Can Kentucky bounce back in Starkville?
The Week 4 edition of college football picks against the spread is highlighted by two key matchups in the SEC — Kentucky at Mississippi State and South Carolina at Missouri — and an intriguing battle in the Big 12 between Oklahoma State and Texas. Elsewhere, Michigan State travels to Northwestern and Cal makes the long trip to Oxford to play Ole Miss. Here are 10 predictions for games against the spread.
This is an important game for Mississippi State and its quest to reach bowl eligibility. The Bulldogs are 2–1 but have yet to play a true road game. After this visit from Kentucky, they will play four of their next five on the road — and the home game during that stretch is against LSU. Kentucky must bounce back from a painful loss to Florida. The Wildcats looked like the better team for most of the night but could not make the plays to win the game. Sawyer Smith, in his first start, did some good things but also made some costly mistakes. Kentucky beat Mississippi State 28–7 last September in Lexington. Both teams have probably taken a step back in 2019, but it appears — at least at this point — that MSU’s step has been a bit bigger. Kentucky 23, Mississippi State 20.
At its best Missouri has been very good this season, beating West Virginia 38–7 and Southeast Missouri State 50–0 at home. But this is also the same team that lost at Wyoming 37–31 in the first week. The Tigers rolled up 537 yards against Wyoming but lost the turnover battle 3-to-0. They committed only one turnover (total) in their two wins. South Carolina has yet to defeat an FBS team, losing to North Carolina in Charlotte and Alabama in Columbia and defeating, with ease, Charleston Southern. Ryan Hilinski has looked good at quarterback, and he has a decent collection of skill position players at his disposal. South Carolina had 459 yards of offense on 86 snaps in the loss to Alabama. Missouri is probably the better team, but the spread seems a bit high. Missouri 34, South Carolina 27
Few teams have been as impressive as UCF through the first three weeks of the season. The Knights have won their three games by an average score of 52–14, with one coming on the road (48–14 at FAU) and one over a Power 5 opponent (Stanford 45–27). Last year, they crushed Pittsburgh 45–14 in Orlando en route to a 12–0 regular season. So all signs point to a big UCF win? Perhaps, but don’t be surprised if Pitt makes this interesting. The Panthers have played relatively well the past two weeks after losing the opener at home to Virginia; they beat a solid Ohio team 20–10 in Week 2 and lost 17–10 at Penn State on Saturday. The passing game, dormant in recent years, showed signs of life, and the defense held the Nittany Lions to only two touchdowns. UCF 31, Pittsburgh 21
Nebraska is fresh off of its best offensive performance of the season; the Cornhuskers averaged 8.1 yards per play in a 44–8 win over Northern Illinois. It was the first time this season that NU had 200-plus yards rushing and receiving in the same game after accomplishing the feat six times a year ago. Illinois must regroup after a sobering 34–31 loss at home to Eastern Michigan, denying the Illini a 3–0 start for embattled coach Lovie Smith. Last year, Nebraska rolled up 606 yards of offense (316 on the ground and 290 in the air) in a 54–35 win over Illinois in Lincoln. Don’t expect quite as many points this time around, but the result will be similar. Nebraska 41, Illinois 20
Two struggling offensive teams get together in Evanston on Saturday. Michigan State erupted for 582 yards and 51 points in a Week 2 win against Western Michigan but struggled mightily in its other two games (3.9 yards per play in a 28–7 win over Tulsa, one offensive touchdown in a 10–7 loss to Arizona State). And things don’t look to improve much in the short term thanks to some key injuries on the offensive line. Northwestern has not looked good on offense in either game, a 17–7 loss at Stanford (a team that has allowed a total of 90 points in its other two games) and a 30–14 win over UNLV (a team that allowed 43 points at home to Arkansas State in its only other game vs. an FBS foe). The biggest mystery has been the play of quarterback Hunter Johnson, a former five-star recruit who transferred from Clemson to Northwestern. He is 18-of-42 for 220 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions. This game might not be fun to watch. Northwestern 20, Michigan State 17
Boston College (-7) over Rutgers
Yes, I am aware that Boston College lost at home to Kansas, 48–24 on Friday. But this is also a BC team that beat Virginia Tech 35–28 in Week 1, and it’s a team with one of the best running backs in the nation in AJ Dillon. And this week’s opponent, Rutgers, is not very good. The Scarlet Knights pounded UMass (probably the worst FBS team in the country) in the opener but were shut out, 30–0, the following week at Iowa. Rutgers quarterback McLane Carter was in concussion protocol earlier in the week and is questionable. This will serve as a get-well game for the Eagles, who are not as bad as they looked in Friday’s embarrassing loss to Kansas. Boston College 35, Rutgers 17
California has been one of the early season surprises. The Golden Bears are 3–0 — highlighted by a 20–19 win at Washington — on the strength of an outstanding defense that has allowed a total of four touchdowns in three games (and one of those was in garbage time against North Texas). This is not a great offensive team, to put it nicely, so the Bears will need to excel on defense to remain relevant in the Pac-12. Ole Miss hasn’t exactly looked great en route to a 2–1 start. The Rebels scored only 10 points in a Week 1 loss at Memphis and struggled to put away FCS foe Southeastern Louisiana last week. In between, they took care of Arkansas (the worst team in the SEC) 31–17. This should be an interesting matchup between Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and Cal head coach Justin Wilcox, one of the top defensive minds in the country. Cal 17, Ole Miss 14
The Horns are looking for their first win in Austin over Oklahoma State since 2008. That’s right: The Cowboys have won four straight in the series and, incredibly, five straight at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. Both teams are off to quality starts. Oklahoma State is one of two teams nationally with two true road wins (San Diego State is the other). The Pokes have been paced by redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders and sophomore tailback Chuba Hubbard, the nation’s leading rusher with 173.7 yards per game. Texas has a loss on its rÃ©sumÃ©, but the Longhorns looked like a top-10 team in their home loss to surging LSU. Oklahoma appears to be the top team in the Big 12; these might be the two best teams after that. Texas 33, Oklahoma State 27
It’s been a tough start to Year 2 for Willie Taggart. The Seminoles have struggled on the field — they’ve blown leads in all three games (but managed to beat ULM in overtime) — and the coach has struggled off of it (with his comments about his team’s hydration and his willingness to throw his offensive coordinator under the bus). Despite all of that, Florida State is actually just a few plays away from being 3–0, with wins over Boise State and Virginia. This is not a bad team. Louisville is much improved and has already matched last year’s win total (two). This, however, could be a tall order. Florida State, even with its issues, has a more talented roster, and it will be the Cardinals’ first true road game of the season. UL’s starting quarterback Juwan Pass missed the win over Western Kentucky with a foot injury and is questionable for Saturday, but his backup, Malik Cunningham, played well in last week’s win over WKU. Florida State 30, Louisville 20
San Diego State is 3–0, with a win at UCLA. That’s the good news. The bad news: The Aztecs are struggling on offense, averaging only 336.0 yards per game and 4.5 yards per play against a soft schedule — Weber State, UCLA and New Mexico State. Utah State, on the other hand, can move the ball and score points. The Aggies rolled up 596 yards and 35 points in a Week 1 loss at Wake Forest and followed up with 717 and 62 in a win over Stony Brook. They did allow 579 yards to Wake, but that was in 105 snaps for a respectable 5.5 yards-per-play average. San Diego State has the better record, but Utah State is the better team. Utah State 31, San Diego State 20
Last week: 4–6