Conference action is revving up, and we’re excited to wager on four teams in Week 4 of the college football season. Let’s start with a bullish opinion and recommending a pair of home favorites with lofty expectations. Then we’ll look to exploit a couple of bad home teams laying too many points (all games Saturday).
Quarterback Kellen Mond did not play well at Clemson, and as a result Texas A&M’s offense struggled. The Aggies still managed to hold Clemson’s mighty offense to only seven second-half points (24 points total), and Jimbo Fisher remains an elite coach, with a 12-4 ATS record (7-2 ATS at home) in 16 games since he took over in College Station. Texas A&M possesses a huge edge over Auburn in terms of offensive firepower, and given how the Aggies have lost all three home games to Auburn since they joined the SEC, the players will be motivated to change the narrative against a divisional rival.
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix led a dramatic Week 1 comeback to beat Oregon after the Tigers trailed by 13 points in fourth quarter, but Auburn remains a run-oriented team built on defense. Some key players are nursing injuries—with defensive tackle Derrick Brown, left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. and receiver Seth Williams all in doubt for Saturday—and A&M is more than capable of taking Auburn out of its element by forcing the Tigers to match points with a dynamic attack.
A&M features a deep group of receivers and dependable offensive line, and Auburn’s vaunted defense will not be able to save the visitor.
Pick: Texas A&M -3.5
Texas had its moments last year, with wins over Oklahoma in the regular season and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, but Heisman Trophy contender Sam Ehlinger has taken the offense to another level in 2019. He has amassed seven touchdowns with no interceptions in three games to build upon a 5-1 touchdown-interception ratio last year, and is averaging 319 passing yards per game with one of the best receiving corps in the nation. After four consecutive losses to Oklahoma State, the Longhorns will send a resounding message Saturday.
Tough to do it much better than this.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 15, 2019
With only three defensive starters back from last year’s unit, Texas’ defense figured to be tested by LSU in Week 2. The nation’s fourth-ranked team went into Austin and dropped 45 points, but Texas held its own offensively to rally from a 13-point halftime deficit, outgained LSU on the ground and Ehlinger threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns. The Longhorns came up just short but gained a new sense of confidence in defeat.
Oklahoma State and freshman quarterback Spencer Sanders have yet to be tested. The Cowboys opened the season with three overmatched opponents, and Chuba Hubbard has been the focus of the offense, with 521 rushing yards. The Cowboys have lost plenty of skill players to the NFL the last two years—including Justice Hill, Mason Rudolph and James Washington—and won’t want to put too much pressure on the young offense. That will be an impossible task against the Longhorns, who will be determined to make Sanders beat them with his arm, and the game will eventually get away from Oklahoma State.
Pick: Texas -5.5
Kentucky brings one of the SEC’s top offensive lines to Starkville. Big and fast on the defensive line and in the linebacker corps, a young and inexperienced secondary stands out as a glaring weakness, so Kentucky is vulnerable against quality passing teams. With Mississippi State the Wildcats will encounter one of the worst passing teams in the country. The Bulldogs are ranked 99th despite playing a pair of cupcakes with limited defenses in their three games, so the wrong team appears to be favored.
This is not a Dan Mullen-led Mississippi State team any more. Joe Moorhead looked like a bad fit from the day he was hired from Penn State and lacks a decent quarterback. Starter Tommy Stevens, who is questionable with a shoulder injury, is not much of a passer. Backup Garrett Shrader is a confirmed runner, as he completed only 4-of-12 passes but rushed for 82 yards in a home loss to Kansas State last week.
Kentucky can punish most teams with its ground game and Mississippi State gave up 146 rushing yards last week. UK quarterback Sawyer Smith has been a more-than-competent backup, as he completed 23-of-35 passes for 267 yards against a quality Florida defense, and Kentucky features a deep assortment of weapons (nine different players caught a pass last week).
Pick: Kentucky +6.5
Ball State is an experienced team with an edge at quarterback. The Cardinals are averaging 348 passing yards per game (11th nationally) behind the arm of Drew Plitt, and only five teams have more passing touchdowns. The Ball State defense stinks and must play better to have a chance at an upset, but the Cardinals (37.3 points per game) can score enough to stay within a bulky number.
— Barstool Ball State (@BarstoolBallSt) September 17, 2019
Ball State played well against Indiana in its opener, and the Cardinals made it a one-score game midway through fourth quarter before they fell short, 34-24. Plitt can spread the ball out and utilizes as many as 10 receivers, but Ball State must avoid turnovers after it gave away last week’s game to Florida Athletic with four.
NC State quarterback Matthew McKay, who replaced Ryan Finley (now with the Cincinnati Bengals), worries us. He was not effective at West Virginia last week, where he completed only 23-of-48 passes for a putrid 27.3 QBR, and the Wolfpack continued to run the ball (37 rushing attempts) despite being shut out in fourth quarter (outscored 23-6 in second half). Ball State’s secondary doesn’t defend the pass well, but NC State is more run oriented and will be happy to burn clock if leading.