Welcome to the week we’ve all been waiting for.
The annual meeting between Alabama and LSU is always good bet to be one of the biggest games of the year, but the excitement is amplified this year. Both teams are sitting in the top two slots of the AP and coaches’ polls and are currently in the College Football Playoff.
And it has some worthwhile support on the week 10 slate. Among the many standout games are a battle of Big Ten undefeated teams with Penn State going to Minnesota and a Big 12-championship race clarifying matchup between Oklahoma and Iowa State.
I’ve got plays on a lot of big games, and picks for all of them in the weekly column handicapping every Football Bowl Subdivision contest. After a 4-1 start to the week, the overall record stands at 289-206-13 (46-35-2 on plays, 80-40-2 on leans and 163-131-9 on guesses).
Read below for picks on every week 10 game, separated into three confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.
Central Florida minus-17 at Tulsa, over/under: 70. Tulsa has gotten progressively worse as the season has gone on, and now with its goal of bowl eligibility extinguished and a coaching change imminent, it’s dicey expecting much out of the Hurricanes. Analytically, UCF is still the best team in the conference and could reasonably be laying a larger number. Lean: UCF minus-17.
East Carolina plus-21 at SMU, over/under: 71. This line is an overreaction to East Carolina’s near upset of Cincinnati in a 46-43 loss as 25-point home underdogs last week. SMU is either even or a little better than Cincinnati — the Mustangs are No. 33 in Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings to the Bearcats No. 34 — so there’s no reason East Carolina should be getting four fewer points on the road. Lean: SMU minus-21.
Connecticut plus-35.5 at Cincinnati, over/under: 54. Stylistically, the Bearcats prefer to grind themselves down the field, keeping the ball on the ground and running the clock. That’s not the type of team to back at massive point spreads. Guess: Connecticut plus-35.5.
Louisville plus-6.5 at Miami, over/under: 48.5. There’s a reason why Miami was priced as the second-best team in the ACC to Clemson coming into the year and Louisville was sitting with Georgia Tech as the worst. There’s a gigantic talent discrepancy. Miami’s offense has started to come alive with big plays and should find another victim in Louisville’s outmatched defense. Play: Miami minus-6.5.
Wake Forest minus-2.5 at Virginia Tech, over/under: 62.5. Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newton has been a big play waiting to happen and a joy to watch all year, but he’s benefitted from a shaky slate of opposing defenses. Virginia Tech should offer far more resistance. Lean: Virginia Tech plus-2.5.
Florida State plus-2 at Boston College, over/under: 63. Florida State rallied around current interim coach Odell Haggins with two wins and covers when he took over for Jimbo Fisher two years ago and might do the same this year. The Seminoles had made strides in their last two games before running into the buzzsaw of Miami’s defense in a 27-10 loss as 3-point underdogs last week. Lean: Florid State plus-2.
Georgia Tech plus-16 at Virginia, over/under: 46. Number looks perfect, but I’m a little gunshy to give this much with the Cavaliers considering their recurring offensive issues. They also haven’t laid this large of a spread in an ACC game in more than a decade. Guess: Georgia Tech plus-16.
Notre Dame minus-8 at Duke, over/under: 51. The discrepancy in skill players could lead to this line being easily in the double digits. But I’m a little worried about the cluster injuries Notre Dame has suffered on the offensive line. Guess: Duke plus-8.
Clemson minus-31.5 at North Carolina State, over/under: 53.5. To the overlooking of many including apparently the College Football Playoff committee, the Tigers have gotten back to their expected level of efficiency over the last month with five straight blowouts. There’s no reason to bet against them for the time being. Guess: Clemson minus-31.5.
Penn State minus-7 at Minnesota, over/under: 47.5. Yes, the Golden Gophers struggled early in the year and were lucky to win four straight games by a touchdown or less. No, that’s not relevant anymore. Coach P.J. Fleck has crafted an offense tailor made to his personnel to allow his team to reach a higher level, having outgained the last five opponents by more than 3 yards per play collectively. Play: Minnesota plus-7.
Illinois plus-14.5 at Michigan State, over/under: 45.5. Let’s not give up on one of the nation’s most consistent programs just yet. Michigan State’s statistical profile paints it as far better than its 4-4 straight-up record, and the Spartans are coming off of a bye while the Illini are playing for a sixth straight week. Play: Michigan State minus-14.5.
Iowa plus-9 at Wisconsin, over/under: 38. Big plays might be the difference in a game where most of the action will be falling three yards over the line of scrimmage, and Wisconsin is far more capable of producing them. I wouldn’t take the Badgers at double digits, but there might be slight value on them with the line settling under 10 points. Guess: Wisconsin minus-9.
Purdue plus-2 at Northwestern, over/under: 39.5. Northwestern hasn’t scored a touchdown in a month, but every defense it’s faced has been significantly better than Purdue’s. The Boilermakers’ offense, meanwhile, is down to their third quarterback, sophomore walk-on Aidan O’Connell. Guess: Northwestern minus-2.
Maryland plus-44 at Ohio State, over/under: 64. Despite their weekly blowout wins, the Buckeyes haven’t regularly run up the score this year. They score in spades and then slow down. This is the biggest number they’ve given all year, but the Terrapins aren’t their worst opponent and should have a chance to slide in a backdoor cover at worst. Guess: Maryland plus-44.
Baylor minus-2 at TCU, over/under: 48. Don’t overreact to Baylor’s narrow escape against West Virginia in a 17-14 win as 18-point favorites last Thursday. The score was misleading as the Bears held a near 2.5-yard per play advantage. TCU might be down to its third quarterback and also has cluster injuries at receiver. Play: Baylor minus-2.
Kansas State plus-7 at Texas, over/under: 57. A few weeks ago, Texas would have been at least a two-touchdown favorite in this spot. Now, the Longhorns are coming off of a bye week while the Wildcats are playing for the fourth straight week, having won three consecutive battles coming in. It’s not trite to wonder how much energy they have left. Lean: Texas minus-7.
Texas Tech minus-2.5 at West Virginia, over/under: 59.5. Texas Tech can’t stop anyone; West Virginia can’t move the ball. It’s far from an inexact science, but I’d typically rather take the offensive team with no defense than the defensive team with no offense. Guess: Texas Tech minus-2.5.
Iowa State plus-14.5 at Oklahoma, over/under: 67.5. It’s highly unlikely they wind up meeting again in the conference championship game, but efficiency-wise, these are the two best teams in the Big 12. I don’t want any part of fading of either of them, though I thought the opening number of Oklahoma minus-14 was most fair. Guess: Iowa State plus-14.5.
UAB plus-5.5 at Southern Miss, over/under: 50. The usual reminder that I’d rather take a great offense — Southern Miss, in this case — than a great defense — UAB, especially when a line has crashed this much. The Blazers would have probably been the play at the opening price of plus-8.5 but the move through key numbers is too much to ignore. Guess: Southern Miss minus-5.5.
Charlotte minus-13.5 at Texas-El Paso, over/under: 58. Charlotte is the better team, but defensive injuries are mounting. It’s doubtful the 49ers have the depth to combat such setbacks. Guess: UTEP plus-13.5.
North Texas plus-5.5 at Louisiana Tech, over/under: 72.5. Having bet both teams this year, I can say from first-had experience that they’re better than perceived but maddeningly inconsistent and error-prone. That should translate into a high-variance game, and I’d rather have the points in a high-variance game. Guess: North Texas plus-5.5.
Texas-San Antonio plus-4 at Old Dominion, over/under: 43. This is the worst game of the week, and there aren’t even really any other contenders. Don’t get involved in the worst game of the week. Guess: UTSA plus-4.
Liberty plus-17 at BYU, over/under: 58.5. BYU deserves a bigger home-field advantage adjustment when a team from the East coast like Liberty visits LaVell Edwards Stadium, but maybe not this big. Liberty has posted a higher net yards per play on the season, .6 to BYU’s .1, and although it’s played a much easier schedule, that can’t fully account for this large of a number. Guess: Liberty plus-17.
Massachusetts plus-35 at Army, over/under: 62.5. The Black Knights may not have the offense to trust laying this big of a number against anyone under ideal circumstances. These are not ideal circumstances coming off of a physical and emotional 17-13 loss at Air Force as 17-point underdogs. Guess: UMass plus-35.
San Jose State plus-7.5 at Hawaii, over/under: 76.5. This is the rare late-season game where the Warriors have a situational advantage. San Jose State has been one of the nation’s biggest revelations, but playing an eighth straight week with travel to the middle of the Pacific means it’s time to sell high. Play: Hawaii minus-7.5.
Utah State plus-6 at Fresno State, over/under: 58.5. Line looks a touch inflated coming off of last week’s contrasting results, with Fresno State upsetting Hawaii 41-38 on the road and Utah State getting smashed 42-14 to BYU. Before the Aggies’ recent downturn, these two teams appeared evenly matched. Guess: Utah State plus-6.
Wyoming plus-13.5 at Boise State, over/under: 48.5. Boise State has played significantly better at home all season, which is not an uncommon phenomenon under a freshman quarterback like Hank Bachmeier. Number looks right, but this feels like a get-right spot for the Broncos after struggling the last two weeks on the road. Guess: Boise State minus-13.5.
UNR plus-17.5 at San Diego State, over/under: 39. The Wolf Pack have shown signs of life, and a more balanced offense, with the return of quarterback Carson Strong. San Diego State has only won one game by this many points all year, and that was against even-worse New Mexico State 31-10 as 16.5-point favorites. Guess: UNR plus-17.5.
USC plus-2 at Arizona State, over/under: 57.5. Before burying USC for its 5-4 straight-up record, keep in mind that it’s played far and away the toughest schedule in the Pac-12. And it still has a better point differential than Arizona State. As long as the players haven’t quit on soon-to-be-fired coach Clay Helton, and there’s no indication that they have, this line has the wrong team favored. Lean: USC plus-2.
Stanford minus-3.5 at Colorado, over/under: 56. Colorado has been one of the Pac-12’s worst teams when playing on the road, but it’s been significantly better at home. The Buffaloes are also much more explosive on offense than the Cardinal. Lean: Colorado plus-3.5.
Washington State minus-7.5 at California, over/under: 51.5. Washington State’s defense has given up a horrendous 5.2 yards per rush, meaning California’s likely game plan of staying on the ground and draining the clock may have a glimmer of hope. The Golden Bears’ defense has held nearly every opponent’s offense it’s faced below its usual efficiency level. Guess: California plus-7.5.
Washington minus-10 at Oregon State, over/under: 65. The Beavers might be the most improved team in the nation, but they’ve still gotten blown out against the only two top 25 caliber opponents they’ve faced — Utah and Oklahoma State. Despite suffering four losses, Washington still belongs in that category and has a massive talent edge. Guess: Washington minus-10.
Vanderbilt plus-26 at Florida, over/under: 48.5. This would have been a totally fair spread a week ago, but the Commodores season has been turned upside down since then. They’re down to third-string quarterback Deuce Wallace, who threw for a total of 30 yards and two interceptions in 17 attempts last week in a 24-7 loss at South Carolina. Play: Florida minus-26.
Appalachian State plus-6 at South Carolina, over/under: 51. Partially thanks to Appalachian State’s 24-21 upset loss to Georgia Southern last Wednesday, this line has crept into bettable territory. The Mountaineers now have extra time to prepare and were probably already mixing in South Carolina reps in practice, a potential factor in last week’s defeat. Play: Appalachian State plus-6.
LSU plus-6 at Alabama, over/under: 63. The Crimson Tide have been more efficient on both sides of the ball, and at the end of the day, still have a massive edge on the sidelines with Nick Saban against LSU’s Ed Orgeron. With Tua Tagovailoa almost certain to play, there’s no reason this line should be less than 7. Lean: Alabama minus-6.
Tennessee plus-1 at Kentucky, over/under: 42. The element of surprise Kentucky benefited from by using receiver Lynn Bowden at quarterback to beat Missouri 29-7 two weeks ago should be minimized against Tennessee. Maybe Bowden is a transcendent talent but it’s more likely the Volunteers’ strong rush defense will have a plan for him. Guess: Tennessee plus-1.
Western Kentucky plus-1.5 at Arkansas, over/under: 52. The Razorbacks’ secondary is often non-existent, having given up 8.3 yards per pass attempt to rank in the nation’s bottom 30. The stage is set for Western Kentucky quarterback Ty Storey to tear apart his former team. Guess: Western Kentucky plus-1.5.
Missouri plus-16 at Georgia, over/under: 48. Missouri has been in a free fall with quarterback Kelly Bryant hobbled by a hamstring injury, which makes it tough to back but also inflated on the point spread. If Bryant is closer to 100 percent this week, the line should be more around Georgia minus-14. Guess: Missouri plus-16.
New Mexico State plus-28.5 at Mississippi, over/under: 64. Having frustratingly lost three straight games by single digits, it’s hard to see the Rebels being in a forgiving mood. And, if they don’t care to stop scoring, they won’t stop scoring against an Aggies team with no defense thrust into its third straight road game. Guess: Ole Miss minus-28.5.
Georgia State minus-2.5 at Louisiana-Monroe, over/under: 75.5. It’s admittedly dangerous to look at only recent results, but the degree to which the Panthers have outperformed the Warhawks over the last month is monumental. And now they have the added bonus of coming off of a bye week. Guess: Georgia State minus-2.5.
Georgia Southern minus-3.5 at Troy, over/under: 56. Georgia Southern is surging, but I’m not sure to the extent that this number deserves to cross through the 3. Troy has a game offense with underrated quarterback Kaleb Barker, who should be able to make sure the Trojans keep pace. Guess: Troy plus-3.5.
South Alabama plus-8 at Texas State, over/under: 41. The line opened at minus-7, and everything points towards that being a fair price on this game. I’m having hard time coming up with a reason to justify the slight steam on the Bobcats boosting the price. Guess: South Alabama plus-8.