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Weekly Picks

Week 2 CFB ATS Predictions

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


Kansas -5 vs. Central Michigan


Straight Up:  
Kansas Jayhawks (1923 - 1928)

Against the Spread:

 Kansas Jayhawks (1923 - 1928)



Last week, Central Michigan coughed up a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter to Rhode Island. The Chippewas needed three overtimes to dispatch an FCS team that committed six turnovers.


Seeing as though Kansas is 14-77 since 2010 and hasn’t made a bowl since 2008, this may seem like exactly the type of matchup CMU needs to get back on track in advance of MAC play. It’s more likely that the Chips get ambushed.


As Central Michigan’s talent has waned in recent seasons, the Chips have also unsurprisingly struggled on the road. They’re 2-5 ATS away from home in their last seven.


Kansas, meanwhile, has the look of a sneaky 'buy' team. It took HC David Beaty and crew time to restock a roster that Charlie Weis neglected and to install an Air Raid offense. KU started to right the ship at the end of last season and is 4-1 ATS in their last five.


In the Jayhawks’ opener last week, Washington State transfer QB Peyton Bender looked to be getting a hang of new OC Doug Meacham’s take on the Air Raid. Bender threw for 364 yards and a 4/2 TD/INT ratio on 62.2 percent completions.


In contrast to past seasons, when the Jayhawks would sell out for any small chance of victory, last Saturday had a relaxed air. The Jayhawks rested multiple key players in the 38-16 win over Southeast Missouri, giving only one touch to starting RB Khalil Herbert.


CMU finished No. 88 in Def. S&P+ last year. If Bender and crew get going early, the Chips are in trouble, because their offensive strength is on the ground. I think Kansas prevails by double-digits to start the season 2-0, which would match their win total over the previous two seasons combined.


Iowa -2 at Iowa State


Straight Up:  
Iowa Hawkeyes (1962 - 1970) 

Against the Spread:

Iowa Hawkeyes (1962 - 1970) 



The Hawkeyes were one of Week 1’s biggest winners, showing off a dominant defense while drilling Wyoming 24-3. Ballyhooed Cowboys QB Josh Allen was treated to claustrophobic pockets, rapidly closing throwing windows and precious few downfield opportunities.


Wyoming’s running attack was treated even more rudely by a game Hawkeye front-seven led by LB Josey Jewell, one of the nation’s best. The Hawkeyes rushing attack, which pairs the 2016 Joe Moore award-winning line (best OL in the nation) with two 1,000-yard rushers (Akrum Wadley and James Butler), was efficient but not explosive against the Cowboys.


Wyoming tried to slow Iowa’s offense by stacking the box and forcing new Hawkeyes starting QB Nathan Stanley to complete passes. That strategy would have been more viable if the Cowboys offense had done its part.


The question becomes: What happens when Iowa plays a team that can score on its defense? Stanley was fair in his starting debut (8-for-15 with a 3/1 TD/INT rate) but was consistently throwing in cushy situations, in manageable down-and-distances or off of play-action to a defense happy to bite on the fake.


If Stanley progresses, Iowa becomes awfully difficult to beat. Even if he doesn’t, the running game and defense are good enough to dispatch teams of lesser talent. Until proven otherwise, that’s exactly what Iowa State is. The Cyclones stomped Northern Iowa last week but are coming off a 3-9 season (2-7 in Big 12). Iowa State has intriguing offensive pieces, but so did Wyoming. Defensively, the Cyclones will have a hard time slowing Iowa’s rushing attack.


This series typically plays close, and Iowa State is 6-1 ATS in its last 7 games at home. That said, Iowa has won the past two games between the schools, covering both times. The Hawkeyes are also 8-1 ATS over the last three seasons in road games with a week-or-less turnaround.


Louisville -10 at UNC


Straight Up: Louisville Cardinals (1980 - 2000)  

Against the Spread:

Louisville Cardinals (1980 - 2000) 



We hate laying double-digits on the road in conference games more than we hate talking politics with relatives, but we're willing to make an exception here.


Last week, at home against Cal, one of the Power 5’s worst teams, UNC allowed unknown QB Ross Bowers to throw for 363 yards and four touchdowns. It was a brutal showing in the program’s first game post-DC Gene Chizik, and the going is about to get considerably more difficult against Lamar Jackson


It wasn’t only the defense that struggled for the Heels last week. LSU grad transfer QB Brandon Harris was horrific (7-for-16, 0 TD, 2 INT), forcing the coaching staff to tab redshirt frosh QB Chazz Surratt ahead of schedule. Surratt acquitted himself well enough, but then again, Cal’s defense is wretched.


Louisville’s defensive charges aren’t SEC-caliber, but they’re superior on all three levels to Cal. The Cardinals struggled to dispatch Purdue last week, one reason this line is a little light. That's good news for us, because we're getting Louisville at a discount.


Alabama -44 vs. Fresno State


Straight Up:  
Alabama Crimson Tide (1974 - 2000) 

Against the Spread:

Fresno State Bulldogs (1992 - 2005) 



Last season in this Week 2 spot, we cashed with Western Kentucky against Alabama. Using the same reasoning, we’re going back to the well and holding our noses with a bet on the Bulldogs.


The reason: At Alabama, Nick Saban is 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS in neutral-site season openers. Last year, the Tide rocked USC in the opener. Last week, they drop-kicked Florida State.


Meanwhile, Saban’s Crimson Tide teams are 0-6 ATS (a weather cancelation claimed the other) in Week 2 following the spot above.


We didn’t learn much about the Bulldogs in last week’s 66-0 drubbing of Incarnate Word. But this isn’t a bet on Jeff Tedford’s bunch. It’s a bet on the spot. And Saban’s track record is clear: He puts all his eggs into beating a marquee Week 1 opponent handily and uses Week 2 to regroup and play his youngsters against a G5 patsy.



Utah -1.5 at BYU


Straight Up:  
Utah Utes (1972 - 1987) 

Against the Spread:

 Utah Utes (1972 - 1987)



When this line opened, with BYU as a -1.5 favorite, it struck us as a classic case of the wrong team being favored. BYU’s status as a favorite quickly changed as early money came in on the Utes.


The Cougars looked listless and clueless over the weekend in a 27-0 loss to LSU that would have been closer to 48-0 if the Tigers hadn’t shown mercy. It looks like it might be a long year for BYU.


The Utes, meanwhile, dispatched North Dakota in a cushy matchup that allowed them to unveil their new up-tempo, spread attack under OC Troy Taylor. QB Tyler Huntley, RB Zack Moss and WR Darren Carrington all looked good, and that’s about all we needed to learn about Utah in that specific matchup.


That win came back on Thursday, giving the Utes 48 extra hours to prepare for BYU. And considering that the Utes probably didn’t need to devote many scouting resources to North Dakota over the summer, they’ve likely been scheming for BYU since the spring. The Cougars had no such luxury with an opener against LSU.


USC -7 vs. Stanford


Straight Up:  
Southern California Trojans (1972 - 1992)

Against the Spread:

  Stanford Cardinal (1993 - 2013)



Stanford is 3-0 SU and ATS in their last three against USC. And as Chris Fallica tweeted out Thursday, Stanford won SU by seven-or-more points in all three matchups against USC over the last six years in which they were touchdown-or-more underdogs. The Cardinal are coming off a bye week after opening with a blowout win against Rice in Australia on Aug. 26. The Trojans, meanwhile, scuffled against Western Michigan last week and didn’t put the Broncos away until the fourth quarter. Stanford has four more returning starters than USC (16 to 12).


And now the Trojans are laying a touchdown to the Cardinal? Again?


It’s not just me who’s confused—ESPN’s FPI pegged the Cardinal as 3.5-point favorites. This line, which opened at USC -4, appears to be driven by early public action on the Trojans. While USC was viewed as a potential national contender coming into the season, Stanford continues to be overlooked. In Bill Connelly’s preseason S&P+ rankings, USC was ranked No. 6 and Stanford checked in at No. 9. In reality, there's very little difference between the two.


The preseason S&P+ projection gave USC a 61-percent chance of winning this game. One would guess that the system would slice a few percentage points off USC’s chances if it baked in what’s happened over the past two weeks.


While the Trojans held WMU under 100 yards passing last week, it had trouble slowing the Broncos’ rushing attack, allowing 102 yards to third-string back LeVante Bellamy while surrendering 263 yards total on 5.5 YPC.


If USC had trouble with WMU’s offensive line, they’ll face a tall task in trying to hold their ground against Stanford’s front. With RB Bryce Love looking like a potential breakout star (13 carries for 180 yards and a TD vs. Rice), that’s bad news. I trust USC’s talent enough not to call for an outright upset, but really, I see this game as a coin-flip proposition.


Notre Dame -4 vs. Georgia


Straight Up:  
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1973 - 1983) 

Against the Spread:

 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1973 - 1983)



We entered the season bullish on Notre Dame and pessimistic about Georgia, and nothing that happened last week changed our mind. If anything, our resolve was fortified on both fronts.


The Irish opened on Saturday by destroying Temple 49-16. The Owls lost HC Matt Rhule over the winter, as well as NFL talent on both sides of the ball, but this is a team that finished 10-4 in each of the past two years. Dispatching them that easily counts for something.


Specifically, it speaks extremely well for Notre Dame’s new-look offense. The Irish ran for 422 yards against a defense that has been extremely stout in recent seasons. New starting QB Brandon Wimbush had 106 of those ground yards, as well as 184 yards and two touchdowns through the air. He looked comfortable, but the bigger story was the mauling Notre Dame offensive line. Pretty sure a random Rotoworld scribe could threaten 100 yards running behind those guys.


Clearly, Georgia’s defense is in another stratosphere from Temple’s. Watching UGA’s front-seven against Notre Dame’s is appointment television for college football nerds and draftniks alike. Going back to his days at Alabama, Smart’s defenses have had issues with dual-threat quarterbacks and big receivers (see: Texas A&M, Ole Miss). Notre Dame brings both. Smart's defenses are designed to excel in phone booths against power-SEC running schemes. Notre Dame isn't going to be that straight forward.


The Georgia defense has its work cut out for it here, as it’ll be backing a true freshman quarterback on the road in a marquee night game in one of the sport’s most hallowed venues. Jake Fromm will be the guy for Georgia until Jacob Eason recuperates from the knee injury he suffered last week against Appalachian State.


Georgia will try to ease the pressure on Fromm by calling for heavy doses of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. That’s not the issue. The issue is that we don’t believe in Georgia’s offensive line, and the Bulldogs don’t have anyone that scares opponents on the outside.


We don’t yet know how far Notre Dame’s defense has come since last year’s debacle, but they have talent, and talent, a smart coaching staff and the friendly confines of home should be enough to mitigate the impact of Chubb and Michel while forcing Fromm into disadvantageous situations that increases the risk of him putting the ball in harm’s way. Fromm got away with a few bad decisions against Appy State. That won't fly on Saturday.


If the Irish stake out to a double-digit lead, Georgia isn’t exactly equipped to roar back.


Boston College (Pick 'em) vs. Wake Forest


Straight Up:   Boston College Eagles (1962 - 2000) 


Against the Spread:

 Boston College Eagles (1962 - 2000)



Defense hasn’t been a problem for the Eagles in recent seasons. The unit, headlined by future first-round DE Harold Landry, finished No. 1 nationally in total defense in 2015 and No. 9 last year.


The offense has been terrible, but there’s at least a reason for hope this fall. Redshirt freshman Anthony Brown went 26-of-42 for 191 yards and a 2/1 TD/INT rate in the opener against Northern Illinois, a stat line that makes him look Favre-ian in comparison to what Boston College has trotted out in recent years.


The Eagles ran 92 plays against NIU while unveiling their new up-tempo scheme. The idea is to wear down opposing defenses with a mix of reliable RB Jonathan Hilliman and quick-hitting passes from Brown.


Wake Forest is basically a mirror image of Boston College, only with a slightly worse defense. We didn’t learn much about the Deacs from last week’s romp over Presbyterian. Wake’s answer to Landry is Day 2 prospect DL Duke Ejiofor, who had three TFL last weekend.


QB John Wolford struggled against BC last fall. If he’s not on, BC will cut off oxygen defensively while nicking WF’s defense to death with 80-90 paper cuts. As Phil Steele noted this week, Wake is just 1-7 in its last eight road openers. Make it 1-8 in a low-scoring affair.


Oregon State -2 vs. Minnesota


Straight Up:  
Oregon State Beavers (1973 - 1996)

Against the Spread:

Oregon State Beavers (1973 - 1996) 



It seems like eons ago, but P.J. Fleck went 1-11 in his first year at Western Michigan in 2013. Fleck has a clear vision of how he wants to build a program, and he’s following the blueprint at Minnesota. In the long-run, the conviction will pay dividends. In the short-term, it will lead to disappointing losses.


Last week, the Gophers needed all four quarters to pull out an ugly 17-7 home win against lowly Buffalo. They’ll have to play considerably better on Saturday to win in Corvallis, where the Beavers are 5-1 ATS in their last six games. I don’t see it.


If there’s one thing going for the Gophers, it’s that they have two good running backs (Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks) and Oregon State can’t stop the run. But OSU should be able to devote most of their defensive resources to the box here, because Minnesota can’t pass.


The Gophers should win the time of possession battle, but it won’t matter in the end if they aren’t converting those possessions into touchdowns. While Oregon State has issues defensively, they have a stud running back of their own in Ryan Nall as well as a sneaky-frisky passing attack led by 6-foot-7 pocket passer Jake Luton and his three favorite targets, all jumbo-sized (6’5 WR Jordan Villamin, 6’4 WR Isaiah Hodgins and 6’4 TE Noah Togiai).


This is a must-win game for Gary Anderson and his staff, who will close their season with nine Pac-12 games. From Fleck’s time at Western Michigan, we know he’s unwilling to prioritize Year 1 wins over long-term development. Good for him. Bad for Minny’s chances on Saturday.


Four for the road


Ohio State -7 vs. Oklahoma


Syracuse -9.5 vs. Middle Tennessee


North Carolina State -24 vs. Marshall


Baylor -17 vs. UTSA





2017 RecordStraight-Up: 10-4 (71.4%); Against the Spread: 5-8-1 (38.5%)


2014-2016: Straight-Up: 350-197 (64.0%); Against the Spread: 286-250-11 (53.4%)

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!