We are already into Week 5 of the college football season and we’re beginning to see the cream rise to the top. With Notre Dame losing to Georgia, the number of top teams that can run the table is shrinking by the week.
Even though they won’t be in the college football playoffs for another year, the Pac-12 surprisingly has teams worth paying attention to this season. The SEC has shown that their top teams are the best in the country while the ACC is still trying to figure out how to contend with Clemson’s dominance.
Through four weeks, we are 11-9 picking games in this space. It’s above .500 but not where we want to be. Let’s see if we can get that winning percentage up this week.
Arizona State at No. 15 California
Cal is the last undefeated team in the Pac-12 and if that surprises you, you aren’t alone. The Bears are coming off a controversial win at Ole Miss and have already defeated Washington on the road as well. QB Chase Garbers isn’t setting the world on fire but he is steady, throwing seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. He doesn’t make the big plays with his arm but he doesn’t make the big mistake either.
The Bears are led by their defense and a linebacker core will talented tacklers like Evan Weaver and Kuony Deng. Cal can pressure the quarterback and held both Washington and Ole Miss to just 20 points in both of their road games.
The problem for Cal is going to be that Arizona State is a very similar team to themselves. Both teams have offenses that aren’t great but rely on their defenses to keep them in the game. One thing I like about this game for ASU is that the Sun Devils have also already played a better version of both these teams on paper in Michigan State. Arizona State won that game 10-7 on the road. ASU lost at home last week to Colorado and they are not going to be a happy bunch heading to the Bay Area.
Freshman QB Jayden Daniels is a work in progress but he has managed the game well enough to get 3 wins. This game is being played on a Friday night and the game isn’t a sellout in Berkley. This isn’t going to be a tough game-day atmosphere for Daniels to navigate and that’s a big deal for a young QB making his first road Pac-12 start.
Nobody expected Cal to be 4-0 on the season and I think it’s time for someone to give them their first loss. Arizona State doesn’t just cover the five-point line, they win the game outright.
PICK: Arizona State Money Line
No. 5 Ohio State at Nebraska
All summer, the media was talking up Nebraska for a breakout season under second-year head coach Scott Frost. The Huskers were expected to compete for a spot in the Big 10 championship game and while that goal is still on the table, losing at Colorado while not looking great in their other three victories has led to many questions about Nebraska.
The line for this game opened at -10 for Ohio State back in July. The money quickly poured in on the Huskers driving it as low as -6 at some books around the country. After Ohio State outscored its opponents by combined score of 214 to 36 in their first 4 games, the bookmakers quickly adjusted the line to -14.5. It wasn’t a large enough move because the line continues to climb.
Unless this line gets to be around -21, I’m not going to touch a side but let’s talk about the total.
Nebraska has given up over 25 points per game and with new OSU QB Justin Fields and company coming to Lincoln, I just don’t see how they keep Ohio State under 40 in this game. Fields has thrown for 13 touchdowns and no picks in his first four games as a Buckeye.
ESPN’s College Gameday will be in Lincoln for the first time since 2007, so you know Nebraska will want to show off their new offense. QB Adrian Martinez has vastly underperformed so far this season and even though the Buckeyes have a ton of talent on their defensive line, I think Nebraska will find ways to score. The Huskers have averaged 38 points per game, so it’s not been all bad on the offensive side of the ball.
This is the game that Nebraska has circled on their schedule since the end of last year. They will not want to be embarrassed in their home stadium but there is no way the Huskers can hold Ohio State down for 4 quarters with their defense. They just don’t have the horses to do it. I think the game plan will be to try to get into a track meet and make enough plays down the stretch to win the game. Unfortunately, that plan can also lead to a blowout loss if Nebraska can’t keep up. I’m going to make a play on the total here.
PICK: Over 66.5
Northwestern at No. 8 Wisconsin
While I failed to cash on our pick for Northwestern to cover the 9.5-point line last week at home against Michigan State, I learned a lot from watching that game. The Wildcats simply do not have a quarterback who can compete in the Big 10. Northwestern lost starting QB TJ Green to a foot injury for the season and backup Hunter Johnson is just not ready for primetime. Against MSU, Johnson threw for just 88 yards and 1 interception. It was as ugly of a loss as the 31-10 score would indicate.
Now Northwestern has to face the one of the most explosive teams in college football. The Badgers are averaging over 48 points per game and they have only given up 14 points all season. Those 14 points were scored by Michigan in garbage time last week in the 35-14 blowout victory. Running back Jonathan Taylor has not played well historically against Northwestern but he has accounted for 10 touchdowns already this season. It’s going to be hard to slow him down, even if the Wildcats stack the line of scrimmage.
This game has been won by the home team in 10 of the last 12 meetings but the difference with this year’s Wisconsin squad is QB Jack Coan. The junior is completing 77.3 percent of his passes and has not thrown an interception yet this season. The Badgers are more well-rounded than in year’s past.
While I don’t hate a play on Northwestern to keep this game closer than 24 points, I just don’t believe the Wildcats are going to be able to score. Northwestern is going to stack the box, so watch out for the big plays over the top for Wisconsin wideouts like Quintez Cephus. However, I think a low scoring game is the better prediction given the Wildcats lack of playmakers on offense.
PICK: Under 47
Washington State at No. 19 Utah
It’s hard to imagine scoring 63 points in a game at home in college football and end up on the losing end but that’s exactly what happened last week to Washington State against UCLA. The Cougars blew a 32-point lead in the second half and turned the ball over a ridiculous 6 times that sparked the collapse.
On the other side of the coin, WSU QB Anthony Gordon threw for 570 yards and 9 touchdowns in the game. UCLA gave up numerous 20+ yard completions as Washington State bounced back from only scoring 31 points the week prior against Houston.
For Utah, this is a bad opponent for them to be facing the week after losing on the road to USC. The Utes were torched by 3rd string QB Matt Fink with numerous throws over the top of their defense as the lack of depth at the cornerback position was exposed all game.
The bigger issue for this match-up is the potential lack of availability of star running back Zac Moss who hurt his shoulder in the loss to USC and didn’t return. Also on the injury list is QB Tyler Huntley who hurt his foot last week. The status of both players is unknown right now but we know they won’t be 100% at game time.
Utah likes to play ball control and pound the rock. Washington State wants none of that and will try to score fast. I didn’t like what I saw out of the back 7 of Utah against USC and I think Washington State will take advantage. The injuries to the two most important Utes also have me concerned, so I’m taking the points here.
PICK: Washington State +6
No. 21 USC at No. 17 Washington
I don’t want to boil this down to something as simple as BYU beat USC and Washington beat BYU thus Washington will beat USC but sort of feels like that here.
Washington’s defense was simply stellar on the road at BYU last week. The Huskies bounced back from their only loss of the season against Cal to dominate the Hawaii 52-20 and then the Cougars 45-19 last week. BYU went just 3 for 13 on 3rd down and only ran the ball for 79 yards. In the first and third quarters, Washington outscored BYU 42 to 10.
USC is now onto their 3rd string QB in Matt Fink who came into replace second-string QB Kedon Slovis due to injury in the Utah game. Slovis replaced starting QB J.T. Daniels who got hurt in the Stanford game. The reason why USC was able to beat Utah last Friday night was because of the wide receiving core led by stars Michael Pittman and Tyler Vaughns. They hit for big plays down the field all night which exposed Utah’s lack of speed in the secondary. Washington’s corners won’t have that problem and the lack of running game will be a major issue for USC in this game.
Washington QB Jacob Eason is solid and has thrown for 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions. USC was able to get to Tyler Huntley of Utah for most of the game but the offensive line for Washington starts four upperclassman and has only yielded five sacks through four games.
I like Washington big in this one.
PICK: Washington -10.5