College football season scores an important schedule this weekend. The fourth week is a good time to say goodbye to most non-conference games as more teams will clash with competitors in the convention. It’s a bittersweet time when the excitement of seeing more competitive matches mixes with the realization that the season has already begun. But, as bettors, we should slowly start letting go of our introductions and accepting that the difference is what you showed us in the first quarter of the season. This is the week when we get valuable insights into whether the team’s early success is sustainable or just a product of flexible scheduling. I have my two best bets for Saturday’s games, both top 15 teams looking to flex their muscles as they open multiplayer.
Maryland, Michigan (16.5)
After a storybook season that saw coach Jim Harbaugh present the Big Ten alongside the College Football Playoff berth, Michigan looks set for another run. The first three Wolverines had a preconceived feeling of intent to use the softer competition to anchor QB JJ McCarthy as a start. The sophomore gunslinger completed 88% of his passes in his two games, while Michigan scored 56 and 59 points.
I don’t think anyone expected this to be a 3-0 team showdown, but Terrapins always had the offensive ability to beat the mid-level teams. Now, they enter the Big House as underdogs 16.5 points against the fourth-ranked Michigan team that has dominated them in the last six meetings by the following margins: 41, 31, 21, 25, 56, 28. So if you’re looking for the possibility of a blast from a favorite game, this is it The game you want to spin around.
The Maryland defense may have shone against SMU, but the Terrapins minor still ranked 107th (273.3 yards per game) among all FBS teams. If SMU can rack up 520 attacking yards along with 30 touchdowns first, Michigan could continue its three-game streak by scoring at least 50 points on Saturday.
Although Maryland has improved, I see this game following a similar pattern to previous years. McCarthy would help Michigan jump into a big lead in front of a home crowd, and Maryland would flip the ball headlong in a desperate bid to get back. Turns and penalties are key factors when games move away from the big underdogs, and they’ll both be playing here. Michigan has been the least-penalized team in the country this season, while Maryland’s 10.3 penalties per game are the second-most in the entire FBS team. Terps don’t have the talent to give up yards for an entire team like the Wolverines. I see this as a short number based on Maryland’s hot start. Harbaugh’s history of running it at home makes me comfortable taking Wolverines for cover. Since the start of last season, Michigan has held a 7-2 ATS as the favorite in Ann Arbor with an average victory margin of 34.6 points. We can still cash this bet at only half that margin. Put points with Michigan.
Oregon (-6.5) in Washington State
Who needs a Red Bull when you can only bet the Bo Nix on the road? I understand why there were concerns that Oregon State was heading for a disappointment, but it covered as the favorite with 13.5 points against Washington State last season. This game is another example of a conference’s lowest level opponent taking a lot of credit for starting 3-0. Yes, Washington State managed to upset its Wisconsin seed team. But, if we look into the score box, the cougars are heavily outdone. Washington State lost its first touchdowns 22-10, was overtaken by Badgers 401-253, and only turned 18% of its third defeats.
The sport’s level of Oregon defense proved difficult for BYU to deal with last week. The Washington State offensive line has allowed nine sacks this season (105th place), and there will be no game for the Ducks defensive front. How many points can we expect from a cougar attack led by QB Cam Ward, FCS transfer from Incarnate Word, in a massive step up in the competition? Historically, the Knicks don’t do their best work away from home, but if the Ducks can score 28 points, Oregon should cover that number.