The second international break of the 2021/22 season is in the books and that means we have a month of domestic and European Football coming...
Saturday, 25 September 2021
College Football Week 4 Picks 2021 (September 25th)
My Picks for Week 4 of the College Football season.
I will update the weekly totals in the Week 5 thread which should be out next Friday.
Wisconsin Badgers vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pick: After the Covid-19 pandemic forced the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0) to join the ACC for a single season, they are back playing as an Independent in 2021. The big news out of the SEC that the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners will be joining their Conference in the years ahead means there may be more pressure for the Fighting Irish to join one of their own and give themselves the best opportunity to earn College Football PlayOff spots going forward.
It may not matter so much if the PlayOff is expanded like many believe it will be, but the pressure is on the Fighting Irish to negotiate what is usually a very difficult schedule to earn their place in the post-season. Without a Championship Game, the schedule strength ends up being dictated by how well their opponents do, while one defeat is very difficult to overcome.
So far, so good for Notre Dame this season with three wins and the most impressive of those came last week against the Purdue Boilermakers. That has to be encouraging for the Fighting Irish, although they are going to be playing a Wisconsin Badgers (1-1) team coming in off a Bye and with plenty of preparation for this game likely to have taken place.
Wisconsin have dropped a game to the Penn State Nittany Lions already this season, but they will know they can redeem themselves by winning the Big Ten West Division and ultimately the Conference Championship in December. Losing another game before then will likely end their PlayOff hopes in all likelihood though and that puts pressure on the Badgers in this neutral field meeting.
Soldier Field is not that far away from either campus though and that should mean an intense atmosphere in which the players can perform.
One more than most will be looking for a big day- Jack Coan is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Quarter Back and he transferred across from the Wisconsin Badgers so there should be plenty of motivation in his mind to produce for his new team. There wasn't an acrimonious departure from Wisconsin to pump him up all the more, but Jack Coan will want to show his friends and former team-mates what he can do.
He has played well for the Fighting Irish and has thrown 8 Touchdown passes with 2 Interceptions, but Jack Coan will be keen to have more support from the run game. That looks a big ask this week against the Wisconsin Defensive Line which has been pretty stout in the first two games played, but Coan should have the knowledge to make some plays through the air and give the Fighting Irish the opportunity to secure the upset.
It has been a more difficult start to the season for Graham Mertz who has taken over from Coan as the Wisconsin starting Quarter Back. His numbers have not really impressed and this is as good a Defensive unit as he would have faced, but Graham Mertz may be able to lean on his running game to at least put the Badgers in a position to try and move above 0.500 for the season.
This battle in the trenches will be a big determining factor as to how the game will go and I do think the Fighting Irish will be looking to pick up from where they left off against the Purdue Boilermakers. That was the best all around performance of the season from Notre Dame and I do think this is a team that will feel they can earn a PlayOff spot and that means winning in Wisconsin.
If the Fighting Irish can at least restrict the Badgers on the ground, their powerful pass rush may make the difference and Notre Dame certainly feel like they are being underestimated here.
The Badgers are a team that have played really well coming out of a Bye Week and I do think that makes them dangerous. However, they are 2-5 against the spread in their last seven when set as the favourite and they are 1-6 against the spread when favoured on a neutral field.
Notre Dame are 6-2 against the spread in their last eight games on a neutral field, while they have covered the last three times they have been set as the underdog. I think there are enough points for the Fighting Irish to keep this one close in what should be a Defensive battle and Jack Coan may be the player that makes the difference for them in a potential upset.
Clemson Tigers @ NC State Wolfpack Pick: In recent years the Clemson Tigers (2-1) have not only dominated this Conference, but they have been a regular in the College Football PlayOff and also a team that has to be considered amongst the favourites when it comes to potential National Champions. Trevor Lawrence has moved on to the NFL before this season began and Clemson are having plenty of teething problems blooding in DJ Uiagalelei who had limited time playing behind Lawrence at Quarter Back.
It has seen the Tigers lose to the Georgia Bulldogs despite only allowing 10 points, while they only managed 14 points in their win over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. There is pressure on the Quarter Back to pick up his level and even Head Coach Dabo Swinney has been seen getting in DJ Uiagalelei's ear after a mistake.
They are visiting the NC State Wolfpack (2-1) this week who were expected to be the closest rivals to Clemson in this Division, but who have lost their toughest game of the season at the Mississippi State Bulldogs. However, it says all you need to know about the Clemson struggles that they are only favoured by 10 points on the road compared to the 35 point handicap spread when these teams last met two years ago.
This is still a major test for the Wolfpack who will be favourites to win the Division if they can upset the odds here, but they are facing a Tigers Defensive unit which has been performing like a National Championship contender when the Offensive unit has been struggling. No matter how long they have been spending on the field, Clemson have not given up more than 10 points in any games played this season and that kind of level will mean DJ Uiagalelei has every opportunity of getting things right at Quarter Back and put wins on the board.
Devin Leary and Zonovan Knight have both played well for NC State, but the Quarter Back and Running Back will understand the size of the task in front of them. As well as the Wolfpack Offensive Line has played in setting up Knight for big gains on the ground, they have yet to face a Defensive Line like the one Clemson will be bringing to the field and so the pressure may be on Quarter Back Devin Leary to make the plays to move the scoreboard.
He has not played badly this season with 6 Touchdown passes against 2 Interceptions, but, if the rushing Offense is clamped upon, I do think Leary is going to have issues moving the ball with consistency against the Tigers.
With that in mind you have to believe Clemson can continue their dominance of this series by winning here, but whether they cover the spread is another matter. You can't be backing Clemson with any ease and the NC State Defensive unit has played really well in the early part of the season and they are an experienced team on this side of the ball.
Like Clemson, the Wolfpack start with their powerful Defensive Line and use them to clamp down on the run and force Offenses to become a little one-dimensional. The Tigers Offensive Line is one that is learning on the job and they have only helped the team rush for 4 yards per carry so the feeling is the experience of the NC State Defensive Line can win in the trenches on this side of the ball.
It will mean all of the pressure is on DJ Uiagalelei to make the right throws to open things up on the ground for the Tigers and it is hard to lay this many points with the struggling Quarter Back. The issue that the Wolfpack may have to address is the limited pass rush they have generated though as giving any Quarter Back time to make his reads is not going to end well, but the Secondary have been good so far against largely limited opponents.
Last year felt like a tough one for Clemson who have lost plenty of skill players on the Offensive side of the ball and I still think there is much learning for them to do. It may all come together very quickly, but this feels like a lot of points for the Tigers to lay on the road against an opponent who will have been mentally looking ahead to this game for a couple of weeks.
Clemson have been a very good road favourite to back, but that has been with Trevor Lawrence at Quarter Back and that is not the case this week. They are facing a NC State Wolfpack team who are 7-1 against the spread in their last eight at home and who are 4-1 against the spread in their last five as the underdog.
As long as Devin Leary can avoid mistakes, he should be able to keep the Wolfpack competitive in this big ACC Divisional game.
MY PICKS: Notre Dame Fighting Irish + 7 Points @ 1.83 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
NC State Wolfpack + 10 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Utah Utes - 15 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Purdue Boilermakers - 11 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Baylor Bears + 7 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Auburn Tigers - 27.5 Points @ 1.95 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Duke Blue Devils - 16 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)