Saturday's Top Action
September 13, 2013
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ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (1-0) at TEXAS A&M AGGIES (2-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Alabama -8 & 61
Opening Line & Total: Crimson Tide -8 & 61.5
In perhaps the most highly anticipated game of the entire college football regular season, No. 6 Texas A&M and Johnny Football will host top-ranked Alabama, looking to hand the Crimson Tide a loss for the second consecutive year.
Aggies QB Johnny Manziel's legend really took off against Alabama last Nov. 10, as the freshman threw for 253 yards and ran for 92 more while the Aggies defense picked off A.J. McCarron twice in a 29-24 victory. A&M enters this game at 2-0 on the year and 0-2 ATS, earning comfortable wins against Rice and Sam Houston State while unable to cover the hefty spreads. Dating back to 2009, however, the Aggies are 16-12 ATS at home. Alabama, meanwhile, is coming off a bye week and is 1-0 SU and ATS after walloping Virginia Tech 35-10 in the season opener. The Crimson Tide are now 7-0 ATS in non-home games in the first half of the season over the past three years. The Aggies are 17-15 ATS in SEC games over the past three years while Alabama is a much more impressive 21-14.
Manziel was the guy for the Aggies last year against Alabama, completing 24-of-31 passes and accumulating his rushing yards on just 18 carries (5.1 YPC). After missing the first half of the first game of the season due to an NCAA violation, Manziel has completed 34-of-49 passes for 497 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. His main target has been 6-foot-5 sophomore WR Mike Evans, who has caught 13 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns, a strong follow-up to his 1,105-yard receiving season in 2012. Manziel has also run the ball 13 times for 55 yards. On the ground this year, it's been a two-headed attack with Ben Malena leading the way with 173 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. Tra Carson has one more carry and 127 yards, but has found the end zone four times already. The defense not only picked McCarron twice last year, but forced two fumbles, recovering one of them. The defense has looked good again this year, forcing four interceptions (one returned for a TD) in its first two games.
McCarron completed 21-of-34 pass attempts for 309 yards last year against the Aggies but the turnovers were ultimately his downfall. In week one against Virginia Tech, he wasn't at his best, but was good enough, completing 10-of-23 passes with one touchdown and one interception while getting sacked four times. While Eddie Lacy carried the ball 16 times for 92 yards in last year's meeting between the two teams, he's now playing on Sundays in the NFL, leaving sophomore T.J. Yeldon to have to bear the load. Against the Hokies, he carried the ball 17 times for 75 yards and a touchdown. Last season, Yeldon averaged 6.3 yards per carry while accumulating 1,108 rushing yards and 12 TD. Against A&M, however, Yeldon had just 10 carries for 29 yards and a touchdown. To justify being favored by a touchdown, the Alabama defense will need to be far stingier than it was in last year's meeting when it did not force a single turnover and allowed the Aggies to convert on 11-of-18 third-down attempts.
UCLA BRUINS (1-0) at NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS (2-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Nebraska -3.5 & 70
Opening Line & Total: Cornhuskers -4 & 70
The 23rd-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers look to avenge last season's loss in Pasadena as they play host to No. 16 UCLA in Lincoln.
Last season, these two teams squared off in a high-scoring affair, with the Bruins prevailing 36-30. In that game, UCLA QB Brett Hundley helped guide his team to a hefty 653 yards of total offense. This year, the offense has not lost a step as they defeated Nevada 58-20 in their opener, thanks to Hundley's 337 total yards of offense and four total touchdowns. In the past two seasons, the Bruins are 8-1 ATS when scoring more than 28 points in a game. As good as the offense of UCLA is, there are also some very good players on the defensive side of the ball for the Bruins. Senior OLB Anthony Barr is currently rated the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country according to some major scouting services. At 6-foot-4, 248 pounds, Barr is a rare blend of size and speed at the linebacking position. He has the ability to cover the slot receiver with his 4.48 speed, as well as filling up the run. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, a very talented quarterback in his own right, must be aware where Barr is at all time. While Nebraska's defense still has some question marks, there is no denying that the Cornhuskers have the ability to put up points against most defenses in the country. Martinez has thrown for six touchdowns in two games while leading a Cornhuskers offensive attack that is averaging 46.5 points per game. These two teams do not play often, but Nebraska is 1-2 ATS against UCLA since 1992. Against Wyoming in the opener, Nebraska was able to escape with the victory, but the defense gave up 34 points. Even worse, they gave up 602 yards of offense, including 383 through the air. If the Blackshirts are unable to live up to their name, then it is going to be very difficult for Nebraska to win, even in Lincoln.
Last year, the Bruins had a very talented running back in Johnathan Franklin. He has since moved on to the NFL's Green Bay Packers, but the rushing game has kept rolling along. The reason is redshirt junior Jordon James. He is smaller than Franklin, but is an explosive running back that has the ability to take it the distance any play. James had 155 yards and a touchdown, forcing the defense to put an extra player in the box. However, if the Cornhuskers are going to do that, then that will allow Shaq Evans some one-on-one matchups on the outside. At 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, Evans does a great job of pinning the cornerback behind him on the comeback routes. UCLA has shown the ability to step up in games against ranked teams, as they went 3-2 in such scenarios last season, but both of those were to Pac-12 champion Stanford. The special teams has shown the potential to make big plays this season for UCLA. Evans took a punt 36 yards against the Wolfpack, while Phillip Ruhl took a blocked punt in for a score. With both teams figuring to be able to move the ball at an efficient rate, the play of special teams will play a huge role in this game.
After being known as the Blackshirts throughout the 1990's, Nebraska has struggled to live up to the expectations from its usually fierce defense. It has been even worse against ranked teams since the start of 2011, as the Huskers have given up 257 points in eight games against ranked teams, going 3-5 during that span. There is talent though on the defense, led by sophomore LB David Santos. He currently leads the Cornhuskers with 16 tackles, while junior safety Harvey Jackson is second with 11 stops. Jackson is an athletic safety that is able to play all over the field, and may even be relied upon to spy on Hundley. If Nebraska's defense is able to slow down UCLA and get them off the field, one of the nation's most balanced rushing attacks will have a chance to show their stuff. The Cornhuskers currently have four guys with more than 100 yards in the first two games, led by junior Ameer Abdullah with 228. He is undersized back at just 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, but he has a low center of gravity that allows him to run through tacklers. The Bruins can be downright scary on offense, and are going to be able to move the ball against Nebraska. However, the Cornhuskers offense must continue to run the ball like they have all season, and keep the UCLA offense on the sideline.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (2-0) at CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS (1-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Ohio State -16 & 67
Opening Line & Total: Buckeyes -16.5 & 67.5
No. 4 Ohio State may not have its star quarterback when it makes the long trip west to take on California on Saturday night.
The Buckeyes carry the nation's longest winning streak at 14 games, but their Heisman trophy candidate, QB Braxton Miller, is questionable with a sprained knee he suffered in last week's game. However, backup QB Kenny Guiton showed he is more than capable of making plays, finishing the game against San Diego State with 235 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. Much like Miller, Guiton is a mobile quarterback that can hurt you both running and throwing the ball. The Buckeyes are 1-1 ATS this season, and in last season's matchup, the Bears covered the spread in a 35-28 loss in Columbus. Cal RB Brendan Bigelow stole the show in that ATS win. Despite only carrying the ball four times, Bigelow produced touchdown runs of 81 and 59 yards as part of a 160-yard game. He is an explosive athlete with incredible speed and balance, and his ability to run the ball has helped freshman QB Jared Goff burst on to the college football scene. In his first two career games, Goff has thrown for 930 yards, including 485 in his last start in his team's narrow 37-30 victory over FCS school Portland State. At 6-foot-4, Goff has a big arm and he is not afraid to attack the cornerbacks on the perimeter. However, with respect to his opponents, Northwestern and Portland State, Goff will be going up against a different beast in Ohio State.
Urban Meyer has taken Ohio State back to the top of the college world quickly. Just two years ago, the Buckeyes went 6-7 following a loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl. Two years later the Buckeyes are one of the favorites to possibly win the national title and end the run of SEC dominance in the final game. While the Big Ten is a power running style of conference, Meyer has gone against the norm. He has had great success in the past at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, and it is because of the spread offense, which allows his offense the space to make plays. Meyer has never lost a game in which his team has scored more than 35 points. That could be bad news for the Bears with their porous defense. Buckeyes senior RB Jordan Hall has filled in for the suspended Carlos Hyde nicely, rushing for 234 yards on 6.9 YPC and three touchdowns. WR Devin Smith was the hero last season against Cal, as his 72-yard touchdown reception broke a 28-28 tie with 3:26 left in the game. On defense, the Buckeyes have shown major improvements from last season, giving up just 13.5 PPG. Look for Meyer to test the Bears' freshman quarterback by sending blitzes from everywhere in the game, as Goff has already thrown three interceptions in his first two games.
This will be the second time this season that the Golden Bears face a Big Ten team, as they lost 44-30 on opening night to Northwestern. While Cal's offense has been good this season, the defense has been just the opposite, giving up 37.0 PPG (106th in nation). Where they have really struggled is stopping the run, allowing 5.7 yards per carry. This has been huge as teams are constantly in second and short, allowing them to call nearly any play. Cal must also step up its defense because Ohio State is currently 30th in FBS with 41.0 PPG. Junior DB Kameron Jackson (one interception) has very good speed, and will be key to help limit the big plays for Ohio State. Bigelow has gotten off to a slow start this season, rushing for only 136 yards on 4.1 YPC in the first two games. For the Bears to pull off this huge upset, Bigelow must have another huge game against OSU and take some of the pressure off Goff to win it through the air.