College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of Week 3

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Indiana’s Stevie Scott (21) runs for a touchdown against Virginia during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Bloomington, Ind. (Jeremy Hogan/The Herald-Times via AP)

Fri, Sep 14, 2018 (2 a.m.)

Bookmakers are always quick to point out that over/under point totals never make or break their bottom lines during football season.

Totals surely didn’t hurt the house during week 2 of the college football season, though. Sports books held a high percentage last weekend, and a spate of unders only helped.

The under hit in 35 of 49 games between Football Bowl Subdivision opponents last week, with two other games landing directly on the number to push. It was a rash of low-scoring games that’s unlikely to repeat going forward.

Most of it can be chalked up to random variance, but bad weather also may have played a role. Large swaths of the country dealt with rain and storms, putting offenses in less-than-ideal situations to move the ball.

Mother Nature could have a similar effect this weekend as Hurricane Florence nears landfall. Three games — West Virginia at North Carolina State, UCF at North Carolina and East Carolina at Virginia Tech — have already been canceled in preparation for the storm.

Talking Points will make picks on the point spread for the rest of the remaining schedule in the blog’s continued series looking at every game. Week 2 brought a stronger showing, but the overall record is still drug down at 36-56-2 due to poor performance in the smaller conferences and on “guesses.”

Picks are separated by conference with the home team taking precedence in non-conference games, listed in rough order of confidence and labeled with three separate confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses. Plays have gone 5-3 on the year with leans at 15-19-1 and guesses at 16-37-1.

Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

Check below for picks on every game.

ACC

Georgia Southern plus-34 at Clemson, over/under: 47.5. The Eagles have covered easily in their first two games, with the betting market potentially not accounting for the program’s underrated infrastructure and an imaginative young coach in Chad Lunsford. It’s going to be tougher to keep up against Clemson, but Georgia Southern’s modified option attack should lead to a few big plays. Lean: Georgia Southern plus-34.

Georgia Tech minus-3.5 at Pittsburgh, over/under: 54.5. Three turnovers doomed the Yellow Jackets to an upset 49-38 loss at South Florida last week, as they otherwise looked like the better team. Georgia Tech outgained South Florida by nearly 200 yards and 2.3 yards per play, making its buy-low proposition look like the stronger of the two here. Lean: Georgia Tech minus-3.5.

Western Kentucky plus-23 at Louisville, over/under: 57. As last week’s upset loss to Maine showed, Western Kentucky is still a work in progress. But the same is true of Louisville, and it’s the only side being asked to win by more than three touchdowns. Lean: Western Kentucky plus-23.

Florida State minus-2.5 at Syracuse, over/under: 68. All the action is on Syracuse, which is a bit of red flag. This line isn’t as out of whack as perceived, because the Seminoles still have a massive talent edge despite their early-season struggles. They’re going to figure out how to channel it eventually. Lean: Florida State minus-2.5.

Ohio plus-3.5 at Virginia, over/under: 54.5. Game moved from Virginia’s home Scott Stadium to Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville because of Hurricane Florence, which also shifted the line 2.5 points in Ohio’s favor. That gives added incentive to back Virginia, as it will be at a talent advantage regardless of where the game is played. Guess: Virginia minus-3.5.

Big Ten

BYU plus-21 at Wisconsin, over/under: 45.5. Wisconsin has frustrated bettors by failing to cover in its first two games, but it still won by 31 points in each instance. And statistically the Badgers were more dominant than the final score, meaning this could be the rare spot where a big, major-program favorite is definitively undervalued. Lean: Wisconsin minus-21.

South Florida minus-10.5 at Illinois, over/under: 59. The Fighting Illini have played at one of the nation’s slowest paces over the last three years, and running the ball just might be enough to keep them in the game with the Bulls. South Florida’s rush defense has looked extremely iffy, giving up 5.8 yards per attempt, through two games as it breaks in several new players in the front seven. Guess: Illinois plus-10.5.

SMU plus-35 at Michigan, over/under: 53.5. With a -53 point differential and -1.3 net yards per play, SMU has been completely uncompetitive so far. Buy signs are meanwhile still on Michigan following the absurd panic out of its week 1 loss to Notre Dame. Guess: Michigan minus-35.

Ball State plus-14 at Indiana, over/under: 57.5. Number looks spot-on for a game between two improved teams, but Ball State is getting most of the action after hanging with Notre Dame in a 24-16 loss at 34-point underdogs last week. It will be hard to repeat that effort a second week in a row. Guess: Indiana minus-14.

Akron plus-21.5 at Northwestern, over/under: 45. Neither Purdue nor Duke field shutdown defenses, and yet Northwestern has gained only 4.7 yards per play through those two games. The Wildcats will move the ball easier against the Zips, but they don’t have the firepower to give a high number. Guess: Akron plus-21.5.

Missouri minus-7 at Purdue, over/under: 65.5. Missouri was a smaller favorite than this last year against Purdue, at minus-6, and that game was in Columbia, Mo. The Tigers are playing at a higher level now, but the Boilermakers should be focused and motivated off of two losses by a total of four points to start the season. Guess: Purdue plus-7.

Temple plus-16 at Maryland, over/under: 53. Don’t mind trying to buy low on Temple for one more week, as the Owls should be better than their losses to Villanova and Buffalo to open the season show. Action on the Terrapins has pushed the spread up two points, and getting comfortably more than two touchdowns is too much to pass up. Guess: Temple plus-16.

Kent State plus-35 at Penn State, over/under: 64.5. Penn State coach James Franklin is not always the rabid lunatic pushing for more points in the final minutes with a 38-point lead like he was last week. He just really doesn’t like Pittsburgh; Kent State should be granted more mercy. Guess: Kent State plus-35.

Miami (Ohio) plus-13.5 at Minnesota, over/under: 46.5. Gophers’ numbers are on the rise after looking sharp in starting the season 2-0 straight-up and against the spread. Oddsmakers may need to swell spreads a little more, however, to fully dissuade from backing trusty Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck. Guess: Minnesota minus-13.5.

Troy plus-12 at Nebraska, over/under: 57.5. Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez may play after reportedly suffering an injury in a dirty play, but he hasn’t practiced so there’s no guarantee. Even a small possibility of the star freshman missing the game might make the points valuable in an otherwise tough-to-handicap contest. Guess: Troy plus-12.

Big 12

Ohio State minus-13 vs. TCU in Arlington, Texas, over/under: 59. TCU’s defense is athletic and loaded, leaving no way for Ohio State to carry on at its current clip of 8.2 yards per play and 64.5 points per game. TCU’s Gary Patterson is one of the best underdog coaches to back, as he’s gone 29-19 against the spread throughout his career when taking points. Play: TCU plus-13.

USC plus-3 at Texas, over/under: 47. These two teams are similar in that they’ve started 1-1 straight-up and against the spread and not performed well under the brunt of high expectations. The Longhorns look further along, however, with a more experienced depth chart. Point spread is verging on 4 at some shops, so grabbing the field goal while still available could be a shrewd move. Lean: Texas minus-3.

Rutgers plus-3 at Kansas, over/under: 45. Imagine the roles were reversed last week and Kansas was the sacrificial offering to Ohio State, while Rutgers got to play Central Michigan. This line would be a touchdown different — arguably closer to where it should be. Lean: Rutgers plus-3.

Boise State plus-2.5 at Oklahoma State, over/under: 64. Is it possible to play too perfectly? With a 4.7 net yards per play through two wins and covers, Boise State has been more impressive than any team in the nation. It sets a tough standard for the Broncos to uphold in Stillwater, Okla., and makes a question out of how they will respond to adversity that the Cowboys are guaranteed to inflict at some point. Lean: Oklahoma State minus-2.5.

Oklahoma minus-17.5 at Iowa State, over/under: 55.5. Hardly ever rushing out to bet a huge favorite in its conference road opener, but Iowa State’s lackluster 13-3 loss to Iowa as 3.5-point underdogs added further suspicion that it’s not the team it was a year ago. Discount the Cyclones’ breakout season from a year ago, and this spread could be higher. Lean: Oklahoma minus-17.5.

Duke plus-6 at Baylor, over/under: 49. This is a big swing for a game where Duke projected to be favored in the preseason, but it might be justified. The Blue Devils’ offense ground to a halt when quarterback Daniel Jones went out with a collarbone injury in last week’s 21-7 win as 3-point underdogs at Northwestern. The Bears’ offense hasn’t slowed down yet and looks set up for big things in coach Matt Rhule’s second year. Guess: Baylor minus-6.

UTSA plus-22 at Kansas State, over/under: 46.5. Kansas State got outgained by 325 yards and 4.3 yards per play in a loss to Mississippi State that was worse than the 31-10 final score indicated. These Wildcats are simply not up to the standard of past editions, even if they continue to get priced as such. Guess: UTSA plus-22.

Houston minus-1.5 at Texas Tech, over/under: 69.5. Red Raiders opened as high as a 2.5-point favorite before action on the Cougars caused the line to flip. Be cautious not to put too much stock into Houston’s 45-18 win as 3-point favorites against dysfunctional Arizona. Guess: Texas Tech plus-1.5.

Pac-12

Washington minus-6 at Utah, over/under: 47. The only legitimate knock on Washington quarterback Jake Browning is his ability to perform under pressure, and Utah is capable of bringing as much pressure as any team in the nation with the likes of Bradlee Anae and Cody Barton. The Utes also may have the most raucous home crowd of the week at Rice-Eccles Stadium. With line dwindling at most shops, jumping on the 6 immediately is a priority. Play: Utah plus-6.

Fresno State minus-2 at UCLA, over/under: 50.5. Fresno State played well enough to win at Minnesota last week with an efficiency edge, but the 21-14 loss snapped a national-high six-game against the spread winning streak. The Bulldogs are playing with a consistency under Jeff Tedford that UCLA coach Chip Kelly hopes to eventually reach. Lean: Fresno State minus-2.

San Jose State plus-41 at Oregon, over/under: 67. San Jose State probably deserved to lose by more than 31-0 against Washington State last week, as it mustered only 109 total yards. Oregon’s defense is a step up from Washington State’s. Guess: Oregon minus-41.

SEC

Louisiana plus-33.5 at Mississippi State, over/under: 64.5. Bulldogs could beat up on the Ragin’ Cajuns this badly — if they cared to. Not sure Mississippi State will be concerned with running up the score considering its SEC opener is on deck followed by two more conference games. Louisiana is also off the rare week 2 bye. Lean: Louisiana plus-33.5.

Middle Tennessee State plus-34 at Georgia, over/under: 54.5. Georgia coach Kirby Smart is 1-6 against the spread when laying more than three touchdowns. The Blue Raiders are better than any of the previous seven teams he’s faced in that situation. Guess: Middle Tennessee State plus-34.

North Texas plus-7.5 at Arkansas, over/under: 69. Want no part of backing Arkansas — even at a low number off of a loss — as it adjusts to coach Chad Morris’ new style and schemes. If the first two weeks are any indication, North Texas coach Seth Littrell might have his best team yet. Guess: North Texas plus-7.5.

Alabama minus-21 at Ole Miss, over/under: 71. Spread is on the rise, so this might end up being a slight bit of value by kickoff. Ole Miss should be able to score some points with its high-powered offense, but doesn’t stand a prayer in slowing Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who’s averaged 13 yards per pass attempt against two quietly solid defenses. Guess: Alabama minus-21.

Louisiana-Monroe plus-26.5 at Texas A&M, over/under: 67.5. If sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond can keep up the staggering efficiency he’s shown through two weeks, averaging 9.4 yards per attempt with five touchdowns to no interceptions, then the Aggies will be undervalued for a while longer. The fact that most of those numbers came from a matchup against Clemson’s dominant defense makes his ascension seem likely to continue. Guess: Texas A&M minus-26.5.

Colorado State plus-20.5 at Florida, over/under: 58.5. Everything came together for the Rams in a second-half surge to knock off the Razorbacks last week, but they had been uniformly terrible in all five halves they played this season before that. And Florida has a better defense than any Colorado State has encountered. Guess: Florida minus-20.5.

UTEP plus-30.5 at Tennessee, over/under: 47.5. UTEP has now lost 14 consecutive games, a streak during which they’ve gone 2-11-2 against the spread. Can’t back the Miners until they show evidence of improvement, and the needy-for-confidence Volunteers may not let up anyway. Guess: Tennessee minus-30.5.

LSU plus-10.5 at Auburn, over/under: 44.5 It’s inconclusive whether LSU is bound for a breakout season and can maintain the explosiveness it showed in blowing out Miami in the first half of the teams’ week 1 showdown. But, in the decent chance LSU is poised to make such a leap, getting more than 10 points is a luxury. Guess: LSU plus-10.5.

AAC

Arkansas State minus-1.5 at Tulsa, over/under: 72. Line flipped to narrowly favor Arkansas State, despite the Red Wolves getting beaten up and dealing with some injuries out of a 56-6 loss to Alabama. There’s not much than can come close to the physicality of a game against Alabama, and therefore have lingering effects a week later, not even Tulsa’s all-out effort in a 28-21 loss at Texas. Guess: Tulsa plus-1.5.

Georgia State plus-27.5 at Memphis, over/under: 58. Georgia State is going through one of the most pronounced rebuilding years in the nation, and oddsmakers’ power ratings haven’t caught up quickly enough. Guess: Memphis minus-27.5.

Conference USA

Tulane minus-4 at UAB, over/under: 57. No big fan of the Blazers this year, but they were setting up to be a favorite in this spot before last week’s 47-24 loss at Coastal Carolina as 8.5-point favorites. Shifting the line so far in favor of the Green Wave is the very definition of overreacting to a single result. Lean: UAB plus-4.

Independents

Vanderbilt plus-14 at Notre Dame, over/under: 52.5. A severe inflation off of name value alone, Notre Dame has shown nothing this season to indicate it should be favored by two touchdowns against a solid team. If Vanderbilt is half as efficient as it’s shown in season-opening blowout wins over UNR and Middle Tennessee State, then it should keep this game close. Play: Vanderbilt plus-14.

Hawaii plus-6 at Army, over/under: 62. A Noon Eastern kickoff, which is 6 a.m. Hawaiian time, is unfair to the Warriors. Preparing for the Black Knights’ triple-option is difficult enough without the extra impediment. Guess: Army minus-6.

New Mexico minus-4.5 at New Mexico State, over/under: 58.5. New Mexico State might have the most listless offense in the nation. Cannot back the Aggies until they find some solution to their struggles moving the ball. Guess: New Mexico minus-4.5.

MAC

Miami minus-10.5 at Toledo, over/under: 57.5. A lot of discussion has been devoted towards how Miami blew out Toledo last year — and even Appalachian State two years ago — in spots against Group of 5 conference teams that looked difficult. But this is a different situation. Not only must the Hurricanes go to the Glass Bowl, but they’re going there with a younger-than-perceived defense against a stacked Rockets’ offense. Play: Toledo plus-10.5.

Eastern Michigan plus-3 at Buffalo, over/under: 53. Challenging spot for the Eagles, which must move on from a monumental upset at Purdue to play at an inconspicuously tough venue. Buffalo, 2-0 straight-up and against the spread, are one of the most experienced teams in the MAC and have won both straight-up and against the spread in six straight contests at UB Stadium. Lean: Buffalo minus-3.

Central Michigan plus-13.5 at Northern Illinois, over/under: 59. Yes, the Huskies have managed only 13 points through two games this season. But going up against the Chippewas’ defense after playing Iowa and Utah is going to feel like taking the weight donut off of the baseball bat. Lean: Northern Illinois minus-13.5.

Mountain West

Oregon State plus-3.5 at UNR, over/under: 69. This might be the most evenly-matched game of the week, with Oregon State at No. 92 in Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings to UNR’s No. 93. That signals to take the points either way. Lean: Oregon State plus-3.5.

Arizona State minus-5 at San Diego State, over/under: 47.5. One of Herm Edwards’ strongest suits as a coach is motivation, so a letdown off of the upset over Michigan State seems like a long shot. And with that possibility erased, the Sundevils have looked too much better than the Aztecs this season to take a shot with the underdog. Guess: Arizona State minus-5.

Sun Belt

Massachusetts plus-4 at Florida International, over/under: 61.5. Florida International has been fortunate to cover in both of their games, going 1-1 straight-up, to open the season despite being thoroughly outplayed against Indiana and Old Dominion. Such luck typically disappears. Lean: Massachusetts plus-4.

Texas State plus-10 at South Alabama, over/under: 49.5. Neither the Bobcats nor the Jaguars have shown many reasons for optimism early in the season, but the latter at least rosters a few decently-touted young players. Guess: South Alabama minus-10.

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

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