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College Football Picks 2023: Week Four

Kyle McCord, Ohio State

Current Picks Record: 17-10

Upsets: 1-2

Superdogs: 2-1

Locks: 3-0

(#6) Ohio State Buckeyes @ (#9) Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Line: Ohio State -3

O/U: 55.5

Notre Dame will welcome Ohio State to South Bend in the primetime game of a loaded Week Four slate, with both teams entering with something to prove. The Fighting Irish have beat up on weak competition over the first month of the season, but are looking to avenge last year's defeat at the hands of the Buckeyes. For Ohio State, some early offensive woes have led to some concerns around Columbus, which they're hoping were solved by dropping 63 points on Western Kentucky this past weekend.

Most of the attention revolves around the two offenses in this one, but I think the public is overlooking just how impressive these two defenses have looked early on. The Irish have been absolutely stifling, especially on the back-end, and despite the fact the front seven doesn't have the NFL names it has been in the past, they're going to come at Ohio State's offensive line. Of course, it does help that the offense is spearheaded by the best quarterback the Irish have had in some time in Sam Hartman, who has 13 touchdowns over four games to begin his ND career. The savvy veteran is a crisp, consistent passer who shouldn't be flustered by the grand stage here. He makes the Irish significantly more dangerous vertically, which wasn't the case in this game last fall, although he'll have to stay upright. The Notre Dame O-Line is good, but not the elite group we've seen in the past, and Hartman has taken some hits over the first several weeks. That's partly on Hartman being known for holding on to the ball and looking to make things happen, but he doesn't facing a Navy or Central Michigan pass rush here - the Buckeyes have two future high NFL Draft selections in J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer. Workhorse tailback Audric Estime is going to take pressure off this passing attack, as the bulldozing back is currently leading the nation in rushing. Yet, I still believe the X-factors in every big Notre Dame contest comes down to their receivers. I'm not quite sure who their top guy on the perimeter is just yet. There appears to be more explosiveness and they could test the Buckeyes, but do they have the athletes to compete with OSU over four quarters? This feels like a pivotal game for Notre Dame's program to show where they stand in the national picture, especially considering its at home.

After a pair of underwhelming games to begin the year, Ohio State came out and dropped 63 points and 562 yards on Western Kentucky last Saturday. Sure, the Hilltoppers don't feature the most imposing defense they'll see in 2023, but it still felt like it could be a turning point for the Buckeyes as they get into the meat of their schedule. Kyle McCord is now officially the starting quarterback and he'll have his choice of weapons at his disposal, namely Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and Julian Fleming. It's a trio that can overwhelm even the most well-built secondaries, but can McCord get them the ball? The junior just has not looked confident under center most of the year, which can be be expected as he acclimates to the starting role, but Notre Dame's defense is a different animal than he has seen. They come at you the entire way and McCord is going to take some shots. How he responds will tell us a lot about Ohio State's chances for this one, but their prognosis for the rest of the season. My greater concern for Ohio State has actually been their running game, which hasn't taken off the way I expected when I selected TreVeyon Henderson as my preseason Doak Walker Award pick. Notre Dame is not exactly the defense you want to be seeing to get out of a rushing slump. They may not have the athletes of others on Notre Dame's schedule, but they're tough and disciplined in their spots.

Like several other games on the docket for this weekend, I have gone back and forth on my pick for this primetime duel. On one hand, Ohio State has athletes they can throw at you all four quarters, but the Irish look legit and get the Buckeyes in the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium. I'm always a bit wary of picking Notre Dame in a huge game like this, but what's life without a little risk? Hartman and Estime give them enough to test the Buckeye defense and as long as they slow down McCord and company just enough, I like their chances to win a close one.

The Pick: Notre Dame, 31 Ohio State, 27

(#15) Ole Miss Rebels @ (#13) Alabama Crimson Tide

Line: Alabama -6.5

O/U: 55.5

We're entering uncharted territory in the college football universe: Alabama is not only beatable they may be... downright bad? Their performance last week against South Florida, even in a win, was perhaps the most uninspired showing I've seen from an Alabama team since Nick Saban took over. Now, they welcome 15th-ranked Ole Miss to town and a familiar foe in Lane Kiffin.

After shuffling through Tyler Buchner and Ty Simpson at quarterback last week, the Tide are back to Jalen Milroe, who started their first two games but was mysteriously absent this past weekend. Whether or not it was a suspension or something else, it's good news that Milroe is back under center for Alabama. The young quarterback is still exceptionally raw as a passer, but his ability to create with his legs gives this offense their best opportunity to move the football. He's one of the most gifted rushing quarterbacks I've ever seen, but is oftentimes a bit quick on pulling the ball down and looking to create. That's to be expected of a QB who doesn't seem particularly confident in his throwing ability, but if Alabama is going to win these types of games, Milroe is going to have to do something through the air. He has weapons, too, albeit not the Biletnikoff-esque figures we've often see throughout the Saban era. Jermaine Burton is ultra-reliable and Isaiah Bond reminds me of Jaylen Waddle with his ability to break open games after one cut. The ground game also appears ready to take pressure off Milroe, as veterans Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams have both been productive options. However, the unit that bears the most observation, perhaps even more than Milroe, is the offensive line. This has been a shockingly bad start to the year for a group that didn't look necessarily elite entering the season, but wasn't expected to be anywhere close to this terrible. They were manhandled by a South Florida defensive front that isn't exactly brimming with future NFL guys; how will they fare against an Ole Miss pass rush that could be among the best in the SEC? Tommy Rees is going to have to be creative and get the ball out fast if this offense is going to move the football.

It feels as though Lane Kiffin has had this game circled on the calendar for some time now. He's always had a fascinating relationship with Nick Saban and hasn't shied away from taking shots at the Tide throughout the week on social media. That speaks to the confidence Lane feels in his roster, but also the clear issues the Tide have shown over the season's first several weeks. Lane is going to come out swinging offensively here, and he's got a quarterback riding a hot hand in Jaxson Dart, who currently leads the Rebels in both passing and rushing. We've known Dart can throw the ball, but he's seemed to play with more confidence in 2023 and has shown impressive improvisation ability. That doesn't mean the Rebels are going to completely sideline Quinshon Judkins, if he is ready to go. Judkins is currently listed as doubtful and hasn't looked himself over the last two weeks. Former SMU transfer Ulysses Bentley IV has been their main option in relief, but this offense becomes much less intimidating with him operating alongside Dart in the backfield. The receiver corps is led by Jordan Watkins, but also misses an important name, as Tre Harris has been officially ruled out. I am curious to see whether that alters the Ole Miss gameplan at all. This has never been an offense that leans exclusively on airing it out, but you figured they were going to take their shots after seeing what Texas did to Alabama previously. Missing Harris, who is quite the deep threat, could change how they chose to attack this Tide secondary.

Doesn't this have the feeling of a game where Alabama just comes out and blows the doors off their opponent? That sounds crazy after what we saw last weekend, but we've seen this story before under Nick Saban and seen them come out and absolutely dominate after a rough showing. Having Milroe under center is another element that inspires confidence and while I do think Lane will have some tricks up his sleeve, the Tide remain a safer pick. 

The Pick: Alabama, 28 Ole Miss, 24

(#19) Colorado Buffaloes @ (#10) Oregon Ducks

Line: Oregon -21

O/U: 70

Love him or hate him, there's no denying that Deion Sanders has been the story of the 2023 college football season, to this point. "Coach Prime" has never been one to shy away from the spotlight and that attention has been magnified after Colorado's 3-0 start. Now comes the real test: Keeping things going as the Buffaloes travel to Eugene to meet up with No. 10 Oregon.

Sean Lewis, formerly the head man at Kent State, has engineered a thrilling Colorado offense over the first three weeks of the season. It helps that quarterback Shedeur Sanders has been as good as advertised, with over 1,200 yards and 10 passing touchdowns over the season's first three games. Shedeur has the same boundless confidence of his dad, but backs it up with a lively arm and superb football IQ. It's particularly impressive that he's been so good despite an offensive line in front of him that has been okay at best, and now will feature a host of future NFL Draftees in the Oregon Duck defensive front. Colorado has survived by drawing up quick passing plays for Sanders to get the ball out quick, but that's not a strategy that's going to last forever. The offensive line is either going to have to start playing better, or the offense becomes even more one-dimensional than it has been over their first three games. The arrival of Houston transfer Alton McCaskill, who is healthy after missing all of last season with a torn ACL, could help, but the Ducks are a physical defense that are likely to be extra aggressive in this one. With that being said, I do have real questions about the Duck secondary, which was burned in Week Two by Texas Tech. Even without Travis Hunter, Colorado has legit perimeter talent and they draw up interesting route concepts. This is going to tell us a lot about how good this Oregon defense truly is.

For as exciting as the Colorado offense has been this fall, Oregon's is statistically stronger, currently averaging 58 points per game. Those numbers are a bit inflated by the fact they dropped 81 points on Portland State in the opener, but there's no denying this is a potent group led by a veteran quarterback in Bo Nix. Nix is one of my favorite players in college football, a player who received an absurd amount of hate throughout his career at Auburn but has battled through it to become one of the best in the country. It helps that there's a whole lot of help around him in this Duck offense, with Troy Franklin and Tez Johnson out wide, and the trio of Bucky Irving, Jordan James, and Noah Whittington running wild in the backfield. There's so many different ways the Ducks can hurt you, whether it's playing pound-the-ball, smash-mouth football, or airing it out and testing defenses vertically. They're tough and fundamentally sound up front and should have a clear edge over the Buffs in the trenches. As for Colorado's pass defense, I'll be curious to see how they look without Hunter. He's obviously the big name back here, but others have stepped up and deserve credit, too. Whether they're able to hold Nix and company in check will go along way in determining their chances.

Even before the Hunter injury, going on the road and beating a legitimate Top 10 team like Oregon felt as though it would be an uphill battle for Colorado. With that being said, I think the Buffs have a chance to keep things tight, and I love their chances to cover the three-touchdown spread. The offense still has ample weapons and will test a questionable Duck secondary, and if the defense can create a few turnovers, this could get interesting. Yet, it feels unwise to bet against Oregon, a team that's healthier, deeper, and playing at home.

The Pick: Oregon, 45 Colorado, 31

Other Picks

(#4) Florida State Seminoles @ Clemson Tigers -- I've gone back-and-forth with this one, too. Clemson seems to have find its rhythm and will give FSU real headaches in the trenches, but having Jordan Travis is the differentiator for the 'Noles.

The Pick: Florida State, 34 Clemson, 27

(#22) UCLA Bruins @ (#11) Utah Utes -- The Bruins outclassed Utah in this matchup a season ago, but now have to travel to Salt Lake City, where the Utes never lose. It also appears Cam Rising is set to make his return, giving me more reason to roll with the home folks.

The Pick: Utah, 26 UCLA, 21

(#24) Iowa Hawkeyes @ (#7) Penn State Nittany Lions -- A game overshadowed by Ohio State-Notre Dame in primetime, these two always play close games. But, I don't believe the Hawkeyes have enough offensive firepower to survive sixty minutes of a "Whiteout" game.

The Pick: Penn State, 30 Iowa, 17

Upset: (#17) North Carolina Tar Heels @ Pittsburgh -- Another week where I don't feel great about any of these upset opportunities. But, I'll take a stab at Pittsburgh shocking the Tar Heels, even after the Panthers are coming off an ugly "Backyard Brawl" defeat.

The Pick: Pittsburgh, 28 North Carolina, 27

Superdog (covers > 21 point spread) UAB Blazers (+43) @ Georgia Bulldogs -- Wide spreads like these are always tempting "Superdog" plays and the Bulldogs didn't exactly look like world-beaters last weekend against South Carolina.

The Pick: Georgia, 42 UAB, 7

Lock of the Week: Minnesota Golden Gophers (-11.5) vs. Northwestern Wildcats -- It appears as though the Gophers are still figuring things out offensively, but I'm still a tad surprised at this line. We've seen nothing from Northwestern over the first three weeks to believe this is going to be an ultra-competitive game.

The Pick: Minnesota, 31 Northwestern, 13

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