Week 9 of the college football season is here, with another Saturday of terrific matchups.
Our handicappers Adam Burke, Tim Murray, Wes Reynolds and Scott Seidenberg are here to give you their best bets for the weekend's card.
Overall record: 34-40-3 ATS
Lines are consensus odds from VSiN's college football lines page, as of Wednesday night.
Saturday, Oct. 30
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (-1.5, 42) at Illinois Fighting Illini
Murray: There is no bigger letdown spot in college football this week than Illinois. As a 25-point underdog, the Illini stunned Penn State last week 20-18 in nine (yes, nine) overtimes. It wasn’t the prettiest football game, but Bret Bielema’s squad pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the college football season. Back in Week 0, Illinois opened the season with a 30-22 win over Nebraska as a 6.5-point underdog. The following week the Illini lost to UTSA as 4.5-point favorites. This weekend, Rutgers heads to Champaign as a short 1.5-point favorite.
After a 3-0 start to the season, Rutgers has started Big Ten play with four straight losses. The first three were understandable (Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State), but the 21-7 loss at Northwestern was ugly. The question about the Scarlet Knights heading into Saturday afternoon is: Which rush defense will show up? In a 17-7 Week 2 win over Syracuse, Rutgers held the Orange to a season-low 67 rushing yards; Syracuse is currently averaging 242 rushing yards per game (ranked No. 8 in nation). Orange RB Sean Tucker leads the nation with 1,060 rushing yards. Rutgers held Tucker to just 54 yards on the ground, his only game under 100 yards rushing this season. Syracuse also held Michigan (No. 5, 253 YPG) to a season-low 112 rushing yards in a 20-13 loss in Ann Arbor. Rutgers did fail to contain Michigan State’s RB Kenneth Walker III, who ran for 233 yards including a 94-yard touchdown run.
Illinois is about as one-dimensional as a service academy. The Illini head into Week 9 ranked 129th (out of 130) in the country in passing efficiency, averaging just 139.2 passing yards per game, which is 124th nationally. If you remove option-focused teams (Army, Navy, Air Force, Georgia Southern), only San Diego State and Colorado average fewer passing yards per game. Illini QB Art Sitkowski broke his arm in overtime and will miss the remainder of the season, so Michigan transfer Brandon Peters will step back in at quarterback.
The Illini exploded on the ground against Penn State, as RBs Chase Brown (223) and Joshua McCray (142) combined to rush for 365 yards. The week prior, however, the duo combined for just 36 rushing yards against Wisconsin. The Rutgers defense is not on the same level as the Badgers, but coming off a bye week the Scarlet Knights will be able to make Illinois one-dimensional. Add in the letdown factor, and Rutgers should be able to notch its first Big Ten win of the season on Saturday.
Pick: Rutgers -1.5
No. 6 Michigan Wolverines (-4, 50.5) at No. 8 Michigan State Spartans
Seidenberg: Defense will win this game. Michigan State has been flying all around the ball so far this season, allowing 21 or fewer points in six of its seven games.
Michigan, on the other hand, has not yet faced a defense like this. The only one that can possibly compare is Rutgers, which held the Wolverines to just 13 points. Sparty has added a spark on offense, too, as no one has been able to stop Kenneth Walker. Michigan no doubt has been very good this year as well.
My first lean on this game was the under. I see this being a 20-17 type of football game with both teams grinding the clock and playing extra physical. It will be a war out in East Lansing, but one that I feel comes down to whomever survives the battles. The team with the ball last will win, and it will be by a FG. Michigan State + 4 at home seems like a gift. What really swayed me, though, was the recent history. MSU is 11-2 ATS in the last 13 meetings between these two teams. Jim Harbaugh is also just 1-8 SU on the road against undefeated opponents. Take the points.
Pick: Michigan State + 4
Miami Hurricanes at No. 17 Pittsburgh Panthers (-9.5, 61)
12:00 p.m. ET
Reynolds: Pitt comes off a big win over Clemson last weekend. Granted, 2021 Clemson is far below what the Tigers have been in recent years, but the win still puts the Panthers in the driver’s seat to win the Coastal Division and get to the ACC Championship Game.
Pittsburgh is now 6-1 ATS on the season and has been covering games by an average of 11.9 PPG. Now the Panthers are priced at the top end of the market, and this looks like the time to sell high.
Miami comes off a home underdog victory over then No. 18 NC State last weekend where backup quarterback Tyler Van Dyke went 25-for-33 and threw for 325 yards and four touchdowns. Freshman Van Dyke actually seems to be a better fit for Rhett Lashlee’s up-tempo offense than D’Eriq King was.
“The U” is having to go with the youth movement due to injuries as there are 12 freshmen -- predominantly second-year freshmen with the extra COVID scholarship year -- on the first-team depth chart. The good news for Miami is that this team, especially the younger players, are fighting for Manny Diaz, who has been presumed to be on the hot seat in Coral Gables. Winning a close game after losing two nail-biters vs. Virginia and at North Carolina might be what gives Miami some confidence for the rest of the season.
Pitt will now be favored in each of its remaining five games. Now the expectations change and the Panthers are now longer the plucky upstart; instead, they are the target. They also might be feeling themselves after defeating Clemson. Pitt certainly would not be the first team to fall into that trap. In fact, teams that beat Dabo Swinney’s Tigers are just 9-15 ATS as a favorite the following game.
Pick: Miami + 9.5
Florida State Seminoles at Clemson Tigers (-10, 47)
3:30 p.m. ET
Burke: Slowly but surely, Florida State seems to be working its way back. The Seminoles have rattled off three wins in a row after losing four straight to open the season, including an embarrassing loss at the hands of Jacksonville State. It hasn’t gotten any run, but the Seminoles are suddenly + 1.02 yards per play on the season.
Clemson, even with a top-five defense, is only + 0.38 YPP. The Georgia game to open the season is something of an outlier because of just how poorly the Tigers offense played, but this has been a bad offense all year long. Even if the Clemson defense absolutely suffocates the Seminoles offense, can the Tigers score enough points to put some margin in this game?
In three wins over ACC opponents, Clemson has won by a combined 15 points. Florida State is far from a great team, but there are a lot of seemingly interchangeable teams in the middle of the ACC this season and the Seminoles certainly aren’t any worse than Syracuse or Boston College, teams that Clemson beat 19-13 and 17-14, respectively.
While Clemson was busy losing to Pitt last week, the Seminoles basically had a second straight bye week with a 59-3 win over UMass. Say what you will about a win like that or Florida State’s offensive body of work, but the Seminoles do appear to be improving, while Clemson is going in reverse.
If nothing else, we’ve got a 10-point spread with a total of 47 here. Clemson doesn’t seem capable of winning by margin right now and a low-scoring game, much like the ones the Tigers have played, will make that an even tougher task.
Pick: Florida State + 10
Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (-13.5, 48)
3:30 p.m. ET
Burke: This Conference USA barnburner won’t be on the minds of many bettors this weekend, but money won in Florida vs. Georgia counts the same as money won in games like this. Middle Tennessee is back home in Murfreesboro after a resounding 44-13 win against the lowly UConn Huskies. Southern Miss is hoping to cross 20 points for the first time against a FBS team this season.
The Golden Eagles have scored 7, 9, 14, 19, 13 and zero points in their six FBS games this season. Not surprisingly, they’ve lost all of them. This is just about as bad of an offense as you’ll find in college football; only Navy has fewer yards per play than Southern Miss and Navy runs the ball on virtually every play. The Golden Eagles have managed 4.00 YPP through seven games and that number goes down to 3.61 YPP against FBS opponents.
The Golden Eagles are 32-for-104 on third down and that 30.77 percent success rate ranks 120th. However, Middle Tennessee somehow grades worse on third down at 29.17 percent. The Blue Raiders are 125th in the nation in that department. They’ve had more early-down success than Southern Miss, but still rank 98th in yards per play with 5.19.
Neither defense has been all that good, but both defenses are better than the offenses. Middle Tennessee is tied for 106th in red zone attempts with 22 and Southern Miss is dead last in the nation with 13.
Oh, and to make matters worse, the advance forecast shows rain and winds in the 10-15 mph range. This should be a stone-cold under and a really ugly football game.
Pick: Under 48
Purdue Boilermakers at Nebraska Cornhuskers (-7.5, 51)
3:30 p.m. ET
Burke: Are we sure that Nebraska should be laying over a touchdown against any Big Ten team? The Cornhuskers have lost four of five games in conference play this season, and the one win was a 56-7 throttling of Northwestern. The four losses were to Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota by a combined total of just 21 points.
This has simply been what Nebraska has done under Scott Frost and with Adrian Martinez. They dangle carrots in front of bettors because they play tough and lose close games, but giving this team the benefit of the doubt in any close game seems like a good way to lose money.
Purdue followed up the huge road win over Iowa with a complete dud against Wisconsin, which was something a lot of bettors expected. The Boilermakers are still 21st in yards per play allowed on defense. Nebraska is solid as well at 42nd, but Purdue has allowed 0.3 fewer YPP in conference games. The two teams are close to even in third-down success rate on offense, but Nebraska has gained about a full yard per play more than Purdue and 1.5 more YPP against Big Ten opponents.
Purdue ranks 19th in third-down defense and Nebraska is 50th. While the Cornhuskers’ offense is clearly better than the Boilermakers’, Purdue brings a good defense and a team that is solid on third down. Nebraska’s biggest issue under Frost has been paying attention to the details. Ugly turnovers, stupid mistakes and an inability to finish off close games are all things that could show up in this game.
With that in mind, I’ll take Purdue getting the hook in a game that should be fairly low-scoring.
Pick: Purdue + 7.5
No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs (-14, 51) vs. Florida Gators
3:30 p.m. ET
Burke: Georgia is ranked No. 1 in this game for the first time since 1942. The Bulldogs won that game 75-0. I don’t think that will be the case this season.
Florida is a better team than the 4-3 record would suggest. The Gators have slipped up a couple of times since the loss to Alabama, but these are games that Dan Mullen seems to script and scheme really well for throughout his career. Mullen always seemed to have competitive teams against marquee opponents at Mississippi State and has done the same at Florida, including the near upset of Alabama earlier this season.
The Gators are fifth in yards per play and lead the nation in yards per carry. Georgia’s defense has been extremely suffocating this season, but the Bulldogs have faced teams that enter this week 111th (Clemson), 47th (UAB), 102nd (South Carolina), 124th (Vanderbilt), 23rd (Arkansas), 29th (Auburn) and 47th (Kentucky) in yards per play on offense. None of those teams have the same level of explosiveness as Florida. Auburn has 5.7 YPP in conference action, so their numbers were boosted by the nonconference games; same with Arkansas, which has 5.9 YPP in SEC action. Florida has still racked up 6.61 YPP against SEC foes.
Georgia has only scored 19 touchdowns on 32 red zone trips, while Florida ranks 11th in TD% with 21 touchdowns in 28 trips. The spread of 14.5 is certainly justified given how Georgia has played this season, but Florida is far and away the best offensive opponent that the Bulldogs will have seen. I still have questions about the Georgia offense, which has racked up a lot of yards, but can also just wear teams down. Florida is deeper than most of Georgia’s opponents and more athletic.
I’m not expecting an upset, though it would certainly fit with how this college football season has played out. I am expecting Florida to keep this game closer than what the line suggests.
Pick: Florida + 14
No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners (-19, 66.5) at Texas Tech Red Raiders
3:30 p.m. ET
Seidenberg: I feel like every week I am defending Oklahoma. Here’s the reality of the situation: The Sooners don’t need to impress anyone, all they need is that zero in the loss column and at the end of the season, they will be in the CFB Playoff. With that said, coming out as flat as they did against Kansas last week is unacceptable. You better believe the goal of this week is to start fast. I actually like the Sooners to cover the 10.5 points in the first half, as I expect them to be up double digits by the break. This is the first time they’ve been 8-0 since 2004 and Lincoln Riley knows this team is capable of winning the title when it plays its best. That starts now.
Texas Tech is in a bad spot. Head coach Matt Wells got fired on Monday in what was reported as a “shocker.” I’m sure this shock hit the players as well. Offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie takes over in the interim and his future in Lubbock is up in the air as well. QB Tyler Shough is out and backup Henry Colombi looked awful last week. This is not the spot to say the Red Raiders are going to rally around their interim coach. Sooners roll.
Pick: Oklahoma -19, Oklahoma 1H -10.5
No. 10 Ole Miss Rebels at No. 18 Auburn Tigers (-2.5, 66)
7:00 p.m. ET
Reynolds: Ole Miss and Auburn both sit each with one loss in the SEC West and will need to not only help themselves, but also for Alabama to slip up one more time in order to have a chance to win the division.
The Rebels are off four straight emotional and high-energy games:
10/2 at Alabama: L 21-42; Lane Kiffin vs. old mentor Nick Saban
10/9 vs. Arkansas W 52-51; Holds off Arkansas late two-point conversion
10/16 at Tennessee W 31-26; Kiffin’s return to Knoxville
10/23 vs. LSU W 31-17: Eli Manning jersey retirement day
Meanwhile, Auburn is off a much-needed bye week of its own after having to mount a comeback win at LSU, face now-No. 1 Georgia and then a rebound road win the very next week at Arkansas.
Bo Nix, the much-maligned Auburn quarterback, is 13-3 as a starter at Jordan-Hare Stadium and has a 20-2 TD:INT ratio at home. This week, he gets the 11th-rated passing defense in the SEC (out of 14), with Ole Miss paying a visit.
Ole Miss' defensive weakness, especially in SEC play, has been stopping the run on first downs. When opponents run the ball on first down, the Rebels average allowing 4.91 yards per carry; Auburn thrives running the ball on first down, averaging 6.48 YPC.
While Kiffin seemed optimistic regarding the return of receivers Jonathan Mingo and Braylon Sanders, the Ole Miss offensive line has been banged up and Matt Corral has been forced to create a lot of plays on his down.
Auburn has won the last five meetings in the series, including a 35-28 victory last year in Oxford. The Tigers have the better defense and are in a good situation off a bye against a team that may be running out of gas after so many high-leverage games.
Pick: Auburn -2.5 or -140 ML
No. 19 SMU Mustangs at Houston Cougars (PK, 62.5)
7:00 p.m. ET
Seidenberg: I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m actually looking forward to this game more than Michigan-Michigan State. Cincinnati will be watching this one intently as the winner will likely be its opponent in the AAC title game. I don’t know who they are rooting for, but there’s a lot riding on this game not just for Cincy, but for both SMU and Houston, which could potentially (with a win over Cincy in the title game) claim the Group of 5’s spot in the New Year’s Six.
Both head coaches are extremely familiar with each other, going back to their time at Texas Tech under Mike Leach. The home team in this series has covered the last four games. It’s as close to a pick-em as you can get. This a classic strength-on-strength matchup featuring Houston’s defense vs SMU’s offense. The Mustangs average 525 yards of offense per game, score 42.7 PPG and QB Tanner Mordecai has thrown for 29 TDs, tied for most in the nation. He’s getting the ball out quickly and his offensive line is protecting him, having allowed just two sacks all season, the fewest in the country.
The Cougars, though, rank fourth in the country in total defense, second in scoring defense, second in sacks and are No. 1 in the nation in third-down defense, allowing the opposition to convert just 23 percent of the time.
Houston’s offense isn’t too shabby, either. The Cougars score 36.3 PPG and can score in a multitude of ways. Clayton Tune is completing 69 percent of his passes and Houston’s three-headed attack at RB can wear you down.
At home, under the lights, in a game of this magnitude, I will back the home team and go with Houston to win. I do think this game can go over as well, despite how good the Houston defense is. SMU will score and Houston will as well. I can see a 35-31 final.
Fresno State Bulldogs at No. 21 San Diego State Aztecs (-1, 44.5)
10:30 p.m. ET
Burke: I unsuccessfully faded San Diego State last week. Air Force was a popular pick across our network, but the Falcons couldn’t get the job done and deal the Aztecs their first blemish of the season. Fresno State is the team that will try this week.
Fresno State has more variability to its offense than Air Force. The San Diego State defense did an outstanding job against the triple-option, holding the Falcons to just four yards per carry on 48 attempts. It was a pretty ugly, lame game that ended 20-14 with just 488 yards of total offense. Those are the kinds of games that San Diego State wants to play and needs to play with such a limited offense.
The Aztecs run into a much different opponent here in Fresno State. While you can load the box and ignore the passing threat from Air Force, Fresno State will spread out the Aztecs defense and look to throw it around the yard with Jake Haener and future NFL receiver Jalen Cropper.
The two primary backs for the Bulldogs, Ronnie Rivers and Jordan Mims, have averaged 5.0 and 5.9 yards per carry, respectively, so this offense isn’t a one-trick pony. The Bulldogs can run the rock if they need to, but the offense clearly goes through Haener, who has a 67.9 percent completion rate with a 22-6 TD:INT ratio.
Fresno State is ninth in passing yards per game and fourth in passing touchdowns with 24. The Aztecs haven’t played close to a passing offense like this. Furthermore, Fresno State ranks 36th in yards per play allowed on defense, so San Diego State’s offense looks to be in line for another paltry showing.
If SDSU wins and covers again, maybe this will be the game where I learn my lesson. For now, it will be Fresno State for me.
Pick: Fresno State Bulldogs + 1