Free Picks: Service Plays for Saturday, August 31

Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Saturday, August 31

John Martin

New Mexico -3

Playing against teams where the line is +3 to -3 (UTSA) that has a winning record last season, which is playing a team that is coming off a losing season, and it's a non-conference game, have gone 35-9 (79.5%) ATS over the past 10 years.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Saturday, August 31

Jim Feist

Central Michigan vs. Michigan    
Play: Central Michigan +31½

Central Michigan is a fine MAC team under Dan Enos with an excellent offense. They are off a 7-6 campaign including in a 24-21 victory in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Tackle Eric Fisher was selected as the first pick in the NFL Draft! Junior wideout Titus Davis was one of the top receivers in the MAC as a sophomore, racking up 860 yards and eight TDs on 43 receptions. The Chippewas are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 vs. the Big Ten and 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games on fieldturf. They will be up for this game, while Michigan has a showdown with Notre Dame on deck. The Wolverines are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games in August, so grab the underrated visitors.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Saturday, August 31

Bruce MarshallFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Wyoming at NebraskaFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
Pick: OverFOR  FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Flying comfortably under the radar once again is Wyoming, which is good news for those who recognized the Cowboys' ongoing prowess (15-4 vs. the number!) in a profitable road underdog role since HC Dave Christensen arrived in 2009. And the dynamics look much the same in 2013, with another lively offense led by vastly underrated jr. QB Brett Smith, a surprise star at the offseason Manning Passing Academy who welcomes back all of his top receiving targets after tossing 27 TD passes (with just six picks) LY. Granted, chances of a Wyo upset at Lincoln are remote due to a leaky stop unit (ranked 106th LY) that is counting upon several juco reinforcements to plug the many leaks in the defensive dike, which figure to be exploited (perhaps ruthlessly) by Nebraska's potent "O" and sr. QB Taylor Martinez. But Bo Pelini also in heavy rebuild mode with Husker "D" that disappeared often LY. With gunslinger Smith likely firing live ammo for 4 Qs, the backdoor should be wide open again for Cowboys. Lots of offense both ways also suggests this game reaches the 70s and perhaps nudges into the low 80s.

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Tony KarpinskiFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Buffalo vs. Ohio StateFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
Play: Ohio State  -34.5FOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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OSU has a weaker schedule this year, opening up against the Buffalo Bulls. This will be a quick beating from the start, Braxton Miller has a great game, and will have a breakout season, and is certainly ready to go. MAC opponents haven’t faired well vs OSU, and this remains. Buckeyes win behind the heart of the team, who was good for 28 total TDs in 2012. Look for a 52-7 type of score.

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Art Aronson

Seattle vs. Houston
Pick: Over

Dallas Keuchel (5-7, 4.82 ERA) gets the call for the Astros on Saturday. Keuchal is coming of a rare good start where he allowed zero runs on seven innings in a no-decision versus the Toronto Blue Jays. Keuchal gave up a combined 13 runs over his three starts before that game, lasting less than a combined 13 innings in that span. At home Keuchal has an ERA of 5.36 and has struggled just like the rest of the Astro team.  Joe Saunders (10-13, 5.09 ERA) is coming off a rough performance in Texas where he allowed seven earned runs on seven innings in a loss. Hopefully you don’t have Saunders on your fantasy baseball team because he has allowed four or more earned runs in six of his last seven starts. Saunders has lost three straight decisions and five of his last six.  In his career versus the Astros, the veteran right-hander has allowed 18 earned runs in 29 2/3’s innings pitched. The Astro’s were shut down yesterday and will likely be looking to put up some runs.This line is pretty low in the hitter friendly park of Minute Maid. I Strongly consider taking the "over."

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Sean Murphy

Rice vs. Texas A&M
Pick: Over

The big (or not so big) news this week was the suspension of Johnny Manziel for the first half of Saturday's game against Rice. Most look at that suspension as a bit of a joke, and I tend to agree.

Regardless of Manziel's status, I'm confident we'll see this one climb over the total before it's all said and done.

We made some money playing Rice 'overs' last season, and we'll pick up right where we left off here in 2013. I still feel that Taylor McHargue is one of the most under-appreciated play-making quarterbacks in college football. The Owls also gave significant time to his backup Drip (full name Driphus) Jackson last year, and believe he can play a vital role in the offense this year. I believe this is a team that's truly poised for a breakout year offensively, and while they draw a tough opening week matchup, I don't expect to see them hold anything back.

The Aggies are absolutely loaded with offensive talent. Even without Manziel on the field, they should run like a hot knife through butter against a perennially bad Rice defense. All indications are that the Owls will once again field one of the weakest defenses in college football this season (perhaps that's a bit harsh) and I'm confident we'll see Texas A&M hit the ground running. By the time the second half rolls around, Manziel might not be asked to do a whole lot, but he'll put up gawdy numbers nonetheless.

In order to cash this total, I think the magic number is going to be 21 points for Rice. I'm confident the Owls can blow past that number, even if they get off to a slow start against a much bigger, more physical Aggies defense. T

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Nick Parsons

Baltimore vs. NY Yankees
Pick: NY Yankees

New York is rolling right now having won five straight at Yankee Stadium. With a victory today the home side would pass the stumbling Orioles for third in the division and in the wild-card standings.

Scott Feldman (11-9, 3.87 ERA)

Feldman gave up one earned run off three hits with four walks over five innings for a victory over the A's on Sunday.

Feldman has not entirely been what the Orioles were hoping for though when acquiring him from the Cubs, as he's been unable to make it very far into games.

Feldman owns a pedestrian 4-4, 3.66 ERA road record this year.

Ivan Nova (7-4, 3.14 ERA)

Nova gave up two earned runs off six hits over 6 2/3's innings vs. the Rays on Sunday, unfortunate to get saddled with a no-decision for his effort.

Nova has won his last three decisions and is 5-2 with a 2.84 ERA in the Bronx this season.

The bottom line: New York's big boppers have finally woken up at the plate. Both Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki homered in yesterday's 8-5 victory over Baltimore.

In fact the Yanks have won nine of their last ten in front of the home town crowd, powered by 16 dingers.

Nova has been fiercely efficient of late, averaging 13.9 pitches per inning and 7.58 strikeouts per nine over his last nine starts.

And that's bad news for Baltimore which is moving in the opposite direction right now, getting outscored 27-13 while dropping three of four.

When you add it all up, there's no question we're getting great line value on the hard-hitting home side.

Consider a second look at the Yankees in this matchup.

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Andre Gomes

Hull City @ Manchester City
Play: Manchester City -2 +109

After Manchester City's loss at Cardiff last Sunday, we know what every small team will try to do against them: park the bus! The big difference is that Cardiff defended really well, but Manchester City also looked surprised with that. The good news about this loss is that Man City will be fired up to bounce back today. Hull City has already faced a top team on the road on Round 1, when they lost by 2-0 at Chelsea, which could have been like 4-0 or 5-0 at half time! Chelsea relaxed during the second half because they would be facing Aston Villa in middle of the following week and they didn't try to crush Hull. However, considering Man City's loss last week, that won't happen tonight. They will likely score first today and they'll keep trying to score more goals.

Hull City is coming from a home win against Norwich, where they played almost a hour with 10 men, as their striker Yannick Sagbo was sent-off. After that, Hull defended the result after scoring their goal via penalty kick, ending the game with just 39% ball possession and just 7 shots, while Norwich had 13. Of course Norwich's offense lacks the level of Man City's offense and Hull will struggle a lot more today. I expect Manchester City to enter today's game fired up, scoring early and then keep pressuring Hull for a blowout win today. Therefore, I'll be taking Man City today.

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Joseph D'AmicoFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Georgia vs. ClemsonFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
Play: Georgia -2½FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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This meeting has potential National Title implications. Georgia has taken 5 in a row in the series. Clemson comes off a BIG win over LSU in last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl. Both teams have Top-15 offenses with the Tigers helmed by QB, Taj Boyd while the Bulldogs are led by Aaron Murray. Both have great receivers and solid ground games. BUT, Georgia yielded just 19.6 PPG last season. Now the contest should favor the home team especially with Georgia having South Carolina on deck HOWEVER, I must give the edge to the Bulldogs here due to the backfield of Gurley and Marshall who Combined for 2144 YR and 25 TD's last season. The Bulldog's will control the clock and the tempo. The Tigers will be sorely missing last season's tailback, Andre Ellington who gave them some ground attack LY. Also, the fact that Murray is a purer passer allows me to breathe easier as both teams lack a great pass defense. Take Georgia.

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NellyFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Toledo + over FloridaFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Toledo will be a dangerous first test for Florida as the Rockets have just about everyone back from an offense that put up 445 yards per game last season. Toledo nearly beat Arizona last season and also took out Cincinnati as this is a team that can compete with major conference talent. The Rockets will be vulnerable on defense but this was not an explosive Gators offense last year. Florida also has a huge game with Miami on deck and the Gators have very few starters back from last season's 11-2 squad. Florida only allowed 14 points per game last year but they struggled to pull away in a matchup with the MAC to open last season and Florida played few true passing teams last season to pad the numbers. Florida has a shaky recent track record as a home favorite and this is a lot of points to give a team that can score quickly, making a backdoor cover possible even if the Gators are in control early in this game. Recent suspensions also hurt the depth for Florida and the Rockets can hang around in this game.

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Dr. BobFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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WISCONSIN (-44½) 47 Massachusetts 6FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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U Mass may be the worst offensive team in the FBS and being without pass catching TE Rob Blanchflower today (43 catches last season) makes the Minutemen even worse. Wisconsin has a good defense and the Badgers should have a very good offensive attack as well so this game just depends on how much incentive Wisconsin has to run up the score. New coach Gary Anderson could want to make a statement given that his team only beat Northern Iowa by 5 points as a 40 point favorite in last year’s opener. My ratings call for a 47-6 game so I’ll lean with U Mass plus the huge points.
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FLORIDA (-24) 36 Toledo 17FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Toledo’s offense is going to be a test for Florida’s dominating defense, as the Rockets return effective veteran Terrance Owens at quarterback, David Fluellen at running back (1498 yard at 5.8 ypr), and the top 6 receivers from last year’s team that averaged 6.1 yards per play. Toledo did face a schedule of defenses that would allow 6.0 yppl to an average team but I expect Owens to be much better this season. Owens has averaged 7.7 yards per pass play on close to 800 pass plays in his first 3 seasons while facing teams that would combine to allow 6.8 yppp to an average quarterback but he was just 0.3 yppp better than average last season with an inexperienced receiving corps (record setting WR Eric Page left school early for the NFL after 2011). The receiving corps is now experienced and that should bolster Owens’ completion percentage back up from last year’s 61.5% to around his career rate of 64.4%. Toledo may be close to as good offensively as they were in 2011 (6.5 yppl against teams that would allow 5.9 yppl to an average team).
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Florida’s defense still has an advantage even if the Rockets are as good offensively as they were two seasons ago because I rate the Gators’ stop at 1.2 yppl better than average this season despite having just 4 returning starters from last year’s dominating unit (4.4 yppl allowed to teams that would average 6.1 yppl). While Florida’s defense won’t be as dominating the offense could be improved after being just 0.2 yppl better than average last season. The rushing attack should still be very good and quarterback Jeff Driskel isn’t likely to be as bad as he was last season when the Gators averaged a pathetic 5.0 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 5.8 yppp). The Gators are still not likely to be good offensively by SEC standards but they’ll move the ball well against a bad Toledo defense that I rate at 0.9 yppl worse than average.
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My ratings only favor Florida by 20 ½ points in this game, as the Toledo offense should score enough points to keep this interesting and I’m not sure Florida’s attack is capable of taking full advantage of Toledo’s bad defense. The Rockets also apply to a 38-14-2 ATS week 1 situation that plays on quality teams as underdogs.
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TEXAS A&M (-27) 53 Rice 21FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Rice was good enough last year, at 7-6 with a bowl win, to help the coaches get their players focused and whatever 2nd half letdown the Aggies might have with a big lead will probably not happen with Johnny Manziel excited to play after being forced to sit out the first half. The Aggies backup quarterbacks are still going to be good enough in coach Kevin Sumlin’s system to run up a good number of points against a bad Rice defense that is even worse without suspended star CB Phillip Gaines, who broke up 18 passes last season. My ratings, adjusted for Manziel only playing the 2nd half, favor the Aggies by 32 ½ points and I don’t see them letting up with a lead.
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MICHIGAN (-31½) 41 Central Michigan 14FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Michigan was great offensively last season, averaging 6.1 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow 5.3 yppl to an average attack. The loss of dynamic quarterback/running back Denard Robinson might seem like a big blow given his impressive numbers (7.6 yards per pass play and 1297 yards on 173 runs (7.5 yards per rushing play!). However, Robinson threw a lot of interceptions in his career, including on 5.4% of his passes last season, and new quarterback Devin Gardner proved that he not only is more careful with the ball (5 picks in 126 pass attempts, 4.0%) but also more efficient. Gardner completed 59.5% of his passes, compared to 53.3% for Robinson, for an average of 8.0 yards per pass play (excluding the 53 yard Hail Mary pass that was completed against Northwestern and taken out of my stats) against teams that would combine to allow just 5.6 yppp to an average quarterback. The pass attack should be considerably better with Gardner at quarterback but the rushing numbers won’t be nearly as good without Robinson. The Wolverines’ running backs averaged just 4.0 ypr last season (against teams that would allow 4.7 yards per rushing play to an average back), so Michigan needs to do a better job of getting the running game going. Freshman Derrick Green, the nation’s #2 running back coming out of high school, could be the answer. Central Michigan is horrible defensively so the Wolverines should be able to run up a lot of points in this game.
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The Michigan defense was pretty solid last season (5.0 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl against an average team) and I actually rate that unit a bit better this season despite having just 5 starters returning and not having star LB Jake Ryan for the foreseeable future due to a knee injury. Central Michigan has some potential offensively with star RB Zurlon Tipton back for his senior season after running for 1492 yards at 5.9 ypr last season. Tipton’s numbers aren’t likely to be as good without left tackle Eric Fisher, who was the NFL’s #1 overall draft pick. The Chippewas also have to break in a new quarterback now that 3 year starter Ryan Radcliff has graduated. Cody Kater should put up decent numbers but the Central Michigan offense should go from 0.2 yppl better than average to about 0.3 yppl worse than average and could possibly be worse than that.
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My math model using last year’s stats would have only favored Michigan by 22 points and while Central Michigan probably won’t be as good this season the line on this game looks a bit too high. My ratings predict a 27 point win for the Wolverines in this game and I’ll lean with the Chippewas plus the points.
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Oklahoma State (-12) 38 Mississippi State 23FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Mississippi State wasn’t nearly as good early last season as they appeared to be, as their 7-0 start was mostly a function of playing bad teams and being a lucky +16 in turnover margin in those 7 games. Reality in the name of Alabama smacked the Bulldogs in the face (and added to my Best Bet win tally) and that 7-0 start turned into an 8-5 season. Mississippi State was a pretty good team last season, rating at 0.4 yards per play better than average on offense and 0.3 yppl better than average on defense, but that’s actually not that good for an SEC team. The Bulldogs should be about the same offensively this season but could be better if they overcome the loss of their top 4 receivers, and the defense should actually be better based on the talent level despite having just 5 starters returning.
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Overall the Bulldogs will probably be a better team but they aren’t going to be +16 in turnover margin this season (they were even in turnovers their final 6 games) and they don’t appear good enough to beat a very good Oklahoma State team. The Cowboys had 3 different quarterbacks all throw for over 1000 yards last season and all were very effective in Mike Gundy’s potent offense. Two of those quarterbacks, Clint Chelf and JW Walsh, return this season and the Cowboys will once again be among the best offensive teams in the nation – although I rate that unit at 1.4 yppl better than average after being +1.6 yppl last season and +2.1 yppl two years ago with Brandon Weeden at quarterback. Oklahoma State’s defense has been overlooked in recent years because their offense is so good but the Cowboys were solid defensively last season (5.6 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.1 yppl against an average defense) and I think that unit will be considerably better this season with most of last year’s best defenders returning. The line on this game looks about right, as my ratings favor Oklahoma State by 12 ½ points with a total of 61 ½ points. However, Oklahoma State is 33-8 ATS under coach Mike Gundy as favorite from 5 to 24 points so the Cowboys usually beat up on the teams that there are supposed to beat.
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NOTRE DAME (-29½) 42 Temple 9FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Notre Dame was not close to being the top ranked team heading into last year’s championship game, as I had them at #8 before their beat down by Alabama and #11 afterwards, and this year’s team should be about the same. Tommy Rees has plenty of experience and talent but he probably won’t be as good as Everett Golson was last year and he really needs to cut down on his interceptions, which I believe he’ll do. The rushing attack should be very good and overall I don’t see too much of a drop from last year’s very good attack (1.0 yppl better than average). The Irish defense will miss Manti Te’o, whose 11 passes defended (4 broken up and 7 interceptions) was very high for a linebacker, but the defensive front is a dominating force that will be tough to run against while the defensive backs are solid. My ratings favor the Irish by 30½ points in this game and Temple applies to an 8-30-1 ATS week 1 angle that plays against new coaches as road dogs in their first game.
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OKLAHOMA (-21½) 42 UL Monroe 19FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has decided to go with redshirt freshman Trevor Knight at quarterback instead of Blake “the Belldozer” Bell, who will continue to punch the ball into the endzone (11 touchdowns last season) but not throw it much. The Sooners probably won’t be as good offensively with a freshman replacing a 4 year starter at quarterback but they should still be very good on that side of the ball. The defense was good last season aside from not being able to stop West Virginia from running the ball and that unit should once again be tough to throw the ball against but may continue to be mediocre stopping the run with 3 new starters along the defensive line (4 for this game with DE Chuka Ndulue suspended). Overall, the Sooners should be about as good as they were last season and my ratings favor OU by 23 points in this game against a UL Monroe team that returns 17 starters to the team that beat Arkansas, barely lost at Auburn and lost by just 5 points to a good Baylor team.
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TEXAS (-43½) 54 New Mexico State 7FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Texas was one of the best offensive teams in the nation last year (1.1 yards per play better than average) and should be just as good this season with 10 starters returning. The defense was the big issue for the Longhorns last season, as that unit went from 1.2 yppl better than average in 2011 to average last season (6.0 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average team). I expect a major improvement defensively from the Horns this season – although the run defense is still a bit of a question mark. New Mexico State is once again one of the worst teams in the FBS and my ratings call for a blowout. This just depends on how much mercy Mack Brown wants to show and if the Longhorns are looking ahead to next week’s challenging game at BYU.
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Georgia (-2) 39 CLEMSON 36FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Georgia is the pick of many to win the SEC this season but that simply isn’t likely to happen unless they get much better on defense. The Bulldogs has the nation’s 2nd most efficient offense (behind Texas A&M) last season, averaging 7.2 yards per play against teams that would combine to allow just 5.3 yppl to an average attack. The offense returns 9 starters, including the nation’s top passing quarterback in Aaron Murray and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall (combined for 2144 yards at 6.3 ypr and 25 touchdown runs). The only reason the attack might be slightly worse if the absence of deep threat Tavarres King, who 22.6 yards per catch and 14.0 yards per target, numbers that will be extremely hard to duplicate (the other receivers last season averaged between 10.0 and 11.5 yards per pass thrown to them).
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The defense is where the questions lie for Georgia, as that unit was good (5.2 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.8 yppl against an average team) but not good enough to be a top 5 team. Only 3 starters return to the defensive side of the ball for the Bulldogs and my metrics project that unit to be just 0.3 yppl better than average this season. That rating makes sense given that Georgia’s defense has been in the 0.4 to 0.6 yppl better than average range in 4 of the last 5 years and this is the least experienced defense they’ve had during that time.
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Clemson’s 41 points per game last season was among the best in college football but my ratings had them as the 20th best offense on a per play basis and they aren’t likely to be any better this season despite the return of senior quarterback Tajh Boyd. Losing star WR DeAndre Hopkins is going to hurt the pass attack even with Sammy Watkins returning. Hopkins averaged a very impressive 11.0 yards per pass targeted at him while Watkins averaged 9.3 yards per target last year and 9.9 yards per target in 2011. Clemson should still have one of the top pass attacks in the nation but it’s not likely to be as efficient as it was with both Hopkins and Watkins. The Tigers will certainly be good enough to put up a lot of points against Georgia’s defense but stopping the Bulldogs is going to be an issue.
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Clemson allowed 5.7 yppl last season (to teams that would combine to average 5.5 yppl against an average defense) but that unit was actually slightly better than average when adjusting for outliers (670 yards and 9.1 yppl allowed to Florida State) and taking out their game against Georgia Tech’s option attack (8.3 yppl allowed), which has no bearing on how well a defense defends a normal offense. Clemson returns 6 defenders and will probably be just a bit better than average again this season (although they could be better than that based on talent level) but they certainly won’t be good enough to keep Georgia from racking up a lot of yards and points.
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Both of these teams are very good offensively and not so much defensively and there should be a lot of points. Georgia has the better offense and my ratings favor the Bulldogs by 3½ points in this shootout.
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NEBRASKA (-30) 49 Wyoming 18FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Nebraska is loaded offensively with dual threat quarterback Taylor Martinez back along with fellow 1000 yard rusher Ameer Abdullah and that unit will most likely run up a ton of points on Wyoming’s porous defense that has been 1.0 yards per play worse than average in each of the last two seasons. I actually project Wyoming to be improved to 0.6 yppl worse than average this season but that’s still not going to keep the Huskers from running up big offensive numbers as long as Martinez is in the game. Nebraska’s defense has been a problem area the last two seasons, rating at just 0.3 yppl better than average in 2012, but the Huskers are projected by my metrics to be in that range again with just 4 starters returning from last year’s unit. Wyoming has offensive potential with quarterback Brett Smith coming off a very good season in which he averaged 7.3 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 6.5 yppl to an average quarterback) but Nebraska’s defensive strength is defending the pass and Wyoming’s poor rushing attack isn’t good enough to fully exploit a fairly soft Cornhuskers’ defensive front. My ratings only favor Nebraska by 28 points but the Huskers apply to an 89-44-1 ATS week 1 situation that plays on big favorites and they should be focused on this game given that Southern Miss next week is not enough to distract them from the task at hand. I’d stay away from this one given that the trend favors Nebraska and the value favors Wyoming.
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LSU (-4) 24 TCU 23FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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TCU could be among the best teams in the nation this season with a devastating defense in the Horned Frogs tradition and an improved offense the returns star quarterback Casey Pachall to the lineup after being suspended after 4 games last season. At the time Pachall was having a very good season, having averaged 9.2 yards per pass play, including 7.9 yppp in 3 games against FBS opposition that would combine to allow 6.2 yppp to an average quarterback. More impressive is that one of those games was played in a torrential downpour that resulted in both teams (SMU was the opponent) combining for just 411 total yards and 3.1 yards per play. Pachall averaged an incredible 10.0 yppp in his other two starts against FBS competition in normal weather conditions (and 22.3 yppp against Grambling) and he was very good in his full year as a starter in 2011 (7.8 yppp against teams that would combine to allow 6.4 yppp to an average quarterback). If Pachall picks up where he left off last season before being suspended then TCU will have a prolific offense but I’ll call for Pachall to play at the level that he played at in 2011, which is a 0.8 yppp improvement over last year’s pass attack. The rushing attack was a bit below average last season (4.6 yards per rushing play against teams that would allow 4.8 yprp to an average team) but that was due to losing star RB Waymon James to a season ending injury in week 2. James ran for 168 yards at 9.9 ypr in the two games he played in and has run for 1386 yards at 6.7 ypr in his first 3 years. James is healthy again and is joined by former top recruit, who was considered a top 10 running back recruit and played his freshman season at Nebraska before transferring to TCU and sitting out last season. James and Green give the Horned Frogs two very talented backs. TCU only has two returning starters on the offensive line after RT Tayo Fabuluje quit the team but the Horned Frogs only had 2 returning starters on the line last season and just 1 the year before that when they had very good rushing numbers. I expect TCU’s offense to go back to the form they showed in 2011 with Pachall at the helm but they could be better than that if Pachall plays like he did last season before his suspension.
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The Horned Frogs have a tradition of great defense under coach Gary Patterson and defensive coordinator Dick Bumpus and the only years that they haven’t been great defensively was in Bumpus’ first season in 2004, when he had just 4 returning starters to work with, and in 2011 when he had just 5 returning starters. Last year’s stop unit was very good despite having just 4 returning starters (they had 5 but DE Ross Forrest was lost for the season in week 1), as the Frogs yielded 5.2 yppl to a schedule of FBS offensive units that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average team. This year’s defense returns 8 starters but will be without sophomore star DE Devonte Fields the first two games (suspension), which will make it tougher to win this game. Bumpus traditionally fields a dominating defense in years when he has 6 or more returning starters and I expect that to be the case this season once Fields returns to action (he was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a true freshman last year). This year’s defense rates similarly to the 2010 version that had 7 returning starters, which was 1.2 yppl better than average.
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LSU is an elite team and should be in the hunt for the national title after dropping 3 games last season (by an average of just 4.3 points). The offense took a step back last season in quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s first year as the starter, as he averaged just 6.1 yards per pass play (against teams that would allow 5.8 yppp to an average quarterback), but I expect significant improvement in the Tigers’ pass attack this season while the rushing attack remains at the +0.4 yard per rushing play level that it was last season. LSU’s defense carried the team last season, yielding just 4.5 yppl to a schedule of teams that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average stop unit, and they should be just slightly worse despite returning just 4 starters (they only had 5 returning starters last season).
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My ratings have both of these teams among the top 6 in the nation and those ratings favor LSU by 2½ points in this game after adjusting for defensive star Fields being out for the Horned Frogs. I like the idea of taking the points in a defensive battle and TCU applies to a 32-12 ATS week 1 angle.
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WASHINGTON (-4) 29 Boise State 25FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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The Broncos were no doubt one of the elite teams in the nation from 2008 through 2011 with Kellen Moore at quarterback, with an average rating of 18.2 points better than average, but the 2006 team that went 13-0 was only 11.7 points better than average, the 2007 team was +9.1 points and last year’s Broncos were +7.4 points without Moore at quarterback. The average of the ratings when Kellen Moore was not the quarterback is +9.4 points and I have this year’s team rated at +9.1 points entering the season, which is 1.7 points better than last year’s inexperienced team. Boise only had 5 returning starters on offense and just 4 on defense but that is actually more than they had last year (4 and 2). This year’s offense should be better in quarterback Joe Southwick’s 2nd year as the starter with all but one of last year’s receivers returning and a bit of a boost in the rushing attack and I rate the defense about the same as the last two years, which is 0.5 yppl better than average. Boise had that dominating defensive season in 2010, when they were 1.4 yppl better than average but their average defensive rating in the other 6 seasons in Peterson’s tenure is 0.5 yppl better than average and this year’s defense should be that good. Overall, I see an improvement this season in the level of performance but Washington is improved too and looks like the better team.
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The Huskies return 18 starters from last year’s 7-6 team that was solid on defense (0.4 yards per play better than average) and struggled offensively (0.2 yppl worse than average) thanks in large part to an offensive line that couldn’t give veteran quarterback Keith Price time to throw (they allowed 38 sacks). Price went from completing 67% of his passes and rating at 1.7 yards per pass play better than average in 2011 to connecting on just 61% of his passes and rating at 0.6 yppl worse than average last season. Price isn’t likely to be as good as he was in 2011 but I expect major improvements in the Huskies’ pass attack this season with a much more experienced line and receiving corps. The offensive ratings for Washington in coach Steve Sarkisian’s first 3 years were +0.5 yppl, +0.7 yppl, and +1.2 yppl in 2011 before dropping to -0.2 yppl last year. I have this year’s attack rated at +0.9 yppl but there is certainly a chance that I’ve overstated their improvement and we’ll probably find out tonight. Washington’s defense improved from 0.5 yppl worse than average in 2011 to 0.4 yppl better than average last season under veteran defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who was hired after the 2011 debacle. Wilcox has 8 starters returning on his side of the ball and I expect the improvement to continue as I rate the Huskies’ defense at 0.7 yppl better than average heading into this season.
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I rate Washington as better on both sides of the ball and my ratings favor the Huskies by 7 points but Boise State applies to a very good 70-37-4 ATS week 1 angle and the Broncos are 6-0 ATS (4-2 straight up) as an underdog of 3 points or more under coach Chris Petersen, which is why I’m hesitant to side with Washington even though I think Boise State is overrated this season. I’ll pass.
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UCLA (-21) 44 Nevada 26FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Nevada’s Hall of Fame coach Chris Ault retired after last season and the inventor of the Pistol offense will be missed. However, Nevada’s offense is still in the hands of offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich, whose first year on the job in 2012 resulted in 506 yards, 6.1 yards per play and 37.3 points per game against 12 FBS opponents that would combine to allow 5.9 yppl and 31.7 points per game to an average attack. Quarterback Cody Fajardo returns and I expect the Wolf Pack to find another capable running back to fill the void of departed RB Stefphon Jefferson, who’s 1883 rushing yards aren’t that tough to replace given his mediocre 5.0 ypr average. Fajardo also ran for over 1000 yards and he has his top 2 receivers back so I expect the Wolf Pack offense to be a bit better this season.
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UCLA’s defense wasn’t that good last season (5.7 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 5.9 yppl against an average team) and they’ll probably be about the same with a better run defense and probably a worse pass defense as they replace all 4 starters in the secondary with unproven players. Nevada should be able to move the ball pretty well in this game and I’m not sure UCLA will score enough to cover a big number. The Bruins’ offense should was very good last season (6.1 yppl against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) and while the rushing attack will probably be down a bit without Jonathan Franklin (1734 yards at 6.1 ypr) the pass attack should improve in Brett Hundley’s second season at quarterback. I project that attack to rack up 520 yards at 7.0 yppl in this game against a Nevada defense that I rate at 0.6 yppl worse than average heading into this season, which is the same rating that they had last season. The Wolf Pack could actually be better under their new defensive coordinator but my metrics project them to be about the same.
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Overall, my ratings favor UCLA by just 17½ points and I certainly don’t mind taking 3 touchdowns with a team that should be able to move the ball pretty well.
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Northwestern (-5½) 32 CALIFORNIA 29FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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California was better last season then their 3-9 record indicated, as the Bears were 0.4 yards per play better than average offensively (5.6 yppl against teams that would allow 5.2 yppl to an average team) and 0.1 yppl better than average defensively (5.9 yppl allowed but to FBS teams that would combine to average 6.0 yppl against an average defensive team). Cal lost a couple of close games early in the season to good teams (lost by 7 to Nevada and by 7 at Ohio State) and the gave up on the season after their game 10 loss to Washington sealed their fate as a team not going to bowl game (they then gave up 121 points the final two games). The Bears were 0.7 yppl better than average overall from the line of scrimmage through those first 10 games before giving up on the season and the talent level is still there to be pretty good this season under the new coaching staff (Cal consistently had top 25 recruiting classes under Jeff Tedford).
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New coach Sonny Dykes turned Louisiana Tech’s offense around and he’s got a lot of talent on that side of the ball in Berkeley. Dykes is going with top recruit Jared Goff at quarterback and reports are that Goff is accurate, level headed, and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Goff has a talented group of young receivers to throw to in sophomores Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper, and especially former tight end Richard Rodgers, who is big and fast and will probably be an NFL tight end in a couple of years. The running backs have always performed well in Dykes’ 4 receiver spread attack and Brandon Bigelow has the potential to be dangerous after averaging 9.8 yards on his 44 runs last season, including 160 yards on 4 runs against Ohio State. Bigelow was considered Cal’s most talented back last season but he didn’t play much because he had trouble learning Tedford’s complicated offense. Dkyes’ offense, while prolific, is very simple to learn, which is why I expect Goff and Bigelow to both shine.
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While I have no concerns about Cal’s offense being pretty good I do have questions about the defense with two starters not playing in this contest (SS Sebastian and DE Scarlett will both sit out with injuries). The Bears have recruited well and they have a shutdown corner in Stefan McClure, who has been so good in camp that he was voted as one of the 4 team captains by his teammates despite having just 2 career starts and being just a sophomore. The rest of the secondary could be an issue and lacks depth but the defensive line and linebacker groups are filled with former highly ranked recruits and the Bears should be pretty good defensively when Sebastian and Scarlett are healthy. I rate Cal’s defense as just average on a national scale with the lineup they’ll send out for this game but the Bears should be an above average team this season – although they face a very tough schedule and probably won’t win more than 4 or 5 games.
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While Cal might be a bit underrated Northwestern looks a bit overrated after last year’s breakout 10-3 season. That shiny record disguises the fact that the Wildcats were slightly worse than average offensively on a yards per play basis (5.4 yppl against teams that would allow 5.5 yppl to an average team) and only 0.3 yppl better than average defensively (5.3 yppl allowed to teams that would average 5.6 yppl against an average defense). The Wildcats overcame their mediocrity with a +14 turnover margin that was mostly lucky (+8 in fumbles). I actually rate Northwestern as a better team this season on both sides of the ball (0.2 yppl better than average on offense and 0.4 yppl better than average on defense) and I do expect them to be positive in turnovers because their offense is designed to limit interceptions (just 7 total by their two quarterbacks last season). Northwestern is a good team but they don’t deserve their #23 ranking in the polls and my ratings favor the Wildcats by just 3 points in this game.

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SPORTS WAGERS

Toledo +23½ over FLORIDA

You have to give the Rockets front office some serious credit for scheduling this game in Week 1. Not many would have the guts to do so for fear of starting 0-1 while the rest of the top MAC teams are playing marshmallows and will almost certainly start 1-0. What we know for sure is that the Rockets will be completely jacked up here and it’s not like they don’t have the talent to keep it close. Toledo is a seasoned lot whose older players have experienced wins over Purdue, Colorado and Cincinnati along with last-second near-misses at Ohio State, Arizona and Syracuse. The Rockets are a solid, well-coached MAC contender with some serious offensive weapons at every position group. Toledo returns nine starters including all the key one’s at the skilled positions at QB, RB and WR. The Rockets won’t feel out of place trying to get inside 24 points against a Florida outfit that last year went 0-for-3 ATS by an average of more than 15 points as an out-of-conference favorite.

The Gators defense is wickedly good. In fact, it just might be the best in the country but we’re not going to need a bevy of points to cover here. Florida managed only a 7-6 ATS record last year even in a breakout campaign that will stand as the high point of the Will Muschamp era. Muschamp employs a run-heavy offense, preferring to use the clock while methodically wearing down their opponents. The Gators managed just 26 points per game last season and we’re not close to being convinced that they have improved. In no way can the Gators be trusted spotting this type of wood and there's no time like the injury-ravaged present to fade this host. Camp injuries have cost the Gators key players all over the lineup. The temperatures in Florida, one-man wrecking crew Loucheiz Purifoy and top-notch play calling from offensive coordinator Brent Pease are the biggest obstacles to a Rockets upset but it could still happen and we expect Toledo to keep this one scary close.


UAB +3½ over TROY

Second-year coach Garrick McGee has UAB on the rise and soon the Blazers will be a regular bowl entrant out of a watered-down Conference USA. Offense is of no concern regarding the Blazers, as they bring back most of the starters for a team that was in the top 20 nationally in several passing categories including yards in the air per game. The problem with the Blazers was a defense that got shredded weekly. However, McGee has changed things up this season, shifting from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4. UAB’s defensive line returns all but one starter. A year wiser, UAB’s defense should be much better in McGee’s second year. McGee is a no-nonsense guy with a sharp football mind that will have this group well prepared every week. A seasoned roster will improve upon both UAB's 3-9 record and 5-7 ATS mark from a year ago.

Troy has been an offensive juggernaut the past few seasons and they return QB Corey Robinson to play in his senior year but after Robinson, question marks are aplenty. On offense, the Trojans return just two starters and they both play wide receiver. The offensive line is new and so is RB, Khary Franklin, who carried the ball three times all of last year. On defense, the Trojans return two starters as well and both aren’t impact players. These two opened the season in Birmingham last year and the Trojans won by 10 points. Now the winner of that game is at home spotting what appears to be a cheap price but this isn’t that same experienced and explosive group. Taking back more than a field goal from a fading Troy program is generous enough to get our attention in what has to be considered one of the best value plays on today’s card. We’re calling the upset but will accept the points.


MARSHALL -20½ over Miami (Ohio)

Despite being a three TD favorite, the Thundering Herd may just be the most undervalued squad on today’s board. A decade ago, the Thundering Herd were one of the top non-AQ programs in the country as they produced NFL players like Chad Pennington, Randy Moss and Byron Leftwich while winning several MAC championships. However, since their move to Conference USA, they have struggled, failing to win more than seven games in every season since 2003. This season, the Herd look poised to return to the national scene. It has taken Doc Holliday four years but he's built the most talented roster in Conference USA. The offense has returning QB Rakeem Cato, who threw for 4,201 yards last season, a deep running back corps and a very good wide receiver in Tommy Shuler (1,138 yards last season). The defense, thanks to several BCS-level transfers, looks improved, and the schedule sets up nicely, thanks to the departures of annual C-USA contenders UCF, Houston and SMU to the American Athletic Conference.\

We're skeptical of this recruiting-oriented staff's ability to deliver a league championship but Marshall will post the most wins of its Conference USA era and roll up some serious numbers on bad teams. Again, the key components return from an attack that scored 41 points per game last year and new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater is having a dramatic impact on what has been a poor defense. We've got no optimism whatsoever about a sinking Miami team that even Kentucky will probably beat this year. The Herd offense can name its number and the defense is improved enough to seal the back door should it come down to that.


Western Kentucky +172 over Kentucky

This game will be played on a neutral field in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky lost last year's meeting in overtime on this same field and is in jeopardy of losing the revenge match as well. The Wildcats are a truly rebuilding outfit with a very inexperienced staff. Recruiting has been going well and there's certainly enthusiasm around the program but this year's team is a hapless lot that won't win an SEC game. An entire new coaching staff takes over for the Wildcats and there are plenty of problems that need addressing. Kentucky’s offense was the worst in the DEC a year ago and while that conference is strong, the Wildcats were embarrassed in just about every game, going 0-8 in conference play. Kentucky does not have a proven QB and new coach Mark Stoops isn’t even sure who his starter is but you can expect both Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith to see some snaps under center. Laying points with awful teams is not only bad strategy, it’s not in our playbook and Kentucky is an awful team.

Bobby Petrino takes over at WKU after Willie Taggart departed for greener pastures in South Florida. It’s not easy to like Petrino as a person but his coaching record in eight years with Louisville and Arkansas (75-26, 4-3 in bowl games) can’t be ignored. Like the Wildcats, the Hilltoppers are likewise in transition but unlike the ‘Cats, this WKU squad has an identity and it won't surprise if Petrino is able to ride Antonio Andrews to his fifth straight win over Kentucky. You ever hear of Barry Sanders? Well, Andrews’ 3,161 all-purpose yards last year are the second-most in NCAA history behind only Barry Sanders in 1988. That’s how good this kid is and with the departure of QB Kawaun Jakes, expect Andrews to get even more touches this season. Petrino is known for being one of the most creative offensive coaching minds in the game and you can be sure he has a plan for Andrews and company. Furthermore, the Hilltoppers defense was one of their strengths last season and they figure to be just as good this year. Kentucky does not deserve to be the chalk here but they are because they are certainly more recognizable and they also play in one of the power conferences while the Hilltoppers are a Sun Belt outfit. That counts for something but the ‘Cats are not close to being ready to spot points to a superior opponent. Take the 4½ points if you like but we like the better team taking back significant juice.

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John RyanFOR FREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Rice at Texas A&MFREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
Prediction: RiceFREE SERVICE PLAYS VISIT THESPREAD.COM
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Rice returns a veteran squad with 10 returning starters on defense and nine on offense including their QB. With all of the hype of the Manziel life and chaos at times, I believe that the Rice Owls want nothing more than to make this a very difficult game for A&M to close out. A&M returns 11 starters total with just five on the defensive side of the ball. Although Rice simply does not have the talent or depth that A&M enjoys, they will be able to move the ball consistently against A&M. This is a Rice squad that started out last season at just 1-5 before ripping of five wins in six games and then crushing Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. All, but three starters return from that successful second half campaign. The simulator shows a high probability that Rice will lose this game by fewer than 27 points and I believe it will be a whole lot closer than that. Take Rice.

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Doug Upstone

Penn State vs. Syracuse    
Play: Penn State -8½

For Saturday, Play Against teams like Syracuse in the first week of the season, after closing out last year with three or more straight spread covers, which had a good record last season (60% to 80%), playing a team that had a winning record. In the last two decades, this college football system is 26-4 ATS, 86.7 percent, with the average margin of victory 11.1 points a game.

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Bill Biles

Texas -43½

Texas will show their new up tempo offense with the talented running backs they have. Look for Texas to pound New Mexico st early in this one and not let up. Expect Texas to win this one by 50 points.

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pod - royals - over 8.5

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NORTH TEXAS -15 over Idaho: This should be a 4 Unit, but after a bad opening night and the fact that it is week one, I will play it safe.  Yes North Texas is a middle of the pack team in a weak Conference USA, but the Vandals may be the worst team in all of the FBS. The Vandals have 3 starters back on a defense that was just horrible last year, allowing 42.2 ppg and not much help coming in as their top two incoming defensive players were rated 254th and 269th in the nation by Phil Steele. This team just isn't recruiting well and they have no depth at all. On the other side we have a North Texas team that went just 48 last year and hasn't had a winning team since 2004. North Texas will be much improved this year as they have 17 starters back, including 9 on an offense that put up nearly 400 ypg last year. Last year they also brought back 9 starters, so this is a very seasoned offense, that should just pick apart the Vandals weak defense. The Mean Grean brought 4 starters back on defense last year, yet still improved by 4 ppg and 14 ypg from 2011. This year they have 8 starters back from that side of the ball and should easily contain a weak Idaho offense that put up just 15.8 ppg last year. The Vandals have 7 starters back on offense, but their QB is a redshirt so expect some early growing pains from an offense that is already weak. North Texas may not make a bowl this year, but they are improved over last year, while the Vandals may be worse than their 1-11 team from a year ago. A redshirt freshman QB, making his first start on the road, vs an experienced team that needs to start the season with a big win fr some momentum, should equate to at least a 20 point win by the Mean Green.
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Northwestern -5.5 over CALIFORNIA: Going to go with the Wildcats in this nationally televised game. Northwestern has a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball and they actually have a shot at challenging in the Legends division of the Big 10. The 2 headed QB duo will pose fits for a weak California defense. On the other side, sonny Dykes is used to putting up big numbers on offense, but that will have to wait at least a year as he just dont have the skill players or QB to implement his high powered attack just yet. Also doesn't help that in inexperienced OL will be going up against one of the best DL's in the Big 10. The Cats want to show everyone that they are for real, and they will with a nice DD win on the left coast in this one. 
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New Mexico/ UTSA Over 55.5: For a team that does nothing but runs the ball like New Mexico does, you would expect plenty of low scoring games, but their games last year actually averaged 56 ppg. The Aggies ran for 301 ypg and scored 25.8 ppg a year ago. 25.8 ppg is pretty solid, considering the fact that they threw for just 69 ypg (not a typo) last year. This year the core of that running game is back as Kasey Carrier returns after putting up 1469 yards on 5.8 ypc last year. QB Cole Gautsche is back as well and is a true dual threat QB. Last year he threw for just 222, but added 760 yards on a solid 7.0 ypc. He was not the full time starting QB, but the job is fully his this year. Oh and that running game has the luxury of running behind the 2nd best OL in the league. UTSA did OK vs the run last year, but that was cause they played in the pass happy WAC, and also because their pass defense was so poor. The only team they played last year with a good ground game was Texas State (179 ypg) and they allowed 299 yards in that game.  This year they have 8 starters back on defense, but both their DL and DB's rate as second worse in a weak Conference USA. The Roadrunner offense also rates low in Conference USA, but they do have 10 starters back from a group that averaged 31.2 ppg and they will be tacking on a New Mexico defense that allowed 30.2 ppg and 444 ypg last year and brings back just 4 starters from that group this year. I just feel that both teams will come out and put up some big points on a couple of weak defenses
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Georgia/ Clemson Under 71: I know how strong both offenses are, but I feel the defenses will make just enough stops to keep the scoring down just enough. Clemson's defense is going to be much improved this year and even though the Bulldogs lost a ton from their defense, they will just reload as always on that side of the ball. This will be a close game through out and that means that both teams could have to score 35 points and I don't expect either team to reach that mark. I look for a 31-30 type of game. 
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Toledo +24 over FLORIDA:  I just feel this Florida team is over rated this year. Sure they have a good defense, but their offense is very suspect and they are without top RB Matt Jones for this one. The Toledo defense is not great, but then again, as stated the Florida offense isn't nearly the high powered attack it used to be. The Toledo offense will be one of the best in the MAC and should come up with enough offense to keep this one close. The Gators are just 2-6 ATS in their last 8 games vs the MAC.
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UCLA -21 over Nevada: There is allot of excitement surrounding this team and they want to get out to a good start. They do have Nebraska on deck, but a bye week comes first, so there should be no look-a-head in this one for them. For Nevada, they have a new head coach and plenty of questions at RB and on defense. This team will score points this year, but they are mostly a running team and UCLA's problem will be defending the pass this year. The Bruins want a big win to start the year off on the right foot and they should get it with a big win in this one.
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WASHINGTON -3.5 Over Boise State:  Boise State may be the ranked team in this one, but I feel Washington is the better team. They have 17 starters back and will be playing in their newly renovated Huskie stadium. Boise State just returns 9 total starters and it should take some time for them to gel. Not a good spot for the Broncos here.
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BYU/ Virginia Under 51: BYU had an excellent defense last year, allowing just 14 ppg and this year they could be pretty tough as well with 6 starters back The Cavaliers defense was pretty weak last year as they allowed 29 ppg, but this unit looks very solid and improved this year, with 7 starters back. Defense should reign supreme in this one, especially with the Under being 10-3 in Virginia's last 13 home games.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Saturday, August 31

Craig Davis

Today's free play is on the UL Monroe Warhawks over the Oklahoma Sooners as they are simply getting too many points.

For the first time in several years, the Sooners have questions on both sides of the ball and the depth of year's past doesn't seem to be there.

Remember this name... Trevor Knight. He was chosen to replace Landry Jones as the starting QB, beating out 6-6 Blake Bell, who played several snaps last season in power sets on short yardage and goal line downs.

Don't get me wrong... they'll still use Bell when they are in those situations, but the overall starting job belongs to the youngster Knight... a more mobile QB than Landry Jones but a guy with very little experience and an average arm, at best.

Defensively, the Sooners don't return a ton of players from a defense that was flat out awful towards the end of the season. The season thankfully ended for OU in the Cotton Bowl by getting routed by Texas A&M, 41-13, while allowing 633 yards of total offense.

They allowed an average of 38 PPG over their final five games of the season and were forced to outscore opponents... something completely new to the Sooners who usually have a decent defense.

Take UL Monroe plus the points to give OU all they can handle.

2♦ U.L. MONROE

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Saturday, August 31

Jeff Benton

My Saturday freebie comes in the big game at the Georgia Dome in which two-time defending champion Alabama takes on Virginia Tech.

While the pointspread continues to rise on the Tide, I will not shy away from backing 'Bama to eventually pull away and win this game over the Hokies by some 28-points or so.

Word out of Blacksburg is that veteran quarterback Logan Thomas is actually regressing, and that cannot be a good things when you are going up against the stacked Alabama defense.

Frank Beamer coached teams used to be point spread covering machines, but of late the opposite has been true, as the Hokies are on an 8-19-1 spread slide, and when installed as the dog they have burned their backers to an 0-5-1 tune since the 2010 campaign.

As for Nick Saban, he has guided the Tide to a 10-3 road spread mark the past 2 seasons, and his team has been ready from the get-go, covering each of their last 5 season openers.

Yeah, a lot of points, but the Crimson Tide is up for the challenge.

3♦ ALABAMA

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Saturday, August 31

Brad Wilton

My Saturday college football comp play is on the underdog Boilermakers of Purdue to stay close in their game against the Bearcats of Cincinnati.

Today a pair of programs kick-off the new season under first year head coaches. Former Kent State head man Darrell Hazell is now in charge in West Lafayette, and he is taking over a Purdue team that did go bowling the past seasons and does have some returning talent for Hazell to mold.

As for Cincy, it will be the well-traveled Tommy Tuberville manning the reins, and I have never been a big fan of Tuberville in the past, so I will gladly take the points with the Boilermakers as I go against the Bearcats covering today.

Tommy T's Texas Tech teams went just 5-7 as the home favorite the last 3 years he was in charge, while Coach Hazell's Golden Flashes went 11-2 last season against the spread, and also covered 6 of their 7 roadies.

Throw in Purdue's 3-0 mark in the road dog role from a season ago, and we are talking "live" dog today in the Queen City.

Boiler Up!

4♦ PURDUE

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