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Saturday, 10 September 2016

College Football Week 2 Picks 2016 (September 10th)

The first week of the College Football season has proved to be a difficult one to read for the purposes of spread picks, but what an entertaining affair all in all. Close games, stunning comebacks and some big time upsets were spread across the four days the games were played.

In that regard I was quite glad to come away with a small win on the week, although it could have been a whole lot better with a bit of luck or a whole lot worse without a couple of plays going my way.

Therefore I am happy with the start made and will be looking to pick things up in Week 2. This is not as strong a slate of games as we have had in Week 1, while I don't have as many picks as I did last week, but more wins to keep this season moving in a positive direction would be most welcome.

Penn State Nittany Lions @ Pittsburgh Panthers Pick: I picked the Penn State Nittany Lions to cover the spread against the Kent State Golden Flashes but they came up short in an unconvincing performance in Happy Valley. A new Offensive system was being worked on in that game and Penn State did win by twenty points and I am looking for them to keep this rivalry game close against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

It used to be an annual meeting between these in-State rivals but this is the first time Penn State and Pittsburgh play one another since 2000. That is a long time so expect plenty of bragging rights to be earned here and this is a chance for James Franklin, the Nittany Lions Head Coach, to put together a win that might ease up any pressure on his role.

Back to back 7-6 finishes have not been good enough for the HC who had turned around the Vanderbilt fortunes and Penn State have to improve markedly. Offensively this is the unit that resembles best what Franklin wants from his team, but the Offensive Line have to improve to give Saquon Barkley the running lanes his talent can expose.

It was a disappointing performance from the Offensive Line and they need to be much better when coming up against this Panthers Defense. It will be a big issue as the Pittsburgh Defensive Line is amongst the best in the ACC Conference and they have been tough to run against over the last twelve months. A scrambling Quarter Back will help Penn State, but they might have to iron out a few issues on Offense again this week.

Franklin can rely on a strong Defensive unit to keep Penn State in this game though after securing seven Sacks last week as well as three turnovers. It has to be said that again the competition level will ramp up, but Pittsburgh didn't exactly light up the boards when facing Villanova in Week 1.

Nathan Peterman might be in his second year with the Panthers and more experienced, but he didn't have the best game in Week 1 at Quarter Back. The loss of Tyler Boyd at Wide Receiver to the NFL was always going to hurt, but it was the Offensive Line's inability to open the rushing lanes expected that meant James Connor was restricted and Peterman was playing from third and long.

Pittsburgh should have more success opening those lanes this week against an inexperienced Penn State Defensive Line, even if most Big Ten lines are going to be tough to run against. However Kent State had some success so I wouldn't be surprised if Pittsburgh can establish Connor which will only aid Peterman's game even more.

There will be some pressure generated on Peterman which can slow down drives and I also think the Penn State Offense is going to be better this week. They are just 0-4 against the spread as the road underdog since James Franklin took over as Head Coach, but his Vanderbilt squad improved in that role through his three seasons in charge there and I am expecting Penn State to be more competitive in road games as the dog.

Also it has to be said that Pittsburgh have struggled as home favourite while I think the rivalry is going to make this a competitive game. As I said, I am expecting Penn State to iron out some of the issues on Offense to keep this one closer than the layers think and I will back them with the points.

Connecticut Huskies @ Navy Midshipmen Pick: After losing Keenan Reynolds as Quarter Back to the NFL following an 11-2 season, it was always likely to be a season when the Navy Midshipmen took a step back. They have just one returning starter on the Offensive side of the ball and then were hit by the injury bug in Week 1 as new starting Quarter Back Tago Smith was lost for the season.

This is a blow to Navy's chances of winning the American Athletic Conference, but Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo has guided the team to at least eight wins in all but one of his eight years in the role. The Navy are always going to be a solid team when it comes to avoiding penalties and Will Worth will come in as Quarter Back for the rest of the season as a Senior with leadership qualities.

It will be a challenge for Worth and the Navy Offense going up against the Connecticut Huskies who played very well Defensively last year. They only allowed 19.5 points per game, but they continue to have their own struggles Offensively.

I am not sure the Huskies match up as well with Navy as they do with many teams because their strength is not up front on the Defensive Line. It has been possible to run against the Connecticut Defensive Line and they allowed more yards per carry last season than in the first year under Bob Diaco as Head Coach.

That won't bode well against the Navy Offense which is geared to play the option and I do think the Midshipmen will find enough running lanes to keep the Offense rolling.

Of course Navy might not need a boatload, pardon the pun, of points to win this game as Connecticut struggled Offensively in Week 1. This is a team that has scored 15.5 points per game and 17.2 points per game in 2014 and 2015 and even though they had 10 returning starters this season, Connecticut needed a Field Goal with 11 seconds left to beat Maine in Week 1 having scored 'just' 24 points in that game.

Connecticut should have some success trying to establish the run in this one, but not enough to keep Bryant Shirreffs from having to try and be the dominant playmaker from Quarter Back as he was last week. Shirreffs had 257 total yards in the opener, but you have to think Navy's Defensive unit will know how to play a spy on the Quarter Back with enough effectiveness to get the ball out of his hands.

The Navy Defensive Line might be a little underrated and I think the whole team is going to rally to make up for losing their starting Quarter Back in Week 1. I think Navy are perhaps a little underrated in this game now having seen three points sliced off the spread after the injury to Smith and I think they can score enough points to cover against this Connecticut Huskies team that has struggled to score points.

The Huskies are just 3-6 against the spread as the road underdog since Diaco came in as Head Coach and they are 5-11 against the spread in Conference games. Navy are 11-5 against the spread as the home favourite, were 6-2 against the spread in Conference play last season after joining the American Athletic Conference, and will play with the added motivation of the loss of their starting Quarter Back.

Shirreffs may make some plays for Connecticut to keep them competitive for a while, but I expect Navy to wear them out with the option Offense and cover this number.

Old Dominion Monarchs @ Appalachian State Mountaineers Pick: Last week it looked like the Appalachian State Mountaineers were up to their old tricks as they came close to upsetting a Power 5 team. In 2007 Appalachian State upset Number 5 Ranked Michigan Wolverines, and in Week 1 they came so very close to upsetting the Tennessee Volunteers on the road, a team considered to be favourites by many to win the SEC East.

An Overtime loss might mean there is a big letdown for Appalachian State this week, but a team that was 11-2 last year and returning 15 starters is likely going to use that as motivation for more this time around. Surpassing 11 wins looks impossible with Tennessee already escaping with a win and the likes of the Miami Hurricanes to play, but Appalachian State should be looking to return to a Bowl Game perhaps as the Sun Belt Champions.

The Wide Receiver position has lost a number of key players, but Taylor Lamb remains for the Mountaineers at Quarter Back and they showed they are still going to be one of the stronger teams outside of the Power 5 Conferences. This is a team that will run the ball down the throat of any team they face and being able to average 4.3 yards per carry against a strong SEC Defense can only bode well for them.

Last season the Mountaineers put up 303 rushing yards against the Monarchs Defense but this won't be as easy this time around. Now Old Dominion have an experienced Defensive Line with depth to it, although they have allowed almost 200 rushing yards per game in four straight seasons which suggests the Mountaineers will be able to move the chains on the ground.

That should open things up for Lamb to be able to make plays with his arm and the question for Old Dominion is can they make enough Offensive plays to keep this one competitive. They were shutout by Appalachian State last year but they have nine starters returning this time which provides stability.

It was the failure to run the ball which cost Old Dominion last year, but Appalachian State were expected to drop back from their strong Defensive Line play having lost Ronald Blair. That wasn't the case in Week 1 as they held an SEC Offense to 3 yards per carry off 43 attempts and that makes the Mountaineers a very tough team to beat.

Appalachian State have been incredibly strong Defensively since the second half of the 2014 season and they have nine returning starters which means they should still put up the same kind of numbers as the last year and a half. You do have to think the Monarchs will be improved having an experienced Offense, but they are facing the Sun Belt Conference's best Defensive unit and it might be difficult for Old Dominion to make this much more competitive than last year's blowout loss at home.

My one concern has to be that the Mountaineers have not been the best team for covering as the home favourite and especially not as the big home favourite. They have not covered as a 20 plus point favourite in their last three home games, but I am going to back Appalachian State this week in a game where they look to be strong enough on both sides of the ball to win this by more than three Touchdowns.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons @ Duke Blue Devils Pick: This is a big season for Dave Clawson as Head Coach of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons having gone 6-18 in his first two seasons here. They looked far from sharp in their win over the Tulane Green Wave in Week 1 and big improvements are needed in their first ACC Conference game in Week 2.

The first Conference game is against the Duke Blue Devils who are expected to be amongst the weaker teams in the Conference. It was in 2013 when they reached the ACC Conference Championship Game, but Duke have slipped from the 10 wins in 2013 to 9 and then 8 wins coming into this one. The Blue Devils were the more impressive winner in Week 1 and David Cutcliffe is considered one of the better Head Coaches out there as he continues to get this basketball infatuated school to remain interested in the football season.

The experience edge is going to the Wake Forest side of the field in this one, but Duke have plenty of returning starters too in this fascinating game at the bottom of the ACC.

Regardless of the number of starters back, Wake Forest didn't look much improved last week on the Offensive side of the ball. They continue to struggle to run the ball and John Walford could not get the passing game ticking along for a team that has averaged 18.5 points per game or fewer in the last four seasons.

It is unlikely to change much against the Blue Devils who were stout against the run last year and have brought back a Defensive Line with a lot more experience than in 2015. The Duke Defense was a little inconsistent last year, and they did have a difficult time in the finale against Wake Forest, but they have held the Demon Deacons to 21 points in each of the last three meetings.

They key to this game is whether Duke can put together enough Offense against an underrated Defense to win this game and cover the number. The Blue Devils were outgained by Wake Forest in their game last year, and there is enough experience on the Demon Deacons Defensive unit to make life tough for them in this one despite giving up 431 total yards last year.

The Offensive Line does offer enough protection for Duke to make some plays and that might be enough with the Wake Forest Offense expected to have another difficult outing. The Blue Devils were a poor 1-4 against the spread as the home favourite last season, but they are 17-10-1 against the spread in that spot under David Cutcliffe and I think they will have too many points for Wake Forest to stay with them.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders @ Vanderbilt Commodores Pick: This was supposed to be the season the Vanderbilt Commodores took a step forward under Derek Mason, but the bubble would have burst after a Week 1 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks. That home loss means the pressure is on Mason to find the right formula for the Commodores in this game as they take on Conference USA Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.

It has been tough for Mason as Head Coach as Vanderbilt have won 7 games in his two seasons in charge which came on the heels of James Franklin's time as Head Coach. The last two seasons under Franklin saw Vanderbilt win 18 games and things were not helped last week with the Commodores struggling to determine their Quarter Back.

That meant both Kyle Shurmur and Wade Freebeck got reps behind Center and that ruined the rhythm of the Offense for the Commodores. This isn't a good match up for them against the Blue Raiders Defensive unit though as Vanderbilt will be looking to establish the run to open up the passing lanes and Middle Tennessee have one of the stronger Defensive Lines in their Conference.

It doesn't mean much when going up against SEC level competition, especially not with Ralph Webb the star Running Back for Vanderbilt, but Middle Tennessee allowed their best rushing numbers since 2009 last year. They are bringing back the majority of that Defensive Line this season too although the Blue Raiders did have a difficult time when facing the Vanderbilt rushing Offense last season.

You can have little doubt that both Head Coaches will see that as the standout match up when the Commodores Offense comes up against the Blue Raiders Defense. The winner of the battle in the trenches will likely be the team that wins this game as the other side of the ball suggests the Vanderbilt Defense will have enough to at least slow the Middle Tennessee Offense.

Vanderbilt are solid at all three levels of the Defensive unit and it is going to be tough for Middle Tennessee to move the chains consistently. Brent Stockstill played well at Quarter Back last week, but he is learning a new system and he won't have a lot of help from the running game.

A couple of turnovers last week bothered Middle Tennessee against an overmatched opponent and they were outgained by Vanderbilt by almost 100 yards last year. I just don't know Vanderbilt should be asked to cover this many points against any team and last week I backed South Carolina with the points simply because of that.

The Commodores are just 2-5 against the spread as the home favourite under Derek Mason and this has the feeling of a low-scoring game which means getting this many points looks too difficult to ignore.

South Carolina Gamecocks @ Mississippi State Bulldogs Pick: Last week I picked the South Carolina Gamecocks to keep it close against the Vanderbilt Commodores, but I wasn't quite sure I expected them to win the game outright. They were considered the weakest of the teams in the SEC East and now South Carolina head on the road to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs who were polled to finish last in the SEC West.

Will Muschamp is trying to rebuild his reputation as a Head Coach and his strength has always been on the Defensive side of the ball. It might already be clear that Muschamp will get this South Carolina Defense turned around after two poor seasons and they played well enough in the opener to give him confidence they can do so.

Losing Dak Prescott in the Draft was always going to be a big blow for the Bulldogs to absorb, especially as he has impressed enough in pre-season in the NFL to start for the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1. It was still a shock to see Mississippi State struggle to throw the ball against the South Alabama Jaguars last week as they were upset at home and it looks like they will focus on pounding the ball to get this team into rhythm.

That was an area they thrived against the Jaguars in Week 1, but South Carolina looked improved on the Defensive Line against Ralph Webb and the Commodores. However, Mississippi State have an Offensive Line that looks like it is going to be capable of opening holes so the question for the Gamecocks is whether they can find enough Offense to keep up with the Bulldogs on the scoreboard.

It will depend on whether the two Quarter Back system employed by Muschamp can be more effective than in Week 1. It has already been announced that Perry Orth will start the game but there will be plays for Brandon McIllwain at Quarter Back but they were not as strong throwing the ball as they will need to be in this game.

Bryan Edwards had a huge game at Wide Receiver and the Offensive Line was good in pass protection even if they did not open the running lanes as they would have liked. After seeing South Alabama throwing at will against this Secondary, the key for South Carolina is to make enough plays through the air which might open spaces up front that they can pound into First Downs.

South Carolina have won 7 in a row in the series but I am expecting the Bulldogs to snap that run. However I think the Gamecocks are getting too many points and Will Muschamp teams are now 7-2 against the spread as the road underdog after winning outright in Week 1.

There are a couple of trends that favour Mississippi State but this looks a lot of points in what could be another battle in the SEC with South Carolina having had a couple more days to prepare. Getting more than a Touchdown worth of points looks generous and I will back the Gamecocks to cover.

Tennessee Volunteers v Virginia Tech Hokies Pick: There are going to be 150,000 spectators in the Bristol Motor Speedway which will make it a record attendance for a College Football game. The game is being played almost exactly halfway between the Tennessee Volunteers and Virginia Tech Hokies campuses and that should mean plenty of support for both teams.

If things had gone even a little differently in Week 1, Tennessee would have been coming in to this game off the back of a huge upset and with their high expectations in pre-season already having been burst. The win over Appalachian State might have seen a number of people still jump off the Volunteers bandwagon, but I believe they will have learnt from the experience.

It is easy to also put that performance down to the fact that Tennessee could have been looking ahead to this week, although the players have been quick to say this is about winning a football game rather than the excitement of playing in such an unusual setting. 

Tennessee are off a strange performance Offensively with Joshua Dobbs taking most of the criticism for his performance at Quarter Back. However he was not helped by an Offensive Line that is supposed to be one of the best in the SEC but who struggled to open the rushing lanes for Dobbs and Jalen Hurd last week and they will be tested significantly in this one.

However it has to be noted that Virginia Tech are coming off a season when they struggled to stop the run and that Defensive Line has lost three players who were key for them, two of those being Drafted to play in the NFL. They looked good against Liberty last week, but Virginia Tech were not playing a SEC team that have something to prove then.

The Tennessee Offense is one that has improved in terms of points per game and yards per game in each of the last three seasons and I think there is more to come from them. They didn't play well against Appalachian State, but I think they might have expected less from their opponent and that won't be the case this week.

Butch Jones has also seen his Tennessee Defensive unit produce improved numbers in each of the last four seasons and they will be looking for another improvement. He is going up against a Head Coach I really like in Justin Fuente but it will take him a little time to get this Virginia Tech team up to speed to compete with teams of the levels of the Volunteers.

While I do think Virginia Tech will have some joy establishing the run, they have an inexperienced Quarter Back at this level in Jerod Evans. Against that improving Tennessee Defensive unit, I will look for the Volunteers to make enough big plays on that side of the ball to couple with a much improved Offensive showing to help the Volunteers cover this number.

The Volunteers are 3-0 against the spread in neutral field games the last two seasons under Butch Jones and I will look for them to improve that trend.

Texas Tech Red Raiders @ Arizona State Sun Devils Pick: Both the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Arizona State Sun Devils might be going into Week 2 with a 1-0 record, but there were some contrasting performances in Week 1. The Red Raiders looked very strong in their win, but the Sun Devils were fortunate to get out of jail with their own win having only outgained Northern Arizona by just 31 yards.

Since the opening number, all of the smart money has come in on the Texas Tech Red Raiders which has seen this number shrink all week. I still believe the Red Raiders are the more likely winners of the game outright so taking the points looks to be the right call.

Neither team is going to the Play Offs this season barring some remarkable turn around in fortunes, but both teams could be really good fun to watch behind powerful Offenses. It is those units that will likely dominate this game and this could very much come down to which of these teams holds the ball last to determine who wins.

A new Defensive scheme did not work for Texas Tech last season but being in the second year of that system should be important to see them improve. Texas Tech could not stop the run last season and losing key players on the Defensive Line is not going to bode well against an Arizona State team that will be expected to run the ball effectively all season.

Arizona State will have to run the ball so they can keep the Red Raiders Offense off the field and also to protect Manny Wilkins at Quarter Back. Wilkins did have a strong showing in Week 1, but this is another level up although he will likely run the ball effectively too.

I fully expect the Sun Devils to move the chains, but the same can be said for the Red Raiders who have the experienced Patrick Mahomes leading from Quarter Back. He accounted for six Touchdowns last week and off a great season for the Red Raiders he is now going up against a Sun Devils Defense that has allowed plenty of big plays.

His Offensive Line has to be able to protect the mobile Mahomes and they will be tested to the maximum by the Sun Devils pass rush with plenty of Blitz packages being sent towards them. If Mahomes can pick those up pre-snap, the Red Raiders could make a number of huge plays in this one which will tough for Arizona State to match.

The Sun Devils have struggled as the home favourite in the last couple of years, but Texas Tech are 5-3 against the spread as the road underdog in that time. I don't want to overreact to the way these teams played in Week 1, but Texas Tech look the better team and I will take the points in this one.

Virginia Cavaliers @ Oregon Ducks Pick: This is not the Oregon Ducks of even a couple of years ago that made the Play Offs and the expectation is not as great this season. It does mean the pressure is on Mark Helfrich who oversaw the Ducks winning fewer than double digit games in a single season since the 2007 season last year but they made a decent start after early jitters.

Dakota Prukop has come in from Montana State to lead at Quarter Back and he had made a good start for Oregon although the tests will significantly increase moving forward. However this might not be one of those as Virginia are not bringing back many of their Defensive Line players and who struggled to do anything right against Richmond in Week 1 in a new system.

That isn't going to cut the mustard against Royce Freeman and the Oregon rushing attack and the Cavaliers giving up 4.8 yards per carry against Richmond is a real worry. The Cavaliers gave up over 32 points per game last season and there is no doubting that this Oregon team can score plenty of points.

I can see a situation where this develops into something of a shoot out between these teams as Virginia should be able to establish the run and move the chains against an inexperienced Defense. Oregon struggled on this side of the ball in 2015 too and so Virginia have to feel they can score points, but they are learning systems under Bronco Mendenhall and the fact they only managed 20 points against Richmond has to be an issue.

Mendenhall teams have been solid on the road as the underdog, but I think Oregon pull away in the second half of this one. The Ducks might not be the home favourite of recent years that have gone 35-27-2 against the spread in this spot, but I will back them to cover the points in this one.

MY PICKS: Penn State Nittany Lions + 5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Navy Midshipmen - 3.5 Points @ 1.87 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Appalachian State Mountaineers - 21 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Duke Blue Devils - 5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders + 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
South Carolina Gamecocks + 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Tennessee Volunteers - 11.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Texas Tech Red Raiders + 2 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
Oregon Ducks - 23.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

Week 1: 6-5, + 0.58 Units (11 Units Staked, + 5.27% Yield)

Season 201587-77-2, + 2.77 Units (166 Units Staked, + 1.67% Yield)
Season 201475-82-2, - 13.39 Units (172 Units Staked, - 7.78% Yield)
Season 201365-49-2, + 8.49 Units (124 Units Staked, + 6.85% Yield)
Season 201254-59-1 - 7.11 Units (114 Units Staked, - 6.24% Yield)
Season 201163-36, + 23.25 Units (99 Units Staked, + 23.5% Yield)

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