HAWAII at SAN DIEGO STATE
Brady Hoke’s return as San Diego State’s coach was a picnic until the surprise team of the Mountain West showed up and beat up the Aztecs in their backyard last week. San Jose State, a 10-point underdog, rallied for a 28-17 win despite losing starting quarterback Nick Starkel to an injury early in the game. The Spartans improved to 3-0 in conference play while handing the Aztecs their first setback of the season under Hoke, who coached San Diego State from 2009-10 before leaving for the Michigan job. The Aztecs whipped UNLV and Utah State by a combined 72-13 before being stunned by San Jose. The Aztecs’ weakness under former coach Rocky Long was their lame passing game, and that does not appear to be changing with Hoke. Carson Baker failed to pass for a touchdown and tossed one interception in the loss. He also lost 29 yards rushing. Running back Greg Bell produced 109 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries as the only reliable source of offense. Hawaii improved to 2-1 for new coach Todd Graham with a 39-33 victory Saturday night over New Mexico, a 14-point underdog. The Warriors outgained the Lobos 503-499 as Chevan Cordeiro completed 33 of 43 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. This might be a problematic matchup for a Hawaii defense that has been bulldozed on the ground, allowing 560 rushing yards in the last two games. San Diego State opened -9.5, and the Aztecs should bounce back and prevail behind the better defense and rushing offense.
NEVADA at NEW MEXICO
Nevada sophomore quarterback Carson Strong is off to a start resembling his last name. He has completed 73.3% of his passes for 1,181 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions. The Wolf Pack, 3-0 straight up and ATS, upset Wyoming in overtime before posting blowout victories over UNLV and Utah State. The offense has been balanced, with Toa Taua rushing for 193 yards and 8.0 per carry. The defense will be tested by New Mexico’s relentless run-based attack. The Lobos piled up 279 rushing yards in a 39-33 loss Saturday at Hawaii. Bobby Cole and Nathaniel Jones split most of the carries out of the backfield, and quarterback Tevaka Tuioti is a dual threat. Tuioti passed for 181 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 71 yards as the Lobos, 14-point dogs, came up short in the shootout in Honolulu. Nevada has been the most impressive team in the Mountain West. New Mexico is probably the conference’s most dangerous team as an underdog. The Lobos, who were a complete mess at the tail end of former coach Bob Davie’s tenure, look much more organized under new coach Danny Gonzales and defensive coordinator Rocky Long. However, this is a tough travel spot for the Lobos, who went from San Jose, Calif., to Hawaii and now go to Las Vegas to face a Nevada team that has spent the entire season within the state. If the New Mexico defense is fatigued, Strong can take advantage. The situational edge is clearly with the Wolf Pack, who opened -13 as the designated visiting team at Allegiant Stadium.
OREGON at WASHINGTON STATE
It’s a lot to ask to replace Justin Herbert, who led Oregon to a Rose Bowl win and is starring in the NFL as a rookie for the Chargers, yet sophomore quarterback Tyler Shough is already showing he could be the answer. Shough passed for 227 yards, rushed for 85 more and accounted for two touchdowns in the Ducks’ opening 35-14 victory over Stanford. Oregon is the favorite in the Pac-12 North, but it’s still a new-look team with much to prove. The Ducks were not as dominant as the score indicated against the Cardinal, one of the weakest teams in the conference. Washington State was impressive in the debuts of coach Nick Rolovich, who left Hawaii to replace Mike Leach, and true freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura. The Cougars closed as three-point underdogs in a 38-28 win at Oregon State. Rolovich recruited de Laura out of Honolulu, where de Laura led St. Louis High to back-to-back state titles and undefeated seasons. He passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns against the Beavers. Deon McIntosh rushed for 147 yards on 18 carries. This should be a competitive game in Pullman, Wash., where the Cougars beat the Ducks 34-20 two years ago. Oregon won last year’s meeting 37-35 as a 14½-point favorite. Sharp bettors showed up in force to fade Washington State last week, but that was the wrong move. The drop-off from Leach to Rolovich might be minimal, and the Cougars could be much better than expected. Circa Sports opened Oregon -9, and underdog money immediately pushed the line to -7.
NORTHWESTERN at PURDUE
Believe it or not, this game could go a long way in determining the Big Ten West winner. Northwestern, 3-0 straight up and ATS, is back on track after last year’s 3-9 finish. Coach Pat Fitzgerald is the college football version of Fitz-magic, an undervalued veteran who grinds out ugly wins. The Wildcats are much improved offensively under Peyton Ramsey, a grad transfer quarterback from Indiana. Ramsey passed for 169 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-13 victory over Nebraska last week. Northwestern’s defense, which has allowed 12 points per game, will face its toughest test yet against Purdue’s wide-open passing attack. The Boilermakers (2-0) had an unexpected bye last week because of the cancellation of their game at Wisconsin, a team with COVID-19 issues. The Badgers (1-0) must play at least six games to qualify for the league title game, so they cannot miss another game and still must play at Michigan this week and at Northwestern on Nov. 21. Suddenly, the Boilermakers and Wildcats are in advantageous positions to win the division. Purdue was a one-point favorite in a 24-22 win at Northwestern last year, stopping the Wildcats’ five-game winning streak in the series. Aidan O’Connell, a former walk-on, completed 70.6% of his passes with five touchdowns in the Boilermakers’ victories over Illinois and Iowa. David Bell, an emerging sophomore star, leads the team with 22 receptions for 243 yards. The status of Purdue’s top NFL prospect, junior wideout Rondale Moore, is unknown and should be monitored this week. Moore is a big-time playmaker who has yet to take the field this season for undisclosed reasons. If Moore remains sidelined, Northwestern’s defense could control the game. The Wildcats opened + 2 before the line dipped to + 1.
NOTRE DAME at BOSTON COLLEGE
Here’s the definition of a letdown spot: Upset the No. 1 team in the nation, watch fans storm the field, then hit the road the next week to face a rival. In the most dramatic high-stakes game of the season, Notre Dame upended Clemson 47-40 in double overtime Saturday. Irish coach Brian Kelly told his team before the game, “When we win this thing, the fans are going to storm the field.” Kelly called the shot. The mob scene, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, was a nightmare for social-distancing sticklers and could create a problem for the team if the virus spreads. Notre Dame dealt with COVID problems on campus and inside the program early in the season. But the bigger story was how the Irish ended the Tigers’ 36-game regular-season winning streak. Clemson was without star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and Irish senior QB Ian Book led a touchdown drive to force overtime. Book passed for 310 yards and rushed for 68. Freshman running back Kyren Williams carried 23 times for 140 yards and three touchdowns. Notre Dame’s defense made a strong stand and limited Clemson star Travis Etienne to 28 yards rushing on 18 carries. The Irish (7-0) could see the Tigers again in the ACC championship game, but that’s way down the road, and Notre Dame’s next challenge is a two-game trip to Boston College and North Carolina. The Eagles’ quarterback is Phil Jurkovec, a transfer from Notre Dame and former four-star recruit. Jurkovec passed for two touchdowns in BC’s 34-28 loss Oct. 31 at Clemson. Every handicapper on the planet will mention the letdown factor for the Irish this week, and oddsmakers are certainly aware of it. Circa Sports opened Notre Dame -15, and the line quickly dropped to -13.
IOWA at MINNESOTA
Iowa and Minnesota got off their 0-2 schneids last weekend. Now they battle for the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy, a bronze pig. Iowa has won the last five meetings outright and covered four of them. Last year the Hawkeyes defeated a 9-0 Gophers squad, then ranked No. 7, that had just upset Penn State in a battle of unbeatens. Iowa outgained Purdue and Northwestern and held second-half leads but could not hold on in its 0-2 start. Despite the market betting against them last weekend, the Hawkeyes looked to be sitting on a big performance, and they certainly were as they slaughtered Michigan State 49-7. Iowa scored on a pick-six and a punt return. The defense forced three turnovers and held Michigan State to 59 yards on 32 carries. Minnesota also got right in a 41-14 wire-to-wire victory at Illinois. Mo Ibrahim ran for over 200 yards and scored four touchdowns for the second consecutive game. The last back in the Big Ten to accomplish those feats was Penn State’s Larry Johnson in 2002. The defense also held Illinois to 287 yards, but perhaps that improvement should be taken with a grain of salt considering the Illini are down to their fourth-string quarterback. Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan is underperforming last year’s numbers. Circa Sports opened the game at pick-’em, but Iowa took the early action and moved up to three-point chalk. The total has also moved up from 53.5 to 55 with Iowa off its best offensive performance of the season and the Gophers’ defense a question mark.
INDIANA at MICHIGAN STATE
Indiana and Michigan State meet Saturday for the Old Brass Spittoon. The Spartans have won the last three and nine of the last 10. The Hoosiers were underdogs in all those meetings, but not this time. Indiana has started 3-0 and is ranked No. 10 in the coaches’ poll for the first time in program history and No. 10 in the AP poll for the first time since 1969. The Hoosiers’ upset of Penn State in the Big Ten opener could be dismissed as fluky, considering they were outgained 488-211, but the win last weekend over Michigan was anything but phony. Indiana never trailed and dominated in all phases of a 38-21 win as a 4.5-point underdog. Quarterback Michael Penix had been rusty in his first two games but threw three touchdown passes in the first half. The Indiana defense did the rest, forcing two turnovers and holding the Wolverines to 13 yards on the ground. Michigan State gained some believers with its upset at Michigan two weeks ago, but that belief was short-lived as the Spartans were humbled 49-7 at Iowa. Turnovers cost Michigan State in its opener, giving up the ball seven times against Rutgers, and they reared their ugly head yet again as the Spartans gave it up three times last week. Michigan State also struggled to stop the run as Iowa piled up 226 yards on 41 carries. Indiana opened at Circa Sports as a nine-point favorite, but Sparty has taken the early money down to 7.5. The total took a nosedive from 57.5 to 51. Indiana has a showdown with Ohio State looming next week but cannot get caught up in a lookahead or the hype of being in the Top 10 for the first time in over half a century.
OHIO STATE at MARYLAND
No. 3 Ohio State looked like it was going to steamroll another opponent as a massive favorite and led Rutgers 42-9 late in the third quarter, but Greg Schiano’s team kept fighting and the Scarlet Knights covered in a 49-27 loss. Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields continued his Heisman campaign by going 24-for-28, throwing five touchdown passes and adding a score on the ground. Maryland has won two in a row after prevailing at Penn State gate to wire in a 35-19 victory as almost a four-touchdown underdog. The Terps were leading 35-7 after three quarters before Penn State got a couple of garbage-time scores. Terps QB Taulia Tagovailoa had another big game, going 18-for-26 and throwing for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Maryland’s defense had been allowing 44 ppg but kept the Nittany Lions at bay, giving up 434 yards on 93 plays from scrimmage. The challenge will be substantially higher this weekend. Last year Ohio State mauled Maryland 73-14 as a 42.5-point favorite. The Buckeyes got a scare in 2018 and had to survive a late Maryland two-point attempt that failed in a 52-51 victory. In 2016 and ’17, the Buckeyes won by a combined score of 124-17. Ohio State opened at Circa Sports as a 27-point favorite, and the early move was on the Maryland side down to 26. The total is one of Saturday’s largest at 72.
PENN STATE at NEBRASKA
Penn State’s chance to win the Big Ten ended two weeks ago in a loss to Ohio State, so last week’s game against Maryland certainly had the potential for a flat spot. However, no one could have anticipated the putrid effort the Nittany Lions put forward. Penn State had defeated Maryland by a combined 163-6 in the three previous meetings. The Nittany Lions trailed 35-7 after three quarters and were flat from the get-go. Three second-half turnovers by quarterback Sean Clifford put an abrupt end to any chance of a comeback. James Franklin and his team have some real soul-searching to do after an 0-3 start because their heart is being questioned. Is Penn State quitting on the season with so little to play for? Someone’s “0” will have to go as Nebraska is also seeking its first win after falling 21-13 at Northwestern. The Cornhuskers seem to have a quarterback controversy as Adrian Martinez was essentially pulled in the fourth quarter in favor of Luke McCaffrey. McCaffrey played 27 snaps and Nebraska gained 162 yards, or 6 per play. Martinez played 61 snaps and the offense mustered 280 yards (4.6 ypp). The offense did not get into the end zone with McCaffrey at the helm, but the attack seemed sharper and ran at a quicker pace. Nebraska outgained Northwestern 442-317 but was shut out in the second half after leading 13-7 at halftime. Circa Sports opened Penn State -4, but a trickle of early action on Nebraska dropped it to -3. The bigger move has been on the total from an opener of 62.5 to 57.5 based on last weekend’s performances.
WISCONSIN at MICHIGAN
The Badgers opened Oct. 23 with a 45-7 victory over Illinois and have not played since due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team. Most of the team is back. Wisconsin had to cancel games at Nebraska and vs. Purdue and now must play its last five games to qualify for the West title and the Big Ten championship game. Quarterback Graham Mertz tested positive for the virus but posted to his Instagram account that he is back and apparently ready to play. Michigan returns to Ann Arbor reeling from two straight losses, including 38-21 last weekend at Indiana, which the Wolverines had defeated every year since 1987. Michigan quarterback Joe Milton threw for three scores and 344 yards but also tossed two interceptions. The Wolverines had been averaging 204 ypg on the ground but mustered only 13 yards on 18 carries against Indiana. The Hoosiers also won the time-of-possession battle 38:50-21:10. The national media is going after coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Brown. Nevertheless, Michigan opened as a three-point favorite at Circa Sports, but Wisconsin took the early money and now the Wolverines are just one-point choices. The total opened 46.5 and increased to 49. The schools have split the last four meetings, the home team winning all four. Wisconsin clearly has more to play for than Michigan, but the team’s health situation is still a major question mark.
MIAMI (OHIO) at BUFFALO
As always, some compelling technical factors support the case for Buffalo, which, after its 49-30 opening win over Northern Illinois, has improved to 27-12-3 vs. the line for coach Lance Leipold over the last three-plus seasons. Moreover, the home team has covered the last three meetings in this series against MAC East foe Miami. But the RedHawks are no pushovers, and they impressed as coach Chuck Martin had to go to the bullpen early last week when QB Brett Gabbert was KO’d against Ball State. No problem: Backup AJ Mayer stepped into the breach and passed for 212 yards and three TDs in Miami’s 38-31 victory. Getting over the hump against the Bulls might be harder because Leipold returns plenty of productive experience, including 1,000-yard rushers in Jaret Patterson (1,799 in 2019) and Kevin Marks (1,035). Patterson did most of the heavy lifting against NIU, gaining 137 yards on 20 carries. Leipold opted for junior QB Kyle Vantrease, who led a balanced attack of 182 yards rushing and 175 passing. If Buffalo has a concern, it’s with a defense that has already suffered some attrition. But down three starters in the opener, the unit was very opportunistic in forcing five Huskies turnovers. The dog role has been good lately for Miami, which is 6-1 in its last seven getting points, but it is hard to build a persuasive case against the Bulls as long as Leipold keeps the program in such a high orbit.
ARKANSAS at FLORIDA
As they live in different divisions of the SEC, the Razorbacks and Gators rarely get a look at one another. But new Arkansas coach Sam Pittman has seen a lot of Florida the last few years as an assistant to Kirby Smart at Georgia, and Pittman’s team has been one of the pleasant surprises in the SEC. Arkansas has become very popular at the Gulf Coast sportsbooks after covering all six outings this year. Also familiar with Dan Mullen’s operation is new Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who saw plenty of the Gators while coaching Missouri the last five years. With the Razorbacks sporting a national-best 12 picks, Odom’s ballhawks might prove a bit of a challenge for Florida QB Kyle Trask, who has not met much resistance while firing 22 TD bullets in five games. It can be safe to assume this is a special game for Arkansas QB Feleipe Franks, who was the Gators’ starter into early last season before being supplanted by Trask and subsequently transferring to Fayetteville. Now comfortable in Kendal Briles’ offense, Franks is making few mistakes, tossing just one pick in five games since the opener vs. Georgia. Florida has been very profitable vs. the number lately in the Swamp, where it has covered eight of its last nine. But this could be a Gators letdown spot after rallying from a 14-0 deficit for a highly charged 44-28 comeback win over hated Georgia.
TCU at WEST VIRGINIA
Recent series trends have favored West Virginia, working on four straight wins and covers against TCU. After coach Dana Holgorsen experienced some success against TCU in his final few years at WVU, new coach Neal Brown continued the trend last season with a 20-17 upset win in Fort Worth. The winning points came on a 35-yard TD pass from Jarret Doege to Isaiah Esdale early in the fourth quarter and ensured the win after TCU couldn’t advance past its own 44-yard line on its last two drives. Fast-forward to 2020, and the Frogs think they might have the recipe to reverse recent series fortunes. TCU might as well be running the single-wing with rough-hewn sophomore QB Max Duggan, who enjoys keeping the ball on designed runs. Last week he burned Texas Tech with 48- and 81-yard TD sprints in a 34-18 victory. This will be a test against a no-nonsense West Virginia defense, which ranks an impressive sixth nationally after keeping potent QB Sam Ehlinger and Texas in relative check at Austin. But the hardscrabble Duggan is giving Gary Patterson his first consistency and legitimate dynamism at QB in several years, and the Frogs have been positively jumping on the Big 12 trail in 2020, already winning at Texas and Baylor as they look to re-enter the bowl mix after missing out last season for just the third time in 20 years.
TEXAS A&M at TENNESSEE
So much for that supposed revival that had Tennessee fans thinking their program was about to become nationally relevant for the first time since the Phil Fulmer era after UT’s win streak expanded to eight in a row across two seasons. Some SEC skeptics, however, weren’t sure, reasoning the uptick was mostly against middling foes, and several games were close escapes, suggesting a false alarm. That theory has been proven correct as 2020 is now resembling the tenures of Derek Dooley or Butch Jones with UT on its first four-game skid since 2017. The Vols have not been within single digits in any of those defeats as a bowl bid that was once considered a fait accompli is looking unlikely. Jeremy Pruitt’s QB situation has deteriorated after ineffective Jarrett Guarantano was KO’d with an apparent concussion last week at Arkansas, and Pruitt cycled all the way to true freshman Harrison Bailey to no avail in the fourth quarter. The Vols have been outscored 61-7 in the third quarter, causing some backers to wonder what Pruitt is saying to the troops at halftime. Meanwhile, the stars seem to finally be aligning at A&M, with senior QB Kellen Mond in a very nice groove, including seven TD passes and no picks over the last two weeks. He is proving he can produce big numbers on the road after his four TD passes in a 48-3 romp vs. South Carolina as Jimbo Fisher positions the surging Aggies to have a shot at the playoff if they keep winning into December.