NCAA Football Week 3 Picks: The Tailgater Breakdown

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Tailgater_logo3We witnessed some spectacular upsets last week, and it made for some interesting results against the spread. There were some hits and some misses this week for the Tailgater crew, with only one of us finishing with a winning record.

The second week results pulled the standings closer; here’s how each of us fared:

  • Zach Bigalke: 6-4
  • Matt Strobl: 5-5
  • John Mitchell: 4-6

It was a rare week where I managed to finish ahead, thanks to such upsets as BYU over Texas. After finishing below .500 last week, John gets the first crack this week.


Virginia Tech Hokies @ East Carolina Pirates (+7.5)

East_Carolina_helmetMitchell: It’s hard to have a lot of faith in Virginia Tech with their offensive shortcomings. Even against lowly Western Carolina from the FCS, Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas struggled. He completed 17-of-31 passes for 200 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Sure, the Hokies are the more talented team, but this is a road game for them as they travel to East Carolina, and I think Thomas will struggle for the third game in a row. The difference will be Virginia Tech’s defense, which is one of the very best in the country, and they’ll win the game thanks to them. But, I think the Pirates cover the 7.5 point spread. PICK: East Carolina

Strobl: Simply put, the Hokies are a shadow of their former selves; while Frank Beamer still fields a solid squad, he hasn’t been able to rekindle the magic of those great defensive teams from a few year ago. That was evident in the blowout loss to Alabama, although it’s probably unfair to use the Tide as a measuring stick given the absurd talent level of that program. All that said, East Carolina is several rungs down the ladder, and I have to believe that despite its flaws, Virginia Tech can handle itself against the Pirates. However, this spread of slightly more than a touchdown makes me a little wary, and ECU has a history of covering as a home underdog. I think VT will create some breathing room, but as ‘dogs, the Pirates are 16-7 ATS at home. PICK: East Carolina

Bigalke: The Pirates have been rapidly climbing up my BCS Buster Power Rankings with their play over the first two weeks of the season. Virginia Tech put up a spirited if futile fight against Alabama in their season opener before walloping Western Carolina last week. Their trip to Greenville, though, will test the Hokies’ offense this week. As John noted, the Catamounts held Thomas in check; against East Carolina, the offensive line will be tested by a front seven that’s tied for fourth in the country in sacks. On their home turf, the Pirates will easily cover the spread… and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they knocked off the Hokies outright. PICK: East Carolina


Bowling Green Falcons @ Indiana Hoosiers (-2.5)

bowling_green_helmetMitchell: All the optimism from Indiana’s opener was swept away after their 41-35 loss at home to Navy last week. The Hoosiers had no answer for the Midshipmen defensively. Indiana has an explosive offense that is averaging 550 yards and 54 points per game through two weeks. But even with those impressive numbers, they are 1-1 thanks to their complete lack of defense. And that’s likely to cost them again on Saturday when Bowling Green comes calling. The Falcons are the much more balanced team, boasting a very good defense, and an offense that is scoring 37.5 points per game through two weeks. Bowling Green’s defense will do enough to slow down Indiana’s offense, and the Falcons offense should rack up plenty of points led by Matt Johnson and Travis Greene. PICK: Bowling Green

Strobl: Of course Vegas would make this a de factor pick ’em and leave us no room to hedge. This line creates a forced choice in a game that could really go either way. Nate Sudfield and the Hoosiers have looked strong to open the year, but the Indiana defense was exposed by Navy in week 2. That’s concerning, becuase the Falcons attack is capable of putting up a lot of points in a short amount of time. Indiana could also be caught looking ahead to a matchup with the SEC’s Missouri Tigers, and Big Ten play opens the following game. If they fail to focus on Bowling Green, they’ll be sorry. PICK: Bowling Green

Bigalke: The Falcons are another mid-major making waves this season. With wins already over Tulsa and Kent State — a pair of division champions last season — Bowling Green has positioned itself as a serious challenger for the MAC crown this season. Their trip to Bloomington will certainly result in a victory; the problem is that, after Navy won in Indiana last weekend, that win will be somewhat devalued. But a win is a win, and a BCS-conference opponent is never anything to scoff about for mid-majors. The fact that Indiana is inexplicably favored, even at home, makes this an incredibly easy pick to make. PICK: Bowling Green


UCLA Bruins @ Nebraska Cornhuskers (-4.5)

Nebraska_helmetMitchell: This is one of the top under card matchups on the college football slate. The Bruins won this meeting a year ago in Pasadena, and used that win to springboard a renaissance under head coach Jim Mora Jr. UCLA now makes the return trip to Lincoln to complete their home-and-home series. Both teams bring in potent offenses, and both have questions on defense. Everyone will be watching the quarterbacks as two of the best dual-threat guys in the country go head-to-head. Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez has improved immensely as a passer, and everyone knows how dangerous he is as a runner. UCLA’s Brett Hundley is just as dangerous in both facets. This game will come down to which defense is able to make the most plays, and my money is on the Huskers at home to avenge last season’s close loss. PICK: Nebraska

Strobl: The ‘Huskers have several factors working in their favor. The obvious one is homefield advantage, but underlying that is an element of revenge stemming from last year’s loss to the Bruins. In that matchup, the Nebraska defense was embarrassed, and you better believe that coach Bo Pelini took that personally. Nebraska also gets an edge because its been tested in a close game. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been challenged by Wyoming in week 1, but the fact that they were able to finish well and preserve the win against a scrappy Cowboys team might come in handy in this one. In contrast, UCLA has played only one game, blowing out Nevada in week 1. With a layoff and an early start time, the Bruins could be rusty in Lincoln. I don’t think Nebraska is a great team this year, but I do think there’s enough pride and vengeance brewing, especially among the blackshirts, to push the home team to victory. PICK: Nebraska

Bigalke: I’m still quite suspicious about Nebraska’s ability to outscore against another elite offense after watching Wyoming nearly knock off the Huskers in Lincoln on opening weekend. As much as we continue to talk about Taylor Martinez’s imminent breakout, he’s the figurehead of the nation’s 94th-ranked passing offense. I’ve got far more faith in Brett Hundley and the Bruins, who are ranked ahead of the Cornhuskers in every major offensive category. Even better for Mora’s team, UCLA is allowing 3.5 fewer points per game. This should be the weekend when the Blackshirts lay an egg and Nebraska suffers its first loss of the season, just like they did at the Rose Bowl last year. PICK: UCLA


Tennessee Volunteers @ Oregon Ducks (-27.5)

oregon_helmetMitchell: There’s a lot of optimism in Knoxville after Tennessee’s 2-0 start under new head coach Butch Jones, and for good reason considering the fanbase hasn’t had much to cheer about in a few years now. While the program is heading in the right direction, they’ll see just how far they still have to go on Saturday in Eugene. The Ducks are simply on another planet, and the Volunteers’ defense, while opportunistic, won’t have much success against Oregon’s fast-paced explosive offense. Marcus Mariota is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and he should shred Tennessee’s defense both through the air and on the ground. The always dangerous De’Anthony Thomas is good for a few big plays per game himself, and he’s averaging 8.7 yards per carry through two weeks. The Ducks should win with relative ease, and cover the spread along the way. PICK: Oregon

Strobl: The Vols have looked surprisingly strong thus far, and I’m sure there’s some in-depth analysis that could be applied here justifying a Tennessee selection. The problem is, Oregon is really, really good. This one is propbably going to be another lopsided win for the Ducks, and a long, hard road trip for UT. PICK: Oregon

Bigalke: Tennessee has moved beyond the Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley debacles with a solid 2-0 beginning to the Butch Jones era. Oregon hasn’t missed a single step now that Mark Helfrich has taken over for Chip Kelly in Eugene. This is a large spread, but the Ducks have proven time and time again that they can dominate good opponents… especially at Autzen. Three years ago these teams met in Knoxville, and Oregon won by five touchdowns. Tennessee is better than they were in that matchup, but Oregon also has an even more potent offense than they brought on that road trip to SEC country. A four-touchdown difference is entirely reasonable in this contest, and the only thing that sucks for this Duck fan is the fact that I couldn’t nab a ticket to Autzen for tomorrow’s showdown. PICK: Oregon


Alabama Crimson Tide @ Texas A&M Aggies (+7.5)

Alabama_helmetMitchell: The game of the week/year/century takes place in College Station on Saturday afternoon as the two-time defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide look to avenge last season’s loss to Texas A&M in Bryant-Denny, which was the lone blemish in an otherwise perfect season. Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel gave the Crimson Tide fits last season, and it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have made this season to slow him down. I think Alabama will slow him down a bit, with linebacker C.J. Mosley, one of the best in the nation at his position, spying him for most of the game. I also don’t see the Aggies’ defense, who have struggled in their first two games giving up nearly 30 points per game against Rice and Sam Houston State, being able to stop the Crimson Tide’s offense. AJ McCarron is itching to atone for last season’s mistakes, and sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon should have a big day. I think it will be close throughout, with Yeldon punching in a touchdown late to give the Crimson Tide a double-digit win. PICK: Alabama

Strobl: There are a few things that I wouldn’t want to do under any circumstances. One of those is putting myself in Nick Saban’s crosshairs. Say what you will about the Alabama coach, his focus is like a laser beam, and at this moment he’s undoubtedly focused on avenging last year’s loss to the Aggies. A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been the talk of college football, and Alabama would like nothing more than to ensure that the buzz returns to Tuscaloosa. The line is understandable given the venue, but I expect the Crimson Tide to roll the Aggies by a comfortable margin. PICK: Alabama

Bigalke: Kyle Field is Johnny Football’s schoolyard lot, and after steering the Aggies to a landmark victory last season in the enemy territory of Tuscaloosa he has the potential to remind everyone that he is more than a scandal waiting to happen. A shorthanded A&M defense gets back several key players who have been absent from the first two games due to suspension, and they proved last season that they could slow down Alabama’s offense. While McCarron and crew will get their chances for the Tide, this should come down to the wire. Either team should win this, but the final deficit shouldn’t be any wider than the five-point gap that separated the two teams last season. PICK: Texas A&M

NEXT PAGE: The Last Picks & Upsets of the Week

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