Saturday's Tip Sheet
September 3, 2015
By Brian Edwards
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**Arizona State vs. Texas A&M**
-- This game will be played in Houston at NRG Stadium. ESPN will have the telecast Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
-- As of Thursday, most betting shops had Texas A&M installed as a 3.5-point favorite with a total of 70 points. The Aggies had been favored by three for weeks until the number was adjusted one-half point early Wednesday afternoon. The total was 67 on Tuesday but moved by three points in a 48-hour period. Gamblers can back the Sun Devils on the money line for a +140 return (risk $100 to win $140).
-- Arizona State posted a 10-3 straight-up record and a 6-7 against-the-spread mark for Todd Graham in his third season at the helm. Graham has now produced back-to-back double-digit win campaigns and has a 28-12 record at ASU. The Sun Devils return seven starters on offense and nine on defense.
-- Arizona State quarterback Todd Kelly is gone after enjoying a stellar career. Kelly ranks fourth for the school in all-time passing yards and posted a 79/26 touchdown-to-interception ratio as the starter the last three years. He was injured in Week 3 last season, however, allowing Mike Bercovici to make three starts. Bercovici appeared in all 13 games in 2014, completing 61.8 percent of his passes for 1,445 yards with a 12/4 TD-INT ratio.
-- ASU wide receiver Cameron Smith was injured in the spring and will take a redshirt this year. Smith had 41 receptions for 596 yards and six TDs last season. WR Jaelen Strong (82 catches, 1,165 yards, 10 TDs) is also out of the mix and in the NFL now. Therefore, D.J. Foster will be Bercovici's favorite target as he makes the permanent move back to WR. Foster played RB early in 2014 and finished the season with 1,081 rushing yards and nine TDs with a 5.6 yards-per-carry average. He also had 62 catches for 688 yards and three TDs. With Foster at WR, sophomore RB Demario Richard will carry the bulk of the rushing load. Richard ran for 478 yards and four TDs while averaging 5.7 YPC as a true freshman last season.
-- ASU brings back 14 of its top 16 tacklers from a defensive unit which gave up 27.9 points per game in 2014.
-- Texas A&M finished 2014 with an 8-5 SU record and a 5-8 ATS ledger. Since going 11-2 in Kevin Sumlin's first season, the Aggies win totals have dropped to nine and eight. Sumlin is one of the nation's highest-paid coaches and this is a big season for him (I'm not implying he's on the hot seat and he has continued to recruit extremely well, but the fan base wants more victories). A&M brings back eight starters on offense and eight on defense.
-- Texas A&M won its first five games last year to climb to No. 6 in the national rankings. However, the Aggies lost three in a row and five of their last seven to close the regular season. On the bright side, they beat West Va. 45-37 as two-point underdogs at the Liberty Bowl.
-- After getting off to a spectacular start that had him among the Heisman favorites in early October, QB Kenny Hill basically 'pulled a Terry Dean' (think Dean and the Gators in 1994), as he slumped badly, eventually got suspended and is now out of the program (he's sitting out the season after transferring to TCU). Kyle Allen took over as the starting QB for the last five games. As a true freshman, he was up and down. Allen was spectacular in a 41-38 win at Auburn as a 23-point underdog and played extremely well against the Mountaineers. He really struggled in a 23-17 home loss to LSU in the regular-season finale, however. Allen would finish the year completing 61.5 percent of his throws for 1,322 yards with a 16/7 TD-INT ratio. Allen held off a strong charge from true freshman Kyler Murray to retain his job in AuguState Murray was considered by most to be the second-best pro-style QB in the 2015 recruiting class.
-- Allen might have the country's best set of wide receivers. Junior Josh Reynolds was the team's Offensive MVP last season when he hauled in 52 receptions for 842 yards and 13 TDs. Speedy Noil (46 catches, 583 yards and five TDs), Ricky Seals-Jones (49-465-4) and Edward Pope (30-454-4) are reliable targets and true freshman Christian Kirk is also expected to make an impact.
-- Texas A&M has been a single-digit favorite only eight times during Sumlin's tenure, going 3-5 ATS.
-- Texas A&M allowed 32.2 PPG in 2013 and 28.1 PPG last season. Therefore, Sumlin went out and hired John Chavis as the team's new defensive coordinator. Chavis has been a fixture in the SEC for decades, serving as DC at Tennessee and LSU during extremely successful times at both programs. He has the SEC's best pass rusher in sophomore Myles Garrett, who had 53 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 10 QB hurries as a true freshman.
-- ASU has struggled mightily in 10 games as an underdog on Graham's watch, limping to a 3-7 spread record.
-- ASU linebacker Laiu Moeakiola is 'questionable' vs. Texas A&M due to nagging foot and ankle injuries that have bothered him for much of AuguState Moeakiola made 72 tackles and contributed five sacks in 2014.
**Texas at Notre Dame**
-- As of Thursday, most books had Notre Dame listed as a 9.5-point 'chalk' with a total of 50.5 points. The Longhorns were +330 on the money line.
-- Texas got off to a rough start in the first season of Charlie Strong's tenure. Strong booted nearly a dozen players out of the program and the team finished with a 6-7 SU record and a 7-6 spread ledger. The Longhorns bring back seven starters on offense and five on defense.
-- Strong, who was a long-time defensive coordinator in the SEC before a successful four-year run as the head coach at Louisville, fielded a strong defense in 2014. Texas allowed just 23.8 PPG, but it could only muster 21.4 PPG offensively. Junior Tyrone Swoopes has been named the starting QB again after getting the nod in the last 12 games of 2014. Swoopes is big and athletic, but he's a shaky pocket passer. He completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,409 yards with a 13/11 TD-INT ratio. Swoopes gained 504 yards on the ground but when sacks were factored in, he had just 262 net rushing yards. He ran for four scores.
-- Notre Dame has been a home favorite 26 times during Brian Kelly's first five years, limping to a 10-13-3 spread record. Going back further, the Irish have been abysmal as a home 'chalk' with an 18-31-3 ATS mark since 2005.
-- Texas was a road underdog just once last season, failing to cover the number as a 10-point puppy in a 23-0 loss at Kansas State The Longhorns were 1-5 ATS in six games as underdogs in Strong's first season at the helm.
-- Notre Dame got off to a great start in 2014, rolling off six straight wins to bring QB Everett Golson's career record to 18-1. However, a questionable offensive pass-interference call cost the Irish a comeback win at FSU in the waning seconds. From there, the team came completely apart, losing four of its last five regular-season contests, including home losses to unranked Northwestern and Louisville, in addition to blowout defeats at Arizona State (55-31) and at Southern Cal (49-14). Notre Dame's home loss to Northwestern came as a 17.5-point favorite. Golson became turnover prone during the late-season slide, prompting Kelly to turn to true freshman Malik Zaire as the starting QB in the bowl game.
-- Notre Dame salvaged the season -- to some extent -- by capturing a 31-28 win over LSU as an eight-point underdog at the Music City Bowl in Nashville. Zaire completed 12-of-15 passes for 96 yards and one TD without an interception. He also rushed 22 times for 96 yards and one score. Kyle Brindza's 32-yard field goal with one second remaining lifted the Irish to victory.
-- Zaire beat out Golson during spring practice, prompting Golson to transfer to Florida State
-- Notre Dame junior DT Jarron Jones was lost to a season-ending injury in AuguState Jones had 40 tackles (six for losses), 1.5 sacks and seven QB hurries last year.
-- Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern on NBC.
**Alabama vs. Wisconsin**
-- For the last month, Alabama has mostly been favored by 10.5 or 11 points. However, the line moved to 12 at most books (and 12.5 at the Westgate) late Wednesday night. As of Thursday, most spots had Alabama installed as a 12-point favorite with a total of 49. The 'over/under' was as high as 51.5 earlier this week. The Badgers are +400 to win outright over the Crimson Tide. This game will be played in Arlington at Jerry World.
-- Alabama has yet to decide on a starting quarterback and Nick Saban has no plans to reveal a starter before the first snap is taken. Saban's team was in a similar situation at this point last season, and everything worked out fine with senior Blake Sims enjoying a stellar season. However, the offense lost a lot of playmakers and key pieces on the offensive line. Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon are off to the NFL, landing with the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively. RB Derrick Henry, who rushed for 990 yards and 11 TDs while averaging 5.8 YPC in 2014, is poised for a breakout campaign. Kenyan Drake is healthy again after breaking his leg in last year's loss at Ole Miss. Drake can line up in the backfield or at WR and he's a versatile playmaker. The top three WRs are gone, so Chris Black and ArDarius Stewart will be depended on to produce.
-- If Wisconsin can find a way to beat Alabama, it might be able to go through the entire regular season undefeated. If Nebraska isn't ranked on Oct. 10 when the Badgers come to Lincoln, there's a great chance that Wisconsin's only game against a ranked foe will be this Saturday night.
-- Senior QB Joel Stave is back after suffering through the worst season of his career. Stave was relatively solid as a freshman and sophomore, throwing 28 TD passes compared to 16 interceptions in 19 starts. However, on the eve of last year's season opener against LSU, it was announced that Tanner McEvoy, who had started four games at safety in 2013, would be the starting QB. A week later, reports out of Madison indicated that Stave was out for the season with a shoulder injury. Then in October, Stave suddenly returned to the starting lineup and stayed there for the last nine games. The Badgers won eight of those nine games to finish 11-3 SU and 7-7 ATS. They bounced back from a humiliating 59-0 loss to Ohio State at the Big Ten Championship Game to beat Auburn 34-31 in overtime at the Outback Bowl.
-- Stave had the worst numbers of his career in 2014. He connected on just 53.4 percent of his throws for 1,350 yards with a mediocre 9/10 TD-INT ratio. The hope in Madison is that with a health shoulder Stave will be able to return to the form he demonstrated in 2012 and '13.
-- Melvin Gordon enjoyed a spectacular season for Wisconsin last year, rushing for 2,587 yards and 29 TDs while averaging an eye-popping 7.5 YPC. He also had three TD catches. Gordon went to the Chargers in the first round and I won't be surprised if he takes Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Nevertheless, UW's ground game should be just fine in 2015. Junior Corey Clement is poised to handle the bulk of the work after producing 949 rushing yards and nine TDs last season. He averaged 6.5 YPC and also had 14 receptions for 119 yards and a pair of scores.
-- Shortly after the win over Auburn, Gary Andersen abruptly resigned as UW's head coach following 9-4 and 10-3 seasons (AD Barry Alvarez coached the bowl-game win over AU). The biggest shocker was his reasoning for leaving -- to take the Oregon State job in Corvallis. Former OSU coach Mike Riley had taken the Nebraska gig after Bo Pelini was sent packing from Lincoln. Andersen, who was previously at Utah State and has spent most of his life in the northwest, apparently wanted to get close to his roots. There were also reports that he was frustrated with UW's reluctance to budge on admission standards for certain elite athletes. This turned out to be true when the prize catch of the 2015 recruiting haul (RB Jordan Stevenson) wasn't admitted to school in July.
-- Alvarez hired Pitt coach Paul Chryst to replace Andersen as head coach. Chryst, who went 19-20 in three years with the Panthers, returns to UW where he was the OC from 2005-2011 when the Badgers produced record-setting offensive numbers. Chryst was born in Madison and played QB for Wisconsin. He brought his OC Joe Rudolph, another Wisconsin alum who was on the staff from 2008-2011, from Pitt. Chryst retained Dave Aranda as DC.
-- Wisconsin returns five starters on offense and six on defense, while Alabama brings back three starters on offense and seven on defense.
-- Alabama is 3-6 ATS in its last nine games as a double-digit 'chalk.'
-- Alabama is undefeated in eight season openers on Saban's watch. The Tide covered the spread in his first seven lid-lifters, but it failed to take the money in last year's 33-23 win over West Va. as a 25.5-point 'chalk.'
-- ABC will have the broadcast at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.