Week three was quite good to me as I went 3-0 straight up and 2-1 against the spread. It was not so good to ranked teams that lost in week three, such as Michigan State, Maryland, and USC. Those teams want to move on, so let’s take a look at week four’s enticing matchups.
Record after week three: straight up — (8-1), against the spread — (7-2)
No. 11 Michigan (2-0) at No. 13 Wisconsin (2-0) (Noon ET on FOX)
If there are two teams that have a habit of making me and my picks look bad, it is Michigan and Wisconsin. I trust them at the worst times. The Badgers had a subpar year last season and the Wolverines, whom I didn’t believe in all year long, laid an egg in “The Game” when I finally picked them to win.
Nevertheless, Michigan has not given fans much reason to believe in them this year either. It took a bit of luck and two overtimes for the Wolverines to survive Army at home. The last team that survived an overtime scare at home against Army ended up winning their conference and making it to the College Football Playoff (Oklahoma).
Unfortunately for the Maize and Blue, Shea Patterson is no Kyler Murray. Michigan finds itself ranked 12th out of the 14 Big Ten teams in passing yards per game at 226 yards per game through the air. For comparison, Wisconsin is third. The Wolverines are eighth in the conference in rushing yards per game with 170.5. That’s a respectable number, but they’re only averaging 3.8 yards per carry. That means they’re getting that number with volume because they don’t trust the passing game very much. Meanwhile, the Badgers are averaging five yards a carry and over 216 rushing yards per game.
Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor is arguably the best running back in the country. No running back in FBS history has compiled more rushing yards in his freshman and sophomore seasons than Taylor has. He has five rushing touchdowns, 237 rushing yards, and is averaging nearly seven yards per carry. Jack Coan, Wisconsin’s signal-caller, is growing more and more comfortable under center. He’s completing 76.3% of his passes with five touchdowns and no picks so far this season. His job is pretty straightforward this week as it is most weeks. He’ll hand the ball to Taylor about 20 to 25 times and try to keep the defense honest with his arm when they overload the box.
I have two X-factors in this game: Shea Patterson against Wisconsin’s defensive backs, and Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor against Michigan’s linebackers. Michigan won’t be able to run the ball down Wisconsin’s throat. It couldn’t even do that against an under-sized Army squad. The Wolverines will need to spread the Badgers out and take some chances down the field. On the other side, Taylor will eventually break past the line so it’ll be up to Michigan’s linebackers to make stops in space. If they can’t wrap him up, he’ll break free for big gains.
The spread: Wisconsin (-3.5)
My pick: I think Jonathan Taylor has a statement game at home at Camp Randall that serves notice to the rest of the country that he’ll continue to be in the Heisman conversation. I’m taking the Badgers to win and cover.
No. 8 Auburn (3-0) at No. 17 Texas A&M (2-1) (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS)
There’s definitely no shame in losing by two touchdowns to the defending champions on the road. It has been almost a full calendar year since the last time the Clemson Tigers failed to win by double digits.
Kellen Mond is a very good quarterback and the Aggies have shown over the past two years that they have the potential to play high-level football with the best in the nation. Mond is completing nearly 65% of his passes and has thrown for 747 yards, five touchdowns, and three picks. He has also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns. Isaiah Spiller has been a pleasant surprise in the backfield, averaging a whopping 8.8 yards per carry this season. Even if you take out his 85-yard run, his longest of the season, he’s still averaging nearly six yards per touch.
Auburn will play its first true road game of the year in College Station. With A&M’s 12th man screaming down his neck, it’s a heck of a place for true freshman Bo Nix to make his first ever road start as well as his first SEC game. Outside of his drive and last-minute touchdown pass to beat Oregon in the opener, Nix hasn’t really wowed me yet. Through three games, he has thrown for 545 yards, four touchdowns, and two picks. What really worries me, especially on the road in an atmosphere as hostile as Texas A&M, is his completion percentage. Completing 52.4% of your passes won’t get it done in SEC play and forces Auburn to be more one-dimensional offensively.
At the beginning of the year, I said that if Auburn wants to have success this season and rediscover its explosiveness on offense, it has to establish the running game and dominate on the ground. So far, the results have been mixed. The Tigers didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard against Tulane but seemed to find something against Kent State. Auburn is currently second in the SEC in rushing yards per game with 282. They’ll need to keep pounding the rock if they want to leave College Station with a win. JaTarvious Whitlow has been getting a steady stream of carries and he has been really good so far this season. He has 341 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
My X-factors in this game are Nix against Texas A&M’s linebackers, and Mond against Auburn’s safeties. The Aggies linebackers are going to try and disguise coverages and blitz Nix to throw off his timing. They’re not going to want him to settle in and get a rhythm going. They’re coming after him. Will Auburn be able to pick up the blitzes and will Nix be able to see the coverages and quickly progress through his reads? On the other side, while Texas A&M can run the ball against teams not named Clemson, the Aggies won’t win this game if they can’t throw the ball effectively. Will Mond take what the defense gives him and be able to take advantage of mistakes in coverage, or will he try to force a big play, especially if the run game isn’t working early on?
The spread: Texas A&M (-3.5)
My pick: Vegas is going with the Aggies, and I’m inclined to agree. I trust Mond over Nix in a big-time game like this. Maybe I’m reading too much into what I saw out of the Aggies against Clemson, but I think they definitely have what it takes to beat Auburn. I think it will be close for much of the game, but I’m taking Texas A&M to win and cover.
No. 7 Notre Dame (2-0) at No. 3 Georgia (3-0) (8:00 p.m. ET on CBS)
Two teams with lots of past College Football Playoff frustration go head-to-head between the hedges in Athens in a game that could play a huge role in shaping who makes it to the playoff this year.
Georgia is heavily favored coming in. Jake Fromm is as efficient a quarterback as you’ll find in college football. He’s completing 75% of his passes and has thrown for 601 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
The key to Georgia’s offense will be the run game. The Bulldogs will look to establish it early and often and grind down Notre Dame’s defensive front. D’Andre Swift is averaging a mind-numbing 9.4 yards per carry while Zamir White is averaging 7.4. Swift has only carried 31 times so far this season so he and the other Georgia backs should be quite fresh going into this game. The Bulldogs lead the SEC in rushing yards per game. If they want to win this game, they’ll have to continue to dominate in the run game.
Notre Dame’s Ian Book has built off of his sensational season last year when he took over as the starting quarterback from Brandon Wimbush. His completion percentage isn’t incredibly impressive at 61.7%, but he has thrown for over 550 yards and six touchdowns without throwing a pick. He also leads the team in carries and is tied for the team lead in rushing yards with 127 and rushing touchdowns with two. Georgia’s defense is incredibly aggressive, but the Dawgs might have to go to more of a contain if they keep blitzing and Book continues to escape the pressure and pick up first downs with his feet.
My X-factor in this game is the battle between Georgia’s offensive line and Notre Dame’s front seven. If Georgia wins the battle up front, the Dawgs will be able to dictate the tempo and tire the Fighting Irish defense out. If Notre Dame tries to send an extra guy or two into the box, Fromm will likely pick them apart in man coverage. It’s a tough predicament to be in, so Notre Dame needs its front seven to stay stout and get pressure on Fromm while keeping enough guys back to take away his passing lanes.
The spread: Georgia (-14.5)
The pick: The line on Texas A&M-Clemson had the Tigers as 16-point favorites. I thought the line was too high on that game so I took the points and ended up being right. Similarly, 14.5 points seems like a lot to me against a Notre Dame defense that’s really good and a Notre Dame offense that can score against teams that aren’t Clemson. Beating the Fighting Irish by more than two touchdowns seems like a big ask. I’m taking Georgia to win straight up, but I’m taking the points since I think this will be a relatively close contest.
Noah Niederhoffer (@NNiederhoffer) is a producer at SiriusXM and a graduate of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Originally from Atlanta, he now lives in Washington, D.C.