LSU TIGERS (4-0) at GEORGIA BULLDOGS (2-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Georgia -2.5 & 61.5
Opening Line & Total: Bulldogs -3 & 61.5
No. 6 LSU will look to remain unbeaten as it travels to No. 9 Georgia as slight road underdogs.
LSU is 4-0 SU and 2-2 ATS to start the season, failing to cover wide margins in their last two contests against Kent State and Auburn. The Tigers have yet to be truly tested though since week one, when they won and covered with a 37-27 victory against TCU. Georgia, on the other hand, played an extremely difficult schedule to start the season and began it with a loss to Clemson in a 38-35 barnburner. They bounced back nicely, however, with a 41-30 win and cover against South Carolina, and after a bye week romped North Texas in an ATS loss, 45-21. These two teams have played just once over the past three years, meeting at a neutral site in the 2011 SEC Championship game when the Tigers cruised past the Bulldogs 42-10. Covering against top-notch teams has been a struggle for Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who is 1-10 ATS at home in his career against teams with a winning percentage of at least 75%. Georgia is 2-1 SU in the program’s only three series meetings in Athens since 1992 while LSU is 2-1 ATS in those meetings. Overall since 1992, Georgia is 5-4 SU while LSU is 5-4 ATS against one another.
Though he’s always had some doubters, LSU QB Zach Mettenberger has been spectacular to start the 2013 season with 1,026 yards through four games on 59-of-91 passing for 10 TD and only 1 INT. The burly 6-foot-5 senior is a pure pocket passer and hadn’t thrown a pick until last week against Auburn. He has two main receiving targets in Odell Beckham (20 catches for 389 yards, 4 TD) and Jarvis Landry (24 catches for 364 yards, 6 TD). LSU’s rushing game has also been very effective to begin this 2013 campaign, led by Jeremy Hill’s 42 carries for 350 yards and six touchdowns. Supplementing his touches is Terrence Magee, who has 29 carries for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, the LSU defense has held opponents to 3.6 yards per carry, but has allowed foes to rack up 6.0 yards per pass attempt.
Georgia also has a dangerous offensive attack that can be threatening both through the air and on the ground. QB Aaron Murray has put up big numbers to start the year, completing 59-of-82 passes for 1,040 yards through only three games (347 YPG). He has seven touchdowns and two interceptions. Like Mettenberger, Murray is not a threat to run. He leaves the running to Todd Gurley, who has 63 carries for 377 yards and four touchdowns, which includes a 75-yard touchdown scamper. Unlike Mettenberger, Murray spreads his passes out to many more targets with six different players having more than 100 yards and six different players picking up touchdowns. The No. 1 option has been Justin Scott-Wesley (10 catches for 234 yards) while Chris Conley (10 catches for 142 yards) and Michael Bennett (10 catches for 124 yards) tie him for the team lead in receptions. You also can’t forget about Reggie Davis, who has only two catches, but one of them was the team’s longest play of the season, a 98-yard touchdown pass. The Georgia defense is giving up 4.0 yards per rush, which isn’t bad, but it must improve against the pass to have a shot against Mettenberger. The unit is giving up 7.7 yards per passing attempt and 12.3 yards per completion this season.
USC TROJANS (3-1) at ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (2-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Arizona State -5.5 & 49.5
Opening Line & Total: Sun Devils -6.5 & 50
USC head coach Lane Kiffin’s seat only gets hotter every day as the Trojans head to Sun Devil Stadium Saturday night to face a now-unranked Arizona State squad.
The Trojans have only one loss this season, but the season hasn’t been pretty. They lost as a 16-point favorite to Washington State, and last week only barely beat Utah State 17-14, improving to 3-1 SU but falling to 1-3 ATS. The Trojans are now 4-13 ATS over the past two seasons and 1-8 ATS coming off a straight-up win. The Sun Devils are now 2-1 SU and 1-2 ATS after falling 42-28 to Stanford last week as 6.5-point underdogs. Arizona State is 3-11 ATS coming off an Over during the past three years. These two teams have split their past two meetings SU and ATS, with both teams winning and covering at home. While USC is 6-3 SU against Arizona State on the road since 1992, the Sun Devils are 5-4 ATS in those games. Overall dating back to 1992, USC is 15-4 SU and 11-8 ATS in this series.
Sophomore QB Cody Kessler leads the USC attack, completing 46-of-76 passes to start the season for four touchdowns and two interceptions. He has been inconsistent, however, as he was ultra-efficient while completing 15-of-17 passes in the team’s week three blowout of Boston College, but in last week’s nail-biter, he was 13-for-27. His immobility can also be an issue as he has minus-8 rushing yards so far this season. The guy they can trust on the ground is Tre Madden, who is averaging 5.1 YPC with 90 touches and 455 yards in 2013, finding the end zone twice. Also with two rushing touchdowns is Justin Davis, who has 32 carries for 189 yards. The most dynamic threat in the offense, though, is Kessler’s top target Marqise Lee (23 catches for 293 yards, 1 TD) who can make plays if Kessler is successful in finding him with the ball. The Trojans’ rushing defense has been a highlight in 2013, yielding only 2.2 YPC while the passing defense has also had its moments, limiting opponents to 4.8 yards per attempt. The 9.3 yards per completion, though, needs to be improved upon for this defense to be considered anything close to elite.
The Sun Devils have a much more aggressive passing attack led by QB Taylor Kelly, who has already surpassed the 1,000-yard mark with 1,019 through three games on 82-of-137 passing. He has eight touchdowns but three interceptions this year, two of which came in the team’s loss to Stanford while he was forced to sling the ball a whopping 55 times. Kelly’s top target is Jaelen Strong (24 receptions for 330 yards, 2 TD) but he is good at spreading the wealth, with two other receivers pulling in two touchdowns apiece. To take the pressure off Kelly, RB Marion Grice must be more than a goal-line threat. He has six touchdowns already, but only 193 yards on 53 carries (3.6 YPC) this year. The Sun Devils defense has been mediocre against the run, giving up 4.7 YPC, and has been equally as questionable against the pass, allowing 6.7 yards per attempt and 12.2 yards per completion. That was the problem against the Cardinal, surrendering a hefty 13.7 yards per completion.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS (3-0) at NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (3-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Oklahoma -4 & 49.5
Opening Line & Total: Sooners -3.5 & 49.5
No. 14 Oklahoma looks to make up for last season’s loss in Norman as they head to South Bend to take on No. 22 Notre Dame on Saturday.
Last season, the two teams were tied at 13 with 5:05 left before Notre Dame scored the final 17 points of the game. The biggest reason for the Irish victory was their terrific job against the Sooners rushing attack (24 carries for 15 yards). However, this is not the same Notre Dame defense as last season, and QB Blake Bell has the Oklahoma offense rolling right now. In a 51-20 victory over Tulsa in their last game two weeks ago, Bell threw for a career-high 423 yards and showed that he is more than just the “Belldozer.” His favorite target in that game was WR Sterling Shepard, who finished with 123 yards and two touchdowns. However, the Sooners are not the only offense in this game that has been able to throw the ball as QB Tommy Rees has Notre Dame’s offense rolling as well. With Everett Golson suspended due to academics, it was expected that the Fighting Irish offense would slip. However, Rees along with DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones have formed one of the most dynamic offenses in the country. Against Purdue, Daniels grabbed eight catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-tying touchdown. The key matchup in this game will be Oklahoma CB Aaron Colvin matched up against the receiving corps. Bob Stoops is 12-4 ATS (75%) when the line is +3 to -3 as the coach of Oklahoma, but Brian Kelly is 10-1 ATS (91%) after his teams gains 125 rushing yards or less in two straight games as a college head coach.
While Michigan State has a very good defense, their offense is absolutely abysmal. They allowed a subpar Notre Dame defense to look a lot better than it really is last week. That will not be the case with the Sooners however, as they are once again one of the premier offenses in the country. Through four weeks, the Sooners rank 16th in the country with 272 rushing yards per game. Brennan Clay has led them on the ground, averaging 87.3 yards per game while scoring two rushing touchdowns. The offense is once again explosive, but the Sooners appear to be playing the type of defense that Oklahoma did in the early 2000’s. In three games, the Sooners have given up just nine points per game, ranking fifth in the country. With Aaron Colvin, they have one of the elite cornerbacks in the country. With Julian Wilson on the other side, the Sooners have the guys that can match up with the Notre Dame receivers. If Jordan Phillips and the rest of the Oklahoma defensive line are able to get pressure on Rees, then there is a good chance that the Sooners will be able to get the victory. If not, then Notre Dame could once again pull off an SU upset.
Notre Dame currently heads into its game against Oklahoma with 13 straight home victories. While it has not been pretty the past two weeks, the Fighting Irish made enough plays late in both games to beat Purdue and Michigan State. Junior RB Amir Carlisle is starting to give Notre Dame a solid rushing attack to complement their high-flying passing attack. Against Michigan State, the Fighting Irish were called for eight penalties, totaling 86 yards. They must play mistake-free football if they want to get their third straight victory, and the defense needs to force more turnovers than its four takeaways in four games this year. Notre Dame’s run defense has been pretty strong this season, holding opponents to 114 yards per game on 3.7 yards per carry.
OLE MISS REBELS (3-0) at ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (3-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Alabama -14.5 & 56
Opening Line & Total: Crimson Tide -17 & 56
No. 1 Alabama faces another tough test on Saturday night when it hosts the explosive offense of No. 21 Ole Miss.
Ole Miss hasn’t beaten Alabama SU since 2003, averaging a mere 13.1 PPG during nine straight defeats in this series. But the Rebels have covered in four straight visits to Tuscaloosa, losing by just 9.8 PPG in the four ATS wins. As 31-point underdogs, they lost only 33-14 a year ago, holding the Crimson Tide to 305 yards of offense. Ole Miss enters this one winners of five in a row SU, and has covered in five of its past six contests. This season, the Rebels are averaging 38.0 PPG and 490 total YPG in their three victories. Alabama essentially took last week off against Colorado State, resting numerous starters in a 31-6 victory. It was the second straight week the Tide have failed to cover, winning 49-42 at 8-point underdog Texas A&M the previous week. However, this is a good sign considering Alabama is 15-3 ATS (83%) off two no-covers as a favorite since 1992. However, Ole Miss has had plenty of time to prepare with last week’s bye, and they are 19-6 ATS (76%) on the road when playing with 2+ weeks of rest since 1992. Both teams also have favorable coaching trends, as Hugh Freeze is 12-4 ATS (75%) since arriving at Ole Miss and 13-3 ATS (81%) in the first half of the season as a college coach. Nick Saban is 18-8 ATS (69%) off a home win by 17+ points, and 25-14 ATS (64%) after 3+ straight wins as the Alabama head coach.
The Rebels have shown tremendous offensive balance this season with 250 rushing YPG (21st in nation) and 240 passing YPG (55th in FBS). QB Bo Wallace is a true dual-threat under center, throwing for 648 yards (7.5 YPA), 4 TD and 0 INT, but also running for 120 yards and 3 TD. Wallace is looking to make amends after a dreadful performance at Alabama last year when he completed just 15-of-26 passes for 123 yards (4.7 YPA), 0 TD and 2 INT. He has a great chance to improve upon that with the return of top WR Vince Sanders who has missed the entire season after suffering a broken collarbone in the first fall practice. Sanders caught seven passes for 46 yards in last year’s loss to the Tide. Without Sanders, Wallace has relied mostly on three players who have all surpassed 10 catches and 150 yards this year– TE Evan Engram (175 yds, 2 TD), WR Donte Moncrief (173 yds, 2 TD) and Laquon Treadwell (154 yds). It’s never easy to run on Alabama, but the Rebels have an excellent ball carrier in RB Jeff Scott, who has galloped for 330 yards on just 35 carries (9.4 YPC) with a pair of touchdowns. He scored on a 75-yard game-winning scamper with 1:07 left in his team’s SEC-opening win at Vanderbilt. The Ole Miss defense has been much improved this season, especially against the run where it has held teams to 114 rushing YPG on 3.1 YPC. The passing defense has also been decent, allowing 218 YPG on 6.8 YPA, including 5.4 YPA in its last game, a 44-23 win at Texas. The Rebels are really hoping to have sophomore LB Denzel Nkemdiche (knee) back in action. He was all over the field in last year’s meeting with Alabama, racking up 11 tackles, 3 TFL and two forced fumbles. His brother, highly-touted freshman DE Robert Nkemdiche, has yet to record a sack, but he does have 10 tackles (eight solo) in his first three collegiate games. Ole Miss knows it needs to create some turnovers, something it has done five times this season.
Alabama’s offense has not been very consistent, especially on the ground. The Tide tallied just 96 rushing yards (2.5 YPC) in the season opener versus Virginia Tech and 66 yards (3.1 YPC) in last week’s victory over Colorado State. However, none of this blame should go to RB T.J. Yeldon who has gained 5.6 yards per carry on his 49 attempts. Despite the ground game underachieving, QB AJ McCarron has been outstanding in his decision making over the past two weeks, completing 40-of-55 passes (73%) for 592 yards, 5 TD and just 1 INT. McCarron was very efficient in last year’s win over Ole Miss too, completing 22-of-30 passes (73%) for 180 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT. Both of those touchdowns went to WR Amari Cooper, who finished with 84 yards on eight receptions. Cooper did not play last week because of a minor toe injury, but he will be back on the field Saturday. If he’s still limited, McCarron has three other receivers that have topped 100 yards this year, including explosive junior WR DeAndrew White, who has a hefty 20.1 yards per catch with a pair of touchdowns. Fellow junior WR Christion Jones leads the Tide with 12 receptions, piling up nine grabs for 90 yards last week. The Tide defense and special teams have provided a great source of offense with five combined touchdowns already. Alabama’s defense looked extremely shaky in its only SEC contest, allowing Texas A&M to compile a whopping 628 total yards of offense. The Tide were predictably much improved in this department last week, holding CSU to a mere 279 total yards, including 51 yards on 26 rushes (2.0 YPC). In last year’s defeat of Ole Miss, the Tide picked off three passes and gave up only 218 yards to the Rebels.
WISCONSIN BADGERS (3-1) at OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (4-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Ohio State -7 & 55.5
Opening Line & Total: Buckeyes -7.5 & 55
No. 23 Wisconsin bounced back nicely last week from its heartbreaking loss to Arizona State, and will look to keep rolling with a huge road victory over No. 4 Ohio State, winners of 16 straight games, on Saturday night.
Year in and year out, the Wisconsin Badgers have proven to be one of the premiere teams in the country when it comes running the ball. That has not changed under new head coach Gary Andersen. Entering week 5, Wisconsin leads the country with 1,399 rushing yards, which is 150 more than Ohio State, the nation’s second-most prolific ground game with 1,244 yards. Even more impressive, the Badgers are averaging an incredible 8.0 yards per carry. It has been a two-man crew as Melvin Gordon (624 yards, 11.8 YPC, 7 TD) and James White (442 yards, 3 TD) do an outstanding job of following their offensive line and getting to the second level. However, QB Joel Stave has done a very good job of making defenses have to respect the Badgers’ passing game as well. While the Badgers are 7.5-point underdogs going into this game, that suits Andersen just fine considering he’s 15-2 ATS as a road underdog as a college coach. When Ohio State star QB Braxton Miller went down with his injury, there were questions on what direction the Buckeyes would go with their offense. Two games and 10 touchdown passes later, backup QB Kenny Guiton hasn’t missed a beat. Both quarterbacks are expected to guide one of the nation’s highest scoring offenses (52.5 PPG, 4th in FBS). Buckeyes RB Carlos Hyde was suspended for the first three games because of off-field issues, but RB Jordan Hall leads the nation with eight touchdowns. He is not the biggest running back at 5-foot- 10, 200 pounds, but he is extremely shifty. A very interesting thing to look for in this matchup is the way Urban Meyer game plans for the Badgers. Andersen was an assistant for Meyer at Utah.
Wisconsin is 18 seconds away from being undefeated heading into this game after its controversial loss to Arizona State two weeks ago. The Badgers currently rank 25th in the country in scoring (41.0 PPG) and will look to use their offense to control the time of possession on Saturday. Last season, Wisconsin was able to rush for 206 yards, but more importantly, had the ball for over 37 minutes in a 21-14 overtime loss to Ohio State. However, the Badgers are more than capable of stopping the Buckeyes, currently ranking 10th in points allowed at 10.5 per game. Freshman Sojourn Shelton has shown the potential to become of the best defensive backs in the country, grabbing two interceptions in the first four games of his career. He has also done a very good job in helping with the run, something that is extremely rare to see in a young cornerback. Look for him to get matched up with top WR Devin Smith, who has produced many big plays for the Buckeyes in his career.
The Buckeyes have reached 40 points in all four of their wins, which includes a hefty 76-point performance against Florida A&M last weekend. With Miller back in the lineup, look for Ohio State to look to get back to really using the rushing attack, while not throwing the ball nearly as much. The Buckeyes defense has some major flaws to look out for though, especially in the secondary. Even though they defeated their lone BCS opponent (California) two weeks ago, they gave up 503 total yards, including 371 through the air. The defensive line has to win the battle and not let Gordon and White get to the second level, or the Buckeyes could see their 16-game win streak and national title dreams go down the drain.