NCAA Football Predictions: Week 5 Opening Line Report and Picks
College football and the NFL are intertwined like the chicken and egg argument - i.e. which came first. The NFL schemes generally follow what happens in college because that's how those players have been trained. And these days, that means much more passing than ever before. Thus, quarterbacks almost always win the NFL MVP Award as well as the Heisman Trophy.
This century, a running back has won the Heisman only twice if you exclude Reggie Bush's 2005 award, which was vacated because of NCAA violations. Those winners were Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009 and the Tide's Derrick Henry two years ago.
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We have a new Heisman betting favorite at Bovada and it's a running back: Penn State's Saquon Barkley at +175. He was marvelous in the Nittany Lions' last-second 21-19 win at Iowa on Saturday with 211 rushing yards, 94 receiving yards and 53 return yards. Those 358 all-purpose yards are a Penn State record. Barkley is second in the Big Ten in rushing with 518 yards, a gaudy average of 7.8 yards per carry. He leads the conference in receptions (23) and receiving yards (335). Last season, he totaled 28 catches for 402 yards, so he's going to blow by those numbers. He had a bit of a Heisman moment vs. the Hawkeyes with a tremendous leap over a defender on third down.
The No. 4 Lions opened as 18-point favorites this week against Indiana in what could be a trap game with three good opponents (Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State) up next. Barkley was held to 58 yards on 33 carries last year in a 45-31 victory at Indiana. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is now the +300 second-favorite for the Heisman, while the hopes of Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph (+700) took a hit when his Cowboys were upset at home by TCU. Louisville's Lamar Jackson and USC's Sam Darnold also are +700.
Here are a few Week 5 opening lines that caught my eye. Games Saturday unless noted.
No. 14 Miami at Duke (+5): Friday night ESPN game. The last time Miami visited Duke two years ago, it was one of the most ridiculous endings to an NCAA game in history. The Hurricanes won 30-27 on a wild eight-lateral kickoff play with no time on the clock. There were so many blocks in the back and holds on that play not called it was obscene. One illegal block in the back was called but then the officials rescinded it after a lengthy review. That was UM's first game after firing Al Golden. Miami is hopeful that No. 1 receiver Ahmmon Richards can make his season debut this week. Richards was a Freshman All-American last season, finishing with 934 receiving yards to break Michael Irvin's 31-year-old freshman receiving record. But Richards has been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury. Duke is 4-0, matching its victory total already from last year. The Pick: Miami.
No. 5 USC at No. 16 Washington State (+4): Also a Friday ESPN game and a potential Pac-12 Championship Game preview. The Trojans won at Cal 30-20 on Saturday, a game that was 13-13 entering the fourth quarter. Darnold has been just so-so this season and was 26 of 38 for 223 yards, two TDs and a pick vs. the Bears. He has already thrown seven interceptions in four games, after throwing nine in 366 pass attempts last season. USC has won 14 straight games, second-longest streak in the country. Wazzu is 4-0 for the first time in 16 years behind Heisman candidate QB Luke Falk (+3300). He threw for 478 yards and five scores in Saturday's 45-7 rout of Nevada. Falk now has 103 career TD passes, a school record and having passed Matt Leinart (USC) for 3rd-most in Pac-12 history. His 11,977 yards of total offense is fifth in Pac-12 history. He could vault himself right into the Heisman conversation with a big game and win here. The Pick: WSU.
No. 7 Georgia at Tennessee (+7): If Tennessee loses this game, it can forget about winning the SEC East Division (with a loss to Florida already on the resume and still a trip to Alabama upcoming), and that probably means Coach Butch Jones won't be back in 2018. UT was clearly caught looking ahead to this game on Saturday in barely escaping a bad UMass team, 17-13. The Vols simply don't have an answer at quarterback between junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. In addition, UT first-year offensive coordinator Larry Scott has no coordinating experience at this level. Georgia looked great Saturday in thumping No. 17 Mississippi State 31-3. MSU entered averaging an SEC-best 47.7 points and 493 yards per game. Tennessee has won two straight in this series, including on a Hail Mary last year. The Pick: Georgia (shop for 6.5).
No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech (+6.5): ESPN GameDay will be on hand for this one; that Lee Corso picks Clemson to win is -900 and that he dons a Hokies headgear is +500 at 5Dimes. It's GameDay's first trip to Blacksburg since 2007; that year it arrived for the season opener against East Carolina. It was Tech's first game after the campus shooting tragedy the previous April. This is also a rematch of last season's ACC title game, which was won 42-35 by the Tigers behind three TD passes and two TD runs from current Houston Texans starting QB Deshaun Watson.The Hokies' final drive came up 23 yards shy of the end zone, and Tech coach Justin Fuente is on record as saying he would have gone for two and the win if Tech had scored a TD. Clemson already has wins over ranked teams Auburn and Louisville in 2017 and avoided any sort of trap Saturday against Boston College with a 34-7 victory - well, it was only 7-7 entering the fourth quarter so maybe a small trap. The Hokies opened the season with a quality win over ranked West Virginia but have since played and routed three straight cupcakes. Clemson and Virginia Tech could easily meet in the conference title again come December. Tech's chances for that likely will come down to a trip to Miami on Nov. 4. The Pick: Clemson.
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