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Chalk Talk: Staff picks for big favorites in Week 5

Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh

Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Favorites come in all shapes and sizes in college football. While double-digit spreads are a relative rarity at the pro level, those numbers can vary wildly on Saturdays as teams dip in and out of conference play or step up (or down) a level in competition.

And while it’s often easy to be tempted to take a handful of points and hope for the best with a significant underdog, sometimes the favorites are favored for a reason. Each week our College Football staff will share their picks for which “chalk” favorite of 10 points or more will both win and, more importantly, cover the spread. (Note: We look at underdogs as well.)

Here are our staff’s picks for Week 5, with some big numbers spread all across the country:

Vaughn Dalzell (@VMoneySports): Georgia (-28) over Missouri

Missouri has struggled to score this season, racking up 14 points against Auburn and 12 against Kansas State. Now they have Georgia.

The Mizzou team total is set at 12.5, and it’s safe to say that this Georgia offense should score 40+ points here. The Bulldogs scored 43 or more points in three of the last four matchups with the Tigers. Missouri has scored 14 or fewer points in the last three meetings with Georgia, including six points last year on a garbage-time touchdown.

While Brady Cook is an upgrade at quarterback for the Tigers, the Georgia defense should be able to contain and limit Missouri’s passing attack. The Bulldogs were -40 favorites last year and didn’t cover. This -28 line is much more manageable.

(YTD Record: 1-3 ATS)

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Eric Froton (@CFFroton): Michigan (-10.5) over Iowa

Iowa currently sports the worst offense in the entire country, posting a 34% success rate (eighth-worst in FBS) while ranking third-worst in EPA/play. Their reliance on a rugged defense that ranks top-3 nationally in yards per pass (4.9), points per drive (0.61) and suppressing explosiveness is largely due to their inability to move the ball effectively on offense.

The Hawkeyes are averaging just 17 points and 232 yards per game despite playing a very manageable opening slate. Against South Dakota State, Rutgers and Iowa State, Iowa cashed in just four touchdowns with two of them being defensive scores. QB Spencer Petras has been pressured on 36% of his dropbacks, completing 6 of 26 attempts for 109 yards with a 0-to-2 ratio when under duress. They now face a Michigan defense that ranks first overall in pass defense and ninth against the run, while also fielding an offense that ranks top-10 nationally in success rate (58%), points per drive (3.89) and yards per play (7.6).

I expect DC Jesse Minter to dial up the pressure to force Petras to make quick decisions, which could lead to costly mistakes. It’s hard to imagine a ruthlessly efficient Michigan offense that is grinding out 234 rushing YPG, 6.0 yards per carry and has only committed two turnovers this season is going to make the kind of mistakes Iowa will need to create in order to cover. With UM returning four starters from their Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line, Iowa’s front-seven is not going to be able to impose their will on the Men of Michigan like they have against inferior opponents. Give me the Wolverines laying 10.5 against a listless Iowa offense that cannot generate points on their own.

(YTD Record: 2-1-1 ATS)

Brad Thomas (@MrBradThomas): Michigan (-10.5) over Iowa

This is an interesting spread because many Michigan backers were in total agony last week after Billy Edwards Jr. threw a garbage-time touchdown with 48 seconds left, resulting in a seven-point win and a backdoor cover for Maryland (+13). The Wolverines started slow, then flexed their muscle while proving why they should be considered a top-4 team. Iowa has a stout defense. There’s no denying that; it’s the offense, with Spencer Petras under center, that I’m fading. This Iowa offense has an FEI ranking of 92. It’s so bad for Petras. He has a QBR of 11.6, which is 125th nationally.

I don’t see Iowa giving Michigan problems offensively, or even being able to keep Michigan at Bay. If we look at last season’s result, Iowa lost 42-3. Don’t be surprised if a similar story plays out this time around.

(YTD Record: 2-2 ATS)

Zachary Krueger (@ZK_FFB): James Madison (-22) over Texas State

Good teams win, but great teams cover. At least that’s how the saying goes. Assuming there’s some truth to this, then James Madison being 3-0 ATS would lead some to believe they’re a great team - which is hard to argue against. Boasting wins over a Middle Tennessee team that downed Miami last week, and a win over Appalachian State who pulled off an upset over Texas A&M, the Dukes’ hot start to FBS play looks like anything but a fluke.

If their 3-0 record (overall and ATS) isn’t enough, consider that they are 15th in the nation in offensive success rate (52.2%) and second in the nation in defensive success rate (27%). Transfer quarterback Todd Centeio has thrown for 656 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing for 26-221-1.

They play host to a Texas State team that is 2-2 on the season (and ATS), with wins over a 1-2 FIU team and Houston Baptist. Quarterback Layne Hatcher has thrown for 1,079-10-4 on the season but is tied for 11th in the country in turnover-worthy plays (8) per PFF. The Bobcats have a questionable loss to Nevada and got blown out by Baylor in Week 3, with both losses coming on the road. JMU’s hot start suggests they’re not a team to be taken lightly. Getting the home matchup in this one, I like them to push their ATS record to a perfect 4-0.

(YTD Record: 2-2 ATS)