We will see more marquee matchups in the weeks to come, but this week of the college football season provides the opportunity to focus on some teams that get after it defensively.
Cincinnati’s defense remains formidable, and Central Florida struggled to contain the run at Pittsburgh two weeks ago, when the Knights surrendered 196 rushing yards to a limited offense. The Bearcats have run-oriented offense behind superb back Michael Warren II and have displayed more versatility since they were whupped by Ohio State earlier this season. Quarterback Desmond Ridder threw four touchdown passes and Alec Pierce made eight catches last week.
— Justin Williams (@Williams_Justin) September 29, 2019
UCF bounced back from its first regular-season loss in nearly three years by piling up 607 yards of total offense and forcing four turnovers in a rout of Connecticut. The Knights remain capable of destroying lesser teams, but after dominating AAC conference foes for the last few years, UCF will face teams hungry for revenge this season. Cincinnati is the first of several difficult road tests on the schedule and the Bearcats are good enough to win straight up as home underdog.
Pick: Cincinnati +3.5
There is a high confidence factor surrounding Auburn, which must go off form for Florida to have any chance. The Gators do not run the ball effectively, ranking 88th nationally with 141.4 rushing yards per game, and the quarterback situation has not been pretty since they lost Feleipe Franks to a season-ending injury. The Florida defense remains a strength, but the stop unit can only do so much for an offense getting little production from a young offensive line.
Florida, which entered the year ranked in the top 10, remains overvalued because of preseason expectations. Florida is not a very good team, and Auburn can win going away by a double-digit margin. The Tigers bring the nation’s best defensive line to the Swamp and the defense flies all over the field with its speed. They play with an edge and the offense is better than expected, with exciting freshman quarterback Bo Nix leading an attack that averages more than 38 points per game. Auburn is 5-0 ATS this year.
Pick: Auburn -2.5
Pittsburgh has dominated this series of late, with wins (and covers) in its last four games against Duke, and its outstanding defensive unit was responsible for the upset win over Central Florida two weeks ago. Defense will be the difference Saturday, as Pitt will frustrate a Duke offense lacking playmakers, outside of quarterback Quentin Harris.
Pat Narduzzi can coach and will have his team’s attention following a flat performance, with the Panthers in full-blown hangover mode as they squeaked by Delaware last week (17-14). Pitt is 11-2 ATS after being held to fewer than 20 points and enters with a 4-1 ATS record in its last five road games. Quarterback Kenny Pickett is questionable, but Nick Patti has proven to be a capable backup, and Duke will receive a heavy dose of A.J. Davis, as Pitt seeks to run the ball and control clock.
After UCF scored 31 unanswered points, Pitt finally gets back into the end-zone: Nick Patti hits Dontavius Butler-Jenkins for the 6 yard TD! pic.twitter.com/Ps6zAdyZzp
— #BusinessAintBoomin (@ftbeard_17) September 21, 2019
Harris, Duke’s leading rusher, must prove he can hurt quality defenses with his arm and relies primarily on tight end Noah Gray. Kudos for a dominant road win over Virginia Tech last week, and the Blue Devils played Alabama tough defensively before they succumbed 42-3, but their inability to score points on a suspect Alabama secondary remains a concern.
Pick: Pittsburgh +4.5
We’re laying the lumber with Washington, which has covered four straight on the road and will travel to face a down Stanford team playing with a backup quarterback. Stanford used to be gold as a home dog but is 0-3 ATS in the role of late, and this proud program is clearly reeling, with a 1-5 ATS record in its last six games.
The Cardinal struggled to score six points against Oregon in its last home appearance, and the Huskies are a legit candidate to win by shutout, as the defense has not allowed more than 20 points in a game all year. The Huskies’ lone loss came in adverse conditions, which held down their high-powered offense, and Washington has won their last three by a 24-point average. Jacob Eason (71% completion rate) is looking like a viable first-round NFL draft pick, and this game should not be close.