Long-Time Foes Await Nittany Lions, Vols
It’s a big weekend of college football and there are several marquee games, including Alabama-Tennessee and Penn State-Michigan.
For once, the Alabama Crimson Tide aren’t giving their opponent a huge amount of points. Welcome back to relevance, Rocky Top.
Welcome back to where you’ve been, Penn State Nittany Lions. Playing a statement game that illustrates your uneasy and tenuous pride at being one of the Big Ten’s elite.
And welcome back to the “Great Rebuild,” Colorado Buffaloes. May it eventually go better than your last four.
Given how good this college football weekend is, with two of our games featuring Top-10 teams tangling, let’s roll out the Three Bets welcome mat out now.
This Statement Gets Returned to Sender
Last year, Penn State opened its season 5-0 and firmly in the Big Ten title mix. It came into this point on the schedule as one of the nation’s elite. It came out of it on the wrong end of a 23-20 decision at Iowa. That seemingly innocuous loss sent the Nittany Lions out of the title mix and into a blender. Penn State spiraled into a 1-6 finish that included a 21-17 loss to the Michigan Wolverines a month later.
This year, No. 10 Penn State comes into Ann Arbor sporting that same 5-0 record. Coming along for the ride is the nation’s No. 5 rushing defense, one allowing a scant 79 yards a game and three touchdowns, while forcing seven fumbles.
All well and good in a clear statement game for Penn State. Except here’s where déjà vu kicks the Nittany Lions in the groin again.
Yes, Michigan won the Big Ten last year. And yes, the fifth-ranked Wolverines are better than they were last year. Behind Blake Corum, who is third in the nation in rushing (735 yards, 11TDs, 6.4 yards per carry), the Wolverines average 212 yards a game on the ground. Their 20 TDs are second in the nation behind the Georgia Bulldogs and Ole Miss Rebels’ 21. Corum’s 11 TDs in a half season equaled his 2021 total, a testament not only to his improvement, but Michigan’s offensive line.
Putting that—and improving quarterback J. J. McCarthy—aside for the moment, the Wolverines see Penn State’s defense and raise them the No. 5 total defense in the country. Michigan allows only 11.3 points a game. It allows just 2.6 yards per carry on the ground.
That, along with Penn State’s 2-6 ATS record in its last eight games against Michigan and the 7-1 ATS record the favorite in this series enjoys, means the Nittany Lions are in for another unpleasant October surprise.
Prediction: Michigan -6.5 (-110 at Caesars)
Watch: Saturday Noon ET FOX, FuboTV
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Volunteering for the Upset
The last time the Tennessee Volunteers came into their game with Alabama undefeated, it was the departed Peyton Manning’s rookie year and heir apparent Tee Martin was on the cusp of leading the Vols to the national championship.
But 1998 was a long time ago. To be specific, three stops ago for Alabama coach Nick Saban, who was still at the Michigan State Spartans. Since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, he has never lost to the Vols, who are 0-15 since that last-century victory.
This year, however, the No. 6 Vols sense the tide turning in more ways than one. Josh Heupel’s resurrection of the Vols’ moribund program resulted in the nation’s No. 1 offense in terms of average yardage (547.8) and the No. 2 offense in points per game (46.8). QB Hendon Hooker is completing 70% of his passes for 1,432 yards and 10TDs—without an interception. The latest example of all of the above? Tennessee welcomes No. 3 Alabama to Knoxville after dismantling LSU, 40-13, on the road.
But why does this all look familiar? High-flying, video-game offense runs into the Crimson Tide’s defense and before you know it, it’s “Game Over.” Alabama comes in with the country’s sixth-best defense in terms of points allowed (12.5) and yards allowed (250.8). It comes in with one of the country’s best rushing attacks (257.2 ypg average). Whether they come in with standout QB Bryce Young and his injured shoulder remains to be seen.
Regardless, something has to give here. We’re guessing it won’t be Alabama’s winning streak over the Vols. But we’re also guessing it won’t be Tennessee’s perfect record ATS this season. Expect the Crimson Tide’s immovable object to stop the Vols’ heretofore unstoppable force on the scoreboard. But expect Tennessee’s joystick offense to cover.
Prediction: Tennessee +7.5 (-115 at Golden Nugget)
Watch: Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET CBS, FuboTV
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Now for Something Completely Different
Admit it, you’ve gotten bored with all this defensive prowess we’ve discussed. So, we’re going to alleviate that and introduce a Colorado run defense that is the worst in the country. How inept are the Buffs stopping the run? Inept enough to yield 294.2 average yards a game. That’s more than 40 yards worse than the next-most-inept team, the Charlotte 49ers.
Teams are running the Buffs into the ground and barely breaking a sweat doing it. Colorado allows opposing runners an eye-watering 6.7 yards a carry. This explains why Colorado is next-to-last in points allowed (43.2).
It also explains why a middle-of-the-Pac team like the California Golden Bears are 14.5-point favorites on the road. You’ve got to be majestically awful on defense to get 14.5 points at home against one of the conference’s non-elite teams.
The Golden Bears may not be elite. But they are competent, solid defensively, coming in off a bye week—when they are 4-1 ATS –and feature one of the best backs you’ve never heard of: freshman Jaydn Ott. He’s third in the conference in rushing yards (532) and second in touchdowns (five), while averaging 7.4 yards a carry.
Expect Ott’s numbers to go up, Cal’s record to follow—and “Colorado defense” to remain an oxymoron.
Prediction: Cal -14.5 (-110 at HardRock Sportsbook)
Watch: Saturday 2 p.m. ET Pac-12 Network, FuboTV
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