by Mike Ivcic
After a great start to the season, we regressed slightly in week two, thanks mostly to a misread on the top-half of the SEC East – Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Once again, that division appears to be a bit of a free-for-all, so the Florida-Georgia and Florida-South Carolina games should be a lot of fun when they arrive on the schedule. But this week, the SEC West takes center stage with the defending champ against the defending Heisman Trophy winner. There are a couple other good games too, though, as we start inching closer to the full-blown conference slate.
24) TCU @ Texas Tech
Thursday, 7:30pm, ESPN
Line: TCU by 3
TCU was impressive in a losing effort against LSU in week one before looking a little less than that in a win over Southeastern Louisiana in week two. Texas Tech, meanwhile, has put up 102 points through their first two games against inferior competition, SMU and Stephen F. Austin. For the Raiders, this is their first true test, while the Horned Frogs will have to wrap their heads around the difficult concept of playing more like they did when they lost than when they won. I think the home field in Lubbock plays a role, and not only does Tech cover, they remain perfect at 3-0 with an outright victory.
Pick: Texas Tech 38, TCU 34
16) UCLA at 23) Nebraska
Saturday, 12:00pm, ABC
Line: Nebraska by 4.5
One of two games between two ranked teams this week, and a very nice undercard to the game of the week in the SEC. The Bruins have had two weeks to prepare for their trip to a hostile Lincoln environment, part of a schedule that also includes road games at Oregon, Stanford, and USC, so this should be a nice tune up for Jim Mora Jr.’s team. Meanwhile Nebraska has a sneaky-good outside shot at a perfect regular season – they miss both Wisconsin and Ohio State in their Big Ten crossovers, so after this game it may only be a trip to Michigan that stands between the Huskers and a 12-0 record. Both teams want to run the ball and have done so effectively thus far, albeit both in small sample sizes, so expect this to be an onslaught of handoffs on both sides. At the end, the experience of Taylor Martinez should win out, but I expect this to be a close, back-and-forth battle throughout that will likely be decided by a field goal or less.
Pick: Nebraska 31, UCLA 28
1) Alabama @ 6) Texas A&M
Saturday, 3:30pm, CBS
Line: Alabama by 7.5
Can Johnny Football do it again? The short answer is no. The long answer – which is why you read this – is that he has an outside chance. College Station will be rocking for this game as if it’s the Longhorns coming to town, and this game will almost surely determine whether or not Alabama has a shot at winning a third consecutive national title. The Aggies are definitely the biggest stumbling block for Nick Saban’s crew, with LSU coming to Tuscaloosa and no games against the top three of the SEC East. Still, if A&M wants to pull off the upset, they’ll have to do so on defense, just as they did last year. It won’t really be up to the defending Heisman Trophy winner to be the one to carry the day at Kyle Field. I expect Manziel to play well and put up some points, and I think a touchdown-plus line is far too high, but Roll Tide will be 2-0 after these 60 minutes of football.
Pick: Alabama 24, Texas A&M 20
19) Washington at Illinois
Saturday, 6:00pm, Big Ten
Line: Washington by 9.5
Illinois bludgeoned Cincinnati last week, making two big statements in the process. One, they showed just how weak the new American Athletic Conference really is behind Louisville. Two, they showed they at least plan on being more than a doormat for the Big Ten’s elite this year. How much will they challenge teams like Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Nebraska? That will be determined based upon their performance this week against a suddenly resurgent Washington team. The Illini have thrown the ball all over the field, which might be just fine with the Huskies, who made Boise State look pedestrian in week one with a balanced offensive attack of their own. I like this game because I think Washington has a chance to prove their win over the Broncos wasn’t a fluke, but also because there’s significant upset potential here. I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger on a pick of Illinois, though, so I’ll just take the cover.
Pick: Washington 33, Illinois 27
4) Ohio State @ California
Saturday, 7:00pm, FOX
If I’m Urban Meyer, I’m preaching one message to my team all week long – we started the season ranked #2, won both of our games rather handily, and dropped two spots in the rankings. This game is the one opportunity for the Buckeyes to prove in non-conference play that they’re deserving of such a lofty preseason ranking – Buffalo, San Diego State, and Florida A&M isn’t exactly a murderer’s row of games outside the Big Ten. For that reason alone, I don’t think there’s a way to make this line high enough for me to take the Bears over Ohio State.
Pick: Ohio State 52, California 17
21) Notre Dame at Purdue
Saturday, 8:00pm, ESPN
Line: Notre Dame by 20.5
One week after making their last trip to the Big House, the Irish will renew their “rivalry” with the Boilermakers this week in West Lafayette. I put “rivalry” it in quotes because, like the Yankees and Red Sox series per-2004 ALCS, that typically requires both sides to occasionally win, and in the last decade this has been a series dominated by Notre Dame. Tommy Rees looked good last weekend leading the Irish back against Michigan, despite falling short, and this should be a significantly easier defense to navigate for the junior QB. Purdue is a team that got smoked by Cincinnati in week one and only beat FCS Indiana State by six in week two, so this should be a nice easy victory for Notre Dame.
Pick: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10
Boston College @ USC
Saturday, 3:00pm, Pac-12
Line: USC by 14
I like this game only because it offers the ACC another crack at picking up a big non-conference victory – and one that would probably be even more surprising than Clemson over Georgia or Miami over Florida. The Eagles took down a very good FCS team in Villanova in week one before picking up a victory in their first conference game over Wake Forest in week two, so there’s some hope beginning to abound in Chestnut Hill. The Trojans, meanwhile, are coming off a terrible 10-7 loss at home to Washington State, so they desperately need a big rebound win before they really delve heavily into conference play. I think they do get that win here, but after that performance against the Cougars last week I’m not sold on USC as being a team worthy of a Top 25 ranking this season, so I’ll take BC to cover here – which, all things considered, would actually be another “win” for the ACC.
Pick: USC 24, Boston College 17
Last Week: 3-4 straight up, 2-5 against spread
Season: 9-5 straight up, 6-8 against spread
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