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Weekly Picks

Week 7 CFB ATS Notes

by Thor Nystrom
Updated On: October 14, 2020, 10:45 pm ET

In the table below, you'll find the Adjusted Thor Line (ATL), a system I devised for determining line value. Check back Thursday for this week’s official plays.

All lines courtesy of PointsBet Sportsbook.

Day Away Home PB Line ATL ATL side Line value Time CST TV
10/14 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns -7.5 -8.2 N/A N/A 6:30 ESPN
10/15 Georgia State Panthers Arkansas State Red Wolves -3.5 -2.2 Georgia State Panthers 1.3 6:30 ESPN
10/16 SMU Mustangs Tulane Green Wave 6 6.9 N/A N/A 5:00 ESPN
10/16 BYU Cougars Houston Cougars 5 3.2 Houston Cougars 1.8 8:30 ESPN
10/17 Texas State Bobcats South Alabama Jaguars -2.5 -2.1 N/A N/A 11:00 ESPNU
10/17 Auburn Tigers South Carolina Gamecocks 3 6.1 Auburn Tigers 3.1 11:00 ESPN
10/17 Liberty Flames Syracuse Orange 3.5 -4.2 Syracuse Orange 7.7 11:00 ACC Net
10/17 South Florida Bulls Temple Owls -11 -8.9 South Florida Bulls 2.1 11:00 ESPN+
10/17 Kentucky Wildcats Tennessee Volunteers -6 -0.6 Kentucky Wildcats 5.4 11:00 SEC Net
10/17 Cincinnati Bearcats Tulsa Golden Hurricane 3 8.1 Cincinnati Bearcats 5.1 11:00 ESPN2
10/17 Navy Midshipmen East Carolina Pirates 2 2.0 N/A N/A 11:00 ESPN+
10/17 Clemson Tigers Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 27 23.0 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 4.0 11:00 ABC
10/17 Pittsburgh Panthers Miami Hurricanes -10.5 -6.7 Pittsburgh Panthers 3.8 11:00 ACC Net
10/17 Kansas Jayhawks West Virginia Mountaineers -22.5 -22.5 N/A N/A 11:00 ---
10/17 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers UAB Blazers -14 -6.0 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 8 12:30 ---
10/17 Army Black Knights UTSA Roadrunners 7 10.0 Army Black Knights 3 12:30 ---
10/17 Louisville Cardinals Notre Dame Fighting Irish -17 -17.5 N/A N/A 1:30 NBC
10/17 Duke Blue Devils NC State Wolfpack -4.5 -2.5 Duke Blue Devils 2 2:30 ACC Net
10/17 UCF Knights Memphis Tigers 3.5 8.3 UCF Knights 4.8 2:30 ABC
10/17 Ole Miss Rebels Arkansas Razorbacks 3 1.3 Arkansas Razorbacks 1.7 2:30 ESPN2
10/17 LSU Tigers Florida Gators -13.5 -10.6 LSU Tigers 2.9 2:30 ESPN
10/17 Virginia Cavaliers Wake Forest Demon Deacons 3 3.5 N/A N/A 3:00 ACC Net
10/17 Texas A&M Aggies Mississippi State Bulldogs 6.5 4.0 Mississippi State Bulldogs 2.5 3:00 SEC Net
10/17 UMass Minutemen Georgia Southern Eagles -29 -30.1 Georgia Southern Eagles 1.1 3:00 ESPNU
10/17 North Texas Mean Green Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders -6.5 -3.6 North Texas Mean Green 2.9 4:00 CBSS Net
10/17 Marshall Thundering Herd Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 14 7.4 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 6.6 5:00 CBSS Net
10/17 North Carolina Tar Heels Florida State Seminoles 13.5 11.5 Florida State Seminoles 2.0 6:00 ESPN
10/17 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles UTEP Miners 5 11.9 Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 6.9 6:30 ESPN2
10/17 Georgia Bulldogs Alabama Crimson Tide -6 -4.5 Georgia Bulldogs 1.5 7:00 CBS
10/17 Boston College Eagles Virginia Tech Hokies -11.5 -11.5 N/A N/A 7:00 ACC Net
10/17 Florida International Panthers Charlotte 49ers -7.5 -6.2 Charlotte 49ers 1.3 7:00 ESPNU

Wrong team favored?

Liberty Flames (-3.5) at Syracuse Orange 

ATL: Syracuse -4.2

 

The spread of this game is an incredible 7.7 points off ATL’s projection. Some of that can be explained.

Syracuse is going to be without QB Tommy DeVito and S Andre Cisco for this game -- and perhaps the rest of the year. DeVito left the loss to Duke with a leg or heel injury. He is likely done for the season, but HC Dino Babers hasn’t updated his status yet. 

Babers did, however, update the status of star S Andre Cisco -- and it wasn’t good news. Cisco is out for year after suffering a freak injury when he collided with a teammate in pregame warmups a few weeks ago in advance of the Georgia Tech game. 

The resurgent Liberty Flames are 4-0. QB Malik Willis, an Auburn transfer, is a star -- a dual-threat who’s thrown for 595 yards and run for 340. The Flames blew out UL-Monroe 40-7 last week as 18-point favorites.

Liberty is 4-1 ATS in their last four road games and 5-2 ATS against the ACC in their last seven. Syracuse will start QB Rex Culpepper with DeVito out. Cisco is more difficult to replace. The Orange play Clemson next week. Are they really going to get up for Liberty?


ATL’s early line values

Marshall Thundering Herd (-14) at Louisiana Tech Bulldogs    

ATL: Marshall -7.4

 

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (+14) at UAB Blazers   

ATL: UAB -6

 

Western Kentucky is 1-3. Their only win was a three-point squeaker over lowly Middle Tennessee. But I still think they’re a decent team, and an undervalued team.

WKU had a 14-point loss to Louisville (Louisville benefited from a series of explosive scoring plays) and a six-point setback against undefeated Liberty earlier this season before losing to Marshall 38-14 last week. WKU went 2-for-12 on third downs, lost the turnover battle by three (WKU lost three fumbles!) and got outplayed on special teams. 

But just in terms of offense vs. defense game mechanics, WKU hung -- finishing just below Marshall in both success rate and YPP. That’s just another datapoint that the Hilltoppers can hang with strong teams. UAB is one of those.

ATL sees value in WKU and I agree with the sentiment. Same with Louisiana Tech, which gets Marshall. The Bulldogs are quietly 3-1. Outside of the WKU game described above, Marshall beat an FCS team and beat Appalachian State 17-7. Appy State has had a nightmarish season with ongoing COVID disruptions.

 

Cincinnati Bearcats (-3) at Tulsa Golden Hurricane

ATL: Cincy - 8.1

 

This line is suspiciously low. Early money on Tulsa dropped the line from Cincy -4.5 on Sunday to Tulsa -3 on Monday. 

The Hurricane, which took Oklahoma State to the wire and stunned UCF, is No. 1 in the country in defensive havoc rate. Cincinnati better not overlook Tulsa with SMU on deck.

 

Kentucky Wildcats (+6) at Tennessee Volunteers

ATL: Tennessee  -0.6

 

Kentucky blew out Mississippi State 24-2 last week. The defensive dominance may have been a tad overstated -- Kentucky allowed Mississippi State to get inside its 40-yard five times, but the Bulldogs turned those trips into zero points. 

Kentucky intercepted MSU six times. All the turnovers allowed Kentucky to win easily despite a poor offensive showing. The Wildcats averaged only 2.9 YPP with a 28% offensive success rate against the Bulldogs.

But as we talked about last week, Kentucky was extremely unlucky during its 0-2 start, with several breaks going against it in the losses to Auburn and Ole Miss. 

Tennessee led Georgia at halftime, but was thoroughly dominated in the second half in a lopsided loss. The Volunteers’ offense continues to be held back by Jarrett Guarantano. Kentucky’s defense will play with him as a cat does a trapped mouse.

Kentucky is still being undervalued. This game should be closer to a pick ‘em.


Hidden value?

BYU Cougars (-5) at Houston Cougars   

ATL: BYU -3.2

 

Houston beat Tulane 49-31 last Thursday. The final score was far closer than it should have been.

Tulane raced out to a 24-7 lead at the start of the second quarter because they turned three bonehead Houston turnovers into 21 points -- including a pick-six and a Clayton Tune fumble in the end zone that was recovered for a Tulane TD.

The Cougars’ comeback began then -- but Houston still trailed 24-21 at halftime despite outgaining the Green Wave 268-102. Houston won by 18 points despite turning the ball over five times.

Houston had previously had three season openers delayed due to COVID-19. They were rusty and the rust directly led to Tulane points. 

BYU was dominant in their first three victories of the year but only beat a bad UTSA team by seven points last week. UTSA was down to their QB3, the all-run, no-throw Lowell Narcisse. Narcisse went 17-for-20 through the air for 229 yards and two TD.

BYU better fix whatever was wrong with their secondary last weekend pronto with Houston’s pass-happy offense on deck. The Cougars will have to do so on short rest.

Auburn Tigers (-3.5) at South Carolina Gamecocks  

ATL: Auburn -6.1

 

South Carolina beat Vanderbilt 41-7 as a 13.5-point favorite last week. The Gamecocks outclassed Vandy, but the Commodores definitely helped uSC along the way.

Coming out of halftime, trailing by 10, Vanderbilt turned it over on downs on its own 31-yard line. South Carolina punched in a TD with the short field. The Gamecocks added TD runs of 88 and 47 yards later in the second half to turn the game into a laugher.

The Gamecocks were explosive -- with help from Vandy’s sieve defense -- but not efficient, with a 40% offensive success rate that was about even with Vanderbilt’s 39%. 

Auburn benefited from luck to beat Arkansas last week. Bo Nix muffed a snap on a planned clock-stopping spike in the fourth quarter and ended up flinging the ball to the turf facing his own goalpost -- a backwards pass. Arkansas recovered. Instead of being ruled a fumble, SEC officials granted the spike, and Auburn ended up kicking a game-winning field goal to win 30-28.

It doesn’t seem that the public is fooled by that outcome -- in fact, it seems that the betting public has turned its back on Auburn. And with WR Eli Stove and DE Big Kat Bryant questionable for this game and star LB K.J. Britt out for the year -- along with Nix and the overall team’s up-and-down play -- that’s understandable. 

But ATL believes Auburn is a value play in this spot, receiving a discount that may have more to do with perception than reality.


Situational opportunities

UMass Minutemen (+28.5) at Georgia Southern Eagles   

ATL: GSU -30.1

 

UMass is finally kicking off its 2020 season. If you’re a regular reader, that should ring bells in your head: The system of teams opening their season against teams that have already played is now 22-8-2 ATS (73.3%) this season.

But both ATL and recent history would preach caution against a blind system play on the Minutemen. 

On August 11 -- two months ago -- UMass announced it was canceling its season. On September 24, UMass announced it was opting back-in for a fall season. Part of the stated reasoning was with so many conferences opting back into the fall -- the Big 10, Pac-12, MWC and MAC -- UMass feared no opponents would be available for a hypothetical spring season.

So the Minutemen hastily threw together a return-to-fall plan, with the idea of playing “around four games.” This game with GSU wasn’t even scheduled until October 8, last Thursday! And that was because Georgia Southern suddenly had a hole on its schedule when Appalachian State’s COVID issues forced a postponement of their previously-scheduled game.

As we’ve talked about in previous columns, the system above is probably successful (and it has been dating back to 2000, by the way) for two reasons: 1) The team that’s already played has given its opponent game film but not received any in return, 2) The team that’s already played probably gets slightly over-priced just because the public has already seen them (and/or vice-versa: undervaluing the team opening its season because it hasn’t).

In this case, however, UMass didn’t even know it was going to be playing Georgia Southern until last Thursday (and didn’t even know it would be playing at all until three weeks ago). On the day that game was announced, UMass HC Walt Bell didn’t even have a depth chart to provide to the media. He intends to start redshirt senior Mike Fallon at QB. Fallon has 40 passing years in four years of eligibility. 

Bell and his squad, arguably the league talented in the FBS, has had precious little time to prepare for a triple-option offense. Last year, the Minutemen got clocked 63-7 by Army, the only triple-option team it faced.

 

Ole Miss Rebels (-3) at Arkansas Razorbacks 

ATL: Ole Miss -1.3

 

The Rebels are coming off an extremely impressive loss to Alabama. Ole Miss ran up 48 points and 647 yards against the Crimson Tide despite playing on a waterlogged field thanks to Hurricane Delta. 

The Rebels now have to travel to Arkansas in a potential deflated-letdown spot.

Like Ole Miss, Arkansas has impressed under a new coaching staff. Can the Razorbacks pick themselves off the mat after officials stole a win from them against Auburn last week?


Status check

LSU Tigers (+13.5) at Florida Gators   

ATL: Florida -11.6

 

Let’s just hope we get to see both of these teams at full strength. And get to see this game, period. Florida halted football activities on Tuesday after it announced it had five new COVID cases since the last round of testing. We'll find out in the coming days if this game will be played on time.

If it does indeed get played, there are several interesting subplots swirling. Florida TE Kyle Pitts is questionable after he suffered a foot injury against Texas A&M. LSU CB Derek Stingley is also questionable with an ankle injury. 

You’ll recall that LSU gave up a single-game SEC-record for passing yards to Mississippi State in the opener when Stingley was sidelined. Urban Meyer calls Pitts the best player in America. Hard to argue that -- in a just world, Pitts would have more Heisman buzz right now. If he stays healthy, Pitts is going to be the first Gator since Aaron Hernandez to win the Mackey Award.

Expect this game to be a shootout. Florida averages 42.3 PPG and leads the nation with a ludicrous six points per trip inside its opponent’s 40-yard line (cough, Kyle Pitts is a red zone demon, cough), but the Gators remain susceptible to getting upset because the defense under Todd Grantham has struggled mightily this year. The Gators were upset by Texas A&M last week after RB Malik Davis fumbled in Florida territory to set up A&M’s game-winning field goal. 

Speaking of bad defenses, LSU’s defense has been so bad that HC Ed Orgeron told new DC Bo Pelini this week to simplify his defense. LSU has given up a school record 96 points through three games (and 89 combined to Mississippi State and Missouri, not exactly juggernaut offenses). Missouri had a ludicrous 60% success rate and 8.6 YPP on offense (against LSU’s 44% and 7.0) in a 45-41 Mizzou win that would have been more lopsided than that had Missouri not lost three fumbles.

But LSU’s offense is strong once again -- it hasn’t yet been held under 34 points. The offense heavily revolves around WR Terrace Marshall -- does Florida have anyone capable of slowing him?

Keep a close eye on the statuses of Pitts and Stingley. If Pitts doesn’t play but Stingley does, I think LSU has a shot to spring the upset.

 

Texas A&M Aggies (-6.5) at Mississippi State Bulldogs 

ATL: A&M -4.0

 

The Aggies are coming off a huge upset win over Florida but lost WR Caleb Chapman for the season after he suffered a knee injury during a fourth-quarter touchdown catch.

Mike Leach would argue he has it worse right now. In only three weeks in the SEC, Leach has:

  • Beaten defending champ LSU 44-34 in Baton Rouge, setting the SEC-record with 623 pass yds
  • Lost 21-14 to Arkansas, the Hogs’ only SEC in their last 22 games
  • Lost 24-2 to Kentucky in a game the MSU offense failed to score
  • Told reporters he needs a roster purge to get rid of malcontents

 

Mississippi State has thrown nine interceptions in its last two games, it benched starting QB KJ Costello against Kentucky, and Leach is now actively fighting with his roster.

If A&M can get past Mississippi State, it has a decent shot of running the table the rest of the way with Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Auburn remaining.

 

Virginia Cavaliers (-1) at Wake Forest Demon Deacons    

ATL: UVA -3.5

 

ATL sees a little value in Virginia. But ATL doesn’t know that Cavs QB Brennan Armstrong is questionable after suffering a head injury last week. 

Virginia’s offense is built around Armstrong. Career backup Lindell Stone will get the call if Armstrong can’t go. If he can’t, I like the Demon Deacons to win outright.

 

Army Black Knights (-7) at UTSA Roadrunners

ATL: Army -9.0

 

UTSA QB Frank Harris gave it a go against BYU but struggled and got hurt again. He’s considered questionable with a lower-body injury. 

Lowell Narcisse looked much better. The former LSU Tiger went 17-of-20 for 229 yards and two touchdowns against the Cougars. UTSA may be better off with Narcisse. Harris’ status, to me, is irrelevant to the handicap.

 

Boston College Eagles (+12) at Virginia Tech Hokies   

ATL: VT -11.5

 

The Hokies were missing 15 players due to COVID-19 in last week’s loss to UNC. The secondary was particularly ravished, with several backups and two starters out.

Virginia Tech should be closer to full strength this week.

 

SMU Mustangs (-6.5) at Tulane Green Wave (Friday)

ATL: SMU -6.9

 

The Mustangs suffered a pair of devastating injuries in their huge win over Memphis two weeks ago. Star WR Reggie Roberson (knee) and RB TJ McDaniel are both out for the year. 

SMU RB Ulysses Bentley IV has been a revelation and will get more touches with McDaniel out. SMU is covered in the backfield. 

But there’s nobody on the roster who is close to Roberson’s skill level on the roster. Shane Buechele will figure it out -- but this offense is going to be less explosive without Roberson. Just how much, we'll have to see.

Coming off the win over Memphis and facing major health concerns, I’d usually find this an opportune spot to fade a team like SMU. Especially with an overlook matchup against Cincy on deck.

The only issue is that I think Tulane stinks. The Green Wave are 2-2, with wins over FBS bottom-feeders South Alabama and Southern Miss. The two losses were each a lot more embarrassing than the final score. Tulane blew a 24-point halftime lead in a 27-24 loss to Navy, a team that was thoroughly uncompetitive in its first three games outside of that.

And last week, as mentioned above, Tulane got three early freebie touchdowns off turnovers against Houston last week to jump out to a 24-7 lead. The Green Wave got five turnovers total but still lost 49-31 -- the game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated.

 

North Carolina Tar Heels (-13.5) at Florida State Seminoles  

ATL: UNC -12.5

 

FSU QB Jordan Travis has been limited in practice this week with a hand injury sustained against Notre Dame. Travis, a dual-threat, was FSU’s third starting QB of the season. The scrambling element he’s added to a lethargic FSU rushing offense has been crucial.

UNC’s run defense has drawn Mack Brown’s ire this year. Travis could give the Tar Heels issues out of the pocket -- but only if he plays. Bettors interested in this game will want to check on his status before buying a ticket.


Marquee matchup

Georgia Bulldogs (+6) at Alabama Crimson Tide   

ATL: Bama -4.5

 

College GameDay will be on hand for arguably the regular season’s most-anticipated matchup, and the forecast is calling for clear skies and a beautiful day in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama outraced Ole Miss 63-48 last week in a game its defense surprisingly struggled. Georgia started slowly but ended up blasting Tennessee 44-21. 

Stetson Bennett, a game manager, has done his job so far. But while Alabama’s defense may be more forgiving than in year’s past -- just ask Lane Kiffin -- will Bennett be up for going score-for-score with Alabama if this game inevitably turns into a shootout?

That’s the second-most fascinating question of this game. The most fascinating: Arguably the nation’s best offense is about to go up against arguably the nation’s best defense. Will the Alabama offense win the day? Or will Georgia’s defense (12.3 PPG allowed) get in Mac Jones’ (79.5% completions) head and slow Najee Harris?

Bennett could really use some help from Georgia’s running game on Saturday. It’s averaging only 3.8 YPC, with Zamir White’s slow start a primary culprit. James Cook is probable to return on Saturday. Georgia could really use him.


Postponed

Oklahoma State Cowboys at Baylor Bears 

ATL: OSU -3.7

 

The Big 12 announced on Sunday that this game will be pushed to Dec. 12. That news came on the heels of Baylor shutting down football-related activities after multiple positive COVID tests required quarantine and the commencement of contact-tracing protocols. 

Baylor’s AD announced the program has 28 COVID cases among players and 14 among staffers. This was Baylor’s third postponement, and OSU’s second.

The Big 12 had been contemplating holding its title game on either Dec. 12 or Dec. 19. This news almost assuredly means that the conference is shooting to hold its championship on Dec. 19.

 

Vanderbilt Commodores at Missouri Tigers   

ATL: Mizzou -18.2

 

This is the SEC’s first postponed game due to COVID. A virus outbreak on Vanderbilt’s roster left the Commodores with only 56 scholarship players available for last Saturday’s 41-7 loss to South Carolina.

The SEC is tentatively planning to reschedule this game for Dec. 12. Vanderbilt (0-3) won't have to return to the field until Oct. 31 against Ole Miss.


2020: 21-18-1 (53.8%) ATS 

Lifetime (2014-Present): 561-487-17 (53.5%) ATS


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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!