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Weekly Picks

Week 10 CFB Best Bets

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: November 14, 2018, 4:26 am ET

Rotoworld now has a college football podcast dedicated to betting against the spread. Every week, my co-host Mark Lindquist and I pick our five favorite sides of the week. Between Mark and I's five best bets and our game of the week agreements, we're 54-35 ATS (60.7%) on the podcast year-to-date. Check us out on iTunes here! Write us a review and we'll shout you out on the next episode.

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*All stats below refer to S&P+ unless otherwise noted*

Virginia Tech +2 vs. Boston College

This is one of those handicaps where I have to take my personal feelings out of the equation and invest in a spot where I’m getting great line value in an awesome situational spot.

Boston College has been a “buy” team for me when AJ Dillon has been active this season. As I mentioned on last week’s podcast, I bought a few tickets on Boston College last Friday against Miami. That was a great situational proposition for the Eagles. This is a terrible one, one of those dreaded letdown/lookahead sandwich spots with a home date against Clemson on deck.

The Eagles upset the Hurricanes in a dominating performance last Friday on Red Bandana Night in Chestnut Hill, historically a game the Eagles perform very well in. It’s an emotionally charged atmosphere that typically draws out BC’s A+ effort. Earlier this week, I started to wonder how Boston College performs the week after the RBG. The first RBG was in 2014.

 

  • 2014: Boston College upsets (9) USC 37-31 as 17-point underdogs (next week: 40-10 BC over FCS Maine)

 

  • 2015: Boston College loses 14-0 to (9) Florida State as 7.5-point dogs… FSU did not score an offensive point after its first possession of the game but was able to cover due to a 36-yard fumble return TD by Jalen Ramsey in the fourth quarter (next week: BC 17-14 win over NIU on an extra day rest as 5-point favorites)

 

  • 2016: Boston College loses 56-10 to (3) Clemson as 17-point dogs (next game: following a bye, 28-20 loss at Syracuse as 4-point favorites)

 

  • 2017: Boston College upsets Florida State 35-3 as 5.5-point underdogs (next week: following a BC bye, 17-14 loss to NC State as 3.5-pt dogs)

 

  • 2018: Boston College upsets Miami 27-14 as 4-point underdogs

 

  • RBG: 3-2 SU, 3-2 ATS with three outright upsets (and a fluky non-cover)

 

  • Week after RBG: 1-2 SU, 1-2 ATS with one outright upset loss and the lone cover coming by a half-point last year.

This time around, for the first time since 2015, Boston College doesn’t have a bye after the Red Bandana Game to buffer against a possible emotional letdown. What’s more, this time its opponent is actually on more rest. Virginia Tech played last Thursday. As far as I can tell, this is the first post-RBG opponent Boston College has ever faced that has more rest coming in.

In their game, the Hokies got drilled on national television by Georgia Tech, another reason why we’re getting line value here. Just how much are we getting? My ATL model set this line at Virginia Tech -1.5, giving us 3.5 points of value across the threshold.

There are reasons to be weary of Virginia Tech as a team. Believe me, I get it. And in this matchup, what concerns me the most is the Hokies defense regularly allows explosive plays and Boston College’s offense regularly rips them off.

But, in this case, I have to back my numbers when they fall on a game with this kind of situational factor. It’s a long-term positive EV play, and that’s the type of bet I’ve forced myself to have the discipline to pull the trigger on.

Notre Dame -9.5 at Northwestern

I did a double-take when this line came out at ND -8. It jumped to -9.5 within 24 hours and will no doubt be in double-digits by the time the game kicks (if it isn’t already, as you read this). ATL set the line at ND -12.

ATL is just raw numbers. I think this is also a nice situational spot for Notre Dame, as Northwestern has a crucial Big 10 West showdown in Iowa City next week. The Wildcats have a full two-game lead in the standings. If they beat the Hawkeyes, they’ll punch a ticket into the Big 10 title game (Northwestern already holds tiebreakers over Purdue and Wisconsin, the two other B1G West teams who are 3-2 in conference).

You might be thinking: Pal, aint nobody going to overlook Notre Dame! Fair enough. But ask yourself which game is more important to Pat Fitzgerald, this ceremonial non-conference game (granted, against a marquee opponent), or the play-in game next week to bring Northwestern to its first ever Big 10 Championship game appearance.

The Iowa game is legitimately enormous for this program. If extra resources weren't being devoted to it this week in Evanston, I would be stunned. And if Northwestern falls down by two touchdowns or more in the second half against Notre Dame, will they sell out in a furious comeback attempt, risking injury and humiliation if ND's defense adds to the lead with a pick-6, or hasten things along to turn the page to the game with larger implications?

Meanwhile, for Notre Dame, motivation is no issue. Every week is the same deal: Win out and you’re going to the playoff. Simple. There is no conference title game to worry about. Four more wins and you’ve got yourself a date with (probably) Clemson.

Northwestern is a paper tiger. Not only have they not achieved a 100% postgame expectancy all year, they haven’t even posted a number over 86%. It’s true! And that was against Rutgers! (In a three-point win!!!).

The Wildcats were fortunate to catch Purdue in the opener, before they took off, and then they lost to Duke and Akron(!!!) the next two weeks. Since losing to Michigan, Northwestern has ripped off four straight wins. During that stretch, they caught Michigan State in a lookahead spot to Penn State and Michigan, got lucky to beat Nebraska by three (16% win expectancy), almost got caught with their pants down against Rutgers, and then “upset” Wisconsin last week when Alex Hornibrook was ruled out late in the week to join a handful of other injured Badgers in street clothes.

The biggest mismatch in this game is Northwestern’s terrible, one-dimensional offense (No. 105 S&P+) against Notre Dame’s awesome defense (No. 6). This is how my friend Douglas Farmer, a Notre Dame beat writer and a good Irish follow, broke it down on Twitter: “I am struggling to find a way for the Wildcats to score 4x with multiple TDs. Teams to do that this year against ND: Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, both reliant on garbage time.”

He was making the case for the under, but the same logic applies to the side. Northwestern is going to struggle to crack 20 points on offense.

Kansas +14.5 vs. Iowa State

I’m always weary to publicly support plays on Kansas. Because I’m an alum, and because they generally lose. But last week, I had a spidey sense that KU would upset TCU, and I said so publicly.

I don't have the same kind of conviction this week, but I do think that this is too many points. I’ve got this line at ISU -11.5.

Iowa State is off three straight impressive wins against Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas Tech. This is a sleepy spot for the Cyclones, just like it was for TCU. And now that Kansas polished off that upset of the Frogs, the buy-in and belief should be even higher this week.

Even though Kansas is low on talent, they have played hard down the stretch during lost seasons for HC David Beaty the past few years. Effort shouldn’t be an issue on Saturday. And Kansas’ A-game should be enough to keep this thing within two touchdowns.

Iowa State is not a team you want to lay double-digits with, particularly on the road. The Cyclones have beaten only one team by more than 13 points this year: West Virginia (at home). In that game, the Mountaineers’ offense utterly imploded. But for our purposes, it should be noted that Iowa State played well at home against Akron (No. 106 S&P+) in late-September and still only won 26-13.

Kansas is a team of similar quality, and they’ve got the home field advantage here. The Jayhawks’ team strength is run defense (No. 50 S&P+). On offense, they have a home-run hitter at running back (electrifying four-star true freshman Pooka Williams) and not much else. Because of Pooka, KU is No. 16 in the nation in S&P+ rushing explosion.

The way the Jayhawks keep this close is by ripping off a few long runs (or passes to Pooka, which is how they got him going against TCU), slowing star ISU RB David Montgomery (this actually won’t be as hard as it appears on the surface because ISU’s OL stinks and KU's front seven has two NFL players on it), and then hoping ISU QB Brock Purdy has moments where he looks like a true freshman (this is Purdy’s first road start, though he did play the majority of the OSU game off the bench).

Florida Atlantic +3 at Florida International

This is another value buy — an opportunity to invest in FAU at nadir prices while selling on FIU at a zenith valuation. That’s because the disappointing Owls are 1-7 ATS while the surging Panthers are 6-2 ATS (and 6-2 SU). But as we talked about last week— in my failed attempt to fade FIU against WKU—the Panthers’ resume is littered with fluky results (the WKU game, to their credit, wasn't one of them; straight misfire by me).

FIU had combined postgame win expectancies of 62% in fluky wins over Old Dominion (FIU was down 17-0, a rainstorm caused a two-hour delay that caused ODU’s fans to leave, and FIU closed the game on a 28-3 run) and Middle Tennessee (FIU scored a late TD to go up three and then picked off MTSU in the end zone to seal it) earlier this year.

FIU also had a pair of fluky covers against Indiana and Miami in games where they were got dominated. In FIU’s wins over UMass and Rice, both opponent were forced to use their third-string quarterback due to injuries.

This point is illustrated clearly in second-order wins, a stat that measures what a team’s record would be if all plays in every game they had played in had occurred in random order instead of sequentially (records can be deceiving; second-order records are not). FIU has 4.5 second-order wins, a full -1.5 wins off their current record. FAU, courtesy of botched coin-flip games against MTSU and Louisiana Tech, has 4.1 second-order wins, +1.1 over their current record.

In terms of second-order wins, FIU is 4.5-3.5 against S&P+’s No. 122 schedule and FAU is 4.1-3.9 against S&P+’s No. 42 schedule. This explains why my numbers have this game at about a pick ‘em. Take the points.

Louisiana Tech +23.5 at Mississippi State

Mississippi State is not the team you want to lay over three touchdowns with, while Louisiana Tech has been money in this spot in recent years.

This situation reminds me so much of the Sept. 22 LTU-LSU game, where I bet Tech at a similar number and covered in a game that was competitive well into the third quarter. Louisiana Tech outgained LSU 417-409 in that one and scored 21 against the Tigers’ elite defense.

Louisiana Tech HC Skip Holtz traditionally does well as an underdog (7-2 ATS in last nine as an away underdog against P5 teams). His team also travel well, and they don’t back down against bullies. Tech is 37-17 ATS over their last 54 road games and 8-2 ATS in their last 10 against the SEC.

This is a prime lookahead sandwich spot for the favorite. Mississippi State travels to Alabama immediately after this SEC-bye. Last year, in this exact same A&M-Bama scheduling sandwich spot, Cowbell only beat UMass by 11 as 34-point chalk.

Mississippi State’s offense can’t pass. I don’t buy the improvements we saw against A&M. I’m too familiar with Nick Fitzgerald’s body of work. Louisiana Tech’s pass defense is also the strength of its defensive unit. MSU is going to want to keep things moving along, so I expect an extreme ground-heavy approach by the SEC favorite.

That’ll be successful — Tech’s run defense isn’t good — but its success will also serve to keep the clock ticking. MSU RB Kylin Hill is questionable after missing last week’s game. I wonder whether MSU will push him back for this one with the Tide on deck.

Aeris Williams was the only MSU offensive player who didn't look good last week. The mediocre veteran will get a ton of touches Saturday if Hill can’t go. Mississippi State actually couldn't get things moving on the ground against the Aggies until Fitzgerald broke a long touchdown run late against a stacked box.

Our ATL line on this game is Mississippi State -20. And that only takes into consideration numerical data, it doesn't account for spots or injuries. ATL did really well last week on games it said had a field goal or more of value, and I think we’re getting even more hidden value imbedded on LTU in this situational spot.

Florida -6 vs. Missouri

I spent last Saturday evening kicking myself for not following my gut and playing Kentucky against Missouri. The Wildcats, seven-point ‘dogs, stormed back late to win by one on the game’s last play. Don’t let the ending fool you. The fact that UK was down 14-3 in the first place was as surprising as the comeback itself.

In that game, the Wildcats outgained the Tigers by 136 yards and, incredibly, when you consider the two offense in question, finished with more yards per play. Even more incredibly: Missouri had zero first downs in the second half! Zero!

This is the portion of the show where I have to talk about Drew Lock’s struggles against good defenses. If you’re a longtime reader, you’ve been reading this spiel out of me for over a year in ATS, CFF and 2019 NFL Draft columns, so you may skip ahead to the next writeup.

For the rest of you, here’s the deal.

 

Lock is 0-9 against top-25 teams. Against non-SEC teams, he has a 53/9 career TD/INT rate on 63.5% completions with 305.5 passing yards per game. Against SEC teams, he has a 34/28 career TD/INT rate on 51.0% completions with 201.6 passing yards per game. The numbers get even worse when you change the criterion to “against Power 5 bowl teams,” as it moves past duds against West Virginia, Purdue and Texas across the categories (24/29 career TD/INT against P5 bowl teams, per Phil Steele).

This year, Lock is completing 71.1% of his passes for a 15/1 TD/INT against non-SEC teams and 49.6% of his passes for a 1/5 TD/INT rate against conference opponents. You get the point. Nothing has changed.

And listen: This isn’t all a Drew Lock thing. His supporting case is partly to blame. But, obviously, we’re betting against the sum of it. And that supporting case continues to be compromised. The absence of senior WR Emanuel Hall has really hurt. Hall had a 33-817-8 line last season. He averaged 107.5 ypg over the season’s first four games, but has been out with a groin injury since. Hall is reportedly nearing a return, but he needs to be 100% to be a factor because the groin injury deprives him of his greatest strength: Downfield speed. He won't be 100% on Saturday, and he may be in street clothes again.

Florida’s defense ranks No. 26 S&P+, similar to the Alabama (No. 20) and Georgia (No. 22) defenses that have already dismantled Mizzou's attack. As Steele pointed out, Missouri is getting outgained by 107 yards per game in SEC games.

The strength of Florida’s defense is against the pass (No. 27, with the No. 11 sack rate and No. 11 completion percentage again). Last week, that unit had a deceivingly bad showing against Georgia. CB C.J. Henderson, one of the Gators’ three-best defenders, got injured early and starting S Brad Stewart sat out (reportedly suspended), forcing the Gators to shuffle in DBs who hadn’t seen much time this year. Jake Fromm had a field day. Henderson and Stewart are both expected back this week.

Florida is in a prime revenge spot after Missouri punked them 45-16 last year. They return to the Swamp for the first time since Oct. 6, when they upset LSU 27-19. Now, they get Missouri, which frittered away what looked like a sure-win against Kentucky last week as its long-standing struggles against quality opponents continued. This is a case where I’m going to eschew my ATL number (which has Florida -3) and ride with historical precedent.

Texas Tech +13.5 vs. Oklahoma

ATL set this line at Oklahoma -8, making Tech one of the week’s biggest values. Oklahoma has played only two top-45 teams all season, Iowa State and Texas. They beat the Cyclones by 10 in Ames and lost outright to the Longhorns. With Bedlam on deck, this is a lookahead spot.

It’s also not the best matchup for the Sooners. Oklahoma’s biggest weakness — easily — is its pass defense, which ranks No. 74 S&P+. Oklahoma isn’t in the top-55 in any of S&P+’s five major pass defense metrics. The Sooners are No. 111 in passing efficiency against.

Texas Tech, one of the country’s best passing attacks, rankings No. 17 in passing efficiency. The Red Raiders have already beaten two S&P+ top-25 teams in Houston and Oklahoma State. They also stayed within one possession of S&P+ No. 16 West Virginia despite the fact that third-string QB Jett Duffey was forced to play the majority of that game after Alan Bowman got hurt.

The Red Raiders are a better home team than road team, and they abuse defenses who can’t prevent them from consistently completing passes. A shootout is assuredly coming. If Oklahoma is caught looking ahead to Oklahoma State in this sleep spot, Texas Tech is good enough to beat them outright.

Iowa +3 at Purdue

I just think that the Hawkeyes are a little better in a vacuum, and we’ve seen them win so consistently in this spot in the past that I’m happy to take the points.

Iowa is 19-7-2 ATS in its last 28 road games. The most recent cover came last week, when they lost to Penn State by six as 6.5-point underdogs in a game that Iowa absolutely should have won were it not for QB Nate Stanley’s career-worst game. Even with it, Iowa still enjoyed a 23-16 first down edge.

In that one, Iowa had a first-and-goal from the 2 in the waning minutes and bafflingly called a pass on a play where the entire offense looked confused and a referee appeared close to whistling the play dead before it started. Instead, Stanley locked onto a receiver and threw a lollipop, allowing the Nittany Lions to escape.

The Hawkeyes are top-three in the nation in defending explosives in both off S&P+’s key metrics. Explosive plays are how the Boilermakers generate offense (top-10 in both of S&P+’s metrics). To further complicate things for Purdue, stud-of-all-studs WR Rondale Moore will be a game-time decision. He's just about as important to this offense as Laviska Shenault is to Colorado's.

Iowa has enormous edges on defense and special teams heading in, and their offense should bounce back after their two-most recent games were played in horrific weather conditions (high winds against Maryland, cold rain against Penn State). The road team has been money in this series for a decade now and I expect that to continue on Saturday.

 

TCU -8 vs. Kansas State

Circle the wagons game for TCU. Last week’s upset loss at Kansas left the Horned Frogs 3-5. They probably aren’t going to win next weekend at West Virginia, so they’ll need to win two of three in the games against K-State, (at) Baylor and (vs.) Oklahoma State to go bowling.

K-State has only impressed once this season versus a competent opponent, blasting Oklahoma State 31-12 three weeks ago. But that one was far closer in reality, with a 6.5-point postgame adjusted scoring margin in K-State’s favor.

Last week, off bye, the Wildcats got trucked 51-14 by Oklahoma in a game K-State ended with a -43.0 postgame adjusted scoring margin. Motivation is a question with TCU, but I trust Gary Patterson. Last week was a nightmare for him with the KaVontae Turpin situation. I think he'll have his charges ready to go for this one.

Nebraska +18.5 at Ohio State

The Buckeyes are off a bye, but Nebraska didn’t exert themselves much against Bethune-Cookman last week so some of that advantage is probably negated.

This is a quasi-bubble burst situation for the Buckeyes, who got drilled by Purdue last time out. It’s not a complete bubble-burst situation, to be fair, because the Buckeyes could still rally into the playoff if they won out. But this is also probably a slight lookahead spot with a big game in East Lansing against Michigan State on deck and the enormous tilt with Michigan two weeks after that.

Nebraska has only beaten one FBS team all season (Minnesota) but they’ve played better than their 2-6 record. In fact, they’ve been quite a bit better. With +2.8 second-order wins, Nebraska has been one of the most unlucky teams in the nation. This is a squad with a blinking “buy” sign for the rest of the year.

 

Early in the year, the Cornhuskers made the treacherous scheme change from Mike Riley’s bland pro-style to Scott Frost’s exotic spread and from Bob Diaco’s incomprehensible 3-4 to a simpler, more aggressive take on the 3-4. In recent weeks, we've seen a different Cornhuskers team. I would expect them to pull off on big outright upset before the season is done. If Ohio State isn't careful, they'll be the victim.

TWO FOR THE ROAD

Baylor +8 vs. Oklahoma State

(QB Charlie Brewer was cleared out of the concussion protocol on Friday and will start).

Air Force +7 at Army

 

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2018- 55-52 (51.4%) ATS


2014-2017397-345-16 (53.5%) ATS

Thor Nystrom

Thor Nystrom is Rotoworld’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!