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Ducking the Odds: College Football Week 4 Picks Against The Spread

Rusty and Sean make their picks against the spread with a lot of PAC-12 conference games.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ask and you shall receive. We set up another tier of wild card picks, emphasizing the conference games. We’ve got a couple required picks, three of four conference games required, and then one true wild card pick. There are some favorable lines here even though we have a weak schedule. Whenever we see a weak schedule that means we are due for some chaos. A lot of ranked teams are on the road and are double-digit favorites.

Rusty Last Week: 4-2

Sean Last Week: 5-1

Rusty Overall: 11-7

Sean Overall: 11-7

Pretty good start so far!

Required Games

S: Oregon at Arizona State (+16.5)

I really like the Oregon defense so far. It has shut down two inferior teams, and hung with a Power 5 team. That's great news, and a sign that things are trending wayyy up on the defensive side of the ball. But I subscribe to the "Take the Points in a Shootout" rule, and this game fits that description perfectly. Arizona State may not have any talent on defense, but they can probably still score 30+ points in this game. Until I see a four-quarter performance from the Ducks offense, and some more go-to receivers stepping up outside, I still can't trust the Ducks to win by 17. That's especially true when it's on the road in a hot stadium, a place where things always kind of go strangely for Oregon. Ducks win by 10, but expect lots of points in this one.

R: Oregon (-16.5) at Arizona State

I think Arizona State is really bad. I know that’s a hot take right now, but they really struggle. They’re fresh off giving up 52 to Texas Tech, which prompted one of the Sun Devils’ defenders to say that Texas Tech really isn’t that good. So what happens when Arizona State plays a team that is good? The ASU offense is above average to good. They scored 37 on New Mexico State, 20 on San Diego State, and 45 on Texas Tech.

What the ASU offense struggles with is rushing. They have struggled to move the ball on the ground against their three opponents this year. Quarterback Manny Wilkins has a 68.3% completion rate with 7 touchdowns and no interceptions. This is the best offense the Ducks have faced and the best quarterback so far. However, I think that even though the Sun Devils are solid through the air, the lack of a second dimension to their offense is going to do them in. The Duck front six are going to be able to pin their ears back and go for the quarterback on every play with little regard to the rush.

The advantage Oregon’s offense has over Arizona State’s defense is just too much. Oregon’s defense is going to get turnovers and negative plays that can help the Duck offense blow the game open. The only concern is if Arizona State is going to get a backdoor cover late in the game. Luckily, the line is on the good side of a significant number. Royce and Benoit are going to be able to average a lot of yards per carry and Herbert is probably going to throw more this game than he has in the others so far. Play-action passes will be huge for him.

S: Utah (-3) at Arizona

This line is weird to me, and probably only because I think Utah is a lot better than Arizona. But Arizona *has* scored 60 points twice this year. There's a chance that they can score on Utah. HOWEVER: look at the Wildcats' performance against Houston: 16 points. I think Utah's defense is approximately as good as Houston's. I think Arizona has a tough time scoring points in this game, because they're just less talented than Utah across the board. I think Vegas thinks this too, since it's set the over-under at 61. The Utah offense is slowly developing, but I think they have enough weapons to out-score Arizona. I trust Utah's defense the most out of all the position groups in this matchup, so I'll take the Utes.

R: Utah (-3) at Arizona

This line confuses me. It’s a trap. But I can’t avoid it. Neither Arizona or Utah have played much competition this season. Utah has played North Dakota, BYU, and San Jose State. (SJSU is the whipping boy for this year’s non-conference slate) Arizona has played Northern Arizona, lost to Houston, and then crushed UTEP.

The Wildcats have beaten Utah four of the last five years, but last year lost by 13 points. UA quarterback Brandon Dawkins has 422 yards through the air and 251 yards on the ground with 9 total touchdowns. The offense as a whole is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Arizona’s offense is slightly better than Utah with a 43 S&P+ ranking compared to Utah’s 50th rank, but Utah’s defense sits at 39 while Arizona is at 73.

Sack Lake City is a nickname well earned. Even though the offense is going to be playing at a higher tempo and probably hurt the Utes in traditional states, the defensive will probably be able to keep up its good success rate on defense. The new quarterback has been effective and fits the new offense really well after unseating the starter from last year’s Utah team. Ultimately, this comes down to how well the Utah defense can keep Bawkins contained. I think we’ll see Arizona struggle with a big increase in competition. With a small line I think Utah is going to come away with a win by three or more.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Conference Wild Card

S: Washington (-10) at Colorado

I love the Buffs' resurgence. I love that they've reloaded. But memories of that 41-10 shellacking in the P12 title game are reverberating in my head. I think CU's defense can keep Washington in check for a while, but Washington's superior lines will take control late in the game. Similar to the analysis on USC above, I can foresee a late front-door cover in which a 7-point UW lead jumps to a lot more in the 4th.

R: washington at Colorado (+10)

Unfortunately, there’s a lot to like about washington this year. Pettis has been a fine replacement for John Ross and one of the most dangerous threats returning punts. Jake Browning is completing 74.4% of his passes, thrown for 798 yards, and 8 touchdowns to go with 1 interception.

washington has not played anyone of note so far this season. They had a comically bad first half against Rutgers to open the season followed by a win over Montana and Fresno State. Colorado opened against a Colorado State squad who could be a championship Mountain West team. While that’s one game we know a little more about the Buffs at this point than we do the Huskies.

Steven Montez has replaced Sefo Liufau as the starter but did start a couple games last year when Liufau was injured, notably against Oregon. What has made the games easy for the offense has been Colorado’s defense. The defense allowed its first touchdown of the season last week. Both teams have questions on offense and will probably have really good to great defenses this year. This will probably be a low-scoring affair and I don’t see either team getting a big lead over the other. I like washington to win but Colorado to cover.

S: USC (-15) at Cal

Nope, not yet Cal. While Cal is 3-0, the matchup is bad for the Bears here. I'm not really tempted to overreact to USC's difficulty with Texas's defense. USC still had 468 total yards, including almost 400 Sam Darnold passing yards. USC will be able to run on Cal, and they'll probably be able to throw. Also, Sam Darnold is clutch as hell. There's a decent chance that this game is a weird one in which USC holds a tenuous 10-point lead in the 4th quarter. If USC gets the ball with 8 minutes left up 10, can't you just picture Darnold driving USC down the field to score the decisive touchdown? I feel a front-door cover coming in this one, late in the 4th. Give me the Trojans.

R: UCLA at Stanford (-6.5)

Guys, I think UCLA may not be good. I try to not partake in revisionist history but the Bruins probably are getting too much credit for their win over Texas A&M. Maybe the second half implosion said more about the Aggies than it did the Bruins.

I’ve been skeptical of Josh Rosen but he’s played well in their games this year. Rosen has thrown for 1283 yards and 13 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. The Bruins are coming off a loss at Memphis, which everyone knew was a tricky game from the start. I think the Texas A&M game showed that they are an above average team but the Memphis game showed they have a ceiling as a good team.

Stanford could be a great team. Their weak passing attack was exposed and their rushes were boom-bust. The Cardinal are going to have to be much better on the ground getting chunks of yardage every down in order to keep the down and distance manageable. I think the Stanford offensive line is going to come back motivated this week and try to send a message to the conference.

S: Nevada at Washington State (-26)

Yeah, I'm not betting against the Wazzu offense (or, frankly, their defense!) right now. Especially against Nevada, who just lost to FCS Idaho State. (Go Bengals, BTW; lots of fond memories from visiting high school buddies at ISU in Pocatello.) Not a ton of analysis here, but Wazzu just beat the hell out of Oregon State without trying too hard. Yes, the Cougars are down a starting linebacker, but I don't think they need to be afraid of Nevada's offense, especially with their very good defensive line. I'm laying points on the Cougars until they let me down.

R: Nevada at Washington State (-26)

This is a pretty simple pick to me. Nevada has losses to Northwestern, Toledo, and Idaho State. Now they travel to Pullman and they’re already answering questions from the media asking if they have given up on the season. I don’t see how their defense makes enough stops or that they’re offense can keep up in a shootout.

Washington State came back to beat Boise State and has shown that they can keep teams away and stop a backdoor cover. Luke Falk has only thrown for 900 yards and 9 touchdowns, but the running game this year has really taken them to the next level. James Williams and Jamal Morrow average 4.4 and 7.1 yards per carry, respectively.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Non-Conference Wild Card

S: TCU at Oklahoma State (-10.5): I will not cease betting on the Oklahoma State Cowboys until further notice. Their offense has just overwhelmed every team they've played, including decent Tulsa and Pitt squads. TCU is looking improved, but QB Kenny Hill is due for a stinker. Lay those 10.5. Okie State and their all-world offense is a known quantity. Nothing on TCU's team is a known quantity (yet).

R: Alabama (-18.5) at Vanderbilt

This is a dangerous game to pick. This is a pretty steep line and the Crimson Tide are going on the road to play Vanderbilt. This Vanderbilt squad is looking good after beating Kansas State 14-7 at home. Vanderbilt is led by Derek Mason who was a coordinator at Stanford under Harbaugh so he could put together a great gameplan to limit Alabama’s rushing attack. The rushing attack for Vanderbilt has been weak but quarterback Kyle Shurmur has a 71% completion rate with 703 yards, 8 touchdowns, and no interceptions.

Alabama’s front seven is not as great as it has been in past years. This year they have had to blitz linebackers more often to get quarterback pressure. Vanderbilt is going to try and slow the game down and limit possessions, but I think Alabama is going to be able to get after the quarterback the same way Oregon is going to be able to. The defense knows that Vanderbilt hasn’t shown that they can throw the football so Alabama is going to go for sacks until Vanderbilt proves that they can run against them.

You can never pick Alabama and then end up looking dumb afterwards. Going against a team like Vanderbilt and what their strategy will probably be I’m expecting to see Alabama get a few explosion plays on offense, wear the Vanderbilt front down over time, and then force turnovers on defense. Sounds doable.