The first week of the season is always the toughest to pick, so a .500 overall record isn’t all that bad. The Big Ten picks were especially bad last week, as I whiffed completely on the Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin games. At least a strong group of picks in the national games helped to boost the week’s record. Now, we have a weak slate of games that doesn’t offer a whole lot in terms of intrigue.
Last week ATS: 9-9 (6-2 National, 3-7 B1G)
National games (All games Saturday unless otherwise noted):
No. 13 Louisville (-14.5) v. Syracuse - Friday 8:00 PM EST - ESPN2
Louisville and Syracuse both got off to strong starts to the season by feasting on FCS foes last week. The Cardinals had little problem dispatching Charlotte last Thursday behind eight first half touchdowns from quarterback Lamar Jackson, with six of those coming through the air. The blowout allowed Bobby Petrino to empty out his bench, as 16 Louisville players caught a pass during the game.
Dino Babers started off his Syracuse head coaching career with a 33-7 win over Colgate. The Orange were able to get their passing game going behind 355 yards and two touchdowns from Eric Dungey. The main recipient of those passes was Maryland graduate transfer Amba Etta-Tawo, who caught 12 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown. Etta-Tawo is already close to topping his yardage total from last year, when he accumulated 216 yards on 20 catches for the Terrapins.
The Orange still have a long way to go to become a threat in the ACC, but Babers already has them played better football than in recent years. The Cardinals could also be looking ahead to next week’s showdown with Florida State. Louisville will win but Syracuse will at least keep it within two touchdowns at home.
Louisville 38, Syracuse 27
Arkansas v. No. 15 TCU (-7.5) - 7:00 PM EST - ESPN
It wasn’t quite the start of the season TCU was expecting, but a win is a win. The Horned Frogs defense showed some holes as they allowed 461 yards to South Dakota State, but still came away with a 59-41 win on Saturday night. Kenny Hill impressed in his first start for TCU after transferring from Texas A&M, throwing for 439 yards and accounting for five total touchdowns. Head coach Gary Patterson will be looking to best Bret Bielema again after Patterson took home the first meeting between the two in the 2011 Rose Bowl.
Arkansas squeaked by Louisiana Tech to start off the year, using a 77-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to secure a 21-20 win. It wasn’t quite the Razorbacks that we have come to expect over the past few seasons, with Arkansas rushing for just 106 yards in the game.
Years ago these two schools used to be in the Southwest Conference together, but this will mark their first meeting since 1991, which was the final year Arkansas was part of the SWC. Both teams didn’t live up to expectations in their season openers, but I trust TCU to turn things around sooner. I’ll lay the points with the more experienced home team.
TCU 31, Arkansas 20
BYU v. Utah (-3.5) - 7:30 PM EST - Fox
Two editions of the Holy War inside of a year? How did we get so lucky? After having not played each other since 2013, BYU and Utah were paired together in the Las Vegas Bowl in December. The Utes jumped out to a 35-0 before a BYU comeback fell just short. Now the scene shifts to Salt Lake City, but there are plenty of differences between December’s matchup and what lies ahead on Saturday.
Bronco Mendenhall coached his final game for BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl before heading off to Virginia. New BYU head coach Kelani Sitake served as an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for Utah under Kyle Whittingham from 2012-14 before making the move to Provo. Sitake saw some excitement in his first game for BYU, as a game-winning field goal by a true freshman kicker gave the Cougars an 18-16 win over Arizona. Running back Jamaal Williams ran for 162 yards against Arizona, and figures to shoulder a heavy workload against the Utes on Saturday night.
Not only does Utah not have quarterback Travis Wilson from last year’s team, but they are also without running back Devontae Booker. The Utes got their first shutout since 2012 last week when they took down Southern Utah 24-0. It’s likely to be another entertaining contest between the rivals, but I’ll take the points with BYU in what usually is a close affair.
BYU 24, Utah 17
Virginia Tech v. No. 17 Tennessee (-12) - 8:00 PM EST - ABC
The Skoal Bowl takes place at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night, and it is estimated that 150,000 will be in attendance at the short track. Tennessee will be looking for a little cleaner start this week after they fell behind Appalachian State 13-3 before rallying to force overtime. The Volunteers were able to avoid the upset as Josh Dobbs fumbled the ball into the end zone, but running back Jalen Hurd was able to find himself in the right place at the right time to give Tennessee a lead they wouldn’t give up.
Virginia Tech didn’t have the greatest start in head coach Justin Fuente’s debut with the school, but the Hokies eventually pulled away to a 36-13 win over Liberty. Virginia Tech will need to do a better job taking care of the football after losing four fumbles to the Flames. The Hokies defense was able to create some turnovers of their own, intercepting three passes and recovering a fumble.
Maybe Tennessee lives up to their preseason top-10 ranking, but I’m not counting on it, especially when they have to try and crack a Bud Foster defense. With the different venue both teams will be ready to go and I could see this game being close until the end.
Tennessee 28, Virginia Tech 24
Virginia v. No. 24 Oregon (-24.5) - 10:30 PM EST - ESPN
Virginia could be in for a world of hurt when they take on Oregon at Autzen Stadium on Saturday evening. The Cavaliers just lost to Richmond 37-20 at home in Bronco Mendenhall’s first game at the school as head coaching. What led to Virginia’s downfall against the FCS team were the four turnovers they committed in the game.
On the other hand, Oregon had little trouble dealing with UC Davis in their season opener, winning 53-28. Brady Hoke’s Oregon defense is still a work in progress, but they shouldn’t have too much trouble dealing with a Virginia offensive attack that leaves a lot to be desired.
Royce Freeman should be able to fill up the stat sheet against a Virginia rushing defense that just gave up 187 yards on the ground to Richmond. Freeman wasn’t needed too much in the season opener, carrying the football 11 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns. The Ducks score early and often, handing Mendenhall his second loss in as many games with the Cavaliers.
Oregon 55, Virginia 23