Week 4 College Football Picks: Thoughts on A&M-Arkansas, Notre dame-Wisconsin and more
It's Wednesday and you know what that means: It's time to make some college football picks, and oh what a week it is!
With Week 4 upon us, it means a few things. One, we're sad that the season will be a third of the way for many teams in the sport once Saturday night ends. But we're also happy because we're finally starting to get a real picture of the season itself - who's good, who isn't, who stinks on and on.
As for the picks, well, if you follow closely, you know that last week was a very profitable week, as they went 5-2 overall. We got a couple breaks on the fringes (Penn State-Auburn staying under, Fresno-UCLA going OVER late) but still, it's hard not to be fired up after going 5-2. Still, as Jon Rothstein likes to say, you gotta "Stay humble, stay hungry," since the second you think you have this gambling thing figured out, you realize you actually know nothing at all.
Anyway, let's get to the picks, with all lines presented by DraftKings Sportsbook.
Oh, and don't forget, we have a new college football betting podcast that's absolutely rolling - you can subscribe below, with new episodes dropping every Monday (quickly looking at the new lines) and also Thursday previewing the weekend ahead. Thanks to all that continue to listen, as the numbers have gone up every week this fall.
Now, the picks:
No. 12 Notre Dame vs. No. 18 Wisconsin (OVER 46): Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, FOX (in Chicago)
Ok, so it feels like everyone and their mother is on Wisconsin and the under in this game, and I think at first glance, that's probably the right play.
The only two things we know right now are that Wisconsin's defense is filthy, and Notre Dame stinks. So Wisconsin's about to roll to like a 28-10 win here, right?
Probably, and again, if that's your read of this game, I don't think you're wrong.
Except I think you've got to dig a little deeper here.
First off, I really don't love betting Wisconsin for the same reason I am mad I took them in Week 1 against Penn State - I don't trust Graham Mertz. With no disrespect intended (I'm sure he's a lovely guy), Mertz's entire reputation is still entirely based off one good game last season. In the season-opener Mertz threw for five touchdowns and was anointed the next great one by everyone in college football.
You know what he's done since then? He's thrown for four touchdowns and seven interceptions, including a 0-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio this season.
Still, that doesn't really explain why I like the over, so let me explain: One, I do think Wisconsin is going to be smart and take the ball out of Mertz's hands - which is a good thing. If they do, they will be running right at a Notre Dame defense which has been abysmal early, as they currently rank 81st in total defense and 75th in rush defense. Think about how bad they looked against Florida State, then think about how bad Florida State has looked since then. Exactly.
So in the scenario where I take the over, I get to bet on Wisconsin moving the ball, without betting on Mertz specifically.
Then on the other side of the ball, there is this: Yes, Wisconsin's defense is in fact elite (they have the No. 1 rush defense in the country right now) but Penn State was able to beat them over the top with the deep ball. That's not to say Jack Coan is going to turn into Joe Montana here, but this is a big game for him as a former Wisconsin quarterback. Think he doesn't want revenge against his former team? And think he might have a tiiiiiiny edge, going against the same team defense he went against in practice for years?
In the end, I see this being about a 30-24 ball-game, with the over hitting here.
No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 16 Arkansas (+5.5): Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS (in Arlington)
This is the only other matchup of ranked teams on Saturday, and I truly believe it's going to be a good one. Arkansas is rolling off of that win two weeks ago against Texas, while A&M is 3-0, thanks to the No. 1 scoring defense in college football.
That's right, no one is giving up fewer points this season than A&M, which has given up a total of 17 in three games.
Not bad, Mike Elko. Not bad at all.
Except here is the thing: For as good as Texas A&M has been at keeping teams out of the end zone, they have weirdly given up a ton of rushing yards. They may rank in the Top 10 in total defense and scoring defense, but are also 86th in rush defense, after giving up 226 yards on the ground to Kent State and another 171 yards rushing to Colorado.
Well, what is the one thing Arkansas does really well? They run the crap out of the ball.
I expect this to be kind of an old-school football game, where both teams keep it on the ground, put the ball in their back's hands and let them plays.
I could see it going either way, but 5.5 points just feels like too many to be giving Arkansas.
This feels like a 24-20 type game when it's all said and done.
No. 14 Iowa State at Baylor (+7): Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX
So this is one of my favorite bets of the day, and I swear, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I swore off Iowa State two weeks ago after they lost to Iowa.
I forgive you, Cyclones, I do. Iowa's defense might just be that good.
Instead, I just love the situation we have here.
First off, Baylor is 3-0, but with a schedule that includes wins over Texas State, Texas Southern and Kansas, we really don't know much about them. At the same time, I always like to give credit to teams that take care of business against bad teams, which is what Baylor has done, outscoring their opponents, 140-44 in those four games.
Ask Florida State, Arizona or Washington how easy it is to dominate against teams you're expected to dominate.
It's also worth noting that Baylor was the kind of team I told you to keep an eye on in the off-season - one that could be undervalued, because of the weird circumstances involving Covid last year. Remember last year they had a new head coach (Dave Aranda) and no spring practice heading into the season. They also had a month-ish pause in the middle of the season because of Covid. That doesn't excuse how bad they were, but did contextualize it a bit. It also explains why they've looked a lot better this year. While their stats probably won't hold up all year - they currently rank Top 5 nationally in total offense and total defense - they should be much improved this year.
Then there's Iowa State, and this just feels like a solid situation to bet against them. One, this is their second straight road game, after playing late last week against UNLV. They kind of got to take out their frustration from the Iowa game on the Rebels, then they had to hop on a late flight Saturday night (the game ended about 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT) and now have to get back on the road, Friday? Not great.
It's also worth noting that with the way Iowa State plays, they're just built to play close games. Last year, of their 12 games, six were decided by a touchdown or less, including every road game except against Kansas.
Do with that information as you please, but this just feels like a great spot to get Baylor.
No. 24 UCLA at Stanford (OVER 59): Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
This line has been all over the place, with UCLA opening as a 3.5 point favorite, then it got all the way up to 5.5, then back down to four. Now it's at five again. And as I write this it's only Wednesday.
What a bizarre, strange deal. So instead of focusing on the line, let's just hammer the over, for this reason: UCLA is still a really good football team.
Look, I know it's easy to sit back, watch them lose to Fresno and say "UCLA stinks! They were overrated! Screw the Pac-12!"
Of course if you read this column you know that I actually had the OVER in last week's game and warned you: Fresno will be able to throw the ball on UCLA, which is exactly what they did, throwing for 455 yards.
Well this week, I expect UCLA to get back to what they do: Running the ball right at you, and they have the perfect opponent to do it in Stanford. The Cardinal currently rank 117th nationally in rush defense, including last week when they allowed Vanderbilt to rush for 247 yards.
VANDERBILT! 247 YARDS RUSHING! WHAT?!?!
So yes, UCLA will be able to move the ball and should score in bunches, and I expect Tanner McKee - who has actually been pretty good the last few weeks - to throw the ball well enough to put up just enough for the over to hit.
I also like UCLA and the points, but I solemnly swore off betting road favorites last week, and want to wait at least one more week until I break that promise.
Tennessee (+20) at No. 11 Florida: Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Yes, Florida fans, you were right and I was wrong. The Gators are much better than I gave them credit for in the preseason. They easily could have, and maybe should have beaten Alabama last week, and in the post Kyle Trask/Kyle Pitts world, are way ahead of what I was expecting them to beat.
So naturally, I have them blowing out Tennessee, right?!?
Well, not exactly.
First off, I think Tennessee is interesting now that Hendon Hooker at quarterback. To be blunt, having watched him at Virginia Tech last year and Joe Milton at Michigan last year, I really didn't understand how Milton won the job in the first place. But now it appears to be Hooker's, and I expect the Vols to be able to move the ball juuuuuuuuuuuuust enough to put up some points in the Swamp. Not a ton, but to his credit, Hooker has a 5-1 touchdown to interception ratio and is averaging over six yards per carry.
Then there's Florida. And I know it's a night game at the Swamp, but even Dan Mullen is a little worried about their psyche, telling reporters this week that his team has to move forward following last week. On top of the mental fragility, there is also the body blow factor of playing post Alabama, and on top of that, because they run the ball so much, Florida isn't built to cover huge spreads.
Florida is good, really good. But with the back door open, I like Tennessee plus the points.
Colorado at Arizona State (-7.5 - first half): Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
First off, shout out to ESPNU. Much like the Florida Panthers hockey team, I kind of forget that ESPNU is a thing sometimes.
So that's cool.
Two, how dare they disrespect MY Arizona State Sun Devils by putting them on ESPNU!!!!
In all seriousness, we ended up being right on the Arizona State-BYU under last week, but one thing that sticks out if you watched the game or look at the box score - Arizona State actually outgained BYU, but was undone by four turnovers. Including maybe the single greatest strip I've ever seen, by BYU's running back. Seriously, watch this highlight.
That BYU game by the way, came after a lackluster effort against UNLV where they were only up 14-10 at the half.
Considering they played six bad quarters of football out of their last eight, I do think Arizona State comes out ready to go in this one.
Then there's Colorado.
Look, I love my Buffs, but they haven't been the same since star running back Jarek Broussard went down with an injury against Texas A&M two weeks ago. He came back and played last week but had just eight yards on five carries, and this team struggles to move the ball without him.
With the backdoor being open late in Tempe, I'm hesitant to take Herm Edwards' gang at the -14.5. But I do like the first half line of 7.5.
Liberty (-6) at Syracuse - Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ACC Network: As I said above, I've sworn off road favorites, like your uncle swears off cigarettes every New Year's Eve. Every year he falls off the wagon and I know I will soon too. Give me another week though, OK?!
LSU (-2.5) at Mississippi State - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN: I can't even begin to make sense of this line. For the first time maybe, ever, Mike Leach's defense is better than his offense, and I don't even know what to make of LSU. If you have a strong feel for this game, you're a better man than me.
Missouri (-2) at Boston College - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Some people legitimately think Boston College can upset Clemson next week, so naturally... they're a two-point home underdog to the 10th best team in the SEC. WAIT, WHAT?!?!
No. 2 Georgia (-35.5) at Vanderbilt - Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET, SEC Network: Georgia is coming off a blowout win of South Carolina, now has to go on the road, in a noon kick off against the worst team in the league? This, before a matchup with Arkansas next week? I don't feel great about that, even if 94 percent of the people in the stands will be wearing red. At the same time, we really betting Vandy here... really!?
Louisville (-2) at Florida State - Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ESPN2: This kind of feels like a big one for Mike Norvell, huh? And do we really trust Louisville after that weird Central Florida game the other night? I lean Florida State, but not enough to actually wager my hard earned money on it.
No. 9 Clemson (-10) at NC State - Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ESPN: Clemson stinks, there I said it. And every fiber of my being wants to take NC State, plus the points at home. But this feels a liiiiiiiitle too public for me, and I also don't love betting an NC State team that turns the ball wayyyy too much historically. I could see Clemson covering the 10, thanks to three NC State turnovers, and I could see Clemson losing outright. I'll stay off this roller coaster for the week.
Nebraska at No. 20 Michigan State (-5) - Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, FS1: Is Nebraska back... to not being terrible? We should start to find out on Saturday.
Kentucky (-5) at South Carolina - Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network: Kentucky is coming off a sloppy win, South Carolina is playing hard under Shane Beamer... oh and what'd I tell you about betting road favorites? Like I said, give me another week.
West Virginia at Oklahoma (-16) - Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC: Like I said with Clemson, there will be weeks to bet against Oklahoma. I'm just not sure this is the one.
Oregon State at USC (-10) - Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, FS1: I liked this line, right up until I saw Kedon Slovis was back starting for USC. I'll sit this one out and wait for Jaxson Dart (great name!) to win the job full time.
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