Is Nebraska ready to break through?
The Week 5 edition of college football picks against the spread is highlighted by a huge East vs. West showdown in the Big Ten as Ohio State hits the road to play Nebraska. Elsewhere, Penn State and Maryland get together on Friday night; Notre Dame hosts Virginia; and South Carolina seeks its first win over Kentucky since 2013. Here are 10 predictions for games against the spread.
The second year of the Scott Frost era hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as some expected — a loss at Colorado, struggles against South Alabama and Illinois — but the Cornhuskers will have an opportunity to make a major statement on Saturday night against Ohio State. For all of their issues, the Huskers are still averaging 38.0 points and 490.0 yards per game. Ohio State has those beat, with averages of 53.5 points and 524.5 yards. Those stats, however, have been compiled against a schedule that includes home dates with FAU, Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio) and a road trip to Indiana. There’s no doubt Ohio State is very good offensively, but it will be a surprise if it can maintain that level of play against the heart of its Big Ten schedule. The task for the 2019 Buckeyes: Avoid the out-of-nowhere decisive road loss that has sabotaged previous seasons — Purdue in 2018 and Iowa in 2017. Ohio State 38, Nebraska 24
Virginia, the preseason pick to win the ACC Coastal Division, is 4–0 overall and 2–0 in league play. That’s the good news. The bad news: The Cavs had to rally from a 17–0 deficit to beat Old Dominion at home last week. Bottom line: They won and now head to South Bend without a loss on their rÃ©sumÃ©. Notre Dame is coming off an emotional 23–17 loss at Georgia on Saturday night. The Fighting Irish played well enough to make the Bulldogs sweat — but not well enough to pull off a season-defining upset. This is still a good team that should remain in the discussion for a spot in the College Football Playoff if it keeps winning. Notre Dame 24, Virginia 21
Penn State (-6.5) over Maryland (Friday)
This had all the makings of one of the biggest games in College Park in decades … until Maryland lost at Temple two weeks ago. It’s still a big game between two schools (and head coaches) who figure to have some epic recruiting battles for D.C.-area prospects in the coming years. Maryland scored a combined 142 points in its first two games but was held to 17 in the maddening loss to Temple. Penn State also was limited to 17 points against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, but Pitt — which just knocked off UCF — might be better than we thought. He would never admit it publicly, but this game is extra special for James Franklin, a former head coach-in-waiting at Maryland who never became the head coach. Penn State 30, Maryland 20
Akron (-7) at UMass
We are one month into the season and it’s pretty clear that UMass is not good at football. The Minutemen are 0–4, with an average margin of defeat of 30.3 points. Last week, they lost at home to Coastal Carolina, 62–28. In Week 2, they lost at home to Southern Illinois (an FCS team) by 25 points. Akron is also 0–4, but the Zips are “only” getting beat by an average of 24.8 points per game. And they have played a more difficult schedule. There can’t be too many times in college football history that an 0–4 team has been a touchdown favorite on the road — but there haven’t been many teams as bad as UMass. Akron 38, UMass 30
Michigan State scored 31 points in its convincing win at Northwestern last weekend, but the Spartans are still struggling on offense. They averaged only 4.8 yards on 71 offensive plays, including an anemic 3.1 yards on 38 rushing attempts (removing sacks). MSU remains stout on defense, but the offense will have to improve significantly for this team to be a threat in the Big Ten East. Indiana has played relatively well in 2019 when the opponent is not named Ohio State. The Hoosiers are 3–0 in their other three games, though the quality of competition has not been good. Michael Penix Jr., the opening-day starter at QB, has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury. He is listed as a “game-time decision” for Saturday. Veteran Peyton Ramsey is an adequate replacement if Penix is unable to play. Michigan State 24, Indiana 17
Kentucky has dominated this series of late, winning five straight over South Carolina — but it’s not as though UK has dominated the games. Prior to last year’s 24–10 win in Lexington, the first four wins of this current streak were decided by 10 points or fewer. Also, only two of UK’s wins were in Columbia, the site of this year’s game. Both teams are coming off of tough losses on the road, South Carolina by 20 at Missouri and Kentucky by 15 at Mississippi State. The Carolina offense has played well at home against two very different opponents — Charleston Southern (a school-record 775 yards of offense) and Alabama (a respectable 459 yards). UK quarterback Sawyer Smith, in for Terry Wilson (out for the season), is dealing with an assortment of injuries and his status won’t be known until later in the week. Sophomore Walker Wood would be the next man up. South Carolina 28, Kentucky 20
Vanderbilt is 0–3 against arguably the most difficult schedule in the nation. The Commodores have faced two top-five teams at home, Georgia and LSU, and played at Purdue (pre-Elijah Sindelar injury). It hasn’t been pretty, especially on defense, but it’s difficult to get an accurate read on this team. This week, Northern Illinois comes to town with a 1–2 record — a 24–10 win over Illinois State and losses to Utah (35–17) and Nebraska (44–8). Both teams are led by graduate transfers at quarterback, Ross Bowers (from Cal) for NIU and Riley Neal (from Ball State) for Vanderbilt. Neal played Northern Illinois three times while at Ball State, throwing for a total of 929 yards in three losses. The Commodores are poised to take out some early-season frustrations. Vanderbilt 31, Northern Illinois 17
Kansas State is off to a great start under Chris Klieman, with dominating wins at home over Nicholls and Bowling Green and a quality road win at Mississippi State. Now the Wildcats dive into Big 12 play in Stillwater against an Oklahoma State team that is playing at home for only the second time. The Cowboys won at Oregon State in the opener and at Tulsa in Week 3 before losing at Texas, 36–30, on Saturday. The Pokes offense, as usual, is explosive; they are one of three teams nationally with at least 1,000 yards rushing and receiving through the first four weeks of the season. Oklahoma State will be far more dynamic than any offense K-State has seen so far this season. Oklahoma State 34, Kansas State 28
Troy (-6.5) over Arkansas State
Arkansas State is 2–2 against a challenging schedule that has featured a home game with SMU (a 37–30 loss to a 4–0 SMU team that won at TCU last week) and road games at UNLV (win) and Georgia (loss). The Red Wolves also have a home win over Southern Illinois. Arkansas State, however, is dealing with a host of injuries, most notably to quarterback Logan Bonner. The fourth-year junior is doubtful with a hand injury; if he can’t play, ASU will turn to redshirt freshman Layne Hatcher or senior Carson Coats. Troy is clicking offensively under first-year coach Chip Lindsey. The Trojans scored 43 and 35 points in wins over Campbell and Akron, respectively, and 42 in a loss at home to Southern Miss. Troy 38, Arkansas State 30
Neither fan base is feeling great right now, but things are far, far more dire in Fayetteville following the Razorbacks’ inexplicable loss at home to San Jose State on Saturday night. The Hogs are 2–2, with a narrow 20–13 win over Portland State and a 55–34 win over a Colorado State team that is 0–3 against FBS foes. Nick Starkel, who threw five interceptions last week, hopes to bounce back against his former team. Starkel started five games as a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M in 2017 and played in four games last season. Texas A&M is experiencing some growing pains in Year 2 under Jimbo Fisher. The Aggies dropped to 2–2 overall after losing at home to Auburn on Saturday. This is a solid team that should win seven or eight games — but that’s about two or three fewer than most Aggie fans expected in Fisher’s second season. Texas A&M 37, Arkansas 17
Last week: 6-4