HAWAII at WYOMING
A new era of Hawaii football started with a win, the same way the former era ended. Sophomore quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, taking over for the departed Cole McDonald, rushed for two touchdowns to help make coach Todd Graham’s debut a success. The Rainbow Warriors drew sharp money as small underdogs in a 34-19 win at Fresno State. Hawaii returned 11 starters from last season’s 10-5 team, and Nick Rolovich left for the Washington State coaching job after the Warriors upset Brigham Young in a bowl. Graham, fired at Arizona State in November 2017, could be a coaching upgrade. Cordeiro showed his potential in Graham’s offense by completing 20 of 31 passes for 229 yards and running for 116 yards. Hawaii’s offense totaled 552 yards, and its defense forced four turnovers. Boise State is the odds-on favorite in the Mountain West, with Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State and Wyoming considered the top challengers. The Cowboys were dealt two setbacks in their season opener Saturday, when star quarterback Sean Chambers broke his leg in the first quarter of a 37-34 overtime loss in Reno. Chambers was relieved by 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman Levi Williams, who passed for 227 yards and rushed for 40 yards and two touchdowns. Williams rallied Wyoming from a 28-6 third-quarter deficit and nearly pulled off an improbable comeback. Circa Sports opened Hawaii as a one-point favorite in Friday night’s game at Wyoming. Graham is making a wise move by keeping the Warriors on the mainland instead of traveling to Honolulu and back. The Warriors are staying in Denver this week before making the short trip north to Laramie, where cold temperatures should help the home underdog.
NOTRE DAME at GEORGIA TECH
A week ago, critics were calling Notre Dame overrated and questioning senior quarterback Ian Book’s ability to spark a sputtering passing attack. Negative news is sometimes a buy sign, and the Irish fought back in an impressive 45-3 win at Pittsburgh. Book passed for season highs of 312 yards and three touchdowns, with Ben Skowronek scoring on receptions of 34 and 73 yards in the first half. Notre Dame dominated 434-162 in total yards as its defense continued to shine. Circa Sports opened the Irish -19 at Georgia Tech, and the line seems high considering the lookahead spot that faces coach Brian Kelly’s team. Notre Dame’s biggest game of the season is on deck Nov. 7 against No. 1 Clemson. The Yellow Jackets have few reasons to be positive after lopsided losses of 48-27 to Boston College and 73-7 to Clemson. Before those two games, Georgia Tech did wreck Louisville 46-27 to earn its second win of the season, but the Jackets’ four losses are by an average of 33 points. The Irish defense will make life tough on Georgia Tech’s dual-threat quarterback, Jeff Sims, who has eight touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Underdog bettors will hope Notre Dame is emotionally flat in this road spot while focusing more on Clemson. Kelly will want to build a big lead and pull some starters to rest for the Tigers, so the Jackets should at least have a shot at a back-door cover in the fourth quarter. By the way, Clemson is expected to be about a 14-point favorite at Notre Dame next week.
TEXAS at OKLAHOMA STATE
All is not lost for senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who planned to lead Texas to a playoff berth while becoming a Heisman Trophy candidate this season. The Longhorns, who have taken two losses in Big 12 play, still could contend for the league title with some luck, but they need to run the table and play the spoiler role in the process. Oklahoma State (4-0, 3-0) is the only undefeated team in the Big 12, and the Cowboys are a complete team again after quarterback Spencer Sanders returned from injury last week. Sanders passed for 235 yards and a touchdown, and star running back Chuba Hubbard carried 25 times for 139 yards and one TD in a 24-21 victory over Iowa State. Oklahoma State, favored by three to 3½ points, disappointed its betting backers by allowing the Cyclones’ Brock Purdy to pass for a 20-yard touchdown in the final minute. Sanders went 20-for-29 but did throw two interceptions. A Texas defense that allowed a total of 86 points in back-to-back losses to Texas Christian and Oklahoma bounced back with a strong performance against Baylor. The Longhorns limited the Bears to three points through three quarters in a 27-16 win. Ehlinger passed for 270 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 51 yards and two scores. Oklahoma State has come out ahead in four of the last five meetings with Texas, including a 38-35 win in Stillwater two years ago. Circa Sports opened the Cowboys -3, a solid number that should attract strong two-way action this week.
WISCONSIN at (NEBRASKA
Two days after passing for five touchdowns in his first career start, Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz found out he had tested positive for COVID-19. Unless the test was a false positive, as happened with Alabama coach Nick Saban two weeks ago, Mertz will miss a minimum of 21 days, according to Big Ten protocols for players. The news broke Sunday, shortly after Circa Sports opened Wisconsin as a 10-point favorite at Nebraska. The line will drop a little if Mertz is ruled out. The redshirt freshman completed his first 17 passes and finished 20 of 21 for 248 yards in a 45-7 victory over Illinois on Friday. He got the starting job when senior Jack Coan needed foot surgery in mid-October. The next quarterback up is sophomore Chase Wolf. The Badgers followed Mertz and their defense to blow out the Illini, who finished with only eight first downs and showed no signs of being good on either side of the ball. Wisconsin’s running attack was nothing to brag about for a change as Garrett Groshek led the way with 70 yards. The Cornhuskers could be live underdogs this week. Nebraska played well early against Ohio State, and the score was tied at 14 late in the second quarter. It all unraveled on the Cornhuskers in a 52-17 loss, but the Buckeyes are far more talented than the Badgers. Nebraska’s offense moved the ball and totaled 370 yards behind quarterbacks Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey. Wisconsin might be slightly overvalued after beating one of the Big Ten’s worst teams, and the Cornhuskers could be underrated after facing one of the nation’s top five teams on the road. Without Mertz, the Badgers could be on upset alert.
LSU at AUBURN
Bettors were cutting in line and racing to the windows last week to fade LSU, which was without quarterback Myles Brennan against South Carolina. The Tigers opened as seven-point favorites and the line closed as low as 3½, but LSU rolled to a 52-24 win as TJ Finley stepped in at QB and went 17-for-21 for 265 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound freshman displayed a strong arm and elite all-around skills. He’s capable of stealing the starting job from the injured Brennan, who passed for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns in LSU’s first three games. Finley is expected to start at Auburn, which took advantage of another controversial call by an SEC officiating crew and escaped with a 35-28 victory over Mississippi. Auburn, a 3½-point favorite, trailed by one before Seth Williams caught a pass and broke loose down the sideline for a 58-yard touchdown with 1:11 left. Bo Nix put up good numbers against Ole Miss’ dreadful defense, passing for 238 yards with no interceptions. However, the true star of the Auburn offense is running back Tank Bigsby, who had 24 carries for 129 yards and two TDs. Sharp bettors are not looking to fade LSU this week. After Circa Sports opened Auburn as a two-point home favorite, early money flipped the line to LSU -2. Finley’s one start was more impressive than what Nix has shown in 1½ seasons as Auburn’s starter.
MICHIGAN STATE at MICHIGAN
Michigan had been on a 1-20 SU and 6-15 ATS run on the road vs. ranked opponents, but that skid ended at least temporarily with a dominant 49-24 win at No. 21 Minnesota. Junior QB Joe Milton had 277 yards of total offense with one passing touchdown and one rushing score plus no turnovers in his first start for the Wolverines. However, the story was the Michigan offensive line, which lost four starters to the NFL but paved the way for 253 yards on 31 carries (8.2 ypc). The defense closed the show by allowing only seven points in the second half. Now the No. 13 Wolverines will have an opportunity to win a second rivalry game after retaining the Little Brown Jug in Minneapolis. Michigan State comes to Ann Arbor to battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy licking its wounds from a 38-27 home defeat to Rutgers, which broke a 21-game Big Ten losing streak dating to 2017. The Spartans outgained Rutgers 369-276 but trailed gate to wire due to committing seven turnovers, including five lost fumbles against a team that forced only 10 takeaways all last season. Michigan opened -23 at Circa Sports and has risen to -25 with the total increasing from 50 to 53.5.
VIRGINIA TECH at LOUISVILLE
It looked like Virginia Tech was beginning to get right after an easy win over Boston College two weeks ago. Then last weekend happened: The Hokies, who were averaging 42 ppg, were upset 23-16 at Wake Forest as double-digit favorites. While Virginia Tech had 433-316 yardage and 28-17 first-down advantages, quarterback Hendon Hooker threw three interceptions, all to freshman walk-on defensive back Nick Andersen, and the Hokies committed 10 penalties for 112 yards. It has been a disappointing season in Louisville. The Cardinals got off to a 1-4 start before returning home after three straight road games and taking out their frustrations on Florida State in a 48-16 laugher. Louisville piled up 569 yards of total offense, including 410 in the first half. Junior quarterback Malik Cunningham went 16-for-24 and threw for 278 yards and two scores, while sophomore running back Javian Hawkins ran 16 times for 174 yards and three touchdowns. Virginia Tech opened -4 at Circa Sports, with early resistance dropping it to -2 before settling at -3.
OHIO STATE at PENN STATE
Ohio State was a bit sluggish defensively early in its opener against Nebraska but settled in for an easy 52-17 victory, with an extra score at the end to cover the -28 spread. Junior quarterback Justin Fields started his Heisman Trophy campaign with an efficient performance, going 20-for-21 for 276 yards and two scores while adding another TD on the ground. Sophomore Garrett Wilson and junior Chris Olave each had over 100 yards receiving, but Olave is questionable this week due to a shot to the head that forced him to leave the game. This game was expected to be a battle of the unbeatens, but Penn State lost 36-35 in overtime at Indiana. The Nittany Lions dominated the stat sheet with edges of 488-211 in yards and 27-16 in first downs. However, Penn State committed three first-half turnovers to fall behind early. Indiana got a fortunate break in overtime as quarterback Michael Penix appeared to be just short of the goal line on the game-winning two-point conversion, but it was called good on the field and upheld on review. No. 18 Penn State had no one to blame but itself in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and now must get off the mat against No. 3 Ohio State. The Nittany Lions have covered four of the last five against the Buckeyes, who opened -8 at Circa Sports and are now 13-point favorites. The bigger move is on the total, which has plummeted from 68.5 to 62.5.
MISSISSIPPI STATE at ALABAMA
The Crimson Tide kept rolling with a 48-17 win and cover at Tennessee last weekend. But it did not come without cost, as star junior receiver Jaylen Waddle was lost for the season with a fractured ankle on the opening kickoff. Junior quarterback Mac Jones did not throw a touchdown pass but continued his Heisman campaign by going 25-for-31 for 387 yards. Senior running back Najee Harris picked up the scoring slack with three touchdowns. After four straight weeks of beating former assistants and proteges, Nick Saban and No. 2 Alabama get Mike Leach and Mississippi State off a bye week. The Bulldogs surely needed that bye as the bloom has fallen from the rose quickly after a season-opening road victory over defending national champion LSU. Mississippi State put up 44 points in that opener but has failed to top 14 in its three subsequent losses. The rest of the SEC has been able to figure out what LSU could not, which is how to slow the Air Raid offense. Senior quarterback K.J. Costello has thrown eight interceptions to just one touchdown over the last three games and has been pulled in favor of freshman Will Rogers in each of the last two games. Senior Kylin Hill was an all-SEC running back last year but did not dress against Texas A&M and has not even practiced with the team since the Kentucky game Oct. 10. Circa Sports opened Alabama -33, and it is currently -32. The Bulldogs are a clear mess, but is this a just-get-through-it game for Alabama ahead of a bye and then a payback spot against LSU?
GEORGIA at KENTUCKY
No. 5 Georgia is off a bye week and eager to get the taste of a loss at Alabama out of its mouth. The Bulldogs led at halftime in Tuscaloosa but were blanked in the second half. Georgia travels to Kentucky for an early kickoff, and coach Kirby Smart has expressed concern about the Bulldogs often being slow out of the gate in early games. In Smart’s tenure in Athens, Georgia is just 2-3 in noon kicks, including losses to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and last year at home to South Carolina — not exactly the SEC elite. Although they are decent-sized favorites, the Bulldogs have failed to score touchdowns on any opening drive in either half this season. Even so, Georgia does not approach Kentucky’s woes on that side of the ball. The Wildcats did not even surpass 100 total yards until the fourth quarter of a 20-10 defeat at Missouri. Coach Mark Stoops had senior quarterback Terry Wilson on a short leash and used sophomore Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood as well, but neither was effective throwing the ball against a Missouri defense that was allowing over 300 ypg through the air. To make matters worse, senior receiver Josh Ali, who scored the lone Kentucky touchdown, retweeted several tweets from fans calling for Wilson to be benched and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran to be fired. Ali also retweeted criticism of himself from the Twitterverse, but it is concerning to give negativity a platform when the team is struggling and facing a Georgia team that has won 10 straight in the series. Georgia opened -13 at Circa Sports and is now laying -15. The total of 44.5 is the lowest on this week’s college slate.
MISSOURI at FLORIDA
This matchup was supposed to have taken place last weekend but was pushed back due to COVID-19 problems with the Florida program, which paused all football activities. Florida had an extra week to try to rebound from the loss at Texas A&M, and the Gators are 3-1 off a loss under Dan Mullen. But Missouri has not been a gimme for Florida, especially in the Swamp, where the Tigers have won two of the last three meetings. The Gators’ offense has not been an issue, ranking fourth in the nation and second in the SEC with 7.6 yards per play and averaging 42.3 ppg. However, the defense has not been up to par, giving up 543 yards and 41 points in College Station. Missouri had some of its own COVID-19 issues but recovered and beat Kentucky 20-10 in a game more lopsided than the score indicated. The Tigers had the ball for 43:10 and outgained Kentucky 421-145 plus had a 26-8 first-down advantage. Missouri also seems to have found its quarterback as freshman Connor Bazelak looks to have taken control of the job. Florida has players who have come out of quarantine, but are they ready to play? The Gators will also have to focus on a Missouri team that comes in with some confidence. Florida has the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” in Jacksonville vs. Georgia on deck. Florida opened -15 at Circa Sports before being dropped to -12 with obvious health concerns but has risen back to -14. The total has taken a good-sized drop from the opener of 67.5 to 61.5.
NORTH CAROLINA at VIRGINIA
Virginia probably isn’t drawing much solace from being labeled one of the best 1-4 teams in the country — even though it might be true, considering a couple of scrappy spread-covering efforts on the road vs. ACC heavyweights Clemson and Miami. That competitive effort against the Hurricanes last week ought to have North Carolina on alert for this trip to Charlottesville. The Cavaliers welcomed back southpaw QB Brennan Armstrong, who had missed the previous couple of weeks. He helped steward some admirable balance at Miami with 185 yards rushing and 181 passing, and he put a scare into the fast Canes defense with a couple of TD passes. Moreover, Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall is again into his preferred underdog role, in which his Cavs teams are 10-4 in their last 14. On the other hand, Mack Brown tried to slow the pace of the Tar Heels’ offense last week vs. NC State, leaning more heavily on the ground games that blasted 326 rushing yards against the Wolfpack, suggesting the score might be reduced this week. Recent series history indicates a competitive battle, especially as Mendenhall has won and covered his last three vs. the Heels, though he needed nearly 500 yards of offense from graduated QB Bryce Perkins in last year’s shootout at Chapel Hill.
BOSTON COLLEGE at CLEMSON
Will the mood strike this week for Clemson? That’s the question as the Tigers continue to get saddled with imposts comparable to the 138 and 139 pounds the great thoroughbred Dr. Fager was forced to carry in the late 1960s. Last week against Syracuse, Dabo Swinney’s bunch was asked to clear nearly a seven-TD hurdle imposed by the oddsmakers and simply wasn’t focused enough to sustain the effort needed to blow out a foe across 60 minutes. The price is a bit more manageable this week vs. BC, but the Tigers will still need to stretch this margin into the mid-30s to handle another excessive premium. When as motivated as the Tigers were in recent romps over Miami and Georgia Tech, feeling challenged for the first time against the former, they have no trouble stepping on the accelerator, but they’ve done that only twice in six games. Last week’s sleepwalk vs. the Orange (complete with a Trevor Lawrence pick-six) might grab Clemson’s attention, but BC is hardly helpless. New coach Jeff Hafley looks like he learned his lesson in the recent loss at Virginia Tech when Notre Dame transfer QB Phil Jurkovec was less efficient as he passed 51 times. Hafley remembered that BC still had an infantry when pounding Georgia Tech for 264 yards on the ground last week, and Jurkovec displayed good mobility with 94 yards rushing. The Yellow Jackets aren’t Clemson, but some technicals also suggest big points might work for the Eagles, who have dropped only two of their last seven spread decisions against Swinney. And the dog role has generally worked for BC, whether for Hafley (3-1) or predecessor Steve Addazio (16-4-1 from late 2016 through ’19).
MEMPHIS at CINCINNATI
Might Cincinnati make a case for the Final Four? Anything might be possible in 2020, and remember that the Brian Kelly-coached Bearcats would have been featured in the old BCS title game for 2009 had Hunter Lawrence not squeezed a 46-yard field goal just inside the upright to give Texas a 13-12 Big 12 title win over Nebraska and a berth opposite Alabama in the championship game. So maybe it’s not unprecedented for Cincy to make a case if it keeps winning after taking full control of the American with last week’s 42-13 romp over SMU. Cincinnati (4-0) has held its last three foes beneath 300 total yards, with SMU gunslinger Shane Buechele limited to 216 passing yards. The Bearcats face another challenge this week from Memphis’ Brady White, but the Tigers’ aerial game might be missing a bit of its former bite since key WR Damonte Coxie opted out. The QB to watch this week could be Cincy’s Desmond Ridder, who dazzled SMU with a stunning 179 rushing yards — including a 91-yard jaunt — and three TDs on the ground. Ridder might have more room to motor this week vs. a Tigers defense that ranked at the bottom nationally into last week. It’s also payback time for Cincy after losing twice at the Liberty Bowl late last season, including a narrow defeat in the AAC title game. Both were both Bearcats spread covers and part of Memphis’ 1-6 skid vs. the points.
BOISE STATE at AIR FORCE
Nothing happened in the first Mountain West action of the season to make us think anyone besides Boise State is the team to beat. Air Force is probably not up to the task as it might have been a few years ago. Boise coach Bryan Harsin seems to have gotten keen to Troy Calhoun’s tactics the last three years in Broncos wins and covers, including last year’s 30-19 win when Boise blitzed Air Force with three TDs in about nine minutes to erase a 13-10 deficit. It’s not the same in 2020 for the Falcons, for whom this always loomed as a problematic campaign. Several cadets opted out when it looked like no football would be played this fall, not to mention the disciplinary suspension of playmaking QB Donald Hammond. Add the collarbone injury suffered by top returning rusher Kadin Remsberg (1,050 yards rushing in 2019) in last week’s unsightly 17-6 loss at San Jose State, and the shocker over Navy on Oct. 3 is looking more and more like an outlier. As clever as Calhoun might be, his schemes are no secret in the Mountain West, and a rebuilt Boise defensive front held up just fine in the Utah State opener. No concerns for the offense, either, as sophomore QB Hank Bachmeier picked up where he left off with three TD passes in the 42-13 rout that confirmed Boise’s top status in the league.
UCF at HOUSTON
We’ve seen it many times when oddsmakers adjust to performances, especially those that are especially good or bad, and begin to alter point spreads accordingly. So it has gone for UCF, not long ago the darling of sportsbooks when it was recording an unbeaten 2017 campaign and having constructed an impressive 13-4 spread mark over a 17-game span. Spreads, however, began to quickly adjust, and now it has gone the other way for the Knights, who have dropped 11 of their last 15 vs. the points. Behind the point-spread downturn is a defense allowing a hefty 33 points and close to 500 yards per game, putting lots of pressure on QB Dillon Gabriel. But Gabriel might be up to the task with a career 48-9 TD-INT ratio. That suggests the recent UCF spread malaise is apt to turn around at any moment, especially as the Gabriel-led offense has produced an eye-opening 630 or more yards of offense in four of five games this season. Meanwhile, we keep waiting for a breakthrough under second-year Houston coach Dana Holgorsen, but the Cougars are only 6-9 straight up on his watch and failed spectacularly in their one possible statement game this season when BYU poured on the points in the fourth quarter of a 43-26 win. Perhaps QB Clayton Tune, who has passed for at least 310 yards in all three Houston games, can trade points with Gabriel. But the Cougars won’t have the benefit of the 21½ -point spread that allowed them to stay within the number of last year’s 44-29 loss in Orlando.