We have a bump in college football conference action this week, but a lot of teams are finishing up the nonconference portion of their schedules in Week 4. Something to keep an eye on at this point in the season is the performance level of teams with expectations that they haven’t had in a while. Teams like Syracuse, Kansas, Duke and Rutgers are off to 3-0 starts and are already halfway to bowl eligibility. Sustaining success is the hardest thing to do for non-elite programs.
We’ve got a bunch of angles to consider this week, so here are some spots to think about for Week 4.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (-2.5, 63.5) at Georgia State Panthers
Coastal Carolina only lost two games last season by five combined points. One of the losses came against Georgia State on the teal turf in a game that finished 42-40. It was the only time in the regular season that Coastal Carolina gave up more than 30 points, but maybe the bigger note is that the Chanticleers scored 40 without QB Grayson McCall. Bryce Carpenter was pressed into starting duty due to injury and the Chants were stopped just short on a game-tying two-point conversion attempt. The loss knocked Coastal out of the Top 25, so revenge is very much on the minds of the road team in this one on Thursday.
Buffalo Bulls at Eastern Michigan Eagles (-6, 60)
There have been a few teams to cash big paychecks while pulling off Power 5 upsets this season. Eastern Michigan became the latest, as its win over Arizona State late Saturday night was the final nail in the coffin for Sun Devils coach Herm Edwards. The Eagles took a ground-and-pound approach with 305 rushing yards on 51 attempts to pull the stunner and generally felt in control of the game throughout. You wonder about how star running back Samson Evans responds after having 36 carries for 258 yards, but the Bulls have allowed at least 31 points in all three games this season. This line smells fishy at just 4.5, but no one can deny that it is a rough spot for EMU.
James Madison Dukes at Appalachian State Mountaineers (-7.5, 57.5)
The Mountaineers must feel like they’ve played an entire season already. App State has played three extremely emotional games to this point, including last week’s walk-off, field-storming, Hail Mary win over Troy with College Gameday on hand. And that was on the heels of the 63-61 loss to North Carolina and a very physical game against Texas A&M. The Dukes are coming off of a bye, so they have a tremendous rest advantage here after hammering Middle Tennessee and Norfolk State by a combined score of 107-14. It is no surprise that we’re seeing money hit the board on the ‘dog here.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at New Mexico State Aggies (-5, 55)
The Rainbow Warriors beat Duquesne, but the box score was anything but pretty, as Hawaii was nearly doubled in yards and only ran 46 offensive plays. New Mexico State is 0-4, but has two excellent shots at victories in the next two weeks with Hawaii and then FIU. It is hard, however, to take a team like the Aggies with expectations. If this line holds at -5 or higher, it will be the second-biggest favorite role against a FBS opponent since 2017 for the Aggies. The only other one? Last year’s finale against UMass, which New Mexico State won 44-27 as a touchdown favorite.
Marshall Thundering Herd (-3, 52) at Troy Trojans
These two teams are both in rather interesting spots this week. Troy has to find a way to bounce back from the Hail Mary in Boone, while Marshall is looking to bounce back from an ugly loss to Bowling Green. The Thundering Herd badly outgained the Falcons, but went -3 in turnovers and settled for a field goal in overtime while Bowling Green scored a touchdown. The Thundering Herd are also playing their first Sun Belt Conference game since making the jump from Conference USA. Because Troy had an emotional goal-line stand to preserve the lead and then the interesting choice for an intentional safety, I think the spot sets up a little better for Marshall, but it’s a tough one both ways.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (-9, 52.5) at Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks
Louisiana suffered a stunning loss last week at the hands of a very bad Rice Owls team. We’ll see if the Ragin’ Cajuns can bounce back in the Battle of the Bayou against UL Monroe. The Warhawks have lost 12 of the last 14 in this series and haven’t won at home in Monroe since 2004. Monroe was trounced by Alabama last week and also got blown out by Texas in Week 1, with a nice win over Nicholls in between. This line has come down a bit with some major QB questions for Louisiana and the Warhawks might have a shot at the upset here. Three of the last four have been decided by five or fewer points.
UNLV Rebels (-2.5, 62) at Utah State Aggies
UNLV is a road favorite for the first time since Week 12 of the 2017 season heading to Logan at -2.5 or -3. Since 2011, the Rebels have only been road chalk six times per the KillerSports database, so this is some pretty rare air. Up until that 38-35 win over New Mexico, UNLV had lost five straight in the road favorite role, but that was over a span of five years. You won’t find me with a UNLV bet this week, but there are some sharp minds out there that do like to fade historical outliers and the Rebels lined as a road favorite qualifies.
Western Michigan Broncos at San Jose State Spartans (-6, 51.5)
Talk about an odd travel spot. The trek from Kalamazoo to San Jose is a long one for the Broncos, who have played all three of their games in the Great Lakes region thus far. San Jose State is off of a bye after giving Auburn a game at Jordan-Hare, but the last time we saw the Spartans at home, they had fits with Portland State as a three-score favorite. San Jose State made the trip to Michigan last season and lost 23-3, so they’ll be seeking home revenge in this one.
Toledo is also in a similar spot going to San Diego State, but the Rockets are a small favorite in that one.
TCU Horned Frogs at SMU Mustangs (PK, 69)
I saved the best for last. This is a heated rivalry in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex between TCU and SMU. This rivalry started back in 1915 when TCU won 43-0. The Horned Frogs lead 51-42-7 overall and have won 17 of the last 21 meetings. However, SMU has won the last two and is looking for the third straight win in the Iron Skillet series for the first time since winning 15 in a row from 1972-86.
Here’s what makes this year’s version so great: TCU head coach Sonny Dykes was the orchestrator of the last two SMU wins. Dykes was the head coach at SMU from 2018-21 and now coaches TCU. Interestingly, he was an offensive assistant at TCU in 2017 before taking the SMU job, so now he’s been the subject of hate for both sides of the rivalry, joining Ewing Y. Freeland and Matty Bell as the only other coaches to lead both teams. This game should be very feisty and is must-see TV on Saturday.