Each week, The Firelion uses his eyes and heart to pick college football winners against the spread. But he doesn’t make you follow Ball St. on ESPN+. The Firelion wants to add even more enjoyment to your college football watching by only picking nationally televised games. Read on down to see which teams you should rent to be your favorite team this weekend!
What We Learned
2019 Season Record: 7-12
I don’t know which of the gambling gods I offended, but damn am I sorry. Last week jumped off to a decent start until Alabama, Kentucky, and Syracuse all gave up last-minute backdoor scores stemming from, respectively, a late hit penalty on the final fourth down of the game, a 76-yard touchdown run as Florida tried to run the clock out with 33 seconds left in the game, and a 57-yard touchdown run as Syracuse tried to, wait, run out the clock? With 48 seconds left in the game? Daggum snakebit. I’m Grant Hill’s ankles, Mike Hampton’s shoulder, and Michael Vick’s public persona all in one.
I mean, really, what celebrity gets caught AND convicted of running a dog-fighting ring? This moment had to be a turning point in what celebrities could get away with. Also, not sure dogs were that popular before. People loved dogs, but now they’re on airplanes, in Wal-Marts, and all over the Internet. They basically traded popularity positions with Michael Vick.
The Firelion’s gotta keep shooting. It’s the only way to work yourself out of the slump. I don’t have the luxury of avoiding the swamplands of predictions, so I must become immune to the poison. I must accept the pan and punishment to become even stronger and, myself, be feared in everglades of gambling.
- Win – (Wake Forest -3) – Wake Forest 24 – UNC 18: The Demon Deacons held on after going up 21-0 to cobble together a cover-saving FG drive late in the fourth by quarterback Jamie Newman. Said the winning signal caller after the game, “We didn’t panic.” And neither will we.
- Loss – (Arkansas St. +33) – Georgia. 55 – Arkansas State 0: Substitute the idea that Georgia and Notre Dame would “rest players” with the one that they “want to be hitting on all cylinders” going into their matchup, and we’re looking at a salvageable weekend. Their upcoming matchup should be a season highlight.
- Loss – (New Mexico +34.5) – Notre Dame 66 – New Mexico 14: Bad week for teams taking it easy on alumnus and vice versa. The Fighting Irish did not take it easy out of respect for hospitalized former coach (and now New Mexico leader) Bob Davies. And vice versa, Ed Orgeron tumbled alma mater Northwestern State 52-0. Who would’ve thought it would be the Church and Louisiana to turn their backs on hospitality and humanity? For shame!
- Loss – (Alabama -26) – Alabama 47 – South Carolina 23: This is where the slide begins. Probably best to just avert your eyes now. The Tide scores with 2:04 left in the game to go up 31 and then make the final, cover-saving fourth down stop with less than :30. But a hit to the head by freshman reserve Christian Barmore (that hit was his only stat of the game) allowed the Gamecocks to score with :11 remaining. I hope Saban runs every bit of his 310 pounds off in the Alabama heat this week, but that still wouldn’t be enough.
- Loss – (Under 49 Florida vs. Kentucky) – Florida 29 – Kentucky 21: Did I mention I’m actually betting on all these games too? Yup. I had to sit and watch Florida not only come in and score 19 in the fourth quarter, but to get the final seven under-bet-breaking points on a meaningless run in the dwindling seconds of the game?
- Loss – (Syracuse +28) – Clemson 41 – Syracuse 6: Literally five minutes later, The Firelioness heard some very familiar hollering. Of course, she assumed something similar to the event just minutes ago had re-occurred, but she could never have guessed how ridiculously identical they were. Syracuse didn’t deserve this cover. But I did, damn it! I DID!
The Week Ahead
Conference play is here! The matchups will be better and we’re just getting started! I’m going to warn you up front. This will be a favorite-heavy guessing week in the Firelion Den.
Houston at Tulane (Houston 1-2 Straight Up (SU), 1-2 Against the Spread (ATS) & Tulane 2-1 SU, 2-1 ATS)
- Thursday Night @ 8:00 pm ET on ESPN
- Line: Tulane -5
- O/U: 57.5
While I love the ole “take the home teams in non-Saturday night games” angle, I believe I’m cutting bait and trying to catch the tide as it turns. N’awlins is such an obvious heathen hotspot that I think coaches manage their teams travel schedule a bit tighter than in, say, Starkville or Auburn. My normally crystal-clear memory is clouded with all sorts of Big Easy-like historical vices to actually remember stats, but I seem to remember playing this rule in Tulane games on multiple occasions and ending up with less money than if I’d drank hurricanes and hand grenades on Bourbon all night.
This week, Houston and highly touted quarterback D’Eriq King brings his 9 total touchdowns (and only 1 INT) to New Orleans to face an undoubtedly amped Tulane team. Houston games are notorious for scoring, but I believe Tulane’s rushing attack, which averages 256 yards per game on 5.9 yards per carry, will slow down Houston’s momentum. Sorry to do this, but you’ve got to root for the Under 57.5 in a Thursday night game. Rules are rules.
(10) Utah at USC (Utah 3-0 SU, 1-2 ATS & USC 2-1 SU, 1-2 ATS)
- Friday Night @ 9:00 pm ET on FS1
- Line: Utah -4
- O/U: 52
Utah might be the PAC-12’s only hope for their first playoff representative since Washington in the 2016 season (no disrespect to Washington State, whose schedule is just much tougher than the Utes). And don’t think the refs don’t know it! At the very best, it should help take away any USC national recognition that tends to lead to those 50-50 calls going to the Trojans.
The Trojans, as we remember from our loss in Week 1, are without JT Daniels for the rest of the season. Kedon Slovis has come on in relief to post a 77% completion rating. But his 5:4 TD-to-INT ratio is less than envious, especially against a Kyle Whittingham-coached defense. Utah has held its opponents – which include BYU, who beat USC last week in Provo, UT – to 65 yards rushing per game.
Take away the run and you force the pass. And, apparently, when Slovis airs it out, you get the ball back. Then USC’s defense – allowing a whopping 409 yards per game – must face the Ute’s two-headed attack of RB Zack Moss and QB Tyler Huntley, who have combined for eight touchdowns and only one turnover. Take the Utes at -4 in this one.
Tennessee at (9) Florida (Tennessee 1-2 SU, 1-2 ATS & Florida 3-0 SU,0-2-1 ATS)
- Saturday @ Noon ET on ESPN
- Line: Florida -14
- O/U: 48.5
You think I want to break this one down? Please, I want this less than ESPN wants to hold up its obligation of showing it.
The big news to watch in this game will be the Kyle Trask’s first start since being a freshman in high school. That’s right! Trask was Houston QB D’Eriq King’s backup in high school and has battled foot injuries in 2017 and 2018. The Vols will luckily have a quarter’s worth of tape and not going into another “Matt Mauck/Rohan Davies/Treon Harris/Any Other Backup UT Has Ever Faced and Got Unceremoniously Upended By” situation.
Who Florida’s signal caller is will matter very little if the Vols’ own Jarrett Guarantano can’t at least resemble a competent quarterback. Guarantano has missed as many open receivers with his eyes than he has when he actually throws the ball. And while the Vols – despite having a deep, talented receiving corps – have relied on the rushing attack when needing a steady hand, Florida has locked opponents down to only 96 rushing yards per game.
The key for the Vols will be for the offensive line to keep JG on his feet and for the linebacker tandem of Daniel Bituli and Henry To’o To’o keeping Trask from unexpectedly Tebowing all over their backs. But, quite frankly, it’s a noon September game in Gainesville, FL. Don’t overthink it. Put money on Trask for Heisman 2020 and go with the Gators at -14.
(11) Michigan at (13) Wisconsin (Michigan 2-0 SU, 0-2 ATS & Wisconsin 2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS)
- Saturday @ Noon ET on FOX
- Line: Wisconsin -3.5
- O/U: 44
Michigan probably didn’t want that bye week to ruminate on them squeaking by Army in Week 2. Especially when their opponent had the same week off, thus nullifying any advantage of fresh legs or preparation time.
The stats on this one leaves me more concerned than a “service” dog at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (it’s the dog that’s worried; Lord knows the owner of this theoretical and oft-seen pooch lacks the empathy to worry or else the only way I’d sit next to its trembling body is if I were watching the shitty person’s home and pets for them). Anyhow, it’s a 3.5-point line yet Wisconsin is outgaining Michigan in:
- Points: 55-32
- Offensive Yards per Game: 517 to 396
- Yards Allowed: 107 to 272
By gawd, it makes less sense than full-length jeans in Gainesville! If only there were some sort of rule we live by to explain such nonsense. That’s right! It’s the return of If It Seems Too Good To Be True, It Ain’t! Ignore Harbaugh’s record against ranked opponents. He still wins like half of them. This is that half. Make your money with Michigan at +3.5.
(8) Auburn at (17) Texas A&M (Auburn 3-0 SU, 3-0 ATS & Texas A&M 2-1 SU, 3-0 ATS)
- Saturday @ 3:30 pm ET on CBS
- Line: Texas A&M -3.5
- O/U: 48
Every game in the SEC West is almost an elimination game. Alabama will only lose, at most, one conference game all season and it better be to your team if you want to sniff the SEC Championship Game. Lose another game and you’re in danger of losing that precious tiebreaker. So, yeah, the Aggies avenging their 24-28 loss in Auburn last year, which culminated with two unanswered Tigers touchdowns in the fourth quarter, is as important as it was for Jimbo Fisher to escape Tallahassee’s obvious curse.
The concern for Texas A&M is playing another staunch run defense (Auburn ranks 23rd in the country in rushing yards allowed). The other Tigers held them to 53 rushing yards on the day, although the Aggies needed to squint to even see Clemson’s tails for most of that game. They’ll need a big game from QB Kellen Mond and their offensive line as Auburn also has also only given up 52% completion percentage on opponents’ throws all season and have compiled eight sacks in those three games.
But the stat of the game leading into this one is definitely Bo Nix’s feet-dragging completion percentage of 52.3%. Wait, that’s just a duplicate stat… NOPE! Bo Nix is only completing half of his passes, which puts him at 108th out of 115 qualifying FBS signal callers. This stat will just be too much on the road against a Texas A&M defense that only allowed 121 rushing yards to Clemson and averages giving up only 84 yards per game. Learn your weird cheers, dress up spiffy, and take the Aggies all day at -4.
(7) Notre Dame at (3) Georgia (Notre Dame 2-0 SU, 1-1 ATS & Georgia 3-0 SU, 2-1 ATS)
- Saturday Night @ 8:00 pm ET on CBS
- Line: Georgia -14.5
- O/U: 58
The atmosphere for this one shouldn’t disappoint. But the game just might. Notre Dame has come out firing and Ian Book is getting all sorts of Heisman hype (8 Total TDs, 0 INTs). But they’re rolling into Athens at night against a team that is only allowing 2.1 yards per carry on defense and only one sack in three games, while tallying 566 offensive yards per game and getting to the opposing quarterback on 11.4% of all plays. Games are decided in the trenches, and Georgia is out to mark its territory.
Neither team has played an opponent to write home about and they’ve cruised along with little surprise or, seemingly, effort. I typically just pick against the Irish as – much like the rest of the country views the SEC – the media treats them like you would your favorite politician. Ignore the bad and pump in all those sweet, sweet lies, um, promises! But I’m seeing something come around in South Bend. Book appears to be a rich man’s Mitchell Trubisky, which is a compliment in college, mind you!
The Bulldogs will win this game handily behind their rushing attack, but 14.5 is just too many for a team ready for a real prime time moment. The Irish fight hard and cover the +14.5
UCLA at (19) Washington State (UCLA 3-0 SU, 1-2 ATS & UCLA 0-3 SU, 0-3 ATS)
- Saturday Night @ 10:30 pm ET on ESPN
- Line: Washington St. -19
Our blue and golden goose is back for a nightcap! I’m not special for being on the “Chip Kelly coaches football like Florida Gators follow laws” train, but I was right, nonetheless. The Bruins is the only Power 5 school to be 0-3 straight up and against the spread. The only teams in all of football to join them are Texas State and Akron. Not exactly the quacking Ducks of old down in Los Angeles.
Don’t make this too hard on yourself. It’s the late game. It’s here as a safety net for when your earlier games don’t go as planned. And, based on my record this season, we’ll need it. Washington State puts up 567 offensive yards per game and sports a +7 turnover margin on the season. UCLA? Gives up 467 yards per game and is -6 in turnover margin against Cincinnati, San Diego State, and Oklahoma. I’m fading UCLA until they win one. Cash your tickets on the Cougars at -19.5 (and all the way up to -20.5 as it moves) and sleep tight.