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March 18, 2019

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 6

Tua passes


Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) passes the football during the pregame warmups of their NCAA college football game against Mississippi on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Oxford, Miss.

Over the last decade, Heisman Trophy voters have apparently realized what sports books have known for much longer: It’s almost impossible for a player at any position other than quarterback to emerge as the most outstanding in the nation.

Quarterbacks have won seven of the last eight, and 10 of the last 12, Heisman trophies. Expect to tack another one on in December, as current betting odds indicate there’s little chance that the quarterback run ends this season.

Five players are listed below 20-to-1 in Heisman future odds at MGM Resorts sports books. They’re all quarterbacks.

Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa has a large lead at minus-140 (risking $1.40 to win $1) with Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins chasing him at plus-300 (risking $1 to win $3). Central Florida’s McKenzie Miller rounds out the top five at 18-to-1.

Add it all up and the odds imply around a 95 percent chance that a quarterback wins the Heisman — and that might be a deflated probability.

None of the aforementioned five quarterbacks are on a bye this week, as they all have a chance to improve their chances in games where their teams are favored by at least a touchdown. Collectively, their teams are favored by an average of 24.5 points.

Talking Points actually picks against four out of the five teams, however, in its continued series making an against the spread pick on every widely-lined college football game. The blog had a strong Week 5 in going 5-1 on designated plays to improve to 14-9 on the year, but went only 26-27 overall to bring the total season record to 109-138-5.

Leans are a disastrous 31-49-2 on the year, with guesses sitting at 64-80-3.

Read below for picks on every Week 6 contest. Games are separated by conference, listed in rough order of confidence and labeled with three confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas at the time of publication.


Syracuse minus-4.5 at Pittsburgh, over/under: 58.5. Doesn't look like an advantageous spot for Syracuse, which must regroup after a physically and mentally grueling 27-23 loss as 24-point underdogs to Clemson last week. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is a strong buy-low candidate as it can hold its own against the mid- to low-tier of the ACC — it's beaten Syracuse in four of the last five years — but is undervalued after being outmatched and blown out by UCF and Penn State. Play: Pittsburgh plus-4.5.

Notre Dame minus-6.5 at Virginia Tech, over/under: 56.5. Notre Dame was only a 3.5-point favorite in this game until Virginia Tech's inexplicable 49-35 loss at Old Dominion as 28-point favorites in the biggest upset of the year. But that game could be the ultimate aberration, as the Hokies have otherwise won, covered and even blown out every opponent. Still, their side would look like a lot more attractive with an extra point, or even a half. Lean: Virginia Tech plus-6.5.

Clemson minus-18.5 at Wake Forest, over/under: 61.5. Line moved as little as 2.5 points after confirmation of freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence returning to start after suffering an injury in last week's win against Syracuse. It probably deserve further adjustment, as Lawrence gives the Tigers a chance at the breakout everyone has waited to see from them this year. Guess: Clemson minus-18.5.

Florida State plus-13.5 at Miami, over/under: 48.5. Florida State has now won two in a row, against Louisville and Northern Illinois, but still looked subpar in both outings. Miami might be the team that's actually taken a step forward as it's been enlivened by freshman quarterback N'Kosi Perry, whose value the betting market may not yet fully account for. Guess: Miami minus-13.5.

Georgia Tech minus-3.5 at Louisville, over/under: 58.5. Number looks accurate after both teams appeared to play better last week to snap three-game against the spread losing streaks. But Louisville's defense has been such a mess — giving up 6.2 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents to rank 100th in the nation — that it can't be trusted against Georgia Tech's humming triple option. Guess: Georgia Tech minus-3.5.

Boston College minus-4.5 at North Carolina State, over/under: 58.5. Hard to back North Carolina State without clarity on injured running back A.J. Dillion, who's a game time decision. Dillion is the rare running back worth at least a couple points on the spread, meaning if he doesn't play then this number signifies value on the Wolfpack. Guess: North Carolina State minus-4.5.

Big Ten

Northwestern plus-10.5 at Michigan State, over/under: 43.5. Be careful not to write off Michigan State as a disappointment prematurely, even though that's what the majority of bettors appear to have done with Northwestern dominating the action. The Spartans have shown some signs of life on offense in the last couple weeks, which is more than can be said for the Wildcats' team toiling at 114th in the nation at 4.4 yards per play. Play: Michigan State minus-10.5.

Maryland plus-17 at Michigan, over/under: 47.5. Michigan outgained Northwestern by 174 yards and 2.5 yards per play last week, as the game was extremely lopsided apart from a sluggish start by the Wolverines. That's kept Michigan undervalued, as it's one of the best teams in the nation but continues to be priced a rung below. Lean: Michigan minus-17.

Iowa minus-7 at Minnesota, over/under: 42.5. Too many points to lay on the road, especially with a team that hasn't played away from home this season, in what projects as one of the lowest-scoring games of the week. Minnesota had what looked like one of the better defenses in the nation before losing 42-13 to Maryland two weeks ago, and there's no reason to overreact to that one result. Guess: Minnesota plus-7.

Indiana plus-26.5 at Ohio State, over/under 65. Ohio State could be spent after last week's comeback win at Penn State, and unaware of the positive strides made by Indiana this season. The Hoosiers won't threaten to beat the Buckeyes, but steady quarterback Peyton Ramsey could keep them from being embarrassed. Guess: Indiana plus-26.5.

Nebraska plus-19 at Wisconsin, over/under: 57.5. As the 582 yards of offense they racked up may hint, the Cornhuskers played better than the final score indicated in last week's 42-28 loss to Purdue as 3.5-point underdogs. Scott Frost's prospects at showing progress in his first year in Lincoln, Neb., might still be slim, but not as slim as perceived. Guess: Nebraska plus-19.

Illinois minus-5.5 at Rutgers, over/under: 49.5. Oy vey, the Big Ten would probably pass on having its brand associated with this game if the conference had a choice in the matter. Rutgers has no offense; Illinois has no defense. Both teams will be double-digit underdogs in every remaining game this season. The general rule is to take the points in a game between two teams struggling to such a enormous extent. Guess: Rutgers plus-5.5.

Big 12

Kansas State plus-4 at Baylor, over/under: 55.5. Kansas State is still getting some deference in the betting market because of coach Bill Snyder's decades-long reputation for overachieving. It's unwarranted. This Wildcats' team has more in common with the pre-Snyder editions — short on talent, high on mistakes. Play: Baylor minus-4.

Texas plus-8 vs. Oklahoma in Dallas, over/under: 61.5. Sam Ehlinger threw for 278 yards and came a failed game-winning drive away from leading Texas to an upset over Oklahoma in last year's Red River rivalry game. Ehlinger is better this year, and Oklahoma's defense might be even worse. This is the moment Texas coach Tom Herman, who's 11-1 against the spread as an underdog, has been building towards. Lean: Texas plus-8.

Kansas plus-29 at West Virginia, over/under: 61.5. Kansas can actually score this year, as it has a pair of big-play threats in running back Pooka Williams and wide receiver Steven Sims. Even in the worst-case scenario of a game that's already a blowout by halftime, the Jayhawks still carry backdoor-covering potential with a spread this high. Lean: Kansas plus-29.

Iowa State plus-10.5 at Oklahoma State, over/under: 54.5. Not only is Matt Campbell one of the most underrated coaches in the nation — especially to bet on, as he's 15-5 against the spread versus the Big 12 at Iowa State — but Jon Heacock might be one of the most underrated defensive coordinators. Iowa State has slowed every opponent it's faced with new wrinkles, and the Campbell-Heacock tandem should similarly have something cooked up for the Cowboys. Guess: Iowa State plus-10.5.


Arizona State plus-2.5 at Colorado, over/under: 64.5. Before overpraising the Buffaloes for being the last undefeated team standing in the Pac-12, let's consider that their four wins have come over teams that are a combined 1-16 straight-up. Arizona State coach Herm Edwards' forte is in pass defense, so he should find a way to slow big-play receiver Laviska Shenault, who's fifth in the nation in receiving yards. Play: Arizona State plus-2.5.

California minus-2.5 at Arizona, over/under: 57. California is the better-coached team under Justin Wilcox, but that could only go far as last week's 42-24 loss to Oregon as 2-point underdogs showed. It might be a similar story for the second straight week, as popular preseason Heisman pick Khalil Tate is beginning to get more comfortable with offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's system. Lean: Arizona plus-2.5.

Utah plus-5 at Stanford, over/under: 46.5. Both teams are similar in that they're dependable on defense but lack punch on offense. Stanford seems like the side more positioned to figure out its offensive woes, especially if last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Loves recovers from an ankle injury. He's questionable heading into this game. Guess: Stanford minus-5.

Washington minus-21 at UCLA, over/under: 50.5. When the return of former Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight is being regarded as the great hope for UCLA, it's a giveaway to look to the other side. The Bruins have gotten outgained by more than 150 yards in each of their last two games and the best players on those two teams combined, Colorado and Fresno State, couldn't make up a roster as strong as Washington's. Guess: Washington minus-21.

Washington State minus-17 at Oregon State, over/under: 64.5. Potentially tricky spot for Washington State, which outlasted Utah in a 28-24 battle as 2-point underdogs last week and has a bye week coming up. Oregon State might not have the talent to pull off a major upset this year, but it's coached well enough by first-year man Jonathan Smith to challenge an opponent who's overlooking it. Guess: Oregon State plus-17.


Missouri pick'em at South Carolina, over/under 64.5. Buying low on South Carolina, which has seen the spread move 2.5 points against them since it opened. The Gamecocks were out-muscled by Kentucky and outmatched against Georgia in their two losses, but the Tigers have neither the Wildcats' strength nor the Bulldogs' talent. Play: South Carolina pick'em.

Kentucky plus-6 at Texas A&M, over/under: 50.5. Spot certainly favors the Aggies, as it's a lot to ask from the Wildcats to pull a fourth upset in five weeks — not to mention in a venue as daunting as Kyle Field. But that's not a strong enough reason to pay a tax on still-rebuilding Texas A&M, which hasn't proven much outside of coming close to knocking off Clemson in week 2. Kentucky has been the better team, and shouldn't be getting any more than 3 points on the betting line. Lean: Kentucky plus-6.

LSU minus-2.5 at Florida, over/under: 43.5. May need to dial down the excitement level on Florida, which are further along than expected in coach Dan Mullen's first year but still flawed, especially on offense, despite a two-game win streak. LSU was a 4-point favorite in this game after upsetting Auburn last month and hasn't done anything wrong to shave even a small amount of points off of this line. Guess: LSU minus-2.5.

Auburn minus-4 at Mississippi State, over/under: 42. Despite Mississippi State disappointing in consecutive weeks with feeble offensive showings, it's difficult not to be mesmerized by the Bulldogs' potential if they can put it together. Can't fight off the temptation to buy low and take a leap of faith with coach Joe Moorhead by siding with a number that would have looked outrageous a few weeks ago. Guess: Mississippi State plus-4.

Vanderbilt plus-26.5 at Georgia, over/under: 53.5. Georgia has won by a combined 40 points in a pair of wins-without-covers over the last two weeks, and yet has still heard a chorus of gripes over its performances. That makes for an unfavorable situation for Vanderbilt, which doesn't have the defensive ability to keep up with Georgia's playmakers if they're at their best. There's a better chance they're focused and at their best this weekend. Guess: Georgia minus-26.5.

Alabama minus-34.5 at Arkansas, over/under: 56.5. This is the biggest favorite a Nick Saban-coached team has ever been on the road — and it might not even matter. The Crimson Tide can cover if they want, and against an SEC West divisional opponent, they might wait a possession or two longer before diving deep down their depth chart. Guess: Alabama minus-34.5.

UL Monroe plus-22.5 at Ole Miss, over/under: 75.5. These are two of the 20 worst defenses in the nation, as they're both giving up more than 6 yards per play on the year. Ole Miss has the talent to double this spread, but always wary of laying a big number with a team that can't stop any opponent. Guess: UL-Monroe plus-22.5.


East Carolina minus-10.5 at Temple, over/under: 52.5. It might be time to write off Temple's first two games, as it's since switched to a new quarterback in Anthony Russo and settled down defensively. And if only the last three weeks are isolated, the Owls look like the AAC contender they appeared in the preseason and far better than the Pirates. Lean: Temple minus-10.5.

Tulane plus-7 at Cincinnati, over/under: 48.5. Well, neither the Green Wave nor the Bearcats figure to look as strong as they did a week ago. Cincinnati had a glorified bye week in gashing Connecticut for nearly 700 yards in a 49-7 win as a 24-point favorite while Tulane swallowed Memphis 40-24 as a 14.5-point underdog. The Bearcats' success appears a little more sustainable, as they had shown flashes of strength earlier in the year. Guess: Cincinnati minus-7.

SMU plus-24.5 at Central Florida, over/under: 75. SMU has arguably improved each week under new coach Sonny Dykes, but UCF seems to be a level above almost every other Group of Five conference team. The Knights have covered in five straight FBS games dating back to last year, leaving no reason to stand out against them unless the spreads really spiral out of control. Guess: UCF minus-24.5.

Connecticut plus-35 at Memphis, over/under: 78.5. It's not going to work every week, but fade Connecticut in every game, and a profit is virtually guaranteed by the end of the year. The Huskies haven't covered in a single FBS game this year despite being an average 26-point underdog. Guess: Memphis minus-35.

Conference USA

UAB plus-9.5 at Louisiana Tech, over/under: 55.5. Since reviving the Blazers' program last year, coach Bill Clark has gone 6-3 against the spread as an underdog. UAB's strength rests in its secondary, and Louisiana Tech ranks in the top 20 in the nation in throwing on nearly 55 percent of its plays. Lean: UAB plus-9.5.

Middle Tennessee plus-6 at Marshall, over/under: 52. Marshall has endured some of the worst turnover luck in the nation — losing out on an estimated 6 points per game according to the S&P+ ratings — and still looked outstanding in every game apart from a 37-20 loss to undefeated North Carolina State. Middle Tennessee's biggest win came last week over Florida Atlantic, 25-24 as 3-point underdogs, in a game where they were slightly outplayed but converted a two-point conversion in the final seconds. Lean: Marshall minus-6.

Old Dominion plus-14 at Florida Atlantic, over/under: 65. There's always the threat of Florida Atlantic turning it on like last year when it closed the season on a 10-game winning streak, but the Owls haven't given any indication that another such run is imminent. In fact, the Monarchs have been the more efficient defensive team and aren't far behind on offense, which has woken up since Appalachian State transfer Blake LaRussa took over at quarterback. Guess: Old Dominion plus-14.

UTSA plus-1.5 at Rice, over/under: 50. Rice wants to slow the game to a crawl and run the ball. It just might work against a UTSA defense in the nation's bottom 20 in rushing efficiency defense by S&P+. It's undetermined what UTSA wants to do on offense; nothing has worked during an 0-4-1 against the spread start to the season. Guess: Rice minus-1.5.

North Texas minus-28 at UTEP, over/under: 53. UTEP, which holds the nation's longest losing streak at 17 games, has looked a little friskier in covering and outgaining its opponent in two of its last three games. North Texas quarterback Mason Fine is expected to play but was banged up in last week's 29-27 loss to Louisiana Tech as 7-point favorites. The Mean Green haven't laid this many points in an FBS game in at least 20 years. Guess: UTEP plus-28.


Utah State plus-3 at BYU, over/under: 54.5. BYU has played a tougher schedule than Utah State, but that discrepancy can't fully make up for how much the Aggies are out-performing the Cougars on both sides of the ball. Utah State has gained 6 yards per play to BYU's 4.7, and given up only 4.4 yards per plays to its opponent's 5.7 yards per play. Lean: Utah State plus-3.

Liberty minus-5 at New Mexico State, over/under: 64. Flames can't count on benefitting from a parade of turnovers during a midgame meltdown every week like it did in a 52-43 win as 7-point favorites last week at New Mexico. The Aggies should stay more poised after notching their first win last week, 27-20 over UTEP as 4.5-point favorites. Guess: New Mexico State plus-5.

South Florida minus-14.5 at Massachusetts, over/under: 71. Massachusetts hasn't as much as threatened to cover or stay competitive with any teams this season other than Duquense and Charlotte. South Florida, which has slipped past Illinois and East Carolina in its last two weeks, might be overrated but it's a lot better than Duquense and Charlotte. Guess: South Florida minus-14.5.


Miami (Ohio) plus-4 at Akron, over/under: 48.5. Miami (Ohio) has a talent advantage at almost every position. If it wasn't for Akron's 39-34 upset at Northwestern as 21.5-point underdogs last month — one of the flukiest results of the last decade after the Zips scored three defensive touchdowns — then this line might be flipped with the other side favored by more than a field goal. Play: Miami (Ohio) plus-4.

Ohio minus-13.5 at Kent State, over/under: 71. Ohio's defense has been just as big of a disaster as Kent State's, with the former giving up 7.2 yards per play to the latter's 7.5 yards per play. The Bobcats have performed at a level below their actual 2-2 straight-up and against the spread and don't deserve to lay two touchdowns on the road. Lean: Kent State plus-13.5.

Eastern Michigan plus-4.5 at Western Michigan, over/under: 57.5. Not in agreement with the line move, as steam has shifted the number as much as two points in Western Michigan's direction. The Broncos deserve to be a short favorite, but at an inflated price, the Eagles become more attractive as a senior-laden team motivated to beat their cross-state opponents for the first time in five years. Guess: Eastern Michigan plus-4.5.

Bowling Green plus-21 at Toledo, over/under: 72.5. Not even an early date with its Battle of I-75 rival Toledo can save Bowling Green, which appears on the verge of firing coach Mike Jinks after four blowout losses in four FBS games so far this season. If Toledo wouldn't have gotten blown out in a tough spot at Fresno State, 49-27 as 9-point underdogs, then this spread would be at least three points higher. Guess: Toledo minus-21.

Buffalo minus-8 at Central Michigan, over/under: 51. The Chippewas have improved and should see from positive regression from their minus-4 turnover margin padded by an unlucky 27 percent fumble recovery rate on the year. The Bulls could go the other way, as they're plus-5 in turnovers with a 57 percent fumble recovery rate. Guess: Central Michigan plus-7.5.

Northern Illinois minus-2.5 at Ball State, over/under: 52.5. Northern Illinois' numbers on the season are beyond alarming — it's last in the nation at 3.4 yards per play against FBS teams — but it's played the likes of Iowa, Utah and Florida State. It's easier to give the Huskies the benefit of the doubt in MAC play, which they've now dominated for a decade. Guess: Northern Illinois minus-2.5.

Mountain West

Colorado State minus-3 at San Jose State, over/under: 62.5. Sure, Colorado State has done something San Jose State hasn't managed in getting into the win column, but that doesn't mean the Rams are the better team. Colorado State is getting outscored by an average of 18 points per game, as opposed to San Jose State's 13 points per game. This line is based too much off of the perception of these teams coming into the season, and not their actual results. Lean: San Jose State plus-3.

San Diego State plus-15.5 at Boise State, over/under: 51.5. San Diego State has gone 3-2 straight-up, 4-1 against the spread versus Boise State since the two teams became conference mates seven years ago. While historical data like that is typically useless, in this case, it illustrates the defensive consistency fostered under coach Rocky Long. The Aztecs are the rare Mountain West Conference team that can scheme effectively for the Broncos. Lean: San Diego State plus-15.5.

Wyoming plus-3.5 at Hawaii, over/under: 57.5. Neither the Cowboys nor the Warriors have covered a game in more than a month. Wyoming's downturn might be more defensible, though, considering its faced the likes of Washington State, Missouri and Boise State. Lean: Wyoming plus-3.5.

New Mexico plus-10 at UNLV, over/under: 63. Max Gilliam will make his first start at quarterback for UNLV after Armani Rodgers went down with an injury. Rumblings indicate the Rebels might be better off with the California transfer under center, but laying double digits is a lot to ask for anyone in their first collegiate start. The line came down as few as 1.5 points with news of Rodgers' injury. Lean: New Mexico plus-10.

Navy minus-3 at Air Force, over/under: 48.5. Air Force's point differential against a mediocre slate of three FBS teams this season is minus-19; Navy's point differential against a mediocre slate of three FBS teams this season is minus-18. With both military academies in a down year and at risk of sacrificing the Commander's-in-Chief Trophy to Army for the second straight year, must go with the more trustworthy coach. That's Navy's Ken Niumatalolo. Guess: Navy minus-3.

Fresno State minus-14 at UNR, over/under: 59.5. Senior quarterback Ty Gangi has the Wolf Pack's offense flying, which makes them a backdoor threat even if they're getting blown out by Fresno State for the majority of the game. Fresno State appears to have picked up where it left off in winning the Mountain West's West division last year, but hasn't encountered an offense as strong as UNR's yet. Guess: UNR plus-14.

Sun Belt

Louisiana-Lafayette minus-3.5 at Texas State, over/under: 59.5. One team rested on a bye last week; the other got pulverized in a 42-point loss at Alabama. Even without the knowledge that these teams stack up fairly evenly — Lafayette is No. 122 in F/+ to Texas State's No. 123 — the latter must be the pick over the former on principle alone. Lean: Texas State plus-3.5.

South Alabama plus-14 at Georgia Southern, over/under: 54.5. The Eagles are an explosive and well-coached young team that's worth taking as an underdog. The equation changes quite a bit when they're being asked to lay a big number for the first time in more than two years. Guess: South Alabama plus-14.

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

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