Like we’ve done in years past, every Friday throughout the season we’ll highlight the five best games of the coming weekend. This year, we’ll pick those games against the spread, plus some other matchups that caught our eye from a betting perspective.
On paper, Week 2 didn’t look great, but college football finds ways to bring excitement from unexpected places. There were a bevy of upsets, including Arizona State’s takedown of Michigan State and Kentucky, after 31 years, finally beating Florida. There was the thrilling Texas A&M vs. Clemson game, too.
(Games on Saturday unless otherwise noted, all times ET)
5. No. 22 USC at Texas
Time: 8 p.m. | TV: FOX | Line: Texas -3
In a game FOX has dubbed part three of a trilogy — with the 2005 national title game and last year’s 27-24 double-overtime thriller as parts one and two — USC travels to Texas with both teams looking to pull themselves out of an early-season rut.
After another offseason of hype, Texas dropped its opener to Maryland (again) before grinding out a 28-21 win over Tulsa in Week 2. On the other side, USC, with heralded true freshman J.T. Daniels at quarterback, opened with an underwhelming win over UNLV before mustering only a field goal in last week’s 17-3 road loss to rival Stanford.
Both fanbases are feeling uneasy, but those worries could be scaled back — to an extent — with a victory.
Picks: Sam Cooper: Texas -3, Nick Bromberg: USC +3
4. No. 10 Washington at Utah
Time: 10 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Washington -6
Washington has a big challenge ahead of it. After losing a marquee Week 1 game to Auburn, the Huskies rebounded with a 45-3 win over FCS North Dakota. Washington QB Jake Browning had an up-and-down performance against Auburn, and then tossed two picks against North Dakota. On top of that, RB Myles Gaskin struggled to get going behind an offensive lineman missing All-American Trey Adams.
On the other side, Utah has given up just 16 points through two weeks, albeit against Weber State and Northern Illinois. The Utes needed a late pick-six to pull away from NIU, 17-6, on the road in DeKalb last weekend. NIU has a good defense, but it has to concern Utes fans that their team could muster only 68 yards rushing all game. Speedy receiver Britain Covey has looked good in his return from his LDS mission, and will be a point of emphasis for the UW defense.
With the Pac-12 South wide open, this is a big one for the Utes. Meanwhile, UW needs to avoid a slip-up with Stanford and Oregon still to come on the schedule.
Picks: Sam: UW -6, Nick: UW -6
3. No. 17 Boise State at No. 24 Oklahoma State
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Line: Oklahoma State -2.5
This is a big game for Boise State. Any time a Group of Five team gets the chance to take down a Power Five counterpart, especially on the road, it needs to do so to even get a sniff of consideration for the College Football Playoff. UCF was panned by the CFP committee for its schedule last fall. Boise had a favorable preseason ranking and already destroyed Troy, a top Sun Belt team, on the road. A win over Oklahoma State in Stillwater could go a long way before the Broncos enter Mountain West play.
With senior Brett Rypien at QB, Boise, with 118 points through two games, boasts the fourth-best offense in the country. The Cowboys are No. 1 in total offense but have faced two cupcakes: Missouri State and South Alabama. Boise will be a totally different animal and the first true test for Taylor Cornelius, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on who has taken over at QB for Mason Rudolph, now in the NFL. Cornelius has 728 yards and six touchdowns through two games, but is tossed two picks last weekend. He can’t do that against Boise.
Picks: Sam: Boise State +2.5, Nick: Boise State +2.5
2. No. 12 LSU at No. 7 Auburn
Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Auburn -10
LSU QB Joe Burrow passed his first test in Week 1 against Miami. But that’s nothing compared to what he will face Saturday afternoon in an SEC West battle at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Auburn has won 13 straight.
LSU brought in Burrow as a graduate transfer from Ohio State to run its offense, and he has been solid so far. His numbers really won’t wow you at all, but he hasn’t been in a position where he has had to throw downfield all that much. That will likely be a different story against Auburn’s ferocious front seven. Expect Auburn to stack the box to stop Nick Brossette to force third-and-long situations where Burrow has to throw.
But LSU has an excellent defense of its own. Expect pressure in the face of Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham. The Auburn offensive line is going to be tested early and often.
Picks: Sam: Auburn -10, Nick: Auburn -10
1. No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 15 TCU (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 8 p.m. | TV: ABC | Line: Ohio State -12.5
Ohio State has a challenge in its final game without Urban Meyer. Before Meyer comes back from suspension, the Buckeyes travel to Texas for a not-so-neutral site game against TCU at Jerry World. OSU has 129 points under its belt in its first two wins over juggernauts Oregon State and Rutgers. Dwayne Haskins has been stellar in his first two starts at QB while Nick Bosa highlights OSU’s talent-rich defense that swarms its opponents.
But TCU is a different animal. The perennially underrated Horned Frogs are traditionally stout on defense under Gary Patterson. That’s no different this year, and first-year starting quarterback Shawn Robinson is a dynamic playmaker who can give the Buckeyes some trouble. He’ll have to make some plays with his legs to keep TCU in it, but will have to avoid turnovers. He has just one, an interception, through two games.
Whoever comes out with the win has an excellent resume builder. Ohio State, playing in the Big Ten East, may need it in the long run.
Picks: Sam: Ohio State -12.5, Nick: Ohio State -12.5
Week 3’s best bets
Nick Bromberg (Last week: 2-1, Overall: 4-2)
Alabama (-22) at Ole Miss: I think Alabama wins this game very easily. And it ends up being a shootout similar to Ole Miss’ games between Texas Tech and Southern Illinois. But given this game is in Oxford, the Tide won’t blow out Ole Miss anything like it did last year in a 66-3 walloping. The Rebel offense is for real and they could put up the most points Alabama gives up all season. Pick: Ole Miss +22
Arizona State (-6) at San Diego State: Aztecs QB Christian Chapman is out for the next few weeks because of a knee injury. So I’m boarding the Herm Edwards train. Arizona State is primed for a letdown after beating Michigan State, but it doesn’t happen Saturday. Pick: Arizona State -6
Duke at Baylor (-6.5): Things have certainly changed for the Blue Devils over the last week. Duke went to 2-0 with a win at Northwestern but it’s a pyrrhic victory given that QB Daniel Jones is out for the foreseeable future with a fractured left clavicle. But while I pegged Baylor to be one of the most improved teams in the Big 12, I still think Duke keeps this close with QB Quentin Harris at the helm. The Blue Devils are for real, even if Jones’ absence significantly lowers their ceiling. Pick: Duke +6.5
Sam Cooper (Last week: 1-2, Overall: 3-3)
Georgia Tech (-4) at Pittsburgh: Prior to a second half avalanche, Pitt was able to run the ball on Penn State and should be able to do the same against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are dealing with quite a few injuries, including top running back KirVonte Benson, who is out for the season. I like Pitt to bounce back at home. Pick: Pitt +4
BYU at Wisconsin (-22): BYU is definitely improved, but it feels like it is getting a little too much credit for beating Arizona, a complete mess, in the opener. The Cougars lost to Cal at home in Week 2, and mainly kept it close because Cal kept turning the ball over. Tanner Mangum threw two bad INTs last week, too. Expect the Wisconsin defense to feast and Jonathan Taylor to run wild. Pick: Wisconsin -22
North Texas at Arkansas (-7): Arkansas blew a 27-9 lead last week in a loss to Colorado State, a team that was blown out by Hawaii and Colorado earlier this year. CSU torched the Arkansas secondary for 389 yards. The Razorbacks have a much tougher test this week with North Texas QB Mason Fine, who has 862 yards and 7 TDs through two games. North Texas looks like the best team in Conference USA. Pick: North Texas +7
For Pat Forde and Pete Thamel’s Week 3 picks, check out Race for the Case: