- Now that a full weekend slate of games have been played, teams are showing their true colors. A trio of underdogs look like smart picks heading into Week 2.
With a full week of college football action in the books, we finally have some answers about how the season will set up. Auburn and LSU mean business, Tua Tagovailoa appears to be the man for the Crimson Tide, and Jim Harbaugh still can't win the big one. For their Week 2 picks, our experts like underdogs to cover against blue blood programs—except for Arkansas State, which will face the Alabama buzzsaw in Tuscaloosa.
UCLA at Oklahoma (-29.5)
Sat. 9/8, 1:00 p.m. ET
Pick: UCLA +29.5
This non-conference matchup in Norman should feature plenty of points from Oklahoma, whose offense was prolific against an overmatched FAU in Week 1. But a 29.5-point spread gives the Sooners too much credit this early in the season, and overlooks the potential of UCLA in a classic first-week overreaction.
The Bruins’ quarterback situation is in flux with Wilton Speight recovering from a back injury, which head coach Chip Kelly called “nothing serious.” But even if Speight sits on Saturday, freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson is capable of keeping Oklahoma’s margin of victory to within four touchdowns. Ten different UCLA players caught passes in its 26-17 loss to Cincinnati, and the Bruins will get some help on the defensive side of the ball with the scheduled returns of defensive back Mo Osling and defensive linemen Osa Odighizuwa and Moses Robinson-Carr, who were suspended from the season opener due to unspecified violations.
As for Oklahoma, there’s no question that there’s an excitement with Kyler Murray under center. But even if this game gets out of hand early, the Sooners may call off the dogs like they did against FAU. The Owls were outscored by only seven points in the second half of their 63-14 loss. UCLA’s playmakers, along with new head coach Chip Kelly, may still be working out the kinks, but they aren't doormats, and the Bruins will be good enough to cover this giant spread. –Ed McGrogan
Ball State at Notre Dame (-33.5)
Sat. 9/8, 3:30 p.m. ET
Pick: Ball State +33.5
The Fighting Irish were expected to earn an ugly win against Michigan, and that's exactly what they did. But while the Notre Dame offense performed admirably against an elite Wolverines defense, there were signs that this unit still has a long way to go. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush completed only two of seven passes in the second half, and his biggest throw of the game—a 43-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter—was essentially a 50-50 jump ball in the end zone. Last year, a dominant rushing attack covered up for a weak passing game, but the Irish only averaged 2.8 yards yards per carry against Michigan. Replacing running back Josh Adams and offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey doesn't happen overnight.
We didn't learn much from Ball State's season-opening 42-6 win over FCS team Central Connecticut State. It is worth noting that the score could have been even more lopsided. The Cardinals set a school record for offensive yards (652) despite giving substantial time to backups, and CCSU scored its lone touchdown with only 12 seconds remaining. A huge rash of injuries caused Ball State to finish 2-10 last year, but it returns 16 starters this season and has one of the MAC's best quarterbacks in Riley Neal.
South Bend is only a two-and-a-half hour drive from Ball State's campus in Muncie, and Notre Dame Stadium won't be rocking for a 3:30 start against a MAC opponent the way it was for a primetime opener against Michigan. With the Irish fresh off an emotionally exhausting win to start the season, the Cardinals can keep things competitive—if not exactly close—on the road this week. –Sam Chase
Arkansas State at Alabama (-36.5)
Sat. 9/8, 3:30 p.m. ET
Pick: Alabama -36.5
Last week, Alabama would have covered this week’s 36.5-point spread against a Louisville team that would likely be favored by double digits against Arkansas State on a neutral field. While the Crimson Tide won’t have weeks of preparation for this game like it did against the Cardinals, it’s hard to imagine the Red Wolves finding much success on either side of the ball in Tuscaloosa.
The Tide field a roster loaded with NFL-caliber players, which simply makes a huge difference physically against the type of athletes you’ll find in the Sun Belt. Even if the Tide go up big early, their backups have the ability to continue to dominate Arkansas State. And it’s worth noting that with Tua Tagovailoa under center, Alabama just might have the most explosive offense that it's ever had under Nick Saban—who is 6-5 ATS as a home favorite of 35.5 to 42 points in his time with the Tide. –Zachary Cohen
Penn State (-8.5) at Pittsburgh
Sat. 9/8, 8:00 p.m. ET
Pick: Pittsburgh +8.5
Some bettors will be tempted to back Penn State in this one, their reasoning being that the team will be out to prove something after surviving a scare this past Saturday. While Penn State is expected to get defensive tackle Kevin Givens back after he was sidelined for violating team rules, weaknesses were exposed in the Nittany Lions’ come-from-behind 45-38 overtime victory as a 24.5-point favorite against Appalachian State, a game in which Penn State surrendered more than 450 yards. The return of Givens alone will not be enough to turn around a unit that brought back only three starters from a season ago.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, finds itself in the kind of spot in which it has thrived in recent seasons—the Panthers defeated the nation’s second-ranked team in each of the past two years. After beating Clemson as a 21.5-point road underdog in November 2016, Pitt upset Miami as a double-digit home underdog in the 2017 regular season finale, a game in which Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett became the first true freshman to start for the Panthers in a decade.
The win against Miami ended a stretch that saw Pitt go 3-1 straight up and 4-0 ATS as an underdog after mid-October, with the team’s lone loss to a favorite during that span being a 20-14 defeat as a 14-point underdog at Virginia Tech in last season’s penultimate game. The strength of this Pitt team is a defense that has returned nine starters from a year ago—it’s a unit that held favored opponents to an average of 16.3 points per game during the aforementioned four-game stretch. While it’d be a stretch to expect the Panthers to come away with a straight-up win the way they did the last time Penn State visited Heinz Field in 2016, Pitt should be able to keep the final outcome of this one to within one score. –Scott Gramling