Ultimate Data Dump: Auburn vs. A&M

All the numbers a fan could want.  How does it breakdown for Saturday’s game between Auburn and A&M?

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Texas A&M

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Why Can’t A&M Get Christian Kirk the Ball? And Why a QB Change May Be Due.

A&M’s best offensive playmaker is only averaging 4 catches a game.  As a sophomore and freshman,  he averaged almost 7 catches a game.  Why is his production down?

#1 QB Play.  It goes without saying that A&M’s QB play under Kellen Mond has been too slow and indecisive in coverage recognition needed to identify good looks for an inside WR.  It’s also safe to assume that coaches have called plays away from the middle of the field where interceptions most often happen.  It’s also fair to point out that Kirk has struggled with drops in almost every game.  Even when the ball is delivered to him, he is not automatic to catch it.

#2 Passing Attempts.  A&M is averaging only 31 passing attempts this year, down from 36 last year and 37 in 2015.   A&M simply isn’t throwing the ball as much nor running as many offensive plays due to inefficiency and slower tempo.

#3 No Josh Reynolds.  I will maybe write about this in depth later. But, in this offense the X WR has to draw safety attention.  That is not happening this year and that means Kirk is getting safety looks over the top all game long.  This is a big problem for A&M right now.

#4 Coverage Looks

Teams have schemed the ball away from Kirk this year.  Let’s take a look at a few examples.

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In the UCLA game, on the very first drive, UCLA sends 6 rushers on 3rd and 5.  This empties the middle of the field for a quick in/drag route to Kirk for a nice gain.  It’s a nice job by Starkel in recognition.

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Easy throw and catch to a wide open middle of the field.

However, if you watch A&M on tape in SEC play, teams simply don’t empty the middle of the field in passing situations.  They have caught on to A&M tendency to run a lot of drag routes in the middle of the field and are dropping multiple defenders into this area.

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Here, State drops 3 into the drag area of the field on 3rd and 5.  The exact same scenario as the UCLA game example above.  They take away the easy drag throw and force Mond into more difficult throws betting he can’t make them.  They only rush 3.  They are also spying Mond to take away the QB scramble here.

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Again going back to UCLA, this is a disguised zone coverage when A&M goes 5 wide/empty on 2nd and 8.  Kirk has no defender over him and does a great job sitting down at the sticks for a great throw by Starkel.  While this look is still occasionally seen by A&M, they are not taking advantage of it with Mond at QB.  He is simply far too slow in recognizing and delivering the ball.  This is a timing throw that absolutely must be threaded between the defenders.  If it is late, it is likely picked off.  I’ve seen this concept double clutched by Mond multiple times a game.  The QB has to be ready to fire the ball upon the snap.

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Here is an example of a similar coverage look vs Arkansas.  This time A&M has an RPO called and Mond reads the off coverage and decides to throw the hitch to Kirk.  A good read.

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But, the execution is bad.  The ball sails high and Kirk has to leave his feet to catch it.  This can’t happen on this throw, because the yardage in front of Kirk is erased by the defenders.  It has to be an accurate throw made quickly.  Not easy, but important.  Remember Johnny Manziel side arming these throws at the speed of light?  That is what you are looking for on these type of throws.  Mond’s delivery is consistently lethargic on these timing throws. The release just isn’t fast enough, nor the accuracy good enough.

Now, let’s take a look at Nick Starkel after he entered the State game.  You can immediately tell that Starkel has recognition of what coverage he is seeing from the defense.

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Here State is showing a 2 safety shell look.  With both safeties back and no defender near Buckley on the nearside, there is a soft spot in the coverage.

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Starkel quickly recognized this and throws to the open spot in the defense where he is expecting Buckley to sit down.  The throw is on time and accurate.  This was a throw that Johnny Manziel made for probably 1,000 yards to Swope and Labhart….5 yards at a time.

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But, Buckley has not sat down in the soft spot in the coverage.  He drifts another 3 yards upfield into the safety.  The ball is now behind Buckley and lucky to not be intercepted.  This was a bad job by a young WR in recognizing the soft spot in coverage, which is a critical skill for any WR playing on the inside.  But, I can assume that based on very limited film of Starkel, he is more comfortable reading this type of coverage vs inside WRs and making throws into this area of the field as compared to Kellen Mond.  This creates danger, but will also assuredly create opportunities for slot players like Christian Kirk.  This is vital for any spread offense.  And why a QB change could be coming very soon.

The Justin Fuente File

For those schools looking for bright young coaches, Justin Fuente can’t be ignored.  An offensive background has not warped his sense of solid football fundamentals and defense.  Fuente is sure to be pursued by many well-funded suitors.  Here is a look at his background.

Age: 41

Played: QB OU and Murray State

High School All American At Tulsa Union

Coached:

2001–2003 Illinois State (QB)
2004–2006 Illinois State (OC/QB)
2007–2008 TCU (RB)
2009–2011 TCU (Co-OC/QB)
2012–2015 Memphis
2016–present Virginia Tech

Head Coaching Record:

2012 Memphis 4–8 4–4 T–3rd (East)
2013 Memphis 3–9 1–7 T–9th
2014 Memphis 10–3 7–1 T–1st W Miami Beach 25 25
2015 Memphis 9–3 5–3 3rd (West) Birmingham*
Memphis: 26–23 17–15 * Did not coach bowl game

Virginia Tech Hokies (Atlantic Coast Conference) (2016–present)
2016 Virginia Tech 10–4 6–2 1st (Coastal) W Belk 16 16

Key Questions and Analysis

Went 10-4 in Year 1 at VT with a team coming off back to back 7-6 seasons.

Known as the assistant who helped revamp the TCU offense and make Andy Dalton a good college qb

He’s the rare guy with an OC background who’s goal is to run the ball successfully and win the game, more than trying to set scoring records. Understands what tempo really is. and what its NOT. (a race to run the most plays)

Took over a terrible Memphis program that had won 5 games over the previous 3 seasons. Won 10 games and a league title in year 3.

Always been pretty balanced run/pass in terms of attempts, even at memphis. thus far at VT, he has run more than he has passed.

Hired Dave Odom to be his DC at memphis. Odom got the Mizzou HC job and had memphis playing top 25 defense.

Even as a career offensive guy, his time under Patterson, with Odom, and now with Bud Foster have to lead me to believe he damn sure understands good defense and philosophically why it is important. Is very much a hands on HC. Very involved with offense, defense and ST. Hes not the career OC who stays on one end of the practice field. Coaches hard and can be hard on players.

His personality is tough. Is it tough love on his players or is he an asshole? He has a way of coaching that reminds me of Billy Gillispie. Tough, sarcastic, nothing ever quite good enough. Not a lot of feel good moments. More old school than what is currently popular. Do players respect him? Is he a strong leader?

Says “mmmkaaaayyyy” alot. Could infuriate players if losing. Jeff Bridges voice double. Really sounds like Jeff Bridges.

Not exactly charismatic. Fairly middle of the road in personality.

Straightforward and honest with the media. Professional, more insightful than average. Tries to actually answer questions. Seems fair.

Does an incredible job with formations. Will use many unconventional formation throughout a game to get a matchup he wants.  Understands 1 on 1 football extremely well.  (My player is better than your defender so let’s get him 1 on 1)

Recruiting

His highest ranked class at Memphis was #77

1st full class at VT finished #26, #4 in ACC
This current class is ranked #25, #4 in ACC

slightly better than Beamer’s final classes. but pretty close to a standard VT recruiting class. Hasn’t signed a 5 star, yet.

Contract

Has a $6m buyout in his VT contract. Goes down about $1m each year through 2021.

Guaranteed Money: 
$3.2 million in 2016. Under the extended contract, $3.25 in 2017. He stands to make $3.4 million in 2018, $3.5 million in 2019, $3.65 million in 2020, $3.75 million in 2021, $3.9 million in 2022 and $4 million in 2023 in base salary and supplemental compensation.

Players Drafted:

Paxton Lynch, QB 1st round

Lynch started for Fuente as a freshman. He’s the only high draft pick that came out of his Memphis classes. Fuente is known as a really good evaluator of talent, its what people have said about him. But, at least during his 4 years at Memphis he won with kids that really never showed a lot of NFL upside. His WRs, RBs, DBs…the types of spots where you might expect a school like Memphis to have some better players…not really. he won with a great qb and very solid schemes and fundamentals.

Key Staff

Bud Foster, DC
brad Cornelson, OC/QBs
Galen Scott, Safeties and AHC
Brian Mitchell, CBs
Vance VICe, OL

Credit to Todd Grantham: Defensive Masterpiece

For all the talk of A&M’s offensive woes, and it was certainly offensive, much of the credit goes to Todd Grantham.  His NFL level pressure packages had Kellen Mond so confused pre-snap with coverages and pressures, the young qb had little chance in the passing game. No doubt in my mind that his mental confusion led to terrible physical execution.  (And that is really where Ags OC Noel Mazzone fell short, by not having more easy reads available for Mond.)

But, credit to Grantham because State’s players were moving and dropping all over the place.  And it was changing play to play.  The few times the Ags did get a favorable look, they couldn’t make the basic throw.  (First 2 plays of game and the slant to Ausbon that was picked are 3 great examples)

It was as good of a performance by a DC as you will see.  (And we’ll just gloss over the plays where 4 STATE DL whipped 5 AG blockers)  I wanted to show you one example of Grantham’s scheme.  I could show you 15 that are similar.

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It’s 3rd and 10.  Grantham shows a man-free look to Mond.  It looks like 1 on 1 coverage on his WRs, with a free safety over the top.  There are 5 defenders at the LOS showing rush.  This is the down and distance the Ags knew they had to avoid coming into the ballgame.  Grantham is really really good in these situations.

But, as you can see, right as the Ags snap the ball, the nickel back comes off Kirk on a blitz.

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Notice how for a brief moment it looks like Kirk in the slot may be uncovered.  But, that’s not true.

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The strong safety will now roll to Kirk in the slot, post snap.  So he is really playing a robber type coverage and will look to pick off any quick pass to Kirk.

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Meanwhile, 2 of the original down rushers are now dropping into underneath coverage. So STATE is actually only sending 4 on the rush.  Ags should be able to pick it up with their 5 OL and RB in protection.

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But the RB leaves his feet in pass pro and missed the blitzing nickel DB. Also note that the 2 players who have dropped are protecting the deep middle of the field.  This is just a beautifully designed coverage package.

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And Mond is forced to make an early throw.  The WR on the topside of the formation, #13, to my eye looks like he should have sat down at the first down marker for a back shoulder throw.  He continues going 5 yards beyond the stick, where he should have read blitz and broke off his route.  That seem to be what Mond expects.  But, it is impossible to know for sure.

 

 

Pre-Kickoff Saturday Late Vegas Line Movements

For entertainment purposes only! But, always interesting to see the games getting late action.  Lines from Westgate in Las Vegas.

Purdue -6 to -4 vs Nebraska

Kentucky -5.5 to -3.5 vs Tennessee

Pittsburgh -3 to -1.5 vs UVA

Mizzou -11 to -14 vs UCONN

Iowa -9 to -7 vs Minnesota

BYU -14 to BYU -9.5 vs San Jose State

Texas -8.5 to -10 vs Baylor

Wash St -3 to -1.5 vs Arizona

Miss St -1 to -3.5 vs Texas A&M

Georgia -14 to -13 vs Florida

 

Know Thy Enemy: STATE

It’s game time baby and time to cut the silly shit and talk football.

Dan Mullen’s Mississippi State team is a classic Mullen team.  They live off the success of 3-4 plays that they rep and rep and rep some more.  It’s essentially option football.  If you stop their key plays, you totally limit what they do on offense. This is why you have seen them struggle mightly to generate points vs. Georgia and Auburn.  Both Georgia and Auburn had great success early in the game stopping the key plays that make up the base of Mullen’s offense.  This is no different than most college teams, but Mullen’s scheme is even more dependent on the ability to outnumber you in the box with his QB as a runner.  If you can limit the run, without committing an extra defender into the box, the Ags are going to be very well positioned to win this game.  That is the formula Auburn and Georgia used.  Can the Ags do the same?

Let’s take a look at some key plays you can expect to see a lot of on Saturday night.

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QB Power

I wrote about this in detail here.  This is a play they will run 8-10 times a game.  They like to run this out of single back and love it inside the red zone.  It’s simply designed to give them a numbers advantage in the run game.

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They also love to fake the QB power and throw the ball. Fitzgerald oversells this.  If you seem him take a deep squat, he’s going to pull up and throw it.

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Screen out of trips look. 

They love to split out their 6’5 275 lb TE, #83 Jordan Thomas, and let him lead block on this play.  It’s a play we should be well prepared for and something all teams run.  Armani Watts is one of the best in the game at getting down the alley and wrecking this play.  A&M’s corners, especially D-BONE Renfro, are good at getting off blocks on the perimeter.

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Read Option/Zone.  Again, I wrote about this in detail here.  Mullen has been running this play as THE foundation of his offense for 15+ years.  In fact, watch how he teaches it here with clips from the Ags vs. Utah 2003.  (vomit bags not included)

 

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Under Center Usually Means Play Action Pass

I don’t know if Mullen is setting up some specific things for later in the season.  But, thus far in the year, they are really predictable out of this look.  They are generally looking to get 1 on 1 coverage for #6 or #83 and throw the ball.

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Here #83 runs an out and up vs. man coverage.  Anytime they can get #83 in an easy to diagnose man look, he becomes their #1 passing target down the field.  He’s a very large man, but certainly isn’t a blazer.  STATE lacks a blazer on the perimeter which is why they are the worst team in the SEC in generating passing plays over 20 yards.  Despite having a top 20 national rushing offense, they don’t generate successful play action plays as much as you would expect, given Fitzgerald’s above average arm.

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Empty Sets: DRAW DRAW DRAW DRAW

State does not go 5 wide very often at all. When they do, you better spy Fitz.  They love to run qb draw out of empty.  In the above play vs Auburn, Fitz runs a called draw to the 1 yard line.

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Favorite Goal Line Changeup

In addition to zone and qb power, State loves to run this fake stretch bootleg concept on the goal line.  They will fake the stretch run to their back and then roll Fitz out behind the RB, while the RB runs a flood route.  The concept is meant to bait the flats defender to either come hit Fitz in the mouth leaving the RB or TE open for an easy catch or if the defenders stay in the flat, Fitz will turn it up field quickly and then you have to stop a 235 ball carrier with a full head of steam.  The AGs have struggled with similar plays this year, so expect to see this on Saturday night.

Factors that Will Determine the Game

State OL vs Ag DL. 

Teams that shutdown Mullen’s offense do it because their DL is good enough to shut down the bread and butter run plays with their front 4/5 defenders.  Isn’t this always the case in football?  Sure.  That’s why the big boys of SEC defense, Georgia, Bama, Auburn, and Florida have always done a great job of slowing down STATE’s offense.  Their DL controls the LOS and STATE’s passing game (outside of 2014) isn’t good enough to consistently move the ball.  I’d say based on 2017 results so far, that’s the case again this year.  They are #106 in passing offense for a reason.

Eyes of the Defense

Anytime you play an option football team, you have to be extremely sound in your assignment.  Their design to all about getting you out of position to gain leverage in numbers and angles to run the ball.  LSU was killed by this.  They lost their eyes all night and STATE made them pay.  Auburn and UGA did not and State didn’t do much of anything.  It’s really that important.  Devin White, LSU’s inside LB, was consistently out of position against STATE.  The AGs were burned badly by poor eyes and terrible assignment integrity in the 2016 game, so Mullen will test this early and often.

Corner play

STATE hasn’t shown the ability to beat man coverage with their WRs.  I expect Mullen to test our CBs early.  Why?  Because STATE was very conservative early vs Georgia and Auburn and got behind early.  I think Mullen comes out much more aggressive in this game and tests our corners in coverage.  I think he’ll respect A&M’s front enough to try and keep safeties out of the box.  I expect Chavis to come out with a lot of single high safety looks and force STATE to the air.  This will set up for Mullen to test Renfro and Oliver and whoever is at nickel.

 

 

The Eyes Chico, They Never Lie

One the the biggest struggles in the Ag passing game is related to Kellen Mond and his ability to get to his 2nd read quick enough to do damage down the field.  He’s locking in on his primary target and holding the ball too long, if the primary target is not overwhelmingly open.  To be fair, this has also helped him protect the ball and likely limit interceptions.  He’s been very good at not throwing the Ags OUT of the game.  But, as the competition steps up the next 2 weeks against STATE and Auburn, he’ll simply have to make more downfield throws.

These issues include pre-snap AND post-snap reads.  Let’s take a look at a pre-snap read first.

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Here Ags go 4 wide on 1st and 10.  South Carolina counters with what looks like Cover 4 (quarters).  Meaning the 2 corners and the 2 safeties are going to play their quarter of the field, with the nickel on the topside of the formation playing the flats.  What has also happened is USC has gone to a 3 down look, with 3 LBs.  The nearside outside LB also has flats responsibility.  This is not a base look for USC, so they have no doubt confused Mond pre-snap.

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What should be obvious here as Mond makes his pre-snap read is that Kirk is in a great position to generate an easy catch.  There is plenty of green grass for Kirk to settle in an area between the flats defender and the deep safety.   It’s likely the easiest throw on the field.

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This is a well-designed play vs. quarters coverage. In fact, Mazzone has probably called the nearside read.  The run action freezes both flats defenders.  Creating an easy opportunity for Buckley to find a soft spot in the flats for an easy completion.  Great call vs. Cover 4.  However, Kirk on the top side of the formation is in a much better position to generate a big play.  Not too mention, is a much more dangerous player in space than Buckley.  This isn’t an error by Mond, but simply a good play that probably could have been a great play with a more mature QB.

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If Kirk catches the ball in that position, he’s primed for a huge opportunity. But, if you watch the game, Mond’s eyes never even scan to his right.  He takes a quick glance left and then snaps the ball.  It’s safe to assume this is a called play by Mazzone and Mond is not reading his coverage.

Now, let’s look at a potential post snap read.

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This is the very next play.  USC has switched coverages again.  Muschamp was wise in the game and was switching his coverages basically every snap to confuse Mond.  This is common in the SEC.  It’s only unusual if a team in major football doesn’t switch coverages a boatload throughout the game.  It’s why it’s so critical for a QB and WRs to understand coverage.

USC is showing man free coverage here.  Man on the 4 WRs and a free safety in the middle of the field.  Generally, the patterns to beat this type of coverage will send 2 deep routes down the hashes to try and force that free safety to choose between WRs.  It should create a simple read for the QB. Also note the safety is 17 yards off the LOS.

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After the snap, the safety deepens to almost 20 yards.

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The deep middle is wide open, as both WRs have inside leverage on their DBs.  Obviously, there is a safety lurking, but he is very deep and there is a soft spot in the coverage to deliver the ball, if it comes out on time.  Also note that Mond has a decent pocket to throw from.  He is looking left all the way to Buckley, which should get the safety working that way.  If you watch mature QBs, they will work the safety one way with their eyes and then throw back to the opposite hash.  Classic QB move.  But, Mond kind of freezes and never gets his eyes back around to Kirk, until its way too late.

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For whatever reason, Mond doesn’t like what he sees and holds the ball for 4 seconds and then bails the pocket.  This is a classic case of not trusting his eyes and the coverage.  This should be an easy throw if the ball is delivered on time.  But, if you hold the ball, you run your WRs right into the safeties.  It’s self mutilation by a young QB.

Obviously, we don’t know how Mond is being coached on plays like this.  But, as the Ags enter the 2nd half of the season against some really stout run defenses it will be critical to hit a handful of these plays every game.

 

Why You Can’t Play Nickel vs 2 TE Sets

Unless you absolutely commit to getting a safety in the box and/or play a much bigger 5th DB, like Gary Patterson or Kyle Whittingham or Buddy Foster, et al.

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Bama comes out in a 1 TE/ 1 HB on 1st and 10.  There is a WR on each side of the formation. #11 at HB is Gehrig Dieter who plays a kind of flex TE role for Bama.  He’s not especially big, but this could easily be replicated with a true TE which will happen at different times in the game.  I chose this cut up because the view is so good.  Ags have nickel Donovan Wilson on the field.  Donovan is reduced into a LB position by alignment.  (I’m also not sure why Myles Garrett isn’t head up on the TE in this formation? But. impossible to know how he would be instructed in this situation)

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This creates a 1 on 1 situation with Dieter vs Dono.  Bama obviously likes this alignment.  Justin Evans is circled and he is unable to factor to the run game based on his position.  He is in no man’s land.  Unable to provide coverage help on the WR on that side and unable to provide much help in run plays.

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Wilson isn’t able to reduce the running lane at all.  (Shaan Washington doesn’t fare much better)

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All Dono can do is hold on and reach.  Because he just got pancaked! Meanwhile, Damien Harris is running full speed into the safeties. Have fun with that boys. Obviously, there are other things going on in this play that lead to a big gain.  But, the 3rd LB vs a 195 safety is the mismatch here that is readily observed.

Watch it Live at 3:06:

 

Early Look at the College Football Lines

Vegas Insider

I generally reference the Westgate lines.  Things that stand out:

Florida State at Boston College +3 in a Friday night game. 

Boston College last 3 games:

Lost 23-10 to a good Vtech at home

Beat Louisville 45-42 on road

Beat Virginia 41-10 on the road

Meanwhile FSU is struggling to score vs. anyone.

Penn state +6 at Ohio State

Penn state has the defense to stop Ohio State.

Cal +3 at Colorado

Colorado just doesnt have any offense.

Minnesota +8 at Iowa

Iowa struggles to score and Minnesota has a solid D

Texas at Baylor +8 

Texas just isn’t scoring.  Not sure Baylor can do anything offensively.

Clemson -14.5 vs Georgia Tech

Clemson comes off bye and has the Dtackles and speed to shut down the read option game.  I’d expect this line to be more like 17-19.  And I really think Georgia Tech is a good team, but think Clemson is probably a little cheap based on the Syracuse loss.

Southern Cal at Arizona State +3

USC still getting too much respect and Zona State too little.