BY DAVE MATTER • Post-Dispatch College Football Writer
A great slate of games will hopefully improve our success rate when it comes to picking against the spread this week, starting with Missouri’s SEC opener against the Gamecocks of South Carolina, the resumption of a series that never disappoints.
SOUTH CAROLINA AT MISSOURI
Kickoff: 3 p.m., SEC Network Alternate
Line: Missouri by 9½
Quick Hit: That’s a big number for a team that’s lost three straight to the Gamecocks. But Vegas doesn’t care about 2016 when it sets the spreads. This is about 2019 Missouri and 2019 South Carolina, and through three weeks, the Gamecock defense looks awfully suspect. Kelly Bryant faces his old in-state rival, a team he beat 34-10 two years ago at Clemson. The Gamecocks counter with freshman QB Ryan Hilinski in his first career road start. He showed off his arm and toughness last week against Alabama, but his offense struggled to punch in touchdowns when it needed them most.
Whatever happens Saturday, don’t give up if behind 14-0 … or start celebrating a 14-0 lead. In four of the last six meetings, the winning team overcame a double-digit deficit.
Matter's Pick: Missouri 34, South Carolina 30
NO. 4 LSU AT VANDERBILT
Kickoff: 11 a.m., SEC Network
Line: LSU by 24
Quick Hit: Vanderbilt hasn’t scored in double digits against LSU in their last six meetings. It’s going to take more than that to outscore the Joe Burrow Express. The Commodores have the SEC’s worst defense through three weeks, giving up 510 yards and 36 points per game. Burrow gets to pad his Heisman Trophy stats for another week.
Matter's Pick: LSU 38, Vanderbilt 10
TENNESSEE AT NO. 9 FLORIDA
Kickoff: 11 a.m., ESPN
Line: Florida by 14
Quick Hit: Here’s the sobering part about Tennessee’s lousy start: Florida was supposed to be the first expected loss of the Vols’ season. Instead, they flopped against Georgia State and choked against BYU and now sit 1-2 with maybe two games left they’ll be favored to win. The Gators have won 13 of 14 in the series and last year feasted on six Tennessee turnovers. Florida became the latest SEC East team to lose its quarterback last week when Feleipe Franks was lost for the season, but backup Kyle Trask has enough around him to continue the Vols’ season of disarray.
Matter's Pick: Florida 37, Tennessee 20
NO. 11 MICHIGAN AT NO. 13 WISCONSIN
Kickoff: 11 a.m., FOX
Line: Wisconsin by 3½
Quick Hit: Michigan squeezed the cheese out of Wisconsin 38-13 last year, the Badgers’ worst loss under Paul Chryst. But fortunes have flipped. The Wolverines now look shaky, especially on offense. Wisconsin has been unstoppable through two weeks. The most popular stat of the week is Jim Harbaugh’s record as an underdog at Michigan: 0-6, dating back to his debut game in 2015. That streak includes a 24-10 loss at Wisconsin two years ago. The Wolverines have the talent to make a playoff run, but something isn’t clicking so far — not like they are at Wisconsin.
Matter's Pick: Wisconsin 21, Michigan 17
NO. 23 CAL AT OLE MISS
Kickoff: 11 a.m., ESPNU
Line: Ole Miss by 2½
Quick Hit: Cal is an early surprise, having already knocked off Pac-12 favorite Washington. Pay attention to Bears coach Justin Wilcox. If he can win at Berkeley, he’ll be a name to watch for bigger and better Power 5 jobs. (He was Derek Dooley’s defensive coordinator at Tennessee and might not look bad in orange if the Jeremy Pruitt experiment doesn’t get better.) The Rebels have recovered from a Week 1 loss to Memphis but haven’t exactly controlled wins over Arkansas and Southeastern Louisiana. The Matt Luke regime might be on shaky ground with a loss at home — with a visit to Alabama next on the schedule.
Matter's Pick: Ole Miss 27, Cal 24
NO. 8 AUBURN AT NO. 17 TEXAS A&M
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m., CBS
Line: Texas A&M by 3 ½
Quick Hit: Time to see who’s for real in the SEC West. The Aggies’ best claim is staying within two touchdowns of Clemson. Auburn outlasted Oregon on a neutral field. Can freshman QB Bo Nix extend the Tigers’ fortunes at Kyle Field, where they’re 3-0 since Texas A&M joined the SEC? Auburn has the defensive front to corral Kellen Mond and the Aggies’ attack, but this one comes down to Nix vs. the 100,000 throng of Aggies. Huge test for the rookie.
Matter's Pick: Texas A&M 23, Auburn 20
KENTUCKY AT MISSISSIPPI STATE
Kickoff: 3 p.m., SEC Network
Line: Mississippi State by 6 ½
Quick Hit: Quarterback injuries affected both teams last week. Kentucky is now 0-1 behind backup-turned-starter Sawyer Smith, who threw three interceptions against Florida. Tommy Stevens left last week’s game against Kansas State and freshman backup Garrett Shrader couldn’t finish off the Wildcats. A loss will all but eliminate Kentucky from contention in the SEC East, though the Cats never figured to push Georgia in the division this year.
Matter's Pick: Mississippi State 31, Kentucky 24
OKLAHOMA STATE AT NO. 12 TEXAS
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m., ABC
Line: Texas by 6
Quick Hit: Mike Gundy’s Cowboys have the distinction of featuring both the nation’s leading rusher and receiver. It’ll take a prolific day from the Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace tandem to outscore Texas, back at home for the first time since the shootout loss to LSU. The Pokes have won seven of the last nine meetings, including each of the last four, two of those in Austin. Can Gundy make it five straight?
Matter's Pick: Texas 38, Oklahoma State 37
NO. 7 NOTRE DAME AT NO. 3 GEORGIA
Kickoff: 7 p.m., CBS
Line: Georgia by 14
Quick Hit: The rematch of Georgia’s 20-19 win in South Bend two years ago doesn’t figure to be as competitive, especially in Athens. Georgia doesn’t have any clear weaknesses and cements its standing as a strong playoff contender with another win in the series. Count on it — maybe even a blowout.
Matter's Pick: Georgia 35, Notre Dame 17
NO. 10 UTAH AT USC
No. 10 Utah at USC
Kickoff: 8 p.m., Friday, FS1
Line: Utah by 4
Quick Hit: If the Pac-12 wants to produce a playoff team, the Utes might be the league’s best bet and its most complete team. USC has the talent but can’t get out of its own way sometimes. Expect more of the same Friday night as the Urban Meyer Watch continues in Los Angeles.
Matter's Pick: Utah 28, USC 23
LAST WEEK'S RESULTS
Matter's Mizzou pick: Tigers 48, Southeast Missouri 10 (Mizzou favored by 34)
Mizzou outcome: Mizzou 50, SEMO 0
Matter overall: 8-2 straight up, 3-7 against the spread
All picks straight up: 22-8
Dave Matter vs. the spread: 10-10