I cannot tell you how great it is to see Big Ten games back on the slate this weekend. Not just because I grew up in Big Ten country and I love Big Ten football, but because it adds at least seven games to choose from every single weekend from here on out. Add in the fact we've got Mountain West games back -- late night chasers are back on the board! -- and the Pac-12 will soon follow, and it's beginning to look a lot like a college football season.
And, of course, the more games there are available to play, the more comfortable we can feel about finding games to exploit. So I was not surprised to find myself as excited poring over the board this week as I was, and there are quite a few games I had an interest in. I was able to whittle that list down to these six plays, however. But, seriously, this could have been The Twelve Pack this week.
Games of the Week
No. 21 Minnesota (+3) vs. No. 18 Michigan: OK, so here's the thing, Michigan is favored in this game because it's Michigan and Minnesota isn't. That's it. The game is being played in Minneapolis, and this is a Minnesota team coming off an 11-win season in 2019. It wasn't a fluky 11-win season either -- it's hard to have a fluky 11-win season -- as the Gophers picked up wins against Penn State and Auburn along the way. The Gophers also return one of the most talented offenses in the Big Ten this season with players like Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell. The Gophers also have one of the most underappreciated quarterbacks in the country in Tanner Morgan and a solid offensive line.
Then there's this Michigan team, which could be in a bit of a reset mode in 2020. The Wolverines have lost a lot from last year's squad, particularly on offense. While I expect the Wolverines defense to be as strong as it usually is, there are a lot of question marks on the offensive side of the ball. Joe Milton, whom I like, is taking over at quarterback. Ronnie Bell is the only receiver of note returning. There's a lot of young talent in the pipeline, but it's unproven, and I'm not ready to rely on this offense in the first game of the season after the weirdest offseason of all time. Not on the road against a team as good as these Gophers are. Minnesota 27, Michigan 23
No. 17 Iowa State (+3.5) at No. 6 Oklahoma State: Will Spencer Sanders be back at quarterback for the Cowboys this weekend? Signs point to that being the case, but it has no impact on how I feel about this game. Oklahoma State is 3-0 on the season, and its defense has been terrific through those three games. But those three games have come against Tulsa, West Virginia and Kansas. That skews the numbers a bit. This Iowa State team will be the Pokes' most challenging test yet, and the Cyclones are a bit more proven at this point. Yes, there was the loss to Louisiana, but they've bounced back, picked up a solid win against TCU, and upset Oklahoma a few weeks ago.
I expect that this will be a lower-scoring affair, and in that kind of game, I trust Iowa State more right now. They're more accustomed to playing in those kinds of games. That's not to say that Oklahoma State can't blow the doors off this Cyclones team -- it can! -- but I don't think that's the most likely outcome. Plus, I can't just sit here and pretend that Matt Campbell's Cyclones teams haven't gone 17-5 ATS as an underdog in Big 12 games since he took over. And that record includes three outright wins the last five times it has happened, including a 48-42 win in Stillwater back in 2018. Oklahoma State 27, Iowa State 24
Lock of the Week
Pitt (+11) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame: I trusted Pitt to get a cover for me last weekend against Miami, and they got it for me despite not having starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. I'm going to trust them again here. Pickett may miss this week's game, but I still like the Panthers in this spot. The reason is skepticism about Notre Dame's offense. I just don't see any explosive playmakers in the passing game, and that makes it difficult to trust the Irish to cover double-digit spreads against quality teams.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the red zone. The Irish have one of the worst red-zone offenses in the country, managing only 12 touchdowns in 21 red-zone possessions. Last week the problem was evident. Louisville continually dropped back into zone coverage with a three-man rush, essentially daring Notre Dame receivers to find a way to get open. They couldn't. Pitt's defense is better than Louisville's, and it also happens to be one of the better red-zone defenses in the country, allowing only five touchdowns in 13 defensive possessions. That 38.5% conversion rate against ranks fifth in the country and first amongst defenses that have had at least 10 red-zone possessions. The battle in the red zone will be what keeps Pitt within this number. Notre Dame 23, Pitt 13
Principle Play of the Week
Syracuse (+46.5) at No. 1 Clemson: This is strictly a principle play. I understand that you might not want any part of it, and considering how Syracuse burned me a couple of weeks ago against Duke, maybe I should stay away too. But I can't, and I won't. There is no way I'm laying 46 points in a Power Five conference game. Not even if it's Clemson laying the points. I refuse to. I don't expect it's going to be easy, nor do I think it's going to be a lot of fun, but I'm sticking to my guns here. If it helps, I did some research, and in the College Football Playoff Era, there have been 27 games between conference opponents with a spread of 35.5 points or larger. The underdog has covered in 17 of those games. The Process is a process of principle, and it's standing by one here. Clemson 42, Syracuse 3
Under of the Week
Maryland at Northwestern (Under 55): Welcome back to my life, Northwestern unders! Honestly, I saw this total and chuckled to myself, wondering where the points were supposed to be coming from. Will it be the Northwestern team that scored 12.7 points per game in conference last season or the Maryland team that scored 16? Yes, I expect that both of these offenses will improve in 2020 because it would be difficult to have worse quarterback play than they had last season. But I'm not expecting those improvements to be evident in their first game of the season. Northwestern 24, Maryland 13
Stinging Insects of the Week
Georgia Tech (+3.5) at Boston College: I took Boston College to cover against Virginia Tech last week, and it didn't work out. This isn't some kind of revenge, though; it's taking note of what happened. The Boston College defense was gashed on the ground by the Hokies as Virginia Tech rushed for 350 yards against it, picking up 8.5 yards per carry. Well, Georgia Tech's offense isn't quite the rushing juggernaut that Tech's is, but they do have the same kind of personnel who can take advantage of the freshly exposed weaknesses in BC's defense. Jahmyr Gibbs and Jeff Sims are two dynamic freshmen whom I believe can follow in the footsteps of Hendon Hooker and Khalil Herbert last week. Boston College 24, Georgia Tech 21
SportsLine Pick of the Week
Nebraska at No. 5 Ohio State (-26, O/U 67.5): Want more? I have a play for Saturday's game between the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers that I like a lot, but if you want to find out what it is, you'll have to head over to SportsLine.
Games of the Week
Lock of the Week