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Weekly Picks

Week 3 CFB ATS Predictions

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



 

Ohio State (-2) at Oklahoma

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

 

It’s interesting that this line has swung by nine points since the preseason, from Oklahoma -7 to Ohio State -2. We haven’t received nine-line-points-worth-of information over the last two weeks. It might seem like we have, but we haven’t.

 

 

 

We still don’t know a thing about Ohio State. The Buckeyes opened the season holding serve in pastings of Tulsa and Bowling Green, two middle-tier, mid-major teams. Those performances do not change their evaluation. Oklahoma, on the other hand, lost on the road in the opener against one of the country’s 15 best teams—no shame in that—before blasting a patsy of their own last weekend.

 

 

 

I trended ever so slightly down on the Sooners because of troubling secondary play over the past two weeks, but not so much so that I think they deserve to be installed as home underdogs in this spot. But let’s quick talk about the pass defense that has struggled in the early goings to replace CB Zack Sanchez.

 

 

 

Oklahoma is allowing 295.5 yards per game (No. 112 in the country) through two games. That’s a new development. Because the Sooners actually played good pass defense through the lopsided Playoff loss to Clemson last December. In that game, the Tigers bulldozed the Sooners’ front seven and opened huge running lanes for Wayne Gallman and Deshaun Watson.

 

 

 

Greg Ward gave the Sooners fits, and that has to make Ohio State and dual-threat QB J.T. Barrett optimistic about the way the Buckeyes’ offense matches up heading in. Oklahoma resolved to keep Ward in the pocket. It did so, but lost in the transaction the necessary defenders in the intermediate range to cover all the Cougar receivers who happened to be zipping around in there.

 

 

 

If Bob Stoops and crew haven’t learned from their schematic mistakes, it’d be a surprise. For Ohio State, this is Barrett’s game to win or lose. The Buckeyes will do all they can to suppress Oklahoma’s high-flying offense, but Barrett and crew are going to need to pitch in touchdowns, and not field goals, to keep pace. The Sooners figure to have a more complicated puzzle cooked up for Barrett than the imagination deprived defensive game plan of the opener.

 

 

 

Picking the Sooners means stepping in front of the bullet of their recent downward trajectory. The Sooners are 1-2 SU and 0-3 ATS since the Playoff loss to Clemson. But picking the Sooners also means siding with history. Bob Stoops’ Sooners are 96-8 at home. In its last seven home games, Oklahoma is 7-0 SU and 4-3 ATS. The Sooners haven’t been home underdogs since 2000. In that game, they upset No. 1 Nebraska.

 

 

 

Florida St. (-3) at Louisville

 

 

 

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Analysis:

The Cardinals have spent the past few weeks embarrassing Charlotte and Syracuse. Just like we haven’t learned much about Ohio State, we don’t know anything about Louisville that we didn’t three weeks ago: They’re a giant red mass of unrealized potential. Will it become fully realized on Saturday?

 

Louisville is catching Florida State without all-world safety Derwin James, a crucial break. Louisville’s deep corps of athletic, lengthy wide receivers is going to strain secondaries all year. Fully healthy, the Seminoles matched up body-on-body far more neatly. Without James as a LB/S chesspiece to counter QB Lamar Jackson with, it’ll be interesting to see if FSU intends to sell itself out to keep Jackson in the pocket. Louisville’s offense presents defenses with numerous athletes in space simultaneously and forces them to stick with all of them, a riddle with an athlete as special as Jackson calling the shots. So long as Jackson isn’t making a mistake, it’s nearly impossible to stop the machine. James is a veritable mistake-forcer.

 

Keeping Jackson in the pocket is a strategy with merit, but it didn’t work out very well for Oklahoma against Ward. Jackson’s 318 yards rushing ranks  No. 3 nationally and he’s already collected 13 touchdowns. He’s a Florida native who wants nothing more than to beat Florida State. But I’m a Minnesota native whose writing gets no better when the subject is the Gophers. Jackson’s state of origin is a fun non-factor. What’s more telling for this matchup is that Florida State has won the last two. But even those results should be questioned considering the monster gains Louisville has made since the middle of last season.

 

Florida State comes into this game leading all Power 5 schools in 20-plus yard passing plays allowed. Granted, a part of the reason for that is that FSU had the guts to open with Ole Miss, but the fact remains that big plays have dogged a defense that just lost its best player. And now that defense must play on the road against the nation’s hottest offense.  

 

When the Seminoles have the ball, look for them to feed RB Dalvin Cook as much as he can handle. FSU doesn’t want redshirt freshman Deondre Francois sitting in the pocket against that active pass rush too often. Syracuse and Charlotte weren’t equipped to challenge Louisville on the ground, so it’s impossible to gauge the quality of the Cards’ run defense at this time.

 

In a close one, I expect the home underdog to pull it out late on a College GameDay Saturday at Papa John’s Stadium.

 

Nebraska (-3) vs. Oregon

 

Straight Up:  

 
 

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Analysis:

This matchup will look unique and fresh to fans on the field. But to Nebraska HC Mike Riley, it’s old news. Having lost his last seven Civil War matchups to Oregon as head coach of Oregon State, Riley has no doubt been pining for another chance to solve the Ducks’ unique brand of spread-tempo offense.

 

He’s got as good a chance as he’ll ever have on Saturday. The Cornhuskers are more or less the Ducks’ talent equal at this point. A win here would extinguish the last remnants of flame under Riley’s hot seat following his disappointing 6-7 debut showing last year.

 

Nebraska has looked good in covering each of their first two games, blowouts of Fresno State and Wyoming. Oregon, meanwhile, still hasn’t fixed its defense. Against FCS patsy UC Davis and Power 5 patsy Virginia, the Ducks surrendered 27 points per game.

 

Virginia, which was blown out at home by Richmond in its own opener, rushed for 220 yards on 7.1 yards per carry against the Ducks and rather comfortably covered the large spread. Luckily for Oregon, Nebraska doesn’t have an established runner on the roster. Unluckily for Oregon, I don’t think that it’ll matter. Nebraska’s running back crop is no worse than Virginia’s. And it’s quite a bit better than UC Davis’.

 

QB Dakota Prukop and crew are going to score on Nebraska, but Oregon won’t be able to slow down QB Tommy Armstrong and friends enough to steal this tricky road matchup.

 

Arizona State (-20) at UTSA (Friday)

 

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Analysis:

 

This line is a bargain. Arizona State looked awful until the fourth quarter of the opener against Northern Arizona and then squeaked out a defense-optional track meet against Texas Tech last week. Now, on six days' rest, they head to San Antonio for a wacky Friday night kick against the Roadrunners.

 

 

 

UTSA knocked off Alcorn State in Wk. 1 and was competitive last week at Colorado State. This is the marquee home game on the UTSA schedule this season, so expect a better turnout than usual from the faithful.

 

 

 

The Roadrunners will have their hands full with the athleticism of QB Manny Wilkins and RB Kalen Ballage, but they’re in a nice spot to be catching this Sun Devil group on short notice coming off Ballage’s record-setting game. If ASU shows any hangover whatsoever, this one could go down to the wire. 

 

 

 

Michigan (-20.5) vs. Colorado


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Analysis:

 

My brother went to school with Colorado HC Mike MacIntyre’s daughter. Because they're friendly, we’ve tracked the Buffaloes’ progress over the last few years hoping for a turnaround that would save MacIntyre’s job. He needed it this fall, and it appears that he just may have orchestrated it.

 

 

 

We first received signs of a mini-renaissance in the opener, when Colorado annihilated rival Colorado State 44-7. If not for a late CSU touchdown, Colorado would have pitched the first shutout in the history of that running series. The Buffaloes followed that up by throttling Idaho State. This team is better than MacIntyre’s first three outfits. Perhaps appreciably so.

 

 

 

In other words, this isn’t the Colorado of old that is heading into Ann Harbor. It’s a lower-tier Power 5 bowl team, a 6-6 or 7-5 Pac-12 team that is capable of putting a scare into the nation’s best teams.

 

 

 

That’s all we need here for the cover of the generous 20 points: A fight. Michigan trounced Hawaii and UCF, two of the worst teams in the FBS, to open the season. This isn’t a paycheck game for Colorado. Chances are, MacIntyre is selling it as an opportunity to change the fortunes of the program.

 

Rutgers (-5) vs. New Mexico


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Analysis:

 

I’m selling on New Mexico, which just suffered a devastating 32-31 upset loss to rival New Mexico State. New Mexico State played that game without its best player and only offensive weapon, RB Larry Rose III, and still New Mexico couldn’t keep the lowly Aggies off the scoreboard.

 

 

 

That’s going to make it hard to slow down Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights aren’t good, but they’ve got enough talent on hand to light awful defenses. Rutgers doesn't have the talent up front to move active defensive fronts, but it does just fine spreading out mediocre back sevens to get playmakers like Janarion Grant in space.

 

 

 

New Mexico’s defense had fits with a struggling Arizona offense in last year's bowl game, and they may have gotten worse in the meantime. The coaching staff may be viewing this game as something to survive and be over and done with before conference play begins.

 

 

South Florida (-14.5) at Syracuse

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

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Analysis:

 

One week after missing on Syracuse as a 2-TD-plus-home-underdog, I’m going right back to the well. Fortunately, this time I don’t have to oppose Lamar Jackson.

 

 

 

If I picked over-unders, the prediction here would be “over.” South Florida has scored 56 and 48 in their first two games despite mostly playing without star RB Marlon Mack. Mack is expected to play, but check back on that because he’s been undergoing a concussion protocol.

 

 

 

Syracuse managed 28 points and 414 yards last Friday against Louisville, respectable showings for an offensive attack that is going to get incrementally better each week as it gets more comfortable in Dino Babers’ Baylor-esque hyper-spread schema.

 

 

 

QB Eric Dungey and a deep WR corps led by Amba Etta-Tawo should keep the Orange close enough to make this a competitive game deep into the second half.

 

 

 

 

Army (-6) at UTEP


Straight Up:  
 
 

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Analysis:

Army is arguably the best story in the nation after starting 2-0 with impressive victories over Temple and Rice. The turnaround that HC Todd Monken has engineered in his third year is no fluke. Army's triple-option attack is legitimately dangerous, and it has a potential star former linebacker RB Andy Davidson, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound battering ram.

 

Army has rushed for 325 yards or more in each of the first two games, with Davidson responsible for 228 yards and five scores. It's Army's defense that has perhaps been more surprising. The group turned Temple inside-out and then had no problem with Rice's punchless attack last weekend.

 

They may face tougher sledding against RB Aaron Jones (249 yards) and the resurgent Miners. UTEP went 5-7 last fall despite a horrifying rash of season-ending injuries. They're 1-1 after losing to Texas. UTEP has home-field advantage, and they probably enjoy a slight talent edge. Army won't be sneaking up on them like they did Temple. We have here two low-tier bowl teams of similar quality. Getting nearly a touchdown with one side as a home underdog is a nice value proposition.

 

 

Georgia (-6.5) at Missouri


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Analysis:

 

The wrong team is favored. We need to see Georgia freshman QB Jacob Eason play well against a good defense before backing him on the road as a favorite against a good SEC defense. In the opener, Eason played well off the bench against UNC’s paper bag defense.

 

 

 

Last week, he barely led his troops over Nicholls. The Bulldogs tumbled seven slots in the AP poll after that performance. If I’m right, they’re in for a bigger fall next week. And that’s not promising news with Ole Miss on deck.

 

Auburn (-4) vs. Texas A&M


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Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis:

 

Texas A&M is just as good as I thought they would be. My trepidation here is that Auburn is better than I thought. I can't tell if they're legitimately good, or a lower-tier Power 5 bowl qualifier in the Colorado mold. We're going to find out on Saturday night.


To beat Texas A&M, the Tigers will have to play defense as well as they did in the opener, a 19-13 near-miss against Clemson. Auburn showed in that game that it has enough secondary depth to deal with offenses like Texas A&M, which will at various times have four NFL receivers on the field simultaneously.


The bigger issues for Auburn is finding a way to out-score the Aggies. Auburn wasn't able to move the ball consistently against Clemson, which isn't a good sign considering what A&M did to Josh Rosen and UCLA in the opener (the Aggies also shut out Prairie View A&M last week, if you're into that kind of thing).


Auburn had been on a rough home ATS run up until that Clemson game. And they're now 3-9 in their last 12 against teams with winning records. I'll be fading them until they prove they can beat a good team.


 

***

 

 

 

2016 Record: Straight-Up: 11-9 (55%); Against the Spread: 9-11 (45%)


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!