VIRGINIA at CLEMSON
Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers coasted in their first two games, outscoring Wake Forest and the Citadel by a combined 86-13. Lawrence has completed 30 of 37 passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Will he finally need to play four quarters? Probably not. Clemson opened as a 28½-point favorite over Virginia. If that sounds familiar, it should. In last year’s ACC title game, Clemson was a 30½-point favorite over the Cavaliers and rolled to a 62-17 win. In this type of mismatch, it’s a question of motivation for the Tigers and when coach Dabo Swinney will rest most of his starters. Clemson has a much bigger game against Miami on deck. Virginia, which has the talent to be an upper-tier ACC team, opened the season Saturday with a 38-20 victory over Duke. Brennan Armstrong, a redshirt sophomore quarterback, lived up to his last name by passing for 269 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start. Armstrong also threw two interceptions. As four-point favorites, the Cavaliers rallied to cover after trailing 20-17 entering the fourth quarter. Even in a blowout, Clemson is a risky proposition to cover four touchdowns. Virginia will fight for four quarters to keep the score respectable. The Tigers are more likely to cover the first-half line before Swinney calls Lawrence and several other stars to the sideline to start focusing on the Hurricanes.
AUBURN at GEORGIA
A quarterback switch saved Georgia from a potentially disastrous loss at Arkansas, and Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart is just getting started because he could face QB questions all season. USC transfer JT Daniels was just cleared to play this week after a knee injury, so Smart was forced to start redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis in the opener. Smart made a wise decision to bench Mathis in the second quarter and insert Stetson Bennett, who entered fall camp No. 4 on the depth chart. Georgia, a 28-point favorite, trailed 7-5 at halftime. Bennett led the Bulldogs on three straight touchdown drives on the way to a 37-10 win. Bennett finished 20-for-29 for 211 yards and two touchdowns in a performance that makes him the probable starter this week against Auburn. The Georgia defense, which returned eight starters from last season, allowed only 280 total yards and forced three turnovers. Auburn, a 6½-point home favorite, pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat Kentucky 29-13. Bo Nix passed for 233 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. The Tigers gained only 91 rushing yards on 30 attempts, however, and their ground attack figures to face more problems against the Bulldogs’ defensive front. Circa Sports opened Georgia -8, and early money on the underdog moved the market number to 6½ at most books. The Bulldogs have won the last two in the rivalry, including 21-14 as three-point road favorites last year. Of course, Georgia was led by veteran quarterback Jake Fromm in those victories, and Smart is now shuffling unproven QBs.
TCU at TEXAS
Sam Ehlinger might not win the Heisman Trophy, but the senior quarterback had one of those moments in Texas’ wild 63-56 win at Texas Tech. Ehlinger’s two touchdown throws helped erase a 15-point deficit with three minutes left, and his TD pass to Joshua Moore in overtime provided the winning points. Ehlinger accounted for six touchdowns. The Longhorns were flops as 17½-point favorites, but they survived — and that’s more than Oklahoma could say Saturday. Texas is 2-0 for the first time in coach Tom Herman’s four years. The Longhorns have some defensive problems to address after allowing 441 total yards, but they could catch a break this week by facing a weaker TCU offense. The Horned Frogs played two quarterbacks, Matt Downing and Max Duggan, in a 37-34 loss to Iowa State. Duggan, who started the final 10 games last season, sparked the offense with three touchdown passes in the second half. TCU coach Gary Patterson has had a lot of recent success against Texas, with the Frogs winning five of the last six games in the series. As a freshman, Duggan accounted for 345 yards (273 passing, 72 rushing) and three TDs as TCU beat Texas 37-27 last year in Fort Worth. Ehlinger tossed four interceptions in one of the worst games of his career. Oddsmakers opened the Texas line too high last week, and that was the case again. The Longhorns opened -16 at Circa Sports before the market number dropped to 13. Patterson’s teams typically hang tough as underdogs.
TEXAS TECH at KANSAS STATE
Chris Klieman is quickly becoming a nuisance to the big boys of the Big 12. The second-year Kansas State coach is 2-0 against Oklahoma despite being a huge underdog in both games. The Wildcats were 27½-point road dogs Saturday in a stunning 38-35 comeback victory over the Sooners — a year after K-State was a 24-point dog in a 48-41 victory over Oklahoma. The development of quarterback Skylar Thompson is a major reason for the Wildcats’ success. Thompson passed for 334 yards and ran for three touchdowns to rally K-State from a 21-point deficit. The defense did its part by forcing Sooners freshman Spencer Rattler into three interceptions and essentially knocking him out of the Heisman Trophy discussion. It did not appear K-State was capable of pulling off any of that two weeks ago, and the quick turnaround is a credit to Klieman’s coaching. The Wildcats looked weak in their Sept. 12 opener, a 35-31 loss to Arkansas State in which the Red Wolves rolled up 489 total yards. K-State is back in the favorite’s role by laying 2½ points to Texas Tech, another team that made dramatic improvement from its first game to its second. The Red Raiders snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by blowing a late 15-point lead in a 63-56 overtime loss to Texas on Saturday. Alan Bowman passed for 325 yards and five touchdowns against the Longhorns. Texas Tech was a 40-point favorite in a 35-33 win over Houston Baptist on Sept. 12. The emotional letdown angle will be mentioned as an argument against K-State in this spot, but Klieman is a bet-on coach in most situations, and the letdown angle might also apply to the Red Raiders.
LOUISIANA TECH at BYU
Whenever Louisiana Tech is mentioned, technical factors must be highlighted. That’s because the Bulldogs have developed some very strong characteristics in recent years for coach Skip Holtz. As underdogs they’re a noteworthy 20-8-1 since Holtz arrived in 2014. Refining a bit further, Holtz is 17-6-1 as a dog away from Joe Aillet Stadium during that span. But have the Bulldogs regressed? That’s what some Conference USA insiders project after heavy graduations losses following Holtz’s sixth straight bowl win last December against Miami at the Independence. Early indicators suggest perhaps not, as Tech, in its preferred underdog role, won at Southern Miss in its 2020 debut before scoring 66 Saturday against “basketball on grass” Southland rep Houston Baptist. Replacing three-year starting QB J’Mar Smith has been Abilene Christian transfer Luke Anthony, who has tossed eight touchdown passes in two games. The Bulldogs will face a tougher test against a BYU team that showed no ill effects of the recent COVID-19 outbreak on the team, handling a 19-day layoff with ease in a 48-7 mauling of Troy on Saturday. It was a career night for junior QB Zach Wilson, who passed for a personal-best 392 yards, a neat trick after himself being sidelined by the virus. But reservations are valid about the Cougars’ 2-0 break from the gate, as Navy was not prepared to play in the Sept. 5 opener and Troy, which rarely ventures outside the South, might have thought it was on the moon when it made the trip to Provo. Kalani Sitake’s BYU team was only 4-9 vs. the spread last season, and this figures to be its first real test of 2020.
SOUTH CAROLINA at FLORIDA
Florida coach Dan Mullen probably wishes he could go against Lane Kiffin’s non-defense at Ole Miss every week, especially after Gators QB Kyle Trask emerged as a second-tier Heisman hopeful with his six TD passes and 51 points Saturday. But since arriving at South Carolina, Will Muschamp has usually put up a pretty good fight against his former employers in Gainesville. Last year the Gamecocks led into the fourth quarter before Trask got hot with three TD passes in the final 15 minutes, pulling the game out of the fire for Florida. Expect South Carolina to do some business Saturday. Muschamp’s revamped offense features the former Colorado State pair of OC Mike Bobo, who had been the Rams’ head coach, and transfer QB Collin Hill, who went 25 of 39 for 290 yards last week as the Gamecocks nearly pulled out the opener vs. well-regarded Tennessee. Before last year’s late-season meltdown in Columbia, Muschamp had covered 13 of 17 chances as an underdog. Not especially eager to recommend against the Gators and buck their seven-game SU and ATS unbeaten run at the Swamp, but expected price inflation and an apparently sharper-edged South Carolina strike force could make Muschamp tempting in what until recently was a very profitable dog role.
TULSA at UCF
The risks of laying a big price were brought home to UCF backers last week against East Carolina. The Knights had cleared the hefty four-TD spread midway through the third quarter but relaxed late, allowing a TD pass in the last 19 seconds as ECU stole the spread win. It remains tempting to lay the big number with UCF, scoring a sizzling 50 ppg in the first two games. Sophomore QB Dillon Gabriel might be setting himself up as one of the post-Trevor Lawrence Heisman favorites next year with a pair of 400-yard games out of the chute. The question that must be asked is how visiting Tulsa rates compared with UCF’s first two foes. Favorably, we’d say. The Golden Hurricane have a real defense that kept Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard in check during the opener at Stillwater when Tulsa came close to a major upset. That is not unfamiliar for Philip Montgomery’s bunch, which also knocked off the Knights as a 17-point underdog at Chapman Stadium in one of the shockers of 2019, twice rallying from double-digit deficits before Jacob Rainey’s late field goal won the game. The aggressive Tulsa front seven that stuffed Hubbard in the opener also had six sacks vs. Gabriel a season ago. Perhaps Josh Heupel’s Knights, hungry for revenge, extend the margin. But the Golden Hurricane might not be that outclassed and certainly do not fear the Knights after beating them five of six times since 2011, as well as standing 19-8-1 as road dogs since 2014.
NAVY at AIR FORCE
This Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy matchup at the foot of the Rockies has been a home-oriented and often ill-tempered rivalry in recent years. The host team has won the last seven meetings outright, covering the spread six times. Air Force has won and covered the last three meetings at Falcon Stadium by 17 ppg. That’s about all that will sound normal about this game. The near-cancellation of the 2020 season, in which the Falcons were originally scheduled to play only this contest and then Army on Nov. 7, caused quite a disruption on the AFA roster. At least four defensive starters decided to take what the academy calls a “turnback,” disenrolling and pushing back their eligibility. There have been reports of as many as 40 Falcons opting for this route, which would cut Troy Calhoun’s roster in half. That’s on top of star QB Donald Hammond, a breakout performer in 2019 who averaged 50 yards on his 13 TD passes, having been declared no longer in good standing and banned from representing the academy. Navy rallied to win only after trailing 24-0 at the half vs. Tulane on Sept. 19 and got outscored 79-3 in the first six quarters against the Green Wave and BYU. This is not a vintage Navy team, a long way from last year’s 11-win juggernaut. Mostly, however, all this information should persuade anyone that forecasting a game involving Air Force at the moment is almost foolhardy. Proceed cautiously.
LSU at VANDERBILT
If we needed a reminder that it’s not 2019 anymore at LSU, we sure got it last week in the opener vs. Mississippi State. Stanford transfer QB K.J. Costello and Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense riddled the new Tigers defense for 623 yards passing. Sheesh! While DC Bo Pelini thanks his lucky stars he’s not coaching soccer in Europe, where the response would not have been pleasant, it’s a confirmation that last year’s Baton Rouge bunch was a generational team surely not to be replicated in 2020. Yes, it’s doubtful the Vandy offense and true freshman QB Ken Seals will even approach what Costello did, but Seals was poised and efficient throwing mostly in safe mode last week at Texas A&M for the new Nashville Spread installed by recent Louisiana Tech OC Todd Fitch. The addition of Fitch is considered a likely upgrade for an offense that has too often resembled a poor man’s version of Stanford’s scheme as dictated by coach Derek Mason. He arrived in Nashville in 2014 straight from David Shaw’s staff; any similarities to Stanford were not accidental. But the Fitch offense kept the Aggies on their toes last week, and with all 11 starters back on defense, Mason’s stop unit had A&M senior QB Kellen Mond flustered for much of the opener. In time, LSU might be formidable, but with new QB Myles Brennan guilty of two costly picks in the opener and too often eating the ball, resulting in seven sacks, the days of Joe Burrow seem far in the rearview mirror. The Tigers are surely about to be downgraded by the oddsmakers, but we suspect it might take a couple of weeks before the new reality of 2020 sets in with LSU point spreads.
MEMPHIS at SMU
Memphis will play its first game in 28 days when it visits SMU this weekend. Memphis opened the season Sept. 5 with a 37-24 victory over Arkansas State but failed to cover as an 18.5-point favorite. That’s not necessarily a demerit, since Arkansas State went to Kansas State the next week and pulled the outright upset as a double-digit underdog. Memphis’ last two games were not played due to COVID-19 concerns: Sept. 19 vs. Houston and Sept. 25 at UTSA. Due to the outbreak, Memphis did not practice from Sept. 8-19. First-year coach Ryan Silverfield has had to structure practices differently as more players are able to return. Meanwhile, SMU has played three games, although the Sept. 11 game at TCU was postponed. In their last two, the Mustangs outscored North Texas and Stephen F. Austin 115-42. Memphis opened as a four-point favorite at Circa Sports but was immediately bet down before settling as a 2.5-point favorite. The move on the SMU side must be in part due to Memphis’ potential rust and the uncertainty of which players will be available after the COVID-19 problems. An additional rationale is this is a revenge spot for the Mustangs. Last season SMU started 8-0 for the first time since 1982, when the Mustangs went undefeated. The dreams of another perfect campaign ended in Memphis with ESPN “College GameDay” in attendance as SMU rallied late from a 22-point deficit but fell short 54-48. That loss essentially ended SMU’s hopes of representing the AAC in a New Year’s Six bowl, which Memphis did last year in the Cotton Bowl. SMU has lost six straight vs. Memphis, with five of the six by double digits.
OLE MISS at KENTUCKY
Kentucky was a popular underdog with bettors last weekend, as it opened + 8 at Auburn and was bet down to as low as + 5.5. However, the favorite ended up getting the money as Auburn pulled away in the second half to win 29-13. Kentucky outgained Auburn 384-324 and controlled the time of possession 36:29-23:31, but three turnovers essentially cost the Wildcats the game. No turnover was more costly than at the end of the first half, when the Wildcats drove to the Auburn 1-yard line before Terry Wilson threw what looked like a 100-yard pick-six, though Auburn’s TD was overturned due to a personal foul. That misfortune followed a Kentucky run being ruled short of a TD when the runner appeared to have gotten into the end zone. The Wildcats trailed by only two heading into the final quarter, but a fumble inside their own territory led to an Auburn TD on a short field, and that ended Kentucky’s chances to pull the upset. Now Kentucky returns to Lexington for the home opener vs. Ole Miss, coming off a 51-35 home loss to Florida. Lane Kiffin’s debut as Ole Miss coach contained good and bad. The good was that the offense generated 613 total yards, including 443 through the air. The offensive numbers should be no surprise considering Kiffin, for all his eccentricities, has always been respected as an offensive mind. Plus he is working in tandem with new OC Jeff Lebby, who was the OC for the No. 2 offense in FBS last season at UCF. The Rebels’ offense almost got in the back door late as 14-point underdogs after recovering an onside kick and driving to the Florida 10-yard line before being stopped. The bad is that this Ole Miss defense is a big-time work in progress. The Rebels allowed 642 yards to the Gators, and they are playing in their third system and under their third DC in three years. The line has not budged much from the opener of Kentucky -6.5. The Wildcats are 13-17 ATS as a home favorite under Mark Stoops and just 4-11 ATS in the last three seasons.
NORTH CAROLINA at BOSTON COLLEGE
Boston College opened the season two weeks ago with a dominant 26-6 win as an underdog at Duke. Last week vs. Texas State was the letdown spot as a three-touchdown favorite. BC was down 21-7 late in the third quarter and had to score 17 unanswered points, including the game-winning FG with three seconds to play, just to escape with a victory. Texas State was forced to punt on each of its last four possessions. BC did not look great but won and now must step up and face two straight ranked opponents at home as No. 12 North Carolina and No. 24 Pittsburgh come to Chestnut Hill over the next two weeks. New BC coach Jeff Hafley did not inherit a bare cupboard, with one of the ACC’s more talented offensive lines and highly touted Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec at QB. North Carolina has not played since a 31-6 victory over Syracuse on Sept. 12. Its game the next week vs. Charlotte was canceled. The Tar Heels opened -13 at Circa Sports and were bet down to -10.5 before big steam came on them Monday morning and drove the line up to -14. North Carolina dominated Syracuse in the opener but led only 10-6 heading into the fourth quarter due to two INTs by QB Sam Howell, who threw only seven all last season, and some special-teams mistakes. “We’ve been talked about and bragged on enough,” coach Mack Brown said Monday. “It’s time for us to prove something.” North Carolina will have the opportunity to do that as it should be favored in every game until the Nov. 27 matchup vs. Notre Dame and the conference finale Dec. 4 at Miami. Was the early rest good for the Tar Heels, or will it just generate more early rust?
OKLAHOMA at IOWA STATE
It was the same song, different verse for Oklahoma as Kansas State beat the Sooners for the second year in a row. Oklahoma lost to K-State in 2019 as a 23.5-point road favorite and fell Saturday as a 28-point home favorite while blowing a 35-14 late-third-quarter lead. This was the same Kansas State squad that lost its home opener to Arkansas State and had a depleted roster due to COVID-19. Oklahoma outgained K-State 517-400 but had four costly turnovers (-4 margin), including three interceptions from QB Spencer Rattler. The Sooners’ poor pass defense from recent years reared its ugly head. The Sooners have been in this spot before, having had a regular-season loss and still reaching the College Football Playoff. In fact, Oklahoma has reached the CFP four times and had a regular-season loss in each season. Oklahoma will have to turn the page quickly as it travels to face Iowa State. This is a tough spot for the Sooners. They not only have to face an Iowa State club that has been a thorn in their sides (3-1 SU but 0-4 ATS) in recent years but also has to do so with the Red River Rivalry game vs. Texas on deck. Iowa State, which upset the Sooners 38-31 as a 31-point underdog in 2017, nearly pulled off another upset last year. The Cyclones rallied from 21 down in the fourth quarter but went for the two-point conversion in the final seconds and failed to convert in a 42-41 defeat. Iowa State rebounded from a home upset vs. Louisiana two weeks ago to earn a hard-fought 37-34 road win at TCU. Oklahoma opened as a 12-point favorite at Circa Sports, and the line is now all the way down to -6.5. This is that proverbial sandwich spot for the Sooners, but the line is now under 7. So is this a buy-low opportunity on the Sooners with the college football world now dismissing them as legitimate CFP contenders?
TEXAS A&M at ALABAMA
Alabama began its redemption tour with a 38-19 win Saturday at Missouri. The Crimson Tide led 35-3 early in the third quarter but did allow the Tigers back within the number as the first-stringers were removed in the fourth quarter. Missouri generated 132 of its 322 yards in the final quarter. Alabama QB Mac Jones was 18 of 24 and threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns, both to WR Jaylen Waddle, who had eight catches for 134 yards. RB Najee Harris added three rushing touchdowns and had 98 yards on 17 carries. Nick Saban clearly wanted his team at full strength this week. While Alabama is annually at or near the top of the national recruiting rankings, Texas A&M has gained in that category with two consecutive top-5 classes. Jimbo Fisher has upgraded the talent level in College Station, but Aggies fans are waiting to see it materialize on the field. They did not see it last weekend, as Texas A&M was very sloppy in its opener in just a 17-12 victory over Vanderbilt. The Aggies lost three fumbles, including two by senior QB Kellen Mond. Perhaps this is the performance the Aggies needed to get them focused on the next two weeks, which include a visit to Alabama and a home date with Florida. Since taking over in College Station, Fisher has lost his first two matchups with Alabama by an average of 21.5 points (0-2 SU/1-1 ATS). These are the games Fisher was hired to win. He is currently 10-7 vs. SEC opponents. Circa Sports opened its number with respect for the Aggies, with Alabama just a 13-point favorite. The Tide was quickly bet up to -17.5 before it started to see resistance north of 17. This is the year the Aggies are supposed to start to make their move back toward being a powerhouse, and there’s no better spot to do it than to go on the road to face Alabama. It is certainly an opportunity to buy low off a bad performance in the opener.