NCAA Football Predictions: Week 5 Opening Line Report and Picks
So, I had my lead all planned for Week 5. I was going to ask if perhaps Mississippi State actually upgraded when it watched Coach Dan Mullen leave this past offseason for the same job at Florida and replaced him with former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
After all, entering Saturday the Bulldogs were ranked 16th in the country and 3-0 - all blowout victories. Granted, not against world-beating competition, but a 21-point victory at Kansas State is nothing to scoff at. On the flip side, Mullen's Gators were unranked and 2-1. That loss was handily at home to Kentucky, ending a 31-game winning streak in that series.
Well, so much for all that. The Bulldogs are now 23rd after being thumped Saturday at Kentucky (which might be actually good), 28-7. MSU was held nearly 256 rushing yards below its SEC-leading average of 311.7 coming in.
The Gators played their best game of the early going, crushing the Vols 47-21 in Knoxville. Four of Tennessee's turnovers led to 24 points for Florida. Those were the most points the Gators have ever scored at Neyland Stadium.
It will be interesting to see how the MSU faithful welcome Mullen back on Saturday when the Gators visit town. Hopefully, they are grateful because MSU is one of the worst jobs in the SEC due to location and finances, and Mullen went 69-46 there with seven bowl appearances. His 2014 team was his best, ranked No. 1 in the country at one point and finishing 11 th after an Orange Bowl loss to Georgia Tech.
You can't blame Mullen for leaving because Florida is a Top 5 job in the country sitting in incredibly fertile recruiting grounds and a passionate fan base. What's ironic is that Mullen is known for grooming quarterbacks, yet he doesn't really have a great one in Gainesville. He left a terrific one for Moorhead in Nick Fitzgerald - although he was far from terrific in Saturday's loss.
Mississippi State opened as a 7.5-point favorite for Saturday, and I'd probably take those points. Here are a few other Week 5 opening lines that caught my eye. Games Saturday unless noted. Picks are ATS. We'll examine the Ohio State-Penn State game on Friday.
Virginia Tech at No. 22 Duke (-3.5): The Hokies might have been looking ahead to this one on Saturday as they were shocked at little brother Old Dominion to fall from No. 13 to out of the AP Top 25. Not too often a team loses when it puts up 600 yards of offense as Tech did, but it allowed 632. According to ESPN's FPI game predictions, it was the largest upset in college football in the past decade as that formula gave ODU just a 1.8 percent chance. The Monarchs were 27.5-point underdogs. To make matters worse, top Tech defensive end Trevon Hill was then dismissed from the team. The junior had 11 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks this season. Hill had six tackles and 1½ sacks in the loss to ODU but then clearly did something after. Unbeaten Duke entered the Top 25 following a 55-13 rout of North Carolina Central on Saturday. It's the first time the Blue Devils have started 4-0 in back-to-back seasons since 1952-53. Duke would then lose its next six last year. That included a 24-3 defeat in Blacksburg in which the Blue Devils managed only 183 total yards with two turnovers. The weather was really bad as the teams combined to go 10-for-31 on third down and 23-for-52 passing. The pick: Virginia Tech.
No. 20 BYU at No. 11 Washington (-17): First meeting between these schools since the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl, won by UW. Have to say this spread surprises me with how big it is. The Cougars, after all, already won at Wisconsin. But they also lost at home to Cal, so hard to see if they are any good. They warmed up for this with a 30-3 win over McNeese State on Saturday. BYU clearly was looking ahead a bit as it was down 3-0 in the second quarter before waking up. Having already lost to Auburn, Washington can't afford another defeat and have any realistic shot at the College Football Playoff. At least the Huskies are playing a legit nonconference schedule. The beat Arizona State on Saturday, 27-20. That excellent defense held the Sun Devils to 268 yards. Jake Browning became the second quarterback in Washington history to top 10,000 career passing yards during the game. He's behind only Cody Pickett. Ben Burr-Kirven finished with 20 total tackles for UW, the most by any player at the school since 1996. The pick: BYU.
USC at Arizona (+3.5): Shoot, a month ago many thought this would be a crucial game in the Pac-12 South Division. After all, the Trojans are defending division champions and still have more overall talent than any team in the conference simply because of their L.A. location. Arizona, meanwhile, had a Heisman contender in QB Khalil Tate and seemingly upgraded at coach in dumping Rich Rodriguez for Kevin Sumlin. Things haven't worked out for either side. USC did end a two-game losing streak on Friday with a 39-36 win over Washington State to temporarily take Coach Clay Helton off the hot seat. I bet a fair share of money on Arizona -4.5 on Saturday at Oregon State, and the Wildcats paid off for me in a 35-14 win. J.J. Taylor set a Reser Stadium record with 284 yards rushing. Tate threw for two scores but had minus-9 rushing on four carries. He's been dealing with a bum ankle. Last year, USC beat Arizona 49-35 when both were ranked. That game was wild as the Trojans led 28-6 with about four minutes left in the third before Tate went nuts and made it a 35-all tie about midway through the fourth. However, Ronald Jones II (now a Bucs rookie) scored two short rushing TDs to close out the scoring. He finished with 194 yards and three scores. Tate threw for 146 yards and two scores and rushed for 161 and a TD. The pick: Arizona.
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