Who isn’t drawn to what’s bright and shiny?
Who can look away from Ohio State? There resides the back-to-back Big Ten champions, the first-year coach (Ryan Day) seamlessly replacing a legend, the top recruit (Justin Fields) releasing a year’s worth of Georgia angst to become a Heisman Trophy contender, the nation’s best pass-rusher (Chase Young), the highest average scoring margin in the country (40.5 points).
Who can look away from Wisconsin? There resides hope for the maligned Big Ten West, the running back (Jonathan Taylor) capable of becoming the second at his position to win the Heisman in the past decade, the defense with a pitch-perfect 1985 Bears impression, the team boasting the second-highest average scoring margin in the country (37.7 points).
But if you look East, the next Big Ten champion might be lurking.
After being picked to finish fourth in its division in the preseason, No. 7 Penn State (6-0) enters the weekend off a win at one of the toughest road environments in the country (Iowa). The Nittany Lions’ offense averages 42 points per game, has the ninth-ranked passer (Sean Clifford) and is undeniably the team’s lesser half. Penn State’s defense ranks second in the country in points allowed per game (8.4), second in sacks (27), third in yards allowed per play (3.8) and first in yards allowed per carry (1.8).
When Michigan went to Wisconsin, Jim Harbaugh’s latest batch of pretenders were revealed in a 21-point loss. When the Wolverines’ 77th-ranked offense enters Happy Valley, PENN STATE (-9) will announce its presence with a similarly dominant defensive performance.
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (+24) over Clemson Tigers: It’s slightly comforting to know the Cardinals have scored 103 points in the past two games under first-year coach Scott Satterfield, and stayed within 20 in the season opener against Notre Dame, but this has much more to do with the overconfident Tigers’ underwhelming road shows.
West Virginia Mountaineers (+33½) over OKLAHOMA SOONERS: Jalen Hurts and CeeDee Lamb are accustomed to the accolades. Alex Grinch’s suddenly respectable defense is not. The hangover from the Red River Shootout will linger just long enough to let the Mountaineers squeak out a cover.
Wisconsin Badgers (-31) over ILLINOIS ILLINI: The Badgers haven’t hit the road since opening the season with a 49-0 win at South Florida. Since then, Wisconsin has recorded three straight shutouts — including last week’s — to become the first team in more than five decades with four clean sheets through six games.
ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS (+18½) over Auburn Tigers: The Hogs were an embarrassment in the first month of the season, but have played two straight SEC games decided by four points. So, they have that going for them, which is nice.
Florida Gators (-5) over SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS: Many will be swayed by the Gamecocks’ massive road upset of Georgia last week. I’m partial to the unreliable coach and inconsistent roster, which is 2-3 against FBS opponents, and sports the 107th-ranked offense and 81st-ranked defense.
Lsu Tigers (-18 ¹/₂) over MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS: First, the Bulldogs lost to Auburn by 33. Then, they scored 10 points in a loss to this year’s SEC punch line (Tennessee). So, former Fordham savior Joe Moorhead is replacing senior Tommy Stevens with true freshman Garrett Shrader at quarterback. It was time. But it won’t make a difference against the Tigers.
Oregon Ducks (-2¹/₂) over WASHINGTON HUSKIES: With all the attention thrown on Justin Herbert, the Ducks defense is what has made them the Pac-12’s best chance at the playoff, allowing 9.8 points per game. Though Oregon hasn’t faced a top-40 offense, the Huskies’ 67th-ranked attack presents little threat.
Baylor Bears (+3½) over OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS: The polls always have holes: LSU isn’t No. 1? Georgia sits behind Notre Dame despite the same record, and a head-to-head win? Two-loss Texas is above five undefeated teams, but not Boise State? And the 18th-ranked Bears (6-0) deserve better. Respect for Matt Rhule’s remarkable turnaround comes in Stillwater, where Baylor’s terrific run defense will be the difference in slowing Cowboys star running back Chuba Hubbard.
Arizona State Sun Devils (+13½) over UTAH UTES: The Sun Devils are 3-0 as underdogs against the spread this season, haven’t lost by more than 11 points in Herm Edwards’ two seasons and have claimed two impressive road wins (Michigan State, California) this season. I was wrong, Herm. I was wrong.
Kentucky Wildcats (+24½) over GEORGIA BULLDOGS: The Bulldogs are in no danger of suffering a second straight upset. Even after the worst game of Jake Fromm’s life, there are few players in the country more trustworthy in big games. But there are many more quarterbacks I’d trust to cover such a large number.
Tennessee Volunteers (+34½) over ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE: The Vols haven’t won this matchup since 2006. Nick Saban has never lost (18-0) to a former assistant (Jeremy Pruitt, in this case). The “rivalry game” will be as interesting as its terrible tagline — “Third Saturday in October” — but the Tide’s inexperienced defense will lose focus late.
Best bets: Stanford, West Virginia, Arizona State
This season (best bets): 52-56-2 (10-11)
2014-18 record: 641-612-10
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