College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of every Week 4 game

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Georgia wide receiver Lawrence Cager celebrates with quarterback Jake Fromm after scoring a touchdown against Arkansas State in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.

Fri, Sep 20, 2019 (2 a.m.)

One overtime loss. Two double-digit leads squandered. Ten points separating the entire pair of games.

That’s how close Georgia has been to Alabama in the last two seasons over the course of two meetings in the national championship and SEC championship games. Those contests have secured their places in college football history but warrant revisiting as a reminder to just how close they were.

They were so close that it’s worth an eyeroll multiple times per day when the, “it’s Clemson, Alabama and everyone else,” comment rears its head. That’s results-oriented thinking at its best, the exact type of logic bettors should avoid if they want to become winning players.

Alter one play and Georgia wins one of those games and starts to be regarded as right there with Clemson and Alabama. The Bulldogs are right there with the Crimson Tide and Tigers; it’s just a little clouded at the moment.

That’s partly because Georgia hasn’t been featured in a showcase game yet this year. That changes Saturday when Georgia hosts Notre Dame as 14.5-point favorites in primetime at Sanford Stadium.

If Georgia rolls in the manner it’s typically done in non-Alabama big games under coach Kirby Smart, its futures are going to plummet around town. Now is the time to buy on Georgia.

The Bulldogs are available at 6-to-1 to win the national championship and plus-250 (risking $1 to win $2.50) to win the SEC — the same prices it’s been sitting since May — at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Those odds might be going extinct, right next to the perception that there’s only two title contenders in college football.

Read below for Talking Points’ pick of every Football Bowl Subdivision Week 4 game, including Notre Dame at Georgia. Picks are separated by conference — with the home team taking precedence in non-conference matchups — and labeled with three confidence categories. The record on the year stands at 76-58-5 — 9-15-2 on plays, 27-6-1 on leans and 40-37-2 on guesses.

AAC

Wyoming plus-3.5 at Tulsa, over/under: 44.5. Tulsa’s offense has sputtered at 4.4 yards per play but there’s no reason to overreact to that when it’s played a tough schedule including Michigan State and Oklahoma State. With Baylor transfer Zac Smith at quarterback, the Hurricanes still have a higher ceiling than the Cowboys. Guess: Tulsa minus-3.5.

ACC

Appalachian State plus-3 at North Carolina, over/under: 58. Appalachian State has one of the most explosive and experienced offenses in the nation, averaging 7.4 yards per play through three games. That spells big trouble for a still green North Carolina defense. Play: Appalachian State plus-3.

Louisville plus-6.5 at Florida State, over/under: 61. Now is the time to buy low on Florida State as it may be 1-2 but both losses came by a touchdown or less in two of their four hardest games of the year. This line projected to be 14.5 before the season, and Louisville’s wins over Western Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky aren’t enough to enact that large of a shift. Play: Florida State minus-6.5.

Western Michigan plus-5.5 at Syracuse, over/under: 5.5. Syracuse ranks in the nation’s bottom 25 in giving up 5.3 yards per rush attempt, and now must face one of the most underrated running backs in the nation. Western Michigan’s LeVante Bellamy has averaged more than 6 yards per carry for four straight years. Lean: Western Michigan plus-5.5.

Central Florida plus-12 at Pittsburgh, over/under: 58.5. I’m sick of losing money betting against UCF, but there’s no other choice as long as oddsmakers continue to inflate its lines each week. The Knights are reaching their market breaking point, and it might come this week against a defensively stingy Panthers team. Lean: Pittsburgh plus-12.

Charlotte plus-42.5 at Clemson, over/under: 66. No team’s offense has improved more than Charlotte, which is up to 7 yards per play under new coach Will Healy as opposed to 4.7 last year. That’s unlikely to matter for most of the game against Clemson, but it could be just enough to allow them to slide in for a backdoor cover late. Guess: Charlotte plus-42.

Central Michigan plus-29.5 at Miami, over/under: 48. Growing pains have plagued Miami’s offense in each of its two Football Bowl Subdivision games, but this is where the Hurricanes show bust out of them. It’s a talent mismatch as Central Michigan fields one of the youngest defenses in the nation. Guess: Miami minus-29.5.

Old Dominion plus-29 at Virginia, over/under: 46.5. Virginia has sped up its offense this year, but still plays at a below-average pace not conducive to big blowouts. It’s always a big deal for the Monarchs to play a bigger in-state school, so expect them to be aggressive and pack a few extra wrinkles. Guess: Old Dominion plus-29.

Ball State plus-19 at North Carolina State, over/under: 59. Only three MAC teams have winning records against the spread so far this season without the luxury of having played a conference game. Translation: The conference is so poor that the betting market is having a tough time catching up. Guess: North Carolina State minus-19.

Big Ten

Nebraska minus-13.5 at Illinois, over/under: 62. It apparently only took one win — 44-8 over Northern Illinois as 14-point favorites — for Nebraska to become overvalued again. This would be a fair line in Lincoln, Neb., but not in Champaign, Ill., where the Illini’s offense seems revitalized by Michigan transfer quarterback Brandon Peters and big-play running back Reggie Corbin. Play: Illinois plus-13.5.

Michigan State minus-9 at Northwestern, over/under: 38.5. Michigan State has an advantage at every position and might be undervalued coming off of a 10-7 loss to Arizona State where it held more than a yard per play advantage. The only hesitation is in Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald’s propensity for getting his teams to play their best as an underdog — it went 8-1 against the spread when taking points last season. Lean: Michigan State minus-9.

Michigan plus-3.5 at Wisconsin, over/under: 44.5. This is a referendum on how much weight a gambler puts into priors. Those who derive their numbers from past performance and preseason expectations will come out with value on Michigan considering it was a 6.5-point favorite in this spot preseason. Those who go with season-to-date performance won’t be able to shake Wisconsin’s 110-0 total score through two games, even if it was fostered against South Florida and Central Michigan. Guess: Michigan plus-3.5.

Boston College minus-8.5 at Rutgers, over/under: 57.5. Both of these teams are bound to face some struggles this season in an uphill battle to become competitive. Only one is coming off of a bye week, conveniently not the one that’s being asked to lay more than a touchdown. Guess: Rutgers plus-8.5.

Connecticut plus-27.5 at Indiana, over/under: 56. A touchdown loss to Illinois and a field goal win over Wagner isn’t enough to get Connecticut off my list of teams to never back without extenuating circumstances. The Huskies are still one of the five worst teams in the nation. Guess: Indiana minus-27.5.

Miami (Ohio) plus-38.5 at Ohio State, over/under: 56.5. This line is inflated by a couple points, but that’s a common theme when it comes to the RedHawks against Power Five conference teams. And they usually don’t cover anyway. Miami has covered only once in its last 10 non-conference games. Guess: Ohio State minus-38.5.

Big 12

Oklahoma State plus-6 at Texas, over/under: 73. Cowboys offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson has already proven to be one of the most creative play callers in the country, and he’s surely held part of the playbook back for this conference opener. Texas’ young defense is highly suspect, having given up more than 6 yards per play. Play: Oklahoma State plus-6.

Louisiana-Monroe plus-18 at Iowa State, over/under: 56. I don’t buy into the “emotional letdown” narrative being thrown around with Iowa State off of its 18-17 loss against Iowa last week, a game in which it had a 3.4 yard per play advantage but lost because of two fumbles. Matt Campbell — 52-35-3 lifetime against the spread — is too strong of a coach to let that happen. Lean: Iowa State minus-18.

West Virginia minus-4 at Kansas, over/under: 48.5. This line would have been several points higher if Kansas didn’t trounce Boston College 48-24 on the road last week. It’s not as if West Virginia had a poor performance of its own — it beat North Carolina State 44-27 — so the shift seems a little severe. Lean: West Virginia minus-4.

SMU plus-9.5 at TCU, over/under: 55.5. Line opened as high as TCU minus-13.5, where the value was probably on SMU in what projects as a relatively low-scoring game. But now the spread has over-corrected as the Horned Frogs might have one of the best defenses in the nation, one that’s unlike anything SMU has seen while racking up big offensive numbers in its first three games. Guess: TCU minus-9.5.

Conference USA

Florida International plus-7.5 at Louisiana Tech, over/under: 50.5. Both these teams have relatively underachieved through three games, leaving it hard to get a definitive read on either. The presence of the half-point hook still hanging around at a few sports books makes the underdog the stronger numbers play. Guess: Florida International plus-7.5.

South Alabama plus-11 at UAB, over/under: 48. After week 1, when South Alabama pushed Nebraska and UAB slid past Alcorn State, this line would have been almost a touchdown lower. South Alabama might have both more experience and explosiveness. Guess: South Alabama plus-11.

UTSA plus-19 at North Texas, over/under: 19. North Texas has underachieved relative to its massive returning offensive production, largely because of a minus-3 turnover differential and 33 percent fumble recovery percentage. Those should regress, so buy low on the Mean Green while they’re in a playable range. Guess: North Texas minus-19.

Baylor minus-26.5 at Rice, over/under: 58.5. Rice is banged up off of back-to-back losses against Texas and Wake Forest, where it showed little reason for optimism in getting blown out by a total of 55 points. Baylor, meanwhile, never slowed down and seemed to derive joy of blowing out similarly overmatched UTSA and Stephen F. Austin by a total of 98 points to start the year. Guess: Baylor minus-26.5.

Independents

Washington minus-6.5 at BYU, over/under: 52.5. If BYU had lost either of its three-point upsets over the last two weeks — not to mention if Washington hadn’t succumbed to a one-point loss to California — then this line would be at least three points higher. That’s more in line with where it should be considering Washington easily covered minus-18.5 in a 35-7 home win over BYU a year ago. Play: Washington minus-6.5.

Coastal Carolina minus-16.5 at Massachusetts, over/under: 61.5. It’s even harder to price historically bad teams than it is to price historically great teams. The Minutemen are historically bad, having failed to cover by an average of 11 points through three games against Rutgers, Southern Illinois and Charlotte. Guess: Coastal Carolina minus-16.5.

MAC

Louisiana-Lafayette plus-3.5 at Ohio, over/under: 67.5. What a non-conference matchup, and I’m not joking. These teams may each win their respective conferences. That means more for the Rajun Cajuns, considering the Sun Belt looks tougher than the MAC this season. Louisiana also has a talent advantage, though Ohio is more experienced. I prefer the better players. Play: Louisiana-Lafayette plus-3.5.

Temple minus-14 at Buffalo, over/under: 52.5. Number looks perfect, but I don’t mind taking a leap of faith with Buffalo coach Lance Leipold. His team hasn’t shown much so far this season, but he’s been one of the most profitable coaches to back the last couple years. Guess: Buffalo plus-14.

Troy minus-17.5 at Akron, over/under: 56.5. Call it a theme of this week, if not this year: I’m not going to take unnecessary losses on my record betting on the nation’s worst teams. Akron is certainly going to get blown out, and getting beaten on a potential backdoor cover is easier to swallow than trying to get cute with a helpless side. Guess: Troy minus-17.5.

Mountain West

Toledo minus-9.5 at Colorado State, over/under: 67. Toledo will be dealing with too many issues — offensive injuries, the two time-zone road trip, high altitude — to lay this high of a point spread. While Colorado State has been terrible defensively, it’s well-equipped for a shootout even after losing quarterback Colin Hill with Nebraska transfer Patrick O’Brien stepping in. Play: Colorado State plus-9.5.

Air Force plus-7.5 at Boise State, over/under: 55. Boise State has the talent to blow out Air Force, but injuries are compounding on the offensive line. That’s one of the worst spots for a team to have an injury cluster, and the setback is usually undervalued in the betting market. Guess: Air Force plus-7.5.

New Mexico State plus-4 at New Mexico, over/under: 68.5. New Mexico lost by 52 points last week in its trip to face a power conference opponent in Notre Dame. New Mexico. State lost by 51 points in its trip to face a power conference opponent earlier in the year in Washington State. That’s just one example of how even these rivals look, and why any spread of more than a field goal is too much in this game. Guess: New Mexico State plus-4.

UNR minus-14.5 at UTEP, over/under: 51.5. The Wolf Pack struggled through a 19-13 win against Weber State last week, while UTEP had a bye week to rest and further prepare its young team. That might be enough to take the points in what’s a strange road trip for Reno. Guess: UTEP plus-14.5.

Utah State minus-4 at San Diego State, over/under: 52.5. Number looks perfect, but this might be a beneficial scheduling spot for the Aggies. They’ve probably been preparing for the Aztecs for the last two weeks by virtue of a bye and a game against Stony Brook as opposed to San Diego State, which has gone on back-to-back road trips. Guess: Utah State minus-4.

Pac-12

Oregon minus-10.5 at Stanford, over/under: 57.5. The “revenge game” angle with Oregon wanting vengeance for last year’s collapse against Stanford is contributing to the Ducks courting 95 percent of the action at William Hill sports books and keeping this spread above the key number of 10. That’s almost always a sentiment worth fading. Lean: Stanford plus-10.5.

Colorado plus-8.5 at Arizona State, over/under: 48.5. Unlike the rest of its opponents so far this year, Arizona State may have to deal with a Colorado team looking to speed up the tempo and maximize possession numbers. The strategy may just work as Arizona State hasn’t shown the offensive chops to merit laying more than a touchdown. Guess: Colorado plus-8.5.

Utah minus-4 at USC, over/under: 52.5. The Trojans were a 2-point favorite in this spot over the summer, and it can be argued they’ve been better than expected with Graham Harrell’s offense clicking quickly and the revelation of freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis. I still think Utah is the best team in the Pac-12, but this isn’t a good spot to back the Utes. Guess: USC plus-4.

UCLA plus-19 at Washington State, over/under: 57.5. This line was only Washington State minus-6 over the summer. As much as UCLA has struggled in starting the season 0-3 straight-up and against the spread, it may not have struggled badly enough to justify a two-touchdown shift. Guess: UCLA plus-19.

SEC

Kentucky plus-6 at Mississippi State, over/under: 48.5. The Bulldogs likely cruise last week against Kansas State instead of losing 31-24 if it wasn’t for starting injured quarterback Tommy Stevens, who promptly threw two interceptions. Stevens is reportedly closing in on full health for this week’s game, and even if he isn’t, all analytic systems project Mississippi State as double-digit-points better than Kentucky. Play: Mississippi State minus-6.

California plus-2.5 at Ole Miss, over/under: 41. On the surface, Ole Miss has a distinct offensive advantage to go with a defensive disadvantage. But the Rebels have shown signs of life in fixing the latter as it’s given up only 4.7 yards per play against an above-average pair of offenses in Memphis and Arkansas. Lean: Ole Miss minus-2.5.

South Carolina plus-9 at Missouri, over/under: 61.5. This line looks fair, but a strong situational edge for the Tigers may have merited a few more points. They’re coming off of a glorified bye week — in which they beat Southeast Missouri State 50-0 as 35-point favorites — while the Gamecocks must recover from the rigors of a 43-27 loss to Alabama as 25-point underdogs. Guess: Missouri minus-9.

Southern Miss plus-38 at Alabama, over/under: 61.5. Southern Miss’ power rating is still getting a bump from its great defense last year, even though few remnants of the unit remain as last week’s 47-42 shootout win as 3-point underdogs at Troy illustrated. Alabama could comfortably be laying a few more points here but there’s still a great margin of error with a spread this high. Guess: Alabama minus-38.

Auburn plus-4 at Texas A&M, over/under: 48. The Aggies’ biggest failing in its 24-10 loss at Clemson two weeks ago came up front, where the Tigers controlled completely controlled the trenches. With the likes of Derrick Brown, expected back for this game, and Tyrone Turesdell, Auburn might have an even better defensive line than Clemson. Guess: Auburn plus-4.

LSU minus-23.5 at Vanderbilt, over/under: 62.5. Vanderbilt’s defense couldn’t slow Purude in a 42-24 loss as 7-point underdogs two weeks ago, and LSU’s attack is just a far multiplied version. I’m still not fully on board with the LSU love, and therefore looking for spots to fade the Tigers, but that must wait. Guess: LSU minus-23.5.

Tennessee plus-14 at Florida, over/under: 49. BYU is a good team that pulled out an unlikely overtime win in Knoxville, where Georgia State played the game of its life a week earlier and still needed a few flukes for its own upset. In other words, there might have been a slight overreaction to Tennessee’s 0-2 start. Guess: Tennessee plus-14.

Notre Dame plus-14.5 at Georgia, over/under: 58.5. Don’t disregard anything written about Georgia above. The Bulldogs are that good, potentially good enough to blow out the Irish. There’s just no longer any value betting on the chances that happening now that this line has moved two points and crossed 14 by virtue of Georgia drawing all the action. Guess: Notre Dame plus-14.5.

San Jose State plus-21 at Arkansas, over/under: 61. San Jose State and Colorado State are highly comparable — only eight spots separate the two sides in Football Outsiders’ F/+ ratings. Arkansas only gave Colorado State 10 points last week — and won by 21 — so this feels like a big jump. Guess: San Jose State plus-21.

Sun Belt

Georgia State plus-3 at Texas State, over/under: 62.5. This might be the first and only game this season between two opponents that were each outgained by 5 yards per play or more the previous week. There’s no reason to get involved with either struggling side. Guess: Texas State minus-3.

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

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