College football by the odds: Vegas picks and preview of every Week 7 game

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Steve Marcus

A view of the William Hill Sports Book during the reopening of the Tropicana Las Vegas Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.

Fri, Oct 16, 2020 (2 a.m.)

A sports bettor can never experience the full joy of victory without knowing the agony of defeat.

At least that’s what I tell myself after a losing week. At least that’s what I’m telling myself after last week’s college football performance.

Things couldn’t have gone worse as I bottomed out in last week’s column with an 8-18 against the spread record picking every game. It was even worse when isolating for plays and leans — 0-7 on the former, 2-5 on the latter.

Yuck.

It’s now going to be a challenge to get back to respectability, yet alone profitability, but I’ll take it week by week and look towards the other conference seasons about to start — Big Ten, Pac-12, etc. — for some help. The comeback, however, starts with Week 7. Here’s to moving past the disappointment en route to feeling the joy again.

Read below for this week’s picks, separated by conference and labeled by three different confidence categories. The overall record so far is 45-59-2 — 11-13 on plays, 15-17 on leans and 19-29-2 on guesses. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.

AAC

UCF -3 at Memphis, over/under: 74. I’m hoping Memphis’ early-season defensive struggles are an aberration as the unit looked poised to be strong this season with tons of experience and playmakers returning. If it can provide even a little resistance, then this looks like a coin flip so taking the points is the only option. Lean: Memphis +3.

Navy -3 at East Carolina, over/under: 55.5. I’m not ready to declare Navy absolved of its issues after a misleading 31-29 victory over Temple. The Midshipmen were outgained by 1.5 yards per play, making it a fourth straight game this season where their opponent was far more efficient. Lean: East Carolina +3.

South Florida +11 at Temple, over/under: 53.5. South Florida isn’t this much worse than Temple, but this feels like a stay-away because of other circumstances. The Bulls are without several players for undisclosed reasons making it tough to quantify them as a team. Guess: South Florida +11.

BYU -4.5 at Houston, over/under: 62.5. I’m not in a hurry to bet against either of these sides as they could be two of the best non Power Five conference teams in the nation. It feels like BYU took a slight perception hit due to its narrow 27-20 win over UTSA last week, but that’s undue as the Cougars outgained the Roadrunners by 1 yard per play. Guess: BYU -4.5.

SMU -6.5 at Tulane, over/under: 64.5. Line might be ever-so-slightly inflated based on Tulane’s struggles, which include a 1-3 against the spread start. The Green Wave are relying on underclassmen to power their option attack, however, and that are almost surely to improve as the season goes on. Guess: Tulane +6.5.

ACC

Virginia -2.5 at Wake Forest, over/under: 59. The Demon Deacons’ relatively close final scores have hidden just how inefficient they’ve been as they’re at -2.2 net yards per play against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. Virginia’s 38-21 loss to NC State as 7-point favorites last week was the result of an unlikely-to-repeat -3 turnover margin. Play: Virginia -2.5.

Liberty +3.5 at Syracuse, over/under: 52.5. Yes, Liberty has upgraded its roster and looked much improved this year, but the fact remains that it was a 19.5-point underdog in this matchup last year and lost 24-0. These two teams’ fortunes haven’t flipped that far, and Liberty hasn’t seen a team as strong as Syracuse yet this season. Play: Syracuse +3.5.

Pittsburgh +13.5 at Miami, over/under: 47.5. This opened as low as Miami -10, which felt like a fairer price. The extra three points puts value on Pittsburgh, which are undervalued in part because of back-to-back one-point losses. Lean: Pittsburgh +13.5.

Louisville +17 at Notre Dame, over/under: 61.5. Notre Dame’s defensive line presents a mismatch against Louisville’s dreadful offensive line. This would have been a play at the opening price of Notre Dame -13, but the movement has put the line right about where it belongs. Lean: Notre Dame -17.

Boston College +12 at Virginia Tech, over/under: 62. Boston College is left beaten-up after three straight tight, physical games. Virginia Tech is getting stronger as more players return every week from a coronavirus outbreak last season. Guess: Virginia Tech -12.

Clemson -27 at Georgia Tech, over/under: 64.5. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney seems less likely to stay aggressive and pile on points against Georgia Tech than he did last week in a 42-17 win over Miami as 14-point favorites. The Yellow Jackets’ offense also isn’t too helpless to sneak in a potential backdoor cover. Guess: Georgia Tech +27.

North Carolina -13.5 at Florida State, over/under: 64. The spread keeps climbing after opening at -9.5, and why not? North Carolina ranks in the nation’s top 15 in both yards per play and yards per play allowed while Florida is in the nation’s bottom 10 in both categories. Guess: North Carolina -13.5.

Duke +4.5 at North Carolina State, over/under: 60. The Wolfpack have looked legitimate ever since sophomore Devin Leary took over at quarterback two games ago. They’re a lot more explosive than the Blue Devils. Guess: NC State -4.5.

Big 12

Kansas +22.5 at West Virginia, over/under: 52. Kansas is the worst Power Five conference team currently playing, and it might not even be close, but West Virginia is no overpowering force. The Mountaineers shouldn’t be laying more than three touchdowns to anyone. Guess: Kansas +22.5.

Conference USA

Southern Miss -6.5 at UTEP, over/under: 54.5. UTEP may have played the weakest schedule in the nation the last three weeks, casting a negative shadow over winning two of its last three both straight-up and against the spread. Southern Miss, meanwhile, seems to be adjusting under interim coach Scotty Walden. Play: Southern Miss -6.5.

Florida International +7.5 at Charlotte, over/under: 53.5. Charlotte has been getting by with Will Healy outcoaching the opposition, but he’s meeting his match against the Butch Davis-led Florida International. A year ago, the Panthers were a 6.5-point favorite in this game and won 48-23. Play: Florida International +7.5.

Western Kentucky +14 at UAB, over/under: 44.5. This number would have been more than a touchdown lower if this game took place at the beginning of the year. Western Kentucky has played poorly in starting the year 1-3 straight-up, 0-4 against the spread, but with a 27 percent fumble recovery rate, some positive regression is likely. Play: Western Kentucky +14.

Army -7.5 at UTSA, over/under: 49.5. The Black Knights were already the stronger team, and now they should be the fresher one too coming off of a win over The Citadel while UTSA engaged in a grueling battle at BYU. The Roadrunners likely haven’t had enough time to get ready for the Black Knights’ option given the amount of preparation the Cougars themselves commanded. Lean: Army -7.5.

Marshall -13.5 at Louisiana Tech, over/under: 13.5. Marshall has looked immeasurably better than Louisiana Tech through the first month of the season, but this line may have swung too far. The Thundering Herd would have only been slight favorite here coming into the season. Guess: Louisiana Tech +13.5.

North Texas +6 at Middle Tennessee, over/under: 72. Every week, statistical profiles make it look like there’s value on North Texas. Every week, North Texas fails to cover anyway. Stay away from this mess of a matchup. Guess: Middle Tennessee -6.

SEC

Texas A&M -5.5 at Mississippi State, over/under: 55. Texas A&M’s secondary is a major concern as the Aggies are giving up 10.2 yards per pass attempt. This is a matchup that can get Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello back on track with the Air Raid offense. Play: Mississippi State +5.5.

Kentucky +6 at Tennessee, over/under: 45.5. The number is about right but this looks like a beneficial spot for Kentucky with Tennessee coming off of a demoralizing 44-21 loss to Georgia as 13-point underdogs. The Volunteers have more upside with all their young talent but the Wildcats are steadier and more trustworthy. Lean: Kentucky +6.

Ole Miss -3 at Arkansas, over/under: 76. Who knows if this game even happens with Ole Miss dealing with a coronavirus outbreak. And, if it does happen, who knows who will be playing for the road team? Lean: Arkansas +3.

Auburn -3 at South Carolina, over/under: 51.5. A few 3s are still available in Las Vegas to make this an easier call. South Carolina has been the more efficient team through three games but Auburn’s roster is stocked with far more talent overall that should shine through eventually. Guess: Auburn -3.

Georgia +4.5 at Alabama, over/under: 56.5. In a battle between a great offense and a great defense where the point spread is correct, I’ll almost always take the better offense. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett has played well the last couple weeks, but asking for him to potentially keep up with Alabama’s Mac Jones seems a bit much. Guess: Alabama -4.5.

Sun Belt

Massachusetts +31 at Georgia Southern, over/under: 64. The Minutemen are the worst team in the nation by the SP+ rankings, and that’s nothing new. You can never go wrong fading a program that this perennially outmatched. Guess: Georgia Southern -31.

Texas State+2.5 at South Alabama, over/under: 58. Texas State’s performances have swung all over the place, which makes sense considering its one of the most inexperienced teams in the nation. South Alabama hasn’t played in nearly a month because of a coronavirus outbreak, but with all that time off, it could now be close to full strength. Guess: South Alabama -2.5.

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

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