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Weekly Picks

Week 10 CFB ATS Predictions

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

 

 

Boise State (-31.5) vs. San Jose State

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 

Analysis

As we discussed in betting against Houston following its upset loss to Navy several weeks ago, we want to bet against any team whose singular reason for playing has just evaporated.

 

As for the Spartans, we’re getting a bit of extra value on them due to their 1-5 start. Since then, San Jose State has won two of three as the offense finally finds an identity without RB Tyler Ervin. I can’t see them winning, but they’ll stay within the number if BSU comes out flat.

 

 

 

Baylor (-7.5) vs. TCU

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 
 

 


Analysis

Like Boise State, Baylor was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten last week. But unlike the Broncos, Baylor’s season wasn’t an undefeated-or-bust proposition. Following its scandal, the Bears goals were: 1.) Field a competitive team, 2.) Win the Big 12, 3.) Play in a New Year’s Day Bowl game.

 

All three are still in play, and if this bunch is able to bounce back quickly from last week’s last-second loss at Texas, they’ll beat hated rival TCU by double-digits in Waco.

 

Speaking of TCU, even HC Gary Patterson doesn’t have a good feel about this year’s squad. Some weeks, you’ll see the explosive offense that you expected to see over the summer. TCU hung 46 points on Oklahoma, for instance. And sometimes you’ll see the stodgy defense that you thought that unit could turn into, like when they held the nation’s No. 1 offense, Texas Tech, to just 27 points last week.

 

But boy is this team inconsistent. How can a defense that completely discombobulates Pat Mahomes allow 41 points to South Dakota State? How can an offense that scored 46 on the Sooners manage only 24 apiece in the Kansas and Texas Tech (17 in regulation) games and 10 against West Virginia?

 

S&P+ is as confused as everyone else, pegging the overall offense No. 32 while ranking the rushing attack No. 68 and the passing game No. 60. The Bears have struggled to stop the run, but they’ve been quite good against the pass. If those trends hold, you’d like their chances of forcing TCU to play one-dimensional offense.

 

To make matters worse for the TCU passing offense, QB Kenny Hill was benched last week. Patterson hasn’t yet indicated if he’ll stick with No. 2 Foster Sawyer or return to the Trill. For handicapping purposes, the difference isn’t substantial one way or the other.

 

Baylor’s own up-and-down passing offense will be tested by TCU’s strong secondary, but it’s almost assured that the Bears will be able to run at will. QB Seth Russell was returning from a season-ending injury in September and WR KD Cannon is finally nearing 100-percent, so I do expect better times ahead for Baylor’s aerial attack, regardless of whether or not it gets fully back on track against TCU.

 

TCU’s best win of the season was against SMU, and it has dropped decisions to mediocre outfits like Arkansas and Texas Tech in addition to its losses against higher-tier opponents Oklahoma and West Virginia. If Baylor plays up to its talent, it should win comfortably.

 

 

Louisville (-25.5) at Boston College

 

 
 

Straight Up:  

 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 


Analysis

Louisville has S&P+’s No. 1 offense, mostly because it has S&P+’s No. 1 rushing attack. Slowing it requires a fundamentally sound defense that keeps QB Lamar Jackson contained. That basically describes Boston College, which boasts S&P+’s No. 3 run defense. Jackson will have success through the air here, but Louisville’s offense isn’t nearly as potent when he’s penned up in the pocket.

 

On the other side, Boston College’s offense is awful. But the Eagles always benefit from great field position (No. 26, per S&P+) and big back Jon Hilliman should charge forward effectively enough to keep the clock moving towards our non-glorious cover.

 

Louisville is trending ever so slightly down. Since the Florida State game, the Cardinals have been huge favorites four times (with the Clemson loss sandwiched in-between). The Cards were 1-2-1 ATS in those games, and are 1-3-1 ATS in their last five if you toss the Clemson game back in. Louisville pushed against Marshall, just beat Virginia by a touchdown, and struggled to put away Duke in a 10-point win.

 

As for Boston College, they’ve beaten North Carolina State and stayed within one possession of Syracuse the last two times out. You could say worse things about a huge home underdog.



Alabama (-8) at LSU

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 


Analysis

The Tigers canned HC Les Miles after the Auburn game. Since then, LSU is 3-0, averaging 41-plus points per game while throwing for more than 200 yards with 60-plus percent completions each time. How big of a change is that? LSU didn’t complete 60-percent of its passes once this season under Miles.

 

Interim HC Ed Orgeron and his new offensive coordinator, promoted TE coach Steve Ensminger, more or less threw out the old offensive game plan. Instead of the predictable, downhill-run-heavy I formation schema, the new duo sent out their charges in varied formations, including spread ones. That’s right, LSU sometimes plays with four receivers now.

 

One play, LSU may run out of the traditional I. The next, they may go trips right, with a single tight end on the other side. Perhaps the next, four receivers, two on each side. Then, a running back in the slot. Now, how about two tight ends return to the field for an NFL-style formation? Here’s a bubble screen, there’s a power run, here’s a quick slant, there’s a counter, here’s a shot deep, there’s a jet sweep. You get the idea. This bunch can’t be accounted for. They’ve got no tendencies that can tell you what’ll happen next. Whereas defenses never had to guess about LSU’s offensive intentions, you now can’t simply gang up on Leonard Fournette every play.

 

Tide HC Nick Saban specifically talked about that earlier this week when he touched on how LSU has added a devastating play-action element to its additional formations and plays. Coach O’s USC-style offense has been so effective in such short order that Miles actually conceded to reporters recently that he’s been breaking down spread offenses in preparation for his next job. Bringing the Mad Hatter to study modern offensive principles would be like Donald Trump taking an interest in sensitivity training because he observed how folks were relating to his nemesis.

 

New LSU QB Danny Etling is only averaging 219 yards per game, but he’s doing so playing an efficient, move-the-chains brand of quarterback that’s far more conducive to complimenting the tremendous running game than anything the program was doing behind center previously. Heck, LSU set a school record for yards in an SEC game against Missouri, and they did so with Fournette in street clothes. Alabama is the country’s best team in rushing yards per attempt allowed, but LSU is right behind at No. 2. And since both schools are so run heavy (they each run about 60-percent of the time), that advantage essentially becomes a wash in this matchup.

 

The Tigers are coming off a bye. They’re hosting this one on a Saturday night in Death Valley on CBS, one of the sport’s biggest homefield advantage spots. You generally reflect homefield advantage with a three or 3.5-point home-team bump in the spread. A Saturday night game in Baton Rouge is more like a six- or seven-point advantage, while LSU’s week of rest has to count for a little something as well. When you add in the fact that S&P+ installed Alabama as a more-manageable 6.3-point favorite, LSU backers are getting nice value here any way you slice it.


 

Georgia (-2.5) at Kentucky
 

Straight Up:  

 
 

Against the Spread:


 
 

 


Analysis

We have here the ultra-rare opportunity to take points with a superior home team that is catching them for perceptual reasons only.

 

The Wildcats ride in winners of three straight, needing only one more win to go bowling. With Austin Peay coming to Lexington in a few weeks, Kentucky is most assuredly going to the postseason, but road games remaining against Tennessee and Louisville make this game the difference between entering bowl season a frisky 7-5 or limping in at an undeserving 6-6. I’d suggest to you that the difference is quite important to Kentucky’s program.

 

Whereas Kentucky rides in on a tear, the tread is beginning to wear through on Georgia’s shoes as they trudge towards the end of HC Kirby Smart’s first campaign. This crew is losers of four of five, 4-4 overall. Things could be far worse, of course, because prior to the skid, the Bulldogs managed to stage an epic fourth quarter comeback in the opener to beat UNC and then squeaked by Nicholls State and Mizzou by a combined three points over the next two weeks.

 

S&P+ installed Kentucky as 4.4-point favorite and gave the Wildcats a 60-percent win probability. I’m on the same page. The Wildcats win outright to return to bowl season.


 

Memphis (-3) at SMU


Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 


Analysis

Have we talked about the alien-sighting rare opportunity to take points with a superior home team that is catching them for perceptual reasons only? Oh, right, we just did—so let’s follow up the Kentucky pick with a double-down on the same principle.

 

Memphis is favored in this game for a variety of reasons, at least half of them having to do with last season’s Justin Fuente/Paxton Lynch team. Those guys aren’t around anymore. The new group has lost two straight and three of five. Memphis’ best win of the season was a Thursday night victory over Temple. Outside of that, the Tigers haven’t beaten a team better than Tulane (ranked No. 103 by S&P+).

 

Speaking of S&P+, it sees this game as a pick ‘em. If S&P+ were weighted more towards recent performance, SMU would be favored. The Mustangs followed up a bye week by upsetting Houston and then dispatching Tulane, setting up what I see as a must-win scenario. If SMU upsets Memphis, it’ll be 5-4, and one win away from returning to bowl season. That’s important, because the Ponies close out the regular season with three difficult matchups (they may be underdogs in all three): at East Carolina, home for USF and Navy. Memphis also has a difficult remaining slate, but at 5-3, they aren’t quite as desperate for the win.

 

Memphis’ defense has been rotten, specifically against the run. It will have matchup issues with super soph RB Braeden West and get gassed as the game goes on by SMU’s tempo. S&P+ ranks SMU as the No. 3 most explosive offense. What’s the only thing that has held SMU back? A lack of efficiency, converting convertible situations into first downs. Memphis, which has the No. 104 defensive efficiency ranking in the FBS, may be able to help with that.


 

USC (-16.5) vs. Oregon

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 


Analysis

This is a big number, but it arguably should be even higher in a matchup of schools pointed in opposite directions. The season started a month too early for USC, which started 1-3 before righting the ship following a quarterback change. The Trojans are winners of four straight, having topped 40 points in three of them, including last week’s 45-24 pasting of Cal.

 

Trojans QB Sam Darnold has engineered the turnaround, setting a new school record by throwing 18 passing touchdowns as a freshman. He’s done so in only five games. Darnold, who went 18-of-25 for 231 yards and a 5/1 TD/INT rate against the Bears, is improving each week.

 

Oregon mercifully snapped its five-game losing streak (at the hands of Nebraska, Colorado, Washington State, Washington and Cal) last weekend with a 54-35 win over a badly compromised Arizona State. The Ducks’ hopes are also pinned to a freshman signal-caller, in their case Justin Herbert. I wasn’t impressed with Herbert’s first start, but nobody looks good against Washington. Herbert completed 31-of-42 passes for four touchdowns against what Arizona State would call a defense.

 

USC’s secondary, led by the athletic, aggressive group of Iman Marshall, Adoree’ Jackson and Leon McQuay III, isn’t going to be prove to be as generous. Herbert also doesn’t have an X receiver named JuJu Smith-Schuster. Advantage: Darnold.

 

Oregon has no choice but to get into a shootout here, and that’s a fight they can’t win. The Ducks are allowing 42.3 points per game and 519.1 yards per game. Oregon has been a sell-team since Mark Helfrich became coach and are an abysmal 1-8-1 ATS in their last 10 (the cover came last time against ASU). Let’s run that to 1-9-1.

 

 

Kansas State (-2.5) vs. Oklahoma St.

 

Straight Up:  
 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 

 

 

Analysis

This is a sneaky-good matchup between teams that are a little better than you might think. Each has only been beaten soundly once this season. Kansas State, 5-3, hung tough with Stanford and lost by only one point to West Virginia. They’ve beaten both Texas Tech and Texas. And were it not for the fluky loss to Central Michigan, Oklahoma State would be in the pack of one-loss teams ranked in the Playoff teens.

 

Oklahoma State enters off the rousing upset of the previously undefeated Mountaineers. Led by QB Mason Rudolph (64 percent completions, 2,532 yards, 17/2 TD/INT rate), the Pokes’ passing attack (328.5 yards per game) has spurred a 40-point-per-game offense. This year’s skill talent doesn’t just revolve around the receivers (James Washington and Jalen McCleskey), because frosh RB Justice Hill (619 yards and four scores on 4.8 yards per carry) has given this crew the ground threat it previously lacked.

 

While OSU will have success passing against a Kansas State secondary that currently ranks No. 101 nationally in yards per pass attempt allowed, the Wildcat defense is strong against the run and could remove Hill from the flow of the game. KSU’s defense is built around a strong front seven led by possible future NFL players DL Will Geary and Jordan Willis and LBs Elijah Lee and Charmeachealle Moore.

 

Kansas State has covered five in a row against Oklahoma State. HC Bill Snyder rides a strong run game to No. 6 and his newest Big 12 victory.

 

 

Stanford (-14) vs. Oregon State


Straight Up:  Stanford Cardinal (2014 - Pres)

 
 

Against the Spread:


 

 Stanford Cardinal (2014 - Pres)

 


Analysis

This line should be a touchdown or so higher. That it’s short is both a nod to how competitive Oregon State has been this fall and, conversely, how disappointing Stanford has been. Even so, this is a mismatch that sets up for a Cardinal blowout.

 

Oregon State frittered away a three-touchdown lead, retook a fourth quarter lead, and frittered that away too in last week’s 35-31 loss to Washington State. I’d guess that that’s the last time we see the Beavs hang in there against a superior team this season.

 

There’s only so long that a team outgunned on talent and ravaged by injuries can compete against objectively superior competition, and our guess is that the Beavers have run out of gas now that their dreams of a bowl are over (Oregon State would have to beat Stanford, UCLA, Arizona and Oregon in the last four games to get there).

 

Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey is healthy again, and he’s now joined by the quarterback we thought should have started the opener, Keller Chryst. Chryst got his feet wet in helping the Cardinal post a season-high 34 points in last week’s blowout win at Arizona.

 

McCaffrey is elite in space, and even a mediocre passing attack opens up creases. Stanford’s offense was derailed earlier this season due to the gross incompetence of former starting QB Ryan Burns and a spate of injuries, McCaffrey’s included. But the team has gotten many of its key contributors back and looked like themselves in throttling the Wildcats.

 

If C-Mac gets going, this game is going to get out of hand early, because not only does OSU’s undersized front struggle to stop the run, but the Beavers’ offense is not equipped to play from behind. That could mean more of the same for this rivalry. The Cardinal have beaten the Beavers in six straight meetings by an average margin of 20 ppg, covering all six times.

 

Washington State (-16) vs. Arizona

Straight Up:  

 
 

Against the Spread:



 

 


Analysis

With Bill Murray having once again seized the national imagination following the Cubs’ World Series win, it’s only fitting that Washington State is doing a fitting Groundhog’s Day impersonation to honor one of our finest comedian’s most underrated movies.

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Wazzu opens the season by losing to an FCS team, loses the next week as well so we’ll all write them off, and then inexplicably turns into a legitimate top-15 team after that. This time around, the Cougars ripped off wins against Idaho, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon State consecutively leading up to this week.

 

Washington State is about to run that win streak to seven, because Arizona is not only one of the Pac-12’s worst teams, but they’re about as poor of a matchup to play a team like Washington State as you’ll find.

 

Arizona started 2-1—and would have been 3-0 had it closed out the BYU game—and put a serious scare into Washington in Week 4 before everything went south. The ‘Cats last won on September 18, when there was still a few weeks of regular season baseball left. Since then, they are 0-5 (all Pac-12 games), losing those games by an aggregate of 99 points, or nearly 20 points a pop.

 

QB Luke Falk (24/5 TD/INT ratio) announced that he’d be returning to school next season earlier this week. He and the Cougars celebrate by destroying a wounded ‘Cat that just wants this season to be over with.


 

****

 

2016 Record: Straight-Up: 57-33 (63.3%); Against the Spread: 47-39-4 (54.6%)

Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is NBC Sports Edge’s lead CFB writer. The 2018 FSWA College Sports Writer of the Year, Nystrom’s writing has also been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to him on Twitter @thorku!