College Football Week 2 Predictions: Picking Top 25 Games Against the Spread
Week 1 of the college football season reminded us that handicapping games with point spreads is a difficult proposition. Oklahoma dominated Louisiana Tech as a 33.5-point favorite, looking the part of a hefty chalk in all four quarters. Then, with the starters long departed, the Bulldogs scored a meaningless touchdown with roughly a half-minute remaining.
This end-zone trip pushed the final score to 48-16, and like that, Louisiana Tech secured a cover against the Sooners’ backups’ backups’ backups. The tickets that looked so promising for so long were sent to the wastebaskets.
The season had returned.
After a .500-ish debut our picks against the spread in Week 1, we’re turning our focus to Week 2. We have a new AP poll, which will be used to outline the teams being targeted, along with a few fabulous matchups.
Oregon and Michigan State, we welcome you with open arms and full koozies.
The only difference this week, however, is games featuring Top 25 teams taking on FCS opponents—which includes Florida State, Texas A&M, Baylor, LSU and others—will not be picked. At the time this post was being crafted, there were no point spreads available for these matchups. (Don’t blame the sportsbooks; blame these dreadful early schedules.)
As for those that are being handicapped, here are the Week 2 picks.
All spreads are courtesy of Oddshark.com unless noted otherwise.
No. 24 Missouri at Toledo
The Line: Missouri (-5)
Now this is a fascinating little point spread. "Little" is indeed the key word.
As a 25.5-point favorite, Missouri didn’t quite look the part (at least at times) against South Dakota State in Week 1. A late surge of points gave the Tigers a 38-18 victory, although the score wasn’t indicative of the performance.
Gary Pinkel’s squad will now take its show on the road and play a team that can put up points in bunches. Toledo easily covered the 11.5-point spread last week, crushing New Hampshire 54-20. Yes, this will be an upgrade in competition, although the same can be said about Mizzou.
Toledo, at home, might be poised for more than just a cover behind running back Kareem Hunt. The line would indicate that the underdog is very live.
The Pick: Toledo (+5)
No. 21 South Carolina vs. East Carolina
The Line: South Carolina (-15.5)
You could see the smoke from South Carolina’s Week 1 Dumpster fire for miles. The fire might not be out.
And yet, despite the glaring holes in this team and areas in desperate need of renovation, the Gamecocks are more than a two-touchdown favorite against East Carolina. The Pirates opened with a 52-7 win over NC Central, although they will now make the trip to Columbia. Senior quarterback Shane Carden is likely salivating after watching South Carolina film, and you can't blame him. But this is a different proposition.
East Carolina does not have A&M’s offensive line, which really dictated the game more than any quarterback or wideout. Thus, expect a different game entirely. (Either that, or Steve Spurrier might throw his headset to the moon.)
Is this South Carolina group perfect? Not even close. But a bounce-back feels likely.
The Pick: South Carolina (-15.5)
No. 21 North Carolina vs. San Diego State
The Line: North Carolina (-15)
Yes, there are two No. 21s in this week's AP poll thanks to a tie. Even the sport's meaningless early rankings are enticing.
A 28-point third quarter nearly gave North Carolina the cover against Liberty in Week 1. After sputtering much of the first half, however, the Tar Heels fell just short of the 31-point spread. The competition will improve (at least somewhat) this week as San Diego State comes to town. The Aztecs easily covered the 18-point spread in Week 1, although they did so against Northern Arizona.
At home, despite not covering in the opener, North Carolina has been dominant against the spread. Over the past 18 games in front of the home fans, the Tar Heels have covered 13 times. With a manageable number and a cross-country trip on tap for the opponent, it seems like the opportune time to lay the points.
The Pick: North Carolina (-15)
No. 20 Kansas State at Iowa State
The Line: Kansas State (-12.5)
At first glance, this point spread seems rather odd. After all, Iowa State was just blasted by FCS power North Dakota State. The reality, however, is that the Bison would probably dismantle more than just a handful of power-five teams.
Now, this isn't exactly a swinging endorsement. Kansas State just blew out its first challenger, Stephen F. Austin, 55-16. Offensively and defensively, K-State is clearly a superior football team.
And yet, the Cyclones typically have a game or two a year at home that tend to surprise. After all, in 2012—the year Kansas State played its way into the Fiesta Bowl—Bill Snyder's group barely edged Iowa State in Ames.
The point spread looks entirely too easy to simply take the road dog and move on.
The (Reluctant) Pick: Iowa State (+12.5)
No. 17 Arizona State at New Mexico
The Line: Arizona State (-26.5)
Arizona State’s new-look defense looked just fine against Weber State. Although the Sun Devils didn’t cover the 46-point spread, quarterback Taylor Kelly didn’t throw a pass in the second half. He didn't have to, with the score the way it was.
For Week 2, this potent offense will travel to New Mexico. Following a 3-9 season, the Lobos lost outright to UTEP as a nine-and-a-half-point favorite in their opener.
If Kelly plays deep into the second half, Arizona State should cover this game. And quite frankly, he may not have to for the Sun Devils to cash.
The Pick: Arizona State (-26.5)
No. 16 Notre Dame vs. Michigan
The Line: Notre Dame (-5)
How much can we make of Week 1 performances? And what happens when both teams do a lot of really good things that are critical to their 2014 success?
Everett Golson played a brilliant game for the Irish. The Wolverines ran the football better than they have in some time. Of course, it came against Rice and Appalachian State, but the debuts were still promising. The result is a tight point spread in Notre Dame’s favor, thanks in large part to the home field.
There’s a good case to be made for both sides, although both offenses should be productive. Since we can’t simply take the over and move on, take the points in what should be a very close (and entertaining) game.
The Pick: Michigan (+5)
No. 15 Ole Miss at Vanderbilt
The Line: Ole Miss (-20)
You could make a strong case calling Vanderbilt your most disappointing team of the opening weekend. As an eight-and-a-half-point favorite, the Commodores lost 37-7 to Temple, a team that won two games in 2013. The result of such a performance is evident in this point spread.
The Rebels delivered the exact opposite impression against Boise State, at least in the second half. Quarterback Bo Wallace showcased his full range in one game, from brilliance to turnover-happy madness.
Perhaps Vanderbilt will get its offense in gear this week, although it will have to come against a defense that looked awfully fast upon first glance. Laying 20 points in a conference road game is never ideal, but this isn’t your average conference game.
The Pick: Ole Miss (-20)
No. 13 Stanford vs. USC
The Line: Stanford (-3.5)
The Pac-12 is delivering the goods this week. This early all-California showdown should teach us plenty.
Both teams looked impressive in their openers, although USC’s domination of Fresno State—headlined by 104 total plays on offense—was one of the more head-turning performances of the weekend.
Now the Trojans will head on the road, to the Farm, where they will take on a rebuilt Cardinal squad. Stanford dominated UC Davis in Week 1, although that doesn’t give us much. Given the losses along the offensive line, at running back and all across the defense, a win here—even at home—is a tall order.
Is USC as good as it showed last week? The Trojans might not need to be to cover this game.
The Pick: USC (+3.5)
No. 11 UCLA vs. Memphis
The Line: UCLA (-23.5)
UCLA’s best weeks are still off in the distance. If you watched the Bruins struggle mightily against Virginia—particularly with the offensive line—than you know it really can’t get much worse. Well, it can in the win-loss column, although the performance was concerning.
Memphis opened its season in a much more celebratory fashion, blowing out Austin Peay 63-0. Yes, it was Austin Peay. But the Tigers have improved plenty since bottoming out just a few short years ago.
Although it won’t be confused with the unit on the other sideline, Memphis is strong on defense. And after watching UCLA’s offensive struggles, three-and-a-half touchdowns is just too much, even at home.
The Pick: Memphis (+23.5)
No. 8 Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech
The Line: Ohio State (-11.5)
The Buckeyes delivered Week 1’s sneakiest cover, powering by Navy on the road as more than a two-touchdown favorite. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t easy. But it worked, even though you had to wait for it.
Virginia Tech covered its 23.5-point spread against William & Mary, although this will be a dramatic step up in class on the road. The Hokies defense is stout enough to keep this game tight, but the offense might find The Horseshoe (and this defense) slightly more challenging.
Look for Urban Meyer to slowly open up the playbook for J.T. Barrett. It may take four quarters (again), but a double-digit victory should follow.
The Pick: Ohio State (-11.5)
No. 5 Auburn vs. San Jose State
The Line: Auburn (-31)
Auburn continued this season right where it left off. The Tigers covered (again) against Arkansas.
That makes it 12 consecutive games Auburn has covered, and we’re approaching a full calendar year since its last lost against the spread. Because of this success, the lines will only get larger until something changes.
San Jose State was impressive in its opener, although it came against North Dakota, a team that went 3-8 in the Big Sky last season. Add in the cross-country travel, and you have quite a task ahead. Unless the Tigers take their foot off the gas early—which is certainly possible—31 points likely won’t be enough.
The Pick: Auburn (-31)
No. 4 Oklahoma at Tulsa
The Line: Oklahoma (-24.5)
Last season’s Tulsa-Oklahoma matchup resulted in a 51-20 win (and cover) in the Sooners’ favor. This time around, the game will switch to the Golden Hurricanes’ digs, which undoubtedly played a significant role in lowering the line.
Oklahoma’s 48-16 win against Louisiana Tech in the opener featured everything we expected to see, particularly on the defense and with quarterback Trevor Knight. Tulsa, meanwhile, is coming off a double-overtime win against Tulane.
The difference in talent will be evident, but Oklahoma’s schedule kicks up after this week when Tennessee comes to town. Tulsa won't win, but it should be within this very large reach.
The Pick: Tulsa (+24.5)
No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan State
The Line: Oregon (-13)
It’s a lot of points. Let’s address the obvious out of the gate.
When you consider just how talented Michigan State is on both sides—even with significant departures on defense—the line starts to look a little larger and the points look even more tempting. There's nothing all that scientific about seeing a talented, physical team and deciding that it will keep the game within two touchdowns.
But as much as the narrative will shift to Oregon’s propensity to be out-forced (see: Stanford), Michigan State has not seen an offense like this. Sparty will play tough, as it always does, but the point spread speaks volumes here.
I'm not overjoyed laying all of these points, but taking them isn't all that comforting, either.
The Pick: Oregon (-13)
No. 2 Alabama vs. Florida Atlantic
The Line: Alabama (-40.5)
As it stands, Alabama is far from perfect. The secondary remains a work in progress, and Blake Sims—despite flashing moments in the opener—will experience his ups and downs if he stays the starter. But the team is still rife with talent, and Florida Atlantic will be no match. The Owls’ 55-7 loss to Nebraska included 498 Cornhusker rushing yards. That's not optimal with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry on the docket.
It looks like a mismatch, and it is, but Alabama has covered just three times in the last 11 games when it was dealt a spread of 30 points or more. This is not a team that tends to run it up. It might not matter, but take the 40.5 while Nick Saban works out his team's issues.
The Pick: Florida Atlantic (+40.5)