The flurry of late-summer OOC games is dying down, and schools are preparing for the meat of their schedules – taking-on conference games or (in the case of 6 FBS independents) fierce rivals in convenient locales.
Much can be gleaned from the opening 2-3 weeks. Obviously, the Mountain West is threatening to supplant the American Athletic Conference as the toughest Group-of-5 league against the Power-5. Ohio State appears ready to surpass expectations in Big Ten play, and USC may have stumbled upon an answer at QB that could propel the Trojans to a Pac-12 championship. Clemson seems ready to rule the ACC (and college football) once again, and Oklahoma and Kansas still occupy polar ends of the Big 12 spectrum.
Ah, but there’s always the SEC – and until a highly-touted SEC team not called Alabama is defeated in a given year the intrigue around the program will run sky-high. After all, not only is the conference still among the top 2 or 3 leagues in the sport, but the Crimson Tide (and to a lesser extent Georgia) has choked-out all competition as of late.
Perhaps the Florida Gators can do something about that. Florida had some trouble with Miami in an opening scrum in Orlando, but rebounded in fine form for a shut-out victory last weekend.
To say this week’s road trip is a tougher task would be an understatement, though. The Gators are on their way to meet the Kentucky Wildcats, a team that bedeviled The Swamp in 2018.
Kentucky vs Florida
Kentucky didn’t just beat Florida last season, but won convincingly, 27-16. The Wildcats are 2-0 just the same as the Gators so far this season. There’s only 1 reason why UK would be a (+265) Bovada Sportsbook moneyline market headed into Saturday night’s rematch with the visiting Gators.
Only 1 reason…but its a doozy.
The Wildcats have lost 6’3” junior QB Terry Wilson Jr. for the season with a knee injury.
Wilson was a superb dual-threat against Florida last year, and will be missed by the fans in Lexington. Troy St. transfer Sawyer Smith, who went 5-9 for 76 yards and 2 TD’s against Eastern Michigan last week, will lead the offense against a punishing UF defensive unit.
The NFL may have taken Benny Snell Jr, but Asim Rose and electric redshirt freshman Kavosiey Smoke make an excellent tailback pair, though it’s hard to say if the running game will produce a whole lot for Smith to lean on without the threat of an aerial circus.
Dan Mullen’s team is loaded in the front-7. Kyree Campbell has recorded 10 tackles already, and fellow lineman Jabari Zuniga has produced 3 sacks in 2 appearances. Ventrell Miller is a budding star at linebacker.
Feleipe Franks is completing a lot of passes for the Gators, but he saw a cupcake in Tennessee-Martin and has thrown 2 picks already. Not all is well with the Florida offense – it’s still a work-in-progress that is allowed to shine with winning touchdowns and FGs thanks to the defense and special teams units.
Lamical Perine finally has the tailback job to himself and is flourishing as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. That’s a good sign for the Gator OL, since the check-downs take pressure off the edge rush and turn “coverage sacks” into positive gains.
I don’t like either team on the moneyline, since Florida’s payoff odds are too thin at (-330). But I’m convinced that the Gators will make Smith uncomfortable for all 4 quarters, most-likely leading to a cover ATS for the favorites.
Pick: Florida (-8.5)
UCF vs Stanford
The Cardinal (or The Tree) has at least 1 impressive OOC performance to credit, a 17-7 pulverizing of Northwestern in Week 1 i which the Stanford defensive backfield did a low number on opposing QB Hunter Johnson. But any suggestion that the ’19 roster was an invincible defensive juggernaut died with a 45-20 loss to Southern Cal. USC looked shaky in Week 1, so perhaps we could say that the Week 2 result is bound to be an outlier. But that’d be the case if there were problems with K.J. Costello’s offense. A hot-cold defense is another matter. Deficiency on the LOS would rob the Cardinal of its trademark weapon at a bad time.
But Stanford is still undervalued at (+270) for Saturday’s road game at Central Florida. The line-movement toward UCF overlooks the QB carousel caused by Milton’s absence in Orlando.
There’s already at least a temporary quarterback controversy as transfer Brandon Wimbush feels ready to take the field again in Week 3 just as pundits are calling for the to-date effective Dillon Gabriel to stay behind center. I seem to recall a kid named Darriel Mack Jr. tearing it up against Memphis in the postseason last year, but maybe it’s like that Sinbad-played-Shazam! memory tick.
Coaches like to say “QB is just like any other position,” but Josh Heupel may be playing it too loose and easy with his quarterbacks in 2019.
Cal vs North Texas
The California Golden Bears are coming off a terrific upset win over Washington in which the defense was lights-out in the 2nd half. But 2018 taught us a lot about just how inconsistent the Bears can be in this era.
Meanwhile, a relaxed and breezy Pac-12 team at home is the perfect “trap” scenario in which the Mean Green could score a surprise long-shot win on the moneyline with the right amount of breaks on Saturday afternoon. It’s not every game North Texas is as bad defending the Red Zone as the C-USA squad was against SMU last weekend.
Pick: UNT (+475)
Notre Dame vs New Mexico
How about an Over/Under prediction to wrap things up? Notre Dame will kick this game off at 2:30 Eastern and hopes to be well in the clear by 5 o’ clock, but New Mexico does have a set of talented and flashy runners, and in this particular scrum the dual-threat attack of the Lobos could bother the Irish front-7.
Brian Kelly knows exactly what to do in this kind of circumstance. Bombs away! Kelly is not going to let Ian Book hand the ball off too often in the 1st half, knowing that UNM can control the tempo with long drives if given the chance.
Look for UND to play loose and aggressive pigskin, and answer quickly every time UNM manages to score points. The result should be a 54-17 type of final that wins on the Over (62) by the leading edge of mop-up time.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.