Welcome to one of the weirdest weeks in college football history. For the first time since conference championships became a widely adopted feature across the sport, they’re sharing a weekend with a whole slate of hastily scheduled non-championship games.
Most of my picks this week focus on championship games and others where there’s something at stake, because I think those are less subject to wild variance and should more closely reflect teams’ true abilities. Of course, everything in this sport gets weird all the time, and I’m picking a few games this week (both here and in an OddsChecker video) that don’t have conference titles on the line. I’ll leave one of those at the bottom of this article.
I’m 116-119-3 (a 49.4% win rate) on the season. A strong last few weeks will get me into profit territory for the year, but that needs to start shortly. Let’s do it.
*All wagers are for one unit
BET: Notre Dame +10 @ -105
When Notre Dame won these teams’ first meeting, the game was in South Bend and Trevor Lawrence wasn’t playing. Those are reasons to expect a big swing toward the Tigers in this game, as they’ll be playing at a neutral site with the best quarterback in college football back. Clemson also has a few good defensive players who weren’t on the field last time.
But I’m not sure I see enough to think the Tigers will win by double digits. For one thing, Lawrence’s absence wasn’t the defining factor in their first meeting. Backup DJ Uiagalelei was brilliant that night, and Clemson’s much bigger problem was that it could not run the ball effectively against a stout Irish front seven. Having Lawrence back should help Clemson’s run game, but I don’t think Clemson will suddenly torch the Irish’s secondary any more than it did in South Bend. In that game, Notre Dame sustained it and won anyway.
I also think Notre Dame defensive coordinator (and likely future Vanderbilt head coach) Clark Lea will learn a lot from the teams’ first matchup and have the Irish prepared to get some stops. All in all, I do think Clemson gets its revenge this weekend, and then both teams make the College Football Playoff. But I expect a game decided by about a touchdown.
College Football Expert Picks
BET: Ohio State -20.5 @ -110
BET: Under 58.5 @ -115
Northwestern has one of the best secondaries in the country, and the Wildcats are not built to get blown out. But they’re running into a buzzsaw in Indianapolis. Ohio State is simply too fast, and the most technically sound DBs and linebackers in the world can’t break up passes against receivers they can’t catch. I think Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave will have massive games, and Justin Fields will prove a lot harder to handle than the (mostly bad) QBs Northwestern has feasted on in the Big Ten West over the last two months.
An important consideration here: Ohio State is likely going to be the fourth seed in the Playoff, but the Buckeyes haven’t wrapped up anything yet. This program learned in 2014 how important championship game style points can be, when an epic blowout of Wisconsin resulted in the Buckeyes leapfrogging into the top four on Selection Sunday. Ryan Day is acutely aware that a blowout would make it a little easier for the Playoff committee to include an Ohio State team that will have only played six games.
The under is somewhat of a hedge on my part. If Ohio State doesn’t win by at least three TDs, that probably means this will be an extremely low-scoring game, because Northwestern is not running up a score in the 30s against OSU’s defense. On the other hand, it’s possible Northwestern’s offense gets nearly blanked and Ohio State wins 41-10.
BET: Over 54 @ -110
While both teams have good defenses, this game could reach the 60s without breaking a sweat. The teams’ last meeting was a 30-27 win for Coastal, and that game got to 57 despite Coastal’s excellent run game having a bad outing. Coastal QB Grayson McCall was tremendous in that game, and he’s developed even more as a passer over the nine weeks. If he plays well again, Coastal’s ground game should move the ball and produce more points.
Ultimately, that the teams have played before strikes me as a good sign for the offenses, because both teams have offensive-minded head coaches who should be adept at digging into the tape on the last game and finding new advantages. Both Coastal’s Jamey Chadwell and Louisiana’s Billy Napier are smart schemers, and I think they can find enough points to cover here. Plus, if you’re playing a game in December and hoping for offense, it doesn’t hurt that the game is being played in Myrtle Beach and the forecast is clear.
NCAA Football Picks
BET: Buffalo -13 @ -120
Buffalo has the most dominant running game in the country this year. That’s true both according to conventional stats (their 7.6 yards per carry easily lead FBS) and advanced stats like expected points added per play (EPA), which judges how well an offense stays on schedule. (For instance, a 3-yard run on third-and-1 is great, but a 10-yard run on fourth-and-12 is bad. EPA accounts for this key context.)
Ball State has been decent against the run in the MAC, but the Cardinals have not had to play Buffalo, and they’ve gotten torched in the passing game. I expect the Bulls to push the Cardinals around, and if Ball State packs the box with extra bodies to stop Jarret Patterson and Kevin Marks, Buffalo QB Kyle Vantrease is good enough to just throw the ball over their heads. I just do not see a path for Ball State’s defense to not be humiliated in this game.
BET: Over 54.5 @ -110
Neither of these teams runs a tempo offense that naturally lends itself to scoring, but I can get over that because both offenses are good and both defenses are leaky enough that at least someone should score into the 30s in this game. In fact, somebody has scored at least 40 points in all but one Boise State game this season. (The exception was last week’s 17-9 win at a Wyoming team that loves to drag opponents down into the muck with it.)
On the other side, San Jose State has scored 30 in four of six games and has only kept two opponents below 20. The pattern for both teams is to play quality offense and be something less than suffocating on defense, and that’s enough for me with a total below the high 50s.
I would have expected this total to sit somewhere around 58, so anything around 55 is value for the under. Plus, the game is in a climate-controlled venue in Las Vegas, which is good for points.
College Gameday Picks
BET: Arizona State -7 @ -110
Both of these teams have devastatingly good running games. I would expect ASU’s running back trio of DeaMonte Rayanum, Daniyel Ngata, and Rachaad White to have a big night collectively and for Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson to get a bunch of yards on his own.
But the difference in the game should be Arizona State’s ability to air the ball out with Jayden Daniels at quarterback. It’s a little hard to figure out how much weight to put on a 70-7 win over Arizona last week, because the Wildcats were in clear disarray and fired their coach the next day. But ASU has moved the ball well vertically when it’s needed to, and Oregon State has been thrown on repeatedly. I think ASU should win by around 10.