Expert College Football Best Bets: Picks and predictions for Week 3

By Zachary Cohen  ( Senior Editor) 

September 13, 2023 11:14 AM

Week 3 college football best bets and predictions

The college football season is officially under way and VSiN is pumping out more content for it than ever. All of our college football stories and resources are available on this one page, where you'll also get best bets from all of my incredibly talented colleagues. But you'll have to keep reading this one to get my college football best bets every week. I was unfortunately on the wrong side of that brutal Texas Tech beat against Oregon last week, which is why I'm not up on the year. But I'm expecting to bounce back in a big way with my Week 3 college football best bets. I have five plays that I absolutely love and I'll probably add more below in the next couple of days, so feel free to check back in before games are kicking off to see if I have more action. 

MORE: Check out our Pro Picks page for college football best bets from all of our analysts

LSU Tigers at Mississippi State Bulldogs

Since Brian Kelly became the LSU head coach, the Tigers are 0-4 against the spread (2-2 straight-up) as favorites of 3.5 to 10 points. They have not performed up to their lofty standards in games like these, and I think we’re going to see that record go to 0-5 in Week 3. This Mississippi State team feels like it was slept on a bit heading into the season, which probably has a lot to do with the tragic death of legendary head coach Mike Leach. But the Bulldogs brought back eight starters from a good offense, and they hired a good offensive coordinator in Kevin Barbay. We have already seen the rewards of that, with Mississippi State averaging 39.5 points per game through two games.

The defensive side of the ball is where there would be some concerns with this Mississippi State team, but new head coach Zach Arnett is one of the brightest defensive minds in all of college football. He was going to get a head coaching job somewhere before Leach passed away, and I think he’s going to end up doing a great job in a difficult situation this year. And after a 2-0 start to the season, I think Arnett will put the world on notice by leading his team to a very competitive effort against LSU. He just needs to make sure his defense doesn’t get diced up by Tigers quarterback Jayden Daniels on the ground. If Mississippi State can avoid letting Daniels get it going with his legs, the Bulldogs should have a chance to win this game late. And that would be plenty good enough for us with 9.5 points to work with.

The reality here is that I just don’t think this LSU defense is all that good, even after an offseason in which improvements were expected. I know Florida State’s offense is loaded with talent, but the Tigers couldn’t get the Seminoles off the field in that Week 1 game. And this Mississippi State team does have a lot of talent on offense, where quarterback Will Rogers and running back Jo’quavious Marks are both capable of giving LSU trouble here.

I also think this will be one of the craziest home-field advantages we’ll see all season. This is one of the most underrated fanbases in college football and they’ll get up for this massive game. This is an opportunity for Mississippi State to earn the first big win of the Arnett era.

Bet: Mississippi State +9.5 (-105 - Would play to +8) 

Penn State Nittany Lions at Illinois Fighting Illini

Since Bret Bielema became the head coach of Illinois, the Illini are 4-2 ATS as underdogs of 10.5 to 21 points. They’re also 9-6 ATS as underdogs in that span, in general. Illinois is also 12-6 ATS in conference play under Bielema, and the team also happens to be 6-5 SU and 8-2-1 ATS when coming off a loss in that time. With that in mind, I find it very hard to rule out a competitive game here, and I think 14.5 points is simply way too much to be giving a home team that will be eager to establish the run offensively and avoid giving up big plays defensively.

It's easy to see why people are so down on Illinois right now, as this team barely got by Toledo in its home opener and then got torched by Kansas on the road in Week 2. But the reality is that winning games is hard, and the Illini were only favored by 7.5 in that meeting with the Rockets. And the fact they won outright after trailing by 12 in that game should be viewed as a positive. And the loss to Kansas really wasn’t all that bad. The Jayhawks are a much-improved team and were playing a night game in front of a fired-up crowd. When you combine that with the fact that star quarterback Jalon Daniels was returning from injury, how can you fault the Illini for losing that one?

I just don’t think this Illinois team is nearly as bad as these first two weeks suggest, so I believe you’re getting a much better price on them than you should be here. Penn State has looked great to start the season, but sophomore quarterback Drew Allar is largely unproven at this level. And to expect Allar to go on the road and light up the Illini secondary would be unfair. Meanwhile, you know Illinois first year defensive coordinator Aaron Henry will be focused on slowing down Penn State’s two-headed monster of Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton in the running game. That should prevent the Nittany Lions from breaking off too many big runs here.

This just feels like a game that could give Penn State a lot of problems. So, it’s an easy decision for me to take the points and side with the home team.

Bet: Illinois +14.5 (-110) 

Minnesota Golden Gophers at North Carolina Tar Heels

Minnesota is off to one of the ugliest 2-0 starts in recent memory, as the Golden Gophers should have lost in their home opener against the Cornhuskers. Nebraska had a late lead in that game, but the team ended up losing a fumble when trying to run out the clock with a 10-3 lead late in the fourth quarter. Minnesota then quickly marched down the field and scored a touchdown to tie things up. Then, Nebraska quarterback Jeff Sims threw an interception with a little less than a minute left. That led to a game-winning field goal for the Gophers. But all in all, it was an all-out collapse by Matt Rhule’s team. Minnesota followed it up with a 25-6 win over Eastern Michigan, but it was another uninspiring performance. That has many people doubting the Golden Gophers heading into a road date with the Tar Heels, but I think this is a great matchup for P.J. Fleck’s group.

This North Carolina team looked solid defensively against South Carolina in Week 1, but that’s only because the Gamecocks have one of the worst offensive lines a Power Five team can have. Even a weak Tar Heels defense was able to consistently put pressure on Spencer Rattler in that game, and South Carolina really never even stood a chance. But North Carolina’s defense came crashing back to earth in a hard-fought win over Appalachian State last week. The teams did play two overtimes in that game, but the Mountaineers still totaled 494 yards of total offense in that game. That has to give Minnesota some hope that quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis can successfully move the ball in this game. He just needs to put the ball in the hands of his playmakers and avoid making mistakes. The Gophers backfield duo of Darius Taylor and Sean Tyler should run wild in this game.

Minnesota has also picked up right where it left off defensively. Last year, Minnesota had the third-best scoring defense in all of college football. This year’s team probably isn’t quite as good, but the Golden Gophers should finishing as a top-20 scoring defense this year. And in a matchup like this, that’s going to be crucial. North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye is one of the best players in all of college football, so the Gophers will need to find a way to slow him down here. But I think they’ll be able to do an adequate job against him in this one, even after having lost so many talented defensive backs from last season.

As long as Maye doesn’t light it up in this game, I just don’t see Minnesota losing by more than a touchdown. Under Fleck, the Gophers are 2-1 SU and 3-0 ATS as road underdogs of 7.5 to 14 points. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels are just 5-7-1 ATS as favorites of 3.5 to 10 points under Brown.

Bet: Minnesota +7.5 (-105) 

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks at Texas A&M Aggies

Texas A&M has gone Over in both of its games this season, with the Aggies averaging 42.5 points per game in those contests. Now, one would expect that Texas A&M will hang a big number on an inferior Louisiana-Monroe team. Quarterback Conner Weigman has looked good airing it out in new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino’s offense, as he has thrown for 572 yards with seven touchdowns already this season. Weigman has also added another 51 yards and a score on the ground. He’s a much more dynamic player than we’ve gotten used to seeing under center for the Aggies, which gives Texas A&M the ability to blow teams like this out.

The Aggies should also have very little trouble running the football in this one. Texas A&M’s average offensive lineman size is bigger than the average NFL team's offensive line, and something like that will be overwhelming for a smaller school to handle. So, look for guys like Amari Daniels and Rueben Owens to pick up chunks of yardage every time they touch the ball in this game. That will then force the Warhawks defense to overplay, giving Weigman the opportunity to hit open receivers down the field.

Overall, the only question I have with a game like this is whether the Warhawks will be able to do enough offensively to help the Over hit. But I don’t think it’s outrageous to expect them to score 14 or so points after having seen Miami light up this Texas A&M defense last week. That contribution would likely be enough for this Over to hit.

Bet: Over 53.5 (-105) 

Tennessee Volunteers at Florida Gators 

I won’t be suggesting you buy points very often, but I like Florida in this game and feel more comfortable with 7 than 6.5. So, I think this is one of the rare cases in which it’ll be worth it, even though I do think there’s an outside shot the Gators win this game outright. For as bad as Florida’s loss to Utah might have been, the Gators were in tough predicament there. They had no idea how to prepare for a Utes team that was playing without star quarterback Cameron Rising. That made things a little hard on the defense, which still looked solid in that contest. As for the offense, it’s excusable that transfer quarterback Graham Mertz and Co. didn’t light it up in one of the most difficult road environments in sports — especially facing an elite defense.

I expect Mertz and this Gators offense to look a lot better in this game than they did against the Utes, especially after a blowout win over McNeese in Week 2. Florida had the luxury of facing an FCS defense in that game, but the team still rushed for 327 yards and six touchdowns in that one. Mertz also completed 14 of his 17 passing attempts for 193 yards and a touchdown. That performance won’t do much to put fear in the hearts of the Volunteers, but the Gators should be feeling a little more confident heading into this game. They have now shown that they can go out and execute offensive coordinator Rob Sale’s game plan. And I’d imagine there will be a lot less mistakes moving forward after a game like that.

Overall, the real reason to like Florida in this one is the defense and the rowdy home environment. Joe Milton is a quarterback that has all the tools in the world, but he struggled in Tennessee’s win over Austin Peay last week. Now, Milton will be playing against a legitimate SEC defense, and he’ll be doing it in what will be the most intimidating atmosphere he has faced since arriving in Knoxville. With that in mind, I can see the Gators giving him a lot of trouble here and then being able to ride the running game to a win — or a very close loss.

It should also be noted that Florida is 4-1 both SU and ATS in its last five meetings with Tennessee. And the Vols haven’t won in Gainesville since 2003.

Bet: Florida +7 (-125 - Buying 0.5 points) 

Added Plays

South Alabama +7.5 (-115) vs. Oklahoma State

East Carolina +7.5 (-110) vs. Appalachian State

BYU +8 (-110) vs. Arkansas

Houston +7.5 (-120) vs. TCU

Fresno State -3 (-118) vs. Arizona State

Colorado State/Colorado Over 63.5 (-110)

Florida Atlantic +24.5 (-110) vs. Clemson

WVU ML (-128) vs. Pittsburgh

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