The Week 2 edition of college football picks against the spread is highlighted by one of the premier regular-season games of the season — Auburn’s trip to Clemson in a battle of the Tigers. Elsewhere, Luke Fickell, a former Ohio State player and coach, takes his Cincinnati Bearcats into Ann Arbor to face Michigan; Louisville visits North Carolina in a key ACC Atlantic vs. Coastal showdown; and Duke and Northwestern meet in Durham in an intriguing ACC vs. Big Ten duel. Here are 10 predictions for games against the spread:
Clemson (-5.5) over Auburn
This is one of the most impactful non-conference games of the season, with the winner positioning itself as a legitimate College Football Playoff team. Auburn was arguably the most impressive team in the nation... if you are only looking at box scores. The Tigers outgained Georgia Southern 535-to-78, allowing an average of 1.5 yards per rush and 0.9 yards per passing attempt. The story for Clemson was the play of quarterback Kelly Bryant, who completed 16-of-22 passes for 236 yards and added 77 yards on the ground in the first game of the post-Deshaun Watson era. This pick is based largely on the home-field advantage.
Clemson 27, Auburn 21
Purdue (-4.5) over Ohio
Jeff Brohm’s debut didn’t produce a win, but Purdue played relatively well in a 35–28 loss to Louisville in Indianapolis. The defense had issues containing the Louisville offense — as most teams will — but limited Lamar Jackson & Co. to three offensive touchdowns thanks in part to three forced turnovers (all fumbles). The Purdue offense was ineffective on the ground but managed 293 yards in the air, with David Blough and Elijah Sindelar splitting time at quarterback. Ohio rolled past FCS foe Hampton 59–0 in Athens. The Bobcats dominated every facet of the game, as expected.
Purdue 37, Ohio 30
Rutgers (-5) over Eastern Michigan
I’m the president of the Tennessee chapter of the Chris Creighton fan club, but I’m a bit surprised Eastern Michigan is only a five-point underdog playing at what looks to be a much-improved Rutgers team. Thanks to an influx of transfers, the Scarlet Knights are stronger at quarterback, running back and wide receiver than a year ago. And the defense, which gave up 37.5 points per game in 2016, did a decent job keeping Washington in check for much of Friday’s night’s 30–14 loss. Eastern Michigan opened its season with a workmanlike 24–7 win over Charlotte. Brogan Roback, the Eagles’ strong-armed senior, will be the best quarterback on the field.
Rutgers 23, Eastern Michigan 17
Michigan (-34.5) over Cincinnati
Cincinnati recorded arguably the least impressive victory in Week 1, struggling to beat an Austin Peay team that is 1–45 in the last four seasons. The Bearcats won the game, 26–14, despite being outgained 313-to-248. Failing to hit the 250-yard mark is not a good omen for this week’s trip to Michigan. The Wolverines yielded only 192 total yards and did not allow an offensive touchdown in their 33–17 win over Florida. And offensively, despite some uneven play from Wilton Speight (he threw two pick-sixes), U-M had over 200 yards both rushing and passing against a very good Florida defense. I just don’t see how Cincinnati keeps this close.
Michigan 38, Cincinnati 0
Syracuse (-8.5) over Middle Tennessee
Middle Tennessee was overwhelmed in its opener, gaining only 215 yards of offense in a 28–6 loss at home to Vanderbilt. Defensively, the Blue Raiders allowed a touchdown on the first three drives of the game but settled in and held Vanderbilt to only one score in the second half. Clearly, this was not what Rick Stockstill expected to see from his team. Syracuse dominated overmatched Central Connecticut State, as expected. Quarterback Eric Dungey was sharp, completing 28-of-36 attempts for 328 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. One interesting note about this game: Former Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer is now the defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee.
Syracuse 37, Middle Tennessee 24
Louisville (-10) over North Carolina
Louisville’s offense operated at 2016 levels on almost every front in the 35–28 win over Purdue: The Cardinals rolled up a ton of yards (544), Lamar Jackson was brilliant (378 yards passing, 107 yards rushing)... and they turned the ball over too many times (three lost fumbles). Louisville was good enough to overcome those miscues against Purdue, but it will need to be much better in that area to be a factor in the ACC Atlantic. North Carolina suffered a humbling 35–30 loss at home to a rebuilding Cal team playing under first-year head coach Justin Wilcox. The troubling stat for UNC: Cal quarterback Ross Bowers, in his first start, completed 34-of-48 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns.
Louisville 41, North Carolina 30
Duke (+3.5) over Northwestern
Duke barely broke a sweat in a Week 1 win over NC Central, rolling to a 60–7 win on the strength of a 47-point first half. Obviously, it’s a good sign to win so convincingly, but the Blue Devils began last season with a 49–6 win over NC Central and went 3–8 the rest of the way. Northwestern had to rally to beat Nevada in its opener; the Wildcats trailed 17–10 at the half before outscoring the Wolfpack 24–3 in the final two quarters. It was a sluggish performance against a middle-of-the-pack (at best) team from the Mountain West, but it was an improvement from last year’s Week 1 result (a loss to Western Michigan). This is a toss-up — go with the home team getting points.
Duke 33, Northwestern 30
Kansas (-5.5) over Central Michigan
It’s not a good sign for Central Michigan that it needed double-overtime to beat Rhode Island (one of the worst FCS teams last season) at home in Week 1. Oh, URI also threw six interceptions! The Chippewas didn’t exactly capitalize on those miscues, scoring a total of 21 points in regulation. Shane Morris, a transfer from Michigan, threw for 226 yards and a touchdown but averaged only 4.6 yards on his 49 attempts. Considering the opponent, we’ll give that debut a C-. Kansas took care of business in Lawrence, beating SE Missouri State 38–16. Peyton Bender, who began his career at Washington State, threw for 364 yards with four TDs and two INTs. The Jayhawks continue to progress under David Beaty.
Kansas 28, Central Michigan 14
Buffalo (+16.5) at Army West Point
This will end up being one the best stats of the season: Army scored 64 points and had 513 yards of offense in its win over Fordham without completing a pass. Things won’t be quite as easy this weekend. Buffalo looks to be much improved in Lance Leipold’s third season at the school. The Bulls held Minnesota to three points in the final three quarters of a 17–7 loss on Thursday night in Minneapolis. Buffalo did a solid job against the run, limiting Minnesota’s outstanding duo of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks to a combined 145 yards on 41 carries.
Army 24, Buffalo 21
Wake Forest (-1) at Boston College
It’s an early season ACC game between a pair of teams that will be jockeying for position in the Atlantic Division. Boston College returns home after a solid three-point win at Northern Illinois, and there are still concerns about this offense. The Eagles had 92 offensive snaps (a huge number for a Steve Addazio team) but managed only 339 yards (3.7 per play) and two offensive touchdowns. Wake Forest jumped all over Presbyterian and cruised to a 51–7 win. The challenge will be far more difficult this weekend, but Wake appears to be the better team.
Wake Forest 20, Boston College 14
Season to date: 7-2-1