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October 21, 2018

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 7

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AP Photo/Aaron Gash

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor runs during an NCAA college football game against Michigan Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, in Madison, Wis.

ESPN’s College GameDay is headed on Saturday to Ann Arbor, Mich., making Wisconsin at Michigan the de facto biggest game of college football’s Week 7.

Based on past results this season, that’s good news for Talking Points. The Big Ten Conference is the league the weekly blog picking every game against the spread has found the most success — excluding the Independent designation, where Talking Points is an inexplicable 12-4 on the year.

The blog has gone 30-24 against the spread picking every Big Ten game, including 3-1 on the designated “plays.”

If the Wolverines and Badgers have any competition for the most intriguing matchup, it would come from Georgia and LSU, which meet in Baton Rouge, La., in cross-divisional SEC matchup. From a plays perspective, the SEC has also done well for Talking Points as the blog is 4-2 in the top-confidence category despite going only 24-24 overall.

When it comes to the Pac-12 Conference, however, things haven’t gone so smoothly. That’s been the worst league for the blog, which has gone a horrendous 9-21 against the spread so far.

Do any of these splits matter? Probably not and they’ll likely even out, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to monitor and see which conferences the blog has a good read on.

Check below for Talking Points’ picks on all of Week 7’s widely lined games. After a 29-24-1 record last week and some internal accounting, the overall mark at the year stands at 138-159-6. Picks are separated by league, labeled in three confidence categories and listed in rough order of confidence. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas at the time of publication.

ACC

Duke plus-3 at Georgia Tech, over/under: 53.5. Duke has covered in four straight seasons against Georgia Tech, as the Blue Devils’ defense comes ready to defend the option. That should be the case again this year as they’re coming off of a bye week and will be a much stiffer than test than the Yellow Jackets saw the last two weeks when they scored more than 60 points on both Bowling Green and Louisville. Play: Duke plus-3.

Miami minus-6.5 at Virginia, over/under: 48. The Cavaliers play at one of the most deliberate paces in the nation, meaning they’re too methodical to fall into a big early hole. The Hurricanes have a major talent advantage, but Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall is sharp and had an extra week to prepare off of a bye. Play: Virginia plus-6.5.

Louisville plus-14 at Boston College, over/under: 61. Much like last week, there’s a lack of clarity on injury Eagles running back A.J. Dillon’s status. Can’t lay double digits with Boston College if there’s any chance of Dillon not playing, as it was outgained by 215 yards without him last week in a 28-23 loss to North Carolina State. Guess: Louisville plus-14.

Virginia Tech minus-5.5 at North Carolina, over/under: 58. Not going to downgrade Virginia Tech much for last week's 45-23 loss at Notre Dame as 7-point underdogs considering how much Notre Dame's offense is clicking all of a sudden. The Hokies also only trailed by a point at halftime, and had they played that well throughout the whole game, the line this week would be above a touchdown. Guess: Virginia Tech minus-5.5.

Big Ten

Nebraska plus-3.5 at Northwestern, over/under: 59. Number opened as high as minus-6.5, before those prices unsurprisingly disappeared quicker than the 1994 Miami Hurricanes’ defense against a fumblerooski. Northwestern has been much worse than winless Nebraska on offense — averaging 4.7 yards per play to the Cornhuskers’ 6 yards per play — and doesn’t have a big enough defensive edge — Northwestern is allowing 5.7 yards per play to Nebraska’s 6 yards per play — to make up for it. Lean: Nebraska plus-3.5.

Iowa minus-5.5 at Indiana, over/under: 53. Iowa’s offense is too erratic, oscillating between looking strong enough to compete in the Big Ten and struggling enough to lose to a mid-tier MAC team. Indiana is unexciting, but more consistent with a reliably average offense and stiff defensive front seven. Lean: Indiana plus-5.5.

Wisconsin plus-8 at Michigan, over/under: 47.5. This is the lowest total on the board of any Power Five conference game this week. The Wolverines should win here, but it’s much harder to lay more than a touchdown in a game projected to be dominated by defense. Lean: Wisconsin plus-8.

Minnesota plus-29.5 at Ohio State, over/under: 59. Ohio State’s defense has proven a liability, but it’s got too much talent not to get it together eventually. This might be the week, as Minnesota’s offense is just as young and scuffling to an even higher degree. Guess: Ohio State minus-29.5.

Purdue minus-10.5 at Illinois, over/under: 63. Illini are not as hapless as they’ve been the last couple seasons, as they have some real playmakers including young running backs Reggie Corbin and Mike Epstein. Purdue struggles both stopping the run and limiting big plays. Guess: Illinois plus-10.5.

Michigan State plus-13.5 at Penn State, over/under: 54. Michigan State has been one of the nation’s most disappointing teams, and it’s frustrating not to have taken advantage considering all of the warning signs of a drop-off were there. The Spartans barely outgained their opponents last season and were mainly successful by virtue of a 5-1 record in games decided by less than a touchdown. Bookmakers are getting closer to their true value now, but they may still be getting a tad too much respect. Guess: Penn State minus-13.5.

Rutgers plus-25 at Maryland, over/under: 52. Oddsmakers are going to have to make like the world’s fastest air pump and inflate numbers higher than this to entice any action on the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers has lost by an average of 29 points in five straight losses — and most of those teams were worse than Maryland. Guess: Maryland minus-25.

Big 12

Baylor plus-15 at Texas, over/under: 60.5. An advantageous spot for Baylor, which catches Texas off of its biggest wins in years —a 48-45 upset over archrival Texas — and can addle the Longhorns with its dizzyingly fast offense. The Bears are playing at one of the fastest paces in the nation to take advantage of a strong receiving corps starring Jalen Hurd and Denzel Mims. Lean: Baylor plus-15.

Oklahoma State minus-7 at Kansas State, over/under: 60.5. Both inexperienced teams are mired in ruts, but at least Oklahoma State has shown flashes this season, most notably in a 44-21 blowout win over Boise State where the Cowboys outgained the Broncos by nearly 2 yards per play. It would have been unimaginable that they’d lay less than double digits against the Wildcats after that performance. Lean: Oklahoma State minus-7.

West Virginia minus-6 at Iowa State, over/under: 57.5. Iowa State has outperformed any reasonable expectation in starting Big 12 play 3-0 against the spread, 1-2 straight-up with a win over Oklahoma State and close losses to Oklahoma and TCU. The well-coached, defensively-disciplined Cyclones were a double-digit underdog in all of those games, but now find themselves stripped of any value in sports books because of their success. Guess: West Virginia minus-6.

Pac-12

Washington minus-3 at Oregon, over/under: 57.5. In case the collapse at Stanford earlier in the season didn’t drive home the point strongly enough, there are real concerns with new Oregon coach Mario Cristobal. He’s certainly at a disadvantage to consistently-profitable Washington coach Chris Petersen. That wouldn’t be a problem if Oregon had a personnel advantage, but they’re not there yet. Play: Washington minus-3.

Arizona plus-14 at Utah, over/under: 51.5. This line shot up 2.5 points off Utah’s 40-21 upset win at Stanford last week, despite the game being closer than the final score. The Utes are still a defensively-led team that’s averaging less than 5 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, and not a good candidate to lay a big number. Lean: Arizona plus-14.

UCLA plus-7 at California, over/under: 52.5. There’s not a single area where UCLA has an advantage in this matchup. The Golden Bears have outperformed the Bruins this season, field a better roster at the moment and may even have the better coach despite the name-value discrepancy between Chip Kelly and Justin Wilcox. Lean: California minus-7.

Colorado plus-7 at USC, over/under: 58.5. The Trojans are coming off of two straight wins and their first cover of the season, not to mention a bye week, but need to see a little more to be sure they’re anywhere near their lofty preseason expectations. Laying a touchdown to an undefeated team with only one against the spread defeat, this line presupposes that they’re already there. Guess: Colorado plus-7.

SEC

Texas A&M minus-2 at South Carolina, over/under: 52.5. Both teams were in close games that came down to the wire last week, but only one deserved to be. Texas A&M outgained Kentucky by 212 yards and had a postgame win expectancy of 96 percent per S&P+ despite needing overtime to prevail 20-14. South Carolina was at a 113-yard disadvantage with a 4 percent win expectancy and still beat Missouri 37-35 by virtue of a plus-3 turnover margin. Play: Texas A&M minus-2.

Florida minus-7.5 at Vanderbilt, over/under: 50. Might be time to start fading the Gators, which are riding high off of a pair of back-to-back narrow, upset victories. They’ve yet to play a single team that can pass effectively, the only thing Vanderbilt does well, as senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur and junior receiver Kalija Lipscomb could test a green secondary. Lean: Vanderbilt plus-7.

Georgia minus-7 at LSU, over/under: 50.5. LSU is a top 20 defense by most measures, but Georgia has two quarterbacks — sophomore Jake Fromm and freshman Justin Fields — completing at least 72 percent of their passes. LSU is below average on offense, ranking 70th in the nation in gaining 5.4 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, and can’t be trusted to score with Georgia. Lean: Georgia minus-7.

Tennessee plus-15 at Auburn, over/under: 47.5. Auburn is one of the best two-loss teams a bettor will ever find through six weeks of the season. The Tigers have played one of the nation’s toughest schedules, which is the only reason for the early setbacks and makes them a strong buy-low possibility. Guess: Auburn minus-15.

Ole Miss minus-6.5 at Arkansas, over/under: 70.5. Few Power Five conference teams have defenses as porous as the Rebels, which are giving up more than 6 yards per play. They’re too deficient on that side of the ball to lay points on the road, let alone to an improving team like Arkansas — even if they’re improvement has been at a snail’s pace. Guess: Arkansas plus-6.5.

Missouri plus-28 at Alabama, over/under: 75. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock will probably be the best passer Alabama has seen this season, which won’t mean much early in the game. But it could end up mattering late as the Tigers don’t figure to ever stop throwing, and thus, leaving backdoor-covering possibilities. Guess: Missouri plus-28.

AAC

Central Florida minus-4.5 at Memphis, over/under: 78.5. Prior performance should still hold weight at this point of the season, but it shouldn’t overwhelm what’s happened this year. And by this year only, the Tigers aren’t this far behind the Knights. Memphis has played a slightly easier schedule but it’s outgained Central Florida by 1.2 yards per play on offense and given up only .1 yard more per play on defense. Lean: Memphis plus-4.5.

South Florida minus-7.5 at Tulsa, over/under: 63.5. Don’t be swayed by South Florida’s 5-0 straight-up start to the season; its 2-3 against the spread record might be more telling. The Bulls have relied on strong turnover luck — they’re plus-6 on the season with a 70 percent fumble recovery rate — that’s unsustainable. Guess: Tulsa plus-7.5.

Temple minus-7 at Navy, over/under: 49.5. Navy is really struggling, but expect coach Ken Niumatalolo to have the Midshipmen back on track at some point this season. It’s too jarring to see the Owls go from getting a touchdown at home against the Midshipmen last year — in a game they admittedly won 34-26 — to laying one this season. Guess: Navy plus-7.

Conference USA

Middle Tennessee plus-2.5 at Florida International, over/under: 57. The Blue Raiders were expected to be much better than the Panthers this year, but it hasn’t worked out that way as the latter has arguably outperformed the former on both sides of the ball. Oddsmakers have been slow to catch up, and now Florida International coach Butch Jones has enjoyed three weeks to prepare for Middle Tennessee since his last FBS game. Lean: Florida International minus-2.5.

UAB minus-16.5 at Rice, over/under: 52.3. The Blazers’ defense ranks third in the nation in success rate by the S&P+ rankings. That’s trouble for an Owls team that could manage a field goal in a 20-3 loss to UTSA as 1-point favorites last week. Guess: UAB minus-16.5.

Southern Miss plus-9 at North Texas, over/under: 58. Southern Miss could be scary off of a bye as it appeared to be improving each week anyway, an ascent that included a narrow 24-13 loss at Auburn as 27-point underdogs in a strange, weather-affected contest. North Texas is a stay away for now as the Mean Green looked toothless in last week’s 27-24 win over UTEP as 26-point favorites without star running back Loren Easley. Guess: Southern Miss plus-9.

Marshall minus-3.5 at Old Dominion, over/under: 58.5. Marshall keeps losing more players to injuries and bookmakers haven’t been quick enough to adjust as it’s dropped four straight against the spread. There’s a chance, however, that promising freshman quarterback Isaiah Green returns this week, and in that scenario, laying only 3.5 points is value. Guess: Marshall minus-3.5.

Western Kentucky minus-9.5 at Charlotte, over/under: 44.5. All records aren’t created equal. Western Kentucky, 1-4 straight-up and 4-1 against the spread, have seen their last three losses come by exactly three points. Charlotte, 2-3 straight-up and against the spread, haven’t lost by less than 18 points in any of its defeat. Guess: Western Kentucky minus-9.5.

Houston minus-16.5 at East Carolina, over/under: 69.5. Hard to know what to expect from East Carolina, which has both blown out North Carolina this season and gotten blown out by Temple. Houston is just as erratic though considering struggles against Rice and Tulsa, and it’s the only team being asked to lay more than two touchdowns. Guess: East Carolina plus-16.5.

Independents

Pittsburgh plus-20.5 at Notre Dame, over/under: 56. Couldn’t have trusted the Fighting Irish laying this many points earlier in the year, but their ceiling is much higher since Ian Book took over at quarterback. Book is averaging 8.4 yards per play with nine touchdowns to one interception, leaving oddsmakers sprinting to catch up — and they’re not quite there yet. Guess: Notre Dame minus-20.5.

Hawaii plus-11.5 at BYU, over/under: 55.5. Some tax should be expected on Hawaii’s opponent during a midseason trip to the mainland, but this much seems excessive. There’s not much separating the Cougars and Warriors, meaning the line should be closer to a touchdown in favor of the home team. Guess: Hawaii plus-11.5.

MAC

Toledo minus-2 at Eastern Michigan, over/under: 64. No team has encountered worst luck recently than the Eagles, which have dropped four straight by a touchdown or less. The Rockets have one of the 10 least efficient defenses in the nation in giving up 7.1 yards per play. Lean: Eastern Michigan plus-2.

Ohio plus-4 at Northern Illinois, over/under: 53. This is a pick-a-poison situation: Ohio has no defense. Northern Illinois has no offense. Personally prefer the team that’s showed little offense, especially when it’s played as scheduled as tough as the Huskies have. Lean: Northern Illinois minus-4.

Western Michigan minus-14.5 at Bowling Green, over/under: 71. The Falcons snuck in a backdoor cover for its first win of the year on the point spread last week, a 52-36 loss to Toledo as 23-point underdogs. That’s probably the only way Bowling Green has a chance to cash going forward with the defense quite possibly the worst in the nation and coach Mike Jinks highly embattled. Guess: Western Michigan minus-14.5.

Ball State plus-3 at Central Michigan, over/under: 52.5. This might be the most evenly-matched game of the year — Ball State is No. 108 in the nation by Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings to Central Michigan’s No. 109 —and yet the home team is dominating the action. The game opened at pick’em, and the line move might put the slight value on the Cardinals. Guess: Ball State plus-3.

Akron plus-11 at Buffalo, over/under: 54. Buffalo has a capable veteran quarterback in junior Tyree Jackson, and a pair of homerrun-threat freshman running backs in Kevin Marks and Jarret Paterson. It might be hard to lay double digits with the Bulls, but the Zips have no one as explosive as any of those three players. Guess: Buffalo minus-11.

Kent State plus-11.5 at Miami (Ohio), over/under: 54. Miami has more than enough talent to blow out the Zips, but it also belongs on a short list of a team to never back as a favorite. The RedHawks are 5-7 straight-up, 3-9 against the spread when laying points dating back to the start of last season. Guess: Kent State plus-11.5.

Mountain West

Air Force plus-10 at San Diego State, over/under: 45.5. Air Force’s 35-7 victory over Navy as 3-point underdogs said more about the Midshipmen than the Falcons — They’re in the rare down year. San Diego State’s stifling of Boise State, 19-13 as 14-point underdogs, was more impressive anyway. Falcons should struggle to move the ball against the Aztecs, which will win an eighth straight in the series. Lean: San Diego State minus-10.

Boise State minus-17.5 at UNR, over/under: 62.5. This is an awfully high asking price on the road for a team that hasn’t shown much offense in more than a month. The Broncos gained less than 3 yards per play in a 19-13 loss to San Diego State as 14-point favorites last week, and drastic improvements are tough to nail down in a few days. Lean: UNR plus-17.5.

UNLV plus-26 at Utah State, over/under: 63.5. Here’s a situation where the game holds a lot more significance to one side. UNLV coach Tony Sanchez has challenged the Rebels to show up off an embarrassing 50-14 loss to New Mexico as 9.5-point favorites, while Utah State coach Matt Wells has higher aspirations for the Aggies. Lean: UNLV plus-26.

Army minus-15 at San Jose State, over/under: 54. Tough trip for the Black Knights, which lead the nation in running the ball on 83.7 percent of their plays, coming 3,000 miles to play a team with a decent rush defense. Having two losses by less than a field goal, including one in overtime, the Spartans are better than their 0-5 straight-up record indicates. Guess: San Jose State plus-15.

Wyoming plus-18 at Fresno State, over/under: 45. After last week’s 21-3 at UNR as 14-point favorites, Fresno State is now 16-2 against the spread overall under Jeff Tedford including 9-1 versus the number in conference play. Might as well keep riding the Bulldogs until oddsmakers way over-adjust, which they don’t appear to have done yet. Guess: Fresno State minus-18.

New Mexico minus-1 at Colorado State, over/under: 66.5. Sell high on New Mexico — though it would be easier if the line came out a little higher — because it was set up in an ideal position against UNLV last week. Colorado State also seemed to get its act together during a bye week, beating San Jose State 42-30 as 3-point favorites, and could potentially be undervalued. Guess: Colorado State plus-1.

Sun Belt

Troy minus-9.5 at Liberty, over/under: 65. The Trojans are on a four-game straight-up and against the spread winning streak, yet somehow three of those teams —Coastal Carolina, UL-Monroe and Georgia State — might be worse than the Flames. And Troy has given up an average of 23 points per game against those teams. Guess: Liberty plus-9.5.

New Mexico State plus-8 at UL-Lafayette, over/under: 69.5. The Ragin’ Cajuns have gained 6.2 yards per play against FBS opponents — and that includes games against Alabama and Mississippi State. They shouldn’t have any problem moving the ball on the Aggies, and might end up having one of the better offenses in any of the Group of Five conferences. Guess: UL-Lafayette minus-8.

UL-Monroe plus-6 at Coastal Carolina, over/under: 65.5. There are two of the eight worst defensive teams in the nation by S&P+ so expect a wild shootout where anything could happen. And in a wild shootout where anything could happen, the points are usually the pick. Guess: UL-Monroe plus-6.

Louisiana Tech minus-13.5 at UTSA, over/under: 45.5. Hoped to fade the Roadrunners off of last week’s out-of-nowhere 20-3 victory over Rice. But the number is simply too high for a game where there aren’t going to be many points, meaning taking UTSA and hoping it figured out something sustainable is slightly preferable. Guess: UTSA plus-13.5.

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

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