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: 24-8-1 ATS (last week: 4-3-1)
Coughlin: 13-10-2 ATS (last week: 3-1-1)
2014 season record:
Fallica: 44-40 ATS (52.4 percent)
Coughlin: 45-28-1 ATS (60.8 percent)
Note: Against the spread (ATS)/total picks are in bold. Odds courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Fallica: When last seen, Utah was rolling up 530 yards and 62 points on Oregon at Autzen Stadium. But in the first three games, the Utes didn’t crack the 380-yard mark in any game and were held to 327 yards by Utah State. Turnovers played a huge part in the wins over Michigan and Oregon, as six forced turnovers in the two games resulted in 28 points. Jared Goff isn’t going to turn it over like subpar QBs at Michigan and Oregon did. I expect Goff to move the sticks a lot, as Utah is 60th of 65 Power 5 teams in third-down passing conversions, allowing 60 percent of the third-down completions to go for first downs. The Utes are also in the lower third of Power 5 teams in sack percentage.
I think there is value with the underdog here, as people just see that Oregon score and are wowed. Well, what if Oregon isn’t that good and that night was just a perfect storm? I think Utah is good and thought they would handle Michigan and give Oregon all it could handle. The Bears are used to playing in close games, and I expect another close one this week in Salt Lake City.
ATS pick: Cal 35, Utah 34
Coughlin: College GameDay will be in Salt Lake City for the first time since 2010 when the Utes were a member of the Mountain West Conference and got smoked by a visiting TCU Horned Frog team 47-7. I was there and it was not pretty. … I’ll leave it at that. What I can offer this time around is that this matchup is a lot closer in talent level than that 2010 game was. Many people have said this week they think the Utes deserve to be ranked No. 1 in the country based on their resume. I don’t agree with that, but you can’t deny what Coach Kyle Whittingham’s team has done this year, beating Michigan and then blitzing Oregon at Autzen Stadium. Utah RB Devontae Booker is as a dependable, rugged player, and he comes in averaging 4.2 yards per carry. The atmosphere will be phenomenal Saturday night, and I think there will be a lot of points scored. I can see Cal falling behind early and then finding its groove offensively late in the game, perhaps a little too late. Take the over.
Pick: Utah 38, Cal 28 (over the total 61 points)
Fallica: Both defenses have been great this year — Michigan is second in yards per play and points per drive, while Northwestern is sixth in yards per play and third in points per drive. But I think it’s going to be tougher for Northwestern to move the ball on Michigan here. The Wildcats are 116th in the country in yards per play and have settled for 10 field goals this year; only Charlotte is worse in red zone TD percentage. If — and that’s a big if — the Wildcats reach the red zone, I’m not sure they can punch it in for seven, where Michigan has punched it in every time it has had goal-to-go this season. Wolverines move to 5-1 and set up a showdown with the undefeated Spartans next week.
ATS pick: Michigan 24, Northwestern 10
Coughlin: How many college games this year will have an over/under at 35? Let’s just say I’m still looking for another one. I have watched plenty of these two teams so far this year, and both offenses are as vanilla as I have seen. Now, you have to realize and respect why coach Pat Fitzgerald and Jim Harbaugh have chosen this offensive approach.
Coach Fitz has a freshman QB, so you can wonder why he is keeping things basic, but it has worked. His team comes into Ann Arbor undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring defense. We all know the story of coach Harbaugh, and his offensive approach simply shows how stubborn he is in his ways, but he brings in a defense ranked No. 2 in scoring defense. So, what gives? Can you trust a freshman QB on the road and a shaky QB who transferred in conference? I really want to tell you to take the points with the visiting team, but let’s do what makes no sense and take the over the total of 35 total points.
Pick: Michigan 21, Northwestern 18 (over the total 35 points)
Fallica: The past 12 times Kansas State was a regular-season underdog of 7 points or more, the Cats were 10-2 ATS, including last week’s controversial loss at Oklahoma State. The Cats are familiar with high-powered offenses, so this week’s matchup with TCU won’t phase them. Yes, TCU looked great last week, but how much of that was a quit effort from Texas? Remember the struggles at Texas Tech and Minnesota? Or the lethargic effort vs. SMU? I’m thinking that’s the truer TCU this year. I’ll back Bill Snyder as a big ‘dog whenever the opportunity arises.
ATS pick: TCU 38, Kansas State 35
Coughlin: How do you feel about TCU? Many were worried about them after Week 1’s unimpressive effort at Minnesota, then we talked about how vulnerable they were after a come-from-behind win in Lubbock, and now it seems as if everyone loves them because they scored 50 on Texas. I have no idea what to think of the Horned Frogs. The problem: what should we expect from Kansas State at home in a night game in The Little Apple with what looks like a fourth-string QB? Snyder is a mastermind as an underdog, and you can assume he will have his team ready to defend the high-octane TCU offense, but how much can the Wildcats contain them? I also feel as if Trevone Boykin still isn’t as consistent as Gary Patterson wants him to be, and it seems as if we are due for a subpar effort after two impressive showings. However, the Bear is picking KSU, so I have to try and catch up. I’ll take TCU here.
ATS pick: TCU 38, Kansas State 24
Fallica: Call me crazy, but I think this is a great spot for the Vols to get a much-needed win. Florida’s win last week coupled with Tennessee’s loss to Arkansas essentially means the Vols have no chance of getting to Atlanta for the SEC title game. Now it’s about playing for pride. Fortunately for the Vols, they get a team even more wounded than they are with Georgia.
I really wonder how it is going to go here for Georgia. They had the eggs in the basket last week and were smashed again in a way we are used to seeing in big games. The Bulldogs’ QB situation is a mess, and the offense might wind up being one-dimensional. Each of the past four meetings between the two have been one-possession games won by Georgia — the past three coming as a double-digit favorite and the past two in excruciating fashion for the Vols. I know Tennessee can play with class teams, evidenced by near-misses with Oklahoma and Florida; I don’t know the same about the Bulldogs. FPI has the Vols as a slight favorite here and I agree.
ATS pick: Tennessee 23, Georgia 20
Fallica: Wisconsin’s offense really struggled last week against Iowa without Corey Clement, running 34 times for 86 yards. Expecting Joel Stave‘s passing to carry a team to victory doesn’t sound like a recipe for success given his QBR of 54 this year (and 62 for career when he had Melvin Gordon to fall back on). After seemingly giving one away last week against Illinois, I expect Nebraska to bounce back at home.
ATS pick: Nebraska 31, Wisconsin 21
Fallica: Another spot to take the underdog versus the public-backed Huskies, and this time you’re getting double digits. FPI has NIU roughly a four-point favorite here, so there is over six points of value according to that metric. The Cardinals have struggled offensively, but the defense has played well this year — especially in the red zone — outside of the trip to Kyle Field. Last year’s 14-point loss to NIU hinged on a fourth-quarter pick-six. Expect another four-quarter game this year.
ATS pick: Northern Illinois 28, Ball State 23
Fallica: I’ll take another MAC underdog here as UMass comes in off a win over FIU. The week prior, the Minutemen gave Notre Dame all they could handle into the third quarter. Factor in the Temple game, and UMass has seen some fairly salty defenses this year; Bowling Green is not going to be one of those. Bowling Green beat UMass 47-42 a year ago, and it wouldn’t shock me to see a similar type of game on Saturday given both teams are in the bottom 15 nationally in defensive efficiency.
ATS pick: Bowling Green 44, UMass 34
Fallica: There is little appeal to most in Iowa State here, but if you look at the Cyclones’ season, they played a much better defense in Iowa and were in a four-quarter game. Toledo sounds like a bad loss, but then you see the Rockets beat Arkansas (just like Texas Tech) and are one of the top Group of 5 teams out there. Kansas is a bad team — the worst Power 5 team in the country in terms of defensive efficiency. Iowa State did exactly what it should in that game: 38 points, 512 yards, 7 yards per play and 24 first downs. Texas Tech is 64th of 65 Power 5 teams in defensive efficiency so I again expect Sam Richardson to move the ball. Two years ago in Lubbock, the Cyclones covered as a two-touchdown underdog, and I suspect they will do the same here.
ATS pick: Texas Tech 45, Iowa State 35
Coughlin: Have you heard of “The Civil Conflict”? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t, because I can bet you some of the players that are part of this conflict on the UCF side barely know about it either. The story is that this offseason, UConn head coach Bob Diaco created a trophy, cup and rivalry after beating the Knights last year in a big upset win. Whenever asked about this, UCF head coach George O’Leary has no idea what to make of it and is clueless to it and plays it off as not a big deal. So, looking at this game, who would you rather have in a fight? A team that’s fired up for it because it’s a big fight, or the team that doesn’t have any interest in the fight?
I’ll take the team who has the head coach with the best hair and gel job on game day in college football … that being “Big Game” Diaco.
ATS pick: UConn 20, UCF 13
Coughlin: I could be on the total wrong side of this one, but here’s how I feel: Florida State is as unimpressive a top-15 team as we have seen this year with road wins at Wake Forest by 8 points and a week prior winning at Chestnut Hill, scoring 14 points. I picked FSU to make the playoff this year, based off the belief of the ACC was down, and the Seminoles would still have most talent in the league. I don’t feel good about that pick now. On the other side, you have a desperate Miami team off a loss at Cincy and, more importantly, a coach whose seat might be hotter than any other coach’s in the conference. In times like this, I’ll take the desperate team, especially in a rivalry game.
ATS pick: FSU 27, Miami (FL) 21
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