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College football picks: Take Bryce Young, Alabama over Auburn

Bryce Young may not win the Heisman Trophy. But it’s hard to argue with how the Alabama quarterback has played since losing to Texas A&M, compiling a 74.3 percent completion rate, 18 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

Auburn’s pass defense is 85th in expected points added per snap, not nearly as good as its run defense (28th).

Alabama is down to two scholarship running backs and it lives on short and intermediate passes.

The Tigers’ biggest hope is getting pressure on Young, which has been too easy against an Alabama program that finishes first or second in the recruiting rankings every year.

Auburn was missing its starting quarterback and a starting receiver, left tackle, left guard and kicker in last week’s 21-17 loss to South Carolina.

The Tigers should get receiver Kobe Hudson back for the Iron Bowl. But Alabama’s run defense is first in EPA per snap and allows just 2.6 yards per carry. Crimson Tide linebacker Will Anderson Jr. leads the nation in tackles for loss with 26½.

Auburn relies on what was a mediocre Southeastern Conference passing game before injuries. That doesn’t strike me as an effective strategy, even against a vulnerable Tide secondary.

Take Alabama -20.

Four more plays (home team in CAPS):

Ohio State (-7) over MICHIGAN: The Buckeyes have torched the Wolverines year after year. To be fair, Mike Macdonald is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, installing an effective 3-3-5 base that alternates between man and zone. And this will be the best set of cornerbacks that Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud has faced. The Michigan defensive line has some advantages as well. But the Buckeyes still have the most talented skill players in college football. Ohio State will get a lead and Michigan will have to throw, which it doesn’t want to do.

OKLAHOMA STATE (-4) over Oklahoma: The Cowboys’ defense is in the same realm as Georgia and Wisconsin by most metrics. Oklahoma QB Caleb Williams completed only 8 of 18 passes against Iowa State, took four sacks and threw for just 4.8 yards per attempt. That comes after a 9-for-18 effort against Baylor with two interceptions and three sacks. This is a bigger challenge for Williams and the Sooner offense. Oklahoma State probably won’t be able to run the ball here. But I think the Cowboys defense is so good that it will put its offense in great position.

Brigham Young (-6½) over SOUTHERN CAL: This play is partially due to BYU being undervalued and partially due to USC showing apathy toward the end of this season. The Trojans are 0-4 ATS in their last four games, failing to cover by an average of 12.9 points per game. USC couldn’t get up enough to even compete with rival UCLA last week. As a program, they’re focused on the coaching search. BYU is 4-0 straight up against the Pac-12, including outright wins as underdogs to Utah and Arizona State. UCLA, which beat USC by 29 points last week, lost to both of those teams.

UCLA (-6½) over California: The Bruins know how to treat mediocre opponents. UCLA failed to cover against Utah, Oregon and Arizona State. But it went 4-0 ATS against Stanford, Arizona, Colorado and USC while scoring 43.8 points per game. Chip Kelly will be able to scheme something to slow down Cal QB Chase Garbers enough to win by a touchdown or more.

Last week: 1-4

Season: 32-28

Christopher Smith of AL.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow @CFBlocksmith on Twitter.

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