Week 3 College Football Picks — “Rematches galore, only this time with different outcomes”

Credit: Sports Illustrated

Week 3 is the transition week in College football almost every year. Last gasps of non-conference play get tossed into this week, with most of those being between Power 5 and Group of 5 teams. Some, scheduled significantly in advance like №4 USC hosting Texas, are technically scheduled as marquee, primetime games. Others, like №25 UCLA going to Memphis or №18 Kansas State going to Vanderbilt, seem to just be fulfilling their non-conference obligations with slightly tougher opponents than what the Power 5 conferences normally schedules for itself (I’m looking at you №2 Oklahoma, playing at Tulane this week).

Week 3 also begins teasing conference play, with some ranked teams beginning their conference slate (although one notable game, №11 Florida State hosting №17 Miami is postponed due to Hurricane Irma). Six of the top 25 will play conference opponents, with two of this week’s highlighted match ups being between two ranked opponents. For one, №23 Tennessee has the chance to show that last year’s win against №24 Florida was not a fluke and actually the reversal of fortune for the Volunteers against the Gators. The other has massive playoff implications, as №14 Louisville came very close to derailing №3 Clemson last year and looks to cement Lamar Jackson as the Heisman frontrunner.

There are a lot of weirder, slightly intriguing match ups this week. Illinois at №22 South Florida on Friday night will be a chance for the Bulls to push forward their quest to be the best Group of 5 team and earn a New Years Day bowl invitation, while also getting a prime showcase for Quinton Flowers in his drive to disrupt the Heisman race from the AAC. Kentucky goes to South Carolina in an SEC East match up between dark horse title game contenders. Both teams have looked good early on, with South Carolina handling pre-season darling NC State (some believe they can make a run at relevance) and Missouri and Kentucky playing winning football against nobodies. Neither team will likely end up in the SEC title game, but both are good enough that they will make a bowl game and potentially spoil a ranked SEC opponent’s season.

While both those games will be worth watching for different reasons, neither are quite in the marquee/media narrative zone where I feel compelled to lose sleep if I miss either game. If television commercials and various podcasts are to be believed, there are 7 games worth paying attention to this Saturday, all involving ranked teams. As always, I’ll put the team I pick in bold, the line and TV information, then break down why I picked who I did. I’ll also note if you should stay away gambling wise, as some of the important games are not worth risking your money for.

№25 UCLA -3 at Memphis (Saturday, Noon, ABC) — A ranked Power 5 team going to an unranked Group of 5 team only giving 3? The Bruins are coming a very strong win over Hawaii, showing there was no hangover from their last second win over Texas A&M. Josh Rosen picked up from his freshman year hype, throwing 22/25 for 329 and 5 TDs. It seems as though he’s over his shoulder injury and getting over his erratic passing that has plagued him. The defense is still a question mark having put the team in a massive hole in week 1 and Memphis has only way of offensive attack: running the football. Memphis rushed for over 300 yards in their only game this year (their week 2 against UCF was canceled). UCLA’s defense is ranked 67th in Football Outsiders S&P+ ratings, but having let up 663 yards rushing over two weeks gives me pause. If this line were much higher, I’d still pick UCLA but advise to stay away. At 4–1 in their last five road openers and the line so low, the Bruins are easily the pick and I feel confident in their ability to win by at least 3 if not more.

№10 Wisconsin -17 at BYU (Saturday, 3:30pm, ABC) — At this point, Wisconsin should be used to this. I am of the opinion that voters in the AP poll won’t ranked Wisconsin higher than 9th or 10th unless they beat some very higher ranked B1G opponent. CFB writers joke about how the Badgers always have a solid defense, a massive offensive line that leads to a strong rushing game, and a mediocre special teams. Lo and behold, it is almost exactly the same as it always has been in Madison. While there are always concerns about whether Wisconsin can win by a lot of points (despite average at least 12.8 points more than their opponents over the last 4 seasons), the defense this year looks almost better than last year’s. BYU’s offense has not looked good all season, scoring only 19 points in three games so far. Look for that trend to continue as the Badgers easily handle the Cougars going into their bye week.

Credit: Gator Country

№24 Florida -5.5 vs №23 Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30pm, CBS) — Tennessee looks like the better team going into the match up, if only because we’ve seen them. The voters in the AP poll decided a hurricane coupled with a blowout of venerable football powerhouse Indiana State was enough to push the Volunteers ahead of the Gators. Granted, the only game we’ve seen from Florida has been a clunker against №7 Michigan, but we also have seen how dominating Michigan’s defense is. It’s incredibly difficult to judge this game, so I would advise those wishing to gamble to stay away and place your money on something else. If you’re unwilling to stay away, then my gut tells me Florida comes out at home, following an emotional time and sets the recent record straight about who wins when the Vols and Gators play. Looks for a team plagued by suspensions to show off the true talent on its roster and finally score some points against good competition. Again, stay away. The only smart bet here would be Over 49.5 as these teams have gone over 50 in 4 of the last 5 match ups.

№12 LSU -7 at Mississippi State (Saturday, 7pm, ESPN) — Similar to Wisconsin, the voters have seemingly done what they always do to LSU. A fantastically talented running game with Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams is looking great through two games, as is to be expected. What was not expected was a quarterback in Danny Etling completely over 70% of his passes so far. Surely that number will drop, but shutting out BYU 27–0 in week 1 looked like the real deal for a defense where there more than a few questions after they lost their top 5 tacklers from a year ago. The Bulldogs are scoring a lot so far, but against virtually non-existent defenses. This also starts a very difficult run of games for Mississippi State, as they go on the road to Georgia and Auburn in back to back weeks after this. I think the -7 line is a bit of skepticism on the part of gamblers in the ability for LSU to dominate anyone in their path. That being said, the S&P+ rankings have LSU as the number 2 team behind Alabama with the 5th ranked defense thus far. I think it’s a low scoring first half and will shift heavily after halftime where the Tigers will run away with the game as the Bulldogs tire against a more talented team.

№18 Kansas State -4 at Vanderbilt (Saturday, 7:30pm, ESPNU) — Almost every podcast I’ve listened to pertaining to CFB in the last couple weeks has had some version of the quote, “I really like what Derek Mason is doing with Vandy/in Nashville/with the ‘Dores”. That’s not to say I disagree with the statement (I, too, like what Coach Mason is doing there) but I do not see how they get passed a well coached Kansas State team. Under Coach Mason, who everyone seems to like a ton, the Commodores are 1–10 against top 25 teams, the only win coming against Tennessee last year when there were №24. I don’t love that KState is on the road, but the line is super small and I like an offense that has picked up right where they left off last year when they averaged over 32 ppg. Look for QB Jesse Ertz to really push a strong Vandy defense with his dual threat abilities. There’s also a bit of potential for Vanderbilt to be looking ahead, since this starts the hard part of their schedule coming up (vs Alabama, at Florida, vs Georgia, at Ole Miss). I like the Wildcats to win a hard fought, low scoring game (also consider taking the Under at 51.5, especially if you think Vanderbilt will pull the upset).

Credit: The Crunch Zone

№14 Louisville +3 vs №3 Clemson (Saturday, 8pm, ABC) — The game of the week, with Gameday traveling to Tennessee this week (strangely, it’s traveling to New York City next week since there’s a very soft schedule of games) and everyone tuning in that doesn’t root for USC or Texas. A rematch of arguably the most important ACC game last year, Louisville was shut out of the ACC title game after only losing to Clemson and dominating Florida State and Clemson barely beating both Louisville and Florida State and losing to Pitt at home. Revenge will almost certainly be on the Cardinals mind, as Lamar Jackson has impressively kept up his remarkable scoring ability this year as well, accounting for over 1000 yards and 8 TDs in only two games. Clemson’s front seven looked incredibly strong against №15 Auburn last week, sacking the QBs 11 times throughout the game. Louisville’s defense has looked softer than you’d want, but the offense is clearly finding the same stride it had at points last year. I expect a similarly close game as last year, only a bit closer. I don’t see Clemson’s offense being near what it was last year, despite what Kelly Bryant has done so far. Louisville returns 7 starters on defense and don’t see a QB with only 2 starts going into Louisville and beating the Cardinals. Bobby Petrino is 36–5 at home in his combined tenure and I like that home dominance to continue.

№4 USC -15.5 vs Texas (Saturday, 8:30pm, Fox) — Here’s a very inadvisable drinking game: Drink every time the broadcast mentions, shows clips from or references players from the 2006 Rose Bowl. That’s a really foolish way to be very intoxicated, very quickly while watching what will surely be a one-sided football game. Not only is Texas going on the road and very well may not have Shane Buechele due to a shoulder injury, but any sort of confidence in the Longhorns has to come from short term memory loss, as it was only two weeks ago when Maryland hung 51 on them in Austin. Texas has lost the last 4 road openers and is 7–16 against ranked opponents in the last 5 years, but only 2 wins against top 10 teams (both last year against then-№10 Notre Dame of 4–8 fame and then-№8 Baylor who finished 7–6). The Texas defense has shown a problem stopping the run, giving up 263 yards to Maryland. Meanwhile, USC has shown the country why they’re ranked so highly this year; their offense is even better than expected. Not only has Sam Darnold found his groove, completing over 74% of his passes so far, but Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr have led a dominant rushing attack that dropped over 300 yards on what looked to be a stout Stanford defense. If that’s what happened to №19 Stanford, Texas is going to be in for a very long day. I like USC to blow the doors off Texas and use the game to reassert the Trojans into the national title conversation.

Those seven games are the ones that I feel are the best bets this weekend or ones that are dominating the national conversation for this week. I imagine that the best games to view this weekend will be at least one or two of those games. Get your competitive college football fix now, as next week’s slate seems to be full of early conference games with lopsided lines and potential outcomes.

Below are my picks for this weekend’s remaining games. These lines are accurate as of Wednesday night from VegasInsider.com. My record thus far is 27–21–2 (4–1 in highlighted games)

Boise State -14.5 vs New Mexico
Temple -14.5 vs UMass
№22 South Florida -17.5 vs Illinois
Arizona -22.5 at UT-El Paso
№7 Michigan -24 vs Air Force
№9 Oklahoma State -13.5 at Pitt
Nebraska -14 vs Northern Illinois
Texas A&M -24 vs Louisiana-Lafayette
Kansas +7.5 at Ohio
Iowa State -10 at Akron
Virginia -10 vs UConn
Duke -14 vs Baylor
UAB +1.5 vs Coastal Carolina
Wake Forest -13.5 vs Utah State
№16 Virginia Tech -23 at East Carolina
№20 TCU -19 vs SMU
Central Michigan +10.5 at Syracuse
Old Dominion +10 vs North Carolina
Minnesota -10.5 vs MTSU
Iowa -21.5 vs North Texas
Boston College +13.5 vs Notre Dame
Missouri -7.5 vs Purdue
Army +30 at №8 Ohio State
№21 Washington State -21 vs Oregon State
№2 Oklahoma -34 vs Tulane
Marshall -14.5 vs Kent State
№1 Alabama -28.5 vs Colorado State
Louisiana-Monroe +6.5 vs Southern Mississippi
Western Kentucky -7 vs Louisiana Tech
Oregon -14 at Wyoming
Western Michigan -20.5 vs Idaho
Toledo -9.5 vs Tulsa
Appalachian State -23 at Texas State
Georgia State +38.5 at №5 Penn State
Kentucky +6.5 at South Carolina
Bowling Green +22 at Northwestern
Houston -22.5 vs Rice
Troy -7 at New Mexico State
Miami (OH) -5.5 vs Cincinnati
Texas Tech -7.5 vs Arizona State
№6 Washington -33 vs Fresno State
Utah -27 vs San Jose State
Ole Miss -3.5 at California
№19 Stanford -9.5 vs San Diego State