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November 21, 2017

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 2

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AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Virginia Tech wide receiver Cam Phillips, right, catches a pass as he is pressured by West Virginia cornerback Mike Daniels Jr. in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Landover, Md., Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017.

UCLA put together the second-biggest comeback in college football history against Texas A&M Sunday night.

Tennessee stirred another collapse the next night, rallying to beat Georgia Tech in a nationally televised double overtime contest. But the endgame of Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia carried the largest point-spread implications over the final two nights of college football’s first week.

While the heroics of UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen and Tennessee running back John Kelly drew oohs and ahhs in sports books, Virginia Tech’s final defensive stand detonated gasps and shrieks.

The Hokies had to hold strong from their own 15-yard in the final seconds line against Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier, who threw for nearly 400 yards, to cover the 4.5-point spread in a 31-24 victory.

Any complaints over a slow start to the college football season were wiped away by the thrilling nature of the final three games of Week 1. Expect more of that in a Week 2 with a stacked schedule.

When the Golden Nugget released its annual Game of the Year lines in June, nine contests taking place Saturday were listed. That’s the second-most of any date all season behind 10 games on Oct. 14, during the heart of conference play.

Whereas it was a challenge to find 10 major matchups to break down and pick in last week’s college football by the odds, the difficulty this week came in cutting down to only 10 games.

Check below for Week 2 of college football by the odds, with analysis and bets on the 10 biggest games separated in three confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses — as well as extra picks at the end. A solid 9-5 week 1 record brought the season total to 10-8 after a rough start in the first few games of the year.

    • North Carolina wide receiver Austin Proehl runs the ball during the team's first NCAA college football practice of the season in Chapel Hill, N.C., Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.

      Louisville minus-10 at North Carolina, over/under: 62.5; 9 a.m. on ESPN

      The annual week 1 overreaction circus has arrived, and the ACC is the main attraction this year.

      The conference that many predicted would be the best in college football this season is now considered overrated after a disappointing debut where its 14 teams combined to go 10-4 straight-up, 5-9 against the spread. The two expected contenders playing in the first league game of the season both shoulder their share of the blame.

      Louisville had to rally in the fourth quarter as a 26-point favorite to down Purdue 35-28 in Week 1. North Carolina couldn’t rally enough in losing 35-30 to California at 12.5-point favorites.

      The performances may look equally as troubling by the final score, but the box scores tell a different story. While the Tar Heels were indeed thoroughly outplayed by the Golden Bears, the Cardinals in reality dominated the Boilermakers.

      Louisville outgained Purdue by more than 2 yards per play, and mostly found itself in a close game because it was unlucky in failing to recover four of the night’s five fumbles. Bettors haven’t lost faith in the Cardinals, as this line opened as low as minus-5 and has gone up ever since.

      Guess: North Carolina plus-10

    • Pittsburgh wide receiver Quadree Henderson (10) plays in an NCAA football game against Youngstown State, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Pittsburgh.

      Pittsburgh plus-22 at Penn State, over/under: 66; 12:30 a.m. on ABC

      For the first time in a decade or more, Penn State is drawing the level of support at sports books consistent with the type of blueblood program it considers itself.

      The Nittany Lions already figured to be one of the more popular weekly bets this season coming off last year’s Rose Bowl berth, but their 52-0 massacre of Akron as 29.5-point favorites sealed it. With no projected single-digit lines in sight until an Oct. 21 home date against Michigan, bookmakers are going to be rooting against Penn State in every game — especially this week.

      Ninety-nine percent of the money wagered at William Hill over the first half of the week on this game came on Penn State. Pittsburgh’s Week 1 performance surely didn’t help.

      The Panthers are one of the most inexperienced teams in the nation, and it showed in the way they had to gut out a 28-21 overtime win against Youngstown State as 13.5-point favorites. USC transfer quarterback Max Browne threw for a paltry 5.8 yards per attempt versus the Football Championship Subdivision opponent, and even last year’s big-play running back Qadree Henderson only managed 4.1 yards per carry.

      Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, by contrast, posted 11.2 yards per attempt and 12.2 yards per rush, respectively.

      Guess: Pittsburgh plus-22

    • TCU quarterback Kenny Hill (7) looks to pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas State, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. Kansas State won 30-6.

      TCU minus-3 at Arkansas, over/under: 59; 12:30 p.m. on CBS

      Bill it like a big fight, Austin Allen vs. Kenny Hill: The Rematch.

      These two quarterbacks delivered one of the early season’s most exciting games last year when the Razorbacks and Horned Frogs renewed their Southwest Conference rivalry for the first time in 25 years.

      Arkansas knocked off TCU 41-38 on the road as 10.5-point favorites behind four touchdowns, including a game-winner in overtime, from Allen. The now-senior’s late-game heroics laid waste to a 470-yard day from Hill.

      Everything is in place for another tightly contested shootout after both offenses buried overmatched FCS opponents in their openers last week. Arkansas appeared to unearth their latest one-two running back punch in sophomore Devwah Waley and freshman Chase Hayden, who combined for 180 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.

      TCU will rely on fewer new faces with nine offensive starters around Hill returning, including senior running back Kyle Hicks who missed Week 1 with an injury but will play against Arkansas.

      Lean: TCU minus-3

    • Oregon coach Willie Taggart, center, joins his team as they take the field for an NCAA college football game against Southern Utah on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Eugene, Ore.

      Nebraska plus-14 at Oregon, over/under: 70; 1:30 p.m. on Fox

      Oregon’s 35-32 defeat at Nebraska last season might be on track to wind up as one of the rare losses that a fan base doesn’t look back on as a negative.

      The Ducks’ blown lead was the beginning of the end of the much-maligned tenure of coach Mark Helfrich, as they went on to lose seven of their next nine games to lead to his firing. From the suffering came new coach Willie Taggart from South Florida, and stock couldn’t be higher on him right now.

      Gamblers are back betting on Oregon like it’s the heyday of former coach Chip Kelly, with this line bloating an entire touchdown from the 7 points where it opened earlier in the summer. The Ducks looked that explosive in Week 1, beating Southern Utah 77-21 as 39.5-point favorites.

      The Cornhuskers, meanwhile, had to escape via a last-second touchdown pass slipping through a receiver’s hands in a 43-36 win over Arkansas State as 14.5-point favorites. Nebraska brings back a fraction of the production of Oregon, and the inexperience was particularly evident on defense as Arkansas State’s offense racked up nearly 400 yards.

      Play: Nebraska plus-14

    • Clemson's Van Smith (21) and Kendall Joseph (34) tackle North Carolina State's Matthew Dayes during the second half of an NCAA college football game  Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016,  in Clemson,  S.C. Clemson won 24-17 in overtime.

      Auburn plus-6 at Clemson, over/under: 54.5; 4 p.m. on ESPN

      The last time Clemson played a school from Alabama — in last year’s national championship game, of course — it resulted in one of the finest offensive showcases imaginable in college football.

      This time around, the same might be said on the defensive side. While Clemson and Auburn break in somewhat new offenses early in the season, they’re going to rely on their defenses.

      Both units were ferocious in Week 1. In fact, Auburn and Clemson rank first and second nationally in yards per play allowed among teams who faced Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.

      Auburn limited a usually potent Georgia Southern attack to 1.3 yards per play in a 41-7 victory as 34-point favorites. Clemson held Kent State to 2.4 yards per play in a 56-3 rout as 38-point favorites.

      The defending national champions may once again have the best defensive front in college football, between linemen Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins in the middle and linebacker Kendall Joseph on the edge. Auburn might have the advantage deep, as cornerback Carlton Davis and safety Tray Matthews give the secondary a duo most programs can’t match.

      Play: Auburn plus-6

    • Missouri quarterback Drew Lock throws a pass during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Missouri State Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won 72-43.

      South Carolina plus-2.5 at Missouri, over/under: 72; 4 p.m. on ESPN2

      The distinction previously reserved for the likes of Oregon, West Virginia and Texas Tech may get passed to Missouri this season.

      The Tigers might carry the highest point total on the betting board on most weeks this season starting here with the over/under of 72 dwarfing the rest of Saturday’s contests. After posting an SEC-high pace 80.5 plays per game and gaining more than 600 yards on four occasions last year, Missouri showed few intentions of slowing down in a 72-43 victory over Missouri State as 36-point favorites last week.

      Junior quarterback Drew Lock threw for seven touchdowns in leading the offense to 815 total yards. The problem, and other reason the totals are so high, is the defense, which nearly surrendered 500 yards to Missouri State.

      The Gamecocks have far more firepower than the Bears, even if they sputtered offensively in a 35-28 upset win over North Carolina State. South Carolina gained only 246 yards — as opposed to giving up more than 500 — but relied on a game-opening kickoff return touchdown from Deebo Samuel, timely defense, and a positive turnover margin to secure the victory.

      Lean: Missouri minus-2

    • Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins in action during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Bloomington, Ind.

      Oklahoma plus-7.5 at Ohio State, over/under: 65; 4:30 p.m. on ABC

      Unlike two of its biggest games last season, Ohio State provided tension for bettors in a 49-21 win over Indiana in Week 1.

      Quarterback J.T. Barrett, who threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns, and running back J.K. Dobbins, who ran for 181 yards, didn’t spark Ohio State’s offense until the second half to ensure a late cover of the 20.5-point spread. The Buckeyes were more into immediate gratification in 2016, notably delivering for popularly-bet sides when they no-showed against Clemson in a 31-0 national semifinal loss and blew out Oklahoma 45-24 as 2-point favorites.

      Barrett had three touchdowns by halftime in Norman, Okla., last year, leaving a mental wound that the Sooners still haven’t forgotten despite their success leading into the rematch. Oklahoma has put together the nation’s longest winning streak at 11 games, which includes an 8-3 against the spread record, behind prolific production from now-senior quarterback Baker Mayfield.

      Mayfield sits third in odds to win the Heisman at 10-to-1 going 19-for-20 for 329 yards and three touchdowns despite only playing the first half of a 56-7 win over UTEP as 42-point favorites in Week 1. Barrett is the fourth choice at 15-to-1.

      Guess: Oklahoma plus-7.5

    • Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm passes against Appalachian State during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 31-10.

      Georgia plus-4 at Notre Dame, over/under: 56.5; 4:30 p.m. on NBC

      Georgia being forced to start true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm in its first-ever trip to Notre Dame ranges from a major benefit to a huge disadvantage depending on who is asked.

      Some Bulldog fans believed the five-star recruit Fromm was a better choice to start than incumbent sophomore Jacob Eason even before the latter went down with a knee sprain early in a 31-10 win over Appalachian State as 14-point favorites. Bookmakers had a different view, as Notre Dame opened back up as high as a 7-point favorite with Fromm behind center as opposed to getting as low as minus-1 during the summer.

      The spread has since trended downwards, with more bettors siding with the Bulldogs. Fromm was certainly impressive against the Mountaineers, throwing for 143 yards and a touchdown on 10-for-15 passing before the Bulldogs eased their attack.

      Notre Dame never slowed down in a 49-16 victory over Temple as 20-point favorites. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush, running back Josh Adams and running back Dexter Williams alone rushed for 391 yards.

      That will be much more difficult to sustain against the likes of linebackers Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick, the cornerstones of a proven Georgia run defense. A potential weakness of Notre Dame’s defense is likewise in the secondary, making the debate over Fromm’s readiness all the more important.

      Play: Notre Dame minus-4

    • Stanford running back Bryce Love, right, shrugs off North Carolina safety Dominiqie Green in the second quarter of the Sun Bowl NCAA college football game, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, in El Paso, Texas.

      Stanford plus-6 at USC, over/under: 55.5; 5:30 p.m. on Fox

      Stanford can no longer claim to own the record for biggest upset in college football history for its shocker over USC a decade ago after UNLV’s embarrassing defeat to Howard as 45-point favorites last week.

      The Cardinal will just have to settle for its sheer supremacy over the Trojans ever since that 2007 victory as 39-point underdogs. Starting with that game, Stanford has won and covered in eight of the last 11 contests against USC including the last three straight.

      But for the first time in a few years, the superstar Heisman contender in the matchup is on the Trojans’ sideline even if Week 1 may have made fans wonder. USC quarterback Sam Darnold somewhat struggled against Western Michigan, throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns in a lackadaisical 49-31 win as 28-point favorites.

      Junior running back Ronald Jones eventually sparked the victory with three touchdowns and 159 rushing yards on 18 carries. It might have been the best season-opening performance from a Pac-12 running back save Stanford’s Bryce Love going off for 180 yards on 13 carries in a 62-7 blowout over Rice as 29-point favorites in Sydney, Australia.

      The Cardinal have gotten an extra week off following the cross-country trip home, so travel theoretically shouldn’t play much of a factor.

      Guess: USC minus-6

    • Washington State quarterback Luke Falk (4) runs with the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Montana State in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017.

      Boise State plus-10.5 at Washington State, over/under: 58.5; 7:30 p.m. on ESPN

      The last time Boise State took this many points on the betting line, Dan Hawkins was its coach and Matt Leinart had just won the Heisman Trophy.

      That was in the 2004 Liberty Bowl, when the Broncos fell 44-40 to Louisville as 11.5-point favorites. The Cardinals handed the Broncos their lone loss that season, part of a run that turned the latter into the king of mid-major programs that rarely ever goes into a game as an underdog.

      It may also feel like Washington State senior quarterback Luke Falk has been around that long. Falk set the school’s all-time passing touchdown record with his 92nd in last week’s 31-0 victory over Montana State as 41-point favorites.

      He needs 101 yards against Boise State to snatch the yardage record, which seems like a pretty safe bet considering he’s surpassed 200 in all but one career starts. And in that one, Falk had 199 in a 27-3 win over Colorado two years ago.

      Boise State has its own three-year starter at quarterback in Brett Rypien, but he finds himself on shakier footing. Rypien was benched in the second half last week as Kansas transfer Montell Cozart pulled the Broncos away from Troy with a 24-13 win as 10-point favorites.

      Lean: Boise State plus-10.5

    • Extra points

      Ball State minus-14 vs. UAB UAB restarted its football program to much fanfare last week, beating Alabama A&M 38-7 as 27.5-point favorites in front of a record crowd. Now comes the reality check for the Blazers where they find out they have a ways to go to catch up to FBS opposition.

      East Carolina plus-25 at West Virginia Bettors tend to overreact to FBS teams’ losses to FCS schools, even ones as ugly as the Pirates’ 34-14 no-show against James Madison. There’s solid evidence of that happening here, as this line has jumped six points from opening West Virginia minus-6.

      UNLV plus-7 at Idaho Ditto for UNLV, which fell victim to the biggest point-spread upset in college football history by compounding careless mistakes. If coach Tony Sanchez can’t draw a focused effort following such humiliation, then there’s truly no hope.

      Virginia plus-3.5 vs. Indiana Hoosiers’ slight personnel edge is overcome by situational and coaching advantages in the Cavaliers’ favor. Indiana is coming off a taxing loss to Ohio State in new coach Tom Allen’s first game, whereas Virginia breezed past William & Mary under the veteran Bronco Mendenhall.

      North Texas plus-13.5 at SMU Few too many points in the Safeway Bowl rivalry game with the Mean Green continuing to look improved under second-year coach Seth Litrell. Both teams were equally impressive in blowing out FCS teams in Week 1, meaning the line should have stayed in the single digits.

      Oregon State minus-1.5 vs. Minnesota Rare West Coast game for the Golden Gophers kicks off at 9 p.m. their time. It’s a rough Week 2 setup for a team that’s rebuilding towards new coach P.J. Fleck’s vision. Pressure is on to win now, on the other hand, for Oregon State’s Gary Andersen.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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