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BAYLOR BEARS (3-0) at WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (3-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: West Virginia -11 & 82.5
Opening Line & Total: Mountaineers -12.5 & 79.5
Two of the best offenses in the land sporting 3-0 records meet for the first time ever when No. 25 Baylor visits No. 9 West Virginia in Big 12 play on Saturday afternoon.
This matchup features the two most prolific offensive players in the land in Baylor's Nick Florence (388 total YPG) and West Virginia's Geno Smith (380 total YPG). Both teams are unbeaten SU, but have both lost two straight ATS. The Bears have scored 47+ points and forced 3+ turnovers in each of their three victories, while the Mountaineers have scored 47.3 PPG. However, Baylor is 0-6 ATS in its past six true road games, and WVU is just 3-7 ATS in its past 10 games in Morgantown. However, West Virginia is also 53-14 ATS (79%) since 1992 when it gains 6.5 or more total yards per play since 1992, and the Bears are 18-48 ATS (27%) when they allow 6.5 or more total yards per play in that same time period. Baylor gave up more yards than that per play against Louisiana-Monroe last week, making it hard to believe it will show an improvement against a West Virginia offense that's averaging 7.2 yards per play so far this season.
Florence is putting up numbers that remind Baylor fans of Robert Griffin III. He's completed 71-of-110 passes (65%) for 1,004 yards and 11 TD. However, the level of competition so far hasn't been stellar (SMU, Sam Houston State and UL-Monroe), and Florence has thrown two interceptions in each of his past two games. Having three great receivers has also aided Florence's maturation, as three players already have more than 200 receiving yards this year, senior Terrance Williams (conference-best 353 rec. yds; 4 TD), junior Tevin Reese (304 rec. yds, 3 TD) and senior Lanear Sampson (202 rec. yds, 2 TD). Baylor has also rushed for 207 rushing YPG, led by Jarred Salubi's 221 yards, but Salubi was held to 47 yards on 16 carries last Friday against ULM. Despite the subpar opponents, Baylor's defense continues to struggle. The Bears have allowed 493 total YPG and 315 passing YPG, which both rank as the 8th-most in the nation. Sophomore LB Bryce Hager has been the lone standout though, as his 13.0 tackles per game (T-2nd in nation), two forced fumbles and two QB hurries are a big reason why his team is still unbeaten.
Smith's numbers are just incredible so far, completing 96-of-118 passes (81%) for 1,072 yards, 12 TD and 0 INT. It helps that he has two of the best receivers in the country, who both rank among the nation's top-10 players in both receptions and receiving yards. Tavon Austin has caught more passes per game (11.3) than anybody in FBS, and Stedman Bailey ranks third with 9.3 receptions per contest. Austin's 115 receiving YPG places seventh in the land, with Bailey right behind him in eighth place with 111 receiving YPG. But for this trio to remain successful, the Mountaineers have to develop a more potent ground game. After torching Marshall for 331 rushing yards, WVU has a paltry 146 yards on 51 carries (2.9 YPC) in the past two games versus James Madison and Maryland. Although the Mountaineers' run defense has been solid this season (122 YPG), they have been torched through the air, allowing 277 passing YPG (103rd in nation). WVU has been able to win all three games by double-digits thanks in part to a +5 turnover margin, forcing six miscues, but committing only one.
TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (3-1) at GEORGIA BULLDOGS (3-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Georgia -14 & 58.5
Opening Line & Total: Bulldogs -14 & 61.5
SEC East rivals collide in Athens on Saturday afternoon when Tennessee visits No. 5 Georgia.
These conference foes have split the past eight meetings, with the Vols holding the slight 4-3-1 ATS advantage. Georgia has won the past two matchups (SU and ATS) as Aaron Murray has completed 32-of-50 passes for 493 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT in wins of 41-14 in 2010 and 20-12 last year in Knoxville. This season, Murray has already thrown for 1,092 yards and 10 TD, leading his team to 40+ points in each of four wins. Vols QB Tyler Bray has been even better this year with 1,301 passing yards and 12 TD, but his team is just 1-8 ATS in its past nine SEC games, having lost its conference opener two weeks ago, 37-20 versus Florida. The Vols have done pretty well at Sanford Stadium in recent history, going 6-3-1 ATS and 6-4 SU in their past 10 trips there. Also, underdogs of 10.5 to 21 points - off a no-cover where the team won as a favorite, a good team (60% to 80%) playing a team with a winning record, are 30-6 ATS (83%) over the past 10 seasons.
The Vols are on a three-game ATS losing skid, but that has been no fault of Bray's considering he's thrown for 968 yards and 10 TD in this three-game span. His career numbers in two games against Georgia have been solid too (26-for-45, 332 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT). There was major concern after last year's top receiver Da'Rick Rogers was ruled ineligible shortly before the season began, but junior WR Justin Hunter is quickly making Vols fans forget about Rogers. Hunter ranks 13th in the nation in both receptions per game (7.5) and receiving YPG (102.5). He didn't play against Georgia last year, but two years ago he caught four passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in Athens. Tennessee's rushing offense has been adequate (173 YPG), led by Rajion Neal's 356 rushing yards. He rumbled for 151 on just 22 carries (6.9 YPC) last week against Akron. On defense, the Vols have been blasted in the past two weeks, allowing 63 points and 899 total yards to Florida and Akron.
Although Murray has been outstanding, UGa may choose to run the football more often than not. In the past two meetings, the Bulldogs have rushed for 275 yards and held Tennessee to minus-11 rushing yards. Freshman Todd Gurley has stepped up in a big way after several UGa ball carriers left the team for various reasons. In his first four collegiate games, Gurley has 406 rushing yards (9.2 YPC) and six touchdowns. But if Gurley is not effective, Murray has three excellent wide receivers, which all rank in the top-10 in the SEC in receiving yards -- Michael Bennett (275 yds, 2 TD), Tavarres King (269 yds, 3 TD) and Marlon Brown (264 yds, 3 TD). Georgia's defense may get a whole lot better with the expected returns of both S Bacarri Rambo (8 INT in 2011) and LB Alec Ogletree (41 solo tackles in 2011) coming off suspensions. The Bulldogs already have one of the best defensive players in the country in LB Jarvis Jones, who already has 24 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception this year.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (4-0) at MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (3-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Michigan St -3 (-105) & 41.5
Opening Line & Total: Spartans -2.5 & 43.5
No. 14 Ohio State looks to stay unbeaten when it visits No. 20 Michigan State on Saturday afternoon.
OSU has loved playing in East Lansing, winning six of its past seven trips there. But last year the Spartans went into Columbus and left with a 10-7 upset. The Buckeyes are on a three-game ATS losing skid, but QB Braxton Miller has 1,195 total yards and 14 TD in four SU wins. Last year, MSU held him to 29 total yards on 19 plays. The Spartans have failed to cover two straight contests this year, scoring just 26 points in this span. Le'Veon Bell rushed for 253 yards in a 23-7 win over EMU last week, giving him 610 yards in 2012 (2nd in FBS). Despite Bell's heroics, the Spartans' offense has been dreadful this year, and it won't get any better against a Buckeyes defense that is much more powerful than its numbers would indicate. Last year, Michigan State ran for 71 yards on 31 carries at The Horseshoe. MSU does have a tough defense, but Miller should be able to find more running room this time around. Urban Meyer is 32-12 ATS (73%) after playing a non-conference games as a collegiate head coach.
Since faltering against MSU last year, Miller has scored at least one touchdown in all 12 games he's played, totaling 31 TD in this span. This season, he's scored at least three times in each contest. Miller has done a nice job finding his top receivers all season. WR Devin Smith leads the team with 272 receiving yards, WR Philly Brown has a team-best 20 catches and TE Jake Stoneburner is tied with Smith for the touchdown lead with three. Buckeyes senior RB Jordan Hall has really helped out the rushing attack in his past two games, rumbling for 192 yards on 34 carries (5.6 YPC). OSU curiously ranks 71st in the nation in total defense (395 total YPG), but the team has played all FBS opponents this year as opposed to many other big-time schools beating up on FCS schools. The Buckeyes rank 104th against the pass (277 YPG) and have just 16 Tackles For Loss (112th in FBS).
Bell has luckily exceeded expectations, because Spartans QB Andrew Maxwell has not come close to filling the shoes of the departed Kirk Cousins. Maxwell has 3 TD and 3 INT in the four games, and has thrown for a pathetic 4.7 yards per attempt in the past two contests versus Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan. Maxwell has consistently targeted TE Dion Sims, who has responded with a team-best 277 receiving yards and two scores on 22 catches. Sophomore Keith Mumphery has been the most reliable wide receiver with 15 receptions for 161 yards. The Spartans rank among the nation's top-15 teams in all the major defensive categories. They are 6th in total defense (234 YPG), 10th in rushing defense (69 YPG), 11th in scoring defense (11.8 PPG) and 13th in pass defense (164 YPG). The one area MSU's defense has not excelled in is rushing the passer, tallying just three sacks in four games (T-110th in FBS).
TEXAS LONGHORNS (4-0) at OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (3-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Texas -2.5 & 65.5
Opening Line & Total: Longhorns -2.5 & 66.5
No. 12 Texas faces its toughest test of the season when it visits Oklahoma State on Saturday night.
Texas has won 12 of 14 in this series, but the two losses have come in the past two matchups. Last year in Austin, Oklahoma State never trailed and ended up winning 38-26. J.W. Walsh will get the start under center for the Cowboys, coming off a 347-yard, 4-TD day in a 65-24 thumping of Louisiana-Lafayette. Texas QB David Ash threw for a pathetic 3.5 yards per pass in the home defeat to OSU, but he ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency (190.49), and tossed 4 TD in his last game, a 66-31 thumping. Although Texas hasn't lost in Stillwater since 1997, a streak of six straight wins, these two programs are much more on par now than they have ever been. This game will be determined by which unit is better, the athletic Longhorns defense or the explosive OSU offense. The Cowboys just don't let up after a high-scoring affair, as they are 13-2 ATS off 1 or more straight Overs during the past three seasons. Also, road teams after gaining 475+ total yards in their previous game against opponent after gaining 6.75+ yards per play in two consecutive games are 15-42 ATS (26%) in the past 10 seasons.
Ash has been outstanding (55-for-72, 703 yards, 7 TD, 0 INT), but he had a terrible game against Oklahoma State last year, completing just 22-of-40 passes for 139 yards (3.5 YPA), 0 TD and 2 INT. However, the Longhorns were able to rush the football on OSU with 231 yards on 49 carries (4.7 YPC), led by Malcolm Brown's 135 yards on 19 carries (7.1 YPC) and two touchdowns. Brown leads the 'Horns with 238 rushing yards (6.4 YPC) and is tied with Joe Bergeron (207 rushing yards) with a team-best three rushing TD. Bergeron injured his shoulder in the last game, but is expected to play on Saturday. Although Texas was never in jeopardy of losing its most reccent game at Ole Miss, the defense was unimpressive, allowing 31 points and 399 total yards. The Longhorns helped themselves by forcing three turnovers, giving them seven in just three games on the year.
Although Joseph Randle leads the Big 12 in rushing this season (112 rush YPG), it was Jeremy Smith (173 rush yds, 6.9 YPC, 4 TD) who put forth a huge performance against Texas in 2011, gaining 140 yards on just seven carries, including touchdown runs of 74 and 30 yards. Like his counterpart Ash, Walsh has done a great job in his decision-making this year, ranking sixth in the nation in passing efficiency (183.26) and throwing for 496 yards, 6 TD and 1 INT. Freshman Wes Lunt injured his knee last game and is doubtful to challenge Walsh for playing time in this game. Lunt was the hero on Sept. 8 in a 59-38 blowout at Arizona, throwing for 436 yards and 4 TD (plus 3 INT too). The Cowboys quarterbacks have thrived with great protection from a top-notch offensive line that hasn't allowed a single sack in three games this year. Defensively, Oklahoma State needs to correct a few problems, as it has allowed 439 total YPG in its past two contests.
WISCONSIN BADGERS (3-1) at NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (3-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Nebraska -11.5 & 50.5
Opening Line & Total: Cornhuskers -12.5 & 50.5
Big Ten powers trying to improve to 4-1 on the season clash on Saturday night when No. 22 Nebraska hosts Wisconsin.
The all-time series is split at three games apiece between these two teams. Last season, Nebraska jumped out on Wisconsin early, but turnovers paved the way for a 48-17 Badgers win-and-cover. Wisconsin's Montee Ball rushed for 151 yards and 4 TD in that meeting of top-10 teams, but Ball exited the last game (37-26 win over UTEP) with concussion symptoms, leaving his status for Saturday in question. Huskers QB Taylor Martinez threw 3 INT versus the Badgers last year, but has thrown 9 TD with just 1 INT in 2012. Ball insists that he will play in this game, and if that's the case, the spread will drop a couple of points. However, underdogs of 10.5 to 21 points with a win percentage between 60% and 80% are 30-6 ATS (83%) in the past 10 seasons when coming off a no-cover where the team won as a favorite and was facing a team with a winning record. Expect this to be a one-possession game.
Ball has not found the wide holes he has been so accustomed to in his Wisconsin career. Last season, he averaged 137 rushing YPG, 6.3 YPC and 2.8 total touchdowns per game. This season, those numbers have fallen to 120 YPG, 3.9 YPC and 1.0 total TD per game. If Ball can't play on Saturday, Melvin Gordon and James White will fill in, trying to duplicate their success against UTEP last week. Gordon compiled 112 yards and a touchdown on just eight rushing attempts while White rushed for 65 yards and two scores on 15 carries. The running game also benefits from the insertion of freshman QB Joel Stave under center. Stave played well after taking over for Danny O'Brien two games ago against Utah State, and performed admirably in his first career start against the Miners last week, completing 12-of-17 passes for 210 yards. Junior WR Jared Abbrederis gained 147 of those yards, a career-high. On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin has stuffed the run consistently (81 YPG, 13th in nation), but the secondary has been exposed, allowing 245 passing YPG (83rd in FBS).
Nebraska also has a star running back that is operating at less than 100 percent. Rex Burkhead has missed two games with a sprained knee, but he returned to action last week and ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries in the 73-7 blowout of Idaho State. He was solid against the Badgers last year with 18 carries for 96 yards (5.3 YPC) and a touchdown. For the Huskers to win this game, Martinez needs to keep piling up the yardage. He already has 1,069 total yards (267 YPG), but has just 69 rushing yards on 18 carries (3.8 YPC) in his past two games. Defensively, the Huskers front four has the ability to create big problems for a lackluster Wisconsin offensive line. Nebraska has 16 sacks (T-3rd in nation) and 33 Tackles for Loss (T-8th in FBS). Eleven different players on the Blackshirts defense already have at least ½ sack this year.