Sometimes a bad scheduling spot can be enough of an equalizer to not only help a team cover the spread but sometimes even pull the outright upset. The talent gaps in college football can be quite wide, but a lack of focus and preparation can narrow the chasm.
We saw examples of some bad situational spots come through last week. Many were stunned to see Fresno State nearly lose to UNLV, but the Bulldogs were in an awful spot off the UCLA win. Fresno State was more than a 30-point favorite and won by only eight.
Western Michigan was a small home favorite against a San Jose State team that had gone to Hawaii for a conference game the previous week. The Spartans managed just 119 total yards in a 23-3 loss in Kalamazoo.
BYU, a team that had beaten three straight Pac-12 opponents to open the season, edged USF by eight points as a 23.5-point favorite. The Cougars were off those three huge Power 5 games and had Utah State on deck in a rivalry game.
We saw Florida as another example with a slow start against Tennessee, though the Gators eventually covered the full game with a stop on the final play.
Situational spots aren’t designed to be sole justifications for making a bet. They are designed to be part of the handicapping process to determine whether it can be the tipping point for making a pick.
There are some games that fit the bill for Week 5 for a variety of reasons and ones you may want to take a second or third look at on your betting card.
Minnesota (+ 2, 47.5) at Purdue
What does almost $1 million get you? If you’re the Minnesota Golden Gophers, an embarrassing loss to Bowling Green. In one of the biggest FBS-vs.-FBS upsets we’ve seen in 40 years, Minnesota lost 14-10 as a 30.5-point favorite last week and paid a hefty sum for the nonconference game. You have to think this week screams a sense of urgency for the Gophers.
This is not only a situational spot for Minnesota but one for bettors and bookmakers as well. In theory, we should get a highly motivated effort from the Gophers, a team that shut out Colorado 30-0 on the road and led Ohio State in the second half in Week 1.
On the other hand, this is still a Minnesota team that just lost to one of the MAC’s worst teams. The fact that this line sits at -2 might catch some people by surprise, but it does show how the sportsbooks stay level-headed.
Purdue put a lot into the Notre Dame game two weeks ago and had a rather lethargic performance against Illinois last week. Generally speaking, if I know two teams with limited offenses will be really engaged in the upcoming matchup, my mind gravitates toward the Under.
Kentucky (+ 8.5, 55) vs. No. 10 Florida
This one is personal for Kentucky and just another game for Florida. One would think the extra focus and emphasis would have helped the Wildcats, but that has not been the case. Kentucky won in Gainesville in 2018, ending a streak of 31 straight losses to the Gators.
Florida has won both games since and has actually won 39 of the last 41 head-to-head meetings. In fact, 12 of Kentucky’s 18 wins over Florida happened from 1917 to 1956.
The Wildcats are getting more than a touchdown here, which illustrates the ongoing talent discrepancy between the teams. So does Florida’s record vs. Kentucky. This is still one that the Wildcats pour a lot into every year. I’d expect the same this season and actually do feel like Kentucky plus the points is a good bet with Florida off the Alabama and Tennessee games.
South Florida at SMU (-20.5, 68)
USF could benefit from a situational spot for a second straight week. The Bulls covered with ease last week against BYU, as the Cougars fell victim to a very obvious flat spot. The same fate could be in store for SMU as nearly a three-touchdown home favorite.
SMU beat TCU last week. That is a rivalry that dates to 1915. SMU’s win marked the first time since 1992-93 the Mustangs had won back-to-back games over TCU to defend the Iron Skillet. The teams had played every season since 1987 before COVID-19 wiped out last year’s game.
Rivalry games are a huge deal, especially in a “Little Brother vs. Big Brother” way with SMU in the AAC and TCU in the Big 12. It was a big effort from SMU after winning on a last-second Hail Mary against Louisiana Tech the week before.
This seems like an ideal spot to back USF. The Bulls are not very good but do seem improved under second-year coach Jeff Scott and have another favorable situation to cover a big number this week.
UNLV at UTSA (-21, 56)
This is a fascinating game, but most people won’t realize it because of the big spread and the other games of interest this week. UTSA had a jubilant celebration at the Liberty Bowl last week after erasing a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Memphis 31-28. It was the second big road win for UTSA after beating Illinois in Week 1.
This is the kind of spot bettors like to refer to as “fat and happy.” UTSA has a conference game with Western Kentucky on deck. The Roadrunners are 4-0 and have two emotional wins against teams from better conferences. Now the lowly Rebels come to town and will get no respect from UTSA.
While some would think UNLV would be bummed to have lost to Fresno State in a winnable game, it had to be a big confidence boost for the Rebels. They hung with a ranked team. In some respects, they were better than the ranked team.
UNLV hopes QB Doug Brumfield can play in this one, but the Rebels are getting a lot of points against a UTSA team that might not be fully engaged. UNLV is the side I’d look at here.
Western Kentucky at No. 17 Michigan State (-11, 61.5)
Western Kentucky will try again to beat a Big Ten opponent as it visits East Lansing. WKU came up just short last week in a 33-31 loss to Indiana, the second straight one-score defeat for the Hilltoppers. Tyson Helton had some extremely questionable clock management late in the game or the outcome could have been different.
What I’m looking at, however, is the spot for Michigan State. The Spartans have been bet up to double-digit favorites, which is understandable given their body of work. However, Michigan State just pulled off an improbable comeback win over Nebraska by virtue of a late punt-return touchdown. After going on the road to beat Northwestern and Miami, the Spartans tipped Nebraska in overtime to move to 2-0 in the Big Ten. Now they play the Hilltoppers.
Western Kentucky throws the ball all over creation. The Hilltoppers have 120 pass attempts against just 64 runs with former Houston Baptist offensive coordinator Zach Kittley and his HBU QB, Bailey Zappe. How much planning will the Michigan State defense do for this pass-happy scheme?
Sometimes a situational spot can lend itself to a play on the total. Michigan State struggled to move the ball for the first time this season in that Nebraska win. Those same struggles should not be present against the WKU defense. Western Kentucky should get its points as well, as MSU ranks 107th in the nation with over 265 passing yards allowed per game.
The weather forecast looks good for scoring, and so does this situational spot.
Old Dominion ( 5, 50) at UTEP
I have saved the best for last. Old Dominion vs. UTEP is buried at the bottom of the board by rotation number and will be a forgotten game in prime time. This game has some noteworthy situations, though.
You really have to wonder about the mindset of the Monarchs here. Last week Buffalo led ODU 35-7 at halftime. The Monarchs pitched a second-half shutout and roared back to make it a one-point game by scoring a touchdown with 19 seconds left. An unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty pushed back the extra point 15 yards, and kicker Nick Rice pushed the PAT to the right. It was a devastating loss for ODU, a team that didn’t play last season and was seeking its first FBS win since Nov. 10, 2018.
UTEP hasn’t won four games since 2016, so the program is hoping to reach new heights now that things are going in the right direction under Dana Dimel. The Miners haven’t played in a bowl game since 2014. A win here is almost imperative to have any shot at getting to six wins, as the schedule toughens up.
UTEP would be my preferred side in this one, even laying what seems like a rather uncomfortable number for a team with five combined wins over the last four seasons.