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: 20-5 ATS (last week: 6-1)
Coughlin: 10-9-1 ATS (last week: 3-2)
2014 season record:
Fallica: 44-40 ATS (52.4 percent)
Coughlin: 45-28-1 ATS (60.8 percent)
Note: Against the spread (ATS)/total picks are in bold. Odds courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Alabama Crimson Tide (+2.5) at Georgia Bulldogs
Fallica: Sure Alabama would love to be undefeated right now, but what a great spot for the Crimson Tide. An underdog for the first time since 2009, the dynasty has been deemed over. Are you kidding me? The Crimson Tide lose a home game to a team that beat them last year, commit five turnovers in the process and that's it, run over? As my friend Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast my friend."
Yes Alabama has a minus-13 turnover margin in its past six losses, so it must hang onto the ball. But I'd be hesitant on anointing Greyson Lambert and Georgia just because they ripped apart an awful South Carolina defense. It should be a much more straightforward matchup for the Alabama defense. This feels to me like one of those "been there, done that" types of games.
The past seven times Georgia has taken on a top 15 Power 5/BCS automatic qualifier opponent as the higher-ranked team, it has lost six of them. The past nine times Alabama has entered the game as the lower-ranked team, it has won seven of them. As the saying goes, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
ATS pick: Alabama 21, Georgia 17
Coughlin: This feels like an old-school SEC matchup to me. If Nick Saban were to pick a ranked team in the SEC conference to try and shut down, you would have to think Georgia would top the list. Mark Richt doesn't run the spread; offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seems like a vanilla playcaller to me; and Lambert isn't much of a mobile threat. Now I know everyone thinks Dawgs running back Nick Chubb should be getting all the love that Leonard Fournette is getting, but how about Alabama back Derrick Henry? No one mentions him anymore when top college football players are discussed. I know people are down on Alabama after the Crimson Tide got torched vs. Ole Miss. I really like this matchup for the Tide, and I might want to throw a little on the under, too.
ATS pick: Alabama 21, Georgia 17
Clemson Tigers (-2) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Fallica: I've gone back and forth on this one, and I can't help but be influenced by the number. It's a horrible number because it's begging you to take Clemson at home to essentially win the game against an injury-ridden Notre Dame team. I'm not going to take the bait.
I know the Clemson defense over the past nine games versus Power 5 opponents has been outstanding. Clemson has allowed 11 touchdowns (four fewer than anyone else in span), while forcing 17 turnovers and 58 drives without a first down in 127 opponent drives. No team has scored more than two TDs, and only two drives have gone for 80 yards. And I know that points and yards will not be easy to come by for the Irish. But I like the matchup for the Notre Dame front seven against the Clemson offensive line better than I do the Clemson front seven against the Notre Dame O-line. It's tough to go against the best player on the field (quarterback Deshaun Watson) at home in basically a "win the game" spot.
It does worry me quite a bit that Clemson is 1-7 in its past eight regular-season games against ranked teams, and doesn't this feel a little bit like the Notre Dame-Oklahoma game in 2012? Or the Notre Dame-Florida State game last year in which people were anticipating the Irish being exposed? This could be a spot too where the loss of receiver Mike Williams really affects the Tigers offense.
ATS pick: Notre Dame 24, Clemson 20
Coughlin: Well, well, well -- what do we have here? This game looks just like the one in 2012 in which the undefeated Fighting Irish went to Norman, Oklahoma, to face the Sooners. I remember being there for that game and the thoughts going in were that the Irish didn't have enough offense to hang with OU's. The boys from South Bend went in, shut down the Sooners offense and won convincingly 30-13. Now, I know the Irish were a 12-point underdog in that game, but I can't help but think of who their opponent is this Saturday night. Dabo Swinney is already trying to loosen up his team, as he's cracked some jokes at his news conference, but I'm not buying it. The Fighting Irish take this one.
ATS pick: Notre Dame 29, Clemson 23
Ohio State Buckeyes (-21) at Indiana Hoosiers
Fallica: Get any thoughts of the outright upset out of your head. Indiana is 1-55 all-time against top-5 opponents with the past seven losses coming by an average of 33.1 PPG -- all by at least 21 points. This will be a great chance for Ohio State to get right on offense as the Hoosiers are 110th in the FBS in defensive efficiency -- and that number includes games against an FCS offense, FIU (94th in offensive efficiency) and Wake Forest (106th in offensive efficiency). Despite being 4-0, Indiana is 56th of 65 Power 5 teams in FPI. I'd be surprised if this one is close, given Ohio State hasn't clicked since Week 1 and this is as close to a "wake-up" game the Buckeyes will have until Nov. 21.
ATS pick: Ohio State 45, Indiana 17
Coughlin: I guess Dan Dakich and the Hoosier Nation didn't get their wish, as they hoped and begged for The Bear and College GameDay to come to Bloomington, Indiana, for this game. I don't feel bad for the Hoosier fan base -- you simply don't deserve it. What does come to town is the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. It seems people want to bash the team from Columbus, Ohio, for the start of the season, but I think they are making too big a deal about one game, in which the Buckeyes hosted Northern Illinois in the middle of what looked like a tsunami. Urban Meyer came out last week and backed his decision in starting Cardale Jones, which led the Buckeyes to a convincing win over the team that goes by the motto "Row The Boat." The past two MAC teams the Buckeyes have played have better defenses than the Hoosiers. Let's say Meyer pulls some defensive starters and Indiana gets some scores late to get this over the number.
Pick: Ohio State 52, Indiana 31 (over the total 61)
Ole Miss Rebels (-7.5) at Florida Gators
Fallica: Florida is ranked mainly because of Tennessee's mismanagement of the final 10 minutes last week. This game could feature one of the biggest unit mismatches of the week: the Ole Miss defensive line vs. the Florida offensive line. In a game in which both defenses are above average, I trust the Ole Miss offense much more. Despite playing New Mexico State (127th in defensive efficiency), East Carolina (106th in defensive efficiency), Kentucky (83rd in defensive efficiency) and Tennessee (44th in defensive efficiency), the Gators are just 51st in offensive efficiency. The Rebels got their wake-up call last week in an obvious letdown situation and, with two nonconference games the next two weeks, will be fully focused on Florida.
ATS pick: Ole Miss 30, Florida 14
Coughlin: At first glance, I wondered why Florida is only getting seven points here. The Gators just had what might be their most emotional win in a couple of years last week, coming back to beat Tennessee 28-27. My next thought was how the hell are the Gators going to block Robert Nkemdiche and the Land Shark defense. I'm sorry, I just don't see it. I know the Rebels were pretty lethargic in their 27-16 win over Vanderbilt last week after an enormous win in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; that, combined with the way Florida won last week, is plenty of substance for Hugh Freeze to get his team's attention. This game will be all about the defenses, and I think the pressure might be a little too much for Gators quarterback Will Grier. I am a huge fan of Grier, but I see him turning the ball over a couple of times.
ATS pick: Ole Miss 23, Florida 10
Fallica: Everybody knows Northern Illinois, and that's creating value here. People see two close losses to Ohio State and Boston College in the past two weeks and now think they will handle a MAC team as it's a drop in competition. Be careful. Those had to be physically draining games for the Huskies against two really good defenses. The Chippewas were in a one-score game in East Lansing against Michigan State last week, lost an overtime game at Syracuse two weeks ago and led Oklahoma State in the second half in the season opener. So they too have stood toe to toe with the big boys. Central Michigan blew out the Huskies last year, rolling up 552 yards and a 211-yard advantage in a 34-17 win. Quarterback Cooper Rush is back and again will put up big numbers in the small home upset.
ATS pick: Central Michigan 38, Northern Illinois 34
Old Dominion Monarchs (+19.5) at Marshall Thundering Herd
Fallica: Marshall has had trouble scoring points this season, as quarterback Michael Birdsong is hurt and freshman Chase Litton has struggled (14-36, 2 TD, 2 INT last week vs. Kent State). Now running back Devon Johnson, who ran for nearly 1,800 yards last season, is nursing a back injury. Admittedly, Old Dominion has been bad this year, as the Monarchs are still trying to replace record-setting quarterback Taylor Heinicke. But the Monarchs are a bigger underdog here than they were vs. NC State. Seems its worth a stab.
ATS pick: Marshall 38, Old Dominion 24
Buffalo Bulls (+9) vs. Bowling Green Falcons
Fallica: The Football Power Index has Bowling Green as roughly a field goal favorite in this one. That caught my eye, as Bowling Green is the more commonly known side for its big win vs Maryland and opening-week game against Tennessee. But the Buffalo defense has been sneaky good this year (ranks higher in defensive efficiency than Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Miami). The two teams played a back-and-forth one-point game last year at Bowling Green. The Bulls have their entire QB-RB-WR group back from last year and should be able to again match the Falcons point for point, because while BG is seventh in the FBS in offensive efficiency, it is 114th in defensive efficiency.
ATS pick: Buffalo 37, Bowling Green 35
Fallica: The Football Power Index has this game as a toss-up, so there is a big perceived value on the home underdog. My guess is there will be an overreaction that Illinois nearly lost at home last week to Middle Tennessee, but the Blue Raiders are 55th in FPI, so it's not like they are a bad team. After a disastrous end to 2014 and a tumultuous offseason, the Illini have shown life under Bill Cubit -- and Wes Lunt should put up points against the nation's 73rd-rated defense (Southern Miss threw for 447 last week on nearly 10 yards per attempt).
ATS pick: Illinois 34, Nebraska 30
East Carolina Pirates (-5) at SMU Mustangs
Coughlin: I could be totally wrong here, but when I see ECU and SMU, I just think offensive fireworks. Then I go look up the stats of each of these teams and I see the Mustangs and Pirates combine to give up 74 points a game. Plus, SMU is coming off a 45-point performance against James Madison last week that gave the Mustangs 134 points on the year, which surpasses last season's total output of 133. And it's their first conference game, so the intensity will be real when this game kicks off at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas. Expect points, take the over.
Pick: SMU 45, East Carolina 35 (over the total 67)