Friday, Oct. 4, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Apologies to Auburn may be in order.
Last week, using future odds as a guidepost, I declared the list of contenders for the College Football Playoff to be limited to seven teams. If the Tigers weren’t in the mix before, they certainly belong there now.
Auburn had arguably the most impressive performance of Week 4 in blowing out Mississippi State 56-23 as 7.5-point favorites — a game in which I played the other side. It had an immediate effect in local sports books.
There’s now an eighth team below 50-to-1 to win the national championship as the Tigers trimmed to 40-to-1 in the aftermath of the victory. The number likely would have gone lower if it weren’t for the Tigers’ treacherous remaining schedule, which might be the toughest in the nation.
Their challenges continue this week as they head to Gainesville, Fla., to take on the Gators as 3-point road favorites. I have a play on that below along with seven others as I look to continue to build on Talking Points’ 132-100-9 record picking every game on the season — 23-18-3 on plays, 40-17-2 on leans and 69-65-4 on guesses after a 2-0 start to the week on Thursday night.
Read below to find picks on every game separated by conference and labeled with three confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available on the chosen side in Las Vegas.
Central Florida minus-3.5 at Cincinnati, over/under: 60. This feels like déjà vu from last year’s matchup when all the big money came in on the Bearcats to drop them to a 6.5-point underdog before the Knights promptly blew them out 38-13. The line on this game has plummeted from opening at UCF minus-5.5, leaving the value on the favorite. Lean: UCF minus-3.5.
South Florida minus-11 at Connecticut, over/under: 49. It may appear that the Huskies had a relatively respectable performance in a 56-21 loss to UCF last week as 42-point favorites, but all three of their touchdowns came in garbage time. UConn is 4-11-1 against the spread the last two seasons as oddsmakers struggle to price them low enough. There’s no reason to believe that’s suddenly changed. Guess: South Florida minus-11.
North Carolina minus-10.5 at Georgia Tech, over/under: 48.5. For two straight weeks, Georgia Tech has played better than the final score has indicated. It’s always possible something is irreparably broken, but more often than not, such a divide is more of a case of bad luck that eventually evens out. Lean: Georgia Tech plus-10.5.
Boston College plus-6 at Louisville, over/under: 60.5. This number has climbed too high. Louisville, off of a bye week, was worth a look at the opener of minus-3 but the extra field goal is excessive, especially without knowing who will play quarterback for the Cardinals. Guess: Boston College plus-6.
Virginia Tech plus-14 at Miami, over/under: 49. Line appears to be perfectly in place, so it’s hard to have much of an opinion on this game. The Hurricanes’ offense is still a work in progress, however, so winning by two touchdowns will be a challenge. Guess: Virginia Tech plus-14.
Pittsburgh plus-4.5 at Duke, over/under: 48.5. Here’s a tricky one because the line wouldn’t be anywhere in this vicinity if Duke hadn’t trucked Virginia Tech 45-10 last week. But fading the Blue Devils’ adjustment means backing a mismatched coach in Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi against Duke’s David Cutcliffe. Guess: Duke minus-4.5.
Maryland minus-13.5 at Rutgers, over/under: 56. Efficiency metrics don’t suggest Rutgers is anywhere near as far behind Maryland as this line indicates and the Scarlet Knights could get a boost from well-liked interim coach Nunzio Campanile taking over. Consider fading Maryland a weekly theme of this column. Play: Rutgers plus-13.5.
Michigan State plus-20.5 at Ohio State, over/under: 49.5. Behind Joe Bachie and Kenny Willekes, Michigan State has a defense that can stack up with its consistently brilliant stop units over the last decade. The Buckeyes’ high-flying offense starring Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins will be tested for the first time this season. Play: Michigan State plus-20.5.
Iowa plus-3.5 at Michigan, over/under: 47.5. How far Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has fallen, now being considered at a disadvantage to Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. It’s too far, in my opinion. The Wolverines’ roster is still as impressive as any team in the Big Ten, and this might be the last chance to buy low on them. Play: Michigan minus-3.5.
Purdue plus-28 at Penn State, over/under: 56.5. A skepticism continually surrounds Penn State, potentially because of their fortunate Big Ten championship three years ago. It shouldn’t. This year’s team is far more talented than that one and will continue blowing out mediocre opposition. Guess: Penn State minus-28.
Northwestern plus-7 at Nebraska, over/under: 48.5. This is a tight point spread, so I’ll revert to siding with the coach I feel most comfortable with. I’m not ready to give up on Scott Frost on Nebraska yet, but Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald is far more proven in getting the most out of his players. Guess: Northwestern plus-7.
Illinois plus-14 at Minnesota, over/under: 57. The Golden Gophers have won their four games this season by an average of five points with none being more than a touchdown. They’re a lot better than the Illini but let’s see them win a game by double-digits before counting on them to do so. Guess: Illinois plus-14.
Kent State plus-35.5 at Wisconsin, over/under: 59. The good thing about the Zips is they never roll over and try to drain the clock in blowouts against superior teams, leaving open strong chances at backdoor covers. They’re 3-2 against the spread versus Power Five conference opponents under coach Sean Lewis. Guess: Kent State plus-35.5.
Baylor plus-2 at Kansas State, over/under: 49. The crown jewel of Kansas State’s hot start — a 31-24 win over Mississippi State as 7-point underdogs — is shining a little less bright in hindsight given the Bulldogs continued struggles. Baylor should not be the underdog here. Lean: Baylor plus-2.
TCU plus-3.5 at Iowa State, over/under: 43.5. The Horned Frogs might be disproving the notion that the Big 12 has no defenses as they might have one of the best in the nation this year. They’re also being unfairly downgraded for a 41-38 loss to SMU two weeks ago as 7.5-point favorites, as the Mustangs have covered in every game and might just be a great team. Lean: TCU plus-3.5.
Texas Tech plus-10 at Oklahoma State, over/under: 63.5. Yes, they lost 55-16 to Oklahoma, but Texas Tech’s offense showed signs of competence late last week when it committed to quarterback Jett Duffey. Oklahoma State’s power-rating saw a little too much inflation after blowing out Kansas State, a team that had overachieved so far, 26-13 as 4-point favorites. Lean: Texas Tech plus-10.
Oklahoma minus-32 at Kansas, over/under: 68. The Sooners look like the 2007 Patriots from a betting perspective: There’s no way bookmakers can set their odds high enough. There’s also no way it’s worth trying to step in front of an Oklahoma offense averaging more than 10 yards per play right now. Guess: Oklahoma minus-32.
Texas minus-11 at West Virginia, over/under: 60.5. Everyone is focused on Texas’ offense, which in fairness has been even better than anticipated at 6.5 yards per play, but that’s causing them to miss that the Longhorns’ defense has been even worse than expected. The Longhorns are giving up 5.8 yards per play, a deterrent to backing them at double digits against any team with a decent offense. Guess: West Virginia plus-11.
Rice plus-9.5 at UAB, over/under: 44.5. A year ago, UAB went on the road and pounded Rice 42-7 en route to winning the conference championship while the Owls finished as one of the worst teams in college football. The teams are different this year, but they’re not that much different. Lean: UAB minus-9.5.
Marshall minus-4 at Middle Tennessee, over/under: 53.5. Middle Tennessee’s offense is producing at a higher clip than Marshall’s —6.2 yards per play to 6 yards per play — despite taking on a significantly tougher schedule including Iowa, Duke and Michigan. The Thundering Herd have been too prone to offensive outages to trust laying points on the road. Guess: Middle Tennessee plus-4.
UTSA plus-1 at UTEP, over/under: 45.5. With dead-even rankings in Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings — UTSA is No. 127 and UTEP No. 128 at -52% apiece — these teams are struggling equally. Whichever team is playing at home deserves to be laying three points. Guess: UTEP minus-1.
Western Kentucky minus-3 at Old Dominion, over/under: 42.5. Western Kentucky is making some strides in coach Tyson Helton’s first season while Old Dominion is more playing out the string as coach Bobby Wilder’s tenure winds down. Look for Western Kentucky quarterback Ty Storey to have success against a weak Old Dominion secondary. Guess: Western Kentucky minus-3.
Tulsa plus-13.5 at SMU, over/under: 64. Bookmakers are right to try to adjust the Mustangs into an appropriate range after a dominant 5-0 straight-up and against the spread start to the year, but they may have gone too far. Tulsa is a similarly experienced squad with enough defensive talent to keep SMU in relative check. Guess: Tulsa plus-13.5.
Tulane minus-3 at Army, over/under: 43.5. Triple-option enthusiasts rejoice, as both these teams run versions of the offense — though Tulane has toned down its reliance on it this year. That’s one of many reasons why these teams appear evenly-matched and likely to neutralize each other, meaning Army deserves a bigger adjustment for its strong home-field advantage at Michie Stadium. Play: Army plus-3.
Air Force minus-3.5 at Navy, over/under: 46. The Midshipmen’s numbers are still being drug down from last year’s bottoming-out season. Coach Ken Niumatalolo is adamant that Navy is past that, however, and his team has done nothing to disprove him through three above-average performances to start the year. Lean: Navy plus-3.5.
Bowling Green plus-46 at Notre Dame, over/under: 61.5. I’m having flashbacks to Notre Dame relentlessly pouring it on New Mexico in a 66-14 win a few weeks ago and realizing Bowling Green is even worse. Please direct thoughts and prayers to the Falcons. Guess: Notre Dame minus-46.
Liberty minus-4 at New Mexico State, over/under: 63.5. The Aggies have glaring offensive limitations, but the Flames have been hit or miss themselves. I prefer not to take teams traveling East to West, especially not those unaccustomed to such trips. Guess: New Mexico State plus-4.
Massachusetts plus-27 at Florida International, over/under: 67.5. The Minutemen triumphed against Akron last week but are still rated as the worst team in the nation by the F/+ ratings. Florida International isn’t as bad as Massachusetts but it’s also been overvalued all year and failed to cover in any of its first four games. Guess: UMass plus-27.
Western Michigan plus-2 at Toledo, over/under: 72. Granted, it’s played a slightly tougher schedule, but Toledo is nearly a whole yard net per play lower than Western Michigan. The Broncos have been underachievers the past two years, but they’re experienced this season and likely to get to the MAC Championship Game if they win this contest. Play: Western Michigan plus-2.
Ball State plus-5 at Northern Illinois, over/under: 54.5. It’s frustrating to miss out on the best number, as the Cardinals opened as a 9-point underdog, but they arguably deserve to be favored. Northern Illinois has gotten outgained by more than 2 yards per play in its three FBS games and is struggling to adjust to new coach Thomas Hammock. Ball State is further along with fourth-year coach Mike Neu. Play: Ball State plus-5.
Eastern Michigan minus-5.5 at Central Michigan, over/under: 53.5. This is a high price to pay based on how the two teams have played this year, but the adjustment might be merited considering all the injuries the Chippewas have suffered. Eastern Michigan is much healthier coming off of a bye week. Guess: Eastern Michigan minus-5.5.
Ohio minus-3 at Buffalo, over/under: 51. As one of the youngest teams in the nation, Buffalo has been predictably erratic but its ceiling is high when it’s clicking. The Bulls didn’t deserve to lose 34-20 to Miami (Ohio) as 2.5-point favorites last week but couldn’t overcome a minus-4 turnover margin. Guess: Buffalo plus-3.
Boise State minus-23 at UNLV, over/under: 57. Boise State has become overvalued by virtue of fielding a defense not up to its usual standards and living with the volatility of a freshman quarterback. This isn’t an ideal spot to put that opinion into action considering the current compounding of Rebels’ issues but it’s also risky not to act before the market catches up. Lean: UNLV plus-23.
San Diego State minus-7.5 at Colorado State, over/under: 50.5. The Rams have racked up strong offensive numbers, but it’s come against a pitiful slate of opposing defenses. The Aztecs’ impermeability will shock them, though it requires a leap of faith hoping San Diego State scores enough to cover the number. Guess: San Diego State minus-7.5.
New Mexico plus-6.5 at San Jose State, over/under: 67.5. The Spartans haven’t been this big of a favorite in a conference game since 2015. The Lobos are in complete disarray. There’s no reason to get mixed up in this mess. Guess: San Jose State minus-6.5.
California plus-18.5 at Oregon, over/under: 46.5. Cal coach Justin Wilcox is one of college football’s great defensive game planners and will surely have some unfamiliar wrinkles to throw at Oregon’s thriving offense. Taking the under 46.5 points might be the better way to back that sentiment, but the Golden Bears could also keep this closer than expected. Lean: Cal plus-18.5.
Oregon State plus-6 at UCLA, over/under: 65.5. UCLA has taken the bulk of the action, prolonging the streak of the Bruins drawing mostly misguided money every game this season. UCLA is at minus-1.5 net yard per play this season while Oregon State is at plus-0.5 — a discrepancy their schedules can’t fully account for. Lean: Oregon State plus-6.
Arizona plus-4.5 at Colorado, over/under: 62.5. Arizona continues to be an undervalued team, but having already been burned by Khalil Tate sitting out last week, I don’t want to get involved again without more clarity on the quarterback situation. If Tate plays, jump on Arizona as soon as possible. Guess: Arizona plus-4.5.
Washington minus-16.5 at Stanford, over/under: 52. I’m not thrilled about laying so many points on the road in what should be a slow-paced game, but Washington has one of the most underrated offenses in the nation behind quarterback Jacob Eason and running back Salvon Ahmed. This is not a vintage Stanford defense as it’s surrendering 6.2 yards per play to barely rank in the nation’s top 100. Guess: Washington minus-16.5.
Auburn minus-3 at Florida, over/under: 48.5. Sell high on Auburn; buy low on Florida. As great as the Tigers looked last week, they’re still not a finished product on offense with freshman quarterback Bo Nix expected to endure some ups and downs. The Gators were on a bye week and have by far the best defensive front Nix has seen yet. Play: Florida plus-3.
Vanderbilt plus-7 at Ole Miss, over/under: 62.5. A tough situational spot off of a physical game with Alabama is the only thing holding me back from taking a stronger position on the Rebels. They’ve shown some real offensive creativity, especially with returning quarterback Matt Corral, that should play well against Vanderbilt’s vulnerable and banged-up defense. Guess: Ole Miss minus-7.
Utah State plus-27.5 at LSU, over/under: 73.5. Utah State is explosive enough to score, but it’s also coming off two straight hard-fought wins over Colorado State and San Diego State while LSU enjoyed a bye last week. The Aggies also play at one of the fastest paces in the nation, which benefits the team with the clear talent advantage in the Tigers. Guess: LSU minus-27.5.
Georgia minus-24 at Tennessee, over/under: 51.5. The fact that some sports books are still hanging a straight minus-24 when most shops are a half-point or point higher makes the Bulldogs the pick. Georgia has a distinct advantage at every position. Guess: Georgia minus-24.
Troy plus-24.5 at Missouri, over/under: 65.5. The Tigers’ week 1 loss at Wyoming might have been a blessing in disguise, at least to shrewd bettors. It threw most of the market off on Missouri’s talent level and the Tigers have responded by easily covering in every game since, a streak that shows no signs of stopping now. Guess: Missouri minus-24.5.
Memphis minus-14.5 at UL-Monroe, over/under: 63.5. Might as well keeping betting on the Tigers all the way to the American Athletic Conference championship. They are a juggernaut team that’s continually not priced as such. Play: Memphis minus-14.5.
Arkansas State minus-6.5 at Georgia State, over/under: 70. I’m not rushing to lay points on the road with an injured Arkansas State team, but it might beat the alternative. Georgia State has yet to cover since upsetting Tennessee and would be an underdog to several Football Championship Series opponents. Guess: Arkansas State minus-6.5.