OKLAHOMA vs. TEXAS
A week after hearing boos from the home fans, Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler rebounded with an efficient performance in a 37-31 win at Kansas State. Rattler connected on 22 of 25 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The performance backed up coach Lincoln Riley’s decision not to bench him. It’s also obvious the Oklahoma offense is out of sync and the defense has leaks. The Sooners are 0-4 against the spread in tight games against Tulane, Nebraska, West Virginia and K-State. Riley is 3-1 in the Texas rivalry, with the wins coming by five, seven and eight points. Steve Sarkisian, the Longhorns’ first-year coach, will be a tough adversary for Riley this week and in the future. Texas is 4-1 straight up and ATS with covers against Louisiana, Rice, Texas Tech and TCU. Casey Thompson started at quarterback against the Horned Frogs and played well enough, passing for 142 yards and running for 35, but he did not exactly light it up. The star was Bijan Robinson, who rushed for 216 yards and two scores on 35 carries. Robinson, one of the nation’s most talented running backs, is gaining 130.4 yards per game on the ground. The Sooners must contain Robinson and the running game. After several narrow escapes, Oklahoma seems ready to be knocked off and maybe this is the time. South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews opened Oklahoma -9 on May 21. The line reopened Sunday at -5 and was played down to -3.5. The Longhorns have the look of live dogs.
— Matt Youmans
STANFORD at ARIZONA STATE
It was difficult to judge the Sun Devils through four games because they whipped three weak opponents in Colorado, UNLV and Southern Utah and took a whipping at Brigham Young, the only respectable team on Arizona State’s schedule in the first month. The verdict is now in: Arizona State is legit and has the best shot to win the Pac-12 South. Jayden Daniels passed for 286 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in the Devils’ convincing 42-23 victory at UCLA. Every team aside from Alabama has a weakness, however, and ASU’s concern is its defense. The Devils held the Bruins scoreless in the second half, but they did surrender 328 total yards to UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who used his mobility to make big plays. Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee is more of a pocket passer, so he presents a different challenge. McKee passed for 230 yards and three TDs to lift the Cardinal to a 31-24 overtime victory over then-No. 3 Oregon. It was a mind-boggling result considering the Ducks had a 99.9 percent win probability with 1:51 to go, but Oregon coach Mario Cristobal mismanaged the clock and McKee took advantage by driving the Cardinal 87 yards for the tying score with no time left. Stanford is 3-1 since McKee was promoted to starting quarterback. Daniels and McKee are suddenly playing like the top two QBs in the conference. Circa Sports opened Arizona State -12, and the line dropped to 10.5 for this Friday night matchup in Tempe. Are the Sun Devils to be trusted? Will the Cardinal hit a flat spot after the emotional upset of the Ducks? With both teams coming off big wins, it’s a tricky situation to handicap. Stanford is probably worth a look as a double-digit dog.
— Matt Youmans
BOISE STATE at BYU
Brigham Young’s solid quarterback depth chart is suddenly shaky after injuries to Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney the last two weeks. Hall, who started in victories over Arizona, Utah and Arizona State, is probable to return from bruised ribs this week. Romney, who started against South Florida and Utah State, is questionable after suffering a head injury Friday during the Cougars’ 34-20 victory over the Aggies. Romney went 15-for-19 for 187 yards before leaving the game. The Cougars survived with inexperienced quarterbacks in the second half due to running back Tyler Allgeier, who carried the offense and ran 22 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns. BYU (5-0) is floating around the fringe of the College Football Playoff picture but has only two soft spots on the rest of its schedule, and this week’s game against Boise State is not one of them. The Broncos are declining, and the proof was in back-to-back losses on the blue turf to Oklahoma State and Nevada, but they still have enough talent to play spoiler in Provo. Boise’s running attack is nearly nonexistent, which means quarterback Hank Bachmeier needs to drop the hammer through the air. Bachmeier passed for 388 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-31 loss to Nevada, but turnovers were costly as he lost a fumble and threw an interception. The Broncos’ offensive line was battered in the battle in the trenches. Boise (2-3) has three losses through five games for the first time since 2001, so the honeymoon is over for new coach Andy Avalos. If Hall returns, BYU should win on its home field, but the Broncos will be desperate as 4-point dogs.
— Matt Youmans
UTAH at USC
A few weeks ago, USC and Utah were the favorites in the Pac-12 South, but that was before the Trojans dropped two home games and the Utes dropped two on the road. The good news for the Utes (2-2) is they are 1-0 in conference play and had a week off to regroup for this trip to Los Angeles. The Trojans (3-2) have lost two league games, and Clay Helton was fired as coach after an embarrassing display Sept. 11 against Stanford. The coaching change has not necessarily turned USC into a different team. The Trojans still are inconsistent — looking bad one week in a blowout loss to Oregon State and good the next in a blowout win at Colorado — yet it’s obvious they have plenty of offensive potential. Kedon Slovis threw for 276 yards and three touchdowns in the 37-14 victory over the Buffaloes that renewed some hope for a turnaround. At the same time, it’s wise not to make too much of a lopsided win against a bad Colorado team. USC is 5-0 at home against Utah since the Utes joined the Pac-12. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham must find a way to stop the skid or his team’s lofty goals for this season will be gone. The Utes still get home games against Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA, so plenty of important games are in front of Whittingham’s team, but it has to start now with a new quarterback. Charlie Brewer, a Baylor graduate transfer, quit the team after being benched, and new starting quarterback Cameron Rising is the man going forward. Circa Sports opened USC as a 3.5-point favorite at the Coliseum.
— Matt Youmans
ARKANSAS at MISSISSIPPI
In a moment of typical arrogance, Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin told TV viewers to “get your popcorn ready” before the Rebels’ showdown Saturday at Alabama. Kiffin dropped the mic and ran away, but there was nowhere to hide. Not long after that, the Crimson Tide popped Ole Miss in the face and the game was over. Kiffin took a couple of early gambles that backfired, and the Rebels absorbed a 42-21 defeat after trailing 35-0 early in the third quarter. Kiffin looked like a fool, and quarterback Matt Corral went from being a Heisman Trophy co-favorite to a long shot, so the fallout is significant. The Rebels were not the only big dogs in the Southeastern Conference to get humbled Saturday. Arkansas trailed Georgia 21-0 before the popcorn was ready, and the 37-0 final was a stunningly lopsided result. The Bulldogs ran for 273 yards on a physically inferior Razorbacks defense. Arkansas appeared to be tired and showed little fight, in stark contrast to its dominating victories over Texas and Texas A&M. Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson started despite a bruised left knee, but he was pulled in the fourth quarter. With these teams reeling from massive disappointments, which side will be more resilient? Dr. Phil might be the one to ask. It should be easier for Ole Miss to rally on its home field, and Jefferson’s health remains in question. The Rebels are 5.5-point favorites and drew the initial betting support. Forget the popcorn this time.
— Matt Youmans
MICHIGAN STATE at RUTGERS
Michigan State has risen significantly since being unranked three weeks ago. The Spartans have won at Miami and at home against Nebraska and Western Kentucky, the latter a 48-31 victory Saturday. Michigan State survived a late back-door attempt by the Hilltoppers to cover as an 11-point favorite. While the Spartans allowed 31 points and 560 yards of total offense to WKU’s “air raid” attack, they set the tone early with three-and-outs on the first two Western Kentucky possessions and then got a sack on third down to force a field-goal try, building a 45-16 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Michigan State is getting explosive plays from its runners and receivers. The running game is led by Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III (24 carries, 126 yards, three TDs last week), while receivers Jalen Nailor (eight receptions, 128 yards) and Jayden Reed (four receptions, 127 yards, TD) had big games Saturday. This has led the Spartans to their first 5-0 start since 2015. Now they are ranked No. 11 and travel to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights had been off to a 4-0 start ATS (3-1 SU), including a competitive loss at Michigan in which they had a chance to tie late. But that came crashing down last weekend as Ohio State raced to a 45-6 halftime lead and rolled 52-13. Rutgers attempted a fake punt at midfield on the first drive, but it failed and Ohio State was in the end zone two plays later. Two plays after that, the Buckeyes had a pick-six and the rout was on. Rutgers forced eight takeaways in its first two games and zero in its last three. Forcing turnovers is how the Scarlet Knights spoiled Mel Tucker’s first game as Michigan State’s coach last season. In fact, Rutgers gained seven takeaways en route to a 38-27 victory as an 11-point underdog. Michigan State opened this week as a 6-point favorite and saw some market resistance down to -4 before settling back at -5. Michigan State starts a mini-revenge tour with games at Rutgers and Indiana to try to avenge 2020 losses before facing Michigan at the end of the month. The Spartans are on the precipice of the Top 10 for the first time in five years. Can they avoid getting too confident with a start that has exceeded expectations?
— Wes Reynolds
MARYLAND at OHIO STATE
Maryland was off to a 4-0 start, but the wheels came off in the second quarter Friday night against Iowa. The Terrapins were outscored 31-0 largely due to four turnovers in the second quarter. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa had been leading the Big Ten in passing but threw five interceptions among Maryland’s seven turnovers in the 51-14 loss. Adding to Maryland’s woes, Dontay Demus, the Big Ten’s leader in receiving yardage and touchdown catches, went out with a gruesome-looking leg injury that could be season-ending. Maryland fell apart immediately after Demus went down on a kickoff return. It gets no easier this week with a trip to No. 7 Ohio State. After missing the previous week’s game against Akron due to a shoulder injury, quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for 330 yards and five touchdowns on the way to an easy 52-13 victory at Rutgers. Ohio State’s offense, ranked No. 2 in the nation, scored on its first six possessions against a Rutgers defense that had surrendered only 54 points in its first four games. The Buckeyes’ defense also picked off Noah Vedral three times, including a pick-six. Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland is 0-6 against Ohio State and has allowed 73, 52, 62, 62, 49 and 52 points. The Terps have lost the three meetings in Columbus by an average of 42.7 points while being outgained by 399 yards per game. This Maryland team is better than the previous clubs but must have a short memory after the Iowa disaster. The Buckeyes opened as 21-point favorites, but Maryland saw a bit of support on the openers and the line has adjusted slightly downward to 20.5. The total opened 72.5 and was lowered to 69.5. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano issued a bit of a warning that Ohio State was starting to jell. Offensively, the Buckeyes have not seemed to lose it, but can the defense build off last week’s performance and gain its stride?
— Wes Reynolds
MICHIGAN at NEBRASKA
Saturday’s game at Wisconsin was supposed to be Michigan’s first true test. If it was that, the Wolverines passed with flying colors in a 38-17 victory in Madison. Michigan had lost its last two meetings against the Badgers, falling 35-14 in 2019 and 49-11 in 2020. Wisconsin was leading the nation in rushing defense before Saturday, and the Wolverines had run the ball on 74 percent of their snaps. Michigan did not end up gaining a ton of the ground, with 112 yards on 44 carries, but changed its strategy and hit the Wisconsin defense for big pass plays, which quarterback Cade McNamara had not been asked to do until last weekend. True freshman J.J. McCarthy also hit a 56-yarder for a touchdown and has yet to turn the ball over in five games. The defense forced three turnovers, had seven three-and-outs, generated six sacks and knocked Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz from the game. After competitive road losses against ranked opponents Oklahoma and Michigan State, Nebraska looked primed to pummel somebody once its opposition dropped in class, and that is exactly what happened, whipping Northwestern 56-7 and easily covering as an 11.5-point favorite. The Cornhuskers piled up 657 yards of total offense, including 427 on the ground on 53 carries (8.1 yards per carry). Quarterback Adrian Martinez threw for a touchdown, ran for three more and did not turn the ball over, which is something that has plagued him his entire career. But Michigan, ranked No. 9 and in the Top 10 for the first time since the 2019 regular-season finale, represents a much tougher challenge. The Wolverines opened as 1-point favorites for Saturday’s showdown in Lincoln and were adjusted up to 3-point favorites as early bettors laid the small number with Michigan knowing they will not be able to lay that low a number on game day. The hot seat on which Nebraska coach Scott Frost began the season has cooled, but a win over a Top 10 team would cool it even more. Some 3.5s are starting to show in the market, and buyback could be coming on the Cornhuskers.
— Wes Reynolds
COASTAL CAROLINA at ARKANSAS STATE
Butch Jones’ return to the college football sideline has hit a few speed bumps at Arkansas State, which has been giving up points at a scary pace. To wit: The Red Wolves have conceded 50+ points in three of their last four games, predictably all losses, and have tumbled almost all the way down the national scoring defense charts, ranking above only UMass. Almost halfway through the 2021 campaign, allowing 45.6 ppg is not a good look. Even with Florida State transfer QB James Blackman performing with some flair, the offense doesn’t have nearly enough octane. That’s especially true against go-go Coastal Carolina, which presents a frightening matchup with a supercharged offense that ranks second nationally in scoring at 48.2 ppg and is likely to do considerable damage in Jonesboro. QB Grayson McCall’s eyes are as big as saucers at the prospect of exploiting the Red Wolves’ leaky defense and padding stats that already include 10 TD passes. The Chanticleers’ potent running game, gaining a whopping 6.4 ypc, should gouge Arkansas State’s defense as well. Looking to move up from a No. 15 ranking and with a nationally televised platform Thursday night, don’t expect Coastal coach Jamey Chadwell to take his foot off the accelerator, though the oddsmakers are clued in to all this and will make Coastal clear nearly a three-TD hurdle for its backers to cash tickets.
— Bruce Marshall
TEMPLE at CINCINNATI
They’re even taking a few Temple phone calls on venerable WIP sports talk station in Philadelphia this week after the Owls reminded the locals they still have a pulse in a rousing upset of Memphis at the Linc. Pretty soon they might even start to notice Temple QB D’Wan Mathis going out for cheesesteaks after his coming-out party against the Tigers. The Georgia transfer threw for 322 yards and has five TD passes and no picks the last two weeks. But most of the conversation will revolve around unbeaten Cincinnati, its move up the rankings after an impressive win at Notre Dame and what chance the Bearcats might have to crash the College Football Playoff before coach Luke Fickell decides whether to talk to his old AD Mike Bohn, now at USC with a coaching opening. All of this is being baked into the Cincy cake as the Bearcats have become unlikely national darlings, with the oddsmakers taking notice and now attaching some hefty premiums to their point spreads. Keep in mind that despite their newfound hype, the Bearcats have covered only two of their last five chances laying 20+ points, and they have lots of wood to chop Friday night if they want to clear a spread that was sitting north of four TDs early in the week.
— Bruce Marshall
GEORGIA at AUBURN
The Georgia defense looks like a wrecking machine after allowing just one garbage-time touchdown in the first five games. And while Auburn thinks it might have a puncher’s chance after the good Bo Nix resurfaced last weekend at LSU, Nix knows all about Kirby Smart’s defense after getting crumpled last October in Athens, when the Bulldogs held Auburn to 39 yards rushing and 1.8 ypc in a 27-6 romp. Yes, we’ve seen some strange things happen at Jordan-Hare, but we’re thinking even the Kansas City Chiefs might have trouble moving the ball on the Bulldogs’ defense. Smart has taken charge of “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry,” winning and covering four in a row against Auburn since losing to Gus Malzahn in the 2017 regular season, a result Smart avenged in the SEC title game. Stetson Bennett in the lineup at quarterback for JT Daniels (strained lat) is a non-event, as Bennett is an effective alternative for Georgia. He won’t lack for confidence after leading last year’s win with an efficient 17-for-28 day for 240 yards and a TD with no picks. He’s already 2-0 as a starter this year.
— Bruce Marshall
LSU at KENTUCKY
Unless talking about basketball, we’d have to go back to the last millennium to find when Kentucky was favored over LSU (1999 and the late stages of the Gerry DiNardo era in Baton Rouge). But here we are in 2021, and the latest example of the world being turned inside out is not only the Wildcats favored over the Tigers but UK sitting at 5-0 in mid-October. While not getting carried away and saying Mark Stoops’ team can challenge Georgia in the East, SEC sources are suggesting the Wildcats are legit, with a thorny Top 10 defense allowing just 284 ypg and a run-heavy offense featuring durable Chris Rodriguez, whose 621 yards rushing rank fifth nationally. So UK being favored is no surprise, especially with QB Max Johnson and the LSU offense hitting a bump last week against Auburn and still trying to relocate an MIA running game. However, we are intrigued by oddsmakers continuing to post the Wildcats’ totals in the 50s when the last two games haven’t come close, hitting only 29 against South Carolina and 33 against Florida. So another Under possibility could attract some attention. Moreover, with Stoops’ offense picking its spots carefully, UK has little margin for error. With LSU’s season on the line, we could envision a kamikaze effort from the Tigers and a redemptive performance by Johnson, who tossed four touchdown passes at Mississippi State in his last SEC road game.
— Bruce Marshall
ALABAMA at TEXAS A&M
We suppose we’ll find out in December at the SEC title game whether Nick Saban is ever going to lose a game to one of his former assistants, as Kirby Smart’s Georgia outfit looms as the likely opponent. But by stretching his SU mark to 24-0 against his disciples after throttling Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss last week, we can’t see Saban slipping up against Jimbo Fisher, who was Saban’s offensive coordinator during his LSU days and is looking at a bit of a crisis with his A&M offense. Backup QB Zach Calzada’s limitations have been exposed in back-to-back losses to Arkansas and Mississippi State, and Fisher hopes to get electric first-string QB Haynes King back in the lineup ASAP, though SEC sources say that’s unlikely to happen until about Halloween. With Calzada continuing to hold the ball too long in the pocket and settle too quickly for dump-off passes instead of looking downfield, the Aggies’ chances grow more remote. Meanwhile, Mike Elko’s supposedly feared A&M defense has allowed Arkansas and Mississippi State to convert too many big plays the last two weeks. That’s no way to put a scare into Alabama. QB Bryce Young has 17 touchdown passes and just two picks in five games and is likely back in the Heisman lead after the Ole Miss romp, and RB Brian Robinson Jr. looked a lot like Derrick Henry and Najee Harris when pounding the Rebels for 171 yards rushing. Saban’s very long memory also assures he’ll never take this foe lightly after what Johnny Manziel did in Tuscaloosa almost a decade ago, and he has outscored Fisher by a combined 99-52 while handling hefty numbers the last two years.
— Bruce Marshall
PENN STATE at IOWA
The lane through the Big Ten West is always narrow, especially if the schedule doesn’t offer too many extra-tough crossover games (which in recent years means Ohio State). Iowa went this route in 2015, pushing itself within 30 seconds of the College Football Playoff before Michigan State stole the Big Ten title game. With neither the Buckeyes nor undefeated Michigan or Michigan State on the schedule, and Wisconsin proving a false alarm in the West, this matchup against James Franklin’s Nittany Lions looks to be the 5-0 Hawkeyes’ greatest challenge before the Big Ten title game. Having crushed Indiana, Iowa State and Maryland, and with Kirk Ferentz’s defense ranking second nationally in points allowed at 11.6 ppg, Iowa might be able to grind its way into the playoff. Penn State, however, plays similar defense — its 12 ppg allowed ranks third in the country. And its offense might have a sharper edge than the Hawkeyes’ thanks to QB Sean Clifford, who has been able to benefit from new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and his more progressive game plans. Clifford is en route to career-best numbers, already with 1,336 yards passing and 11 TD passes, and unlikely to self-destruct as did Terps QB Taulia Tagovailoa, who tossed five picks last week in the latest Iowa mauling. We’ll find out this week if the Hawkeyes’ low-risk offense and QB Spencer Petras, with seven touchdown passes and just one pick through five games, can do enough on their own and take down the Nittany Lions, who haven’t lost in nine games since Iowa laid a 41-21 beating on them in November and covered all but one of those subsequent games.
— Bruce Marshall
NOTRE DAME at VIRGINIA TECH
After a couple of lackluster efforts in a loss at West Virginia and a sluggish win over lower-tier Richmond, Virginia Tech needed last week’s bye for a tune-up. The Braxton Burmeister-led offense has often misfired in recent weeks, and the Hokies needed a punt-return TD by Tayvion Robinson for the decisive score against the scrappy Spiders. Moreover, ACC sources are suggesting coach Justin Fuente might need to beat the Fighting Irish to keep his job, as Fuente risks losing early-season momentum from the rousing opening-night win over North Carolina. But plenty of insiders give Virginia Tech a chance against a Notre Dame team that might have been exposed last week by Cincinnati after some hair-raisers in the first month and a misleading score against Wisconsin that might have camouflaged some issues for coach Brian Kelly. Transfer QB Jack Coan was pulled in the third quarter against the Bearcats before backup Drew Pyne offered some spark. But the problems for the Irish offense go well beyond QB, as Notre Dame isn’t running the ball worth a lick (124th in national rushing stats) and the defense ranks 91st nationally against the pass, which might provide opportunities for Burmeister. The bottom line is that this is a win Fuente could badly use if he wants to stick around in 2022, and he should have a chance as this Fighting Irish edition appears a step down from recent versions. Now, has Virginia Tech made enough adjustments offensively in its week off to give itself a better chance?
— Bruce Marshall