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Weekly Picks

Week 2 CFB ATS Predictions

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

 

 

 

TCU (-7.5) vs. Arkansas

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

Allow me to introduce you to Week 2’s marquee matchup. Coming off last weekend’s loaded card and undiluted awesomeness, it’s somewhat dissatisfying, but will nonetheless clarify the outlooks of two intriguing teams who underwhelmed off the center stage last Saturday.

 

Arkansas required a 77-yard game-winning fourth quarter drive to squeak by a decimated Louisiana Tech team 21-20. Not only are Jeff Driskel, Kenneth Dixon and Vernon Butler now in the NFL, but Louisiana Tech was forced to start freshman QB J'Mar Smith in place of suspended starter Ryan Higgins. Smith, as you may have expected, was quite inefficient. Had Higgins played, Arkansas may have entered Saturday 0-1.

 

Meanwhile, TCU’s defense looked more susceptible than I’d anticipated, giving up 461 yards in a sluggish 59-41 win over South Dakota State. But the Horned Frogs looked tremendous on offense after righting themselves following QB Kenny Hill interceptions on consecutive passes in the second quarter. Hill had nearly 500 total yards and five touchdowns and the offense ran up 662 yards in sum. The Trill is back.

 

And that’s bad news indeed for Arkansas. HC Bret Bielema’s M.O. has always been about recruiting the biggest, strongest, most physical prospects to suit his smash-mouth prerogative. That’s all well and good until you find yourself on the road against superior talent tailored to get teams like yours into track meets it can’t win.

 

The Hogs beat Tennessee and LSU last year, and were quite competitive against Alabama. All three of those teams, like Arkansas, play in a phone booth. The Hogs lost to Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and needed four overtimes to beat Auburn. Those are four teams unquestionably inferior to the Vols, Tigers and Tide, but they all had one thing in common: They gave Arkansas fits by spreading them out. TCU will do the same. 

 

 

Army (-9.5) vs. Rice

 

 

Straight Up:  

 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 

 


Analysis:

If this line had been set one week ago, Rice would have been favored by more than a field goal. But following Army’s rousing upset of a good Temple team, and Rice’s no-show against Western Kentucky, the Black Knights are in the unfamiliar position of laying more than a touchdown.

 

I smelled sleeper vibes wafting off Army over the summer and nearly predicted them to make a bowl game in Rotoworld's season preview series, but in reality their talent in a vacuum is slightly inferior to the Owls’. Army is in its third year running Todd Monken’s spread triple-option offense. Typically, Year 3 is when we see breakouts. Last week, Army churned out 329 of its 344 total yards on the ground. A rebuilding Temple defense was surprisingly not prepared, but Rice ought to be a little more so.

 

But make no mistake: Rice’s defense is lousy, particularly in the secondary. Well-rounded offenses pick up chunk yardage consistently against them. Last year, the unit allowed 7.1 yards per play. And then last week, WKU QB Mike White threw for over 500 yards against it. The hope for Rice backers is that a one-dimensional attack is easier to deal with.

 

On the other side of the ball, the Owls should be able to move the ball on Army’s defense. I think the Black Knights will move to 2-0, but they don’t have enough talent on hand at this point to be laying nearly double-digits.

 

 

Kansas (-2.5) vs. Ohio

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

Speaking of unlikely favorites! One week after winning its first game since November 2014, snapping a 15-game losing streak, Kansas has been installed as a favorite against a team that went bowling last year. Okay, maybe not so stunningly—the Bobcats just face-planted as 20-point favorites in a 56-54 triple-overtime loss to visiting Texas State.

 

To be entirely fair, Ohio was great on offense and probably should have won the game, outgaining Texas State 630-546. But Texas State is one of the worst teams in the FBS and was playing its first game under a new coach. QB Tyler Jones in particular gave Ohio fits, throwing for 418 yards and four scores.

 

That’s a discouraging development for the season as a whole and this matchup in particular. The Jayhawks dropped 55 points against Rhode Island last week, with dual-threat starting QB Montell Cozart going 18-for-25 for 199 yards and three touchdowns before giving way to pocket-passing backup Ryan Willis, who went 7-for-9 for 144 yards and two additional scores.

 

KU HC David Beaty is a spread disciple who spent three years at Texas A&M prior to taking over in Lawrence last year. He inherited the grease fire roster that the disinterested Charlie Weis put together. His first team was a rag-tag, hapless 0-12 bunch. That’s what happens when a no-talent team playing a Big 12 schedule meets dramatic scheme changes. Now, Beaty’s spread system has been fully installed.

 

It’s far too soon to get excited, of course. Rhode Island won only one game last season in the FCS, and KU still hasn’t beaten a legitimate opponent in over 20 games. But Beaty’s vision can now be seen in its embryonic stages. He has superb weapons outside in WRs LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Steven Sims, and RB Ke’aun Kinner is dangerous in space.

 

The Jayhawks are 4-0-1 ATS in their last five against the MAC, illustrating competitiveness over the past few years in games without a large talent discrepancy. On Saturday, I think Kansas becomes what I assume would be the quickest FBS program in history to top their Vegas over/under win total, beating Ohio to begin 2-0 and cash those 1.5-win tickets.

 

Clemson (-36.5) vs. Troy

 

 

Straight Up:  

 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

Coming off a closer-than-expected, physical victory over Auburn in the opener, and squaring off against archrival South Carolina next week, I don’t anticipate the Tigers pulling out all the stops to blast Troy off the field on Saturday. 

 

Not only that, but the Trojans are better than this line is giving them credit for. In last week’s 57-17 pasting of Austin Peay, Troy rolled up 706 total yards, 323 through the air and 383 on the ground. Sure, Austin Peay is an FCS cupcake, but the performance was in line with the tremendous growth the offense showed in the latter half of HC Neal Brown’s first year on the job. It its last six 2015 games, after becoming comfortable in Brown’s pass-happy spread, Troy averaged 36 points per game.

 

Assuming the Tigers are sitting on a big lead in the third quarter, you’d have to expect HC Dabo Swinney to rush in the backups to save his stars for another physical game next week. Troy may remain within the huge number all game. But even if they don’t, the combination of a strong passing offense against Clemson’s backup defenders provides a nice backdoor cover possibility.

 

Wisconsin (-24.5) vs. Akron 

 

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

This line is inflated due to Wisconsin’s tremendous showing on national television against LSU last Saturday, giving us a little value to work with. I also don’t think the spread accurately reflects the quality of Akron, which made a bowl last season, has two offensive stars, will be playing without pressure as a heavy underdog and is coming off a blowout win over VMI.

 

In that one, QB Thomas Woodson completed 72-percent of his passes for 407 yards and six touchdowns. Athletic jumbo-sized WR Jerome Lane, whose father played in the NBA, recorded 10 catches for 196 yards and two scores. Akron isn’t likely to do much on the ground against Wisconsin, but that duo should ensure enough offensive output to stay within the number.

 

Perhaps no team in the country was as impressive last week as the Badgers. But you have to wonder how much motivation they can muster on a one-week turnaround after having played in such a physical game. The defense was a little banged up as is, and won’t have much room for error to ensure a cover because Wisconsin’s one-dimensional offense is about clock control, not running up the score.

 


Arizona State (-3) vs. Texas Tech

 

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

The Sun Devils are fortunate not to have to be playing this game in Lubbock, where Tech is essentially unbeatable against teams with mediocre secondaries. Even as hosts, Arizona State’s weaknesses alarmingly line up with the Red Raiders’ strengths, which I think will lead to an upset in a fun matchup late Saturday night on FS1.

 

Arizona State is perhaps the most blitz-happy team in the nation. That aggression leads to college football's version of Three True Outcomes: three-and-outs, turnovers or monster gains. Last year, mostly the latter. ASU gave up 34-plus points in eight of 13 games, ranked dead last in the FBS with 67 20-plus yard passes allowed and finished No. 125 out of 128 in fourth quarter defensive S&P+. Pressure is all fine and good unless you don’t have the depth to substitute for gassed starters or you’re playing against an elite offensive team.

 

On Saturday, an elite offensive team comes to town. Arizona State is the type of team that you want to bet on when they’re playing an inexperienced team with a shaky quarterback. That’s the type of squad the pressure discombobulates. Tech ain’t that team, and Patrick Mahomes ain’t that quarterback. Mahomes had 483 yards last week and may threaten 500 yards again. Mahomes is one of the nation's best quarterbacks and later this season will be recognized as such.

 


Navy (-4) vs. UConn

 

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

At risk of invoking some seriously bad karma by betting against both Army and Navy, I side with the underdogs here because of the situation. Navy installed Tago Smith as the starting quarterback at the end-of-the-year banquet in which they bid adieu to program face Keenan Reynolds. Smith’s reign didn’t even reach halftime of Week 1 of the opener, as he suffered a torn ACL that will steal the rest of his season.

 

Already extremely thin on offense—the Midshipmen returned just one offensive starter and were forced, following Smith’s injury, to pull the emergency No. 3 quarterback from the stands to suit up—this wasn’t the start to the post-Reynolds era that coach Ken Niumatalolo was hoping for. Niumatalolo now turns to unproven senior Will Worth, whom he didn’t expect to put up enough of a fight against Smith to even hold a preseason quarterback competition.

 

Short-handed, one-dimensional offenses make this Huskies’ defense salivate. As I wrote in my season preview, Connecticut is a poor man’s Iowa, playing sound, mistake-free defense and boring, run-first offense. The Huskies talented front seven is going to stay in its lanes and force Navy’s triple-option attack to get creative to win upfield traction.

 

HC Bob Diaco, who played under Hayden Fry, will grind away at Navy’s defensive front with his jumbo offensive line. If Diaco gets a lead, Navy isn’t exactly equipped to storm back.

 


Cincinnati (-6) at Purdue

 

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

This is a bet against Boilermakers HC Darrell Hazell, now 6-30 at Purdue after beating an FCS patsy in Week 1. Throughout Hazell’s reign, his teams have been uncompetitive against the Big 10. Unless that’s changed, Purdue is going to have problems with Cincinnati, a team with no worse than mid-tier Big 10 talent.

 

The Bearcats labored over the offseason to develop a well-rounded offensive attack that emphasized the run more. While that unit wasn’t terribly impressive in its 28-7 win over Tennessee-Martin, Cincinnati did confirm that it has two starting caliber running backs along with a promising QB in Hayden Moore.

 


Baylor (-32) vs. SMU

 

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

Baylor won’t have any problem putting SMU away, but 32 points is heavy wood to lay here. The Bears’ weak and shallow defense faces a tall order in holding the up-tempo Mustangs below three touchdowns, which is probably what it’ll take to cover the swollen number.

 

Last year, Baylor led SMU only 28-21 with five minutes left in the third quarter before scoring four consecutive touchdowns in a 56-21 win. The Bears are worse this year, while SMU is better. Remember: Last year’s loss to Baylor was Chad Morris’ first game as head coach. His Ponies have now had an entire year to acclimate to his dynamic offensive system.

 

Last week against an FCS cupcake, QB Seth Russell threw for four touchdowns while the Bears averaged 6.2 yards per carry en route to 274 ground yards. Similar outputs are doable against SMU’s poor defense.

 

SMU backers will want to keep an eye on QB Matt Davis’ status. Davis appeared to injure his midsection in the third quarter of last week’s win over North Texas and has been receiving treatment all week. Either way, give me the Ponies here. Davis’ backup, Ben Hicks, is a hyped prospect who threw for 145 yards on 5-of-9 passing against the Mean Green.

 

 

Alabama (-30) vs. Western Kentucky

 

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

All things even, Alabama may be more than four touchdowns better than Western Kentucky. I’m not convinced that that’s the case—the Hilltoppers went 12-2 last season and then blew Rice off the field in the opener—but they might be.

 

What makes Western Kentucky a play this week is the circumstance. Nick Saban’s Alabama teams are automatic—now a perfect 7-0—in season-opening, neutral-site games, winning most in the same dominant, blowout fashion as we saw on Saturday night against USC.  This will be their seventh Week 2 after such a matchup. In the previous six, they’re 0-5 ATS, with the sixth one wiped away due to weather.

 

The Hilltoppers are not the type of mid-major schedule-filler team that typically receives near 30 points from Vegas. They’re catching a few extra points due to Alabama’s Week 1 dominance, and they aren’t getting taken seriously yet due to the mistaken impression that Brandon Doughty alone was responsible for the team’s previous success. If Mike White’s 500-plus-yard Week 1 showing is any indication, Jeff Brohm’s system is going to make stars out of whoever is taking snaps.

 

Alabama just spent its offseason preparing and getting amped up for USC. Now that that business has been taken care of, they have a layover of sorts in Tuscaloosa this weekend against WKU before shipping out to Oxford for a crucial Week 3 matchup at Ole Miss. How serious do you think they’ll be about embarrassing a Conference USA team this weekend? Even if they run out to a huge lead at halftime, Western Kentucky’s passing attack is a back-door cover waiting to happen.

 

Let's recap. You have the inflated line factor, the disrespected underdog factor, the favorite-reading-press-clippings factor, the look-ahead sandwich factor, the historical trend factor and the backdoor-cover possibility factor all blending together to make Western Kentucky a viable value play. But you'll have to have the guts to step in front of the Alabama train. And frankly, I already want to delete this section, so I wouldn’t blame anyone who wanted to stay on the platform.

 

***

 

2016 Record: Straight-Up: 5-5 (50%); Against the Spread: 4-6 (40%)


Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is NBC Sports Edge’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!