Observer Roundtable Week 4: Hurricanes-Tigers headline top-25 matchups
The consistency is real. Knocking down his third straight upset pick, Patrick Gallagher has posted 18 points in each of the first three weeks of the roundtable, establishing a 13-point advantage on a crowded leaderboard. He was one of three sportswriters, joining Aidan Thomas and Nate Moller, to nab 18 points this past week, as four of five contributors nailed their upset picks to make for a high-scoring week. The squad is red-hot right now, as everyone notched at least 10 points last week heading into week four. Check out the leaderboard and this week’s picks!
The Leaderboard after week three:
Patrick Gallagher — 54 points (18)
Liam Coolican — 41 points (14)
Dominic Gibson — 39 points (10)
Aidan Thomas — 36 points (18)
Nate Moller — 32 points (18)
#7 Miami @ #1 Clemson (-14.0)
#14 Tennessee @ #3 Georgia (-12.5)
#22 Texas @ Oklahoma (-2)
Indianapolis Colts (-1) @ Cleveland Browns
Las Vegas Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs (-11.5)
Philadelphia Eagles @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.0)
It’s been almost three years since Miami beat Notre Dame 41-8 to move to 9-0 and cement themselves in the playoff conversation. The “U is Back” chants were at an all-time high. A late season collapse, blowout loss in the ACC Championship and two underwhelming seasons punctuated by a 14-0 loss to Louisiana Tech in their bowl game, the Hurricanes are finally looking like a dangerous squad again, propelled by the arrival of transfer quarterback D’Eriq King. Winning at Death Valley is a daunting proposition, but this Miami offense has the talent to at least make that a possibility. They’re averaging 43 points per game while giving up 19. Clemson’s defense struggled with a dual-threat QB at Virginia, but they still haven’t given up more than 23 points in a conference game since 2017. I think Miami changes that Saturday, but I don’t think the defense picks up the stops to pull off the upset. Clemson wins but does not cover.
Since beating Georgia on a miraculous Hail Mary, the Vols have lost their past three clashes with the Bulldogs by an average of 32 points per contest. From all appearances, Tennessee is much better this year, and they enter the game on an eight-game winning streak that’s tied for the longest in the FBS. Winning at Athens is a daunting task, and this Georgia defense is really good. I can’t see Tennessee notching more than 17 or 20 points, and while this Georgia offense isn’t electric, their grind-it-out style should be enough against a suspect Tennessee defense. Georgia wins but does not cover.
Finally, we have the Red-River showdown. However, rather than a battle of 2-0 Big 12 squads, we have the 0-2 Sooners, fresh off a pair of upset losses, versus the 1-1 Longhorns, who suffered a loss to TCU this past weekend. In a clash of two underperforming teams I don’t want to pick to win, I’m going with Texas here, as the more experienced quarterback has traditionally had more success in this rivalry, and Ehlinger has established himself as a better quarterback than Spencer Rattler, whose clutch-time performance has been horrendous. Hook ’em — Longhorns outright.
This has the potential to be a highly entertaining battle between two red-hot teams. The Browns and Colts are both 3-1 after opening day losses, having done so in entirely different ways. Cleveland has overcome poor defense with explosive offense, while Indianapolis has allowed 29 points in their last three games. Philip Rivers and company has done enough on offense, and I think a weak Cleveland defense affords them more opportunity to put up points, while Baker Mayfield will have to maneuver the Colts’ tough defense. I see this being a tight one, but ultimately the Colts win and cover the small spread.
When the Raiders and Chiefs meet on the gridiron Sunday, it will officially be over 11 months since Kansas City last suffered a loss. However, lookout for a midseason slump, as the Chiefs started last season 4-0, before losing four of their next six games. However, I’m not sure the Raiders are the team to do it, having lost two straight games and giving up 30 points per game on defense. Their offense has been decent, but Kansas City’s defense is giving up just 17 points a contest. Add that to the fact that KC has won 10 of 11 against Las Vegas, and I don’t see the Chiefs losing. The 13-point spread is another topic, as I don’t trust the offense entirely, after two pretty inconsistent performances against the Pats and Chargers. Go with KC winning, but not covering.
This one is a really tough one, as the Eagles are unbeaten in their past two games. However, they’ve managed to look thoroughly unimpressive, and their lethargic offense should struggle against a vaunted Pittsburgh defense. Philly loses last week had it not been for Nick Mullens’ ball security, and I didn’t forget how third-string quarterback C.J. Beathard diced the Eagles’ D in the final minutes. Steelers win and cover.
And finally, for the upset pick. I broke my two-pick losing streak by nailing the Air Force upset last week, so the pressure is on to try and keep up my hot streak. I’m steering away from the Power-5 again, and I’m going with the Texas State Bobcats to nab a win as seven-point ‘dogs against Troy. Texas State played Boston College within three points are ultimately 1-2 with a pair of three-point losses. Troy is coming off a 41-point loss to BYU, and I think they will fall to the Bobcats on Saturday.
In what could be their most important game in years, I think the Hurricanes will surprise some people. The Clemson defense did not look as dominant as usual against Virginia where they allowed 270 passing yards. If the Cavaliers’ quarterback did not throw three interceptions, the score would have been much closer, and the Hurricanes should prove to be a tougher challenge this week. D’Eriq King keeps improving every game, and his star power at the quarterback position will keep the game close. However, Clemson is just too talented to bet against, so I believe the Tigers will earn the victory but will not cover.
Last week, Georgia put most of my doubts to rest. They are an elite team this year, and may even be the new frontrunner in the SEC East. The Bulldogs held Auburn to a paltry 39 rushing yards while also only allowing an average of 3.5 yards per play. Tennessee is usually somewhat reliant on having a strong run game, so Georgia’s stalwart defense will cause them many issues Saturday. Stetson Bennett also seems to be better than I thought, so I think the Bulldogs will look impressive on both sides of the ball winning and covering the spread.
The Big 12 is a mess this year. Only three teams are ranked in the top 25, strong defensive performances have been nonexistent, and, with the Big Ten set to start playing soon, a playoff spot is practically out of the question. Texas’ Sam Ehlinger has thrown for 924 yards and 14 touchdowns; however, his defense has certainly let him down as every conference opponent has scored at least 30 points against them this season. Spencer Rattler has performed at a similar level for Oklahoma, but he has thrown more interceptions. Since both defenses are equally mediocre, I believe the Longhorns’ more explosive offense gives them the edge as they earn an upset victory.
After a memorable victory over Dallas, Cleveland is off to a surprising 3-1 start to 2020. Coach Kevin Stefanski has finally seemed to click with his offense, and Odell Beckham Jr. may yet return to stardom if he sustains his momentum from last week. Baker Mayfield also appears to be improving as he has not thrown an interception in his previous two games. Nick Chubb may be injured, but I believe that this unfortunate development will allow Kareem Hunt to become a dominant rusher once again. The Colts and Phillip Rivers will take advantage of Cleveland’s weak secondary; however, the Browns offense will be too strong to overcome. Expect Cleveland to upset Indianapolis.
The Raiders need a victory this week both to improve morale and to avoid losing three straight games after a 2-0 start. Unfortunately, Las Vegas has to play the 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs. Mahomes has continued to impress, throwing for 236 yards and two touchdowns last week, and I do not expect the Raiders to be able to stop him. The key to Vegas’ success will be the performance of their running back, Josh Jacobs. He failed to break 50 yards in his last game against Buffalo and will need to reach at least 80 yards for the Raiders to win. Kansas City’s rush defense does leave much to be desired; however, I do think that the Chiefs will handle their division rival covering the spread.
While trusting in Philadelphia did end up working out for me last week, I am still not overly impressed with Carson Wentz or the team as a whole. Big Ben Roethlisberger is a significantly more dangerous offensive force than Nick Mullens, and I think that Pittsburgh will score early and often against an Eagles defense that allowed 37 points against the Rams two weeks ago. The Steelers defense is also one of the best in the league, so Wentz will probably throw at least two interceptions. Expect Pittsburgh to dominate easily covering the spread.
For my upset pick, I believe that Coastal Carolina will remain undefeated by beating No. 23 Louisiana. The Ragin’ Cajuns started off the year with a huge blowout victory against Iowa State but have struggled since then — only defeating weaker conference rivals by a few points each. On the other hand, Coastal Carolina has dominated every team that they have played. The Chanticleers’ quarterback, Grayson McCall has thrown for over 700 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, and he shows no signs of slowing down. I think this will be a very close game, but Coastal Carolina has been more consistent this year, so I expect that they will get the job done.
Miami is undoubtedly a good team, and D’Eriq King is one of the best quarterbacks in college football, but they haven’t really been tested yet. That will change this week as they head to Clemson in one of the biggest games of the year. The Hurricanes had a bye week to prepare, but it won’t matter. They won’t be able to slow down Trevor Lawrence or Travis Ettienne, and the Tigers will win big and show why they’re the top ranked team in the country. Clemson wins and covers.
Tennessee seems to be perpetually overrated in the first few weeks of the season, and this year doesn’t appear to be any different. Georgia impressed me last week, dominating a very good Auburn team. Their defense is suffocating, and Tennessee will struggle to move the ball. Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has impressed so far, but his numbers have been inflated against weak secondaries. His counterpart, Stetson Bennett will continue to surprise everyone with his play, and Georgia wins and covers.
The Red River rivalry lacks its usual luster this year, but we should be in for an exciting game nonetheless. One of these teams has to bounce back, and I think it will be the Sooners. Spencer Rattler is settling into his role, and while he is no Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts, he is steadily improving. I have no faith left in Texas after losing against a bad TCU team, and I at least have a little left in the Sooners solely based on their talent. Oklahoma wins and covers.
Pick the Browns at your own risk. They have won three in a row by barely sneaking by subpar opponents. It will be a lot tougher for them to put together quality drives against a Colts defense that is one of the best in the league, and the Browns secondary has been porous. Expect Phillip Rivers to continue his resurgence this week and lead the Colts to their fourth straight win. Colts win and cover.
The Chiefs looked shaky at times last week against a Patriots team that was missing its star quarterback. As he always does, Patrick Mahomes came through when he was needed most, and the Chiefs got the win. He’ll have it easier this week against a struggling Raiders defense, but Derek Carr and Josh Jacobs lead a high powered offense. Expect the Raiders to keep it close enough to cover the spread, but Chiefs still get the win easily.
The Eagles have looked very poor recently, tying with a bad Bengals team and barely defeating what was essentially the 49ers third string. However, the Eagles still have a lot of talent, especially on defense, and this seven point spread is a lot. The Steelers, despite being 3-0, have played an easy schedule, and they have had a limited practice schedule this week. I’ll take the Steelers to win but not cover.
For my upset pick, I’ll take Kansas State to keep rolling. I don’t buy the TCU hype, and since the season opening loss, Kansas State has played like one of the best teams in the Big 12. Their quarterback situation is uncertain after an injury to starter Skylar Thompson, but the offense still looked good last week even without him. TCU has had two close games against good teams, but the Wildcats will prove they are contenders in a wide open Big 12, and defeat TCU on the road this week.
This is a big one in the ACC this week with two top teams facing off in what figures to be a solid game. While Miami has looked very solid so far this year, we will find out what the Canes are truly made of when they face this potent Clemson team. I think the Canes will stick around at first, but I just don’t see them being able to stop Clemson on offense. Lawrence and Etienne will have big games, and when all is said and done this one won’t be close. I firmly expect Clemson to cement themselves as the best team in college football and cover the spread.
The Volunteers head to Athens in what figures to be a big SEC East showdown. This is the highest ranking the Vols have had in awhile, and I’m sure that their team will be ready to play. Georgia still has a lot of question marks on the offensive side of the ball, but they seem to have figured some of that out in their emphatic win over Auburn last week. I think Tennessee comes to play, but the Dawgs are clearly the better team here. Georgia wins but doesn’t cover.
Wow. If you would have told me this Red River showdown would feature a two loss Oklahoma team and a one loss Texas team at the beginning of the year, I would have told you that you were crazy. Nevertheless, here we are. Both of these teams are basically out of playoff contention, but their seasons can be salvaged by some extent by beating their foe across the river. While neither team has lived up to its potential, I think Oklahoma still is the better team when they are at their best. I expect Spencer Rattler to finally make some plays, I will take Oklahoma to win and cover.
The Colts and Browns have been two of the more surprising teams so far this year in the NFL. While the Browns’ record is solid right now, I am not quite believing the hype yet. Kareem Hunt has been great for them, but Baker Mayfield is definitely still a question mark at quarterback for the Browns. I picked against the Colts last week, and I am not going to do that again. The Colts are by no means flashy, but they are solid in all areas. Colts win and cover.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.