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Picking the Pac, Week 3: Bison in the Desert

UW and NDSU feature prominently, and it’s not one of my weird dreams

NCAA Football: FCS Championship-North Dakota State vs Montana State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

A 6-8 record against the spread is not ideal, but it’s an acceptable start through the first two weeks, especially compared to the bloodbath that has overtaken many of the computer projection models at the start of the year. Much like those computers, I will continue to absorb and process information as teams play more games, and hope to make a surge in the second half of the year. On a positive note, this week will be the last time this year I have to sort through 11 games and try to come up with something interesting to write about Southern Alabama.

As always, the lines come courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook. Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.

Consistent with the first two weeks, I will only make ATS picks for FBS vs. FBS games. If you’re desperate, you can find FCS lines on sketchy offshore sports books, but not reputable ones like our illustrious sponsor, DraftKings sports book.

South Alabama @ UCLA, UCLA -15

Oh who am I kidding, I have nothing interesting to say about South Alabama. I knew someone who graduated from there once. Does that count? Chip Kelly finally seems to be off the hot seat and the Bruins have started flawlessly against a very soft schedule. The Jaguars are 2-0 and even have a win on the road against a real FBS team, Central Michigan. Is that reason to think this game will be close? It is not. The one minor vulnerability that carried over from last year to this one is UCLA’s run defense, and USA runs the ball poorly. Look out for a huge Zach Charbonnet game.

UCLA 37 – South Alabama 17

Cal @ Notre Dame, Notre Dame -11

Marcus Freeman is off to a very, very bad start with the Fighting Irish. It’s hardly fair to point out that he’s the first coach to start out 0-3 when the first two were a bowl game against Oklahoma State and then Ohio State. There’s not much of an excuse for the home loss to Marshall. The Irish have a real QB problem. They weren’t getting much production when Tyler Buchner was healthy and his injury makes it even worse. Cal’s defense is as it ever was, but I think Notre Dame will be able to control the ball on the ground with a bounce-back game for the DL. If week two went as well as week one for Jack Plummer, I might pick the upset. Instead, Plummer led the Bears to 20 points against lowly UCLA, setting up a defense skirmish.

Notre Dame 28 – Cal 14

BYU @ Oregon, Oregon -3.5

NCAA Football: Baylor at Brigham Young Gabriel Mayberry-USA TODAY Sports

BYU earned some national attention with an upset win over #9 Baylor in double OT. Jaren Hall led a solid, diverse offensive attack that looked very competent against a tough defense. Christopher Brooks, a Cal transfer, has the size and power to get tough yards against any defense. Oregon tried to make people forget about the Georgia deflation by running up the score against Eastern Washington. Bo Nix will have to do it against a real opponent to convince anyone to move on. It’s a good matchup between a balanced, consistent team and one that has yo-yoed wildly through two games, but has plenty of talent.

Oregon 30 – BYU 28

Colorado @ Minnesota, Minnesota -27.5

The Gophers felt good coming into the season with key skill position players back and OC Kirk Ciarrocca back in the fold. Coincidentally, Ciarrocca, replaced Mike Sandford who left to take over the moribund offense of… Colorado. Suffice to say that the Ciarrocca has had the better start to the season. The Gophers haven’t faced a real challenge yet, but they’ve tallied 100 in two games. They won’t face a challenge this week, either. The only thing Colorado has going for it is the enormous number of points for a P5 underdog against an unranked opponent. Nonetheless, I’m going to pick against the Buffs unless and until they show some shred of a running game.

Minnesota 44 – Colorado 14

Colorado St. @ Washington St, WSU -16.5

This line is what I would expect if a solid Pac-12 team hosted an above-average Mountain West opponent. Instead, CSU has lost eight-straight going back to last year. They were hardly competitive with Middle Tennessee in a home game last week. The Cougs didn’t get much of a reputational bounce from the rock fight victory over Wisconsin. Even if they didn’t have much of a statistical advantage in that game, it demonstrates that the defense is up to a challenge. Cam Ward hasn’t impressed yet, so it will be important for him to start clicking against a defense that is more vulnerable to the run. In any case, I’ll be rooting for Clay Millen to get that win against the Cougs he deserves.

WSU 35 – CSU 13

Montana State @ Oregon State

Perhaps the Corvallis cardiologists can take the weekend off after last weekend’s heart attack finish against Fresno State. This one should be more straightforward despite the fact that Montana State played for the FCS championship in January. Jonathan Smith is used to scheming a less talented roster past opponents. This time, he can use the physical superiority of Deshaun Fenwick and his offensive line to run through the Bobcats.

OSU 41 – Montana St. 20

San Diego St. @ Utah, Utah -21

Like Oregon, Utah recovered from a disappointing loss in the southeast by stomping a poor FCS team into submission. The difference is that the Utes’ SEC loss was by a wafer-thin margin and it could have gone either way in the last minute. They have more to build on and appeared to be a more complete team entering the year. Last we saw the Aztecs, they played very poorly in a home less to Arizona in week one. Braxton Burmeister has not impressed in the passing game and we know how Utah handles one-dimensional opponents. This line seems fair to me, but I’m trusting that Utah has another gear.

Utah 41 – SDSU 17

Fresno St. @ USC, USC -12

On this week’s All We Hear Is Purple Podcast, Coach B surprised me when he said that he felt that USC’s 41-28 win over Stanford was a letdown for the Trojans. I figured that a road cover that looked closer based on garbage time scores was still a step in the right direction for USC. After further examination, I think Coach has a point. Stanford’s offense has been in decline for years and USC still gave up a fair amount of ground. Fresno, meanwhile, can play with anyone. Although they lost last week to the Beavers, it took a TD run by a linebacker with no time on the clock. I’m not expecting the Bulldogs to win, but this game might be close enough to remind us that one transfer portal does not a rebuild make.

USC 40 – Fresno St 31

Eastern Michigan @ Arizona St., ASU -20.5

This line is right in the zone that makes me uncomfortable to pick the Sun Devils. On one hand, I am skittish to lay many points after the very poor offensive performance last week against Oklahoma State. The Emory Jones-Xzavian Valladay rushing monster could not get the job done in Stillwater. On the other hand, the boys from Ypsilanti have given up over 40 points per game against Louisiana and Eastern Kentucky. I’ll take ASU, but my confidence level is low.

ASU 37 – EMU 15

North Dakota St. @ Arizona

NCAA Football: FCS Championship-North Dakota State vs Montana State Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I grew up in Fargo going to NDSU D-II playoff games at old Dacotah Field, so I’m intimately familiar with the Bison. The FCS powerhouses have been untested through two weeks, but fans have had this game circled on their calendar for years. I have heard estimates that at least 10,000 NDSU fans will make the trip to Tucson, and the number might be considerably higher. In the Wildcats’ favor, NDSU’s brand of physical, power running bears some similarity to what Arizona shut down against San Diego St. in week one. Arizona will need big plays in the passing game to avoid getting worn down by NDSU’s offensive line. To do that, they will need the Jayden De Laura who threw 4 TDs in week one, not the one who backed that up with 3 INTs last week. I think this game is a legitimate toss-up, and given NDSU’s sterling record against FBS teams, I’m picking them to rise to the occasion.

NDSU 27 – UA 24

Michigan State @ Washington, UW -3.5

My primary reaction to the line for this game was surprise that bettors appear to be higher on the Dawgs than the media or coaches in the national polls. The 3.5 points is roughly equivalent to the value of home field advantage for betting purposes. That means that the betting public sees the teams as roughly equal on a neutral field. If that’s the case, it’s surprising that one is ranked as high as 9th in the national polls while the other has not yet received any national attention.

NCAA Football: Akron at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, it’s understandable that members of the media or opposing coaches would still feel the hangover from the calamitous 2021 season. One could very reasonably argue that the numbers that matter most in this matchup are 4 and 11, as in the number of wins for each team last season. Neither one has proven much yet this year against teams with far less talent. The last several times we saw either team tested, Michigan State was beating the likes of Pitt and Michigan while the Dawgs were getting embarrassed at home in the Apple Cup. Yes, we have a new coaching staff, a new QB, and renewed self-belief. None of that changes the reality of how UW has most recently played against touch competition. That can only change on the field.

From what we have seen this year, there’s a lot to like about the specific matchups. UW’s defensive weakness appears to be the deep passing game. MSU’s biggest down-field threat, Jayden Reed, appears to be either out for the game or physically limited. Additionally, QB Payton Thorne is less of a dynamic playmaker than a steady field general. Offensively, UW has done a great job pass blocking for Michael Penix and Penix has done his part to move well in the pocket and get the ball out on time. MSU’s pass rush will be by far the toughest one yet, but there is reason to think UW is equipped to handle the challenge.

Altogether, I can see a path to UW’s offensive firepower being a little too much for MSU’s ground-and-pound techniques to match. I’m also skeptical of my own analysis because I don’t know how much it is colored by my homer glasses. I also worry that it’s unfair to expect a win over a top 10 (or 11) opponent this early in a pretty thorough rebuild. Maybe I’m just hedging against my own emotional response, but I’m going to wait to see UW show up against to opposition before I start expecting wins.

Michigan State 30 – UW 28

Poll

What will be the result of the UW-Michigan St. game?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    UW wins by more than 3.5
    (298 votes)
  • 21%
    UW wins by less than 3.5
    (123 votes)
  • 27%
    Michigan St. wins
    (160 votes)
581 votes total Vote Now