MIAMI at CLEMSON
D’Eriq King transferred to Miami to play on a big stage, and it gets no bigger than this on the second Saturday in October. The Hurricanes, rising in the rankings to No. 7, storm into Death Valley with a 3-0 record to take on No. 1 Clemson in the ABC prime-time spotlight. Aside from the obvious ACC championship and playoff implications, the quarterback duel between King and Tigers star Trevor Lawrence has Heisman Trophy stakes. King has been sensational in a new offense, completing 67% of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing for 157 yards and a score. Cam’Ron Harris is the team’s top rusher with 311 yards (8.2 per carry) and five TDs. Miami is scoring 43.3 points per game after double-digit victories over UAB, Louisville and Florida State. It helped the Hurricanes to have a bye week to prepare for Clemson, which failed to cover Saturday as a 28-point favorite in a 41-23 victory over Virginia. Lawrence passed for 329 yards and three TDs, and Travis Etienne accounted for 187 total yards (114 receiving, 73 rushing). The Tigers should benefit from finally playing a competitive game against a respectable opponent. “I’m really glad we got challenged in some new ways,” said Lawrence, who has a streak of 314 passes without an interception. The Clemson defense allowed 417 total yards, which should encourage King and Miami’s creative offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee. The Hurricanes appear worthy of the hype, partly because their defense looks legit and mostly because King is an experienced playmaker who can trade shots with Lawrence. But Miami is not getting a lot of respect in the betting market. Circa Sports opened Clemson -15½, and the number could peak at 17.
OKLAHOMA vs. TEXAS
The thrill is gone in this rivalry, and not just because the Cotton Bowl in Dallas will be missing a sellout crowd. The Big 12 is on the brink of postseason irrelevance after the Longhorns were upset by Texas Christian and the Sooners were stunned for the second straight week. Texas was a 10½-point home favorite in a 33-31 loss to the Horned Frogs that will back coach Tom Herman into an uncomfortable corner. Herman is not getting the job done in his fourth year in Austin. He needs to beat Oklahoma to quiet the critics, but Sooners coach Lincoln Riley is equally desperate. Oklahoma was an eight-point favorite in a 37-30 loss at Iowa State a week after falling to Kansas State as a 27-point favorite. Riley said he had a “sickening feeling in my stomach” as the Sooners dropped out of the Top 25 for the first time in four years. Texas’ main advantage this week is the experience of senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who leads the nation with 14 touchdown passes. However, Ehlinger’s accuracy was lacking against TCU, as he went 17-for-36. Sooners redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler has thrown four interceptions in three games. Both teams have been weak defensively, especially in the secondary, so Ehlinger and Rattler should put up big numbers in a shootout. Even with a high total of 69½, it’s easier to bet on a lot of points than to pick a side. Which quarterback will avoid the costly mistake that swings the game? Ehlinger is the better bet, but Texas’ defensive problems are more alarming. The Sooners, after dropping back-to-back regular-season games for the first time since 1999, seem more likely to bounce back. Oklahoma opened -2½, and it’s no secret Herman has been profitable in the underdog role.
TEXAS TECH at IOWA STATE
It was all doom and gloom for Iowa State after it was whipped by Louisiana in the season opener, but coach Matt Campbell can see sunlight again. The Cyclones beat a good TCU team on the road before upsetting Oklahoma 37-30 on Saturday for their first win over the Sooners in Ames since 1960. A win of that magnitude is often followed by an emotional letdown, so some handicappers will bank on that angle this week. Texas Tech has a bigger problem after star quarterback Alan Bowman was knocked out of Saturday’s game with a right leg injury. Bowman’s status is uncertain this week. He was replaced by Henry Colombi in the 31-21 loss at Kansas State. Colombi is a transfer from Utah State, where he backed up Jordan Love, a first-round pick by the Green Packers this year, and played for current Red Raiders coach Matt Wells. Colombi, who entered the game with 69 career passes, played well while hitting on 30 of 42 throws for 244 yards and two touchdowns. Texas Tech is capable of moving the ball with Colombi, running back Xavier White and a slew of talented receivers. The Cyclones also have scoring firepower with Breece Hall, who carried the ball 28 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma, and veteran quarterback Brock Purdy. In the defenseless Big 12, totals in the 60s are routine, and this total was immediately bet to 63 after opening 61½. Circa Sports opened Iowa State -14, and the line dropped to 13, likely due to bettors playing the letdown angle.
FLORIDA STATE at NOTRE DAME
If this game gets played, it will be the first action for the Fighting Irish in three weeks. A coronavirus outbreak in the Notre Dame program resulted in at least 18 positive tests in late September. The Irish beat South Florida 52-0 on Sept. 19, and their Sept. 26 game at Wake Forest was postponed. Senior quarterback Ian Book has started slowly, passing for only 407 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 21 yards and three scores. Kyren Williams has emerged as the brightest spot on the offense, running for 174 yards and two TDs on 29 carries. The defense is yielding just 6.5 points through two games against below-averages offenses, and here comes another struggling offense. Florida State scored a combined 23 points in its first two games, which were losses to Georgia Tech and Miami. It would be a stretch to say the Seminoles found something in their 41-24 win last week. The opponent was Jacksonville State, an FCS team that led 14-0 in the second quarter. Florida State coach Mike Norvell benched two quarterbacks, James Blackman and Tate Rodemaker, before turning to redshirt sophomore Jordan Travis, a transfer from Louisville. Travis led the Seminoles to touchdowns on five consecutive drives to finally put away the Gamecocks as 27-point underdogs. So did Norvell find something in Travis? The Notre Dame defense will provide a true test. Circa Sports opened the Irish -21, a number that looks too high at first glance. It’s important to monitor player availability for Notre Dame this week.
LOUISVILLE at GEORGIA TECH
A rare Friday night ACC battle pits 1-2 clubs coming off desperately needed byes. Louisville had one of the biggest turnarounds in college football in 2019, going 8-5 under new coach Scott Satterfield after a 2-10 mark in 2018. However, the Cardinals are not sneaking up on anyone this season and have already lost ACC games to Miami and last week at Pittsburgh. Against Miami, Louisville was beaten by big plays. Against Pittsburgh, Louisville was just beaten up. The Cardinals were not beaten up on the scoreboard in just a 23-20 defeat, but they were beaten up front on both sides of the ball. Louisville’s offensive line allowed seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss, and that led to the offense gaining only 223 total yards, having only 10 first downs and going just 1-for-11 on third down. It was also a rough outing for junior QB Malik Cunningham (9-for-21, 107 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs), who has thrown five INTs in three games. Cunningham was carted off the field at the end of the Pitt game but has been cleared for this one. Georgia Tech is in its second year of a rebuild under Geoff Collins. After opening with an upset win at Florida State, the Yellow Jackets got overwhelmed in the second half by UCF and followed that with a deceiving 37-20 loss at Syracuse. They outgained Syracuse 453-357, including 275 yards on the ground (6.2 ypc) but turned the ball over five times (4 INTs by freshman QB Jeff Sims) and committed 15 penalties for 104 yards. The Cardinals last played Georgia Tech in 2018, with the Yellow Jackets winning 66-31 at Louisville in Bobby Petrino’s disastrous final season. Circa Sports opened Louisville -5, and it moved up to -7 before seeing resistance and being bet down to -4.
MISSISSIPPI STATE at KENTUCKY
No team in college football last weekend came down to Earth more than Mississippi State. After upsetting LSU in Baton Rouge as two-touchdown underdogs and having QB K.J. Costello break the SEC’s single-game passing record with 623 yards, the Bulldogs were shocked by Arkansas 21-14 as 17-point home favorites. LSU elected to play Mississippi State in primarily man coverage and paid dearly for it, but Arkansas and new DC Barry Odom (previously Missouri’s coach) played zone and a 3-2-6 dime defense while holding the Bulldogs to small gains on underneath throws. Mississippi State had only one play of 20+ yards. Costello also threw three interceptions, including a pick-six in the first quarter that got Mississippi State down early. The Bulldogs have committed eight turnovers in two games. Now they travel to 0-2 Kentucky, which gained 559 yards but lost a 42-41 overtime shootout last weekend to Ole Miss. The Wildcats scored first in overtime but missed the PAT, and Ole Miss did not — and that was the ballgame. Kentucky ranks last in passing efficiency defense among the 74 teams currently playing by allowing its first two opponents to complete 71.4% of their attempts along with seven touchdowns. Kentucky was more balanced in the opener at Auburn, using 40 pass plays vs. 38 run plays. However, UK ignored balance last weekend with 56 run plays vs. only 18 pass plays. Kentucky saved its 2019 season by running almost exclusively out of a Wildcat formation. Senior QB Terry Wilson is at least competent as a passer, but expect Kentucky to be more run-heavy. Kentucky opened as three-point chalk at Circa Sports, and it has stayed around that number. Mississippi State has dominated the recent series, having won nine of the last 11 meetings, including a 28-13 victory as a six-point favorite in Starkville last season.
TENNESSEE at GEORGIA
Last weekend Tennessee extended its winning streak, dating to last season, with a 35-12 victory over Missouri. That tied Notre Dame for the FBS lead at eight straight. Senior QB Jarrett Guarantano was very efficient (14-for-23, 190 yards, 1 TD, 2 rushing TDs) as the Vols relied heavily on the running game with 232 total yards on 51 carries. Tennessee was just 1-for-11 on third down in the opener at South Carolina but improved Saturday, going 6-for-11. The Vols were also a perfect 4-for-4 on fourth down and 5-for-5 (all touchdowns) in the red zone. The Vols are ranked No. 14 in the polls, their best since 2016. Nevertheless, they take a big step up in class to face No. 4 Georgia in Athens. The Bulldogs have beaten Tennessee by a combined 96 points in the last three meetings. Georgia stymied No. 7 Auburn in an easy 27-6 win with a suffocating defense, holding the Tigers to 216 yards (3.5 ypp). Auburn’s rushing attack was limited to 1.8 ypc, and sophomore QB Bo Nix averaged a paltry 4.4 yards per attempt. Georgia junior QB Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on, made his first start. He threw for 240 yards and a touchdown and looks to have a hold on the starting gig for now. Kirby Smart has indicated he won’t hesitate to turn to redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis, who looked overwhelmed in his first start against Arkansas, or sophomore USC transfer J.T. Daniels, who was just medically cleared to play last week. Strength vs. strength will play a major role in the outcome as Tennessee’s offensive line, including RT and Georgia transfer Cade Mays, is arguably the SEC’s best vs. the league’s best defensive line in Georgia. The Bulldogs opened as 14-point chalk at Circa Sports, but Tennessee has at least some believers. The Vols have taken the early action and are now 13-point underdogs.
FLORIDA at TEXAS A&M
Dan Mullen has proven to be the QB whisperer in Gainesville. He turned Feleipe Franks, now at Arkansas, into a starting QB in the SEC, which predecessor Jim McElwain was unable to do. And he has turned senior Kyle Trask, who had not started since the ninth grade until last season, into a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate. Trask has completed 71.8% (51 of 71) of his passes for 684 yards and 10 TDs vs. just one interception through two games. Trask and the Gators’ offense have had to raise their play because the Florida defense has struggled. The Gators have allowed 15-for-31 on third down and 5-for-7 on fourth down. They will face a Texas A&M offense that put up 450 yards at Alabama and was 10-for-17 on third down against the Tide. But the Aggies could not stop Mac Jones (20 for 27, 435 yards, 4 TDs) and the Alabama aerial attack, which scored on 78- and 87-yard touchdown passes in a 52-24 outcome in Tuscaloosa. Texas A&M will certainly have its hands full trying to contain another potent passing attack in Florida. Third-year A&M coach Jimbo Fisher fell to 10-8 in SEC games with last weekend’s loss at Alabama. Deep-pocketed Aggie boosters are going to get restless if Fisher cannot start getting signature wins. On the other side, Mullen is in just his third year at Florida and has already taken the program to two New Year’s Six bowls. Mullen is also 6-1 ATS as an away favorite, including a cover in that role two weeks ago at Ole Miss. Circa Sports opened Florida -7, and that was clearly the resistance point as early line value shoppers are happy to take the full touchdown or lay slightly less as the spread has bounced between -6 and -6.5. With both clubs having defensive problems, the total has been one-way traffic on the Over, moving up from 54.5 to 59.
KANSAS STATE at TCU
Kansas State did not fall prey to the letdown spot Saturday and defeated Texas Tech 31-21. Nonetheless, the Wildcats did have to face their share of adversity off the upset comeback win at Oklahoma. Senior QB Skylar Thompson injured his right arm in the second quarter and watched the second half with his arm in a sling as Will Howard came on in relief. The true freshman showed poise and maturity, going 7-for-12 for 173 yards and a touchdown. Thompson is upgraded to probable for this week, but second-year coach Chris Klieman, who just signed a six-year, $23.5 million contract extension, may also want to work in Howard for more reps. Whoever is playing QB will be responsible for getting true freshman RB Deuce Vaughn the ball. Vaughn tallied 113 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown Saturday and added 81 yards on three receptions, including another 70-yard TD. The Wildcats also are getting it done on defense. They won the turnover battle again, have forced seven in three games and have yet to turn it over. Kansas State has also blocked a punt in each of the first three games, the first team to do that in FBS since Memphis in 2008. This week it is TCU’s turn to avoid the letdown after defeating Texas 33-31 for the sixth time in seven years. Sophomore QB Max Duggan (20 of 30, 231 yards; 17 carries, 79 yards, 2 TDs) ran one in from 26 yards for the go-ahead score with four minutes left, and the Horned Frogs made a goal-line stand by forcing a Texas fumble at the 1-yard line to seal the victory. TCU has been favored in its last six meetings with Kansas State (4-2 SU and 2-4 ATS). TCU opened -10 at Circa Sports, but Kansas State has seen steady action likely based on the positive report regarding Thompson’s availability plus the obvious letdown spot for TCU. The total has seen even more movement as it opened at just 46.5 but was steamed upward to 55 before some buyback brought it down to 53. The last four meetings between these teams have had a combined 34 ppg.
TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO at BYU
Scheduling is always a challenge for an independent like BYU, but arguably no program had more hurdles building almost an entirely new slate than the Cougars due to COVID-19. BYU lost six games against Power 5 opponents Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota, Missouri and Stanford, so it had to scramble to fill those voids. Replacing the first three were games at Navy and vs. Troy and Louisiana Tech. Yes, those opponents are major drops in class, but you can only play the teams put in front of you and they have played them very well, winning by a combined score of 148-24. Pollsters are giving BYU respect as it is now ranked No. 15, the program’s highest rating in 11 seasons. Only No. 11 Cincinnati is rated higher than the Cougars among non-Power 5 programs. The point spreads keep rising along with the ranking. BYU was laying just 14.5 to Troy two weeks ago and 24 last week to Louisiana Tech. Now the Cougars are 34-point favorites (Circa opened -29). The total has seen movement as well to the Under from 67.5 to 61.5. BYU junior QB Zach Wilson is completing 83.3% (60 of 72) of his throws and is the first QB in program history, including Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer and Robbie Bosco, to have pass efficiency ratings of over 200 in three consecutive games. Wilson ranks second nationally in pass efficiency behind Alabama’s Mac Jones. BYU leads the nation in total offense (585.7 ypg) and total defense (214.3 ypg). UTSA, although 3-1, is unlikely to pose much of a threat. The Roadrunners opened with victories at Texas State, vs. Stephen F. Austin and vs. Middle Tennessee before falling 21-13 at UAB last weekend. Early returns on first-year coach Jeff Traylor appear promising, but his biggest issue is figuring out who will play QB on Saturday. Starter Frank Harris (knee) did not play last weekend and is questionable. Backup Josh Adkins broke his collarbone on the first play from scrimmage at UAB. UTSA was down to its third- and fourth-stringers last weekend with true freshman Jordan Weeks and juco transfer Lowell Narcisse.
TULANE at HOUSTON
This will be the long-awaited 2020 debut for Houston, which might as well have been stuck in the Edmonton NHL bubble after three games were canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 issues. We’ve at least been able to see a bit of Tulane, which has won two of three and put everything together Sept. 26 in a 66-24 rout of Southern Miss in Hattiesburg. Green Wave coach Willie Fritz used a well-timed QB substitution in that game, benching Keon Howard in favor of Michael Pratt in the second quarter. Pratt delivered, throwing two TD passes and running for another, as the Fritz offense reversed an early 14-0 deficit and scored a whopping 45 points in the second and third quarters. Also contributing was bruising 230-pound sophomore RB Cameron Carroll, who blasted for 163 yards rushing and four TDs. The long-awaited look at Dana Holgorsen’s Cougars will focus on junior QB Clayton Tune, who was rushed into the lineup last fall when D’Eriq King took advantage of the four-game redshirt rule and later transferred to Miami. Bothered by nagging injuries, Tune was inconsistent, but Holgorsen’s always progressive offense bears watching. Note the home-oriented series trends, as the host team has won the last four meetings. The Green Wave took the honors last season in dramatic fashion at New Orleans as QB Justin McMillan hit WR Jalen McCleskey on a 53-yard scoring pass with three seconds left to give Tulane an exciting 38-31 win in a game the Wave once trailed 28-7.
VIRGINIA TECH at NORTH CAROLINA
Some interesting recent series history here, most of it favoring Virginia Tech, which has won the last six meetings. None was quite like a year ago, when it took a staggering six overtimes before the Hokies prevailed 43-41 in Blacksburg. The game ended 31-31 in regulation before both teams missed a pair of FG tries during the overtime periods, which marked the debut of a new college rule mandating two-point conversion tries after the third overtime. With a chance to win in the sixth OT, Hokies third-string QB Quincy Patterson scampered in and Tech won. Justin Fuente’s team had won a close 22-19 decision in regulation the previous year in Chapel Hill after romping 34-3 in 2016 and 59-7 in 2017 the two prior meetings. Perhaps a bit rusty after a three-week layoff, UNC was fortunate to slip past Boston College last week, helped by a defensive two-point conversion return and overcoming a so-so performance from Sam Howell, who was just 14 of 26 and was sacked four times. Still, that 26-22 win marked the fifth straight-up win on the trot since late 2019 for Mack Brown’s troops. Meanwhile, we likely get to see Tech QB Hendon Hooker for the first time in 2020 after he was cleared but didn’t participate last week vs. Duke, when backup Braxton Burmeister went just 9 of 25 as the Hokies escaped the Blue Devils’ upset bid. Through two games without Hooker, the Hokies’ offense has been employing the run over the pass by better than a 2-1 ratio — for good reason, as their runners have gained 319 ypg and 7 ypc in wins over NC State and Duke. And after battling some COVID-19 worries and related absences, with its top four CBs out last week, the roster is getting healthier.
ALABAMA at OLE MISS
After romping past Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M last week to stay undefeated all time vs. former assistants, Nick Saban puts his perfect 20-0 straight-up mark vs. onetime aides on the line when facing former Alabama OC Lane Kiffin in Oxford. Considering that Saban likes Fisher and still pulled no punches last week vs. the Aggies, don’t expect him to call off the dogs vs. Kiffin, of whom he is not nearly as fond after their awkward breakup at the end of the 2016 season when Kiffin moved to FAU. Moreover, Saban has hardly eased up vs. disliked Ole Miss in recent years, scoring 59 ppg the last four meetings since Hugh Freeze’s Rebels pulled back-to-back upsets in 2014-15. Moreover, it’s doubtful the Kiffin defense, allowing 46 ppg, can slow a Mac Jones-led attack that is looking a lot like the Tua Tagovailoa Tide offenses the last couple of years. Jones already has thrown six TD passes through two weeks. Suggest caution, however, as we’ve already seen several instances this season in which laying this sort of lumber, such as Bama’s opener vs. Mizzou, is risky. And Ole Miss is displaying enough firepower to slip in the back door after almost stealing a spread win in the last seconds from Florida in the opener and rallying from two TDs down to win in OT at Kentucky last week. It looks like sophomore QB Matt Corral (seven TD passes the first two weeks) is quickly getting the hang of the progressive Kiffin aerial schemes.
ARKANSAS at AUBURN
Some extra sauce is involved in this SEC West rivalry that all has to do with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, to whom this is always a special game vs. his home-state school. That’s especially true as raw nerves have been exposed a few times in the past when he was briefly the OC during the Houston Nutt era in Fayetteville and rumored endlessly to be ready to return to his native Arkansas. Whatever, Malzahn has made sure his Tigers have played angry in recent years vs. the Razorbacks, winning and covering the last four meetings by 31 points or more. But that sort of margin might not be as easy this week, as Arkansas looks more organized under new coach Sam Pittman. The defense flustered Mike Leach’s Mississippi State Air Raid, which converted only six of 17 third-down tries, and picked off K.J. Costello three times to end the Hogs’ 20-game SEC losing streak. Granted, Pittman’s stop unit is not Georgia’s, so expect Tigers QB Bo Nix to be able to lean a bit more on the ground game and not see as much pressure as Kirby Smart’s defense piled on him last week. But the Razorbacks didn’t fare much worse vs. the Bulldogs, actually leading the opener at halftime, than did Malzahn, who was buried 27-6 between the hedges last week. Meanwhile, Florida transfer QB Feleipe Franks looked a bit more comfortable in Kendal Briles’ new Arkansas offense in a second spin last week, a very efficient 20-for-28 with two TD passes and no picks at Starkville after a couple of interceptions proved costly in the Georgia opener. Arkansas (2-0 vs. line) is offering encouraging spread value thus far.
MISSOURI at LSU
After that stinging opening-week loss to Mississippi State and allowing a staggering 623 passing yards, that was a bit more like it last week for Ed Orgeron’s Baton Rouge crew, recalling the good times of 2019 when rolling past Vandy 41-7. True, it was only the Commodores, but we’re not sure new coach Eli Drinkwitz and Missouri are much further along than Derek Mason’s bunch. The new Drinkwitz no-huddle attack remains a work in progress, especially as the Tigers continue to juggle QBs. TCU transfer Shawn Robinson was so ineffective last week at Tennessee that Drinkwitz pulled him after the first quarter for redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak, who provided a brief spark but not much consistency for an offense that has done little (just 14 ppg) in two weeks save for a couple of belated scores vs. Alabama’s defensive reserves in the opener. After losing touch in Knoxville, keeping within earshot in Baton Rouge appears problematic, especially as Joe Burrow successor Myles Brennan tossed four TD passes in Nashville and didn’t get sacked once after getting nailed seven times in the MSU opener. Sophomore RB John Emery Jr., who ran for 103 yards last week, could be ready to fill the Clyde Edwards-Helaire role. Expect LSU to begin gathering some momentum for season-defining clashes on the horizon. Florida, Alabama and Auburn are three of the next four on deck into November.