College football won’t be in full stride until at least October, when the Big Ten and probably Pac-12 get back to business. But it’s getting closer this weekend, as the SEC joins the ACC, Big 12, and most of the Group of 5 conferences on the field. There’s a ton we don’t know about almost every team at this point, but particularly teams we haven’t seen play in 2020.
That means opportunities to find value if we’re smart about it. They couldn’t come at a better time, as I followed up a 10-4 showing two weeks ago by going just 4-7 in my picks on this website last weekend. That’s OK; every week won’t be a home run, but we’ll follow a process – looking over some computer projections and cross-checking them with what we know about teams – and try to get back on course in Week 4. Let’s ride.
*All bets are 1 unit unless otherwise noted.
Georgia vs. Arkansas
BET: Georgia -23 @ -110
UGA has a lot of question marks on offense. Will new QB JT Daniels be healthy enough to be good? Will the offensive line need time to mesh after losing four starters, including probably the best player on 2019’s team in tackle Andrew Thomas? Will it matter that the coach of that line, Sam Pittman, is now the head coach on the other sideline?
None of that’s enough to scare me off at less than 24 points. The Dawgs’ recruiting is so elite that they should avert major trouble in any of those areas. I’ll take their uncertainty over Arkansas’ new coaching staff needing to work through a massive reclamation project during a pandemic-interrupted offseason. The only thing that gives me pause here is wondering if Kirby Smart might take it easy on his former assistant Pittman and let up in a blowout, but I’m not scared enough not to take the favorite in perhaps the most lopsided Power 5 game of the year.
UGA -23 @ -110
Iowa State vs. TCU
BET: TCU +3 @ -110
It’s possible there’s something we don’t know that’s prompted TCU to be an underdog at home against a team that’s 0-1 with a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette. The computer systems that usually track closely with spreads don’t suggest the Cyclones should be favored. So I am urging you to tread carefully on all picks but particularly this one. We’re going to see a lot of Saturday surprises this year, and TCU has already had to cancel a game because of COVID cases.
But we’ve already learned TCU will start a former Georgia walk-on, Matthew Downing, at QB, and the line didn’t move much after TCU announced that Tuesday afternoon. (It was +3 and went to +2.5 within a few hours, which suggests TCU’s issues were already priced in.) Iowa State was anemic on offense against a Sun Belt team last time out and now has to face a Gary Patterson-coached defense. Three points of cushion at home is a lot.
TCU +3 @ -110
Tulsa vs. Arkansas State
BET: Arkansas State +1 @ -115
I am sure this line prices in medical uncertainty around Arkansas State, and it’s moved in the last few days to A-State normally being a favorite. The Red Wolves had to reschedule last weekend’s game against Central Arkansas because COVID left them unable to field enough players at a particular position. If Arkansas State winds up with a group of players out, that won’t be hugely surprising. But I still feel good about this bad. Tulsa’s offense is putrid, the game is in Jonesboro, and Arkansas State showed much more capacity to score against a solid Big 12 defense (Kansas State) than Tulsa did against a lousy one (Oklahoma State).
Arkansas State +1 @ -115
UCF vs. East Carolina
BET: East Carolina +25.5 @ -110
ECU is probably bad, but I expect the Pirates to be a good bit better in Mike Houston’s second year as coach. Houston is a builder. It takes him time, but he makes programs more competent, as he did at James Madison in turning the Dukes into FCS national champions a few years ago – the only program to interrupt a nearly decade-long run of North Dakota State titles.
Some of the Pirates’ better games of 2019 were clustered at the end of the season, including a win over a terrible UConn team and good fights against Cincinnati and SMU. QB Holton Ahlers is back, as is stud receiver (and big leap candidate) C.J. Johnson, who dropped 108 yards on 12 targets on UCF last year. I think the Pirates have enough juice to cover at home.
East Carolina +25.5 @ -110
Louisville vs. Pitt
BET: Under 55.5 @ -110
Pitt’s defense is awesome. Pitt’s offense is not. That makes the Panthers an intriguing under bet pretty much no matter what. I think Louisville can fix some of the coverage breakdowns that handed Miami easy points in a loss last week, but I don’t think the Cardinals are going to score a ton. Pitt’s slot cornerback Damar Hamlin is one of the few DBs who can effectively cover the Cardinals’ Tutu Atwell, the best slot wide receiver in college football.
Under 55.5 @ -110
Duke vs. Virginia
BET: Virginia -5 @ -110
Duke should struggle to score 20 points in this game, and UVA should get to around 30. The Hoos have an extremely veteran team, with one underclassman apiece starting on offense and defense. One of those is QB Brennan Armstrong, who’s played sparsely the last two seasons behind Bryce Perkins. I’ll bet he’s good enough to win his first start by a touchdown.
Virginia -5 @ -110
Tulane vs. Southern Miss
Tulane -3 @ -110
The Wave haven’t looked all that impressive through two games. They struggled for a while against a South Alabama team they should’ve beaten more easily, and they blew a 24-0 lead to lose to Navy the next week. But they looked much better than USM against USA, their common opponent, and it’s not clear to me why USM should be able to do anything about Tulane’s run game, which has been one of the steadiest in FBS for the last year and change. I expect Tulane freshman RB Tyjae Spears (224 yards on a 7.7-yard average) to be excellent again.