NCAA Football Predictions: Week 4 Opening Line Report and Picks
We ridiculed the Sunshine State's Big 3 in this space a week ago -- and that looked rather prescient when Florida State went out and got clobbered at Syracuse on Saturday - and this week it's the Big Ten's turn.
Week 3 was a horrible one for the conference. No. 4 Ohio State did its job, beating No. 15 TCU 40-28 in Arlington, Texas. Penn State crushed Kent State as it should have, and Michigan had little trouble with SMU. That's about it for the good news. Wisconsin was ranked sixth but has dropped all the way to 18th following a 24-21 home stunner to BYU. It was the Badgers' first home nonconference loss since 2003 and ended their national-best 41-game nonconference winning streak overall. Senior Rafael Gaglianone's 42-yard field goal attempt to tie with 41 seconds left went wide left.
The Cougars were 23.5-point underdogs and paid out at +1100 on the moneyline. BYU's last victory over a Top-10 team came in 2009 with a 14-13 win over third-ranked Oklahoma. Perhaps UW was caught looking ahead to this week's big game at Iowa. Wisconsin opened as a 3.5-point favorite .
The Scott Frost era is not off to a good start at Nebraska as the Huskers were 24-19 home losers to Troy to fall to 1-2 for the first time since 1957, when they finished 1-9 under Bill Jennings. The Huskers used to be invincible at home but have now lost six straight there. Oh, and NU had to give Troy a $1.15 million check for that upset.
Northwestern was -21.5 at home vs. Akron and lost to the Zips 39-34. They put up 36 second-half points to rally from 18 down. The win was Akron's first over a Big Ten team since the program moved up to I-A (FBS) in 1987. Maryland was -16 and lost 35-14 at home to a mediocre at best Temple side. And we now officially know which Power 5 football program is the nation's worst. That would be Rutgers, which was shredded 55-14 at Kansas. I'm sorry, but KU isn't supposed to beat anyone by 41 points unless it's in men's basketball. Rutgers turned it over six times, with two of the interceptions returned for scores.
Here are a few Week 4 opening lines that caught my eye. Games Saturday unless noted. Picks are ATS.
No. 10 Penn State at Illinois (+26.5): Been somewhat of a lame year thus far in terms of Thursday & Friday night action. A blah game this Thursday, too, but three pretty interesting ones on Friday. The ESPN doubleheader features a terrific Group of 5 matchup between Florida Atlantic and No. 16 Central Florida in Orlando and then Washington State at USC in the Pac-12. Sandwiched in between is this one from the Big Ten on Fox Sports 1. In my view, this is one of the most obvious look-ahead games of the season - Penn State hosts Ohio State in the potential Big Ten Game of the Year in Week 5. With how Michigan and Michigan State have looked, the winner of that probably takes the Big Ten East. Coach Lovie Smith is yet to have a signature win at Illinois, but this obviously would suffice and might assure he gets another season. Smith, whose team blew a 12-point lead Saturday in a loss at Soldier Field to South Florida, is dealing with a lot of injuries, though. Already, the team's top two receivers, Edwin Carter and Mike Dudek, have been lost for the year. QB AJ Bush, a senior transfer, won the starting job in camp over Cam Thomas, last year's starter who then decided to quit the program. Bush was injured in the Week 2 win over Western Kentucky missed the USF game. Freshman M.J. Rivers made his first start against the Bulls and was 20 of 29 for 168 yards. The pick: Illinois.
No. 8 Notre Dame at Wake Forest (+7.5): Here's another look-ahead game as the Irish host No. 9 Stanford next Saturday. Wake also has the benefit of extra rest/preparation after losing at home to Boston College, 41-34, on Thursday night ahead of the hurricane - plus, it surely will be a rare sellout for a Demon Deacons home game. Last year, the Irish beat visiting Wake Forest 48-37 as Brandon Wimbush passed for 280 yards, rushed for 110 and totaled three touchdowns. However, Wake did torch the ND defense for 587 yards. The Irish probably should have lost this past Saturday at home vs. Vanderbilt but escaped 22-17. Wimbush was shaky again passing, throwing for only 122 yards. He did rush for 84 and a score. The pick: Wake.
No. 22 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama (-25.5): Many Nick Saban former assistants haven't fared all that well as head coaches - somewhat like a lot of Bill Belichick ones have failed in the NFL. Easily the most successful guy (Georgia's Kirby Smart is well on the way too) from the Saban tree now gets to face him once a year in Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher. A&M, which was just named by Forbes as the most valuable college football team in the country, supplanting bitter rival Texas, has lost linebacker Anthony Hines III for the year. The former top recruit was an SEC All-Freshman team pick in 2017 after compiling 33 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble. Saban, meanwhile, has made what might appear to be a minor change but could be major in a close game: Austin Jones is out as kicker and redshirt freshman Joseph Bulovas is in. Jones had struggled in the early going, but a redshirt freshman kicker in a close game? Something to put in the back of your mind if Alabama ever plays a close game, but the Tide look invincible right now. The pick: A&M.
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