— Matt Youmans
CINCINNATI at NOTRE DAME
Brian Kelly just passed Knute Rockne to become Notre Dame’s all-time leader in coaching wins with 106. A week after Kelly’s big moment, he will try to spoil an enormously important game for Cincinnati. Since the inception of the four-team College Football Playoff at the end of the 2014 season, 20 of the 28 playoff spots have gone to four teams — Alabama (six), Clemson (six), Ohio State (four) and Oklahoma (four) — and the only other team with multiple appearances is Notre Dame (two). Cincinnati could be the first Group of Five team to reach the playoff. Bearcats coach Luke Fickell’s team needed to clear three hurdles to have any playoff shot this season. Cincinnati had to win at Indiana on Sept. 18, and it accomplished that goal 38-24. The Bearcats must beat the Fighting Irish next and then run the table in the American Athletic Conference. Circa Sports opened Cincinnati as a 2-point road favorite against undefeated Notre Dame. In the summer, South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews made the Fighting Irish -2. Is the four-point adjustment warranted? The Bearcats were outgained 376-328 by the Hoosiers and prevailed in large part because of error-prone play by Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Irish quarterback Jack Coan, who limped off with a sprained left ankle in the third quarter of Saturday’s 41-13 victory over Wisconsin, is expected to recover and start this week. Notre Dame is a 4-0 team with flaws, but the Irish have played a tougher schedule and appear to be improving on the defensive side. The Irish also have the offensive firepower to trade shots with the Bearcats, who are led by quarterback Desmond Ridder and running back Jerome Ford. Most college football fans want to see a so-called little guy crash the playoff party and will be rooting hard for Cincinnati, but beware of the Irish in the home dog role. The betting market underrated Notre Dame last week, and the same might be happening this week.
— Matt Youmans
OREGON at STANFORD
After surviving a season-opening scare from Fresno State and pulling off a major upset of Ohio State, the Ducks have been on cruise control. Oregon defeated Stony Brook and Arizona the last two weeks, and now it’s time for a driving test on the Pac-12 road. The Ducks’ stop at Stanford this week will be followed by games down the road at UCLA, Washington and Utah. It won’t be easy for Oregon, the conference’s lone undefeated team, but the return of defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux could help. Thibodeaux, a likely top-five pick in next year’s NFL draft, played a small number of snaps Saturday in his first action since Sept. 4. Oregon’s offense should move the ball with relative ease against an injury-riddled Stanford defense that surrendered 455 yards in a 35-24 loss to UCLA. Ducks quarterback Anthony Brown has seven touchdown passes with no interceptions, and CJ Verdell has 334 rushing yards (5.6 per carry). The Cardinal have the capability to hang around in shootouts with Tanner McKee at quarterback. McKee passed for 293 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against the Bruins. But the Stanford running attack, the trademark of coach David Shaw’s era, is missing. Shaw’s team has been down several injured starters on both sides of the ball, though some of the injured players could return this week. Oregon is favored by eight points at most books. It’s difficult to get on the Stanford side with its defensive issues, but this dog could be more dangerous than the experts think.
— Matt Youmans
MISSISSIPPI at ALABAMA
A clear Heisman Trophy favorite is about to emerge. Will it be Alabama quarterback Bryce Young or Mississippi quarterback Matt Corral? BetMGM lists Corral and Young as 2-1 co-favorites, but things are about to change. Corral has passed for 997 yards and nine touchdowns without an interception while rushing for 158 yards and five scores. The Rebels (3-0) are scoring 52.7 points per game after blowouts of Louisville, Austin Peay and Tulane. The Alabama defense is a different animal, of course. Young has passed for 1,124 yards and 15 touchdowns with one interception while leading the top-ranked Crimson Tide (4-0) to victories over Miami, Mercer, Florida and Southern Mississippi. Another storyline will be the coaches, as the Tide’s Nick Saban faces his former offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin. When these teams met last year in Oxford, the score was tied at 42 early in the fourth quarter before the Tide busted loose to win 63-48 as 23-point favorites. The game featured 1,370 total yards and only one turnover, a fumble by Alabama. Corral completed 21 of 28 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns yet was outdueled by former Tide quarterback Mac Jones. The Ole Miss defense appears to be much improved, but this will be the true test. Alabama’s air of invincibility was lost in its 31-29 win Sept. 18 at Florida. Sharp bettors were buying stock in the underdog soon after Circa Sports opened Alabama -20 on Sunday, when the day ended with the line dropping all the way to 14.5. Who’s got it right — the bettors or Circa bookmaker Matt Metcalf? The total of 77.5 indicates a wild shootout is on the horizon in Tuscaloosa. The Rebels are for real and might be strong enough to corral the Tide. The winning quarterback in this game will be the likely Heisman winner.
— Matt Youmans
ARIZONA STATE at UCLA
Assuming quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is good to go despite a sore shoulder, UCLA will go off as at least a 3-point favorite against Arizona State at the Rose Bowl. Thompson-Robinson passed for 251 yards and accounted for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in the Bruins’ 35-24 win Saturday at Stanford. Thompson-Robinson was showing signs of his shoulder injury after throwing a tiebreaking 75-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. UCLA rolled up 204 rushing yards, including Zach Charbonnet’s 118 on 23 carries, against an injury-depleted Cardinal defense. It was a big step in the right direction for the Bruins, who bounced back from a stunning loss to Fresno State. The UCLA defense still shows holes, and Sun Devils quarterback Jayden Daniels has the talent to make the Bruins pay for their shortcomings. Daniels passed for 236 yards and ran for two touchdowns in a 35-13 victory over Colorado to open league play. The Sun Devils rebounded from a loss at BYU. UCLA coach Chip Kelly has won two in a row against Arizona State, including a 25-18 decision last year in Tempe. If Thompson-Robinson is healthy, the Bruins should be able to handle the Sun Devils, who are playing below expectations and have unimpressive wins against three weak opponents. Arizona State has the better defense in this matchup, but coach Herm Edwards’ offense is not lighting it up as anticipated. Daniels has only two touchdown passes in four games. With USC in the tank and Utah slumping, the winner of this game will have the inside track in the Pac-12 South race.
— Matt Youmans
FRESNO STATE at HAWAII
Jake Haener’s hot start continued last week, but the Fresno State quarterback had to overcome a sluggish start Friday night to help his team avoid embarrassment. The Bulldogs were in an emotional flat spot after their upset win at UCLA and played like it, falling into a 14-0 hole to 30-point underdog UNLV. Haener eventually triggered a rally that ended with a 38-30 victory. He finished with 378 passing yards and five touchdowns, including four TD throws to Jalen Cropper in the second half. Haener has passed for 1,842 yards and 15 touchdowns for Fresno, which is 4-1 with a seven-point loss at Oregon on Sept. 4. Hawaii is 0-2 against Pac-12 opponents (UCLA, Oregon State) and took a narrow home loss to San Jose State of the Mountain West two weeks ago. The Warriors improved to 2-3 by picking up a 41-21 win Saturday at New Mexico State. Chevan Cordeiro passed for 277 yards, ran for 31 and totaled two touchdowns as Hawaii covered -17. Haener and running back Ronnie Rivers will probably be too much for a leaky Hawaii defense. A focused Fresno team should cover the 10-point line, but the Warriors won last year’s meeting in Fresno and the Bulldogs won a 41-38 thriller in Honolulu in 2019, so it might be tempting to look at the home dog. There’s always plenty of betting action when Hawaii is playing the Saturday night bailout game.
— Matt Youmans
INDIANA at PENN STATE
Indiana got back on the winning track with a 33-31 victory at Western Kentucky, but the Hoosiers failed to cover as nine-point favorites. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who looked unsettled in the first three games, was more composed, completing 35 of 53 for 373 yards. USC transfer running back Stephen Carr added two touchdowns to go with 25 carries and 109 yards. The Hoosiers got off to a fast start for the second week in a row, leading Western Kentucky 14-0 after one quarter, but hit a lull and struggled to finish drives. The offensive line had trouble picking up WKU’s run blitzes, and the defense could never get pressure against the Hilltoppers’ up-tempo Air Raid offense. No. 4 Penn State awaits Indiana this weekend and will close out a four-game homestand before visiting Iowa the next week. After beating a ranked Auburn club, Penn State looked predictably sluggish in a 38-17 victory over FCS Villanova and was unable to cover the 29.5-point number. Sean Clifford threw for a career-high 401 yards and four touchdowns with one interception, but Penn State struggled to get any push up front against a stacked Villanova box and mustered only 80 yards on the ground. “I think they’re getting patted on the back, I think they’re reading articles, and we’ll make sure that there’s no leftovers of that,” said coach James Franklin. “I’ll make sure that we clear all those things out of the fridge.” The motivation should be there for sure as Penn State’s 2020 season came apart after losing the opener at Indiana last year in overtime. The Nittany Lions opened -9 at Circa Sports and moved quickly to -11 as the early pro bettor market recalled that game when Penn State outgained Indiana 488-211 but missed three field goals and made countless mistakes. The total moved down from 54.5 to 51.5. Indiana kept its season afloat last weekend but likely has an angry bunch of Nittany Lions waiting in State College.
— Wes Reynolds
OHIO STATE at RUTGERS
Ohio State trailed 7-0 against visiting Akron and then scored 59 unanswered points to cover as a 48.5-point favorite Saturday. The Buckeyes did so without starting quarterback C.J. Stroud, who sat out with a shoulder injury. But the offense worked just fine with fellow five-star freshman Kyle McCord manning the controls. McCord threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, and Ohio State ran for 237 en route to 622 total yards. Coach Ryan Day had called out the defensive line for a lack of disruption, and the players answered the call with nine sacks against an overwhelmed Akron offensive line. The game was not without drama, though, as reserve linebacker K’Vaughan Pope appeared to rage-quit the team after not being substituted into the game on a series. He was dismissed from the team Sunday. Fellow linebacker Dallas Gant entered the transfer portal last week. The Buckeyes now take to the road to face Rutgers. As 20-point underdogs, the Scarlet Knights looked like they would get blown out by Michigan, trailing 20-3 at halftime. However, Rutgers shut down the Wolverines in the second half. Michigan entered last weekend as the No. 1 rushing team in the nation at 350.3 yards per game but was limited to 112. Rutgers outgained Michigan 352-275 and had a 21-15 first-down edge. The failures on fourth down (1-for-4) and quarterback Noah Vedral’s fumble on the final drive ended up being the differences in the game. Rutgers showed its grit and toughness and almost willed its way to victory, and the betting market has taken notice early. The Buckeyes opened -17, but the Scarlet Knights took the early support and are now catching just 16. The total also dropped from 59.5 to 56.5. Stroud is still listed as questionable, and there is a chance that Mt. Laurel native McCord will return to his home state of New Jersey as the Ohio State starter to face the school where his father Derek played quarterback from 1988-92.
— Wes Reynolds
MICHIGAN at WISCONSIN
It was not pretty but it was effective enough as Michigan, failing to cover as a 20-point favorite, held on for a 20-13 victory over visiting Rutgers. Through three games, the Wolverines had led the nation in rushing at an average of 350.3 yards per game. But Rutgers held Michigan to 112 yards on the ground. Michigan generated only 47 yards of total offense in the second half as the Scarlet Knights were stacking the box and forcing quarterback Cade McNamara to beat them through the air, which he was unable to do despite big plays of 51 and 38 yards. Expect Wisconsin’s No. 1 rushing defense and No. 3 overall defense to do the same. Defense is clearly not the problem in Madison. The Badgers tallied six sacks and held Notre Dame to 248 yards of total offense yet still lost 41-13 in one of the more misleading final scores of the weekend. Offense is the problem with Wisconsin. The normally potent Badgers’ rushing attack mustered only 75 yards. A running attack held at bay means the quarterback must make plays, and Graham Mertz could not. Mertz threw four interceptions and had one fumble. Mertz committed four of those turnovers in the fourth quarter, which led directly to 24 Notre Dame points, including pick-sixes on back-to-back possessions. The Badgers were outscored 31-3 in the fourth quarter. The program has lost nine games since 2019 and been outscored 88-9 in the fourth quarters of those games. Mertz is not alone in the blame for Wisconsin’s offensive woes. Coach Paul Chryst retook play-calling duties this offseason from Joe Rudolph and became the team’s quarterbacks coach after the departure of Jon Budmayr. Chryst and Mertz will have to work through the struggles together as the quarterback cupboard is relatively bare. The Badgers opened as 1-point favorites as oddsmakers and bettors seemingly do not know what to make of these teams. The total opened as the lowest on this week’s board at 43.5. Michigan has lost the last two meetings vs. Wisconsin by a combined score of 84-25.
— Wes Reynolds
BOSTON COLLEGE at CLEMSON
The post-Trevor Lawrence era is not working too well at Clemson, as Dabo Swinney already has two regular-season losses for the first time since 2014. Moreover, he has dropped five straight against the number dating to late last season, his longest slump against the spread since Deshaun Watson got hurt midway through the 2014 campaign. Those numbers reflect what has been happening on the field. The offense has been unable to consistently protect QB D.J. Uiagalelei or open holes for the runners, while the mostly new receiving corps has failed to gain separation from opposing DBs. So it’s no wonder that Clemson has dropped to No. 25 and that the ACC Atlantic has opened up to include teams like BC in the title chase. The Eagles sit at 4-0 after a rousing OT win over Missouri. Coach Jeff Hafley appears to be navigating around the hand injury to NFL prospect QB Phil Jurkovec, with backup Dennis Grosel effectively executing a lower-risk, run-heavy game plan. Tech notes to consider: only one Eagles spread loss in the last seven series meetings (4-1-2) and BC’s 16-6-1 road dog mark extending back to 2014.
— Bruce Marshall
LOUISIANA TECH at NC STATE
After partying hard in Raleigh following their upset of Clemson, we’d caution that the Wolfpack could be ripe for a letdown this week. Dave Doeren might also be wondering why AD Boo Corrigan didn’t give him a layup against an FCS foe instead of a potentially tricky test against Skip Holtz and a Louisiana Tech squad that has already covered twice as a dog this season and went 19-8 in that role between 2014-19. It might help Holtz if West Virginia transfer QB Austin Kendall is available. He was out for undisclosed reasons last week against North Texas after tossing seven TD passes in the first three games. Backup Aaron Allen has starting experience and completed 14 of 18 out of the bullpen against the Mean Green, with freshman JD Head also tossing a TD pass in last week’s win. NC State has covered eight of its last nine at Carter Stadium, but it was never off a landmark win over Clemson. So no matter whether Kendall is available, there might be too much air in this number not to consider Holtz, who has covered nine of his last 14 with his Bulldogs against Power Five foes.
— Bruce Marshall
LOUISVILLE at WAKE FOREST
Welcome to ACC Atlantic football in 2021. Clemson’s apparent fall has given everyone, including Louisville and Wake Forest, a real chance. Regional sources insist 4-0 Wake is the real deal. Vastly underrated coach Dave Clawson has parlayed experienced QB Sam Hartman, who has nine touchdown passes and just one interception, with a running attack gaining nearly 190 ypg. Clawson can rotate various capable runners, such as freshman Justice Ellison, Michigan transfer Christian Turner and holdover Christian-Beal Smith. And the Demon Deacons aren’t beating themselves, as their %plussign% 7 turnover margin is tied for fourth nationally coming out of September. But stretching the margin beyond a TD might require some extra work against Louisville, as QB Malik Cunningham continues to do a passable Lamar Jackson imitation. He ran for a pair of TDs for the fourth straight week in the win at Florida State and has kept his mistakes to a minimum with only two picks in four games. That has taken the heat off coach Scott Satterfield. But the very curious series trend — the underdog has covered the last seven — makes us take a harder look at the Cards in Winston-Salem.
— Bruce Marshall
WASHINGTON at OREGON STATE
Shades of the old Dee Andros Power-T, which used to simply line up and run straight at opposing defenses with a collection of big workhorse fullbacks a couple of generations ago. We mention that because it has been about 50 years since we’ve seen Oregon State play the physical style that pounded USC into rubble Saturday. Pac-12 insiders say the result was no accident, and shrewd coach Jonathan Smith has also found an alter ego in QB Chance Nolan, who is doing everything the game plan asks of him as he completes better than 72 percent of his tosses, with nine touchdown passes and two picks. Frankly, we don’t understand the fuss about Washington, which is fortunate to be 2-2 after blowing a lead against modest Cal and surviving in OT. That dropped the Huskies to 2-6 against the spread under the much-hyped Jimmy Lake, whose rah-rah and recruiting chatter are not providing much of an in-game edge. In a quirk of scheduling partly caused by the COVID-19 disruptions last season, this will be just the second road game for Washington since Lake took over, and the previous result at Michigan wasn’t pretty. Four games into 2021, Lake’s offense has scored more than half its points against a Sun Belt defense in Arkansas State, while QB Dylan Morris has hardly been a model of efficiency with just six TD passes along with five picks. Not surprised at the early flip from the Sunday night price when Washington was the favorite, but in case the number switches sides again, note the Beavers’ 13-5 dog mark since 2019.
— Bruce Marshall
ARKANSAS at GEORGIA
Kirby Smart has been able to play the poll game pretty effectively this year, demolishing opponents. But many regional sources insist new-look Arkansas will not be bullied the way the Bulldogs were able to do against South Carolina and Vanderbilt the last two weeks. Sophomore QB KJ Jefferson, who returned after a brief KO last week, has been a very good fit for coordinator Kendal Briles’ offense. Jefferson is doing it with his arm and legs, with the former beyond much doubt after beating Texas A&M’s top-rated pass defense for an 85-yard TD bomb to Treylon Burks and another 48-yarder to AJ Green on Saturday. Jefferson’s completions have been going for better than 30 yards per pop the last two weeks, and the Razorbacks exited September with a pair of double-digit wins over ranked Texas and Texas A&M. But it’s Barry Odom’s much improved defense that might cause problems for Bulldogs QB JT Daniels. He might be even less mobile than A&M’s Zach Calzada, who was under siege all afternoon against Arkansas with three sacks and nine hurries. And Sam Pittman should be pretty well clued into what Smart might be thinking after working on his staff before moving to Fayetteville, where he has covered 11 of his first 14 and nine of 12 as a dog.
— Bruce Marshall
FLORIDA at KENTUCKY
Proving his adaptability, Dan Mullen has adjusted Florida’s offensive personality on the fly. It’s no longer open the bomb bays, as it was the last couple of years with Kyle Trask at QB. Nowadays Florida would rather move it by mule train, as the new Mullen offense is run-heavy and taking advantage of the mobility of QB Emory Jones. The junior has finally begun to look comfortable at the controls, allowing Mullen to operate the offense in somewhat the same manner as he did when Tim Tebow was his QB and Mullen the offensive coordinator for the Gators in their national title year of 2008. It usually hasn’t mattered against Kentucky, which has beaten Florida just once since 1986. Florida should chalk up another win this week, but with coach Mark Stoops willing to let slashing RB Chris Rodriguez — maybe the best runner in the SEC — attack Florida’s defense right up the gut and maybe slow the Gators’ blitzes on QB Will Levis, we suspect this game will move quickly and become a defensive struggle. Perhaps the mid-50s total is a bit too high.
— Bruce Marshall
OKLAHOMA at KANSAS STATE
Safe to assume Oklahoma has a payback motive here after getting dumped in back-to-back years by Kansas State, which was first a 23½-point underdog, then a 27½-point dog. But Lincoln Riley has other things on his mind after Oklahoma has decided to win minus any style points as Spencer Rattler’s Heisman Trophy campaign has gone AWOL. The Sooners are 4-0, but they have yet to cover in three tries against FBS foes while Rattler has struggled with all non-Western Carolina defenses, tossing only three touchdown passes with three picks otherwise. It might not be crazy to risk a recommendation on OU. Despite fully respecting Kansas State coach Chris Klieman and his never-quit Wildcats (11-5 as dogs on his watch since 2019), it would be quite a feat to notch the hat trick at Oklahoma’s expense. That’s especially true since the Wildcats are effectively fighting with an arm tied behind their back minus injured QB Skylar Thompson, their only QB who can provide an aerial dimension. Klieman rotated between sophomores Will Howard and Jaren Lewis to no avail last week, which made it too easy for Oklahoma State to jam the box on RB Deuce Vaughn, who was held to 22 yards rushing. Expect Oklahoma to do the same, which might be enough for the Sooners to gradually pull clear and gain its revenge before shifting focus to next week’s Texas showdown in Dallas.
— Bruce Marshall
AUBURN at LSU
Bryan Harsin might be advised not to cut it so close against Sun Belt teams in front of a demanding Auburn fan base that not long ago helped force the firing of coach Gene Chizik two years after he won a national title. In last week’s close call against Georgia State, the Tigers scored twice in the final 45 seconds to make the final tally a flattering 34-24. If the outcome had a positive development for Auburn, it was that Bo Nix’s chances at QB might have passed the point of no return. Harsin pulled him for 6-foot-7 LSU transfer T.J. Finley, who bailed out the Tigers off the bench. The Finley angle against his former school would add extra tabasco to an already hot rivalry. But we suspect the bigger angle might be LSU hellbent for atonement after its 48-11 loss at Jordan-Hare last autumn, which might have been its worst of many poor efforts in 2020. Meanwhile, Max Johnson has started to look a bit like a left-handed Joe Burrow Lite, with nine touchdown passes the last two weeks for coach Ed Orgeron, whose decision to add Joe Brady disciples Jake Peetz and DJ Mangas to the offensive staff might be starting to pay dividends. And LSU looked awfully animated last week winning at Mississippi State. Even after last year’s well-publicized breakdowns, LSU has quietly covered six of its last eight and appears to have regained its balance after slipping at UCLA in early September.
— Bruce Marshall