Week 3 college football picks, best bets

By VSiN Staff  (VSiN.com) 

September 17, 2022 11:14 AM
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Welcome to Week 3 of the college football season.

Each week, our VSiN experts will combine to give their best bets on select games.

It was a 5-5 showing for Week 2, but we're dusting ourselves off and we're back at it for Week 3.

Odds are from DraftKings (unless noted) as of Wednesday night. For current odds, check out the VSiN CFB odds page.

Season record: 6-11-1 

Oklahoma Sooners (-11, 66.5) at Nebraska Cornhuskers

Saturday, noon ET

Danny Burke: The buildup to this game would’ve been a lot more exciting if Nebraska hadn’t pulled a Nebraska. I’m kicking myself because I should’ve put more stock in taking the points with Georgia Southern last week. The Huskers had looked bad, the Eagles had been competitive and, most importantly, it was a major lookahead game for Nebraska with Oklahoma on the horizon. 

Well, here are the Sooners for ya. And they’re ready to go. They’ve been nothing short of dominant thus far. Granted, their two matchups have come against UTEP and Kent State. So let’s not get too crazy. 

Even before the season, I liked the idea of taking the points with the Huskers in this matchup. They opened as low as 2-point underdogs in some spots and rose to as high as 14.5-point dogs after the recent debacles. The reason I liked them is because we knew they had this game circled. Plus, it was assumed that Oklahoma’s roster would be worse this year considering all of the turnover from the coaching staff and beyond. And, let’s not forget, Nebraska stormed into Norman last year and almost beat that better Sooners team, with what many would consider a weaker Huskers roster.

But enough of all of that. Things have changed vastly in Lincoln, and for the better (signed, a pissed-off alum). It seemed as if Scott Frost was doing everything in his power to prevent this team from winning. I mean, seriously, from lousy play-calling to lack of aggression on fourth-and-shorts to, oh, let’s not forget, an onside kick with a double-digit lead. It was an absolute clown show and he’ll go down as one of the biggest letdowns of my entire sports fandom.

Mickey Joseph is an intelligent, organized adult who the players love and respect. He was able to bring a lot of these top recruits to Lincoln, so the boys will be ready to rally around him. Teams always seem to get an extra boost in the game after a coach is fired. Plus, Memorial Stadium will be rocking with a sense of excitement knowing it can’t (hopefully) get much worse. And we’re getting almost a double-digit difference from the opening number on a Nebraska team that should’ve been, and still could be, in a prime spot for an upset. 

Nebraska should be 3-0 right now, and Saturday is a chance for a reset. 

Play: Nebraska + 11 

Cal Golden Bears at Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-11, 40.5)

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET

Tim Murray: Green jerseys. A Manti Te’o appearance. And Notre Dame trying to avoid an 0-3 start following last week’s 26-21 loss to Marshall as a 20.5-point favorite. The Fighting Irish will start backup QB Drew Pyne after Tyler Buchner was lost for the season late in the Marshall game. Notre Dame’s offense has its issues and limitations, as does Cal’s. The Golden Bears defeated UNLV 20-14 last Saturday but gained just 36 yards over their last four drives. 

Trusting Notre Dame’s offense to cover this spread is not a situation I want to get involved with right now, but the Irish defense was impressive in Week 1 against Ohio State, holding the Buckeyes to just 21 points (the lowest in the Ryan Day era). That same defense struggled to slow down Marshall late. Thundering Herd RB Khalan Laborn finished with 163 yards and Notre Dame had too many missed assignments and missed tackles in the fourth quarter. Defensive coordinator Al Golden's response when asked about the fourth-quarter failures was quite telling, saying, “Not good enough. No excuse. We didn’t tackle well enough. Period.”

After an 0-2 start and pressure mounting on first-year head coach Marcus Freeman, expect a veteran front seven to play with pride and dominate the Cal offense.

Pick: Cal Team Total Under 14.5

Tulane Green Wave at Kansas State Wildcats (-14, 48)

Saturday, 3 p.m. ET

Tim Murray: The Wildcats are off to an impressive start. After shutting out FCS South Dakota 34-0 in Week 1, they destroyed Missouri 40-12 last week with All-American RB Deuce Vaughn rushing for 145 yards. At quarterback, Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez has not been asked to do much. Martinez is just 20-for-35 passing for 154 yards with zero touchdowns, but he has rushed for 91 yards and two touchdowns. 

Tulane brings a veteran squad to Manhattan with 18 starters returning from last year including QB Michael Pratt, leading rusher Tyjae Spears and the bulk of its wide receivers. The Green Wave also added Notre Dame transfer Lawrence Keyes and brought in OC Jim Svoboda, a highly respected offensive mind, to take over for Chip Long. Tulane was not tested in its first two games, blasting UMass and Alcorn State by a combined score of 94-10.  

This could be a tricky spot for Kansas State. The WIldcats are coming off an impressive win over Mizzou, a former Big 12 rival, and head to Norman next week for a showdown with No. 7 Oklahoma and an opportunity to make some noise nationally. 

The market is backing the Green Wave. Circa Sports opened Kansas State -20 on Sunday and has moved 6 points in favor of Tulane. However, 80% of the tickets at DraftKings as of Thursday afternoon are backing the Wildcats. 

Tulane finished just 2-10 last year but covered against two different teams that were ranked No. 2 in the country the week the Green Wave faced them (Oklahoma and Cincinnati). I expect Tulane to be competitive in the Little Apple. 

Pick: Tulane + 14

Vanderbilt Commodores at Northern Illinois Huskies (-2.5, 58.5)

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Jeff Parles: You can throw out the records when the SEC goes on the road to MAC country! Obviously, I’m kidding. It’s very rare for an opponent from the best conference in the country (even if it is Vandy) to take a trip such as this one. 

The Huskies struggled to put away Eastern Illinois in Week 1 and covered in a tight loss last week on the road at Tulsa. Michigan State transfer Rocky Lombardi was much better in the second half last week than he was in Week 1. 

Vanderbilt was very impressive in their Week 0 thumping of Hawaii and a no-sweat victory over Elon in Week 1 before Wake Forest dominated the Commodores in Week 2. Mike Wright will start after being benched for AJ Swann against the Demon Deacons. 

Neither defensive unit in this matchup is any good. Northern Illinois has given up over six yards per play in each game they have played. Vanderbilt, after a solid performance against Hawaii, is giving up an average of 6.6 yards per play the last two weeks.

I like the Commodores on the road. I expect Wright to bounce back with a big game against a soft defense. Vanderbilt’s defense gets enough stops in the end to cover and win the game outright against Northern Illinois. 

Pick: Vanderbilt + 2.5 (sprinkle on ML + 120)

Colorado State Rams at Washington State Cougars (-17, 54)

Saturday, 5 p.m. ET

Adam Burke: It was a jubilant flight home for the Cougars, who had a long trip back from Madison, Wisconsin, but it came as winners over a Top 25 team. It was a huge, signature win for Jake Dickert and the Cougs, but it was also another sluggish offensive performance. Wazzu ranks 90th in the nation in yards per play and has only run 126 plays in two games, which ranks near the bottom.

Colorado State has run even fewer plays (123), but the Rams have only managed 3.78 yards per play. A blowout at the hands of Michigan in the first game was to be expected, but getting held to 3.84 YPP by Middle Tennessee was an awful look for Mike Norvell and Matt Mumme. The Rams are transitioning to an Air Raid offense and have mustered just 72 rushing yards through two games, including a -10 effort last week against the Blue Raiders.

We might need three halves between these teams to get more than 54 points. The Cougars have only scored 41 in their two games and the Rams have scored 26. Again, playing Michigan and Wisconsin isn’t easy, but neither offense showed well against Idaho and Middle Tennessee.

Pick: Under 54

Mississippi State Bulldogs (-2, 53) at LSU Tigers

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

Adam Burke: Will Rogers has grown into a really strong quarterback in the Mike Leach Air Raid offense. He’s off to a tremendous start with nine touchdowns against two interceptions in wins over Memphis and Arizona. While those two games aren’t going to move the needle for most, I believe Memphis is a solid AAC team and Arizona is a team I expected to take a big leap in Jedd Fisch’s second season.

LSU is a step up in class from a talent standpoint, but the Tigers are still working out a lot of kinks in Brian Kelly’s first year. Mississippi State’s passing attack is extremely efficient and that will force LSU to keep pace. Rolling over Southern was a nice confidence booster, but I still can’t believe how thoroughly dominated the Tigers were by Florida State for most of that game.

This isn’t a big power-ratings overlay for me, but I do have Mississippi State -3.5, so I have an edge through a key number. To me, the Bulldogs are more trustworthy with their continuity and stability than the Tigers.

Pick: Mississippi State -2

Michigan State Spartans at Washington Huskies (-3, 56.5)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Adam Burke: We still don’t quite know what we’re working with for the Spartans and Huskies. Games against middling MAC programs and FCS schools don’t exactly provide a lot of evidence for what may come. One thing we have seen here is a lot of sharp interest in the Huskies, who looked great in beating Kent State and Portland State by a combined score of 97-26. This line can be found at several places at 3.5, but DraftKings is still holding at 3.

Michigan State has done what it’s supposed to do as well, with wins over Western Michigan and Akron by 22 and 52 points, respectively. This is a big step up in class both ways, but it sure looks like Washington is being priced at the top of the market. A lot of people had Michigan State power-rated as a Top 25 team coming into the season, myself included. I didn’t have Washington there. In fact, I had the Huskies 50th. Have they exceeded expectations? Absolutely. Have they done so in a way that justifies being a 3.5-point favorite against the Spartans? Not really.

The Spartans may have overachieved a little last season and Kenneth Walker is gone, but this has been a more consistent program over the last few years and Washington is just now finding its way with a new head coach and quarterback. Michael Penix Jr. is off to a hot start against some inferior teams, but Payton Thorne had a strong season in 2021 and Michigan State will always find running backs. 

My line here is Michigan State -2.5. Maybe I’ve been slow to adjust to the Huskies (who I already bumped four points in my power ratings), but very few people would have had Washington favored a couple of weeks ago. This feels like an overreaction when the teams have played similar schedules to this point. Find a 3.5 on Michigan State. Don’t take 3 when you can simply shop around.

Pick: Michigan State + 3.5 (widely available)

SMU Mustangs at Maryland Terrapins (-2.5, 73.5)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Adam Burke: It could be a fun one in College Park between two teams that are both in the top 10 in yards per play so far. The Terrapins actually lead the nation with 8.64 YPP, while SMU is seventh with 7.8. Neither team has played even a decent schedule to this point, but we could see a lot of points.

My angle here, though, is to fade SMU. The Mustangs have TCU on deck in a huge rivalry game that has a few extra layers this season. Former SMU head coach Sonny Dykes is now on the sideline at TCU, meaning the Horned Frogs poached the coach that has beaten them in back-to-back games in Fort Worth. This year’s version will be at Ford Stadium in Dallas, so SMU will be eager to spoil Dykes’ homecoming and get its first home win in the series since 2005. Also, SMU has not won three straight over TCU since 1984-86 when the Iron Skillet went to the Mustangs 15 games in a row. Since 1999, TCU has won 17 of the 21 head-to-head meetings, so it was really one-sided until the last two matchups.

With all of that in mind, are we sure SMU is totally focused on this trip to Maryland? The Terrapins actually had a better defense than SMU from a yards-per-play standpoint last season. My line on this game is -6, so I have some power-ratings value on the Terps to go along with a decent situational angle.

Pick: Maryland -2.5

Nevada Wolf Pack at Iowa Hawkeyes (-23, 39)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET 

Jeff Parles: Ever heard of the story featuring the stoppable force against the movable object? Well, then this is the game for you! 

Iowa has mustered 14 points in eight quarters so far (10 points of offense plus two safeties). The days of Ricky Stanzi and at least a mediocre offense are long gone in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are apparently sticking with Spencer Petras after back-to-back disasters (45% completions, 3.9 yards per attempt, two interceptions and no touchdowns), a decision that has more to do with the lack of depth behind Petras than anything else. To boot, Iowa’s usually vaunted offensive line can’t block the run this year. The Hawkeyes are only averaging 1.9 yards per carry.

On the positive side, the Hawkeyes defense has been outstanding the first two games. The group single-handedly won the South Dakota State game and came very close to doing it again against Iowa State. 

Now for Nevada. The Wolf Pack are 2-0 against FBS competition, winning at New Mexico State in Week 0 (trainwreck from the Aggies) and against Texas State in Week 1 (Wolf Pack were + 4 in turnover battle). Then came Week 2 when an FCS playoff team from a year ago, Incarnate Word, took Nevada’s defense to the woodshed. The Cardinals gained 8.9 yards per play in a 55-41 win in Reno. Nevada has a lot to overcome this season with almost no returning starters from last year and a brand new coaching staff.

From what we have seen from Iowa’s offense, I don’t see how they can be favored by more than three touchdowns against just about anyone in FBS, and that even includes this bad Nevada squad. I’ll take the Wolf Pack and the points as I expect them to score a touchdown in this game, and that should be enough to get within the number. 

Pick: Nevada + 23

South Florida Bulls at Florida Gators (-24, 60)

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Wes Reynolds: After two emotional games that came down to the end -- a win over Utah and a loss to Kentucky after being outscored 13-0 in the second half -- Florida has a tricky situation against South Florida. Next week, the Gators hit the road to play a Tennessee team already sitting at 0-1 in the SEC East. 

USF was embarrassed by BYU in Week 1, but held its own in the second half of a 50-21 defeat. The Bulls have upgraded the talent in their third year under coach Jeff Scott, who won two national championships at Clemson (2016, 2018) as the Tigers offensive coordinator. 

Seventy-six of the 115 players currently in the Bulls program are from the Sunshine State, so they always have a chip on their collective shoulders to play the big-boy Power 5 programs from the state (Florida, Florida State, Miami, soon to be UCF). 

Last season, USF hosted Florida as a 29-point underdog. The Bulls trailed 35-3 at halftime but kept fighting while the Gators (who had a big game with Alabama on deck) let their proverbial foot off the gas. The Bulls covered in a 42-20 loss. 

While the Bulls have a ways to go in their rebuilding effort, they did return 19 starters and should be better suited to hang around inside the number against a Florida team coming off two physical games (and only in its third game with a new coaching staff). 

Pick: South Florida + 24.5 (MGM)

Montana State Bobcats vs. Oregon State Beavers (-14) in Portland, Ore 

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

Tim Murray: It has been quite the start to the season for Jonathan Smith’s Oregon State squad. The Beavers opened the season with a comfortable and impressive 34-17 win over Boise State. Oregon State closed as just a 1.5-point favorite against the Broncos. Last week, as a 1-point underdog, the Beavers drove 73 yards in 58 seconds and scored on a 2-yard touchdown run as time expired at Fresno State, winning 35-32. Next week, Oregon State welcomes No. 7 USC to town for an evening affair in Corvallis. The situational spot for Oregon State this weekend could not be much worse. Weird things happen at night in Corvallis, just ask the top-ranked 2008 USC team that lost on a Thursday night to Oregon St. as a 25-point favorite.

Montana State is currently ranked No. 4 in the FCS polls and was the FCS runner-up last season. The Bobcats are led by dual-threat QB Tommy Mellott. One concern about backing the Bobcats on Saturday evening is their running back situation: Montana State’s top four running backs are sidelined due to injury, including Isaiah Ifanse (led the Bobcats with 1,623 rushing yards last season and 10 TDs). Mellott was second on the team with 716 rushing yards. The Beavers have injury concerns as well, as TE Luke Musgrave will be sidelined on Saturday. Through two games, Musgrave leads Oregon State in receptions (11) and receiving yards (169). 

The injuries to the Bobcats’ running back room is a concern but the situational spot is a massive boost for Montana State. I expect Montana State to give Oregon State all it can handle on Saturday evening in Portland. 

Pick: Montana State + 14 or better

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