The Tailgater college football week 4 picks

Tailgater_logo3It was a rough third week for us (excepting Zach, who did very well). The results brought separation back to standings that had tightened up after the first two weeks of play. Here’s how each of us fared:

  • Zach Bigalke: 8-2
  • Matt Strobl: 4-6
  • John Mitchell: 2-8

In an effort to turn things around, collectively speaking, we take on a slate that lacks marquee matchups but does offer a handful of important games.  And hey, even a bad day of football beats a good day of almost anything else.

Onto the college football week 4 picks.

 

Boise State Broncos @ Fresno State Bulldogs (-3.5)

fresno_state_helmetMitchell: It is always tough to pick against Boise, but this version of the Broncos doesn’t seem to measure up well to recent Chris Petersen teams. Boise State was shellacked by Washington in their season opener, and managed a meager six points on the road. They do seem to have gotten their offense going in the last two weeks, hanging up a combined 105 points in two games against Tennessee-Martin and Air Force. On the other side is Fresno State, who are off to a 2-0 start that included an overtime win over Rutgers on the opening night of the college football season. Led by Derek Carr, younger brother of former no. 1 NFL draft pick David Carr, leads and explosive Bulldogs offense that is averaging 46.5 points per game and 332 yards per game through the air. This is essentially a toss-up, with Vegas giving Fresno the obligatory three points as the home team. When in doubt, side with the home team, and I’ll pick the Bulldogs to get the win and position themselves into the driver’s seat of the Mountain West race. PICK: Fresno State

Strobl: I was all set to pick Boise here when Vegas intervened. Despite the underdog drawing majority of the attention, the line actually got larger, moving from 3 to 3.5. I’m once bitten, twice shy on that kind of action, and it put me squarely on the fence all over again. Now I’m leaning toward the Bulldogs, who enjoy both the homefield setting and the talents of Derek Carr under center. Maybe Vegas knows something I don’t, or maybe I should be putting more stock in Boise’s loss at Washington. PICK: Fresno State

Bigalke: It feels like a changing of the guard. When Boise State ditched the ill-fated plans to realign with the Big East/AAC and stayed in the Mountain West, it appeared that the Broncos would be able to dominate the conference for years to come. But the league is rising in prominence thanks to a few well-timed additions, and foremost among those new teams is Fresno State. The Bulldogs are the more complete team this year, and we’re about to see Boise State suffer a second loss in September for the first time since 2005. PICK: Fresno State

 

North Carolina Tar Heels @ Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (-6)

north_carolina_helmetMitchell: This seems like a pretty large spread considering what many thought about these teams coming into the season. The Yellow Jackets were thought to be a sleeper team in the ACC’s Coastal Division, and by and large they have lived up to the hype with a 2-0 start to the season that included a road win over Duke to open conference play last week. Behind Paul Johnson’s patented triple-option attack, Georgia Tech is racking up 356 rushing yards per game. Sophomore QB Vad Lee is the team’s leading rusher, but he is also throwing a touchdown pass on over 22% of his passing attempts. North Carolina, on the other hand, was a trendy pick in the Coastal Division, but people soured on them after losing their opener to South Carolina, even though it wasn’t a game anyone really expected them to win. Forgive me for not throwing in the white towel on the Tar Heels just yet… PICK: North Carolina

Strobl: This is one of those matchups where we have no idea which team is going to decide to lay an egg — both have done so plenty of times before. It’s hard to know what to expect in terms of margin, and indeed, Vegas is suffering from the same malady. The line on this one varies from 3.5 (docsports.com) to 6 (Yahoo!) to 6.5 (oddsshark.com)…you get the idea. Meanwhile, the computers seem to like the Jackets by double-digits. I’m not sure I’m that confident in GT, but I’ve seen nothing from the Tar Heels that compels me to go with the cover here. PICK: Georgia Tech

Bigalke: So the Yellow Jackets are ranked third nationally in points scored and number one in the country in points allowed. Forgive me if I’m not biting on the myth that Georgia Tech is a dominant ACC team, but I’m not any more impressed by Georgia Tech’s win over Duke than I am about North Carolina beating Middle Tennessee. Only one of these two teams have been tested against worthwhile competition, and it ain’t the team that’s favored in Vegas this weekend. While this game is in Atlanta, that six-point spread simply seems too high for my tastes. Take the visitors and the points in this one. PICK: North Carolina

 

Michigan State Spartans @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-6.5)

michigan_state_helmetMitchell: Neither of these proud programs have looked particularly impressive through three games. Michigan State’s defense is the only reason for their 3-0 start as they haven’t seen much production out of the offense. The team finally got it together on offense last week, with sophomore QB Connor Cook throwing four touchdown passes. Even against Youngstown State from the FCS, it was a welcome sight in East Lansing, as the offense had scored just two offensive touchdowns in the two previous games. Luckily, the likes of Kurtis Drummond and Shilique Calhoun stepped up with key defensive touchdowns to lift Sparty. On the other side, Notre Dame suffered a gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of Michigan two weeks ago, and came out against Purdue completely flat on the road this past Saturday. The Irish needed a fourth quarter rally as they scored 21 points in the game’s final period to avoid the upset. Look for Notre Dame to play better this week, but the going will be tough for Tommy Rees and company against Michigan State’s feisty and opportunistic defense. I think the Irish will likely get the win, but I see this game being separated by a field goal or so in either direction, and the 6.5 point spread makes me comfortable in picking Sparty. PICK: Michigan State

Strobl: It sickens me to pick in favor of the Irish, but I think I have to. Though I’ve always been a fan of Mark Dantonio, I don’t think his 2013 Spartans are a complete team. On the road in a hostile environment, MSU could find its weaknesses exposed. Notre Dame was shocked a bit by its loss at Michigan, and I think that carried over into the Purdue game. But Brian Kelly knows that this is a critical week for getting his squad back on track, and after his casual dismissal of Notre Dame’s “rivalry” with the Wolverines, you’d better believe he’ll recognize the importance of this rivalry game. PICK: Notre Dame

Bigalke: This was the biggest toss-up of the week for me. I came close to pulling the trigger on Purdue last week, and I’m kicking myself now about it. With Dantonio’s tricky magic in the Spartans’ favor, there’s no way I’m getting suckered into picking Touchdown Jesus again this week. Michigan State might still be finding its way on offense, but that defense is certifiably nasty; expect that unit to add another touchdown or two to its already-prolific season total thanks to “Turnover Tommy” Rees. PICK: Michigan State

 

Arizona State Sun Devils @ Stanford Cardinal (-7.5)

stanford_helmetMitchell: Arizona State was the beneficiary of an officiating gaffe at the end of their game against Wisconsin, where the refs inexplicably failed to get the ball spotted in the appropriate time to give the Badgers a chance at a game-winning field goal attempt. Nevertheless, it was a nice win for the Sun Devils, and they’ll look to prove that it wasn’t a fluke when they travel to Palo Alto on Saturday. Stanford looked like anything but world beaters last week in their closer than expected win over Army, but they are still one of the elite programs in the country. 7.5 seems to an appropriate spread relative to the way both teams have started the season, but I look for the Cardinal to cover. They should make Arizona State one-dimensional by shutting down running back Marion Grice, which will put the game squarely on the shoulders of Taylor Kelly. Stanford’s balanced offense with Kevin Hogan, and their power running game led by Tyler Gaffney should prove to be the difference. PICK: Stanford

Strobl: The Sun Devils have to feel good about escaping with a win against Wisconsin last week. They outplayed the Badgers and left some points on the field, which should have led to heartbreak in the final minutes. Luckily, bothced officiating ruined Wisconsin’s shot at a game-winning field goal. Stanford won’t be as accommodating in Palo Alto. After limping to a fairly unimpressive win over Army, the Cardinal need a good showing and should take this one by double digits. PICK: Stanford

Bigalke: Call me crazy, but even though this native Badger is still fuming about the end of last weekend’s nightcap game I also recognize that the Sun Devils are as good as advertised. Stanford looked lethargic last weekend… and while maybe it can be explained away by the simple fact that they had to travel to West Point to play the Cadets of Army, Stanford has looked merely workmanlike so far this season. Against Arizona State, Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal offense will have to assert itself with some explosive plays if they want to separate themselves on the scoreboard. Here’s guessing, even though they’ll probably win, that Stanford won’t get that separation on Saturday. PICK: Arizona State

 

Auburn Tigers @ LSU Tigers (-17)

LSU_helmetMitchell: It has been a nice start to Gus Malzahn’s tenure on the Plains as he has guided the Tigers to a 3-0 start, which matches the team’s total win total from last season. They also won their first SEC game since 2011 when they knocked off Mississippi State last Saturday, and certainly look to be a much improved football team. But, reality should set in on Saturday night in Baton Rouge when Auburn lines up against LSU, and the Tigers will see just how far they have left to go before they are a contending SEC team again. LSU is one of the most balanced teams in the country, and are a serious threat to dethrone Alabama this season. With Zach Mettenberger taking a step forward at quarterback, a power running game, and the usual ferocious defense, the Bayou Bengals are nearly impossible to stop. The spread is large, but LSU is the much better team. PICK: LSU

Strobl: Auburn had been finding ways to win, and the Tigers have already begun the process of erasing last season’s abysmal performance. But the competition is about to get a lot stiffer. Auburn needed all sixty minutes to find a way past Mississippi State, and the Bayou Bengals are a significantly better team than the Bulldogs. Factor in the challenge of playing in Baton Rouge and you got a recipe for a very one-sided affair. I like LSU by three touchdowns and possibly more. PICK: LSU

Bigalke: This spread initially gave me pause, for while I have little confidence in Auburn at the moment I’m also still apprehensive about declaring LSU’s offense to finally be legitimate. Zach Mettenberger is currently third in the nation in passing efficiency… but he’s also the only quarterback in the top ten in that category to be completing less than two-thirds of his passes. That lofty smoke-and-mirrors statistical ranking is as much thanks to his lack of interceptions as to any real game-changing ability on his part, and against better competition he should regress back to the pack. That said, I’m not any more impressed with Auburn, and the host Tigers should be able to cover against the visiting version. PICK: LSU

 

Utah State Aggies @ USC Trojans (-6.5)

USC_helmetMitchell: Rumors of USC’s demise may have been a bit premature as they rebounded nicely from an embarrassing loss to Washington State to beat Boston College at home by four touchdowns. Coming into that game, nobody was sure the Trojans could even score four touchdowns in a game, but Lane Kiffin finally settled on a quarterback and sophomore Cody Kessler delivered against the Eagles. He had as many touchdown passes, two, as incomplete passes and totaled 237 yards through the air. With the offense finally rolling, the season is far from over for the Trojans thanks to the strength of their defense. Through three games, USC is only giving up 10 points per game. Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton will provide a big challenge with his dual threat ability, but with the game at the Coliseum, it’s hard for me to see the Aggies getting the upset. PICK: USC

Strobl: Few things this season have been more enjoyable than watching fans boo Lane Kiffin. And it was well-deserved given how the Trojans played against Wazzu. A nice bounce-back game against BC was more in line with expectations, although thr Aggies are a tougher foe than the Eagles. I don’t expect this to be a 28-point drubbing, but I do believe that USC has enough weapons to win by a touchdown at home, despite Chuckie Keeton’s best efforts. PICK: USC

Bigalke: So USC managed to get decent quarterback play against Boston College. Excuse me if I don’t suddenly change my perception of these Trojans in 2013. Utah State has looked like the far more poised team this season, even if their talent levels are nowhere near what they can get in Los Angeles. The Aggies lost Gary Anderson to the Wisconsin job and just kep humming along, while USC continues to look inept under fourth-year head coach Lane Kiffin. The fact that Vegas won’t even favor the Trojans by a full touchdown tells you all you need to know about the relative state of these two programs. Look for USU to expose USC on its home turf tomorrow. PICK: Utah State

 

Tennessee Volunteers @ Florida Gators (-16.5)

Tennessee_helmetMitchell: This spread seems absurdly large even after Tennessee was blown out of Eugene by second ranked Oregon. Florida has a multitude of problems themselves, namely on offense, and it was obvious in their 21-16 loss to Miami two weeks ago. Gators QB Jeff Driskel has had his problems taking care of the football, and Tennessee brings in an opportunistic defense that ranks fourth in the country in turnover margin. They forced Western Kentucky into five turnovers in six plays a couple weeks ago in Knoxville. The Vols will have to hope for a couple key turnovers if they have any shot of winning in the Swamp, especially considering the Tennessee offense is unlikely to find much success against the Florida defense that could very well be the best in the country. Florida should win, but I don’t trust them to win by more than two scores. PICK: Tennessee

Strobl: Simply put, I’m not ready to believe the Florida offense can separate itself by three scores from a team like the Vols. Tennessee may have been exposed by Oregon last week, but the Gators certainly aren’t Oregon. Too many things could happen to keep this game close; in Miami, Florida couldn’t hang onto the ball and cost themselves not just the cover, but the game. Vegas is playing a little mind game by dropping the line from 17 to 16.5 despite Florida enjoying a majority of the bets, but even that slight movement can’t give me enough faith in Florida. Here’s the bottom line for me: Is Tennessee as good as Toledo, and/ or has the Gators’ offense improved substanitally since week 1? Answers being yes and no, respectively, I have to take the points. I think Florida wins though. PICK: Tennessee

Bigalke: Anybody who read this column last season at its old home knows that I haven’t been impressed with Florida for some time now. Their 11-2 run last season was largely based on luck in close contests, and this year the Gators just don’t seem good enough to keep kismet on their side. Tennessee is coming off what could easily be a demoralizing loss in Eugene, but the reality is that nobody ever expected the Vols to be able to fly with the Ducks. Butch Davis has a few years of rebuilding before UT is able to successfully compete for the SEC East, but their on the right track — while Florida’s offense is clearly driving backward. PICK: Tennessee

 

Kansas State Wildcats @ Texas Longhorns (-5.5)

Kansas_State_helmetMitchell: Texas is reeling after back-to-back losses by a combined 40 points on the road to BYU and at home against Ole Miss this past weekend. Kansas State hasn’t been much better, but they have consecutive wins over UL Lafayette and Massachusetts after falling to North Dakota State to open the season. The Wildcats haven’t gotten much production from their passing game, but their two-QB approach will be tough for the tissue-paper soft Longhorns defense to contain. Texas has struggled to stop the run, and they’ll have a tough time containing running back John Hubert and dual-threat QB Daniel Sams. Couple that with the uncertain status of David Ash, and it’s hard to have any confidence in Texas this week. PICK: Kansas State

Strobl: There is absolutely no reason for me to pick the Longhorns and every reason to believe that their struggles will continue. They can’t stop the run, something at which K-State excels. They can’t field a consistent offense; how can we expect them to win by a touchdown or more? They were just rolled by Mississippi at home– does Austin even offer an edge anymore? And yet for all that’s working against them, I like their chances this week. Maybe the challenges of prediciting results against the spread have made me loopy. But I have to go with my hunch here. The Wildcats have yet to play a quality opponent, and although we can debate whether that moniker fits the ‘Horns this year, Texas is at least the best on KSU’s schedule to date. PICK: Texas

Bigalke: Let’s face it… these Longhorns are no North Dakota State. Kansas State can at least boast that they lost to the two-time defending national champions… even if it is ostensibly the champion of college football’s equivalent to triple-A baseball. So far this year they’ve scored more points per game, allowed fewer points per game, and have generally rebounded better after their loss. At this point, even if Ash does play he’s destined to be less than 100%. All the signs keep pointing to a continued Texas collapse. PICK: Kansas State

 

Utah Utes @ BYU Cougars (-6.5)

Utah_helmetMitchell: Which BYU team is going to show up to LaVell Edwards stadium on Saturday night? Will it be the Cougars team that trounced Texas, or the one who lost on the road to Virginia? It’ll be the battle of the dual-threat sophomore quarterbacks in this version of the Holy War as Utah’s Travis Wilson and BYU’s Taysom Hill go head-to-head. While Taysom Hill carved up Texas with his legs two weeks ago, his inability as a passer could be the Cougars’ downfall on Saturday. He’s completing only 33% of his passes through two games. Wilson, on the other hand, has been effective with both his arms and legs. He has thrown for 845 yards with 7 touchdowns through the air, and 244 yards and scored 5 touchdowns on the ground while averaging over 10 yards per carry. This is a Vegas spread with BYU being favored by more than they should be, but the 6.5 points gives me enough room for error to take the Utes, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win outright. PICK: Utah

Strobl: It’s easy to cite the Cougars’ win over Texas, particularly looking at Taysom Hill’s ridiculous numbers, and expect a repeat performance. However, like the Boise-Fresno line, this spread moved in the wrong direction. With a strong majority picking BYU, Vegas pushed the line down from seven. Moreover, these two teams know each other all too well, and that makes me think that, however it ends up, it could be a tight one. Don’t be shocked to see this Beehive State tilt finish within a field goal. PICK: Utah

Bigalke: The last Holy War game until 2016, both teams will want desperately to ensure bragging rights for itself over the next three years. On paper, Utah should easily win this game. But then again, Utah also hired Dennis Erickson to be its offensive coordinator when it already had an offensive coordinator, Brian Johnson, who is a university legend in Salt Lake City. BYU knows that its BCS Buster dreams are dependent on getting results in these contests against AQ-conference opponents. They’ve done it to Texas already, gashing the Longhorns for 550 rushing yards, and this will be a far bigger test for the Utes and their currently 14th-ranked rushing defense than anything they’ve yet faced. BYU should get the touchdown they need to cover. PICK: BYU

 

Upsets of the Week

Mitchell: Arkansas Razorbacks (+1) over Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Arkansas_helmetThis wouldn’t be much of an upset if the Hogs were able to avenge last season’s home loss to the Scarlet Knights, but I highlighted several underdogs that I expect to cover their respective spreads throughout these picks, and this is really the only one left outside of the 40+ point games. With Bret Bielema at the helm, Arkansas is back to an offense that features power running, and freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams rank one and two respectively in rushing yards in the SEC. The former has 418 yards through three games, and the latter has 393. The strength of their ground game lessens the worry surrounding the status of starting QB Brandon Allen. If Allen can’t go, Bielema will turn to junior AJ Derby, who came off the bench after Allen’s injury against Southern Miss. Rutgers has been good against the run so far, giving up only 59 yards per game so far, but they haven’t seen a team as capable on the ground as the Razorbacks.

 

Strobl: West Virginia Mountaineers (+5) over Maryland Terrapins

West_Virginia_helmetI’m not yet prepared to pronounce time of death on the Mountaineers. Granted, they’ve looked pretty awful to start the season and clearly aren’t the same offensive juggernaut they were with Geno White at the helm. And Maryland has looked impressive in the early going. Stefon Diggs is one of the most exciting receivers in the nation, and Randy Edsall seems to be turning things around College Park. Even though their conferences are geographically separated, the actual travel time for WVU is negligible and homefield advantage might not mean as much as it normally does.

 

Bigalke: Texas State Bobcats (+27) over Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas_State_helmetOnly four undefeated teams remain among the BCS Buster hopefuls after three weeks of play. One of those teams is Texas State, two years removed from playing at the FCS level. The Bobcats have looked good so far under former TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M head coach Dennis Franchione, currently ranked fourth in the nation in points allowed. The defense should be able to find enough stops against Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders to keep this closer than the four-touchdown spread. That doesn’t mean Texas State will still be undefeated after this week, but they will certainly make Kingsbury sweat.

 

THIS SEASON:

  • Bigalke: 19-11-0
  • Strobl: 16-14-0
  • Mitchell: 12-18-0

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