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November 18, 2019

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College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of every Week 8 game

Circa Sports Book Opens at Golden Gate

Steve Marcus

Major League Baseball lines are displayed at the first Circa sports book at the Golden Gate in downtown Las Vegas Friday, May 31, 2019. The sports book opens Saturday, June 1.

Betting boards in sports books around town could look overwhelming this weekend. In addition to available action in every major sport, college football presents its busiest weekend of the year so far.

Fifty-eight Football Bowl Subdivision games are scheduled to kick off between Friday and Saturday nights. I didn’t let that volume scare me off; my plan to pick every game this season continues on.

I hope this week’s column can help pare down the preponderance of choices. It’s been pretty helpful to this point with an overall record of 189-143-12 — 31-28-2 on plays, 54-28-3 on leans and 104-87-7 on guesses — through the first three games of the week.

Read below for brief analysis on all of this week’s games with picks separated by three confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen sides.


Tulane plus-4 at Memphis, over/under: 59.5. Memphis’ upset loss to Temple might be a blessing in disguise — I’m heavy on the Tigers from a futures perspective — because of the way it diminished this line. The Green Wave have an identical 5-1 straight-up record to the Tigers but haven’t played a team as capable since Auburn, their only non-cover in a 24-6 loss as 17-point underdogs. Play: Memphis minus-4.

Temple plus-7.5 at SMU, over/under: 60. A lot of situational factors play in favor of the Mustangs, which are coming off of a bye week and thrive in the type of uptempo style the Owls like to implement. Temple is the toast of the AAC after upsetting Memphis 30-28 last week but it was outgained by a yard per play and benefited from a plus-2 turnover margin. Play: SMU minus-7.5.

Houston minus-22 at Connecticut, over/under: 57.5. The Huskies are terrible; the Cougars are in turmoil. In these games between two ultimate bet-against teams, I prefer to take the points and forget about the matchup. Guess: Connecticut plus-22.

South Florida plus-14 at Navy, over/under: 51.5. South Florida is more talented than disciplined, the exact profile of a team that struggles against Navy’s triple-option attack. The Bulls have also played three straight weeks, meaning it’s highly unlikely they had any time to prepare for the Midshipmen’s unique scheme. Guess: Navy minus-14.

East Carolina plus-33 at Central Florida, over/under: 62.5. If UCF cares to cover this spread, it will cover this spread. East Carolina has shown signs of progress under new coach Mike Houston, but it’s at a roster disadvantage here. Guess: UCF minus-33.

Tulsa plus-17 at Cincinnati, over/under: 48. It’s easier to trust the Bearcats, which are more consistent than the erratic Golden Hurricane. The spread is rising around town so now is the time to get involved with Cincinnati. Guess: Cincinnati minus-17.


Duke plus-3 at Virginia, over/under: 45.5. Duke has been getting by on strong coaching from David Cutcliffe, but he’ll meet his match in Bronco Mendenhall, who has won and covered in both of his meetings with the Blue Devils since taking over the Cavaliers. Buy low on Virginia, which has lost two straight and failed to cover three in a row despite playing better than the scores indicate. Lean: Virginia minus-3.

North Carolina minus-3.5 at Virginia Tech, over/under: 57. Crossing through the key number of three is too much for the Hokies at home. The Tar Heels have eclipsed expectations but they haven’t posted an advantage on a per-play basis since their opening-week win over the Gamecocks. Lean: Virginia Tech plus-3.5.

Pittsburgh minus-3.5 at Syracuse, over/under: 52. Under might be the way to look in this Friday night special as neither offense inspires much confidence. I want nothing to do with either side, but given that I expect it to be low scoring, points on the spread become more valuable. Guess: Syracuse plus-3.5.

Florida State plus-1.5 at Wake Forest, over/under: 69. This game feels like a true coin toss — a sad sentence for Florida State — so I wasn’t surprised to see the number come down from Wake Forest minus-3. Wake Forest might be a safer bet, however, at home with a more proven coaching staff. Guess: Wake Forest minus-1.5.

Georgia Tech plus-18 at Miami, over/under: 45. Georgia Tech is one of three teams in the nation that have yet to notch a win against the spread this season. That holds no predictive value, but it’s natural to not want to back a team that’s struggled to such an extent. Guess: Miami minus-18.

North Carolina State minus-3.5 at Boston College, over/under: 52. The spread is just right, so for the purposes of picks, take the Eagles if there’s an extra half-point or stick with the Wolfpack at a straight field goal. Guess: Boston College plus-3.5.

Clemson minus-24 at Louisville, over/under: 60.5. I’ve had a terrible read on Clemson all year, and therefore, no longer want anything to do with its games. Louisville coach Scott Satterfield has been a revelation, however, and should have surprises to throw Clemson’s way. Guess: Louisville plus-24.

Big Ten

Michigan plus-9 at Penn State, over/under: 46.5. A near double-digit spread looks way too high for a game where points will be hard to come by. Say what you want about the Wolverines’ offense, but their defense has kept up its end of the bargain. Michigan and Penn State are two of only six teams in the nation giving up 4 yards per play or less to Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Lean: Michigan plus-9.5.

Indiana minus-5.5 at Maryland, over/under: 59. It’s not ideal to bet against a team at the nadir of their place in the market, but this is a special circumstance. The Terrapins’ brief glimpses of competitiveness this year have mostly come behind strong performances from quarterback Josh Jackson, who’s expected to miss a second straight game. Guess: Indiana minus-5.5.

Ohio State minus-28 at Northwestern, over/under: 49.5. Only a masochist could possibly bet against Ohio State right now as the Buckeyes are rated as the top team in the nation by multiple metrics and have easily covered in five straight. They may tail off in the coming weeks, but I want to see some signs of decline before banking on it to happen. Guess: Ohio State minus-28.

Minnesota minus-28.5 at Rutgers, over/under: 47.5. Rutgers is the inverse of Ohio State — There’s no argument that can be made in favor of playing on the Scarlet Knights right now. Sports books are pricing them higher and higher, but still might be a ways off from capturing the Scarlet Knights’ true level of ineptitude. Guess: Minnesota minus-28.5.

Purdue plus-17 at Iowa, over/under: 48. Yes, this number is inflated from where most statistics would say it should be. But it’s inflated for a reason, as Purdue is ravaged by injuries. Facing Purdue’s defense after back-to-back meetings with Penn State and Michigan will be like adding training wheels back onto a bicycle for the Iowa offense. Guess: Iowa minus-17.

Wisconsin minus-31 at Illinois, over/under: 50.5. With one of its biggest regular season games ever coming next week, a trip to Ohio State, the focus for the Badgers Saturday morning in Champaign, Ill., will be getting out in one piece. They may cover anyway, but backdoor possibilities will almost surely be open for the Illini. Guess: Illinois plus-31.

Big 12

Iowa State minus-7 at Texas Tech, over/under: 57.5. It’s time to sell on Texas Tech, which has seen its power rating fluctuate more than any team in the conference. The Red Raiders are improved on defense but still mediocre, which will leave too many spots for a Cyclones’ team ranking fourth in the nation at 7 yards per play to exploit. Play: Iowa State minus-7.

Kansas plus-21.5 at Texas, over/under: 62.5. Oklahoma outgained Kansas by 2.3 yards per play two weeks ago; Oklahoma outgained Texas by 3.6 yards per play last week. The Longhorns are also coming off that emotional rivalry game while the Jayhawks are emerging from a bye week. Lean: Kansas plus-21.5.

West Virginia plus-33.5 at Oklahoma, over/under: 63. As if rebuilding West Virginia wasn’t at a big enough of a talent disadvantage to Oklahoma, it will also now be playing without quarterback Austin Kendall, who was injured last week. The Sooners produce at such a prolific clip that these huge numbers are less of a deterrent to backing them. Lean: Oklahoma minus-33.5.

TCU minus-3.5 at Kansas State, over/under: 44.5. TCU has uniformly crushed, and covered against, all of the bad teams it’s played this season — Kansas, Purdue and Arkansas Pine-Bluff. Considering Kansas State’s only decent win came against a Mississippi State team that’s now in disarray, it might be fair to characterize the Wildcats as a bad team. Guess: TCU minus-3.5.

Baylor plus-4 at Oklahoma State, over/under: 68.5. This looks like a strong spot for the Cowboys, coming off of a bye at home against a team that’s played four straight including an overtime win last week, but the asking price is excessive. The line implies Oklahoma State is just about even with Baylor on a neutral field, and that’s tough to accept. Guess: Baylor plus-4.

Conference USA

Southern Miss minus-1 at Louisiana Tech, over/under: 57. The Golden Eagles have lived a charmed existence. In their only two close games, they benefitted from an injury to North Texas quarterback Mason Fine and a fortunate shootout win at Troy. Regression may come, and it may start to come in Ruston, La. Play: Louisiana Tech plus-1.

Marshall plus-5 at Florida Atlantic, over/under: 59.5. Florida Atlantic is now the favorite to win the Conference USA, at odds of plus-250 at Circa sports books, and it’s not unjustified. League opponents are going to have trouble stopping quarterback Chris Robison and emerging running back Malcolm Davidson. Lean: Florida Atlantic minus-5.

Middle Tennessee State plus-7.5 at North Texas, over/under: 59.5. This spread has crashed down three points, which made more sense when it was uncertain if quarterback Mason Fine would play. Fine is expected back now, and if he’s anywhere close to himself after hurting his shoulder, the Mean Green shouldn’t have any problems with the Blue Raiders. Guess: North Texas minus-7.5.

Charlotte plus-9.5 at Western Kentucky, over/under: 48.5. Western Kentucky’s defense has completely shut down its last two opponents, Army and Old Dominion. Charlotte is averaging 6.2 yards per play, however, and can move the ball much more efficiently than either of the previous two opponents. Guess: Charlotte plus-9.5.

UTEP plus-24 at Florida International, over/under: 53.5. Bless UTEP for trying, but we’re now going on six years where it hasn’t even resembled a Football Bowl Subdivision team. Florida International, meanwhile, seems to have gotten its act together with back-to-back covers and blowout wins over Charlotte and Massachusetts. Guess: Florida International minus-24.

Old Dominion plus-16.5 at UAB, over/under: 42. It took back-to-back lopsided wins over Rice and UTSA, but oddsmakers finally have UAB at closer to an acceptable power rating. The Monarchs have a far better defense than the Owls and Roadrunners and should be able to mount some resistance against the Blazers for a change. Guess: Old Dominion plus-16.5.

Rice minus-4.5 at UTSA, over/under: 42. Another one of those games where both teams are so inefficient that I’d prefer to take the points and walk away. Recruiting rankings may not mean much at this low of a level, but by that measure, the Roadrunners have the more talented roster anyway. Guess: UTSA plus-4.5.


Boise State minus-7 at BYU, over/under: 47. BYU may deserve more of a boost for LaVell Edwards Stadium, one of college football’s tougher venues to play in. The Cougars nearly knocked off the Broncos last year, falling 21-16 on the road despite holding a yardage edge, and this year’s teams are more evenly matched. Guess: BYU plus-7.


Kent State plus-7.5 at Ohio, over/under: 64. Kent State has simplified its offense, and the move has worked wonders for the short passing game behind highly-accurate quarterback Dustin Crum. The Zips blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Bobcats last year and have been waiting for another chance against their in-state rival ever since. Lean: Kent State plus-7.5.

Northern Illinois minus-2.5 at Miami (Ohio), over/under: 48.5. You always hear less about overreacting to one week of results the later it gets in the season, even though the rule should still stand. In other words, don’t put too much stock into Northern Illinois’ 39-36 win over Ohio as 4.5-point underdogs last week as it’s still been a subpar team for the rest of the year. Lean: Miami (Ohio) plus-2.5.

Western Michigan minus-9.5 at Eastern Michigan, over/under: 61.5. A field goal has decided this game in each of the last two years. While Eastern Michigan hasn’t shown much reason to think it can hang with Western Michigan this year, I’ll always prefer to take big numbers in rivalry games. Guess: Eastern Michigan plus-9.5.

Toledo plus-1 at Ball State, over/under: 57.5. Toledo has been totally lost when it’s had to play without quarterback Mitchell Guadagni. So even though his status for Saturday hasn’t been confirmed, the very possibility of Guadagni missing more times makes the Rockets unable to be considered for a bet. Guess: Ball State minus-1.

Central Michigan minus-10.5 at Bowling Green, over/under: 53.5. Sorry South Carolina, but your 20-17 overtime win against Georgia as 22-point underdogs wasn’t the biggest upset of last week. That honor is reserved for Bowling Green’s 20-7 defeat of Toledo as 26-point underdogs. And unlike the Gamecocks, the Falcons actually deserved the win considering they outgained the Rockets by nearly 2 yards per play. Guess: Bowling Green plus-10.5.

Buffalo minus-17.5 at Akron, over/under: 47. A few weeks ago, this spread would have been 10 points shorter. I can’t get behind shifts that vast, even if they involve unanimously one of the worst teams in the nation in Akron. Guess: Akron plus-17.5.

Mountain West

UNLV plus-15 at Fresno State, over/under: 53. UNLV shrewdly exploited a matchup advantage in the running game to paste Vanderbilt 34-10 as a 16.5-point underdog last week. Fresno State has no such weaknesses as a solid, albeit unspectacular, team. Play: Fresno State minus-15.

San Diego State minus-8.5 at San Jose State, over/under: 46. The Aztecs offense remains far too suspect to saddle with more than a touchdown spread on the road against a well-coached team. An interesting fact that won’t help handicap either side: These are the top two teams in the nation in turnover margin. Guess: San Jose State plus-8.5.

Air Force minus-3 at Hawaii, over/under: 66.5. It’s always an inexact science trying to determine how a team will fare traveling to Hawaii, but service academies are usually a more sure bet. The Falcons dwarf the Warriors by any statistical-based set of rankings, making a short spread too appealing to pass up. Guess: Air Force minus-3.

UNR plus-21 at Utah State, over/under: 60. This line is right where it should be based on the teams’ statistical profiles, but it looks like a better scheduling spot for the Aggies. Utah State is coming off a bye while UNR won last week — 41-38 against San Jose State — despite being outgained on a per-play basis. Guess: Utah State minus-21.

New Mexico plus-19.5 at Wyoming, over/under: 50. This number might be inflated by a couple points, and it might not even matter. I’m forever fading New Mexico under Bob Davie and backing Wyoming at Memorial Stadium under Craig Bohl. Guess: Wyoming minus-19.5.


Oregon minus-3 at Washington, over/under: 50.5. The 3-point spreads are gradually disappearing in favor of 2.5 and it’s no surprise. Oregon arguably shouldn’t even be favored on the road against the most complete team it will face all season, one that has a coaching advantage with Chris Petersen. Play: Washington plus-3.

Arizona State plus-14 at Utah, over/under: 45.5. Don’t overpay based on one performance, regardless of how strong Utah’s 52-7 win over Oregon State as 14.5-point favorites may have looked. Arizona State wasn’t bad either in beating Washington State 38-34 as 2.5-point underdogs and didn’t deserve to see a few points piled onto this line. Guess: Arizona State plus-14.

Oregon State plus-11 at California, over/under: 52.5. This is tricky because California is in a better spot coming off of a bye week where it healed up and surely added new dimensions from the mind of one of the best coaches in the country, Justin Wilcox. But the Golden Bears also have no offense to speak of, as they average 4.4 yards per play, and that makes it hard to trust them with a double-digit spread. Guess: Oregon State plus-11.

Colorado plus-12.5 at Washington State, over/under: 71. Throw out Colorado’s 45-3 loss last week at Oregon as 24-point underdogs because it was a complete mismatch. In any game where Colorado has fielded comparable talent, it’s played well under promising first-year coach Mel Tucker. The Cougars’ players are not another level up from the Buffaloes’ roster. Guess: Colorado plus-12.5.

Arizona plus-10 at Southern California, over/under: 67.5. The Wildcats played better than the final score of 57-21 indicated last week against Washington and are catching the Trojans at an opportune time. USC came out of its 30-27 loss at Notre Dame as 10.5-point underdogs with cluster injuries both in the defensive front and backfield. Guess: Arizona plus-10.


Florida minus-6 at South Carolina, over/under: 47.5. It’s too bad these two teams are playing each other because they both look like sell-on sides after praised performances last week where the box score matched neither the perception nor the final score. A stray 6-point spread hanging at Coast Casinos makes the Gamecocks an intriguing option as that’s an indisputably inflated number. Lean: South Carolina plus-6.

Texas A&M minus-6 at Ole Miss, over/under: 56.5. Before burying the Aggies, don’t forget they’ve likely faced the nation’s toughest schedule over the first half of the season. And despite that handicap, their underlying numbers are still better than the Rebels, which were outgained by nearly 2 yards per play in a lucky cover to Missouri as a 38-27 loss as 12-point underdogs. Lean: Texas A&M minus-6.

Missouri minus-21 at Vanderbilt, over/under: 56.5. With speculation on coach Derek Mason’s job swirling and his team having yet to cover in six games this season, add Vanderbilt to the exclusive list of teams not to back under any circumstance at the moment. Missouri has a preponderance of rushing options, and Vanderbilt has a dearth of ways to slow them. Lean: Missouri minus-21.

Auburn minus-19.5 at Arkansas, over/under: 55.5. This number appears to be in the correct range, a relatively dead zone for betting purposes. Notable offshore books are at minus-17.5, however, so with nothing else to go on, I’ll take the slim two points of market value on the home team. Guess: Arkansas plus-19.5.

Kentucky plus-25 at Georgia, over/under: 46.5. Crazy things happen in football sometimes, which is a description that can be applied to Georgia’s upset loss to South Carolina last week. The Bulldogs outgained the Gamecocks by nearly 200 yards but were undone by an uncharacteristic four turnovers; there’s no reason to back off them now. Guess: Georgia minus-25.

LSU minus-17.5 at Mississippi State, over/under: 61.5. Public bettors are going to come in strong on LSU leading up to kickoff and it’s hard to blame them. That means this spread is likely to close a little higher, so grabbing the relatively small price now is wise for anyone who likes the Tigers. Guess: LSU minus-17.5.

Tennessee plus-34.5 at Alabama, over/under: 61.5. While the Crimson Tide have one of their best offenses ever, their defense is relatively vulnerable. The Volunteers will have chances to score with promising freshman quarterback Brian Maurer, which is reason enough to not lay five touchdowns. Guess: Tennessee plus-34.5.

Sun Belt

Coastal Carolina plus-7 at Georgia Southern, over/under: 45. Georgia Southern has played a relatively tough schedule, but there’s still not much explaining away its minus-2.3 net yards per play. Coastal Carolina is actually in the black on net yards per play, at plus-0.6. Lean: Coastal Carolina plus-7.

Army minus-5.5 at Georgia State, over/under: 56.5. The Panthers have the more explosive offense, and considering they play at one of the nation’s fastest paces, they’ll give themselves plenty of chances to maximize that edge. It’s also a bad spot for Army, playing its second straight road game. Guess: Georgia State plus-5.5.

Louisiana-Monroe plus-15 at Appalachian State, over/under: 65.5. Appalachian State is rolling now that it’s settled in behind new coach Eliah Drinkwitz. Take advantage of fair prices on the Mountaineers before the market adjusts and implements a tax on one of the best group of five conference sides. Guess: Appalachian State minus-15.

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

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