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December 10, 2018

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 4

BYU celebrates Wisconsin

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BYU players react after Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone missed a field goal in the final seconds of the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Madison, Wis. BYU won 24-21.

The biggest upset of the young college football season belongs to one of last year's worst teams in the nation to bet on.

BYU bottomed out last season with a 4-9 record, the program’s worst in 47 years. The Cougars weren’t any better at sports books, where they also finished 4-9 versus the number after losing their first eight games against the spread.

With the way they’ve started in 2018, it might not be too early to say last season was the anomaly and not, as many feared, a sign of things to come under third-year coach Kalani Sitake. BYU opened the year by upsetting Arizona outright as an 11-point underdog, a major win that pales in comparison to what it pulled off last week.

The Cougars became the first team to upset a national championship contender this season when they went into Madison, Wis., and pushed around the Badgers in a 24-21 victory. Wisconsin came into the season with 20-to-1 odds to win the College Football Playoff, but sprung up to 50-to-1 after the BYU loss.

Wisconsin closed a 23.5-point favorite, making it the first team this season to lose as more than a three-touchdown favorite. The Badgers got some company the same day, when fellow Big Ten West Division member Northwestern dropped 39-34 to Akron as 21.5-point favorites.

The Zips were another team that had been recently unreliable in sports books before a big upset. They had failed to cover in their last four games before knocking off the Wildcats.

Could any more giant favorites fall in Week 4? Talking Points is here to find out, continuing the blog’s series picking every widely-lined game in the nation against the spread.

Last week was the most successful yet, helping pull up the season total record to 63-78-3 —7-5 on plays, 23-27-1 on leans and 33-46-2 on guesses.

Read below for all of Week 4’s picks. Games are separated by conference with the home team taking precedence in non-conference games, labeled in three separate confidence categories and listed in rough order of confidence. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

ACC

Clemson minus-16 at Georgia Tech, over/under: 15.5. Yellow Jackets are slightly undervalued — this line should probably be minus-14 — after two straight closes where they played well enough to win. Their speedy triple option is also the rare offense that can somewhat neutralize Clemson’s decided athletic advantage on defense. Lean: Georgia Tech plus-16.

Northern Illinois plus-10.5 at Florida State, over/under: 45. If the staggeringly low total wasn’t enough of an indication, both these offenses are struggling in immense ways. There doesn’t figure to be enough points scored in this matchup to lay double digits. Lean: Northern Illinois plus-10.5.

Notre Dame minus-7 at Wake Forest, over/under: 60.5. Notre Dame has struggled in each of the last two weeks, failing to cover in close wins over Vanderbilt and Ball State, but the Irish have still shown glimpses of their explosive potential. There’s a gulf of talent discrepancy in this matchup, which should dissuade from looking at the underdog. Guess: Notre Dame minus-7.

Florida International plus-26.5 at Miami, over/under: 56.5. A trend of the Hurricanes using their talent to blow away overmatched non-conference opponents has emerged. Miami is 6-1 against the spread versus non-Power Five conference teams under coach Mark Richt. Guess: Miami minus-26.5.

Pittsburgh minus-3.5 at North Carolina, over/under: 48.5. Pittsburgh’s defense continues to inexplicably struggle under defensive-minded coach Pat Narduzzi, which should help North Carolina’s offense get on track after two weeks off because of Hurricane Florence. The Panthers haven’t shown enough to lay points on the road to any team in the ACC. Guess: North Carolina plus-3.5.

Louisville plus-5.5 at Virginia, over/under: 54. It would have been inconceivable to find Louisville as an underdog in this spot a couple weeks ago. The Cardinals have limped to a 2-1 straight-up, 0-3 against the spread record, but they’ve played much better under freshman quarterback Malik Cunningham, whom will make his first start this week. Guess: Louisville plus-5.5.

Connecticut plus-27.5 at Syracuse, over/under: 76. “Letdown spots” are an overrated handicapping tactic to begin with, but especially when the team coming off the big win is playing a completely overmatched opponent. The Orange’s breakthrough against Florida State should hold no bearing against the Huskies, which are the second worst team in the nation by Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings. Guess: Syracuse minus-27.5.

Big Ten

Boston College minus-6.5 at Purdue, over/under: 66. Purdue has given up a mediocre 3.9 yards per rush attempt, and that’s without seeing anyone quite like Boston College’s A.J. Dillon, who’s averaging 7.3 yards per carry as the nation’s fifth leading rusher. The Eagles have covered in all three of their games, and still look undervalued. Lean: Boston College minus-6.5.

Tulane plus-36 at Ohio State, over/under: 68.5. The problem with betting against the Buckeyes at high numbers is they’re second-team offense, led by Bishop Gorman graduate Tate Martell, has been just as efficient as their starters. Ohio State will lead by 36 points at some point of this game; the only question is if Tulane can manage a backdoor cover. Guess: Ohio State minus-36.

Nebraska plus-18 at Michigan, over/under: 50. Nebraska has outgained each of its first two opponents by more than 100 yards and has a 1.3 net yard per play on the season, meaning it’s extremely unlucky to be 0-2 straight-up and against the spread. It also means this line is offering a couple more points than necessary. Guess: Nebraska plus-18.

Penn State minus-28.5 at Illinois, over/under: 60. Penn State might have been the pick at the opening number of minus-26, but the addition of an extra field goal feels a little excessive. Illinois will get an influx of talent for this game, as five players’ indefinite suspensions are ending. Guess: Illinois plus-28.5.

Minnesota plus-1.5 at Maryland, over/under: 47. Hate to go against money-machine coach P.J. Fleck, but number looks deflated following Maryland’s 35-14 blowout loss to Temple last week. Maryland has gained .7 yards more per play on offense this year than Minnesota, which counters by giving up .7 yards less per play on defense. Those cancel out, meaning Maryland should at least get the standard 3 points for home-field advantage. Guess: Maryland minus-1.5.

Wisconsin minus-3 at Iowa, over/under: 43.5. Money keeps coming in on Iowa, which has pulled this spread down a point. It all feels a little reactionary off a loss to a solid BYU team, especially considering this spread was Wisconsin minus-7.5 coming into the season. Guess: Wisconsin minus-3.

Michigan State minus-5 at Indiana, over/under: 48.5. Could pick Michigan State expecting a breakout based on the program’s infrastructure and proven personnel, but it’s shown nothing to hint at that on the field through two games. Indiana has been better than Michigan State on defense, and just as strong on offense with a comparable schedule. Guess: Indiana plus-5.

Buffalo minus-5.5 at Rutgers, over/under: 51.5. There’s not much positive to say about the Scarlet Knights after they’ve lost by a combined 90 points the last two weeks, but there is this: They can’t possibly see their cruel turnover luck get any worse. Rutgers is last in the nation with a minus-9 turnover margin, which should regress over time with a few bounces. Guess: Rutgers plus-5.5.

Big 12

TCU minus-3 at Texas, over/under: 47.5. TCU built its entire early season around last week’s Ohio State showdown, and played well despite a 40-28 loss. Texas has improved more gradually, and it looked like everything came together in a dominating second half against USC that led to a 38-14 victory. There’s no better underdog coach in the nation than Tom Herman, who’s gone 10-1 against the spread and 7-4 straight-up in the role. Play: Texas plus-3.

Kansas State plus-16.5 at West Virginia, over/under: 60.5. Still not sold on West Virginia, which has only gotten more popular in the betting market after opening with a pair of wins and covers. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder has dominated this coaching matchup, going 4-2 straight-up and 5-1 against the spread against Dana Holgorsen. Play: Kansas State plus-16.5.

Texas Tech plus-14 at Oklahoma State, over/under: 76.5. Cowboys’ defense has been one of the biggest revelations of the early season, and considering a chunk of its success came against a great offense in Boise State, the production might just be sustainable. Oklahoma State remains a bet-on team for the foreseeable future. Lean: Oklahoma State minus-14.

Akron plus-18.5 at Iowa State, over/under: 47.5. Akron scored three defensive touchdowns — two of them by Alvin Davis, who returned two interceptions a total of 147 yards — to shock Northwestern as 21.5-point underdogs. The Zips probably won’t score three defensive touchdowns for the rest of the year. The upset doesn’t change the fact that Iowa State is on another level than Akron, which shouldn’t be getting three fewer points than it did against Northwestern against a better team. Lean: Iowa State minus-18.5.

Kansas plus-7.5 at Baylor, over/under: 55.5 Yes, Kansas has looked like a real team in winning by a combined 65 points the last two weeks. No, Kansas is not wise bet in Big 12 play under coach David Beaty, who’s 1-26 straight-up and 9-16-2 against the spread in conference games. Guess: Baylor minus-7.5.

Army plus-30.5 at Oklahoma, over/under: 62.5. Army won’t make any careless mistakes as it’s consistently one of the most disciplined teams in the nation, which is one major attribute for a massive underdog like this. But it might not matter against a team with such a suffocating talent advantage at every position. Guess: Oklahoma minus-30.5.

Pac-12

Stanford minus-2.5 at Oregon, over/under: 57. Point spread on this game was Oregon minus-1.5 last week, which means there’s been a major overreaction to the Ducks’ sleepwalked 35-22 win over San Jose State. Oregon was up 28-6 before seeming to become disinterested. Lean: Oregon plus-2.5.

Washington State plus-3.5 at USC, over/under: 53. Adjusting for opponents is of the utmost important here. The Cougars’ numbers dwarf the Trojans’ but they were gleaned against one of the weakest schedules in the nation through three weeks. USC is 1-2 straight-up, 0-3 against the spread to Washington State’s 3-0 straight-up and against the spread, but it’s played one of the toughest slates of opponents. Lean: USC minus-3.5.

Arizona State plus-17 at Washington, over/under: 51. Don’t mind giving big numbers with the Huskies, which have one of the best rosters in the nation and appeared to lock in with a stifling performance in a 21-7 win at Utah last week. No team in the Pac-12 should be able to compete with Washington at its best. Lean: Washington minus-17.

Arizona minus-7 at Oregon State, over/under: 75.5. If coach Kevin Sumlin and coordinator Noel Mazzone figure out how to properly utilize their considerable offensive talent then the Wildcats could cover this number easily. There’s been no indication of that happening, however, during a disastrous 1-2 straight-up and against the spread start to the season. Guess: Oregon State plus-7.

SEC

Louisiana Tech plus-21 at LSU, over/under: 51.5. With speedy running back Jaqwis Dancy and dual-threat quarterback J’Mar Smith, Louisiana Tech might actually have the better offense in this matchup. LSU might be getting more praise than it deserves for the win at Auburn last week, which was impressive but also aided by considerable good fortune. Play: Louisiana Tech plus-21.

Arkansas plus-30 at Auburn, over/under: 58. Chad Morris is too shrewd of a coach to allow the Razorbacks to continue to struggle as much as they have the last two weeks in losses to North Texas and Colorado State. Excluding this season’s game with Alabama, Arkansas will probably never be this big of an underdog again in his tenure. Lean: Arkansas plus-30.

Texas A&M plus-27 at Alabama, over/under: 61. It’s taken four games, but Alabama’s point spreads have finally reached a territory where they can’t possibly hold any value. Texas A&M is a proven solid team in every area, and shouldn’t be getting four more points than the flawed likes of Louisville and Ole Miss did against Alabama on the betting line. Lean: Texas A&M plus-27.

Kent State plus-28 at Ole Miss, over/under: 75.5. Kent State gave up 643 yards to Penn State last week, and might have the worst defense in the country. It’s the perfect opponent for Ole Miss to regain its confidence against after getting roasted 63-7 versus Alabama. Lean: Ole Miss minus-28.

South Carolina minus-2 at Vanderbilt, over/under: 54.5. Better spot for South Carolina, which got an extra week of rest off of its 41-17 pounding at the hands of Georgia, while Vanderbilt must rebound immediately from a mentally and physically exhausting 22-17 loss at Notre Dame. Gamecocks also still hold an overall talent advantage. Lean: South Carolina minus-2.

Mississippi State minus-9.5 at Kentucky, over/under: 46.5. Excuse the usage of one of the most clichéd football terms, but Mississippi State is elite. That’s meaningful because the Bulldogs are only being priced as a very good, not great, team. Lean: Mississippi State minus-9.5.

Florida minus-5 at Tennessee, over/under: 46.5. Yes, it came against East Tennessee State and UTEP, but Tennessee really appeared to put it together over the last two weeks in completely dominating performances. The Volunteers at least showed enough to where it shouldn’t be more than a field goal underdog at home against another rebuilding former power program. Guess: Tennessee plus-5.

Georgia minus-14.5 at Missouri, over/under: 64.5. While Georgia’s offense has been more unstoppable than ever in the early going, its defense has quietly regressed from an efficiency standpoint in allowing 4.6 yards per play despite a relatively weak schedule. That might be enough of an opening to allow Missouri senior quarterback Drew Lock, the nation’s sixth leading passer coming into the week, to keep the margin within single digits. Guess: Missouri plus-14.5.

AAC

Ohio plus-8 at Cincinnati, over/under: 53. Cincinnati might be among the most improved teams in the nation, and the betting market still hasn’t caught up as it’s covered easily in all three games. Ohio will find it difficult to move the ball against a defense ranked in the nation’s top five in giving up only 3.8 yards per play. Play: Cincinnati minus-8.

Florida Atlantic plus-14 at Central Florida, over/under: 77. This line projected closer to a touchdown coming into the season, and would have stayed there if the Owls could have even put up a halfway decent fight at Oklahoma instead of 63-14 loss as 18-point underdogs. Consider the blowout part of the growing pains with highly-touted freshman quarterback Chris Robison, who’s looked much better ever since. Guess: Florida Atlantic plus-14.

Navy minus-6.5 at SMU, over/under: 62.5. Navy has been underwhelming statistically, which makes this line look a tad inflated. Prefer to never go against the Midshipmen, however, unless absolutely necessary because they’re consistently one of the best-coached teams under Ken Niumatalolo and outperform their projections. Guess: Navy minus-6.5.

South Alabama plus-31 at Memphis, over/under: 67.5. Down 15 points to Texas State in the third quarter last week, South Alabama ignited to score 25 points in the game’s final 21 minutes. The comeback could kickstart a Jaguars’ roster with more playmakers than perceived. Guess: South Alabama plus-31.

East Carolina plus-20.5 at South Florida, over/under: 69. South Florida has a treasure trove of offensive weapons, especially at receiver, that will equal major matchup problems for East Carolina. The Bulls might end up better than last year’s team, which gave 22.5 points to the Pirates on the road ahead of a 61-31 win. Guess: South Florida minus-21.

Conference USA

North Carolina State minus-6 at Marshall, over/under: 57.5. The Wolfpack have put up outrageous numbers through two games, but they came against perhaps the weakest schedule of any Power Five team consisting of James Madison and Georgia State. It might be a shellshock going up against an experienced and tenacious Marshall defense in a raucous Apogee Stadium. Play: Marshall plus-6.

Texas State plus-7.5 at UTSA, over/under: 49.5. UTSA has been far better than Texas State in recent years, but there’s no indication that’s the case this season. The Bobcats have been more efficient on both offense and defense, potentially meaning this spread is inflated by program perception alone. Lean: Texas State plus-7.5.

Virginia Tech minus-28 at Old Dominion, over/under: 52.5. There’s no doubt the Monarchs, which have failed to cover a single spread this season, are far outmatched against the Hokies, which have easily covered in both of their early-season contests. But this might be the biggest game in the history of Foreman Field, and could give the experienced Monarchs a little push to hang closer for a little longer than expected. Lean: Old Dominion plus-28.

Rice plus-14 at Southern Miss, over/under: 53.5. Eagles were great last year when Kwadra Griggs started at quarterback, and he’s returning from a suspension this week. Rice has barely slipped through covers the least two weeks, and similarly eked out a straight-up win against Prairie View A&M in week, with its luck bound to change. Lean: Southern Miss minus-14.

New Mexico State minus-3.5 at UTEP, over/under: 48.5. If UTEP wants to snap its 15-game losing streak, it’s going to have to come here. New Mexico State is reeling with four consecutive straight-up and against the spread losses to start the season after its first bowl game in 57 years. Guess: UTEP plus-3.5.

Independent

North Texas minus-13.5 at Liberty, over/under: 69.5. North Texas deserves a spot in any conversation on the most impressive Group of Five conference teams so far, but that’s caused its point spreads to spiral out of control. The Mean Green shouldn’t be laying two touchdowns on the road, even if it’s against the newest Football Bowl Subdivision program. Guess: Liberty plus-13.5.

Charlotte plus-7.5 at Massachusetts, over/under: 58. No secret that few, if any, games on the board will draw less action than this matchup between two of the worst 10 teams in the nation. Not going to lay more than a touchdown with one of the 10 worst teams in the nation. Guess: Charlotte plus-7.5.

MAC

UNR plus-10 at Toledo, over/under: 67.5. The Wolf Pack can score with almost any Group of Five conference team, but their defense remains a major liability. It’s hard to see the visitors being able to match up with Toledo’s deep group of receivers. Guess: Toledo minus-10.

Western Kentucky plus-2.5 at Ball State, over/under: 55. These were two bet-on teams coming into the season as it pertains to Group of Five conferences, and they’ve delivered similar results at 2-1 against the spread so far. In a game this evenly matched, the points must be the pick. Guess: Western Kentucky plus-2.5.

Miami (Ohio) minus-6.5 at Bowling Green, over/under: 54.5. RedHawks are better than their 0-3 straight-up and against the spread record indicates — they’ve played a brutally tough schedule against Cincinnati, Minnesota and Marshall — but laying a large number on the road with them is a lot to ask. Falcons have no defense to speak of, but they’re going to score. Guess: Bowling Green plus-6.5.

Mountain West

Air Force plus-10.5 at Utah State, over/under: 59.5. Coming into the season, it looked like Utah State could have one of its best teams of coach Matt Wells’ tenure. The Aggies have done nothing to show otherwise in racking up 2 net yards per play through a 1-1 straight-up, 2-0 against the spread start to the year. Lean: Utah State minus-10.5

Eastern Michigan plus-11 at San Diego State, over/under: 50.5. Number looks spot-on from a performance standpoint, but this is a difficult trip for the Eagles considering the game will kick off at 10:30 p.m. their time. Aztecs’ defense can be unforgiving with a deep linebacking corps. Guess: San Diego State minus-11.

Sun Belt

Troy minus-5.5 at Louisiana-Monroe, over/under: 5.5. The Trojans were set up for success last week with Nebraska being forced to start a walk-on quarterback, and yet still required a punt-return touchdown and turnover luck to pull off the 24-19 victory. It’s still an admirable upset, but not worthy of Troy’s vastly improved power ranking in sports books. Lean: Louisiana-Monroe plus-5.5.

UNLV plus-7.5 at Arkansas State, over/under: 67.5. There are going to be a ton of points scored in this game, as Arkansas State’s rush defense looks to have little chance of slowing running back Lexington Thomas, and UNLV’s defense has no answer for quarterback Justice Hansen. Must take more than a touchdown in what could be a back-and-forth shootout. Guess: UNLV plus-7.5.

Western Michigan minus-7 at Georgia State, over/under: 62.5. Neither the Broncos nor the Panthers have covered against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season. At least Western Michigan has looked somewhat capable in comparison to Georgia State, which ranks in the nation’s bottom 20 in both yards per play and yards per play allowed. Guess: Western Michigan minus-7.

Coastal Carolina plus-3.5 at Louisiana-Lafayette, over/under: 64.5. Ragin’ Cajuns shouldn’t be downgraded for too much for their 56-10 loss to overpowering Mississippi State. Chanticleers were statistically even worse earlier in the season against a weaker SEC opponent, as they lost 49-18 at South Carolina in a game where they were outgained by 318 yards. Guess: Louisiana-Lafayette minus-3.5.

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

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