Last week was our third losing week out of four. Thankfully, we have avoided complete disaster and still have a shot at a good season if we can get out act together. Home teams in BOLD.
Last Week: 3-4
Iowa +11 Michigan
Am I nervous about this pick? Definitely. In four games, Iowa has scored five offensive touchdowns, with three coming in their veritable explosion against Nevada. There is no sugarcoating it, this offense is putrid. However, the defense continues to be stellar, albeit against a relatively weak schedule. And speaking of weak schedules...
If you just looked at final scores and ignored their opponents, Michigan appeared to be the best team in college football after their non-conference performance. The Wolverines bludgeoned Colorado State, Hawaii, and Connecticut by a combined score of 166-17. It was no surprise the Wolverines were massive favorites when they hosted Maryland in their conference opener last week. However, the Terrapins put up a good fight, especially considering they are known for going tits up against elite competition. I think the Maryland game proved Michigan is not quite in the same class as Ohio State (as most suspected in the preseason). Now the Wolverines hit the road for the first time this season in a place where they have not had great success. Iowa is 5-2 against Michigan in Kinnick Stadium this century, with three outright wins as an underdog. The last time Michigan visited (in 2016), they entered as three touchdown favorites. However, Iowa was able to drag them into the mud and win with a last second field goal. Despite their lackluster offense, history beckons you to take the Hawkeyes. Under Kirk Ferentz, Iowa is 9-2 ATS as a double digit home underdog. They are also 10-4-2 ATS against AP top ten teams at home. I think Iowa is able to make Michigan play an ugly low-scoring game in the teens or low twenties and eke out a cover.
Kent State -11.5 Ohio
After a brutal non-conference slate that included road trips to Washington, Oklahoma, and Georgia, Kent State can begin their defense of the MAC East. The Golden Flashes acquitted themselves well in that three game gauntlet. They were within one score of Oklahoma at halftime and gave Georgia their best game to date. Their reward for that solid performance? One of the worst defenses in FBS. The Bobcats have allowed nearly 45 points per game a third of the way through their 2022 schedule and while two P5 teams account for half that total, Ohio just allowed 52 points at over nine yards per play to Fordham. Vince Lombardi and the other six blocks of granite no longer play for the Rams either. It looks like Ohio will need to win a fair amount of MAC shootouts to qualify for a bowl. I expect Kent State to put up at least 38 points and hanging half a hundred is certainly within the realm of possibility. MAC games should be a breeze after that non-conference schedule. It will be like hiking without a heavy backpack (or walking as some folks might call it). Kent State rolls here.
North Texas +3.5 Florida Atlantic
I think this line is mostly a function of how well Florida Atlantic played last week at Purdue. The Owls lost by two points and actually had the ball with a chance to win late in the fourth quarter. However, there were some extenuating circumstances in that game. Purdue was starting their backup quarterback and while he played reasonably well, he only averaged 5.4 yards per pass. Purdue also lost the turnover battle, failed to convert on a fourth down, and missed a field goal. The spot was also bad for Purdue as they were coming off a close loss to Syracuse and perhaps looking ahead to their visit to Minnesota. Florida Atlantic has had some backup quarterback good fortune this season. In their opener, Charlotte starter Chris Reynolds left with an injury and the Owls rolled 43-13. However, in their two FBS games against teams that had their starting quarterbacks for the entire game, the Owls have allowed 41 and 40 points respectively. North Texas is not a good team, but they have an experienced quarterback with Austin Aune. Aune is in his third year starting for the Mean Green and has thrown 12 touchdowns while averaging nearly eight and a half yards per pass this season. Aune made a few mistakes last week against Memphis, throwing two interceptions that were ultimately returned for touchdowns. That game was in the Liberty Bowl, while this one will be in the friendly confines of Apogee Stadium. Florida Atlantic is 2-10 in true road games under Willie Taggart (2-8 against G5 teams), so North Texas is really the only side you can look at in this game. I expect a high-scoring back and forth affair and since the home team is catching points, they are the play.
Mississippi State -4 Texas A&M
Texas A&M has rebounded after their embarrassing home loss to Appalachian State. Since losing to the Mountaineers, the Aggies have beaten Miami at home and Arkansas at a neutral site. In those two games, noted quarterback whisperer Jimbo Fisher has coaxed a 51% completion rate and 291 passing yards against the Hurricanes and Razorbacks. For comparisons sake, Miami just allowed 408 yards passing to Middle Tennessee State on 16 completions and Arkansas allowed more than 1000 yards through the air to their first three opponents (one of which was an FCS team). In other words, the Texas A&M offense is broken and I think that will ultimately be their undoing in their first true road games of the year. The Aggies will also be without leading receiver Ainias Smith who suffered a season ending injury in the Arkansas game. The Aggies were able to rely on their defense to beat Miami and some good fortune to beat Arkansas, but they will need to pack their offense to beat Mississippi State in Starkville. The Air Raid glitched out two weeks ago in Baton Rouge, but otherwise, the Bulldogs have been clicking in their third season under Mike Leach, averaging 44 points per game in their other three contests (against inferior competition). I don't think Mississippi State can get into the forties, but they probably won't have to. Under Jimbo Fisher, the Aggies are 7-9 in true road games, but they have only won two road games against teams that finished with winning records (South Carolina in 2018 and Auburn in 2020). Their offense is abysmal, their track record on the road is not great, and Mississippi State has been building for this season. Even though this spread is north of a field goal, I wouldn't be hesitant to back the Bulldogs.
California +4 Washington State
Last week Cal did something rather unusual. They won a shootout. The 80 combined points in their victory against Arizona was the second highest combined scoring game of the Justin Wilcox era and a far cry from their game with Arizona last season. The only game to top it was a clash with Arizona in 2017. In the victory, freshman running back Jaydn Ott racked up 274 yards rushing on just 19 carries. Quarterback Jack Plummer also had a big day, throwing for three touchdowns at nearly nine yards per pass. In fact, Plummer has played pretty well all season save for their trip to South Bend. While Plummer was stymied in that game and Ott was bottled up, Notre Dame has one of the better defenses in the nation. Cal should be able to move the ball against middling Pac-12 teams like Washington State. The Cougars are also coming off a shootout of their own where they gave up 29 fourth quarter points to blow their conference opener against Oregon. Quarterback Cameron Ward threw for 375 yards, but also tossed two costly interceptions, including a pick six that sealed the game. While Ward has decent overall numbers, if you take out the games against FCS competition (Idaho) and one of the worst FBS teams (Colorado State), he has actually thrown more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3). And while the game with Oregon was close, Washington State gave up over 600 yards at eight yards per play to the Ducks. Cal should be able to move the ball once again and pull off a minor upset in a game that is more high scoring than the Cal faithful are used to.
Troy +5 Western Kentucky
The Trojans and Hilltoppers have not played in nearly a decade, but they actually played seven consecutive seasons between 2007 and 2013 with five of those meetings coming as Sun Belt conference opponents. Troy won five of the seven meetings if you were keeping score at home. This renewal of old acquaintances probably represents the best team Western Kentucky has faced thus far. The Hilltoppers have played two of the worst teams in FBS (FIU and Hawaii), winning those games by a combined 105 points. They also faced a quality FCS team (Austin Peay), but were not overly impressive in the eleven point victory and a P5 team on the road (Indiana) which they dropped in overtime. If Troy is not the best team Western Kentucky has faced, they certainly have the best defense the Hilltoppers will have seen thus far. In their opener, Troy held Ole Miss to their lowest point total of the season (28) and last week they dominated Marshall in a deceiving 16-7 victory. Troy sacked Marshall quarterbacks seven times and limited the Herd (a team that accumulated 364 yards of offense at Notre Dame) to under 200 total yards at a paltry 2.5 yards per play. Western Kentucky has maintained the reputation of a G5 offensive juggernaut they acquired last year when Bailey Zappe was setting passing records. The Hilltoppers are in the upper quartile of G5 five offenses, but their numbers have been buoyed by a soft early schedule. They have a big conference date with UTSA next week in the Alamodome so the Trojans may not have their full attention. I like Troy as a Sun Belt sleeper and I think they are good enough to pull off the outright upset against the Hilltoppers.
Indiana +5 Nebraska
I was on Indiana last week and the Hoosiers suffered a very painful beat. After getting back in the game in the second half, the Hoosiers faced a fourth down late in the game deep in their own territory. Quarterback Connor Bazelak, who showed defective pocket presence all game, was sacked for the fifth time, this time inside his own five yard line. As there was a little over two minutes left, Cincinnati could not just kneel on the ball and mercifully end the game. They punched it in on third down and covered. The Bearcats won by 21 points (favored by 17 points) and scored 21 points in the final minute and a half of both halves. In the other 57 minutes, the game was even. No time to bitch and moan about that unfortunate result, but it does potentially show Indiana might be undervalued by the betting market. The Hoosiers still have a decent shot at bowl eligibility with Nebraska and Rutgers remaining on the schedule. If the Hoosiers can pull those two games out, they would have to score an additional upset to get to the postseason (Michigan State and Purdue would be your most likely possibilities). Is it improbable? Sure, but Indiana at least has a path to the postseason. Meanwhile, despite more than modest preseason expectations, Nebraska is reduced to playing out the string by the first weekend in October. The Cornhuskers would need to win five of their final eight to get to bowl eligibility and while the remaining schedule only includes two ranked teams at the moment (Michigan and Minnesota), Nebraska will likely be underdogs in six of those games. And in case you are Big 10 agnostic (not a terrible path to follow), Nebraska's season opening loss to Northwestern has not aged well. The Wildcats have dropped three in a row to Duke, Southern Illinois, and Miami of Ohio while averaging just over 20 points per game and 4.91 yards per play. They scored 31 points and averaged 6.21 yards per play against Nebraska. Perhaps the Cornhuskers fixed their tackling, run fits, and coverage problems during their bye week, but I doubt it. Every FBS team Nebraska has faced has scored at least 31 points. Indiana should get close to that total and I wouldn't be shocked if they leave Lincoln with an outright victory.