Maybe the major college football conferences should stagger their start dates every year.
That’s probably impractical, especially given the big early-season out-of-conference matchups, but the Big Ten showing up a month after most of its contemporaries sure seems to have worked out in terms of excitement this year. Bettors, and fans in general, are amped for the Big Ten’s return this weekend, allowing the conference to take center stage in local sports books.
The Mountain West comes back to slightly less fanfare, but I’m happy to see all the new opportunities. I could use any help or change as my college football handicapping struggles continued last week.
I’m 59-70-2 picking every game on the year — 11-17 on plays, 20-19 on leans and 28-34-2 on guesses —but more games means a quicker potential turnaround. That’s what I’m after.
Read below for this week’s picks, separated by conference and labeled by three different confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.
Cincinnati +2.5 at SMU, over/under: 55. This would be a play if not for coronavirus uncertainty with Cincinnati, which was forced to cancel last week’s game after a rash of positive tests. Either way, expect the Bearcats to take the Mustangs out of their comfort zone and slow the pace down to a crawl. Lean: Cincinnati +2.5.
Tulsa -11 at South Florida, over/under: 50.5. Tulsa is rested after last week’s game against Cincinnati was postponed because of the latter’s coronavirus concern and experienced in a year it appears coach Phil Montgomery has built towards. South Florida is playing a fourth straight week and in the midst of a rebuild under first-year coach Jeff Scott. Lean: Tulsa -11.
Houston -14.5 at Navy, over/under: 55. Based on talent alone, this spread could be a touchdown higher but the coaching matchup gives me pause. Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo has proven time and again that he’s a much better strategist than Houston’s Dana Holgorsen. Guess: Navy +14.5.
Temple +13.5 at Memphis, over/under: 70. Memphis was extremely fortunate to erase a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to upset UCF 50-49 as 3-point underdogs last week. With defensive shortcomings every game so far, the Tigers do not look as strong as they’ve been the last several years. Guess: Temple +13.5.
Tulane +20 at UCF, over/under: 72. The Knights have now failed to cover in three straight by an average of 10 points per game. The market will eventually catch up and stop pricing this team as highly as the last few years, but that doesn’t appear to have happened yet. Guess: Tulane +20.
NC State +15 at North Carolina, over/under: 60. NC State is on a three-game straight-up and against the spread winning streak, but much of that success is due to the emergence of quarterback Devin Leary, who’s now out with a leg injury. The Tar Heels blasted the Wolfpack 41-10 as 11-point favorites on the road last season. Play: North Carolina -15.
Notre Dame -10 at Pittsburgh, over/under: 43.5. Notre Dame has much better players than Pittsburgh. The Irish are much better coached than the Panthers. Sometimes, it’s just that simple. Play: Notre Dame -10.
Florida State +5 at Louisville, over/under: 61. This is the right number based on what each team has done so far, but Florida State has more upside with Jordan Travis taking over behind center. Last week’s 31-28 upset win over North Carolina as 13.5-point underdogs was no fluke as Florida State held a 1 yard per play edge. Guess: Florida State +5.
Virginia Tech -8.5 at Wake Forest, over/under: 68. Spread is in the right spot, but I’m looking to sell on Wake Forest over the next couple weeks. The Demon Deacons aren’t as strong as their two-game winning streak may make it appear as they’ve benefitted from a +8 turnover margin this season, the second-best mark in the nation. Guess: Virginia Tech -8.5.
Georgia Tech +3.5 at Boston College, over/under: 54.5. Two evenly-matched, well-coached and talent-deficient team. This reverts to a straight numbers play, taking the extra half-point hook. Guess: Georgia Tech +3.5.
Virginia +12 at Miami, over/under: 58. It looks like Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong will miss another week, and the Hoos have been unable to move the ball without him. I’m not in a hurry to back Miami, but think this line closes higher. Guess: Miami -12.
Syracuse +46.5 at Clemson, over/under: 62. Most old sports betting axioms are trite, but I can’t quite the break from the one about not laying astronomical numbers. There’s just too much that could go wrong when a team is being asked to lay nearly 50 points. Guess: Syracuse +46.5.
Maryland +11 at Northwestern, over/under: 54.5. Northwestern returns the most production in the nation, per the SP+ rankings, and brings in Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey at quarterback. No Power Five coach has a worse track record than Maryland’s Mike Locksley. Play: Northwestern -11.
Michigan -3 at Minnesota, over/under: 54.5. Is anyone picking Michigan? Doesn’t seem like it, and yet this number hasn’t budged, which should be telling. If Wolverines sophomore quarterback Joe Milton is as close to as explosive as advertised, then we may look back on this line as too short. Lean: Michigan -3.
Illinois +20 at Wisconsin, over/under: 51.5. This line would have been fair if Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan was healthy, but instead, the Badgers will start redshirt freshman Graham Mertz. That adds too much uncertainty to lay such a big number. Lean: Illinois +20.
Rutgers +13.5 at Michigan State, over/under: 44.5. Michigan State is entering a total rebuild under new coach Mel Tucker. So is Rutgers, but Greg Schiano has brought in a number of transfers to put the Scarlet Knights at less of a talent disadvantage than usual to the Spartans. Guess: Rutgers +13.5.
Penn State -6 at Indiana, over/under: 60.5. The Nittany Lions’ defense is a big question mark, making it likely that the Hooisers will be able to put up points. It’s hard to advise betting on Indiana after the line movement, however, as I’d want at least a touchdown in what’s likely a high-scoring game. Guess: Indiana +6.
Nebraska +26.5 at Ohio State, over/under: 68. I want no part in betting against Ohio State, which I rate as the nation’s best team, but it’s hard to see the Buckeyes being concerned with running up the score here with a game at Penn State on deck. Nebraska’s offense is also the most experienced unit in the Big Ten. Guess: Nebraska +26.5.
Iowa -3 at Purdue, over/under: 53.5. There are too many variables to get involved here, with Iowa engulfed in dysfunction and Purdue coach Jeff Brohm missing the game after a positive coronavirus test. Purdue is returning more experience, sans quarterback, and that’s hard to ignore with a season-opening home game. Guess: Purdue +3.
Baylor +9.5 at Texas, over/under: 61. It appears that the Bears have one heck of a defense under new coach Dave Aranda, which would follow with his recent success as a coordinator at Wisconsin and LSU. At the least, they have the best defense Texas has seen so far. Play: Baylor +9.5.
Iowa State +3.5 at Oklahoma State, over/under: 52. They haven’t proven it against any strong offenses yet, but I’m willing to give the Cowboys’ defense the benefit of the doubt for being one of the better units in the nation considering how much experience it contains. With quarterback Spencer Sanders likely to return, this looks like a bargain price on the home team. Play: Oklahoma State -3.5.
Oklahoma -6.5 at TCU, over/under: 60. There’s so much scrutiny on Oklahoma’s defense that it appears many don’t realize that TCU’s has arguably been even worse. And the Horned Frogs don’t have as explosive of an offense to make up for the shortcoming. Lean: Oklahoma -6.5.
Kansas +20 at Kansas State, over/under: 48.5. Chances of a backdoor cover in this matchup are lower than most games with a similar point spread, given the Wildcats’ joy in running up the score on their in-state rivals. The Jayhawks still haven’t covered a closing point spread all year. Guess: Kansas State -20.
West Virginia -3.5 at Texas Tech, over/under: 54.5. Texas Tech has struggled, but coming into the season, it wouldn’t have been plausible to see it as an underdog here. Climbing over a field goal, the market has moved too far in West Virginia’s direction. Guess: Texas Tech +3.5.
Florida Atlantic +17 at Marshall, over/under: 51. The market might not be adjusting for opponent enough as it pertains to Marshall’s undefeated straight-up and against the spread start to the season. The Thundering Herd have played an incredibly soft schedule, leaving the Owls as a big step up from Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky the past two weeks. Play: Florida Atlantic +17.
Louisiana -2 at UAB, over/under: 50. The Ragin Cajuns have recruited at a significantly higher level than the Blazers. That doesn’t always mean a lot, but it’s enough for me with the number sitting below 3 and not much else to go off of. Guess: Louisiana -2.
UTEP +15 at Charlotte, over/under: 48.5. UTEP has one of the three worst offenses in the nation by the FEI ratings. The Miners may find it tough to keep up with a relatively productive and consistent 49ers’ attack. Guess: Charlotte -15.
Southern Miss +12.5 at Liberty, over/under: 61. Asking price on the Flames is getting quite high after their 5-0 straight-up start to the season, but must wait at least another week to put that into action. Southern Miss has coronavirus concerns as coach Scott Walden was among those to test positive. Guess: Liberty -12.5.
Middle Tennessee +3.5 at Rice, over/under: 50.5. Teams playing their first game of the season, as Rice is doing here, have dominated teams already in the middle of their schedule. Any reason is good enough reason to fade Middle Tennessee, which have been dreadful and might have put on the worst performance of the year in a 52-35 loss to North Texas where it was outgained by 4.4 yards per play last week. Guess: Rice -3.5.
Louisiana Tech -2.5 at UTSA, over/under: 54. Louisiana Tech is one of the youngest teams in the nation, and its inexperience has shown in three straight against the spread losses. Having it lay points on the road against anyone is a big ask. Guess: UTSA +2.5.
Texas State +28 at BYU, over/under: 60.5. BYU has smoked smaller, more inexperienced teams so far this season. The Bobcats might be the smallest, most inexperienced team it’s encountered. Guess: BYU -28.
Hawaii +4 at Fresno State, over/under: 67. Fresno State crashed at the end of last season, leading to Jeff Tedford’s surprise retirement, and there’s not much indication things will be much better this season as Kalen DeBoer steps in as coach. Hawaii looks more poised to build on recent success following the hiring of Todd Graham. Play: Hawaii +4.
Wyoming -4.5 at UNR, over/under: 51. The Wolf Pack bring back more experience and the Cowboys saw their preparation coming into the season cut into by a coronavirus outbreak. Wyoming broke out near the end of last season but it shouldn’t be assumed it can pick up where it left off. Lean: UNR +4.5.
UNLV +14.5 at San Diego State, over/under: 48.5. There’s a lot of uncertainty on both sides with new coaching staffs making their debuts. But UNLV returns enough offense to stay competitive in what projects as a low-scoring game. Guess: UNLV +14.5.
Air Force -7 at San Jose State, over/under: 62.5. I would take the Spartans if this number got to the other side of 7 for their upside but the Falcons look like the surer thing after they’ve already crushed Navy 40-7 as 6.5-point favorites. San Jose State struggled against the run last season, which is problematic against Air Force’s triple option. Guess: Air Force -7.
Utah State +16.5 at Boise State, over/under: 53. There’s a lot of uncertainty on both sides, but Boise State has been far too consistent for far too many years to doubt at what looks like a fair price. The Broncos should also have a quarterback edge with sophomore Hank Bachmeier, who started several games last season. Guess: Boise State -16.5.
Auburn -3 at Ole Miss, over/under: 70.5. I’m ruing the fact that I’m ending up backing a team like Auburn that I hated coming into the season every week, but the market is dictating it by overreacting to its struggles. The Tigers’ offense is mediocre — rating 49th in the nation at 5.2 yards per play — but the Rebels’ defense is atrocious — rating last in the nation at giving up 7.5 yards per play. Play: Auburn -3.
South Carolina +6 at LSU, over/under: 55.5. South Carolina’s offense is more methodical than explosive, and it’s the latter that has caused LSU problems to start the season. The Tigers have too much talent not to improve at some point, and out of a bye week is as good of a guess as any for when it will happen. Lean: LSU -6.
Kentucky -5.5 at Missouri, over/under: 50. The spread appears in the right range, but too many situational factors are working in Missouri’s favor. For starters, the Tigers got a week to rest while the Wildcats are playing for the fifth straight week and have already struggled against pace-based offenses like Missouri’s. Lean: Missouri +5.5.
Alabama -21 at Tennessee, over/under: 65.5. This line has climbed 6.5 points following Tennessee’s two-game losing streak, and it’s hard to call it unjustified. I wouldn’t recommend picking Alabama at any more than 21 points — where this will likely close — but Tennessee doesn’t have the offense to keep pace. Guess: Alabama -21.
Georgia Southern +6 at Coastal Carolina, over/under: 51.5. Never been a better chance to sell high than when the nation watched Coastal Carolina snag a monumental win for the program over Louisiana last Wednesday night. Georgia Southern, meanwhile, is the more perennial power in the conference and will challenge Coastal on the ground. Lean: Georgia Southern +6.
Georgia State +2.5 at Troy, over/under: 68.5. The Trojans’ statistical profile, and therefore market rating, was thrown out of whack with a 48-7 loss on the road at BYU where they were completely outmatched. They’ll be just fine against more even competition. Guess: Troy -2.5.
Louisiana-Monroe +14.5 at South Alabama, over/under: 56. Here’s the (bi)weekly reminder that the Warhawks might be college football’s worst team this season. More points are needed to even consider picking them. Guess: South Alabama -14.5.