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College Football Picks 2021: Week Three


Noah Cain, Penn State

Current Picks Record: 12-6

Upset: 1-1

Superdogs: 2-0

(#1) Alabama Crimson Tide @ (#11) Florida Gators

The first major SEC conference matchup of the 2021 season is here, with a rematch of last season's SEC Championship Game. Florida gave the 2020 Alabama Crimson Tide their toughest game of the entire campaign in that game, but the Tide are heavily favored as they travel into "The Swamp".

The amazing thing about Alabama so far is that their offense doesn't yet appear to be firing on all cylinders and they're still averaging 46 points per game over their first two. Quarterback Bryce Young has asserted himself as the very early Heisman favorite and operates behind a crushing offensive line, but it will be interesting to see how the skill positions develop over the coming weeks. A pair of newcomers, Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams & true freshman JoJo Earle, have taken the early lead on the perimeter, while bruising Brian Robinson Jr. is the feature option out of the backfield. No matter how those positions develop, Florida is going to be in for a tough time containing all the weapons Alabama can throw at you. This is a talented Gator defense that so far has played well against fairly poor competition, but they've struggled the last several years to get adequate pressure on the quarterback and stop offenses on third down. With all the dynamic weapons Alabama can bring out on any down, I'm just not sure how you can feel confident in the Gators making enough stops to keep things tight.

The Gator offense is also a question mark as they head into this one. Veteran Emory Jones has gotten the first crack at running the offense following the graduation of Kyle Trask, but he has long left something to be desired as a passer. Most people around the program seem to believe that it's time for Anthony Richardson, the current backup, to take things over. Richardson is a big-play machine who is even more dangerous with his legs than Jones, but he's questionable this week due to a hamstring. My guess is that both will still play, but with Richardson limited, it will have to be Jones that will have to try and get things going. He's already thrown four interceptions on just 49 attempts so far in 2021, and a ball-hawking Tide defense will make things difficult for him. Florida has leaned on the ground game heavily this year and has relied on an offensive line that has physically dominated their opponents, but that simply won't happen against Alabama. Not having to face Tide pass rusher Will Anderson Jr. is helpful, but 'Bama still appears to have a significant advantage in the trenches. There has to be somebody that is able to open things up outside, much like Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney were able to do last fall. Jacob Copeland, Xzavier Henderson, or possibly Justin Shorter are possibilities, but there just isn't enough proven weapons on this Gator offense right now.

Going into Gainesville and getting a victory is never an easy task, but there are just too many questions surrounding the Gators right now. There's a chance their defense may be able to hang with Alabama more effectively than it did in the SEC Championship a season ago, but their offense has significantly more questions than last year's group. Unless Richardson can come in and continue the magic he's had over the first two weeks, this has a chance to be a comfortable Tide win.

The Pick: Alabama, 41 Florida, 24

(#22) Auburn Tigers @ (#10) Penn State Nittany Lions

It's been too long since we've seen one of the greatest sights in college football: a "Whiteout" game at Penn State. There are few environments as intimidating and chaotic as the Whiteout, and now Auburn has to go into Happy Valley and defeat a Top 10 Penn State team. It's a chance to build a huge resume-boosting win, but may end up being their toughest game of the season (they get Alabama at home).

Penn State's season-opening win in Madison against Wisconsin has vaulted them into early Big Ten Title contention. It's not a team without flaws, but their defense looks significantly better than the unit they trotted out in the disastrous 2020 campaign and the offense has enough pieces to be serviceable. At the helm of that offense is quarterback Sean Clifford, who hasn't looked great in 2021, but does enough to put this team in a position to win. It helps that he has a potent 1-2 combo at wide out in Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington, plus a loaded backfield that includes a healthy Noah Cain. Cain in particular is the type of hard runner that really sets the tone for the entire offense and opens things up over the top. Auburn's defense can't get sucked into run support and leave their defensive backs over-exposed like what happened to the Badgers. If it does, however, Clifford has to make the huge throws that he missed several times in that Badger game. Either way, this doesn't seem like the explosive PSU offenses that won them a Big Ten Title under Joe Moorhead's leadership, but a much more methodical unit that can take the occasional deep shot. I don't think they will be dropping 35-40 points regularly, but they might not need to with this defense.

The Auburn offense is going to look quite a bit different under new head man Bryan Harsin than under Gus Malzahn. Malzahn leaned on trick plays and gadget plays, long pass attempts and options to try and manufacture yardage. Harsin instead will want to run the ball, play well in the trenches, and occasionally open things up with play-action. So far, the Tigers are averaging 61 points per game using that method, but their two opponents have been Akron, possibly one of the worst teams in FBS this year, and a poor FCS team in Alabama State. It's quite a different story lining up against a Penn State team that has fast, aggressive linebackers and has one of the early favorites for "Transfer of the Year" in defensive linemen Arnold Ebiketie. The fact of the matter is that quarterback Bo Nix is going to have to prove that he can make the plays in big games that he simply hasn't throughout his career. Outside of his first start, when he led a miraculous comeback against Oregon, Nix has consistently struggled to play well against the best opponents Auburn faces. It's one thing to take on this PSU secondary in front of your home crowd, but I worry about Nix and his effectiveness as they go into Happy Valley. Tank Bigsby, Jarquez Hunter, and this entire run game may be able to get things going, but they need to hit the big throws to pull off a road upset.

Bryan Harsin has had a nice introduction to his Auburn tenure, going up against a terrible FBS team and pummeling an FCS opponent. This is going to be his first real opportunity to show any early returns with this Auburn program and also use this game as a measuring stick against one of the best programs in the Big Ten. I wasn't very high on this Auburn team going into 2021 and even with a pair of blowout wins to their credit, my opinion has not yet drastically changed. They won't be an easy opponent considering that there is SEC talent throughout this roster, but they simply aren't good enough to go to Penn State and take this game.

The Pick: Penn State, 31 Auburn, 20

(#19) Arizona State Sun Devils @ (#23) BYU Cougars

The third ranked-ranked matchup of the weekend kicks off at 9:15 central time, with Arizona State and BYU meeting up in Provo. Arizona State has yet to face a significant test so far on the 2021 season after a tumultuous off-season, while BYU's been a surprise, beating two straight Pac-12 foes and ending Utah's hold on the "Holy War" rivalry.

Arizona State has run through Southern Utah and UNLV to open up the year. Neither win has challenged them much at any point, so it's hard to know much about them at this point in the campaign. We do know that quarterback Jayden Daniels is one of the best signal-callers anywhere in the nation, flashing both his huge arm and stellar running ability over the first two weeks. The Sun Devil ground game as a whole has been tremendous, with the trio of Rachaad White, Daniyel Ngata, and DeaMonte "Chip" Traynum all putting up strong numbers. I am curious to see who steps up at receiver and becomes the real go-to guy for Daniels and this offense. There are an abundance of options available, but none have really stepped forward at this point in the season. BYU's defense is also a top matchup, particularly early on in the season when they're fresh. They're disciplined and have always been a physical football team that plays differently than most Pac-12 schools. This game is going to tell us a lot about Arizona State in general, but also whether the program has instilled the toughness that Herm Edwards has long emphasized throughout his coaching career.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Cougars after a magical 2020, as Zach Wilson is now a New York Jet and the entire roster was hit hard by losses. However, BYU has beaten Arizona and Utah to begin the season and is looking to add another strong win to their resume. Sophomore Jaren Hall won the quarterback job out of camp and while he's no Wilson, he's been a rock-solid passer who doesn't turn the ball over. Hall has been the perfect type of QB for what BYU now wants to do offensively; with Wilson they aired it out more than past Cougar teams but with a quality running back situation, they've returned to a power-run attack. Leading the way is bruising back Tyler Allgeier, who has all the makings of a workhorse back. He's scored just once on the year so far, but has set the tone for the Cougar offense the entire way. At wide out, BYU has several playmakers available, namely Neil Pau'u and Washington transfer Puka Nacua, but you wonder how aggressive they'll be through the air. Although it's obviously extremely early, the Sun Devils currently have the nation's fourth best pass defense. This Sun Devil secondary has always been a group that knows how to force turnovers and the offense is good enough to capitalize on them. It's going to be interesting to see how head coach Kalani Sitake and new OC Aaron Roderick handle things.

To me, this has all the makings of a toss-up game. Arizona State is the more talented team top to bottom and having Jayden Daniels is clearly a huge advantage. With that being said, going into LaVell Edwards Stadium is significantly more dangerous than the average college football fan may realize. BYU has been a program that plays especially hard at home, and their brand of football wears you down over an entire four quarters. If Arizona State can handle it, they become neck-and-neck with UCLA in the Pac-12 South conversation. It's a tall order, but I think they can do it.

The Pick: Arizona State, 26 BYU, 21

Other Picks

(#8) Cincinnati, 27 Indiana, 17 -- I'm concerned about this Indiana offense after what we saw in the opener against Iowa. Cincinnati's defense is nearly as good and their offense is good enough for them to win a slugfest.

(#3) Oklahoma, 38 Nebraska, 14 -- A redux of a classic Big 12 rivalry, I don't see Nebraska competing with the Sooners past halftime. At this point, who on the 'Husker offense is supposed to strike fear into OU?

(#6) Clemson, 45 Georgia Tech, 17 -- Although I think GT is slowly making progress under Geoff Collins, this series has been a blowout as of late. Clemson begins their quest towards another ACC Title at this spot.

(#12) Notre Dame, 21 Purdue, 20 -- Real upset opportunity for Purdue, even though the game is in South Bend. The Irish hold a five game win streak currently, but it's hard to know what you're getting out of them from week-to-week.

Upset: Michigan State, 28 Miami, 25 -- I came up just short in picking against Miami last weekend, but I think the Hurricanes are on upset alert once again. Michigan State has looked really strong over the first two weeks and they go into Coral Gables and pull off the win.

Superdog (covers > 21 spread): South Carolina (+31) @ Georgia -- I understand Georgia is currently No. 2 in the country and this game is in Athens, but I'm still shocked at this spread. Less than two years ago, the Gamecocks went into Sanford Stadium and shocked the Bulldogs. I don't think that will happen here, but they're good enough to cover over four touchdowns.

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