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April 24, 2019

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 5

Penn State James Franklin

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Penn State head coach James Franklin, left, holds the team back during introductions before taking the field against Kent State in an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.

Preventive thumb stretches might be a decent idea for football bettors who aren’t planning to be stationed at sports books or in front of multiple screens Saturday evening.

Get ready to mash that “previous channel” button continuously starting at 4:30 p.m. That’s the kickoff time for both of Week 5’s games with clear College Football Playoff implications.

Earlier games this season were similarly coined as important to the eventual playoff, but that was more speculative. There’s a big enough sample now after a month to definitively state that Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame and Stanford would all make the four-team field if they finished the regular season undefeated

Only two of them will have the chance after Saturday, when Ohio State at Penn State kicks off at the same time on ABC as NBC is scheduled to air Stanford at Notre Dame.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook currently lists 10 teams at 40-to-1 or less to win the College Football national championship. Ohio State (9-to-2), Notre Dame (25-to-1), Penn State (30-to-1) and Stanford (40-to-1) are all among the group.

Expect a major shift in the futures market when the numbers are re-posted after the games.

Talking Points couldn’t resist either game, and has a play on both in the weekly column picking every college football game against the spread. The blog is looking to bounce back from a poor week 4, where it went 20-33-1 against the spread overall to bring the season total to 83-111-4.

Plays are still holding slight profitability on the season at 9-8, but leans are 28-39-2 with guesses 46-64-2.

Check below for picks and analysis on every Week 5 game. The contests 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 on the chosen side.

ACC

Bowling Green plus-28.5 at Georgia Tech, over/under: 66. At 8-20 against the spread, Bowling Green has been one of the worst teams in the nation to bet on under coach Mike Jinks. Georgia Tech won’t be in any hurry to let up after a frustrating three-week stretch featuring close losses to South Florida and Pittsburgh and a blowout defeat to Clemson. Guess: Georgia Tech minus-28.5.

Virginia Tech plus-4.5 at Duke, over/under: 50.5. Virginia Tech should have a sharp and focused effort off of a loss to Old Dominion, but it’s an unfavorable spot to break in new quarterback Ryan Willis against a Duke defense that’s been exceptional against the pass. The Blue Devils are more advanced with their injury-replacement quarterback as Quentin Harris has started in two straight blowout victories. Guess: Duke minus-4.5.

Virginia plus-5.5 at North Carolina State, over/under: 53.5. Number opened as high as minus-8.5 before steadily dropping with action on Virginia adding up. At a depleted price, the Wolf Pack are worth a look as they’ll be the best team the Cavaliers have encountered this season. Guess: North Carolina State minus-5.5.

Syracuse plus-24.5 at Clemson, over/under: 67. This is a perfectly reasonable spread based what Clemson has done so far this season. But the Tigers might deserve an even bigger boost with freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence getting his first start, an evident upgrade from the incumbent starter, and now outgoing transfer Kelly Bryant. Guess: Clemson minus-24.5.

Florida State minus-6.5 at Louisville, over/under: 45.5. Can’t officially declare Florida State cured of its shortcomings after one strong performance, a 37-19 win over Northern Illinois as 10-point favorites. Louisville could be the struggling ACC Atlantic Division team to get on track, as they have too much talent to fall to the bottom of the standings. Guess: Louisville plus-6.5.

Rice plus-27 at Wake Forest, over/under: 65.5. It’s a rebuilding year for the Demon Deacons. Teams in rebuilding years shouldn’t lay close to four touchdowns. Guess: Rice plus-27.

Temple plus-13 at Boston College, over/under: 54. Number looks exactly right, but there are some troubling signs regarding the Owls. For one, they don’t look to have the rush defense to bottle up Eagles running back A.J. Dillion. Temple is also mired in a quarterback controversy with no right answer as both Frank Nutile and Anthony Russo have been plagued by inconsistency. Guess: Boston College minus-13.

Big Ten

Ohio State minus-3.5 at Penn State, over/under: 70.5. Ohio State has been favored by an average of 31 points per game this season, and posted a plus-150 point differential. Penn State has been favored by an average of 23 points per game this season, and posted a just-as-strong plus-144 point differential. There’s not much difference between these two teams, and Happy Valley is a heck of a venue for a young team to play its first true road game. Play: Penn State plus-3.5.

Michigan minus-14 at Northwestern, over/under: 46.5. At a mediocre 4.8 yards per play despite a manageable schedule, Northwestern struggles enough to move the ball when it isn’t playing a defense as dominant as Michigan’s. The Wolverines rank first in the nation in giving up only 3.5 yards per play. Lean: Michigan minus-14.

Central Michigan plus-28 at Michigan State, over/under: 47.5. With the majority of money coming in on the Chippewas, the betting market remains unsold on the Spartans despite their breakout in a 35-21 win at Indiana as 5-point favorites last week. Central Michigan is far and away the worst team Michigan State has faced this season. Guess: Michigan State minus-28.

Indiana minus-16.5 at Rutgers, over/under: 51.5. Hard to lay double digits with an average-at-best team like Indiana, but it’s shown flashes of transcending with quarterback Peyton Ramsey and running back Stevie Scott. Rutgers has not while cementing itself as one of the worst teams in the nation by getting outgained by nearly 4 yards per play during three straight blowouts. Guess: Indiana minus-16.5.

Purdue minus-3.5 at Nebraska, over/under: 56. It’s not a good sign when a team’s own golden-boy coach sounds defeated on his team’s prospects this year. Scott Frost may very well get it together at Nebraska this week, but Purdue’s Jeff Brohm has progressed further in his own uphill rebuilding process. Guess: Purdue minus-3.5.

Big 12

Baylor plus-24 at Oklahoma, over/under: 68.5. Baylor’s numbers continue to be weighed down by last year’s horrendous 1-11 straight-up season but they’re much better this year, especially on defense. That should give them a fighting chance against the Sooners, at least until late in the game. Lean: Baylor plus-24.

Iowa State plus-10.5 at TCU, over/under: 46.5. Two straight losses by the Horned Frogs seems to have thrown the betting public off of them, which means it might be a perfect time to buy low. They’re better on both sides of the ball and will frustrate the Cyclones with their pace, which in turn maximizes the chances of a more lopsided game. Guess: TCU minus-10.5.

Oklahoma State minus-17 at Kansas, over/under: 62. One big loss by the Pokes, which fell 41-17 as 14.5-point favorites against Texas Tech last week, lowered this line by more than a touchdown in favor of the overmatched Jayhawks. A harsh defeat was perhaps the only route to Oklahoma State arriving in Lawrence, Kan., motivated and focused. Guess: Oklahoma State minus-17.

West Virginia minus-3.5 at Texas Tech, over/under: 73.5. There’s a lot of excitement on the Texas Tech offense after it’s averaged 60 points during a three-game winning and covering streak, but it’s efficiency numbers pale in comparison to West Virginia. As long as the depth-deficient Mountaineers are healthy, they’re worth taking. Guess: West Virginia minus-3.5.

Texas minus-8.5 at Kansas State, over/under 48. Longhorns haven’t won a game in Manhattan, Kan., in 16 years, but this looks like the worst Wildcats team in that span. Texas, on the other hand, seems to have put it together in two straight wins and covers and may deserve more respect on the point spread. Guess: Texas minus-8.5.

Pac-12

BYU plus-16.5 at Washington, over/under: 46.5. Still believe Washington is among the 10 best teams in the nation, if not higher than that, even though the betting market appears to digress. Action on BYU has pushed this spread down a field goal. Lean: Washington minus-16.5.

UCLA plus-10 at Colorado, over/under: 61. Don’t mind buying low on UCLA while it’s at the nadir of new coach Chip Kelly’s tenure at 0-3 straight-up and 1-2 against the spread. These teams were valued similarly going into the season, and there’s still no major discrepancy in talent. Guess: UCLA plus-10.

Oregon State plus-22 at Arizona State, over/under: 65. Oregon State is so bad that it may not be competitive in a single Pac-12 game this season, but its spreads are swinging a bit too violently. Arizona State would currently only be a short favorite against Arizona, and yet the Sun Devils are laying 17.5 more points against the Beavers than the Wildcats did last week. Guess: Oregon State plus-22.

Utah minus-2 at Washington State, over/under: 50.5. Toss-up game with Washington State’s offensive edge as advantageous as Utah’s defensive edge. The teams are so evenly matched that taking points with a home underdog is the only option. Guess: Washington State plus-2.

Oregon minus-2.5 at California, over/under: 58.5. Hard to back a Mario Cristobal-coached team on the road following his late-game meltdown in a 38-31 overtime loss to Stanford last week, especially against California’s more solid Justin Wilcox. But the number has been bet down from minus-3.5, leaving little value on the Golden Bears. Guess: California plus-2.5.

USC minus-3 at Arizona, over/under: 61. Too difficult to evaluate Arizona right now, as it looks like the Wildcats have broken out on offense with two straight big performances. But they came against Southern Utah and Oregon State. USC is stacked with athletes on defense that won’t make it as easy for sophomores J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell to run wild. Guess: USC minus-3.

SEC

South Carolina pick’em at Kentucky, over/under: 51.5. Must assume program reputation is still weighing down Kentucky in the betting market, because otherwise there’s no reason this game should be a pick’em. Kentucky has outperformed South Carolina in every area this season. Get ready to hear more about Benny Snell, who’s averaging 6.2 yards per carry with seven touchdowns, for at least another week as the Gamecocks don’t have the rush defense to slow him effectively. Play: Kentucky pick’em.

Ole Miss plus-11 at LSU, over/under: 59.5. Looking to bet against LSU, which went from undervalued coming into the year to overvalued by virtue of turnover luck and close wins. The only thing holding this back from being a stronger play is a Rebels’ defense capable of even making the Tigers’ mediocre offense look explosive. Lean: Ole Miss plus-11.

Arkansas plus-21 at Texas A&M, over/under: 59.5. Aggies allowed 8.5 yards per play to Alabama last week, and their defensive struggles aren't exclusive to the Crimson Tide. While Texas A&M's offense has gotten on track in fast fashion under Jimbo Fisher, the defense is still a work in progress. Arkansas should be able to score enough to stay within the number. Lean: Arkansas plus-21.

Florida plus-7 at Mississippi State, over/under: 50.5. No need to overreact to one week’s worth of divergent results. Florida got a blowout 47-21 win as a 3.5-point favorite but it was against a struggling Tennessee team. Mississippi State suffered a disappointing 28-7 loss as a 10-point favorite but it was against a strong Kentucky team. The line on this game was minus-10 before those results. Lean: Mississippi State minus-7.

Tennessee plus-31.5 at Georgia, over/under: 52. Don’t willingly pay a tax on the Bulldogs just yet under they demonstrate they can beat huge conference numbers under coach Kirby Smart. Georgia should blow out Tennessee, but statistically this number is inflated by three or four points. Guess: Tennessee plus-31.5.

Louisiana-Lafayette plus-49 at Alabama, over/under: 67.5. Yes, Alabama covered its first big spread against a Group of Five conference team this season in beating Arkansas State 57-7 as 36.5-point favorites. But Nick Saban typically goes out of his way not to embarrass such opponents, which is a good enough reason to get away from laying nearly 50 points. Guess: Louisiana-Lafayette plus-49.

Southern Miss plus-26.5 at Auburn, over/under: 53.5. Southern Miss is slightly worse than Arkansas, and yet Auburn gave four more points to the latter last week and still covered. The Eagles’ offense has come on of late, but Auburn’s defense led by experienced and speedy linebackers is on a different level. Guess: Auburn minus-26.5.

AAC

Massachusetts plus-13.5 at Ohio, over/under: 69.5. The Minutemen might be the worse team, but they have a great equalizer in their proclivity for big plays. The Bobcats, meanwhile, have given up as many explosive plays as any team in the country. Lean: Massachusetts plus-13.5.

Memphis minus-14 at Tulane, over/under: 66.5. Both teams might be slightly undervalued —Tulane is better than its last two losses and Memphis succumbed to bad luck in its lone defeat — so this becomes a pure matchup play. And this is a terrific matchup for the Tigers and particularly junior quarterback Brady White against a horrific Green Wave pass defense. Lean: Memphis minus-14.

Pittsburgh plus-13.5 at Central Florida, over/under: 65.5. Number opened as high as minus-16 before getting drug down below two touchdowns to make this decision easier. UCF, which has now won 16 in a row, is good enough to blow out Pittsburgh and clearly going for style points any time it faces of Power Five Conference opponent. Guess: Central Florida minus-13.5.

Old Dominion plus-7 at East Carolina, over/under: 61.5. Hoped to fade Old Dominion off the biggest win program history — a 49-35 win over Virginia Tech as 27.5-point favorites — but this number takes away the possibility. The Pirates and Monarchs are too evenly matched for the spread to be sitting at a touchdown. Guess: Old Dominion plus-7.

Cincinnati minus-17.5 at Connecticut, over/under: 58.5. Anti-congratulations are in order for Connecticut, which moved into last place in the nation in Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings this week. Let’s anti-celebrate by not even entertaining the idea of picking the Huskies. Guess: Cincinnati minus-17.5.

 

Conference USA

Charlotte plus-17 at UAB, over/under: 54. These are almost the exact same teams that met in the series last year, when Charlotte escaped with a 25-24 victory in overtime as 9.5-point underdogs. There’s no reason the point spread should now be a touchdown higher, even with the 49ers going on the road. Lean: Charlotte plus-17.

Louisiana Tech plus-7 at North Texas, over/under: 64. In three Football Bowl Subdivision games this season, North Texas has covered by an average of 28.5 points per game. There’s no reason to stop backing the Mean Green until bookmakers make significant adjustments to their power rating. Lean: North Texas minus-7.

Florida Atlantic minus-3 at Middle Tennessee, over/under: 61. Florida Atlantic is yet to cover so far this season, but all of its FBS opponents have been tougher than Middle Tennessee. This is right around when the Owls caught fire last season. Lean: Florida Atlantic minus-3.

Marshall minus-4.5 at Western Kentucky, over/under: 52. Western Kentucky is juggling between two quarterbacks —Steve Duncan and Davis Shanley — and it’s worked well enough against mediocre, green defenses. It should be a different case against a more seasoned Marshall unit ready to atone for a letdown last week against NC State. Guess: Marshall minus-4.5.

UTEP plus-10 at UTS, over/under: 44.5. UTSA has yet to cover in a game all year, as it’s power rating seems thrown off by the fact that it’s gone from a competitive Group of Five conference team to one of the worst. The Roadrunners are simply not a team that can be trusted to lay double digits. Guess: UTEP plus-10.

Independents

Stanford plus-5.5 at Notre Dame, over/under: 52. Notre Dame’s biggest issues were an average-at-best passing game and a dearth of big plays, two areas junior quarterback Ian Book seems poised to repair immediately. Stanford’s offense has been too prone to prolonged droughts, and receivers like J.J. Arcega-Whiteside won’t be as easily able to rescue it against a rugged Notre Dame secondary. Play: Notre Dame minus-5.5.

MAC

Army plus-7.5 at Buffalo, over/under: 54.5. This is quietly a massive mismatch as Army has relied on turnover luck and fortunate breaks to cover in three straight games including winning two outright. Buffalo, meanwhile, is executing at a high level to rank in the nation’s top half on both offense in gaining 6.3 yards per play and defense in allowing 4.8 yards per play. Play: Buffalo minus-7.5.

Kent State plus-7 at Ball State, over/under: 64.5. Sure, Kent State covered in a 38-17 loss to Ball State as 28.5-point underdogs last week but only after being outgained by nearly 300 yards and 4 yards per play. Fading the Zips for the rest of the year is almost a guaranteed profit. Guess: Ball State minus-7.

Western Michigan minus-1 at Miami (Ohio), over/under: 54.5 Miami may have the better team, but this is a coaching mismatch. If anything, the Broncos have overachieved under Tim Lester and his imaginative schemes while the RedHawks are annually mistake-prone under Chuck Martin. Guess: Western Michigan minus-1.

Northern Illinois plus-3 at Eastern Michigan, over/under: 48.5. This is a question of either going with tradition, or going with a team on the rise. Northern Illinois has run roughshod over the MAC for years, so getting points with the Huskies is a tough proposition to pass up, but Eastern Michigan has outperformed them all over the field this year. Guess: Eastern Michigan minus-3.

Mountain West

UNR plus-6.5 at Air Force, over/under: 63.5. Wolfpack have their flaws, but they can at least score against anyone with quarterback Ty Gangi and running back Toa Taua virtually unstoppable on the ground so far. Air Force is basically all flaws, as it isn’t above average in any area. Play: UNR plus-6.5.

Liberty plus-7 at New Mexico, over/under: 64.5. It’s time to recognize North Texas as one of the best Group of Five conference schools this season, and therefore not overreact to Liberty’s 47-7 loss as 10.5-point underdogs to the Mean Green last week. This is additionally sandwich spot for the Lobos, which are coming off of a rivalry win over New Mexico State with the Mountain West Conference opener against UNLV on deck next week. Play: Liberty plus-7.

Toledo plus-8 at Fresno State, over/under: 61.5. Unwilling to pay a tax on Fresno State solely based on Toledo’s travel to the west coast. It is a tough scheduling spot for the Rockets, but they’ve been so much more efficient on offense —6.7 yards per play to the Bulldogs’ 5.7 — that they should hold their own. Guess: Toledo plus-8.

Hawaii minus-10.5 at San Jose State, over/under: 65. Mark Talking Points’ plays down for one season win total cash, as Hawaii already went over 3.5 victories with last week’s 42-21 victory over Duquense. Unfortunately, the Warriors’ ascent appears to have a lot to do with one of the nation’s weakest early schedules and leaves them overvalued going forward. Guess: San Jose State plus-10.5.

Boise State minus-17 at Wyoming, over/under: 48. Prefer not to go against the Broncos unless the point spread is visibly inflated, and that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Boise State looks every bit as justified 17-point favorite, with an added bonus that it’s coming off of a bye. Guess: Boise State minus-17.

Sun Belt

Arkansas State minus-3 at Georgia Southern, over/under: 54.5. Georgia Southern is coming off of a valuable week of rest, while Arkansas State has endured back-to-back close, physical games in wins over UNLV and Tulsa. The Eagles triple option should give the RedWolves’ leaky rush defense fits. Lean: Georgia Southern plus-3.

Louisiana-Monroe plus-8 at Georgia State, over/under: 61.5. Too many points in a game between two bottom-rung Sun Belt Conference teams. Georgia State might have the coaching edge, as Shawn Elliott is shrewd but dealing with one of the nation’s youngest teams this season. Guess: Georgia State plus-8.

Costal Carolina plus-14 at Troy, over/under: 53.5. Chanticleers’ offense has been a revelation under senior quarterback Kilton Anderson, who’s throwing for more than 10 yards per attempt despite his team coming in as underdogs in every FBS game. Troy’s pass defense is its biggest weakness. Guess: Coastal Carolina plus-14.

South Alabama plus-26 at Appalachian State, over/under: 56.5. Appalachian State has easily covered in all four of its games this season, which has led to the Mountaineers becoming a little inflated on the point spread. South Alabama doesn’t have much of a shot to win, but it can score enough points to stay within a big number. Guess: South Alabama plus-26.

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

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