After an impressive 2014 season, "Stanford Steve" Coughlin, of SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, and Chris Fallica, of ESPN Stats & Information and College GameDay, are back. Every Wednesday during the college football season, they'll give their best bets for picking the weekend's top college football games.
2015 season record:
Fallica: 5-1 ATS
Coughlin: 2-2-1 ATS
2014 season record:
Fallica: 44-40 ATS (52.4 percent)
Coughlin: 45-28-1 ATS (60.8 percent)
Note: ATS/total picks are in bold. Odds courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Oregon Ducks at Michigan State Spartans (-3.5)
Coughlin: Plenty of people have weighed in on this game, going back to the beginning of the offseason, and I have heard every breakdown. The one thing I will tell you from being on the sidelines of Autzen Stadium last year for this matchup was that Michigan State struck the fear of God into Oregon and its fan base early on. But then the team that goes by the saying "Win the Day" went into the locker room, regrouped and outscored Sparty 28-3 in the second half en route to a 46-27 spread-covering victory.
My biggest takeaway from that game is that Mark Dantonio's defense saw the Ducks' offense in full effect last year with the Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota calling the shots. With Michigan State having seen this offensive system before, along with it being the first big true road start for new Ducks QB Vernon Adams, I like the Spartans this weekend.
ATS pick: Michigan State 34, Oregon 27
Fallica: It was there for the taking last year for Michigan State. Oregon survived only because of the brilliance of Mariota, who made play after play on third downs. One has to think the motivation of that loss -- and the loss to Ohio State -- is a driving point for the Spartans this season. I'm also concerned about Oregon's defense. In 2010, when the Ducks played for the national title, they led all Power 5 teams in defensive efficiency. Since Chip Kelly left for the NFL, Oregon fell to 15th in 2013 and 28th last year without former defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. So while one may not want to read too much into Eastern Washington gaining 549 yards on the Ducks last week, the 2014 defensive struggles certainly provide reason to be concerned.
ATS pick: Michigan State 34, Oregon 27
Oklahoma Sooners (-1) at Tennessee Volunteers
Coughlin: What a great scenario here for both teams on Saturday in Knoxville. On one hand, Oklahoma comes to town fresh off a 2014 season in which it lost to every ranked team it faced, finishing 0-4. Then you have the Vols, who are the trendy pick to win the SEC East. I remember plenty of people thinking the Sooners were the best team in college football when they faced off in Norman last year. I don't trust either team in this spot. Therefore my first instinct is that the home team has the edge, seeing how Tennessee lost the game last season and comes into this matchup with a lot more maturity and experience for a big spot like this. I think this game will be absolute chaos. Take the over.
ATS pick: Tennessee 39, Oklahoma 38 (over the total of 61.5 points)
Fallica: Both teams come into this season's matchup with a different starting QB from last year's tilt, so I don't know how much past stats matter. Heck, even Samaje Perine had only nine carries. Both teams overmatched MAC opponents in the opener, but I think the Tennessee result gives me a bit more caution entering this game. The Vols eclipsed 600 yards of offense, but also gave up 433 yards passing to Bowling Green. The threat of a powerful Oklahoma running game could allow Baker Mayfield to have a big game in his first true test at OU. Both teams desperately need a win over a ranked opponent to kick-start high hopes for this season. I'll take the Sooners in what should be one of the most entertaining games of the day.
ATS pick: Oklahoma 38, Tennessee 24
LSU Tigers (-4.5) at Mississippi State Bulldogs
Coughlin: Listen up, people: I have experience playing in a game in which one team has played once in the season and the other hasn't. In 1999, Stanford played at Texas, and it was our first game and UT's second. The result? Longhorns won 69-17, including Texas coach Mack Brown putting Chris Simms in his first collegiate game as a true freshman up about 40 points, chucking the ball around to get his first touchdown pass. But no one cares, because the Card beat Texas the following season when the Longhorns came to Palo Alto.
What I will tell you about that game in 1999 is that we were so focused on what they did that we didn't think about our own game plan enough. In addition to not having played Week 1, LSU comes in with Brandon Harris at QB without a start under his belt. I do not like that scenario for Les Miles' team, seeing how they struggled offensively throughout last season. While the Bayou Bengals will give a healthy dose of carries to Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette, will it be enough? We'll have to wait and see. Take the points.
ATS pick: LSU 24, Mississippi State 23
Fallica: Last year, the Bulldogs ambushed the Tigers in Death Valley, as they led 17-0 and 34-10 before two late touchdowns made the score a lot closer than the game was. Given the concern at the QB position, the cancellation of LSU's opener last week was a big deal in my eyes. This is a team that scored four touchdowns in its last 48 drives against SEC opponents last season, and its pass rush has been non-existent (105th in country in sacks per game last year). The Tigers failed to cover their past three SEC openers, including a 12-10 escape at Auburn in 2012 as 17-point favorites. That Auburn team of course went winless in the SEC and 3-9 overall that year. LSU is on high upset alert here. They'll need some "Hat Magic" to escape Stark Vegas with a win.
ATS pick: Mississippi State 20, LSU 17
Houston Cougars at Louisville Cardinals (-12.5)
Coughlin: If you have read any of my columns previously, you know that I am a huge fan of Cougars head coach Tom Herman. Earlier this summer, I was thinking about Houston possibly running the table and going undefeated this year. With some time to check on things, I'm now off that prediction but still see the program winning plenty of games in 2015.
Louisville lost to Auburn last week in Atlanta, though it possibly learned who is its quarterback of the future. The biggest problem for Herman and Houston in this matchup will be whether they have the personnel to hold up in what might be the biggest road game of their season. We know about my partner Chris Fallica's affinity for the Cardinals this year, and this is an absolute must-win as they open the home season in front on their fan base inside Papa John's Stadium. Expect a lot of fireworks, fight songs and a great effort from the visiting team. Take the over.
ATS pick: Louisville 42, Houston 28 (over the total of 53.5 points)
Coughlin: When you don't like the slate of games and there are a bunch of teams you sort of like, how do you decide which team will be the team? Well, I first look at the caliber of the team I sort of like ... and then I look at the criteria of the opponent. I almost gave out Duke last week at Tulane, but didn't, so I watched the game and just kept punching myself, as most do when you knew you had a winner but didn't pull the trigger. I noticed that the Green Wave struggle in every facet of the game, and a trip to Atlanta to face the Georgia Tech is not a great dose of what they need right now. So let's take a team I trust, who I know will dominate from start to finish. I also like the idea of Tulane having only a week to prepare for the Georgia Tech offense.
ATS pick: Georgia Tech 63, Tulane 17
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-11.5) at Virginia Cavaliers
Fallica: This seems like an obvious blowout scenario. Notre Dame couldn't be valued any higher after a dominant win versus Texas last week in which the Irish outgained the Longhorns 527-163. Couple that with Virginia's 18-point loss at UCLA, where true freshman Josh Rosen had a field day with the UVA defense. It should be another big day for Malik Zaire, no? Be careful. Notre Dame is just 5-12 ATS in its past 17 games as a double-digit favorite and lost outright to Northwestern the last time they were in this role.
Virginia was perfect ATS as a home dog last year and has covered each of the past five times it was a double-digit 'dog, including a near upset of UCLA last year. I know the Notre Dame defense looked great last week, but I wonder how much of that was due to a bad Texas offense. Injuries could also be a factor for the Irish. I'll put my faith in Jon Tenuta's defense and call for the upset.
ATS pick: Virginia 27, Notre Dame 24
Fresno State Bulldogs at Ole Miss Rebels (-28)
Fallica: FPI projects this as roughly a five-touchdown win for the Rebels. Ole Miss has also covered the past five games it has been better than a 20-point favorite. And for those thinking the Rebels could be looking ahead to Alabama next week, keep in mind that, under Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss has won and covered the week prior to the Alabama game all three years.
ATS pick: Ole Miss 44, Fresno State 10