Week 4 picks: No. 4 Oklahoma falls at WVU, Florida-Bama, more
Editor’s note: Every Thursday during the season, Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel will present their picks for the week.
Below are Week 4’s selections (all times ET).
FLORIDA (+14.5) at ALABAMA (3:30, CBS)
Mandel: Amari Cooper has accounted for a national-high 48.5 percent of his team’s receptions, which follows a trend for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. His 2011 and ’12 USC teams also had the highest percentage of catches to one receiver. QB Blake Sims may have to spread it around more with star Gators CB Vernon Hargreaves III taking on Cooper. I could see this one being messier than anticipated, with Alabama ultimately pulling it out. Alabama 34, Florida 30.
Feldman: Kurt Roper has cranked up the tempo in Gainesville and that is something that has given Nick Saban problems. So has a mobile QB, and Jeff Driskel has pretty good wheels. I know UF had its hands full with Kentucky last week, but some of that is due to a much improved UK squad. Alabama 23, Florida 17.
UTAH (+5) at MICHIGAN, (3:30, ABC)
Mandel: I have no faith whatsoever in Michigan’s offensive line, and it’s going up against a Utah team whose hallmark is its physical play up front. In fact, the Utes lead the country with 10.5 tackles for loss per game, while the Wolverines allowed eight in their 31-0 loss to Notre Dame. I expect the Utes to dominate in the trenches, force a couple of Devin Gardner turnovers and mostly play it safe on offense to pull one out on the road. Utah 20, Michigan 14.
Feldman: The Wolverines have looked dreadful in their past two games, but I think they’ll respond and show an improved ground game with the emerging Derrick Green taking some pressure off Gardner. The Utes have outscored their first two opponents by an average of 37 ppg, but that came against an FCS school and a struggling Fresno team. Michigan 27, Utah 20.
VIRGINIA (+14) at BYU (3:30, ESPN)
Mandel: It appears Vegas is as high on the Cougars as my friend Bruce. Granted, Virginia hasn’t left home yet, but the Cavs’ defense has been impressive and could certainly disrupt BYU’s prolific rushing attack. However, the Cougars are pretty tough on the other side of the ball, too, allowing just 14.0 points per game. Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert hasn’t shown yet he’s capable of winning on the road against a havoc-wreaking defense. BYU 20, Virginia 10.
Feldman: I am a believer in the Cougars, especially with the problems Taysom Hill can give defenses. I also like how physical BYU is on both sides of the ball. As much improved as the Cavaliers are, I just think this is a tough road trip for them especially after such an emotional home win over Louisville. BYU 24, Virginia 13.
NORTH CAROLINA (+2) at EAST CAROLINA (3:30, ESPNU)
Mandel: I don’t have a good read yet on the Tar Heels, who the coaches think highly enough to include in their Top 25 poll but in their only meaningful game so far allowed 509 yards to San Diego State in a 31-27 come-from-behind win. But we know full well how dangerous the Pirates’ passing game is, and I see Shane Carden being just as productive if not more so than he was against South Carolina and Virginia Tech. East Carolina 44, North Carolina 40.
Feldman: Shane Carden’s one of the best QBs in the country and he’s got some really good weapons to work with. I also think the Pirates are mature enough to handle the come-down after a big upset win at Va. Tech, while I’m skeptical the Tar Heels have enough on D to keep up. UNC trailed Liberty into the third quarter and trailed San Diego State into the fourth quarter, and the Tar Heels just gave up over 500 yards to SDSU, which doesn’t have anywhere near as potent an offense as ECU. ECU 38, UCN 28.
MISSISSIPPI STATE (+10) at LSU (7, ESPN)
Mandel: Mississippi State’s offense has been splashy so far, but the Bulldogs haven’t played anybody. LSU’s defense has been dominant, having now pitched a shutout over its last 31 possessions, but it hasn’t faced a quarterback as capable as Dak Prescott. The Tigers won’t pitch another shutout, but they’ll make it a difficult night. The only question is whether LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings can avoid mistakes against an athletic defensive front. LSU 26, Mississippi State 13.
Feldman: This is a homecoming game for MSU’s Dak Prescott. He also is the best QB the Tigers have seen, and if this game wasn’t in Baton Rouge I’d be tempted to pick the Bulldogs in an upset, because I think their D is very underrated, but I can’t pick against LSU at home. LSU 17, MSU 14.
OKLAHOMA (+7.5) at WEST VIRGINIA (7:30, FOX)
Mandel: Oklahoma’s first trip outside its state looks a lot more difficult than it did before the season. Dana Holgorsen’s offense has rediscovered its groove thanks in part to improved play from QB Clint Trickett. But the Sooners’ defense is legit. Eric Striker and Co. know how to blow up the line of scrimmage. I can’t see the Mountaineers netting their usual production, and I certainly can’t see WVU’s defense holding down OU without CB Daryl Worley. Oklahoma 28, West Virginia 20.
Feldman: Clint Trickett is playing with a ton of confidence and Dana Holgorsen has the kind of weapons at receiver to challenge the Sooner secondary, and WVU at night can be a tricky place to play. I was tempted to stick with the Sooners after hearing that WVU will be without star CB Worley, but I’ll stick with my hunch that the Mountaineers will be able pull off the big upset. WVU 31, OU 30.
CLEMSON (+16.5) at FLORIDA STATE (8, ABC)
Mandel: I already thought FSU was getting too much benefit of the doubt even before Jameis Winston’s suspension. If Oklahoma State can give the ‘Noles problems, certainly so can Clemson. Jimbo Fisher likely will ride RB Karlos Williams in the absence of his Heisman-winning QB. That might keep the score low. But Clemson is averaging just 3.8 yards per rushing attempt. It’s hard to see that improving unless Chad Morris plans to unleash dual-threat freshman QB DeShaun Watson. Florida State 24, Clemson 13.
Feldman: Even without Jameis Winston, I don’t see the Tigers, who struggled with Georgia’s D, being able to do much damage against the Noles’ defense on the road. Short of backup QB Sean Maguire making some bad early turnovers, I still expect the ‘Noles to roll. FSU 27, Clemson 7.
MIAMI (+7.5) at NEBRASKA (8, ESPN2)
Mandel: At long last, Bo Pelini’s Huskers are back to playing Bo Pelini-caliber defense, ranking eighth nationally (4.06 yards per play). Miami RB Duke Johnson and WR Phillip Dorsett will provide a stiffer test than Nebraska’s previous opponents, but I still have more faith in the Blackshirts than I do Miami’s still-mediocre defense going against Heisman candidate Ameer Abudullah. Nebraska 27, Miami 14.
Feldman: The Canes’ D is improved (holding opponents to 3.71 yards per play), but I’m not sure it’s improved enough to bottle up Ameer Abdullah. I do expect true freshman QB Brad Kaaya to be much sharper in his second road start than he was in his debut at Louisville, and Miami’s speed will give Bo Pelini’s D some issues. Nebraska 23, Miami 20.
OREGON (-23.5) at WASHINGTON STATE (10:30, ESPN)
Mandel: Mike Leach’s teams can be wildly unpredictable from week to week – but not Oregon’s. Marcus Mariota and the Ducks are going to do their thing, and while it’s possible the Cougars’ Air Raid will have success against a good-but-not-great Oregon defense, it’s hard to envision Wazzu’s D stopping anything at all. Oregon 48, Washington State 24.
Feldman: Saw this match-up and wondered if it was ripe for some SI Jinx action. The Cougars give up big plays (they’re No. 107 in surrendering plays of 30 yards or longer) to shaky offenses, so you know they’re going to give up a bunch of big ones to the Ducks, but I think Wazzu keeps it interesting into the fourth quarter. Their offense actually displayed some good timing for the first time in a while, and QB Connor Halliday knows he needs to sprinkle more runs into the offense and that helped open up more big plays in the passing game. Still, I just don’t think the WSU D in the back seven can be disciplined enough to keep up their end in an upset bid. Oregon 56, Washington State 42.
CAL (+9) at ARIZONA (10, Pac-12 Network)
Mandel: It’s still early, but Sonny Dykes’ Bears seem to be playing with much more confidence than you’d expect from a team coming off a 1-11 season. Sophomore quarterback Jared Goff is a Top 10-rated passer who has a much better grasp of the offense than he did as a true freshman starter. Arizona’s speedy skill players will likely bust more than a few big plays against the Bears’ defense, but they’re better prepared than most for Arizona’s style of play. Cal 37, Arizona 34.
BALL STATE (+14) at TOLEDO (7, ESPN3)
Feldman: The Rockets, even without Bama transfer QB Philip Ely, still have the most seasoned O-line in the MAC and a very good RB in Kareem Hunt. BSU is coming off a dud of a performance in a loss to FCS Indiana State, but remember this is the same team that almost knocked off Iowa in Iowa two weeks ago and they should be able to get re-focused for this conference road trip. Ball State 20, Toledo 17.
Mandel season (through Week 3): 19-15 straight-up, 19-15 vs. spread
Feldman season (through Week 3): 23-10 straight-up, 15-18 vs. spread
AUBURN (-9) at KANSAS STATE
Result: Auburn 20, Kansas State 14
Mandel: If you’re of the belief that Auburn got lucky last year and won’t be nearly as fortunate this year, then this might be the game that proves you right. Crazy things happen on Thursday nights, usually to the benefit of the home team. But if you’re like me, you think this year’s Tigers offense is even scarier than last year’s what with Nick Marshall’s increased role as a passer and that Auburn is too darn fast for Bill Snyder’s team to contain. Auburn 37, Kansas State 20.
Feldman: It’s always tempting to pick a home underdog on the Thursday night stage, but I just think Auburn’s too fast and too good at what they do for the Wildcats to slow them down for four quarters. Plus, the Tigers are 13-0 against the spread in their last 13 games. Auburn 31, Kansas State 17.