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College football picks: Georgia can suffocate Kentucky

A rested Georgia defense against a reeling Kentucky offense might be the biggest mismatch in college football this weekend.

Since playing Mississippi, the Wildcats’ offense has scored 47 points on 32 drives. That includes three scoring drives of 25 yards or less off turnovers. Now Kentucky must face arguably the best defense in college football without starting quarterback Terry Wilson.

Outside of triple-option teams, it’s hard to find an FBS program with less of a passing game than Kentucky.

Joey Gatewood is a 6-foot-5-inch former four-star Auburn signee. But he’s more effective as a runner than a passer, completing 2 of 5 passes for 18 yards this season while taking a sack. Don’t expect him to jolt Kentucky’s offense into gear against a defense with eight former five-star recruits.

Kentucky’s defense scored three touchdowns in its last three games. If Georgia takes care of the football, it can control time of possession, run the ball early and often and wear down the Wildcats in the second half.

Take Georgia -17.

Four more plays (home team in CAPS):

WEST VIRGINIA (-4½) over Kansas State: The Wildcats are fortunate to be 4-0 in the Big 12 after losing starting quarterback Skylar Thompson. Freshman Will Howard threw for 117 yards in a win over Texas Christian, then the team waxed Kansas by scoring 21 nonoffensive points. West Virginia’s defense is a solid unit. Quarterback Jarret Doege and running back Leddie Brown combined for 513 and 424 yards in the team’s last two games. Expect the Mountaineers to cover at home.

Mississippi (-17½) over VANDERBILT: I understand the case for the Commodores. Running back Ja’Veon Marlow, the second-best skill player on the team, is returning along with three starting defensive backs who missed the South Carolina game. Ole Miss is playing its sixth straight Southeastern Conference game, this one on the road, with a still-terrible defense. Lane Kiffin has seemed distracted, battling with the SEC over a missed call. Still, Vanderbilt’s lone ATS cover came in a game in which Texas A&M lost three fumbles and ran just 55 plays, almost all of which were super basic as the Aggies looked ahead to playing Alabama. Vanderbilt will need to score more than 21 points to cover, and I don’t have confidence that it will.

ILLINOIS (+7½) over Purdue: The Boilermakers were fortunate to beat Iowa. The Hawkeyes had more explosive plays, a better success rate and gained a higher percentage of available yards. Receiver David Bell is special in terms of efficiency, but receiver Rondale Moore is the more electric player, and he still isn’t practicing. The Illinois defense deserved better against Wisconsin, but a gassed unit gave up three fourth-quarter scores and a 53-yard touchdown just before halftime. According to the 247Sports Team Talent Composite rankings, Purdue’s roster ranks 38th compared with 40th for Illinois. I made this line Purdue -4½. I don’t think the market is giving Illinois enough credit at home.

SYRACUSE (+13) over Wake Forest: SP+ projects a 4.8-point margin. Syracuse has covered the spread in three of its last four Atlantic Coast Conference games behind a defense that has mostly played well even without Andre Cisco. The Orange also feature a good special teams unit. This is another game featuring huge class relief. Syracuse ranks 65th in the Team Talent Composite rankings. Wake Forest is 66th, a far cry from last week’s opponent, Clemson (fourth). The Demon Deacons were fortunate to beat Virginia Tech last week and are overvalued in the market as a result.

Last week: 2-3

Season: 16-19

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

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