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Week 4 college football picks, games, odds: Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Florida State on upset alert

The upsets were bountiful in Week 3 across college football. Troy went on the road to knock off Nebraska. North Texas not only beat Arkansas on the road, the Mean Green delivered a 44-17 punishment. LSU came from behind to nip Auburn on a walk-off field goal. 

Can Week 4 deliver in similar fashion? Several top 25 teams, including Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Clemson, are on the road as favorites. Meanwhile, can Florida State stop the bleeding against one of the best pass rushes in the game?

Each week, I’ll give you the top five upset alert games based on matchups, injuries/suspensions and other factors. Remember: “upset” is defined first and foremost by the point spread, not perception or rankings, though they are both taken into consideration. On that note, I generally avoid games whose lines are within a touchdown with exceptions being made for cases that warrant them. To make things more interesting, I’m also going on the record with the picks and keeping tabs. The scoring system is exactly the same as it is for our weekly expert picks with season-long tallies against the spread (ATS) and straight-up (SU). 

Week 3 results

Upset alert picks: 3-2
ATS: 3-2
SU: 2-3

Picks to date: 6-9
ATS to date: 7-8
SU to date: 5-10

On to this week’s picks … 

No. 8 Notre Dame at Wake Forest

When: Saturday, noon ET | Where: Winston-Salem, North Carolina | Line: Notre Dame -7.5

Why it’s listed: The Fighting Irish have played on the edge in the past two weeks. Even the Week 1 win vs. Michigan was closer in score than it should have been. Brian Kelly is 4-0 against Wake Forest, but the #Clawfense could be a pain in the butt and it’s the first road appearance of 2018 for the Fighting Irish. 

Wake Forest’s key to the game: The defensive front must continue to be stingy. The Deacons’ front seven has been disruptive and that’s going to be crucial to slow Notre Dame’s running game and make quarterback Brandon Wimbush uncomfortable. 

Notre Dame’s key to the game: Wimbush has to do better in the passing attack. He’s struggled since the Michigan game with three interceptions vs. Ball State and 5.3 yards per attempt vs. Vanderbilt. However, Wake has one of the ACC’s poorest pass defenses. If Wimbush can’t get it going here with at least the short-to-intermediate game, when will he?

Pick: Dave Clawson doesn’t get enough credit for building a winner in Winston-Salem. He’ll cook up a few items to give the Irish problems, but Notre Dame’s defense should be enough to get the job done barring a total collapse by the offense. ATS: Wake Forest, SU: Notre Dame

No. 23 Boston College at Purdue

When: Saturday, noon ET | Where: West Lafayette, Indiana | Line: Boston College -6.5

Why it’s listed: The Boilermakers are winless, but they’ve come up short thanks to a pair of walk-off field goals and a defensive personal foul penalty. This is a team catching a lot of tough breaks, and while 0-3 is 0-3, it’s not because Purdue is getting outclassed. 

Purdue’s key to the game: The defense is statistically one of the Big Ten’s worst and hasn’t forced the turnovers needed to compensate. What’s more is Boston College has the ACC’s most explosive offense. Yes, they do. The Eagles lead the conference with 27 plays of at least 20 yards. Purdue won’t stop all the chunk yardage, but it needs to make a dent. 

Boston College’s key to the game: Running back AJ Dillon is the real deal, but did you know quarterback Anthony Brown leads the country with a 240.18 passer rating? Granted, he attempts 16 passes per game, but the balance he provides is what makes the Eagles’ offense so hard to defend. 

Pick: The over/under has moved up to 68 and the over is still attractive. Boston College will score … can Purdue match? And can it finally get over the hump? I’ll actually take Boston College with a late cover because the spread is small enough, but Purdue gives the Eagles all they can handle for most of this game. ATS: Boston College, SU: Boston College

Northern Illinois at Florida State

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET | Where: Tallahassee, Florida | Line: Florida State -10

Why it’s listed: In case you haven’t heard, the Seminoles’ offensive line problems are critical. In fact, things have somehow gotten worse since the 30-7 loss to Syracuse. Northern Illinois, meanwhile, is tied for sixth nationally with 11 sacks recorded. This, as they say, is a “concern.” 

Northern Illinois’ key to the game: Can the Huskies get red zone touchdowns? For all of FSU’s problems, it has been good when the field is shorter. The Seminoles’s defense has been put in 14 red zone situations, the most of any ACC team. Yet, its touchdown conversion percentage is 35.71, which is third-best in the conference.  

Florida State’s key to the game: Let’s move on from asking for more protection up front because we all know that isn’t happening. The Seminoles will need a non-offensive touchdown — maybe two! They have one so far: a 63-yard pick-six in Week 2 that put Samford away for good.

Pick: The spread and money line have already shrunk some. Florida State players have called a meeting and it feels like only a matter of time before the defense orchestrates a mutiny. Coach Willie Taggart is used to rough starts, but this has the makings of a full-fledged implosion. Playing for pride is one thing; do the Noles have the bodies to actually start winning? ATS: NIU, SU: NIU 

No. 3 Clemson at Georgia Tech

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET | Where: Atlanta, Georgia | Line: Clemson -16.5

Why it’s listed: Ask Clemson coach Dabo Swinney what he thinks about this game. Better yet: ask Clemson defensive players about cut blocking. The game is in Atlanta, Swinney and Paul Johnson know each other well and playing the triple option is, well, no fun at all.  

Georgia Tech’s key to the game: Explosive plays. B-back Jordan Mason is averaging eight yards per carry and A-back Qua Searcy is doubling that. Quarterback TaQuon Marshall looks like the next problematic triple-option threat in Johnson’s offense. Collectively, they’re enough to frustrate any defense and the sheer volume of run plays usually means something will break open. 

Clemson’s key to the game: It’s obvious, right? Do your best to to slow the ground game — the Tigers actually held Tech under 100 yards two years ago in a 26-7 win — and force the Yellow Jackets to play from behind. 

Pick: The familiarity of these two programs and the time Swinney takes to prepare for Georgia Tech makes this a challenging out for the Tigers. Swinney has won 5-of-6 against the bees, but even the double-digit wins haven’t always been easy. ATS: Georgia Tech, SU: Clemson

No. 18 Wisconsin at Iowa

When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET | Where: Iowa City, Iowa | Line: Wisconsin -3.5

Why it’s listed: I’m breaking the touchdown rule for two simple, but obvious reasons. An Iowa win would change 1) the Big Ten West standings by giving the Hawkeyes an early leg up and 2) the perception of Wisconsin as a playoff contender. Iowa also tends to play up and is difficult at home against ranked opponents. 

Iowa’s key to the game: It has to match Wisconsin blow for blow. The Badgers can win lower-scoring games — the over/under here is 43.5 — so long as they have enough scoreboard separation (say, 10 to 14 points) to wear down opponents. When a team can stay even, it presents problems. Seven of Wisconsin’s last eight losses dating back to 2015 have been by a touchdown or less. 

Wisconsin’s key to the game: Running back Jonathan Taylor got his 100 yards on the ground against BYU, but his longest run was 15 yards and he was held out of the end zone. Wisconsin can win without a big game from him, but it’s rare. Asking quarterback Alex Hornibrook to shoulder the load is getting away from the game plan. That’s not what the Badgers want on the road against a divisional opponent.  

Pick: The Hawkeyes are one of only seven FBS defenses to not have allowed a rushing touchdown and they yield just 1.54 yards per attempt. Those numbers won’t stick forever as competition gets better, but they’re significant going into a game against one of the more productive backs in college footballATS: Iowa, SU: Iowa

What college football picks can you make with confidence in Week 4? And what title contender will get the scare of a lifetime? Visit SportsLine to see which teams are winning more than 50 percent of simulations, all from a proven computer model that has returned over $4,200 in profit over the past three seasons and was all over BYU’s stunning upset of Wisconsin in Week 3.

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