After an impressive 2014 season, “Stanford Steve” Coughlin, of SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, and Chris Fallica, of ESPN Stats & Information and College GameDay, are back. Every Wednesday during the college football season, they’ll give their best bets for picking the weekend’s top college football games.
2015 season record:
Fallica: 9-2 ATS (last week: 4-1)
Coughlin: 6–3-1 ATS (last week: 4-1)
2014 season record:
Fallica: 44-40 ATS (52.4 percent)
Coughlin: 45-28-1 ATS (60.8 percent)
Note: ATS/total picks are in bold. Odds courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Fallica: The pressure is off Notre Dame now, as the Fighting Irish have essentially been dismissed from any CFP talk. That may prove to be the case, but this week, I think it serves as a huge motivating factor. In fact, FPI has the Irish roughly six points better than the Yellow Jackets. Brian Van Gorder’s defense will have a tall order slowing down Justin Thomas, but I think Sheldon Day & Co. will be up to the task. I sense a result like last year, when the Irish were written off as a small home dog versus Stanford and walked out a winner. It won’t be easy, but Irish eyes will be smiling at the end, as I think the Notre Dame offense with C.J. Prosise and the wideouts can generate enough big plays.
ATS pick: Notre Dame 27, Georgia Tech 24
Coughlin: Do you believe in the Luck of the Irish? Do you believe in waking up the echos? Do you believe in the magic that is Notre Dame football? My answer is no … but I do believe that Brian Kelly is a great QB coach (all you have to do is go back to his Cincinnati days, when he played, like, four guys one year in an undefeated regular season). And the idea that Notre Dame can’t defend the offense of the Yellow Jackets is laughable.
The Irish have plenty of NFL talent on the defensive side, and I see them being the reason Notre Dame gets a huge rally around the program win in this game. It’s so hard to go against Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson and all that he and his program stand for, but I am being a little selfish here, because if I have to see Notre Dame win a game it’s not supposed to, I want to pick it to happen
ATS pick: Notre Dame 19, Georgia Tech 17
Fallica: For the first time in SEC play since the 2008 SEC Championship Game, I’m not 100 percent sold Alabama is walking on the field as the better team. Even in the 2011 home loss to LSU, I never felt LSU was better (which was later proved in the National Championship Game). Ole Miss’ defense is legit. And I’m not basing that on two cupcakes this year; look at last year’s matchup, when the Rebels were at full strength and held the Tide to one offensive TD and 6-of-16 on third down. And I still have doubts how Jake Coker will handle the pressure he will face Saturday night.
Thus far, he’s had a clean pocket in the first two games. Yes, this is Chad Kelly‘s first SEC road start, but I almost get a Johnny Manziel vibe from him. I don’t think the scene will be too big for him at all. The numbers say Ole Miss is the right side. The last nine times Alabama has been favored by seven points or fewer in an SEC game, the Tide are 2-7 ATS and lost five of those games outright. Under Nick Saban, the Tide have been favored by seven or fewer in Tuscaloosa three times. They have lost all three games outright. After Saturday night, it will be a perfect 4-4.
ATS pick: Ole Miss 24, Alabama 17
Coughlin: What a match up we have in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night. What should we expect from Ole “Swag” Kelly and his Rebels offense as they invade Bryant Denny Stadium? Is it fair to criticize Hugh Freeze’s team, even though it hasn’t scored fewer than 70 points in either of its first two games? No, it isn’t, but they haven’t seen anything like the front seven they will see Saturday night. Will All-American and top-five projected pick Laremy Tunsil play in this game? I am going with the mindset that he will not, and the front seven of the Tide defense will be in control of this game. Crowd noise and different defensive looks I think will be the biggest obstacles for “Swag” Kelly, and I just believe it’ll be too much. I see this being around a touchdown game and then a turnover late puts the Rebels behind the number.
ATS pick: Alabama 24, Ole Miss 17
Fallica: I’ll say it right off the bat: I don’t have a great feel at all for this one. However, based on what I’ve seen out of Auburn thus far, there is little reason to believe that (A) they will have much success running between the tackles against LSU and (B) They can’t help but turn the ball over. Six of 21 drives have ended in a turnover for Auburn this year (only North Texas has a worse percentage in the country). LSU looked like it had the Mississippi State game under control, but then you look up and it’s a two-point game in the fourth quarter. Don’t expect LSU to let Auburn hang around. LSU has won the last three meetings in Baton Rouge by 21, 35 and 14 so that helps alleviate some of the hesitation in laying a big number. Auburn has flirted with disaster the first two weeks. The other shoe finally falls this week.
ATS pick: LSU 31, Auburn 17
Coughlin: These teams come into this game in what seems like two totally different mindsets as LSU enters sky high off its first win of the season in Starkville last week, and War Eagle comes in fresh off the biggest scare of the season as they pulled off an OT win vs. Jacksonville State. The biggest storyline heading into the game might be the quarterback play on both sides, which looks very unpredictable to me, especially in game of this magnitude.
Before the season started, I heard ESPN analyst Danny Kanell and others mention Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson as a Heisman Trophy candidate — he has been anything but that in the first two games of the season, already throwing five interceptions. On the other sideline, you have Brandon Harris under center for LSU, but he has only one game under his belt this year, totaling 14 pass attempts and didn’t need to do much as RB Leonard Fournette rushed for a career-high 159 yards. I’m guessing the intensity level will be rather high when the Tigers face off against the Tigers.
ATS pick: Auburn 21, LSU 17
Fallica: Stanford already suffered a big loss as a double-digit favorite, people are questioning David Shaw‘s play-calling and USC has crushed two overmatched opponents. It looks like a perfect spot to grab the points with the Cardinal. Under Shaw, Stanford has been a nine-point dog four times and is a perfect 4-0 ATS, with three outright wins, including as a 9.5-point ‘dog at USC in 2012. Expect the Cardinal to ugly this one up and keep it tight. USC has scored 47 points in the last three games against Stanford and none of the last five meetings have been decided by more than eight points. This one won’t be either.
ATS pick: USC 20, Stanford 17
Coughlin: Well, I just can’t help myself sometimes … I see this as a mismatch in one huge area and it’s big enough to sway the result of the game. First off, the game is at night in The Coliseum, so you know the crowd will be a little livelier than the Northwestern home crowd that Stanford lost in front of Week 1. Secondly, Stanford has not faced an elite passing team yet, so its inexperienced secondary has not been challenged in the way Steve Sarkisian and his offense will challenge them on Saturday night. The Cardinal’s starting secondary includes a former wide receiver, Kodi Whitfield, and a former QB, Dallas Lloyd, starting at each safety position. Watching USC play the past two weeks, I’ve noticed they have barely broken a sweat, but that’s because Cody Kessler has been as impressive as any QB I have seen this early on in the season, throwing for 650 yards, 7 TDs and zero INTs.
ATS pick: USC 31, Stanford 14
Fallica: BYU is America’s darlings after a couple of Hail Mary wins over Nebraska and Boise State, but don’t expect another fairytale finish Saturday. The lack of a running game (39 carries for 72 yards vs. Boise State) is going to allow a dominant UCLA defense (allowed 1 TD in 27 opponent drives this year) to have a field day rushing the passer. UCLA was a little sloppy offensively (three turnovers, two short FGs) versus UNLV and that will get corrected here before the Bruins enter Pac-12 play next week.
ATS pick: UCLA 41, BYU 17
Fallica: Purdue lost its opener at Marshall, but there were positive signs as the offense gained 454 yards and racked up 28 first downs. There were also some negatives as the Boilermakers threw two pick-sixes. I don’t know what to make of Virginia Tech QB Brenden Motley. This isn’t the Ohio State defense he’s facing here, but the Tech offense might be limited through the air. I’ll side with recent history here: Tech is 1-9 ATS in the last three years away from home and has lost six of those games outright.
ATS pick: Virginia Tech 24, Purdue 23
Fallica: This game is Louisville’s last chance to salvage anything from the 2015 season. Win it, and an ACC title and New Year’s Six bowl berth is still in play. Lose it, and it is 0-3 overall with a division loss and the wheels will be spinning just to finish 6-6. As Lee Corso would say, “urgency and redemption.” I sense the Cardinals will be all out in this one and a prime-time home crowd will carry them to a much-needed, season-saving win. Clemson didn’t excel in this role last year, as it was 0-3 ATS as a road favorite.
ATS pick: Louisville 31, Clemson 23
Coughlin: Arkansas suffered probably the most surprising loss of the college football season last week and now it is giving 11 points to a team that comes in averaging 64 points per game. It’s pretty simple: The Razorbacks match up very well versus Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raider team, as we saw last year when Pig Sooey went into Lubbock and won by 21. Now, Bret Bielema’s team comes in with a Saturday night game on national television, but more importantly it comes in fresh off what was probably as humbling week of practice as the Razorbacks have had in a while. Most importantly, Bielema is a guy who will try and embarrass team’ from another Power 5 conference, so if this game is in their favor late, a late score seems pretty likely.
ATS pick: Arkansas 38, Texas Tech 21
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