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November 20, 2018

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of week 11

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Clemson’s Travis Etienne rushes in for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Louisville, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Clemson, S.C.

For sports bettors, it’s not too early to start thinking about a potential matchup between the two college football teams that have been historically dominant this season.

It’s not too early to gamble on it either. Lines on a prospective Alabama vs. Clemson contest in the College Football Playoff are getting easier to find around Las Vegas.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook joined in on the prospective fun this week, posting the Crimson Tide as an 8.5-point favorite over the Tigers. That follows the Golden Nugget, which opened Alabama as a 10.5-point favorite in the matchup weeks ago.

The bets will be refunded if the game does not occur, of course, but every week it appears it will take a bigger upset to prevent an eventual meeting. Alabama and Clemson both looked better than ever in week 10, with the former shutting out LSU 29-0 as a 14-point favorite and the latter demolishing Louisville 77-16 as 38-point favorites.

They’re both 20-plus point favorites in this week’s hurdles standing in the way of a fourth straight College Football Playoff showdown between the two powers.

Talking Points is picking one of the two favorites on the point spread, and going against the other after correctly handicapping both Clemson’s and Alabama’s games last week. The blog went 31-22-2 picking every game — 1-3-1 on plays, 9-4 on leans and 21-15-1 on guesses —to bring the season record to 244-256-9 —26-21-1 on plays, 72-76-3 on leans and 146-159-5 on guesses.

Check below to find sides in every remaining game on the week 11 schedule. Picks are separated by conference, listed in rough order of confidence and labeled in three separate categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas.

ACC

Miami plus-3.5 at Georgia Tech, over/under: 55.5. The Hurricanes' problems have become overstated as they were only truly outplayed once in their current three-game losing streak — when they lost 27-14 at Boston College as 3-point favorites. The two teams share the same 5-4 straight-up record, but Miami’s point differential is plus-114 to Georgia Tech’s plus-73. Play: Miami plus-3.5.

Virginia Tech plus-3 at Pittsburgh, over/under: 54.5. Buying low on the Hokies, which are getting no betting attention after dropping four consecutive games against the spread and only winning one of them outright. Pittsburgh has looked much better with the exact opposite results — 3-1 straight-up, 4-0 against the spread — but still has less depth and talent than Virginia Tech. Lean: Virginia Tech plus-3.

Clemson minus-20 at Boston College, over/under: 57. Boston College is known for being a hard-nosed, ball-control team, but that hasn’t been the case this year. The Eagles have ramped up their paced, which has worked well for them but may backfire against Clemson, only serving to enhance the visitors decided edge. Bookmakers have struggled to accurately compute Clemson anyway, as the Tigers have covered by an average of 27.5 points per game during a four-game winning and covering streak. Guess: Clemson minus-20.5.

Liberty plus-23.5 at Virginia, over/under: 60.5. The Flames quietly have the much more explosive offense, as the Cavaliers have gotten by off of a more methodical approach to pair with a dominating defense. Virginia should still win comfortably, but it’s not the kind of team that’s easy to back at big numbers. Guess: Liberty plus-23.5.

North Carolina plus-10 at Duke, over/under: 58.5. Someone, or more likely, some group, has come in on the Tar Heels to steam this line down 1.5 points, but it’s hard to figure out how they possibly look like an attractive bet. North Carolina coach Larry Fedora is almost surely on his way out, and is at a disadvantage against Duke’s David Cutcliffe to begin with. Guess: Duke minus-10.

Louisville plus-21 at Syracuse, over/under: 69.5. From a talent standpoint, this is way too many points as there’s not much separating the two teams in that department. But Louisville hasn’t shown any evidence of as much as trying over the last month, not coming within a touchdown of covering in its last four games, so it’s impossible to back. Guess: Syracuse minus-21.

Big Ten

Ohio State minus-3.5 at Michigan State, over/under: 52. The line on this game was Ohio State minus-10.5 a month ago, and perhaps just as importantly, minus-17.5 a year ago when virtually the same Michigan State team lost 48-3 in Columbus, Ohio. Must buy low on the Buckeyes, which are hitting its nadir after five straight point-spread losses. Lean: Ohio State minus-3.5.

Maryland plus-1.5 at Indiana, over/under: 55.5. Giving the Terrapins a pass for their 24-3 loss to Michigan State as 3-point underdogs last week because of all the controversy surrounding now-fired coach D.J. Durkin. This is a better matchup anyway, as Maryland is powered by an explosive running game that Indiana is ill-suited to defend. Lean: Maryland plus-1.5.

Northwestern plus-11 at Iowa, over/under: 44. It’s time to stop underestimating Northwestern, which already perennially overachieved under Pat Fitzgerald but might be taking it to a new level this year. The Wildcats have won 12 of their last 13 Big Ten games dating back to last season, and have covered five of the last six when they’ve taken double digits. Lean: Northwestern plus-11.

Purdue minus-11.5 at Minnesota, over/under: 59. Teams are often sparked by a coaching change, and the Golden Gophers fired defensive coordinator Robb Smith after two blowout losses in the last three games with Joe Rossi taking over on an interim basis. That anecdotal reasoning is typically not the best handicapping method, but even elemental defensive improvement could go a long way for the Golden Gophers, especially with a spread this inflated. Guess: Minnesota plus-12.5.

Wisconsin plus-9.5 at Penn State, over/under: 56.5. Penn State is the better team, but its goals were essentially bulldozed in the most devastating way imaginable via last week’s 42-7 loss at Michigan. Wisconsin, meanwhile, needs to keep pace to stay alive for a shot at the Big Ten West division. The situational edge may not matter with fewer points, but this is a hulking number. Guess: Wisconsin plus-9.5.

Illinois plus-17.5 at Nebraska, over/under: 68. The Huskers are playing much better, but all of their strides have been made on the offensive end. Nebraska’s defense is still in the nation’s bottom third in giving up an alarming 6.3 yards per play to Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, or in other words, is way too untrustworthy to lay this many points. Guess: Illinois plus-17.5.

Rutgers plus-40 at Michigan, over/under: 47.5. Michigan has been undervalued for most of the season, but it’s hard to say that’s still the case when it’s one of the biggest favorites of the year. The Wolverines’ offense still only registers as decent, averaging 6.1 yards per play to rank outside of the top 25,so it’s no cinch to score 40 points on any given week. Guess: Rutgers plus-40.

Big 12

Kansas plus-10.5 at Kansas State, over/under: 45.5. Program reputation is the only thing bloating this point spread, as the archrivals have actually been incredibly even this season — with Kansas gaining 5 yards per play to Kansas State’s 4.9 on offense and both teams giving up an identical 6.2 yards per play on defense. Although it was announced he will not be retained for next season, Kansas coach David Beaty will remain until the end of the year with his players vowing extra effort for him. Play: Kansas plus-10.5.

TCU plus-12.5 at West Virginia, over/under: 56. Terrible spot for West Virginia, which is coming off of a 42-41 win at Texas and going into an easy-to-overlook game with 4-5 straight-up TCU. The Horned Frogs are far better than their record, though, and coach Gary Patterson is 23-8 against the spread as a double-digit underdog. Play: TCU plus-12.5.

Texas minus-2 at Texas Tech, over/under: 62.5. Most advanced metrics would label Texas Tech as the slightly better team, including Football Outsiders F/+ ratings, which have the Red Raiders at No. 31 to the Longhorns’ No. 33. Texas Tech therefore has no business being a home underdog, even if quarterback Alan Bowman is hurt. Jett Duffey has been just as explosive, and Kliff Kinsgbury’s system has mostly upheld the same efficiency regardless of who’s at the helm. Play: Texas Tech plus-2.

Oklahoma State plus-21 at Oklahoma, over/under: 79.5. The Cowboys’ defense doesn’t stand a prayer of stopping the Sooners. There’s been a lot of talk about how poorly Oklahoma’s defense has played but it’s actually improved to the point it’s more efficient than Oklahoma State’s — giving up 5.2 yards per play to its rival’s 5.3 yards per play. That means the Sooners have advantages all over the field. Lean: Oklahoma minus-21.

Baylor plus-14.5 at Iowa State, over/under: 51. Promised last week to keep spouting this statistic as long as Iowa State keeps winning so here it goes: The Cyclones are now 21-5 against the spread under coach Matt Campbell in the Big 12. Hereby promising to continue picking Iowa State every week at least until its current 14-game conference covering streak ends. Lean: Iowa State minus-14.5.

Pac-12

Oregon plus-4 at Utah, over/under: 55.5. The Utes were shaping up to be around a 10-point favorite in this spot before losing quarterback Tyler Huntley for the season. Would prefer more than a touchdown adjustment to back freshman Jacob Shelley but this is a spot where he could excel, against an Oregon defense sitting at 82nd in the nation by the S&P+ ratings. Lean: Utah minus-4.

UCLA plus-13.5 at Arizona State, over/under: 61.5. The Sundevils are coming off of a major 38-20 upset win over Utah last week. The last time they pulled off a similar victory, 16-13 over Michigan State, they no-showed the next week and lost to San Diego State, 28-21. That’s just one example of why Arizona State is too inconsistent to trust laying a big number. Lean: UCLA plus-13.5.

Oregon State plus-24 at Stanford, over/under: 60. One Pac-12 victory shouldn’t have entitled the Beavers to this big of a shift in the betting market. This is the same price they were offered at ahead of a 41-34 win at Colorado — but Stanford is a whole lot better than Colorado. Guess: Stanford minus-24.

Washington State minus-6 at Colorado, over/under: 60.5. Number looks a few points short, as Colorado has been unable to stop any team during a four-game losing streak. The Buffaloes’ secondary has been particularly problematic, and might be picked apart again by Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew. Guess: Washington State minus-6.

California plus-5 at USC, over/under: 47.5. Skeptical that a 38-21 win over Oregon State as 15-point favorites signals that USC is back to belonging in the Pac-12 title conversation. California will have a massive advantage on the sidelines with coach Justin Wilcox regardless of how much staff shuffling USC coach Clay Helton does. Guess: California plus-5.

SEC

LSU minus-14 at Arkansas, over/under: 48.5. The Razorbacks are coming off of a bye week for a game they consider their biggest of the season. The Tigers are coming off of grueling battle and lopsided loss against Alabama that ended all of their biggest goals of the season to play a team that considers them a big-time rival. Play: Arkansas plus-14.

Mississippi State plus-24 at Alabama, over/under: 53. For one week, don’t expect Alabama’s offense to score at will. Mississippi State might have the best defensive front outside of Clemson and Michigan, and ranks sixth nationally in only giving up 4.3 yards per play. The Bulldogs are easily stingy enough to stay within an inflated number coming out of the Crimson Tide’s biggest win of the season. Lean: Mississippi State plus-24.

Ole Miss plus-12 at Texas A&M, over/under: 66.5. These are both bet-against teams, as Ole Miss is undisciplined and mistake-prone while Texas A&M is perpetually overvalued in a rebuilding year under Jimbo Fisher. The Aggies haven’t beaten a single SEC opponent by more than a touchdown — and that includes Arkansas — so this price looks too prohibitive. Guess: Ole Miss plus-12.

South Carolina plus-6 at Florida, over/under: 54. South Carolina does not possess the same level of offensive explosiveness as Georgia or Missouri, the two teams that have doomed Florida to consecutive losses straight-up and against the spread. Give the Gators a coaching edge as well, as it’s easier to back Dan Mullen than the Gamecocks’ Will Muschamp. Guess: Florida minus-6.

Kentucky minus-5 at Tennessee, over/under: 42.5. Yes, Kentucky is in a vulnerable situation coming off of a devastating loss to Georgia that knocked it out of the SEC East race. No, Tennessee is not good enough to be getting less than a touchdown against a strong team. Tennessee’s defense has gotten shredded in practically every SEC game. Guess: Kentucky minus-5.

Auburn plus-14 at Georgia, over/under: 51.5. No value on either side with number looking precise, but the Bulldogs might have a bigger matchup edge than expected. Auburn’s rush defense has continued to regress to where it’s now 35th in the nation in giving up 3.7 yards per attempt, meaning Georgia’s running-back arsenal led by Elijah Holyfield and D’Andre Swift could have its way. Guess: Georgia minus-14.

Vanderbilt plus-17 at Missouri, over/under: 62. Spread steamed up since opening at minus-14, which might be closer to where it belongs. Vanderbilt has enough pieces in its defensive backfield to avoid being blown off the field by Missouri quarterback Drew Lock. Guess: Vanderbilt plus-17.

AAC

Navy plus-25 at Central Florida, over/under: 63.5. Bookmakers can sometimes be too slow to adjust on a traditionally strong program enduring a season where it completely unravels. That looks to be the case with Navy, which has dropped to No. 117 in F/+ and has covered in only one game this season — a 22-21 fluke win over Memphis where it was outgained by nearly 4 yards per play. Lean: Central Florida minus-25.

East Carolina plus-13 at Tulane, over/under: 54.5. Recency bias has spiraled this point spread out of control. The Green Wave have played their two best games of the season in two straight upsets, a 41-15 victory over South Florida and 24-17 win against Tulsa, but have been pretty much on par with the Pirates for the rest of the season. Lean: East Carolina plus-13.

Tulsa plus-15.5 at Memphis, over/under: 65.5. Tulsa got its first win of the season over an FBS team last week — the worst FBS team by almost any set of power ratings. Don’t let the Golden Hurricane’s 49-19 win over Connecticut detract from the fact that it’s out of its depth against any decent opponent. Guess: Memphis minus-15.5.

Temple plus-5 at Houston, over/under: 69.5. With Houston holding a major offensive advantage and Temple having the edge on defense, these teams are evenly matched. So evenly matched that neither the Owls nor the Cougars should be laying more than three points against each other. Guess: Temple plus-5.

South Florida plus-14 at Cincinnati, over/under: 55. As conditioned last week, the term “sandwich spot” can live to see another week after Baylor defeated Oklahoma State. Cincinnati finds itself in the role this week, coming off of a 42-0 pasting over Navy and going into a massive showdown at Central Florida. Hard to lay 14 points anyway with a team that was plus-17 in this same series a year ago — and lost 33-3. Guess: South Florida plus-14.

SMU minus-19.5 at Connecticut, over/under: 66. The Mustangs haven’t been an underdog of less than a touchdown against an FBS opponent all season, and is now being asked to lay nearly three touchdowns on the road. That’s reason enough to runaway, even if it’s against the team power-rated as the worst in the nation. Guess: Connecticut plus-19.5.

CUSA

North Texas minus-14 at Old Dominion, over/under: 65.5. With 21 touchdowns to one interception and 2,879 passing yards, North Texas’ Mason Fine might be the most underrated quarterback in the nation. He should only build on his gaudy numbers against an Old Dominion ranked 120th in the nation by S&P+. Guess: North Texas minus-14.

Charlotte plus-14 at Marshall, over/under: 42. Here’s the weekly labeling of the game with the lowest point total on the board, and a reminder of how hard it is to give points in a game where not many are expected. Charlotte’s defense, led by hard-hitting takeaway machine Ben Deluca, has led the 49ers to sour straight covers, all as big underdogs. Guess: Charlotte plus-14.

Middle Tennessee minus-13.5 at UTEP, over/under: 48.5. Be careful about looking towards the Blue Raiders with the assumption that this as a letdown spot for the Miners, which won their first game in 21 tries last week. Middle Tennessee also picked up a huge win last week, beating Western Kentucky to clinch bowl eligibility. Guess: UTEP plus-13.5.

Rice plus-24.5 at Louisiana Tech, over/under: 52. Rice may have figured some things out during a hellacious 23-0 late-game rally that nearly allowed it to come back and beat UTEP last week. Even if they didn’t, this line gives too much cushion against a mediocre Louisiana Tech team. Guess: Rice plus-24.5.

Western Kentucky plus-20 at Florida Atlantic, over/under: 58. The Owls have been among the most overvalued teams in the nation all season, and are now being asked to lay their biggest price of the year coming off of a 49-14 breakthrough win over Florida International. There’s no reason to pay a premium to back a team that’s 2-7 against the spread. Guess: Western Kentucky plus-20.

Florida International minus-9.5 at UTSA, over/under: 48. Both teams are coming off of embarrassing defeats, with UAB having crushed UTSA 52-3 and Florida International falling 49-14 to Florida Atlantic. FIU coach Butch Jones has more of a track record than UTSA counterpart Frank Wilson, however, making it easier to trust him in a bounce-back spot. Guess: Florida International minus-9.5.

Southern Miss plus-12 at UAB, over/under: 46.5. Hard to take a stand against UAB at Legion Field, where it’s yet to fail to cover since restarting its football program last year. But this is the second-most points the Blazers have been asked to lay in a conference game, and the first came against a much weaker Charlotte team. Southern Miss is re-energized by reaching its bowl hopes after upsetting Marshall last week. Guess: Southern Miss plus-12.

Independents

BYU minus-14 at Massachusetts, over/under: 59.5. The impressive progress BYU has shown in coach Kalani Sitake’s third season is obscured by the fact that its played an extremely tough schedule. Massachusetts has run no such gauntlet, and will therefore be unprepared for BYU’s bruising brand of football. Guess: BYU minus-14.

Florida State plus-16.5 at Notre Dame, over/under: 51.5. Florida State might be the most un-bettable team in college football right now considering its years of success has prevented bookmakers from pricing this year’s team as it is — terrible. Considering the Seminoles lost by more than this point spread to the middling likes of North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and Syracuse, it’s not too high of an asking price for one of the best teams in the country. Guess: Notre Dame minus-16.5.

MAC

Akron plus-13 at Eastern Michigan, over/under: 42.5. Been looking for spots to fade Akron and back Eastern Michigan all season, and the two strategies converge here with convenient timing. This spread would have been a few points higher two weeks ago, before Eastern Michigan lost to Army and failed to cover against Central Michigan while Akron defeated Central Michigan and played Northern Illinois closely. Lean: Eastern Michigan minus-13.

Bowling Green plus-7 at Central Michigan, over/under: 51.5. Both teams have only one victory, but at least Central Michigan has shown signs of life the last two weeks, rallying back to lose 17-10 to Akron and covering in a 17-7 loss at Eastern Michigan as 14.5-point underdogs. Bowling Green seems to have only gotten worse since the firing of coach Mike Jinks, getting soundly outplayed in losses to Kent State and Ohio. Guess: Central Michigan minus-7.

MWC

Fresno State minus-3 at Boise State, over/under: 54. Fresno State’s efficiency numbers dwarf Boise State’s to make this spread appear reasonable, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that the Bulldogs have played one of the nation’s weakest schedules while the Broncos have faced a relatively tough slate. Boise State was a 14-point favorite in this game in the preseason game of the year lines, and hasn’t struggled nearly enough to deserve this big of a move. Play: Boise State plus-3.

San Jose State plus-31 at Utah State, over/under: 65. It would take a down week for Utah State not to completely demolish San Jose State. At 8-1 straight-up and against the spread, the Aggies haven’t shown any indications that they’re even capable of a down week. Guess: Utah State minus-31.

UNLV plus-23 at San Diego State, over/under: 53.5. Not to be repetitive but here’s the seemingly weekly reminder that San Diego State hasn’t beaten a single FBS team by more than a touchdown this season. As long as the Rebels haven’t quit on coach Tony Sanchez, they should get their second conference cover of the season. Guess: UNLV plus-24.

New Mexico plus-13.5 at Air Force, over/under: 56. Teams appear headed in different directions, as Air Force has improved defensively to cover in three of its last four games. New Mexico, meanwhile, is lucky to have gone 1-3 against the spread in its last four considering it’s been outgained by an average of 237 yards per game. Guess: Air Force minus-13.5.

Colorado State plus-14 at UNR, over/under: 63.5. With one of the nation’s worst defenses and an embattled coach in Mike Bobo, Colorado State deserves to be added to the “do not bet” list. That designation even overrides a situation like this where another natural response should be not laying two touchdowns with a team as defensively sketchy as the Wolf Pack. Guess: UNR minus-14.

SBC

Troy minus-1 at Georgia Southern, over/under: 44.5. Take away one game — a 34-14 victory over Appalachian State as 11-point underdogs two weeks ago — and Georgia Southern is at least a touchdown underdog in this spot. Georgia Southern has put together a terrific year but still has a young roster in contrast to Troy, which is experienced and poised to gain control of the Sun Belt. Play: Troy minus-1.

Appalachian State minus-21 at Texas State, over/under: 47. Market has yet to catch up to improving Texas State, which has won two straight and covered four consecutive. Appalachian State, on the other hand, appeared to peak early with five straight covers to start the season and has regressed to where it shouldn’t give this many points on the road. Guess: Texas State plus-21.

Arkansas State minus-6.5 at Coastal Carolina, over/under: 61.5. Arkansas State’s offense has yet to turn into the juggernaut many expected before the season, but it’s never too late. Coastal Carolina may present an opportunity considering the Chanticleers rate 127th in the nation in giving up 7.2 yards per play. Guess: Arkansas State minus-6.5.

Georgia State plus-13.5 at UL-Lafayette, over/under: 69. The Panthers might be to the point where they just want to get out of the season intact, considering they’ve lost four consecutive straight-up and against the spread. The Rajun’ Cajuns have a lot more to play for considering they needed to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible. Guess: UL-Lafayette minus-13.5.

UL-Monroe minus-7 at South Alabama, over/under: 62. UL-Monroe’s offense has exploded at times this season — including in a 44-25 victory over Georgia Southern as 7-point underdogs last week — but the production has been too inconsistent to rely upon. The Warhawks haven’t given this many points on the road in more than six years. Guess: South Alabama plus-7.

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

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