It was an eventful summer for Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, who openly challenged the most powerful man in college football, and the first month of the season has been a similarly wild ride for his Aggies.
After getting upset by Appalachian State on Sept. 10, Texas A&M rebounded by grinding out low-scoring victories over Miami and Arkansas. An anemic offense forced Fisher to make a quarterback switch, but that has not solved the Aggies’ problems as they get into the toughest stretch of their schedule.
The Aggies, playing their second of four consecutive games away from home, face Mississippi State and its high-powered passing offense on Saturday in Starkville. Will Rogers ranks third in the nation with 1,386 passing yards and has 16 touchdowns through four games.
The Texas A&M defense is strong up front, yet has not faced a passing attack this potent. Rogers threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns last year when the Bulldogs beat the Aggies 26-22.
Running back Devon Achane is the primary weapon for the Aggies, who are 2-0 since Fisher made the move to LSU transfer Max Johnson as his starter. Johnson has averaged only 145.5 passing yards in the last two games, and now he’s without the team’s leading receiver, Ainias Smith, who has a season-ending leg injury.
Texas A&M lacks the firepower to trade scores with Mississippi State, so lay the points. Bulldogs coach Mike Leach has a big advantage at quarterback with Rogers.
It’s important to note what’s on deck for the Aggies — a trip to Alabama. In late May, Fisher boldly ripped into Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and his recruiting tactics as the two feuded publicly. Fisher and Saban claim there are no hard feelings anymore, but A&M will likely get annihilated by Alabama next week.
Pick: Mississippi State -3.5
Six more plays for Saturday (HOME team in CAPS):
Purdue (%plussign% 12) over MINNESOTA: After mauling Michigan State on the road, the Golden Gophers (4-0) appear to be golden in the Big Ten West. Tanner Morgan has completed 77 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns, and Mohamed Ibrahim has rushed for 567 yards and eight touchdowns. Still, Minnesota’s nonconference schedule (Colorado, New Mexico State, Western Illinois) was weak and this is a step up in class. Purdue, 2-2 with last-minute losses to Penn State and Syracuse, will get a huge lift if senior quarterback Aidan O’Connell returns from injury as expected.
Oregon State (%plussign% 10.5) over UTAH: Despite a four-interception fiasco from veteran quarterback Chance Nolan, the Beavers were live dogs against USC. The Oregon State defense limited the Trojans to 17 points as Caleb Williams went 16-for-36 with only 180 yards passing. The Utes will miss injured tight end Brant Kuithe, the team leader in receptions. The biggest concern from the Beavers’ perspective is containing a Utes ground attack led by running back Tavion Thomas and dual-threat quarterback Cameron Rising.
IOWA (%plussign% 10.5) over Michigan: The Hawkeyes have been giant killers at home, beating five of the past six Top 5-ranked teams to visit Kinnick Stadium. Iowa was a 21-point dog when it upset No. 2 Michigan 14-13 in 2016. That’s history. The Iowa offense is currently a mess, so that’s obviously the biggest issue with backing the dog. The Hawkeyes’ strength is their run defense, as always, and it will be tested by the Wolverines’ Blake Corum, who rushed for 243 yards against Maryland. Michigan likely gets the win, but it’s low scoring and ugly.
AUBURN (%plussign% 8) over Louisiana State: It’s risky to bet on Auburn amid speculation that coach Bryan Harsin is about to be fired. Harsin could be done if he loses this game. On the other sideline, LSU coach Brian Kelly’s abrasive style is rumored to be wearing on many of the players. LSU is 2-3 in its past five trips to Auburn with the wins by one and two points and the losses by five, 34 and 37. The home dog should stay in the hunt behind running back Tank Bigsby and dual-threat quarterback Robby Ashford.
ARKANSAS (%plussign% 17.5) over Alabama: The Tide’s recent troubles on the road continued when they were lucky to escape 20-19 as 21-point favorites at Texas three weeks ago. Alabama’s advantage is quarterback Bryce Young facing Arkansas’ poor pass defense. But the Hogs are strong on the offensive and defensive lines, and quarterback KJ Jefferson is a playmaker who made one costly mistake — a fumble near the goal line — in the loss to Texas A&M.
NEBRASKA (-5) over Indiana: With a week off to prepare for this night game in Lincoln, expect to see a much better performance from the Cornhuskers. There’s no doubt Nebraska has the better offense with quarterback Casey Thompson and running back Anthony Grant. The Hoosiers are 3-1 yet just a couple of plays away from 1-3, with lucky victories over Illinois and Western Kentucky.
Last week: 4-2-1 against the spread