Scully’s NCAAF Week 2 picks: Cincinnati poised for breakout game

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September 5th, 2019

Our four pack of weekly college football picks got off to a fast start in Week 1, with a 3-1 ATS record, and we’re motivated for Week 2.

College teams have no preseason, so even good teams are still sorting themselves out as they replace departed players from the previous season, and we’re always leery of laying huge numbers against quality foes early in the year.

We will play a pair of double-digit dogs, take a stand against a once-proud program now in a mess and back one of the top defenses in the country laying a reasonable number on the road.

Cincinnati at Ohio State (-16), Saturday, noon ET, ABC

Two spots outside the top 25 in the latest coaches poll, Cincinnati represents an early season test for a developing Ohio State, which is switching schemes under new coach Ryan Day. Cincinnati is no pushover, as the line suggests. The Bearcats feature an NFL-caliber running back (Michael Warren II) and a promising quarterback (Desmond Ridder) behind an experienced offensive line, and Ohio State’s rebuilt offensive line didn’t face much resistance against Florida Atlantic in its opener. Cincinnati is well coached and brings back most of the defense that ranked 12th in yards allowed last year (314 yard per game) and throttled UCLA in its opener.
We love Cincinnati getting more than two touchdowns, and Ohio State should be on upset alert. Cincinnati won by a misleading 24-14 score last week. UCLA had one fluky TD in the first half, on a screen that went 75 yards, but otherwise did very little against a defense highlighted by strong linebacker and secondary play. UCLA head coach Chip Kelly had no answers, as the Bruins completed only 8-of-26 passes, and Cincy dominated time of possession and total yards.

On offense Bearcats were too conservative and had a couple of silly turnovers, which left points on the field, but this remains a high-scoring unit, with eight starters back, including Ridder, an up-and-coming sophomore who looked polished with a strong and accurate arm. We like Cincinnati to beat preseason conference favorite Central Florida at home this year and win the American Athletic East.

Ohio State had nine players drafted from a veteran 2018 team and has an inexperienced group on offense. Exciting quarterback Justin Fields will gain yards by both ground and air, which poses problems for a young Cincy defensive line, but Ohio State's only proven running back, J.K. Dobbins, faces a stiffer challenge after he gained 94 yards on 22 carries last week. The Buckeyes must run the ball more effectively, and with only one starter back on the offensive line, they have young players still trying to come together as a unit. The defense underwent a coaching and philosophy change during offseason, with a switch to more of a zone scheme from man-to-man, and Florida Atlantic had some success against the new system. Cincy has the personnel to exploit any growing pains early in the season.

After a 4-8 record in 2017, Cincinnati outperformed expectations by with 11 wins last year and continues to receive little respect early in the 2019 campaign. Observers will catch up eventually. We believe in coach Luke Fickell, who played and coached for Ohio State from 2002-2016, and he catches his alma mater in transition.

Pick: Cincinnati +16

Texas A&M at Clemson (-17), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

A&M quarterback Kellen Mond and all his receivers are back this year, while Clemson lost eight starters from last year’s superb defense, including every defensive lineman to the NFL. The Tigers will score points behind quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and a deep group of receivers, but Texas A&M is good enough to make it respectable and cover in Death Valley.

The Aggies believe they can go toe-to-toe with Clemson, after they played downhill in the second half last year against the top-ranked defense of 2018 and fell only two points short of overtime against the Tigers. Mond threw for 430 yards, including three second-half touchdowns, and Texas A&M is better up front and capable of running the ball more effectively behind running back Jashaun Corbin this year. The A&M offense appears promising in coach Jimbo Fisher’s second year, and the Aggies will have success against a young and inexperienced Clemson defensive front.

Texas A&M enters on a 4-1 ATS run and has posted a 7-1 ATS record in its last eight non-conference games. Clemson is only 1-4 ATS in its last five September games and exits a sloppy opener (three turnovers), in which Etienne overwhelmed the opponent with 205 yards rushing. Texas A&M took care of business in its tune-up, with nearly 500 yards of offense on an overmatched foe.

Clemson has not shown up with its best against non-conference foes in Week 2 games, outscoring Texas A&M, Auburn and Troy by a combined 16 points over the last three years. Lawrence, Etienne and company likely will prove too much, but 17 points is too many to lay against this top-15 foe. Texas A&M should play with an edge, looking to prove they belong among college football’s elite.

Pick: Texas A&M +17

BYU at Tennessee (-3.5), Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

BYU is better than it showed in Week 1, as Utah capitalized with three touchdowns off turnovers. Tennessee has major problems on both lines, as the Volunteers surrendered 213 rushing yards and gained only 93 against 25-point underdog Georgia State in Week 1, and BYU looks poised to take advantage.

BYU is 7-1 ATS after playing in-state rival Utah and brought an experienced squad back in 2019, with 17 returning starters, including eight from the country’s 18th-best defense last year. The Cougars are solid up front and held Utah’s dynamic offense to 125 yards in first half, but were ultimately done in by a pair of defensive Utah touchdowns. Quarterback Zach Wilson struggled last week but ended 2018 on a promising note, as he complete all 18 of his throws in BYU’s bowl win. He is capable of rebounding against a down Tennessee, and the Cougars concluded last year on a 5-0 ATS run.

After hiring new offensive and defensive coordinators, Tennessee was still in flux and trying to learn new systems in the offseason. The Vols also lost a number of expected contributors for either health or disciplinary reasons. Tennessee was still shifting around offensive-line combinations two weeks before its opener and couldn’t keep Georgia State's defense out of the backfield, with as quarterback Jarrett Guarantano failed to recognize blitzing defenders as the opponent mounted a second-half comeback.

BYU is 8-1 ATS in its last nine road games, can frustrate Tennessee defensively and will control the clock with long drives.

Pick: BYU +3.5

Miami (-5.5) at North Carolina, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ACC Network

Miami’s defense will be too much for a run-oriented North Carolina offense that struggled for three quarters last week, and the Tar Heels are eligible to feel an emotional hangover after a remarkable fourth-quarter comeback win. We expect a one-sided affair.

The Hurricanes have one of the best defenses in college football, with turnovers their specialty, and forced three miscues against Florida in their opener to give themselves every chance to win. Miami held Florida to 50 yards rushing and will force true freshman quarterback Sam Howell to beat them with his arm.

Miami still has issues to sort out offensively, but look for young quarterback Jarren Williams to take strides forward after his first start against Florida’s mighty defense. The Hurricanes have weapons on the outside, including top tight end Brevin Jordan, and running back DeeJay Dallas played well, with 95 yards on 12 carries in the opener. New offensive coordinator Dan Enos is an enormous upgrade, and Miami is talented enough to move the ball up and down the field against North Carolina.

Howell gets credit for his late-game heroics, has he orchestrated a pair of long drives to erase a double-digit deficit in the final quarter against South Carolina, but North Carolina relied on the ground game's 238 yards last week. The Tar Heels won’t gain half that amount Saturday. Coach Mack Brown can do good things in Chapel Hill, but after the program won just five games over the last two seasons under the previous regime, North Carolina is still a work in progress and doesn’t have the personnel to hold up in the trenches against Miami.

Pick: Miami -4.5

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