Week 3 of the college football season is a bit of a strange one. There’s no overwhelming big game, as evidenced by the fact that ESPN’s College Gameday is headed to Troy-Appalachian State, as much to celebrate the program they’ve built in Boone, North Carolina, as anything else.But Troy-App State won’t do as a Game of the Week for our purposes. Oklahoma at Nebraska is one of those games that looks great on paper, but the Cornhuskers’ multitude of issues, including a coaching change, make this one less attractive.
Texas A&M lost last week, rendering its SEC-ACC showdown with Miami less of a headliner. BYU-Oregon? Fresno State-USC? Both are going to be good games, but Oregon and Fresno already have losses, and only USC feels like a true title contender.
There are three games between power conference teams that are both 2-0. That means one of Penn State and Auburn will be 3-0, but frankly, it just doesn’t feel like either team is all that good. Texas Tech visits NC State, but the Wolfpack is a 10-point favorite and the Red Raiders still feel like more of a mid-pack team than a championship contender.
That leaves us with the third option: Michigan State, ranked No. 11 and coming off of an 11-win season, travels to Washington, which has been impressive against lesser opponents and is actually favored here. Why is that? Let’s dig in.
(Lines from Caesars Sportsbook as of Wednesday)
Game of the Week
No. 11 MICHIGAN STATE at WASHINGTON (-3½), 6:30 p.m., ABC: Both teams have played a pillowy schedule thus far, with the Huskies facing Kent State and Portland State and the Spartans getting Western Michigan and Akron, with all four games at home.
Washington has dominated more statistically. It’s third nationally in total offense, 12th in total defense, 10th in scoring offense, sixth in passing offense, seventh in passing defense, etc. Also, ordinarily, if a betting line is showing respect to one side over the other, it’s best to listen.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that Michigan State brought back a lot of talent from a very good team last year and will bring Washington back to Earth, but I think I’m buying Michael Penix Jr. under the tutelage of UW coach Kalen DeBoer.
I liked this line better when it opened under a field goal, but I’m taking the plunge with the Huskies. Whether that’s a plunge to profit or straight into Lake Washington, we’ll find out Saturday night.
The pick: Washington 28, Michigan State 24
WESTERN KENTUCKY (+6.5) at INDIANA, 11 a.m., BTN: The uncomfortable theme of the week is backing road teams. But even traveling to a Big Ten venue, this line seems too long not to back the Hilltoppers here.
Start with the fact that WKU has scored 87 points over two games, with quarterback Austin Reed following in the footsteps of Bailey Zappe with 551 yards and seven TDs over two games. Neither Austin Peay nor Hawaii is the caliber of Indiana, of course, but if the Hoosiers succumb to the Western Kentucky big-play barrage even a couple of times, this one becomes tough to cover.
That’s because Indiana, quite frankly, is still searching for its offense. Quarterback Connor Bazelak has been inconsistent at best, and the Hoosiers struggled with FCS Idaho for more than a half last week. This is the type of game where the Indiana offense might have to go punch for punch with WKU, and if that’s the case, I trust the WKU offense enough to call for an outright upset here.
The pick: Western Kentucky 34, Indiana 31
OHIO at IOWA STATE (-18) 1 p.m., ESPN+: The Cyclones came through for us as an upset pick last week in a situation where the line seemed off, but somehow the market still doesn’t seem to be giving them enough respect.
Iowa State actually should have beaten Iowa by more than three — the Cyclones out-gained the Hawkeyes better than 2 to 1, held the ball for more than 38 minutes and never allowed Iowa to drive inside even the 40-yard line (Iowa’s two red zone trips both came courtesy of blocked punts).
Now the Cyclones get Ohio, who barely held off Florida Atlantic in the opener and then were blitzed 46-10 by Penn State. I’m not comfortable saying Iowa State is as good as Penn State, but it’s not 18 points worse.
This is a sandwich spot for the Cyclones, who had the big win last week and get a visit from No. 17 Baylor next week, but if they can stay focused, this line shouldn’t be too much to cover.
The pick: Iowa State 37, Ohio 14
No. 20 OLE MISS (-16½) at GEORGIA TECH, 2:30 p.m., ABC: Another road pick, another line that feels like a trap. Look at me, breaking rules all over the place.
But explain to me, dear reader, how the Rebels aren’t favored by 20-plus here? The Yellow Jackets ranked 81st in the nation in total defense and even worse in total offense at 121st. And yes, they opened with Clemson, but that also includes last week’s win over Western Carolina.
On the other side, you have Ole Miss, which would love to make a statement in its first Power Five conference game and also has a robust 7-3-1 ATS mark under Lane Kiffin as a favorite of more than a touchdown. Kiffin is known for his offense, but the Rebels might also have a pretty stout defense: They’ve yet to allow a touchdown in the first three quarters this year.
The pick: Ole Miss 41, Georgia Tech 17
No. 23 PITTSBURGH (-10) at WESTERN MICHIGAN, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU: Why these power conference teams ever end up playing smaller conference opponents on the road is a mystery, but here we are. It’s a challenge for the Panthers, who had two big games against West Virginia and Tennessee to start the year, to take care of this tricky one to keep their season on track.
But here’s guessing the Panthers are up for the task. They’ve been fine when passing the ball behind USC transfer Kedon Slovis (30/48, 503 yards, 2 TDs, INT) and OK defensively against tough opposition. The problem thus far has been the running game, which wasn’t efficient in either game.
Fortunately for Pitt, Western Michigan might just be the antidote to that. The Broncos let Michigan State run all over them in the opener and didn’t fare a whole lot better in a 37-30 win over Ball State last week. If Pitt can uncork the running game, it should cruise here.
The pick: Pittsburgh 41, Western Michigan 24
FRESNO STATE (+12) at No. 7 USC, 9:30 p.m., Fox: Look, maybe USC is one of the country’s best teams, Lincoln Riley needs no time to get it going in L.A. and Caleb Williams will be in New York for the Heisman ceremony.
All of that is distinctly possible, and if so, this pick probably will look stupid. But the Trojans, as impressive as they’ve been in wins over smarties Rice and Stanford to open the season, have benefitted from some good fortune, namely an 8-0 margin in takeaways vs. giveaways.
If USC keeps that up, they’ll win the national championship. But logic and history says it’ll even out, and the Trojans’ run defense is of very real concern. On the other side, you have Fresno State, which out-gained Oregon State by nearly 100 yards last week but caught the other side of Lady Luck’s coin in a 35-32 loss.
I liked this spread better when it opened at 16, but I think there’s enough value here to grab the Bulldogs anyway.
The pick: USC 38, Fresno State 30
LAST WEEK: 4-2 straight up, 3-3 against the spread
THIS YEAR: 8-4 straight up, 7-5 ATS