Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (party streamers sold separately in Tallahassee, where Florida State is no longer winless):
THIRD QUARTER: UNDEFEATED AWAY FROM HOME, A RISK ASSESSMENT
Eleven undefeated teams venture away from the friendly confines of their home stadium this week. The Dash ranks them in order of greatest to least risk of losing their first game of the season:
Oklahoma vs. Texas (21). Risk level: High. Line: Oklahoma by 3 1/2. As noted in the First Quarter, the Sooners (5–0) are the most overrated team in the top 10. Quarterback Spencer Rattler got going Saturday at Kansas State, but he’s still far from Peak Lincoln Riley production. Texas has covered the spread against Oklahoma seven of the last eight meetings, and the only time it didn’t was when the game went four overtimes last year. Dash pick: Texas 35, Oklahoma 34.
UTSA at Western Kentucky (22). Risk level: High. Line: WKU by 2 1/2. Living up to their nickname, the Roadrunners (5–0) have been great away from home, upsetting Illinois and Memphis. And The Dash sincerely loves UTSA workhorse running back Sincere McCormick. But this looks like a bad matchup of mediocre pass defense against the nation’s most prolific passing offense. Dash pick: WKU 42, UTSA 38.
Michigan State at Rutgers (23). Risk level: High. Line: Michigan State by five. The Scarlet Knights turned in their first true dud of the Schiano 2.0 era against Ohio State, which still has the most talent in the Big Ten. Look for Rutgers to bounce back with great intensity against a Michigan State team that may not have a third straight game with a Jayden Reed punt return touchdown. Dash pick: Rutgers 26, Michigan State 23.
Wyoming at Air Force (24). Risk level: High. Line: Air Force by four. Any team that had to stop a two-point conversion try to hold off Connecticut is highly beatable. Hello, 4–0 Cowboys, prepare for your first loss. Dash pick: Air Force 28, Wyoming 21.
Penn State at Iowa (25). Risk level: Moderately high. Line: Iowa by 2 1/2. Both teams are undefeated and this is the Game of the Week in college football. The Hawkeyes are the Field Position Kings, using defense and the kicking game to produce short fields and enable their fitful offense to move just enough. Average length of an Iowa scoring drive in 2021: just 39.6 yards. With only three turnovers on the season and good special teams play, Penn State seems unlikely to resort to the sloppitude of other Iowa opponents to date. Dash pick: Penn State 20, Iowa 17.
Michigan at Nebraska (26). Risk level: Moderately high. Line: Michigan by three. The Cornhuskers are coalescing, playing progressively better as the season unfolds. They were a botched punt coverage away from beating Michigan State in East Lansing, then unloaded on Northwestern on Saturday. However, Michigan’s defense is buttoned up and seemingly capable of limiting what Adrian Martinez can do running the ball, forcing him to be a passer. Dash pick: Michigan 28, Nebraska 24.
SMU at Navy (27). Risk level: Moderate. Line: SMU by 14 1/2. This is a trap game for the 5–0 Mustangs, who are facing an improving opponent with a problematic style of play on the road. After a dismal 0–3 start to the season, Navy led Houston at halftime and then upset UCF. SMU has to be ready to handle option football defensively and keep its passing game in high gear offensively. Dash pick: SMU 37, Navy 31.
Wake Forest at Syracuse (28). Risk level: Moderate. Line: Wake by 6 1/2. Befitting a well-coached team, Wake (5–0) is good at most of the details, which helps make a team that lacks overwhelming physical talent successful. But the Demon Deacons have given up more than 500 yards of offense each of the last two games and needed a last-minute field goal to beat Louisville in Winston-Salem. The lack of Orange passing game might prevent it from matching points with the Deacons. Dash pick: Wake Forest 30, Syracuse 24.
Georgia at Auburn (29). Risk level: Low. Line: Georgia by 14 1/2. This is a rivalry game on the road, so you never know. But all the plays Tigers quarterback Bo Nix was pulling out of the backside of his football pants at LSU are unlikely to transpire against the best defense in the country. Georgia is good enough to win on The Plains with Stetson Bennett IV at quarterback, and even more likely to win comfortably if JT Daniels is healthy enough to play. The only thing that can stop the Bulldogs in this spot is one inexplicable meltdown game they seem to throw in every season. Dash pick: Georgia 26, Auburn 10.
Alabama at Texas A&M (30). Risk level: Extremely low. Line: Alabama by 17 1/2. As noted in the Second Quarter, the Aggies are in disarray offensively, while Alabama is rolling with relentless balance in all phases of the game. The only dynamic to ponder is the Crimson Tide’s one performance in a true road game, when they were trampled on the ground by Florida and barely survived in The Swamp. Kyle Field will certainly bring the noise and intensity; it’s just a question of whether A&M can rise with it or Alabama is affected by it. Dash pick: Alabama 34, Texas A&M 14.
Coastal Carolina at Arkansas State (31). Risk level: almost nonexistent. Line: Coastal by 17 1/2. Butch Jones’s first Red Wolves team is a defensive sieve, allowing 51.8 points per game to FBS competition and a national-worst 7.99 yards per play. Enter the Chanticleers, who are second nationally in yards per play at 8.41. Grayson McCall, the nation’s most efficient quarterback, will have a field day—if Coastal has to bother passing at all. Dash pick: Coastal Carolina 55, Arkansas State 28.