CINCINNATI at INDIANA
After winning its 15th straight Victory Bell over Miami (Ohio) in the opener, Cincinnati was sluggish out of the gate against Murray State, tied 7-7 at halftime before pulling away for a 42-7 victory. Perhaps No. 8 Cincinnati was looking ahead to its next two games — both visits to the Hoosier State — with a trip to Indiana this weekend and a game at Notre Dame the first weekend of October. After being -3 in turnover margin in the opener, the Bearcats forced five Murray State turnovers. The Bearcats went unbeaten in the regular season last year but failed to gain a spot in the College Football Playoff due to a weak schedule. Well, here comes an opportunity for Cincinnati to show it can not only compete with but defeat Power 5 teams. After a disappointing opener at Iowa, Indiana paid $1.2 million for Idaho to come to Bloomington and take a beating, and the Vandals obliged 56-14. Idaho had only 10 total yards by the time Indiana led 35-0. The Hoosiers’ defense set the tone, and the special teams scored two touchdowns in the first half. USC transfer Stephen Carr ran for 118 yards and a touchdown. But concern has arisen over quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who seemed out of rhythm again. While Penix threw two touchdown passes, he was 11-for-16 for just 68 yards. Memorial Stadium will be sold out for the first time since games against Ohio State and Michigan in 2017 as the Bearcats come to town. While Cincinnati is trying to earn a signature win over a Power 5 school, this is also a big game for Indiana, which is trying to prove 2020 was no fluke. This game was included in South Point’s game-of-the-year lines and was opened as a pick-’em. Circa Sports opened Cincinnati -3, and the total climbed from 46.5 to 51. More than likely this number will float around 3 and get some two-way action with teams that still have a lot to prove.
— Wes Reynolds
MICHIGAN STATE at MIAMI (FLA.)
Michigan State is off to a 2-0 start in Mel Tucker’s second season. The offense has shown more life in two games than it did all last season as the Spartans have eclipsed 500 yards in both games, with 511 in a 38-21 victory at Northwestern and 595 in last weekend’s 42-14 rout of Youngstown State. Against Northwestern, Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III ran for 264 yards and scored four touchdowns. Last weekend the Spartans took to the air behind Payton Thorne’s 280 yards and four TD passes. Tucker’s rebuild seems ahead of schedule, but Michigan State steps up in class this week with a visit to No. 24 Miami. The biggest story at the Hurricanes’ game last weekend was video of a cat falling from the upper deck at Hard Rock Stadium and being caught and saved by fans using an unfurled American flag as a makeshift net. The Hurricanes might not have nine lives, but they had enough to survive a 25-23 scare from Appalachian State. Freshman Andy Borregales kicked a 43-yard field goal with 2:04 left to give Miami the victory. D’Eriq King threw for 200 yards and ran for 67 more, but Miami is still looking for more explosiveness on offense. Running back Don Chaney Jr. and linebacker Keontra Smith suffered lower-body injuries, and coach Manny Diaz said the initial prognosis for each was “not good.” Miami was a 17.5-point favorite in DraftKings’ summer game-of-the-year lines. Circa Sports opened the Hurricanes as 8-point favorites, but money came in on Michigan State to drop the line to 6, and it has danced between 6 and 6.5. The total also dropped from 59.5 to 54.5. Miami took a predictable licking against No. 1 Alabama and escaped against a good Appalachian State club, but this could be a buy-low spot against an improved Spartans club that is still lacking talent and depth.
— Wes Reynolds
TULSA at OHIO STATE
Despite being favored by more than two touchdowns, Ohio State was upset at home Saturday by Oregon in Ryan Day’s first regular-season loss as coach. The Buckeyes dropped from No. 3 to No. 9 in the polls but are still the fifth choice at 8-1 odds to win the College Football Playoff, according to BetMGM. Ohio State lost despite gaining 612 yards, including 484 through the air with quarterback C.J. Stroud, and having three receivers amass more than 100 yards apiece. Going into the season, the Buckeyes’ pass defense, which ranked last in the Big Ten in 2020, was a cause for concern. But the solid run defense looks to be a thing of the past. After giving up 203 yards on the ground in a 45-31 victory at Minnesota, Ohio State was gashed for 269 yards (7.1 yards per carry) against Oregon. The Buckeyes’ margin for error has been eliminated for returning to the CFP, and they will likely need to run the table or get a lot of help. The first step comes Saturday against Tulsa at the Horseshoe. After losing to FCS UC Davis as a 23-point home favorite, Tulsa took to the road and had Oklahoma State on the ropes before losing 28-23. The Golden Hurricane led in the fourth quarter and looked poised to beat their Turnpike Classic rival for the first time since 1998. Tulsa’s defense recorded nine tackles for loss and held Oklahoma State to 313 yards of total offense. Now Tulsa is likely staring at 0-3 before starting AAC play. The Hurricane visited Columbus five years ago during a 10-3 season but got obliterated 48-3. However, early bettors at Circa Sports backed the Golden Hurricane as Ohio State opened as a 31-point favorite and was bet to -26. The total also dropped from 64.5 to 61.5. Ohio State’s defense has given up 913 yards in two games and an average of 33 ppg, so early Tulsa backers perhaps see this as a potential back-door cover or believe Ohio State could have a hangover off a highly disappointing and rare early-season loss.
— Wes Reynolds
NEVADA at KANSAS STATE
Senior quarterback Skylar Thompson suffered a serious right knee injury Saturday, and the drop-off to his backup is significant enough to make Kansas State a home underdog in this game. Thompson has started 32 games, making him one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the nation. He helped the Wildcats beat Stanford 24-7 in the opener, and K-State led Southern Illinois 7-0 when Thompson went down. He is expected to return in a few weeks, after it was initially feared to be a season-ending injury. Will Howard relieved and went 8-for-17 for 76 yards with an interception. The offense will be in the capable hands of running back Deuce Vaughn, who rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. Vaughn and the Wildcats rallied from a 23-21 halftime deficit to defeat the Salukis 31-23. Nevada is 2-0 after upsetting California in the opener and whipping Idaho State 49-10. Carson Strong, the top quarterback in the Mountain West, has passed for 693 yards and six touchdowns. The Wolf Pack have an impressive array of weapons, including running back Toa Taua and receivers Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks and Tory Horton. Howard does not pose much of a passing threat, so the Nevada defense’s ability to contain Vaughn will be the deciding factor. Circa Sports opened Nevada -2, and the line ticked up a half-point. Chris Klieman is an excellent coach who will make adjustments with a new quarterback, so the Big 12 home dog remains dangerous in what appears to be a coin-flip game.
— Matt Youmans
PURDUE at NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame’s power rating has dropped after a pair of narrow victories over Florida State and Toledo, and the truth is the Fighting Irish are lucky to be 2-0. The Rockets, 17-point underdogs, took a five-point lead with 1:35 left Saturday before Jack Coan hit tight end Michael Mayer for an 18-yard touchdown pass as the Irish prevailed in dramatic fashion 32-29. A week earlier, Notre Dame squandered an 18-point fourth-quarter lead before beating the Seminoles in overtime. Coan, a grad transfer from Wisconsin, survived a tough outing against Toledo. He passed for two TDs but was sacked six times and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. The rebuilt offensive line is having some problems, and star running back Kyren Williams has been limited to 120 yards on 34 carries (3.5 per carry). In the summer, South Point oddsmaker Chris Andrews opened Notre Dame as a 10-point favorite against Purdue. Circa Sports opened the line -8 on Sunday, and dog money moved it to -7. These teams are meeting for the first time since 2014, and Notre Dame has won nine of the last 10. The Boilermakers, 2-0 ATS after beating Oregon State 30-21 and Connecticut 49-0, have not been tested by an offense with the Irish’s big-play firepower. Purdue is getting strong play from quarterback Jack Plummer, who has completed 73.8% of his passes with six touchdowns, and wide receiver David Bell has a future in the NFL. The Boilermakers’ weak ground attack might be their downfall in this matchup. Purdue will put up a respectable fight, but bet on Notre Dame to extend its 25-game home winning streak.
— Matt Youmans
ALABAMA at FLORIDA
Bryce Young will make his first road start, but that’s not a good reason to bet against top-ranked Alabama. Young is ready to win big games and primed to be coach Nick Saban’s next great quarterback. The Crimson Tide appear to have one serious challenger in the SEC, but they would not see Georgia until a potential conference championship game matchup. The mystery to be solved in Gainesville, Fla., is whether the Gators can cover as 16-point underdogs. Florida coach Dan Mullen must find an answer at quarterback to make this a competitive game in the second half. Junior starter Emory Jones has been a disappointment in wins over Florida Atlantic and South Florida. Jones has passed for two touchdowns with four interceptions while getting outplayed by freshman backup Anthony Richardson, the team’s leading rusher with 275 yards on only 11 carries. Richardson is inexperienced yet likely gives the Gators a better shot against a dominant Alabama defense. Saban performed his phony routine of being furious with his team’s sloppy play in a 48-14 victory over Mercer on Saturday, when the Tide led 31-0 at halftime and Young finished with 227 passing yards and three touchdowns. Saban is always angry and working to keep his team on edge. If he wants to keep his players focused, don’t schedule Mercer. An injury to Young might be Florida’s only path to winning. The Gators are capable of making Saban sweat at the Swamp if Richardson gets a lot of snaps and continues his dynamic play. Alabama’s next test will be Oct. 2 against Mississippi. The Rebels’ Matt Corral is one of the few quarterbacks who can trade shots with the Tide’s Young.
— Matt Youmans
UTAH at SAN DIEGO STATE
Will the real San Diego State please stand up? A week after looking weak on both sides of the ball in a sluggish win over New Mexico State, the Aztecs dropped the hammer on Arizona in a 38-14 decision that was over early. San Diego State led 35-7 at halftime in Tucson, extending the Wildcats’ losing streak to 14 games. Jordon Brookshire passed for 183 yards and two touchdowns, and Greg Bell rushed for 125 yards as the Aztecs showed dramatic improvement. But now they host a more talented Utah team that performed poorly in a surprising loss to Brigham Young, which held the Utes to seven points through three quarters in a 26-17 upset. Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer played like a rookie under pressure, throwing for only 147 yards with an interception, and the Utah defense surrendered 231 rushing yards. Utes coach Kyle Whittingham did not have his team prepared to play and made a few questionable in-game decisions that were costly. This should be a bounce-back spot for Utah, which opened -7 at Circa Sports. The low total of 44.5 indicates the defenses should control a game to be waged mostly on the ground. This is a big step up in class for the Aztecs, but the Utes have not shown much yet after getting a lot of preseason hype.
— Matt Youmans
ARIZONA STATE at BYU
Before joining a new-look Big 12, Brigham Young is handing out some beatings to Pac-12 opponents. The Cougars handled Arizona in the season opener before stopping a nine-game losing streak to rival Utah with a 26-17 win Saturday in Provo. BYU coach Kalani Sitake’s emotional sideline celebration could be a warning sign. After a wild party, there’s usually a hangover, and this looks like a classic flat spot for the Cougars. Still, BYU appears to be better than Arizona State through two weeks, so do the Sun Devils deserve to be 2-point road favorites? The line is a reflection of how bad the situational spot is for the Cougars. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jaren Hall is the real deal as a passing and running threat, and Tyler Allgeier has totaled 196 rushing yards. BYU’s defense is fast and physical, and Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels won’t find the same wide-open running lanes he exploited against UNLV while rushing for 125 yards. Daniels threw an interception in the end zone in the first quarter and the Sun Devils started slowly, leading 14-10 at the half before breaking away for a 37-10 victory. Hall is playing at a higher level than Daniels right now, and Arizona State is taking a big step up in class after facing two weak opponents. If Sitake can motivate his team and the energy from the home crowd helps, the Cougars should be live home dogs with a good shot to go 3-0 against the Pac-12.
— Matt Youmans
FRESNO STATE at UCLA
With two games in the win column, including the signature accomplishment of coach Chip Kelly’s four years, UCLA deserved its early bye last week. Kelly needed to show results this season, and a 38-27 victory over LSU on Sept. 4 was exactly what he needed. The double-digit win was no fluke, with the Bruins showing their strength on the offensive and defensive lines while pushing around a respected SEC opponent. Kelly’s offense is averaging 41 points and 227 rushing yards per game. Brittain Brown and Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet are running backs with power and speed. Dual-threat quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who had turnovers problems in the past, has thrown only one interception. The Bruins are not getting a break by facing Fresno State, which proved more in its 31-24 loss at Oregon than it did in blowout victories over Connecticut and Cal Poly. Washington transfer Jake Haener is off to a hot start, passing for eight touchdowns with no interceptions. The numbers are a little deceiving because he padded the stats against two pathetic opponents, but he was good against Oregon, completing 30 of 43 for 298 yards. In 2018, Kelly’s first year in Westwood, the Bulldogs rolled into the Rose Bowl and put a 38-14 beating on the Bruins. Kelly will probably get payback this week, but will UCLA cash as a double-digit favorite? The Bruins’ ground attack is likely to wear down the Fresno defense in the second half. Beware of backing the Bulldogs if they become popular public dogs.
— Matt Youmans
UCF at LOUISVILLE
After a slow start against Boise State, it looks as if Gus Malzahn has the Golden Knights percolating again as they roared back to beat the Broncos before putting 63 on Bethune-Cookman last weekend. Any worries about QB Dillon Gabriel’s condition after getting roughed up by Boise were allayed when he passed for 312 yards against the FCS Wildcats, suggesting Malzahn has opened the full playbook for his quarterback, who normally might not have taken as many snaps against a lower-tier foe. The concern for Louisville backers is that the Cardinals might not be much above FCS status, though last week’s easy win over Eastern Kentucky at least suggests Scott Satterfield’s program hasn’t fallen that far. However, UCF’s potent offense might expose Louisville, as happened in the opener against Matt Corral and Ole Miss. The Rebels seemed able to move the ball whenever they wished, and Gabriel will be operating at a similar tempo Friday night. For the Cards to compete against quality foes, QB Malik Cunningham must deliver more consistency, not the mistake-filled efforts — including 15 giveaways — from a season ago.
— Bruce Marshall
NEBRASKA at OKLAHOMA
Rest assured we’ll be able to watch highlights from the 1971 Thanksgiving “Game of the Century” on the ESPN channels this week as this matchup recalls some of the epic battles from the old Big Eight days. Of course, this is no longer an annual event. In fact, these two haven’t squared off since the 2010 Big 12 title game, which OU won 23-20. Nebraska high-tailed it to the Big Ten the next year. Wins over FCS Fordham and a downgraded Buffalo the last two weeks are hardly signals that Scott Frost has turned the corner with the Huskers, and this trip to Norman will provide a more accurate barometer of his progress. But it risks being a bad experience, as Oklahoma is unlikely to ease off the throttle as it did in the opener against Tulane, costing it in the polls. Lincoln Riley’s offense has shown a lot more sophistication and pizzazz under Heisman hopeful Spencer Rattler, who got back into the groove Saturday by tossing five TD passes against Western Carolina. Nebraska is not nearly as dynamic with QB Adrian Martinez, who has thrown only four TD passes in three games against marginal opposition. This game might look a lot like the six straight that Oklahoma won from the Huskers after that 1971 classic.
— Bruce Marshall
GEORGIA TECH at CLEMSON
Will Georgia Tech even want to show up in Death Valley after its recent results against Clemson? Dabo Swinney & Co. left a path of destruction in Atlanta a year ago when his Tigers mummified the Yellow Jackets 73-7. Clemson was more than halfway to 100 with 52 points at the half and Trevor Lawrence was en route to five TD passes before Swinney called off the dogs in the second half. That makes a combined 125-21 for Swinney over Geoff Collins’ Yellow Jackets the last two seasons. ACC sources believe D.J. Uiagalelei will be fine at QB as long as he’s not looking at Kirby Smart’s Georgia defense. Uiagalelei regained some confidence while pitching Clemson to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter against South Carolina State last week before taking it easy the rest of the day. With another game under his belt and a bit more confidence pulling the levers, he will present a lot more problems for the Tech defense than Kennesaw State’s option last week. Collins has covered only eight of his first 25 on the board with the Ramblin’ Wreck since 2019.
— Bruce Marshall
USC at WASHINGTON STATE
The war drums started beating so loudly outside the Los Angeles Coliseum after USC was pounded 42-28 Saturday by what seemed a very unremarkable Stanford team that AD Mike Bohn pink-slipped beleaguered coach Clay Helton on Monday, with assistant Donte Williams taking over on an interim basis. Now the Trojans are Williams’ problem. Among the offensive issues are QB Kedon Slovis being slow to detonate the offense and lacking a trusted target besides sure-handed Drake London. And Todd Orlando’s defense suddenly is a concern after David Shaw’s Cardinal did pretty much what it wanted. QB Tanner McKee was rarely pressured, and Stanford’s ground game delivered big plays like Nathaniel Peat’s 87-yard TD jaunt. If USC has a silver lining, it’s that Washington State is still searching for firm footing under second-year coach Nick Rolovich, with the Cougars minus a spread cover in their five games since Rolovich won his debut at Oregon State last November. Now that Rolovich has settled on mobile Jayden de Laura instead of Tennessee transfer Jarrett Guarantano to run the offense, perhaps the Cougars can ignite after de Laura passed for 303 yards and three TDs in last week’s win over Portland State. The overarching storyline, however, is how the Trojans react to their third in-season coaching dismissal in eight years, following Lane Kiffin in 2013 and Steve Sarkisian in 2015.
— Bruce Marshall
SOUTH CAROLINA at GEORGIA
Kirby Smart’s defense has yet to allow a TD in two games — UAB got its score last week on a pick-six — so the Bulldogs hardly missed JT Daniels when he sat with a strained oblique. Former starter Stetson Bennett was more than serviceable in relief, with five TD passes in just 12 throws against the Blazers. Smart also doesn’t need reminding that the Gamecocks scored a mighty 20-17 upset as a three-TD dog the last time they played between the hedges in 2019. Replicating that would be a neat trick for new coach Shane Beamer, who has infused a bit more spark into the program after the button-downed approach of Will Muschamp, which was reflected in the rally from a 14-0 deficit to a 20-17 win over East Carolina last week. If Smart, now No. 2 in the polls, is really watching the rankings as SEC insiders suggest, it could be dangerous to risk a recommendation on the Gamecocks, even at this stratospheric price. Recent grad assistant Zeb Noland lacks the mobility to wheel away from the pressure Smart’s defense displayed in destroying the Clemson offense and sacking D.J. Uiagalelei seven times two weeks ago.
— Bruce Marshall
AUBURN at PENN STATE
New Auburn coach Bryan Harsin has learned quickly how to keep them happy on the Plains, rolling up 60+ in the first two weeks. Who cares at Toomer’s Corner if it’s against Akron and Alabama State? But we’re not sure that sort of bully ball will work against a gnarly Penn State squad that has already gone into Madison and put the clamps on Wisconsin before galloping away from capable MAC rep Ball State. Those wins make it six in a row (also vs. the spread) for James Franklin since the Nittany Lions opened last season 0-5, and evidence is mounting that veteran QB Sean Clifford (21 of 29 against Ball State and no picks in two games) is getting comfortable with the schemes of new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. Let’s see if Harsin gets reminded this week about QB Bo Nix, whose inability to deliver in key games might have helped cost predecessor Gus Malzahn his job. At its best, Harsin’s offense will pivot around slamming RB Tank Bigsby. But if that option is closed, evidence suggests it might be hard to trust Nix as Plan B.
— Bruce Marshall
UTAH STATE at AIR FORCE
Some coaching is going on again in Logan after Gary Andersen decided to take an on-the-job sabbatical last fall and Utah State drifted into disrepair under interim coach Frank Maile. But new coach Blake Anderson means business, as he did for many years at Arkansas State, and wisely brought along his QB from Jonesboro, Logan Bonner, who bailed out USU in the opener at Washington State and again last week by firing four TD passes against North Dakota. But historically the Utags have had problems with Air Force, which hasn’t dropped a spread verdict in this Mountain West series in six years. And the Falcons are 2-0 after holding Navy to 68 yards last week. Troy Calhoun’s option hasn’t flashed much big-play tendency the first two weeks, but Air Force hasn’t had to, and Calhoun has never kept his game plans vanilla for vanilla’s sake. Calhoun’s best teams have excelled on defense as well as with the option, and he has an overload of last year’s academy “turnbacks” along with most of the 2020 starters from the defense that throttled USU 35-7 last December. No surprise if we see a few more Calhoun tricks this week while the Haaziq Daniels-led option remains a good source of ball and clock control when milking the lead.
— Bruce Marshall
VIRGINIA at NORTH CAROLINA
Mack Brown took out some frustrations from the opening loss to Virginia Tech by authorizing a 60-minute beatdown of Georgia State, going so far as to keep QB Sam Howell in the game to continue throwing TD passes in the fourth quarter. Perhaps Brown doesn’t think it’s too late for Howell to rehabilitate his Heisman Trophy candidacy after the disastrous opener. History suggests, however, that this test will be every bit as tough for the Tar Heels as was the opening loss to the Hokies. Bronco Mendenhall has mostly had UNC’s number since arriving in Charlottesville, winning and covering four straight in the series, including a 44-41 upset last season. Virginia junior QB Brennan Armstrong is doing a pretty good job imitating do-everything predecessor Bryce Perkins, already tossing seven TD passes in two romps — including five in the rout of Illinois last week — while also keeping plays alive with his legs. Series trends are encouraging for the Cavs, as is Mendenhall’s documented prowess as an underdog with a solid 11-6 mark in his last 17 getting points.
— Bruce Marshall
TULANE at OLE MISS
Tulane has turned into a barnstorming team as New Orleans continues to recover from Hurricane Ida. The Green Wave has played its first two games in Norman, Okla., and Birmingham, Ala., instead of as scheduled on campus. No bother, as Willie Fritz almost engineered a stunner in the opener at Oklahoma with a brave second-half performance, outscoring the Sooners 21-3, before dropping a 69-point bomb on Morgan State. Not to get too carried away by that mauling of the FCS Bears, but it’s the latest indicator that Fritz has some real firepower with electric second-year QB Michael Pratt, who has thrown five TD passes and no picks. Of course, Pratt will need to keep reloading in Oxford to keep pace with Ole Miss QB Matt Corral, who is generating the first serious Heisman chatter at the school since Archie Manning 51 years ago after tossing six TD passes with no picks in the Rebels’ 2-0 start. Ole Miss is also rushing for better than 260 ypg, so Fritz’s defense will be stretched. The Ole Miss defense seems upgraded, but Pratt will provide a test and perhaps help challenge another high-priced Rebels total that sat in the low 70s early in the week. The Green Wave will return to its home base for next week’s game against UAB.
— Bruce Marshall