College football picks, games, odds for Week 3: Notre Dame, Miami, UCLA on upset alert
After a blistering start to the season, Week 3 features a number of top teams playing overmatched opponents. While there’s some intrigue as to whether No. 11 Florida can stay within two scores against No. 1 Alabama, or to what extent No. 3 Oklahoma will run up the score against Nebraska, the more intriguing matchups of the weekend are down the list.
Preseason perception is starting to cycle out, but Vegas still isn’t immune. Three games on my list of upset alerts feature teams ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 that have done nothing to back up their rankings. That includes a pair of ranked teams that easily could be 0-2 if not for some extraordinary luck.
If the first two weeks of the college football season have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. I mean, for goodness sake, eight teams – including three Power Five squads – lost to FCS opponents in one of the wackiest starts to a season in a while.
Each week, I’ll bring your attention to some of the more overlooked matchups of the weekend, both for your viewing pleasure – and, perhaps, financial. Without further ado, here are five matchups that could be primed for upsets.
Important disclaimer: “upset” is defined first and foremost by the odds, not rankings.
When: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET | Where: Miami Gardens, Florida
Featured Game | Miami (FL) Hurricanes vs. Michigan State Spartans
Why it’s listed: The Hurricanes remain in the polls exclusively because of a lofty preseason ranking. With a loss to labama and a 25-23 nail-biter over Appalachian State, their resume doesn’t exactly impress. Michigan State crushed Big Ten West defending champ Northwestern and Youngstown State in back-to-back weeks, but Saturday is its first true test.
Michigan State’s key to the game: Running back Kenneth Walker III has been a revelation since transferring from Wake Forest, rushing for 321 yards and five touchdowns on just 30 carries through the first two games. Miami has a strong defense front and competed decently with strong running games at App State and Alabama. If Walker is able to cause some issues – especially if he can hit on some explosive runs – it opens up the game dramatically for quarterback Payton Thorne.
Miami’s key to the game: The Hurricanes have only scored three offensive touchdowns while settling for field goals inside the opposing 30-yard line on five occasions. The only touchdown drive under 90 seconds came off of an interception at the App State 6-yard line. We heard all offseason how receiver transfer Charleston Rambo could provide a much-needed downfield threat. The U needs to hit a few explosive scores to make the game easier. The first two games have been a slog.
Pick: The Spartans have not been truly tested through the first two weeks of the year, so it’s difficult to know exactly what the upside is in Week 3. Regardless, these are two teams heading in the opposite direction. Michigan State might not be good enough yet to pull off the upset, but the Spartans are certainly good enough to keep the game close. ATS: Michigan State, SU: Miami
When: 12 p.m. ET | Where: Morgantown, West Virginia
Featured Game | West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Virginia Tech Hokies
Why it’s listed: This is a good example of how upsets are defined strictly by the books, not rankings. WVU lost its only matchup against a Power Five opponent. The Hokies have a win over ranked North Carolina.
Virginia Tech key to the game: To win, Virginia Tech only needs to do what it does best: play disciplined football. That means avoiding penalties, turnovers and staying true to assignments in run fits. Critical to beating Sam Howell and North Carolina was forcing three interceptions with pressure and positioning. Against a much worse team, those concepts should hold true.
West Virginia key to the game: If West Virginia plays VT’s game of ball control and physicality, the Mountaineers are going to lose. The only way to respond is to get the Hokies off-schedule and WVU’s best means to do that is with quick, short passes. While the Mountaineers have offensive issues of their own, Jarret Doege, Leddie Brown and the receiver corps need to dictate the terms of the game.
Pick: West Virginia has massive questions on offense and Virginia Tech is the perfect team to take advantage. It makes little sense that the Mountaineers are favored in the first place. Virginia Tech takes this game quite easily. ATS: Virginia Tech, SU: Virginia Tech
When: 4:15 p.m. ET | Where: Seattle, Washington
Featured Game | Washington Huskies vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves
Why it’s listed: To cover the line against Arkansas State, Washington has to win by 17 points. Funny enough, the Huskies have scored 17 points total through two games. Arkansas State will give up points, but is Washington really a team that can take advantage?
Arkansas State key to the game: The Red Wolves have scored 90 points through the first two weeks while leaning on a rare, but successful, two-quarterback system with Layne Hatcher and FSU transfer James Blackman. The pair has combined for 901 yards of total offense, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. Arkansas State must attack down the field early and often.
Washington key to the game: Is it rude to ask UW to do anything useful offensively? The Huskies are averaging 1.9 yards per carry, 4.5 yards per play and have turned the ball over four times. Arkansas State gave up 417 yards and five touchdowns to Memphis QB Seth Henigan last week, several on slants to Calvin Austin III, so leaning on the pass game and trying to out-athlete Arkansas State might be the move?
Pick: There’s nothing to make us believe that Washington can clear 17 point offensively, much less take a 17-point lead on one of the more dynamic offenses in football. Washington probably wins this game, but the Red Wolves keep things competitive. ATS: Arkansas State, SU: Washington
When: 2:30 p.m. ET | Where: South Bend, Indiana
Featured Game | Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Purdue Boilermakers
Why it’s listed: Don’t look now, but Notre Dame’s start to the season has been as much of a nightmare as a 2-0 start can be. The Fighting Irish needed overtime to beat a Florida State squad that turned around and promptly lost to Jacksonville State, and then needed a late TD from Jack Coan to survive Toledo. Purdue is unproven, but is still the best team Notre Dame has faced. That’s not encouraging.
Purdue key to the game: The Boilermakers lost top rusher Zander Horvath to a broke fibula, but the setback could be a blessing in disguise. Over the past two seasons, Plummer has quietly completed 72% of his passes for 1,496 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in just five games. If Plummer can remain mistake-free, it will open up the run game against a porous Notre Dame front.
Notre Dame key to the game: Purdue has been inconsistent running the ball, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and allowing eight tackles for loss per game. This could be somewhat of a get-right game for the Notre Dame front. If the talented defensive line can find itself and let the linebackers do their thing in coverage, it will make life more difficult for Purdue.
Pick: Notre Dame has been playing with fire and eventually it will get burned. Against a highly underrated quarterback and creative offensive head coach, this could be the week. My only concern? Vegas might be onto Notre Dame too. I would feel more comfortable with a double-digit line ATS: Purdue, SU: Purdue
When: 10:45 p.m. ET | Where: Pasadena, California
Featured Game | UCLA Bruins vs. Fresno State Bulldogs
Why it’s listed: The Bruins pulled off an impressive win over LSU to start the year and easily entered the AP Top 25 as a result. But, on the other side, this is a Fresno State team that was not intimidated by Oregon’s talent in Week 1 and kept the game close. Could UCLA be in for a letdown game after the emotional victory?
Fresno State key to the game: UCLA has leaned on its ground game, running the ball on more than 70% of its possessions. Because of that, UCLA off-schedule is critical for Fresno State. Four of the Bruins’ six scoring drives against UCLA started with runs that cleared 12 yards.
UCLA key to the game: UCLA should look to the Oregon game plan. Fresno State had tremendous success passing the ball, but three fumbles ultimately doomed the Bulldogs’ upset bid. Despite throwing the ball 91 times through his first three games, talented Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener has not been picked off yet. Positioning itself for turnovers will quickly keep FSU at bay.
Pick: After seeing Oregon crush Ohio State on the road, Fresno State should feel confident that it can physically compete with UCLA. The Bruins must be careful not to overlook this highly-experienced Bulldogs team like Oregon did. ATS: Fresno State, SU: UCLA
Which picks can you make with confidence, and which Top 25 favorite goes down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread this week, all from a proven computer model that has returned $3,500 in profit over the past five-plus seasons.