College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of week 11

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AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst

Auburn football fan’s fill Jordan-Hare Stadium during Auburn’s spring college football game on Saturday, April 17, 2010, in Auburn, Ala.

Sat, Nov 11, 2017 (2 a.m.)

Betting lines are seeping out on the presumed SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia.

The Crimson Tide are currently 7-point favorites over the Bulldogs in what’s turned into the most anticipated matchup of the year with the two teams ranked atop the first two installments of the College Football Playoff rankings. There’s only one outside team that could ruin the pairing at this point — Auburn.

The Tigers host both the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide in their final two games of SEC play. They could claim their own spot in the Dec. 2 conference championship game in Atlanta with a pair of victories over the top-rated teams.

Betting numbers might give Auburn a better chance than most would think. Current odds imply approximately a 20 percent chance the Tigers knock off both the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide.

They’re close to 50/50 in today’s first hosting of the powerful pair, as Georgia is a 2.5-point favorite ahead of a 12:30 p.m. kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Alabama is currently a 10-point favorite two weeks out from a trip to take on its archrival.

Auburn has put together a stellar 7-2 straight-up, 5-3-1 against the spread season, but hasn’t gotten the acclaim of its conference mates. That’s still subject to change, depending on what happens over the next three weeks.

Read below for Talking Points’ preview and pick on Georgia at Auburn, as well as the other nine biggest games of week 11. Extra picks are also provided at the end. Picks are labeled in three separate confidence categories with lines the best available on the chosen side at the time of publication. After going 9-6-1 last week, college football by the odds’ record for the year stands at 76-78-3.

    • Michigan State wide receiver Felton Davis III (18), defended by Penn State cornerback Christian Campbell (1), catches a 33-yard pass and falls into the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in East Lansing, Mich.

      Michigan State plus-17 at Ohio State, over/under: 54.5; 9 a.m. on Fox

      For a team that’s already lost twice outright and failed to cover the spread more often than not, Ohio State still commands some hefty numbers.

      The Buckeyes are favored by at least 17 points for the eighth time in 10 games this season despite their two-game against the spread losing streak including last week’s jarring 55-24 loss at Iowa as closing 21-point favorites. It’s too high for the majority of the betting public.

      All the early money has come on Michigan State to drive the spread down to 16.5 points at some sports books. The Spartans have been the opposite of the Buckeyes in many ways as they’re coming into a game as an underdog for the fourth time this season but are sitting a profitable 6-3 against the spread.

      They added to their success by knocking off Penn State 27-24 as 9.5-point underdogs last week behind a smothering rush defense, which is giving up less than 3 yards per carry on the year, and an explosive pass game. Underrated quarterback Brian Lewerke put up 400 yards, including nearly 200 to receiver Felton Davis III.

      The duo could test a pass defense that’s mediocre for Ohio State standards, as it slipped to 35th in the nation by S&P ratings after getting torched by Iowa.

      Lean: Under 54.5 points

    • Oklahoma State linebacker Chad Whitener (45) tackles Kansas State quarterback Jesse Ertz (16) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Manhattan, Kan., Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Oklahoma State defeated Kansas State 43-37.

      Oklahoma State minus-7 at Iowa State, over/under: 62; 9 a.m. on ABC

      Think of the last two weeks in the Big 12 as a double-elimination tournament.

      Iowa State and Oklahoma State each lost winnable games with point spreads of less than touchdown last week, but are far from destitute in the conference race. The winner of today’s de facto loser’s bracket pairing is right back in position to reach the first Big 12 Championship Game in seven years.

      The path for the loser is much more difficult. One of the biggest downsides to last week’s results, Oklahoma State’s 62-52 loss to Oklahoma as 1-point favorites and Iowa State’s 20-16 defeat at West Virginia as 4-point underdogs, is they’ve robbed this pairing of some luster.

      That’s definitely seen in sports books where Oklahoma State at Iowa State might as well be buried on betting boards. It’s getting little action with the stakes minimized, and therefore, the spread has stayed stagnant.

      Perhaps its attention level will increase once the game gets started based on these teams proclivity for delivering excitement this season. Nine of their combined 12 conference games this season have been close, and ultimately decided by two touchdowns or less.

      Guess: Iowa State plus-7

    • West Virginia WR Ka'Raun White (2) runs down field during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Morgantown, W. Va., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017.

      West Virginia plus-2.5 at Kansas State, over/under: 62.5; 12:30 p.m. on ESPN2

      Bettors wagering on a Kansas State game must feel as powerless as someone moseying up to a casino war table.

      It’s impossible for them to know what they’re going to get with the Wildcats, at least at the most important position. Kansas State threw a third name into a quarterback wheel that’s spun all season last week, as freshman Skylar Thompson led a comeback 42-35 overtime victory at Texas Tech as 3.5-point underdogs.

      Don’t press coach Bill Snyder on whether the injured Jesse Ertz, erratic Alex Delton or newcomer Thompson will start this week. He’s not going to provide any insight.

      West Virginia is more of a known commodity. The Mountaineers are basically the same team they’ve been for the last couple years.

      They’ll put up big offense — ranking in the nation’s top 15 with 6.6 yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents — but little defense — ranking 90th at allowing 6 yards per play.

      The best bet might be to stay away all together, a strategy gamblers might be employing. Like the first major Big 12 game of the day, this line has stayed virtually intact all week.

      Guess: West Virginia plus-2.5

    • Florida running back Mark Thompson, left, is stopped by Georgia safety Dominick Sanders for a short gain in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Jacksonville, Fla.

      Georgia minus-2.5 at Auburn, over/under: 47; 12:30 p.m. on CBS

      Public perception breaks with oddsmakers in the belief that this road trip is a major challenge for the Bulldogs.

      Pundits are almost unanimously picking Georgia, and something similar is occurring in sports books. The vast majority of bettors haven’t hesitated to lay the points with Georgia.

      And yet, the line hasn’t moved much. That’s because of an expectation that the big money is coming on Auburn.

      The Tigers’ statistical profile might not quite match up with the Bulldogs on the year, but it’s not far behind either. Auburn’s two losses, both road games against LSU and Clemson, have come by a total of 12 points.

      The Tigers have the nation’s 35th ranked offense and fourth-ranked defense by S&P as compared to the Bulldogs’ 19th and eighth, respectively. Auburn has played pretty much on par with its preseason expectations, and it was a 10-point favorite against Georgia in game of the year lines.

      The line shift isn’t unreasonable given how much better Georgia has proven, largely because it appears to be a team without weakness. Questioned if they could throw the ball last week, the Bulldogs responded with freshman quarterback Jake Fromm passing for two first-half touchdowns and averaging 9 yards per attempt.

      Lean: Auburn plus-2.5

    • Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher gives instructions to his team during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College in Boston, Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. Boston College won 35-3.

      Florida State plus-15.5 at Clemson, over/under: 15.5; 12:30 p.m. on ESPN

      Most viewed this matchup as the unofficial ACC Atlantic division championship game before the season started.

      In one way, they might prove correct. Clemson clinches the Atlantic with a victory over Florida State, which hasn’t held up its end of the bargain in keeping this rivalry game’s stakes intact.

      The Seminoles are still looking for their first cover of the season after a sloppy performance led to a 27-24 win over Syracuse as 7.5-point favorites last week. They’ll also need to win three of their remaining four games — including a rescheduled date with Louisiana-Monroe — to extend a 25-year bowl streak. Florida State hasn’t been more than a two-touchdown underdog in a game since 2009, a year before Bobby Bowden gave way to Jimbo Fisher on its sidelines.

      Although the Seminoles’ defense has been a disappointment, ranking 41st in the nation by S&P, it’s offensively where their hopes to unseat the Tigers from the ACC Championship Game for the first time in three years have really sunk. Florida State has the nation’s 108th ranked offense by S&P with freshman quarterback James Blackman, who replaced the injured Deondre Francois, routinely struggling.

      Guess: Clemson minus-16.5

    • Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley throws a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Ohio State, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 55-24.

      Iowa plus-12 at Wisconsin, over/under: 46; 12:30 p.m. on ABC

      The College Football Playoff committee’s gripe with the strength of Wisconsin’s schedule can be reflected in its betting lines.

      The undefeated Badgers, which the committee controversially ranked eighth this week, have been a double-digit favorite in every game. That might soon change — just not this week.

      Maybe next week. Wisconsin is a 8.5-point favorite on the look-ahead line to next week’s home game against Michigan.

      The chances that the spread against Iowa would drop three points are minimal, even with the Hawkeyes coming off of one of the biggest upsets of the season. Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley tore apart Ohio State’s defense with 226 yards and five touchdowns in a 55-24 win where the Hawkeyes were 21-point underdogs.

      Public bettors are not concerning themselves with the famed letdown game. They’re more on board with the College Football Playoff committee in being unconvinced by the Badgers.

      Three-fourths of the tickets printed early in the week came on the underdog Hawkeyes.

      Guess: Wisconsin minus-12

    • Southern California linebacker John Houston Jr. (10) is congratulated by teammate Josh Fatu after blocking a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. Southern California defeated Arizona State 48-17.

      USC minus-13.5 at Colorado, over/under: 64.5; 1 p.m. on Fox

      Despite what’s felt like a particularly wild season in the Pac-12, the conference may have ultimately played out closer to expectations than any other league.

      USC and Washington are heavily favored to meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game, just as the preseason odds suggested. The Trojans only need to win one of their two final games — they host UCLA next week — to secure their spot.

      Colorado also has a lot riding in its final two matchups, as it needs a win over USC or at Utah to reach bowl eligibility. Bettors might be surprised both teams are positioned as well as they are considering how unreliable they’ve been in sports books.

      Both USC and Colorado sit at 3-7 against the spread. The Trojans have needed to rally the last two weeks to get there, as they come into this game on their first covering streak of the year.

      Quarterback Sam Darnold has finally looked like the Heisman favorite bettors made him in the preseason with 8.7 yards per pass attempt and five touchdowns to one interception in a sweep of opponents from the Copper State. Darnold could have another big day against one of the 33 defenses in the nation giving up more than 6 yards per play.

      Colorado’s defensive shortcomings have contributed to four of its last five games going over the total.

      Guess: USC minus-13.5

    • Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) runs past Massachusetts defenders in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017. No. 21 Mississippi State won 34-23. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

      Alabama minus-14.5 at Mississippi State, over/under: 51; 4 p.m. on ESPN

      Auburn might not be the only SEC West afterthought capable of causing havoc.

      Glossing over Mississippi State, which is also not yet mathematically eliminated from the conference race, might be a mistake. But many are doing just that, and it’s almost entirely because of the Bulldogs’ two losses.

      They weren’t pretty, as Mississippi State lost by a combined 67 points in back-to-back weeks to Georgia and Auburn in September. The Bulldogs have won every game since that pair, however, and had also covered in all of them before last week’s drowsy 34-23 performance against Massachusetts as 33-point favorites.

      It’s not a stretch to believe Mississippi State was looking ahead and preparing for its shot at Alabama. The Bulldogs have some characteristics that have given the Crimson Tide trouble in the past, including an explosive mobile quarterback who also has a big arm in Nick Fitzgerald.

      Alabama is also banged up on defense, with second-leading tackler Shaun Dion Hamilton lost for the season and shutdown corner Minkah Fitzpatrick nursing a hamstring after last week’s 24-10 win over LSU as 20.5-point favorites.

      But Alabama’s offense is clicking on all cylinders, gaining 6.7 yards per play to outscore SEC opponents by an average of 36 points per game so far — the most of any team under coach Nick Saban.

      Play: Mississippi State plus-14.5

    • Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush looks to pass against Wake Forest during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in South Bend, Ind.

      Notre Dame minus-3 at Miami, over/under: 57.5; 5 p.m. on ABC

      Sharp bettors feasted on Miami last week.

      After allowing public action to drive Virginia Tech up to as much as a 3-point favorite, the big money pounded Miami and never encountered as much as a sweat as the Hurricanes cruised to a 28-10 win. Notre Dame has done its part in fattening the wallets of professional sports bettors without much suspense all season.

      Sharp bettors were ahead of the curve with the Fighting Irish, which had covered six in a row before allowing Wake Forest to sneak in for a late cover of plus-15 in last week’s 48-37 win. The majority of sharps haven’t tipped their hand to which way they’re leaning in this week’s matchup between two of their favorite teams.

      The public see the game ending like the famed 1988 “Catholics vs. Convicts” showdown — with Notre Dame on top. The Fighting Irish have drawn 85 percent of the tickets at William Hill sports book.

      They have the nation’s top rushing offense, gaining 7 yards per play, behind quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running back Josh Adams. That could be concern for the Hurricanes, which rate just 37th in the nation in giving up 4 yards per carry.

      Lean: Notre Dame minus-3

    • Oklahoma defender Will Johnson (12) moves in on wide receiver Reggie Turner (32) during an NCAA college football practice in Norman, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

      TCU plus-7 at Oklahoma, over/under: 62.5; 5 p.m. on Fox

      Good luck differentiating much between TCU and Oklahoma looking solely on the two teams’ schedules.

      On the surface, the Sooners and Horned Frogs appear identical. Both are 8-1 straight-up, 5-4 against the spread with their lone blemishes a 7-point loss to Iowa State.

      It’s the specifics where they diverge, and it becomes clear they’ve worked their way into statuses as Big 12 frontrunners through vastly different methods. TCU is suffocating opponents; Oklahoma is blowing them away.

      Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is back as the Heisman favorite, at as high as minus-175 odds, with his offense easily leading the nation in averaging 8.3 yards per play. Expect TCU defenders like linebacker Travin Howard, defensive end Ben Banogu and safety Nick Orr to similarly command a bounty of awards considering they lead a unit that ranks first in the country in giving up 2.4 yards per rushing attempt.

      The Horned Frogs have had their share of troubles, however, particularly in the passing game where they haven’t produced many big plays. That could be something they solve against the Sooners, which might have even bigger problems on defense.

      Oklahoma ranks 85th in the nation in giving up 5.7 yards per play and has given up 36 points per game in Big 12 play.

      Play: TCU plus-7

    • Extra points

      Colorado State plus-6.5 vs. Boise State Broncos have put it together with five straight wins, but haven’t faced a team with a passing offense as explosive as the Rams’ during the run. This is a chance to buy low on Colorado State coming off of a two-game losing streak where it didn’t play as poorly as the scores indicate.

      Army plus-3 vs. Duke Duke hasn’t won or covered since September, and there are no reasons to believe it can suddenly turn it around now. The Cadets are in the top 10 nationally in rushing for 5.8 yards per attempt, while the Blue Devils fall in the bottom half of the rankings by giving up 4 yards per carry.

      Southern Miss minus-10 at Rice The Golden Eagles played well enough to win at Tennessee last week, but had a couple unlucky turnovers to fall 24-10 as 7-point underdogs. Rice might be the worst team in the nation, and has a lame duck coach in David Bailiff to boot.

      Purdue plus-5 at Northwestern Three straight overtime wins should finally take their toll on the Wildcats, with the adjoining luck in close games bound to regress. Boilermakers are getting at least one extra point with backup quarterback Elijah Sindelar taking over, but reports are promising that he’s poised and ready.

      Arkansas plus-17.5 at LSU It’s hard to expect any team’s best the week after taking on Alabama, let alone one like LSU that made the game extra physical and therefore punishing. The Razorbacks still hold a coaching edge with Bret Bielema, though he’s likely to be fired by the end of the year, over the Tigers’ Ed Orgeron.

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

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