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Spread Options: College football picks against the spread for Week 2

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Week 2 of any football season is always tricky. It’s hard not to overreact to what we saw on the field in Week 1. Instead, you’ve got to take your offseason research and make some minor adjustments based on Week 1.

Well, maybe for me it should be major adjustments. I went 2-5-1 in Week 1 and two of those losses were brutal.

If Purdue simply gets a first down on a third-and-short play near the end of its game against Oregon State, it would have been able to run out the clock and Oregon State would have covered the 7.5. Instead, Oregon State sold out for a run play and Purdue went play-action. The tight end was wide open, he went untouched for a 50-yard touchdown and Purdue won by nine. Ouch.

I was also on Notre Dame -7.5. The Irish were up 18 points entering the fourth quarter but went into a shell and blew the lead before winning in overtime. Those bad beats give me a some confidence that I can rebound in Week 2.

Last week: 2-5-1

Overall: 3-6-1

(Note: All times ET, odds from BetMGM)

Pittsburgh at Tennessee

Time: Noon | TV: ESPN | Line: Pitt -3 | Total: 56.5

With Josh Heupel in place as head coach, Tennessee is trying to run an offense with air raid and run and shoot concepts. There’s just one problem. Heupel doesn’t have the quarterback to really run it to his liking.

The Vols opened up the Heupel era by beating Bowling Green, 38-6. Bowling Green is one of the worst teams in the country, yet Tennessee could only muster 145 passing yards. Michigan transfer Joe Milton is the starter. He’s got a big arm, but he’s not accurate. He went just 11-of-23 for 140 yards.

Pitt has a defensive-minded coach in Pat Narduzzi and some really solid pieces on that side of the ball. I don’t think the Panthers will have much trouble stopping this Vols attack. On the other side, Pitt has a veteran QB in Kenny Pickett who won’t be intimidated by playing at Neyland Stadium. Pitt has performed well as a road favorite, too, posting an 8-3 ATS record in those spots under Narduzzi.

Pick: Pittsburgh -3

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) plays against Massachusetts during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) plays against Massachusetts during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Rutgers at Syracuse

Time: 2 p.m. | TV: ACCN | Line: Rutgers -2.5 | Total: 52

Rutgers beat Temple 61-14 last week, but that score is a bit deceiving. Temple is very bad and turned the ball over five times, including three lost fumbles. Those turnovers continually gave Rutgers short fields. The Scarlet Knights had a safety, a defensive touchdown and six scoring drives that spanned fewer than 30 yards. Six!

When you dig into the box score and watch the game, you see a Rutgers offense that was not very impressive. Rutgers averaged just 4.5 yards per play and was 6-of-16 on third down. Rutgers can’t throw the ball down the field and had just two plays of 20-plus yards in the game.

Syracuse was terrible last year, but dealt with a ton of opt-outs and injuries. The Orange looked considerably more competent in Week 1, going on the road and beating a solid Ohio team 29-9. Syracuse rushed for 283 yards in the win. Rutgers allowed more than 200 rushing yards per game in 2020. I expect the Orange to be able to run in this game, especially at home. I’ll hold my nose and take the points.

Pick: Syracuse: +2.5

Air Force at Navy

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: CBS | Line: Air Force -5.5 | Total: 41

This has been written about ad nauseam over the years, but the under hits at an extremely high rate when service academies (Air Force, Army, Navy) face off against one another. Since 2005, the record for the under is now 38-9-1. It’s two teams who know one another extremely well running the option. The clock keeps on moving and there aren’t many points scored.

That’s the simple explanation for expecting a low-scoring game here. I also just don’t think Navy is very good. The preseason win total for Navy was 2.5 at some books and coach Ken Niumatalolo does not seem to have been able to find a quarterback he trusts since Malcolm Perry graduated. Three different Navy QBs played in the team’s Week 1 loss to Marshall and none of them were particularly effective.

Pick: Under 41

California at TCU

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: ESPNU | Line: TCU -11.5 | Total: 48

Cal opened up its season by losing 22-17 at home to Nevada. The Golden Bears were only a 3-point favorite in that game and Nevada has an NFL-bound QB in Carson Strong, so it wasn’t too big of an upset. Still, Cal has to be disappointed — especially after opening the game with a 14-0 lead.

Now the Golden Bears have to go on the road to face TCU. The Horned Frogs beat an extremely overmatched FCS opponent in their opener and are now an 11.5-point favorite. I think that’s too many points. Cal has played 43 games under Justin Wilcox and 21 of them have been decided by a possession. Under Wilcox, Cal is 16-8-1 ATS as an underdog, including a 9-4 ATS mark as a road underdog.

This is a very experienced Cal team and the defense should be able to handle TCU QB Max Duggan enough to keep this thing close. TCU has not been good against the spread at home in recent years, either. Since 2016, the Horned Frogs are 6-18-1 as a home favorite. Additionally, TCU is 2-7-1 ATS in its last 10 games as a double-digit favorite at home. Everything is pointing to Cal here for me.

Pick: California +11.5

California Golden Bears quarterback Chase Garbers (7) drops back on a play against the Nevada Wolf Pack during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021 in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Lachlan Cunningham)
California Golden Bears quarterback Chase Garbers (7) drops back on a play against the Nevada Wolf Pack during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021 in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Lachlan Cunningham)

No. 5 Texas A&M vs. Colorado

Time: 3:30 p.m. | TV: Fox | Line: Texas A&M -17 | Total: 50.5

In a 45-10 win over Kent State last week, Texas A&M’s lead was just 10-3 going into halftime and new QB Haynes King threw three interceptions. Causes for concern? Not for me. The Aggies put up nearly 600 yards of offense, including more than 300 on the ground, and King’s mistakes are all correctable.

This weekend, A&M heads to Denver to face Colorado at the Broncos stadium. Colorado was better than expected last year and has some good players at running back and linebacker. At the same time, the Buffs cannot throw the football.

Last year’s starter, Sam Noyer, left for Oregon State and Tennessee transfer JT Shrout hurt his knee in camp. That left redshirt freshman Brendon Lewis as the starter by default. He did not play very well in the opener vs. Northern Colorado, going just 10-of-15 for 102 yards. The Buffs ran for 281 yards in the 35-7 win, but they won’t be able to do that against the A&M front. That will put the ball in Lewis’ hands, and I don’t expect it to go very well.

Pick: Texas A&M -17

NC State at Mississippi State

Time: 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN2 | Line: NC State -2.5 | Total: 55.5

I’m a little leery about picking another ACC road favorite against an SEC opponent, but I trust my eyes with this one. NC State is just a better team than Mississippi State. I wrote about the Wolfpack as one of my favorite over win total plays during the offseason, and I’m not going to veer from my belief in NC State now.

This is just an experienced football team with an emerging quarterback in Devin Leary, an excellent running back duo in Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr. and a really solid defense. The Wolfpack destroyed a bad USF team last week 45-0 while Mississippi State needed a ferocious fourth-quarter comeback to beat Louisiana Tech, 35-34. I’m a bit worried that the late-game surge from MSU could carry over into Week 2, but I’ll take my chances on NC State with the spread under a field goal.

Pick: NC State -2.5