(109) BYU at (110) HOUSTON
BYU is flying high in its first 4-0 start since 2014 under Bronco Mendenhall, which also is the last time the Provo bunch faced Houston. That was during the brief Tony Levine regime at UH, when the AAC rep tried to make a late rally at LaVell Edwards Stadium, recovering from an early 23-0 deficit to trim the final margin to only 33-25, with QB Taysom Hill helping Mendenhall’s team hang on with 360 total yards. Six years later, BYU has a more traditional QB in third-year starter Zach Wilson, a junior who is passing for better than 300 ypg in his four 2020 starts, with a pair of TD passes in each game. The rub for BYU is that Houston appears significantly better than any of the four foes Kalani Sitake’s team has beaten this season. Jumping out of their shoes to get back on the field after a month’s worth of postponements pushed its 2020 kickoff to Friday, UH looked a bit anxious and rusty when guilty of five turnovers vs. Tulane. But the Cougars worked out the kinks and rallied from a 24-7 deficit to win going away 49-31 — not bad considering the early giveaways. After being guilty of some first-half mistakes, junior QB Clayton Tune found his rhythm and passed for better than 300 yards and a couple of TDs. But what likely impressed coach Dana Holgorsen the most was a defense that took control of the game and allowed only 211 yards to a potent Green Wave offense that had erupted for 66 points at Southern Miss in its previous game. As BYU aims for its first unbeaten campaign since the 1984 national title team, it has only one more road game after this, Nov. 7 at Boise State.
(113) PITTSBURGH at (114) MIAMI
Is that hissing sound the air coming out of Miami’s balloon after its 3-0 start was rudely interrupted by Clemson on Saturday? Perhaps, and it is a bit tempting to say Miami was exposed as a national pretender, not contender, at Death Valley. In truth, the Canes might as well have been lining up against the Green Bay Packers, such is the apparent gap between Dabo Swinney’s Tigers and the rest of the ACC. Any Pitt resemblance to Clemson, however, is purely coincidental. The pedestrian Panthers offense will not be mistaken for Trevor Lawrence’s strike force, especially as it has been having a hard time keeping pace in recent outings. It was outscored by NC State and BC in close losses the last two weeks to also take the shine off the 3-0 start. It gets harder this week for Pitt, as offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s new-look Miami spread has already done extensive damage to non-Clemson defenses, scoring 50 ppg vs. league foes Louisville and Florida State. So anticipate Houston transfer QB D’Eriq King to return to his previous form against the Cardinals and Seminoles, against whom he combined for nearly 600 yards passing and five TDs with no picks. Meanwhile, the Panthers’ offense is not really designed for QB Kenny Pickett to put the ball in the air 48 times, as was the case in last week’s OT loss at BC. Remember, too, that often-misfiring Miami offenses the last two years were still able to beat the Panthers, and note that Pitt’s only spread cover to date has come vs. FCS Austin Peay in its opener.
(123) AUBURN at (124) SOUTH CAROLINA
In the new age of college football, in which the offseason transfer portal resembles the opening of free agency, shrewd coaching operators can work the marketplace to fill an immediate need. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp knew he had to shop for a QB after his team collapsed down the stretch a year ago, and Colorado State grad transfer Collin Hill was a much better option than going the true freshman route or counting on holdovers from last year’s sub-.500 team. It also made things much easier for Muschamp to hire Hill’s former coach, Mike Bobo, as his offensive coordinator. Bobo was very familiar with the SEC landscape from his playing and assistant coaching days at Georgia. With few breathers in the SEC, Muschamp valued Hill’s experience and poise. Thus far he has made few mistakes, with no picks in 110 passes in three starts, while the offense controls the pace with punishing sophomore RB Kevin Harris, who has a combined 271 rushing yards the last two weeks against Florida and Vandy. Though agent Jimmy Sexton still has to make sure the under-fire Muschamp’s buyout clause is up to date, the Gamecocks are fighting hard to save Muschamp’s job, trading punches with SEC East contenders Tennessee and Florida before last week’s romp at Vanderbilt. Another of Sexton’s clients, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, might have been checking the buyout provisions on his contract had his Tigers not escaped last week’s upset bid by Arkansas. Who knows, however, if Malzahn might have something to worry about by November if QB Bo Nix can’t begin advancing on the learning curve? His progress once again seems to have stalled, with only one TD pass in the last two weeks after an encouraging three scores in the Kentucky opener. Auburn has hardly looked like an elite SEC team.
(125) NORTH CAROLINA at (126) FLORIDA STATE
Only two teams in the ACC appear capable of challenging No. 1 Clemson, which has been a double-digit favorite in 32 consecutive regular-season games. North Carolina and Notre Dame are fighting for second place. The Tar Heels raced to a 21-0 first-quarter lead Saturday against Virginia Tech en route to a 56-45 win. It was a more dominant performance than the score indicates. Sophomore star Sam Howell completed 18 of 23 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Running backs Michael Carter (17 carries, 214 yards) and Javonte Williams (20 carries, 169 yards) combined for 383 yards and four touchdowns. The defensive stats were skewed because the Hokies were in chase mode and piled up numbers in the second half. Mack Brown’s team is the real deal. Florida State coach Mike Norvell has a lot of work to do. The Seminoles covered as 21-point underdogs in a 42-26 loss at Notre Dame, but Florida State’s defense allowed 554 total yards, including 353 on the ground. Howell should have his way with the Seminoles through the air while Carter and Williams run wild. Florida State has two bright spots, quarterback Jordan Travis and wideout Tamorrion Terry. Facing a solid Fighting Irish defense in his first start, Travis totaled 300 yards (204 passing, 96 rushing) and two touchdowns. Terry had nine receptions for 146 yards. Norvell is a good coach who will get the Seminoles to show improvement, but they are not ready to hang with the Tar Heels. North Carolina opened as a 10-point favorite, with a total of 62. Florida State’s hope is that Travis continues to move the offense and turns this game into a shootout.
(131) CLEMSON at (132) GEORGIA TECH
No. 1 Clemson was 3-0 to start the season but failed to cover any of its first three games, and perhaps some bettors sensed a bit of vulnerability when then-No. 7 Miami came to Death Valley last weekend. Clemson put any doubts to rest early and often with a 42-17 victory. Brent Venables’ defense held the potent Miami offense to 210 yards, forced three D’Eriq King interceptions and posted five sacks. Meanwhile, Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence showed why he is still the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, going 29-for-41 for 292 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for a score. Clemson had been lying in wait for a major opponent like Miami and showed that the ACC is still the Tigers on top and everyone else down below. Now Clemson plays three straight games, starting this week at Georgia Tech, in which the competition drops before the showdown Nov. 7 at Notre Dame. Clemson has not rolled up style points against lesser competition. Georgia Tech had problems with turnovers before Friday’s 46-27 victory over Louisville in which the Yellow Jackets outscored the Cardinals 20-0 in the fourth quarter. Georgia Tech did not turn it over, piled up 450 yards on only 56 plays and took advantage of three Louisville fumbles. True freshman QB Jeff Sims threw for two scores and ran for one, but most importantly he took care of the football after throwing four interceptions at Syracuse three weeks ago. Sims will need to make some plays here, even though the running game is 16th in FBS at 213.8 ypg. However, Georgia Tech is facing a Tigers defense that gives up only 89.8 ypg on the ground and held Miami, which was averaging 232.3 ypg, to 143 yards under its average. Clemson has dominated the recent series at 5-0 SU and 4-0-1 ATS over the last five years. Circa Sports opened Clemson -27, and that is where the line has remained for the most part.
(133) KENTUCKY at (134) TENNESSEE
Kentucky was involved in one of last weekend’s most bizarre results. The Wildcats defeated Mississippi State 24-2 but mustered only 157 total yards for an anemic 2.96 ypp. Kentucky couldn’t throw the ball (8 of 21 for 73 yards) or run it (84 yards on 32 carries; 2.6 ypc). But its defense picked off six passes after failing to force a turnover in the first two games. Tennessee had enough to hang in at Georgia for 30 minutes but not for 60, as the Bulldogs dominated the second half in a 44-21 victory. Tennessee led 21-17 at halftime but was outscored 27-0 in the second half and held to 214 yards. Tennessee’s stout offensive and defensive lines were beaten up by Georgia. The key for Tennessee is whether it can recover from the wear and tear quickly. The Volunteers are on the rise under third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt but were not quite ready to go mano a mano with one of the SEC’s elite. Pruitt has won both meetings against Mark Stoops and Kentucky, and the Wildcats have not won in Knoxville since 1984. Both teams have marquee opponents on deck, with Kentucky hosting Georgia and Tennessee hosting Alabama the next weekend. Tennessee opened as a seven-point favorite at Circa Sports and was bet down to -4.5 before seeing some action to drive the price back up to -6. The total has seen one-way traffic downhill from 51.5 to 48. The last two meetings have averaged only 30.5 combined ppg.
(139) OLE MISS at (140) ARKANSAS
You have to admire the controlled behavior of new Arkansas coach Sam Pittman. Had coaches from previous eras like Woody Hayes been hosed by the referees as Pittman was in the last seconds at Auburn a week ago, who knows what might have happened? What we do know is that the Razorbacks are far more organized under Pittman than they were the last two seasons under Chad Morris, notching three spread covers in as many tries and a blown referee call at Jordan-Hare from notching back-to-back straight-up wins on the SEC road. Meanwhile, Ole Miss games in the nascent Lane Kiffin era are resembling Tecmo Bowl, with defense optional. The Rebels are allowing almost as many points per game, at 52 through three weeks, as the Kermit Davis-coached Ole Miss basketball team. At some point, Kiffin might determine he lacks the depth on defense to continue playing at a turbo pace and putting his thin defense back on the field without much of a breather. Good news for the Razorbacks is that Florida transfer QB Feleipe Franks is gradually getting the hang of Kendal Briles’ new offense and playing within himself, as he has tossed TD passes with no picks the last two weeks vs. SEC opposition. Expect the upgrade to continue vs. the soft Ole Miss defense. And with Briles’ schemes resonating, the Razorbacks will remain a team to watch. Kiffin has a 12-5 spread mark since last season with FAU and now with the Rebels, though before a 31-17 Ole Miss win and cover last September, the Hogs had covered six straight meetings in this matchup between old rivals from days long before Arkansas joined the SEC.
(143) TEXAS A&M at (144) MISSISSIPPI STATE
Aggies fans had been impatiently waiting for Jimbo Fisher to provide a signature win, and he finally did just that Saturday with a 41-38 victory over No. 4 Florida. The Aggies moved the ball via the ground (205 yards on 38 carries; 5.4 ypc) and through the air as senior QB Kellen Mond went 25-for-35 for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Texas A&M was also stingy against the run, holding Florida to 90 yards on 24 carries (3.8 ypc). However, the Aggies have given up 747 yards through the air and eight passing touchdowns the last two weeks against Alabama and Florida. The defense will certainly have to be active defending the pass against Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense at Mississippi State. After torching LSU in the opener, Bulldogs QB K.J. Costello has thrown only one touchdown pass against seven interceptions in the last two games against Arkansas and Kentucky. Mississippi State threw the ball 70 times at Kentucky last weekend yet was held scoreless on offense, the only two points coming via a safety. The Bulldogs were the toast of the SEC just three weeks ago, and now they are reeling. “I think we’re going to have to kind of check some of our group and figure out who really wants to play here,” Leach said after Saturday’s loss. “Any malcontents, we’re going to have to purge a couple of those.” This is clearly a potential sell-high spot on Texas A&M off its biggest win of the Fisher era and a potential buy-low spot on Mississippi State off two putrid showings. Texas A&M opened -7 at Circa Sports and was bet down to as low as -4.5 before seeing support back up to -6.5. A line of 7 seems to be the resistance spot to take the home Bulldogs. The total opened at 50 and is now 55 as bettors believe the Bulldogs’ offense can get right against a shaky Aggies pass defense.
(149) UCF at (150) MEMPHIS
Most projected UCF and Memphis as the likely matchup in a potential AAC championship game, but both clubs were upset two weeks ago. Memphis opened as the favorite at SMU but closed as the underdog in a 30-27 defeat on a last-second field goal. That was the first game since Sept. 12 for Memphis, which was hit with COVID-19 problems. Meanwhile, UCF was upset by Tulsa 34-26 as a 20.5-point favorite. The Knights got out to an early 16-0 lead midway through the first quarter but allowed Tulsa to hang around and pull off the upset. UCF has been undisciplined through its first three games, committing 45 penalties, including 18 for 124 yards against Tulsa. Those 45 penalties are the most of any FBS team. And 25 have been false starts, which slow down a team that plays one of the faster tempos in the nation. Meanwhile, the Tigers are trying to find any kind of rhythm since they have played only once in six weeks. Memphis must neutralize a UCF team that has won 13 straight in the series dating to 2005, including the 2018 and ’19 AAC title games. The AAC has no divisions this season, so neither team is out of the race. But both are looking up at several teams, including No. 8 Cincinnati and No. 17 SMU, who meet the following weekend. UCF opened -2 at Circa Sports and has gone up to -4. The total has come down from an opener of 77.5 to its current 75. Both clubs are off a bye week, and perhaps early bettors are anticipating both offenses to be out of rhythm early in what could amount to an elimination game for the AAC championship.
(153) LOUISVILLE at (154) NOTRE DAME
Based on what coach Scott Satterfield accomplished at Appalachian State and in his first year at Louisville, taking over a 2-10 team and turning in an 8-5 record, hopes were high for the Cardinals. Talented quarterback Malik Cunningham returned with an arsenal of speedy playmakers. The early results have been disappointing, with Louisville hitting a low point Friday in a 46-27 loss at Georgia Tech. The Cardinals, five-point favorites, were outscored 39-6 after taking a two-touchdown lead late in the second quarter. Louisville running backs lost three fumbles, including one by Javian Hawkins, who rushed for 155 yards. Cunningham passed for 229 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 50 yards and two scores. It was a nice rebound after Cunningham threw three interceptions and was sacked seven times in a 23-20 loss Sept. 26 at Pittsburgh, but the Cardinals appeared to quit late in the game. Louisville, riding a three-game skid, is tied with Florida State for last in the 15-team ACC. It gets tougher for the Cardinals in their third consecutive road game because Notre Dame has won 21 in a row at home. The Fighting Irish totaled 554 yards, including 353 on the ground, in a 16-point victory over Florida State. Senior quarterback Ian Book turned in his best performance of the season by passing for 201 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 58 yards and a score. Kyren Williams, who carried 19 times for 185 yards, is an emerging star and will likely cut up the Louisville defense. For bettors who still believe in the Cardinals, this is a buy-low spot. Circa Sports opened Notre Dame -14, and early action moved the line to 15. Louisville has the potential to put up 30-plus points and turn this matchup into a track meet. The total opened at 64. The underdog has a shot if Satterfield’s offense cuts down on mistakes and turnovers.
(155) LSU at (156) FLORIDA
Last January, life could not get any better for LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who was on top of the college football world. Now it’s back to reality, and the new reality is the rest of the SEC (Vanderbilt excluded) has improved, the Tigers have dramatically declined and their defense is a dumpster fire. LSU allowed 586 total yards Saturday in a 45-41 loss at Missouri, which entered the game 0-2 after getting blown out by Alabama and Tennessee. “It was embarrassing,” Orgeron said. “We have to get it fixed.” Orgeron made similar comments after K.J. Costello passed for 623 yards in Mississippi State’s season-opening win in Baton Rouge. LSU lost 17 starters from last season’s national championship team and replaced Dave Aranda, who took the Baylor head-coaching job, with new defensive coordinator Bo Pelini. After 34 consecutive weeks in the AP Top 25, LSU is unranked this week. The offense is not the problem. Myles Brennan has passed for more than 300 yards in each of the three games, including 430 against Missouri. Florida is not a mirror image of LSU, but the Gators also have a defense that was exposed in a 41-38 loss at Texas A&M. Florida blew an 11-point second-half lead despite Kyle Trask passing for 312 yards and four touchdowns. Gators coach Dan Mullen, apparently dismissing COVID-19 crowd concerns, said he wants to see 90,000 fans in “the Swamp” for LSU’s visit this week. However, Florida put football activities on hold Tuesday after the school announced it had five new cases. Most of the edges already go to the Gators, who opened as 11-point favorites by Circa Sports before the number was bumped to 14. Banking on a high-scoring game might be a better bet, and the total opened at 69.
(161) MARSHALL at (162) LOUISIANA TECH
Marshall went to 3-0 last weekend with a 38-14 victory at Western Kentucky in a game the Thundering Herd led 38-0. Marshall took advantage of three WKU fumbles, and junior RB Brenden Knox did the rest with three touchdowns on the ground. The Herd defense is not only forcing turnovers but also being stingy, leading the nation in scoring defense at 7 ppg. Louisiana Tech is 3-1 but has not looked nearly as impressive. The Bulldogs were fortunate to beat UTEP 21-17 last weekend as two-touchdown favorites. The Miners committed two turnovers and 12 penalties for 128 yards, including a late roughing-the-punter penalty late in the fourth quarter that allowed Louisiana Tech to run out the clock. Louisiana Tech mustered only 210 yards of total offense on 70 plays, including just 91 yards on the ground on 42 carries. The Bulldogs’ offensive line was down both starting tackles due to COVID-19, and original starting LT Willie Allen, an NFL prospect, had already opted out of the season and is now in the transfer portal. The unit up front, having to start two freshmen at the tackle spots, struggled to block as UTEP had 13 tackles for loss, including four sacks. Coach Skip Holtz shuffled QBs and RBs looking for an offensive spark that never came. Marshall, with a win over Appalachian State already to its credit, opened -13 at Circa Sports and now sits as a full two-touchdown favorite in Ruston. Louisiana Tech lost 31-10 in Huntington last year with its starting QB and RB suspended.
(165) GEORGIA at (166) ALABAMA
What’s wrong with the Alabama defense? That question was posed often after the Crimson Tide allowed 48 points and 647 yards in a victory over Mississippi. Here’s another one: How strong is the Alabama offense? The Tide rolled up 63 points and 723 yards, with Mac Jones passing for 417 yards and two touchdowns while Najee Harris rushed for 206 yards and five TDs. Alabama’s defensive breakdowns were probably an aberration and a result of sharp play-calling by Rebels coach Lane Kiffin, a former Saban assistant. “I don’t know if they had our (defensive) signals or what,” Saban said. “It seemed like every time we called something, they had the best play that they could have against it.” Nevertheless, Saban ran his record to 21-0 versus his former assistants. The second-ranked Tide move on to face third-ranked Georgia, which is coached by Kirby Smart, a former defensive coordinator for Saban. Few teams in college football or the NFL are playing great defense early this season, but the Bulldogs have been elite under Smart. Georgia is yielding only 12.3 points per game after victories over Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee, which scored 21 points in Saturday’s first half but was shut out after the half. The Volunteers had 214 total yards, including -1 on the ground. Stetson Bennett, the fourth quarterback on the depth chart in the preseason, is establishing himself as the leader of the offense. Bennett, who has not been intercepted this season, passed for 238 yards and two touchdowns in his second start. Both of Bennett’s starts have been at home, however, and now he’s under the lights in Tuscaloosa. He’s also facing a Tide defense that an embarrassed Saban is promising to fix. Smart is 0-2 against Saban with losses by three and seven points. Alabama has scored 35 or more points in an FBS-record 16 straight games. Circa Sports opened Alabama as a five-point favorite, with the total moving from 51 to 55.