Week 9 of the college football season is here, including the another week of terrific matchups.
Our handicappers Brian Edwards, Tim Murray and Wes Reynolds are here to give you their best bets for eight games on the weekend's card.
Lines are consensus odds from VSiN's college football lines page, as of Thursday afternoon.
Memphis Tigers at No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats (-6.5, 55)
Reynolds: Currently ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25, Cincinnati is currently in the driver's seat for the non-Power Five bid to one of the New Year's Six bowl games. Now the Bearcats get to face Memphis, the team that kept them from that bid and an AAC Championship on not one, but two occasions last season.
UCF had been Memphis' arch nemesis before the Tigers finally knocked them off a couple weeks ago. Well, Memphis has been Cincinnati's foil and has won five of the last six meetings, including wins at the Liberty Bowl in consecutive weeks (34-24 and 29-24 in the AAC Championship Game; both Bearcats outright losses, but covers) to end last season. Cincinnati finally gets its chance to get Memphis into its house, albeit an empty Nippert Stadium this weekend.
Memphis was able to win 41-29 in a non-covering victory over Temple last Saturday but gave up 500 total yards in the process (the Tigers are allowing 568 yards per game this season). Cincinnati had some COVID-19 difficulties within the program and the market moved SMU to a small favorite last week, but that proved to be a move the wrong way as the Bearcats dominated at SMU 42-13. Cincinnati had not played in three weeks yet outgained a terrific SMU offense 439-290 in yards (313-75 on the ground).
The Tigers had already lost sophomore star running back Kenneth Gainwell to begin the season and senior leading receiver Damonte Coxie elected to opt out of the season about 10 days ago. Memphis' offense is still very potent, but not having all hands on deck will hurt them here against one of the better defenses in the country.
A famous, old proverb says that "revenge is a dish best served cold." Cincinnati is ready to serve a frozen dish of double revenge here to Memphis.
Pick: Cincinnati -6.5
No. 17 Indiana Hoosiers (-10.5, 54) at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Reynolds: The Hoosiers earned their first win vs. an AP Top 10-ranked team for the first time since 1987 (and first win over a team with that ranking at home since 1967) last weekend against No. 8 Penn State. Now Indiana must prove that it can handle success and go on the road to take on a Rutgers squad that just snapped a 21-game Big Ten losing streak at Michigan State.
While Indiana got an amazing win in overtime last Saturday, there are still many areas of improvement for this team. The Hoosiers were outgained against Penn State 488-211 and Indiana only mustered 41 yards on 26 carries (1.6 YPG). The first order of business is to get the ground game going with junior back Stevie Scott, who decommitted from Rutgers to come to Indiana. Also, sophomore quarterback Michael Penix, although he made the big throws and plays late (including the winning run on the two-point conversion in OT), was clearly rusty and was off on his throws for most of the afternoon.
Both of these teams lived off turnovers last week. Indiana was the beneficiary of three turnovers in the first half, while Rutgers was the beneficiary of turnovers all day long as Michigan State gave the ball away seven times. Three of the Scarlet Knights’ touchdown drives were scored directly off Spartans turnovers deep in its own territory; those three drives were 1, 23 and 26 yards respectively. The Scarlet Knights certainly will not apologize for the victory, but they did not exactly show out offensively with 276 total yards on 71 plays.
Indiana and Rutgers are both in their second game with new offensive coordinators and are looking to get their respective running games going (Rutgers 106 yards on 41 carries). I'm expecting more run-heavy attacks from both clubs.
Pick: Under 54
Texas Longhorns at No. 6 Oklahoma State Cowboys (-3.5, 59)
Reynolds: The majority of bettors last week were fading Oklahoma State, as the market views the Big 12's lone unbeaten as a paper tiger. The early bettors got the late backdoor cover from Iowa State, but the Cowboys were clearly the right side and the better team. Oklahoma State had 461-389 yard and 24-18 first down edges.
No. 6 Oklahoma State has gotten the better of this series as of late having gone 7-3 SU and 6-4 ATS in the last 10 meetings.
Texas got off to a disappointing start but the Longhorns were breaking in new systems on both sides of the ball and the defensive side finally showed up last week. Chris Ash, the former Rutgers head coach, is now the Longhorns defensive coordinator and his stop unit only allowed 64 yards on the ground against Baylor last weekend. On offense, Texas, now led by former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurklich, could give the Cowboys problems defensively. Senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger accounted for all three touchdowns last week and had 321 yards of total offense.
After the highly publicized and discussed "Tom Herman as an underdog angle", some regression has come for that trend. After a 12-1 ATS start, Herman is now 4-5 ATS in the role since. Both teams and coaches are highly familiar with each other's systems on both sides of the ball, so it comes down to which team has the better personnel on the field and that team is Texas.
Pick: Texas + 3.5
Mississippi State Bulldogs at Alabama Crimson Tide (-31, 64)
Reynolds: The Crimson Tide kept rolling along with a 48-17 win and cover at Tennessee last weekend. Unfortunately, it did not come without cost as star junior receiver Jaylen Waddle was lost for the season with a fractured ankle on the opening kickoff. Junior quarterback Mac Jones did not throw for a touchdown, but continued his Heisman campaign (25-of-31 for 387 yards). Senior running back Najee Harris picked up the scoring slack with three touchdowns. After four straight weeks of beating former assistants and protégés, Nick Saban and No. 2 Alabama gets Mike Leach and Mississippi State coming into town off a bye week.
Mississippi State surely needed that bye as the bloom has fallen from the rose quickly after winning on the road against defending National Champion LSU in the season opener. The Bulldogs put up 44 points in that opener but have failed to top 14 points in any of the three following games. The rest of the SEC has been able to figure out what LSU could not which is how to slow down the “Air Raid” offense. Alabama is allowing an uncharacteristic 280 YPG through the air, but one would expect Saban to have a solid game plan to defend this offense. Senior quarterback K.J. Costello has thrown eight interceptions to just one touchdown over the last three games and has been pulled in favor of freshman Will Rogers in each of the last two games. Senior running back Kylin Hill was an all-SEC back last year, but did not dress against Texas A&M and has not even practiced with the team since the game at Kentucky.
Ironically, the one shining light for Leach's club has been the defense, which has been the SEC's best at only allowing 295 YPG. Obviously, this is a different challenge altogether facing the Alabama offense.
This could be a "just get through it" type of game for Alabama, as they have a bye week on deck and then get the rematch with LSU. The Tigers kept the Tide from getting into the College Football Playoff last season, so they may have an eye on that one.
Pick: Mississippi State + 31
No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (-12.5, 63) at No. 18 Penn State Nittany Lions
Reynolds: No. 3 Ohio State, with its 52-17 victory (and late cover with an extra score tacked on in the final seconds) over Nebraska, jumped Notre Dame in the polls after just one week. Junior quarterback Justin Fields was nearly perfect (20-for-21 passing; 276 yards, 2 TDs) and started to viable challenge to Trevor Lawrence's Heisman campaign. The Buckeyes were in control after a somewhat sluggish start against the Cornhuskers, but the game is a tad closer than the final score indicated.
Penn State has a lot to clean up from last week's upset loss at Indiana. The Nittany Lions turned the ball over three times, missed three field goals, committed 10 penalties for 100 yards and completely misplayed the clock management game at the end. As was said last week, you can get away with that in the normal opening game against a MAC or FCS opponent, but not in a conference game even against a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team in Indiana.
Nevertheless, Penn State has covered four straight against the Buckeyes and the games have only been decided by an average of 11 points. Despite the poor late-game management last weekend, James Franklin always seems to get his club ready to go against Ohio State.
Beaver Stadium at Happy Valley will not have 100,000 strong for a "white-out" on Halloween night, but Penn State should provide at least a scare to the Buckeyes and this line could go even higher than 12.5 by game day. This is a solid spot to play against the short-term line overreaction.
Pick: Penn State + 12.5
No. 16 Kansas State Wildcats at West Virginia Mountaineers (-3.5)
Murray: This line seems too good to be true. A nationally-ranked team is getting north of a field goal on the road against an unranked team? It feels like the oddsmakers are begging you to take Kansas State. And when that happens, be careful.
Last weekend, West Virginia lost in Lubbock to Texas Tech, 34-27, but outgained the Red Raiders 438 yards to 348. With the game tied at 27, the Mountaineers were in Texas Tech territory midway through the fourth quarter when Sam James fumbled and Zach McPhearson returned it 56 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Kansas State heads to Morgantown as just one of two unbeatens remaining in Big 12 play (Kansas State lost to Arkansas St. in non-conference play). The Wildcats dismantled Kansas last week, 55-14, but only outgained the Jayhawks 381-320. Kansas State scored three non-offensive touchdowns against Kansas. Don't expect West Virginia to make similar mistakes. Oddly enough, last weekend was the first time this season that the Wildcats outgained an opponent.
Defensively, the Mountaineers have been one of the toughest teams to move the ball in the country. If you remove teams that have played just one game, West Virginia leads the country in fewest yards allowed per game at 261.8. Additionally, the Mountaineers are holding opponents to 4.31 yards per play, third-fewest among teams that have played more that one game. Kansas State true freshman QB Will Howard will be making his third start of his career. In his lone road start, Howard went 8-19 for 117 yards with an interception against TCU. I expect West Virginia to make it a challenging day for Howard.
Lastly, this could be a bit of a look ahead spot for Kansas State. On Nov. 7, the Wildcats host No. 6 Oklahoma State. I expect Neal Brown's squad will take care of business on Saturday.
Pick: West Virginia -3.5
Edwards: When there’s a plus next to Kansas State’s game on the betting board, that’s really good news for gamblers. Chris Klieman’s team already has three outright wins as an underdog this year at Oklahoma (+ 28), vs. Texas Tech (+ 1) and at TCU (+ 11).
Since its final two road assignments of the 2009 campaign, Kansas State owns a 30-9 spread record in its last 39 games as a road underdog. Even better, the Wildcats are 50-21 ATS in their last 71 contests as underdogs, regardless of venue.
Since losing its opener to Arkansas State when it was playing short-handed due to positive tests for COVID-19, Kansas State has won four consecutive games both SU and ATS. Howard has played like a veteran since senior signal caller Skylar Thompson went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
Another true freshman is thriving for the Wildcats in RB Deuce Vaughn, who leads the team in rushing and receiving yards. Vaughn is third in the Big 12 in yards from scrimmage, producing 319 rushing yards and four TDs with a 5.2 YPC average. He also has 13 catches for 360 yards and one TD.
West Virginia has limped to a 2-4 ATS record in six games as a home underdog on Neal Brown’s watch. The Mountaineers are 6-10-1 ATS in 17 games as home underdogs since 2010.
Pick: Kansas State + 3.5
Ole Miss Rebels (-16, 64) at Vanderbilt Commodores
Edwards: Ole Miss hasn’t been a double-digit road favorite since losing outright at Memphis in 2015. However, such historical data is completely irrelevant as it relates to fading this Vanderbilt squad.
Like I’ve said many times through the years, I’m a big fan of Derek Mason as a coach and a human being, but this is the worst team of his seven-year tenure. Since surprisingly giving Texas A&M fits and easily covering the number in a 17-12 loss as 31-point road underdogs, the Commodores have lost at home to LSU and South Carolina by identical 41-7 scores. Vandy is an abysmal 1-10 ATS in its last 11 games as a home underdog.
This sets up as a get-right game for Lane Kiffin’s club. After a controversial call went against the Rebels at crunch time of last week’s gut-wrenching home loss to Auburn, a game against Vandy is just what the doctor ordered.
Ole Miss averages 34.8 points per game and is ninth in the nation in total offense. On the flip side, the Commodores have scored only 26 points all season for a pedestrian 8.7 PPG average.
The Rebels win by 21 points or more in Nashville.
Pick: Ole Miss -16
- Alabama’s first-half team totals have gone Over at a 4-1 clip in its five games. I like the Crimson Tide’s first-half team total to go Over 26.5 (at a -125 price) in Saturday night’s home game vs. Mississippi State
- Speaking of the Bulldogs, senior RB Kylin Hill has reportedly opted out of the rest of the 2020 season. Mike Leach confirmed Wednesday that seven other players have left the team in the last week. Hill was a fourth-team All-American and a first-team All-SEC selection in 2019, when he had 1,350 rushing yards, 10 TDs and a 5.6 YPC average. In Mississippi St.’s 44-34 season-opening win at LSU, Hill had eight catches for 158 yards and one TD. He was injured the next week on his first touch and didn’t to return to a 21-14 home loss vs. Arkansas. Then after a 24-2 loss at Kentucky, a reported outburst from Hill led to a suspension that kept him out of a 28-14 home loss to Texas A&M. Since the win over LSU, QB KJ Costello has an atrocious 1/8 TD-INT ratio.
- Since taking a 21-17 lead into halftime at Georgia, Tennessee has been outscored 109-24 in the last 10 quarters. The Volunteers, who are 2-3 SU and 1-3-1 ATS going into their open date, might be favored in just one more game this year (at Vandy) unless they’re the ‘chalk’ next Saturday at Arkansas.
- Notre Dame’s five opponents have a 6-22 combined record against FBS foes this year. The Fighting Irish are a 20-point road favorite Saturday at Georgia Tech. Brian Kelly’s team is 8-3-2 ATS in its last 12 road ‘chalk’ roles. If Notre Dame defeats the Yellow Jackets, the combined record of its opponents will fall to 8-27.
- With the exception of Big Ten and Mountain West schools (and Rice), the only teams who still haven’t covered a spread are Kansas (0-5 ATS) and Western Kentucky (0-6 ATS). Arkansas and Tulsa remain perfect for our purposes with 4-0 and 3-0 ATS ledgers, respectively.
- Northwestern, a 2.5-point underdog at Iowa, is 23-9 ATS in 32 games as a road underdog since 2011. The Hawkeyes are 8-4 ATS in their 12 games as home favorites since 2018.