The Week 3 edition of college football picks against the spread is highlighted by a huge battle in the ACC Atlantic Division: Clemson at Louisville. Elsewhere, red-hot UCLA makes the long trip to Memphis for a tricky game at the Liberty Bowl; Florida and Tennessee meet in Gainesville in a pivotal early-season SEC game; and Oklahoma hopes to avoid a letdown as Tulane visits Norman. Here are 10 predictions for games against the spread:
Clemson (-3) over Louisville
Lamar Jackson’s numbers through two games are absurd: .647 completion percentage (up from .562 last season), 771 yards passing, five TDs, zero interceptions, 239 rushing yards, three rushing TDs. And while neither Purdue nor North Carolina features a top-flight defense, it’s impressive that Jackson has done his damage against two Power 5 opponents. This week, he will face arguably the nation’s best defensive front when Clemson rolls into town. The Tigers have limited their two opponents (Kent State and Auburn) to a total of 237 yards on a 2.1-yard average. In the win against Auburn, Clemson recorded an astounding 11 sacks. The biggest issue for the Louisville offense in the Jackson era has been the offensive line, and that figures to be a major problem on Saturday.
Clemson 27, Louisville 21
Illinois (+18) over South Florida
Illinois is averaging a Big Ten-worst 258.0 yards per game after playing two Group of 5 teams at home. And yet, the Fighting Illini are 2–0, with wins over Ball State and Western Kentucky. Last weekend, Illinois held the usually potent WKU attack to 244 yards (only six on the ground) on 59 offensive snaps. South Florida has had an interesting 2017 season to date. The Bulls rallied from a 16–0 deficit to beat San Jose State 42–22 in Week 0 and then returned home for a closer-than-expected 31–17 win over FCS foe Stony Brook. Then, last week’s game at UConn — the AAC opener — was postponed due to Hurricane Irma. Will Charlie Strong have his team ready to play? Will the offense be able to solve Lovie Smith’s improved Illinois defense? And, the most important question for this space: Will South Florida win by more than 18 points? The guess here is no.
South Florida 28, Illinois 13
UCLA (-3) over Memphis
This was a popular upset pick over the summer. And it made sense — inconsistent (and sometimes disinterested) UCLA team travelling across the country to play a game at 9 am Pacific time. That, however, was before we watched UCLA’s epic comeback against Texas A&M followed by a surgical dismantling of Hawaii. In two games, Josh Rosen is averaging 11.9 yards per passing attempt with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. Memphis has played only once, rolling past ULM 37–29 (the Warhawks tacked on two late scores to make it look respectable) at the Liberty Bowl. The Tigers should be explosive on offense but will have trouble on defense against quality competition.
UCLA 34, Memphis 27
Iowa State (-9.5) over Akron
Iowa State was a play away from knocking off rival Iowa at home last weekend — a win that would have improved the Cyclones to 2–0 with victories over two in-state opponents. Didn’t happen. But there were still some very positive signs for Matt Campbell’s program. Iowa State rolled up 467 yards against an Iowa defense that was brilliant in its Week 1 win over Wyoming. Jacob Park continues to play well at quarterback, and David Montgomery is emerging as one of the top backs in the Big 12. Akron has lost a game by 52 points (to Penn State) and won a game by 49 points (over Arkansas-Pine Bluff). The margin this week won’t be as great.
Iowa State 37, Akron 17
Purdue (+7) over Missouri
Purdue is 2–0 against the spread this season, with easy covers against Louisville and Ohio. Still, Vegas doesn’t appear to be a believer. Purdue is more than a touchdown underdog against a Missouri team that has given up 74 points in its two games — a 29-point win over Missouri State and an 18-point loss to South Carolina. Missouri was expected to be strong on offense, but the Tigers were held to one touchdown in the loss to South Carolina (after scoring 10 TDs against Missouri State). It’s still early to call this a must win, but the pressure will start to mount on second-year MU coach Barry Odom if his team fails to beat Purdue at home.
Missouri 35, Purdue 30
Tennessee (+5.5) over Florida
It’s dangerous to judge an offense off of one game — especially when the opponent (Michigan in this case) is elite defensively — but there wasn’t a lot to like about the Florida Gators attack in Week 1. Quarterback play was not good, and the running game was non-existent. It’s true that Florida was playing without its top wide receiver (Antonio Calloway) and top running back (Jordan Scarlett), but we don’t know (as of Wednesday morning) when those two will be available. Tennessee had its issues on both sides of the ball in a Week 1 overtime win over Georgia Tech, but the Vols appear to be identifying some playmakers — John Kelly at running back and Marquez Callaway at receiver. Don’t expect a ton of points in this one.
Florida 20, Tennessee 17
Tulane (+34) over Oklahoma
Oklahoma, fresh off its impressive win at Ohio State, is clearly one of the elite teams in college football. Tulane, on the other hand, is coming off a 4–8 record in 2016 and is in rebuilding mode under second-year coach Willie Fritz. But the Green Wave are improved; they beat Grambling 43–14 in the opener and then dropped a 23–21 decision at Navy last weekend. Tulane returned eight starters from a defense that ranked third in the AAc and 31st nationally in 2016. Last week, the Wave limited Navy to 326 yards of offense.
Oklahoma 38, Tulane 10
Louisiana Tech (+7) at WKU
The favorites in C-USA West (Louisiana Tech) and East (Western Kentucky) both suffered humbling losses in Week 2. Tech jumped out to a 9–0 lead against Mississippi State but was outscored 57–12 the rest of the way. Western Kentucky had only 244 yards of offense in a 20–7 loss at Illinois. The once-prolific Hilltopper offense is averaging only 304 yards per game and 4.7 yards per play, down from 523 and 7.7 a year ago under Jeff Brohm. It’s a bit premature to jump off the bandwagon for either of these teams, but there are some alarming signs, especially at WKU.
Louisiana Tech 30, Western Kentucky 17
Wake Forest (-13.5) over Utah State
Wake Forest has been very impressive in the early going, beating Presbyterian and Boston College (on the road) by a combined score of 85–17. The Demon Deacons have shown marked improvement on offense, increasing their per-play averages from 4.6 in 2016 to 5.6 through two games in ’17. The level of competition hasn’t been great, but Boston College has been consistently strong on defense in recent years. Utah State has taken several steps backward in recent years. The Aggies have regressed from 10 wins in 2014 to six wins in ’15 to three wins a year ago. In their only game against an FBS opponent in 2017, they lost at Wisconsin 59–10.
Wake Forest 34, Utah State 20
Virginia Tech (-21) over East Carolina
East Carolina has been arguably the most consistent defensive team in the nation — consistently awful. The Pirates were torched for 614 yards in a Week 1 loss to James Madison and for 619 the following week in a 56–20 loss to West Virginia. Scottie Montgomerie shook up the defensive staff, “reassigning” second-year coordinator Kenwick Thompson and handing over play-calling duties to defensive line coach Robert Prunty. Will it be enough to change the Pirates’ defensive fortunes? Too early to tell, but it’s not likely that ECU will have much success slowing down Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Virginia Tech 49, East Carolina 21
Last Week: 6–4