Week 4 picks

The Augusta Chronicle

A second straight 4-3 week moves me to 10-11 on the year with my college football picks. Like I said last weekend’s slate of games didn’t look that appealing on paper, but it was a heck of a football weekend.

This weekend’s schedule should leave us more satisfied than the double-brisket cheeseburger with slab bacon and a fired egg I had on Sunday at Big Tex in Decatur.

No. 5 Auburn (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 20 Kansas State (2-0, 1-0 Big 12)- Thursday 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN: Auburn is the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to come into the Little Apple since second-ranked Penn State defeated Kansas State 17-14 in 1969.

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Through two games the big cats are averaging 43.5 (KSU) and 52 points (AU) per game. Kansas State has done it with a balanced attack as quarterback Jake Waters has thrown for 462 yards and two scores, while running for 193 yards and four TDs.

Auburn’s bread and butter is its rushing attack. The Tigers average 330 yards per game on the ground (sixth best in the NCAA) and 6.7 yards per attempt. Senior Cameron Artis-Payne leads the way with 289 yards and four touchdowns. Nick Marshall has been lethal at quarterback with 122 yards rushing, including a 50-yard TD run against San Jose State, and 151 yards passing.

The passing game will get a boost as Sammie Coates is predicted to return against KSU.

Both teams are giving up over 300 yards of total offense per game, but both have five sacks through two games. Elijah Lee has 2.5 for KSU, and Montravious Adams has a sack to go with four tackles for loss for Auburn. The Tigers will be without suspended safety Jermaine Whitehead, who leads the team with two interceptions.

Prediction: Auburn is a 7.5-point favorite on the road in this one. I think Kansas State is a solid team, and you can never count Bill Snyder out of it, but Auburn is just too good on offense. The Tigers win 42-31.

Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0, 1-0 ACC)- Noon ET on ESPNU: Wake up and get ready for some physical football in this one. Iowa is coming off a 20-17 loss to Iowa State, while the Panthers have been able to run away from everyone on their schedule thus far.

Pitt is averaging 344.3 yards per game (fourth best in the country) on the ground, with an average of 6.4 yards per attempt. The Hawkeyes are giving up just 65.7 yards per game on the ground.

Every game has been a grind for Iowa, including its opener against Northern Iowa. Despite Jake Ruddock playing well at quarterback, the Hawkeyes are averaging just 21.7 points per game this year.

Prediction: The Panthers are favored by a touchdown at home. I think that’s about right and I’m going with a 24-13 win for Pitt over Iowa.

Florida (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at No. 3 Alabama- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS: Florida escaped Kentucky in triple overtime last weekend to remain unbeaten heading into Saturday.

Alabama’s offense has cruised, scoring at least 33 points in every game this season, including 52 last week against Southern Miss. Blake Sims continues to be the team’s starter, with 646 yards passing and four TDs, but Jacob Coker has shown flashes during his playing time with 248 yards passing and a TD.

It doesn’t matter who throws it though, because Amari Cooper will catch it. The Miami native has 33 catches for 454 yards and two TDs this year.

He’ll face his toughest match-up of the year on Saturday in Vernon Hargraves III, who is credited with five pass-break ups already this year, and has allowed just one reception per ESPN Stats and Info. Cooper is going to get receptions, but if Hargraves can eliminate the big play in the passing game it could give Florida’s front seven a chance to slow down ‘Bama’s rushing attack.

The Crimson Tide average 6.2 yards per carry on the ground, while Florida has allowed just 2.4 yards per rush. Dante Fowler has been a big part of the Gators’ defensive success with nine tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

Prediction: Florida didn’t look very good against Kentucky, which has prompted Vegas to make Alabama a 14.5-point favorite at home. I think the Gators’ defense will have some success against Alabama early, but will eventually get worn down because I don’t expect the Florida offense to do much against the Crimson Tide (even with a struggling secondary). I think Alabama wins 27-10.

North Carolina (2-0) at East Carolina (2-1)- Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU: If it wasn’t for a handful of missed opportunities against South Carolina, the Pirates could have been 3-0 with a win over a pair of ranked opponents entering Saturday’s clash with UNC. Instead ECU has just one win over a ranked opponent, after hanging on last weekend on the road for a 28-21 win over Virginia Tech.

UNC dropped out of the polls after struggling with San Diego State two weeks ago.

ECU can put up points, and has a legitimate star in quarterback Shan Carden. The Texan has thrown for 1,031 yards already this year and ran for the game-winner last weekend against the Hokies.

UNC can also score, averaging 43.5 points per game, but the Tar Heels gave up 509 yards of total offense against SDSU in a 31-27 win.

Prediction: ECU is a three-point favorite and the Purple Pirates certainly have all the momentum entering this one. That’s why I’m going with UNC. The Tar Heels win this one 42-38.

Mississippi State (3-0) at No. 8 LSU (3-0)- Saturday 7 pm. ET on ESPN: The good news for Mississippi State is they started the year off with three straight wins.

The bad news is Saturday’s SEC opener in Baton Rouge, La. is the first of three-straight games against Top-1o SEC West foes.

After an impressive comeback win over Wisconsin to start the year, LSU hasn’t allowed another point this year in wins over Sam Houston and Louisiana-Monroe. The Tigers have a heck of rushing attack, averaging 226.3 yards per game on the ground.

The Bulldogs have been balanced on offense with an average of 266.3 yards passing and 260.3 yards rushing per game. If they’re going to have a chance against LSU they’ll have to show more than short screens in the passing game to move the ball.

Prediction: LSU is favored by 9.5 points. I don’t think Mississippi State is ready for the Tigers and LSU wins 24-7.

No. 4 Oklahoma (3-0) at West Virginia (2-1)- Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX: This will be the second top-four opponent for the Mountaineers in 2014.

West Virgina rode Clint Trickett’s arm to a 40-37 victory last weekend against Maryland. Trickett threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns.

The Sooners made quick work of Tennessee in a 34-10 victory.

West Virgina is averaging 410 yard passing per game (fifth best in the country) this year, but they haven’t faced a defense as explosive as Oklahoma’s (yeah I said it ‘Bama). OU has six interceptions and nine sacks this year, while giving up just 295.3 yards of total offense per game.

Prediction: I guess because they’re on the road and it’s the Big 12 OU is favored by just 7.5 in this one. While Trickett will be able to put some points up for the home team, I just don’t see West Virginia holding Trevor Knight back at all. Another big win for OU  35-21.

No. 22 Clemson (1-1) at No. 1 Florida State (2-0)- Saturday 8 p.m. ET on ABC: This game has taken on some added intrigue with Jameis Winston being suspended for the first half after failing to realize that he truly does live in a bubble and even the slightest misstep will bring scrutiny and embarrassment to Florida State.

Independent Mail.

Sean Maguire will lead the Seminoles’ offense as Winston is on the sidelines. The redshirt sophomore is just 3 of 5 passing this year for 28 yards, but he did attempt 21 passes last season as the third-string QB. Head coach Jimbo Fisher won’t be afraid to let Maguire take his shots against Clemson, but he’ll also rely heavily on a rushing attack that’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry with a senior offensive line.

Clemson will also likely play two QBs in the game. Senior Cole Stoudt is the starter, but freshman DeShaun Watson has come on fast and could unseat the veteran as the starter by the end of the season.

Clemson gave up 45 points to Georgia in its opener, with 21 points coming in the fourth quarter. If the offense can have some success early against an FSU defense that allows just 4.9 yards per play this year, then Clemson has the athletes on defense to make Maguire uncomfortable.

But here’s the thing- Jimbo Fisher has owned Clemson since arriving in Tallahassee. As the offensive coordinator and the head coach (he still calls the plays), FSU has scored an average of 35 points per game in the seven games, and scored at least 30 points the in the last three, including last year’s 51-14 smack-down.

Prediction: Even with Winston suspended for a half, FSU is still favored by 16.5 points at home. Fisher will put up points on Clemson, but I don’t know if the Seminoles’ defense is 17-points better than Clemson this year. I think FSU makes it 19-straight wins with a 28-24 victory.

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