Six teams in college football have yet to play a conference game. That changes this week for Cincinnati, Western Kentucky, Wyoming, Colorado State, San Diego State and Texas State. Conference play can create a lot of interesting situational spots because teams play rivalry games or take on the class of the conference and then have a completely different matchup the next week.
Like I mentioned last week, situational spots are not the be-all, end-all. They are not sole justifications for a pick. They are one way of cutting down the card to narrow your focus instead of trying to handicap every game on the board. They are a part of the handicapping process to add to the equation. Maybe they can push you to one side of a game or keep you off a side.
Keep in mind that the spread is also a big part of the equation. The favorite may clearly be the superior team but might not play up to that level. The underdog may have a little extra juice and play above its usual capabilities.
Every little bit helps in a tough business like this, so here are some examples of situational spots for Week 6.
Houston (-6, 59) at Tulane
It seems a little uncomfortable laying a road number with Houston, especially when Tulane would have been favored in this game just a couple of weeks ago, but the Thursday night spot certainly favors the Cougars with both teams on short rest.
Houston rolled to a 45-10 win over Tulsa in Week 5. It was effectively over by halftime with a 28-3 lead and officially over within the first minute of the second half thanks to a pick-six. While Houston was enjoying a feel-good win Friday night to improve to 4-1, Tulane was making final preparations for East Carolina.
As it turned out, the Green Wave gave up 52 points and 612 yards in a losing effort Saturday. It appears to be a transitional year for Willie Fritz and Tulane, while Houston seems to be going in the right direction. The Cougars have an extra day of rest and preparation and had a pretty easy second half that didn’t require a deep dive into the playbook.
Temple at Cincinnati (-29, 54)
Would it be fair to say that last week’s win over Notre Dame in South Bend was Cincinnati’s biggest regular-season victory ever? Given the struggles of some perennial powerhouses and the College Football Playoff contenders, that win may be enough to put the Bearcats in the driver’s seat for one of the four spots.
Now Cincinnati has to avoid the “fat and happy” situational spot as a monster favorite against Temple. The Owls were blasted by Rutgers in Week 1, but turnovers were the story in that game. Temple was -5 in turnover margin. The Owls have won three of four games since and didn’t play nearly as badly in its 28-3 loss to Boston College as the final score would suggest.
This is a huge spread with a low total, which will push sharp bettors in Temple’s direction. The spot would seem to do the same. Cincinnati is playing in conference for the first time and faces UCF next week. While the Knights just lost to Navy, that is still a circled game for the Bearcats.
This is also a short week for Cincinnati with a Friday game. The week is short for Temple, too, but the spot is decidedly worse for Cincinnati given the context of last week and next week. I like the Owls to cover.
UConn (-3.5, 55) at UMass
This might be the worst regular-season game ever. The 0-5 Huskies and the 0-6 Minutemen have collectively been outscored 474-172 this season. But one of these teams has to win.
Not only are the Huskies on the road with some expectations, but they lost to Wyoming two weeks ago after a failed game-tying two-point conversion attempt and then fell to Vanderbilt last week on a last-second field goal after taking the lead with 1:07 left.
UMass has been outscored 125-7 in the first half this season. UConn has to adopt a predator mindset in this game. The Huskies have to start fast and give UMass no hope. I think you have to look at UConn in the first half here, if not the full game.
If the Huskies lose, it would be extremely demoralizing and they’d be an auto-fade in my estimation. This week? They have to be the pick, even if the spot is a little bit of a concern.
LSU at No. 16 Kentucky (-3, 50)
Kentucky beat Florida last week with a gutsy defensive effort and a big special-teams play. LSU gave up two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to lose a game to Auburn that seemed to be in hand for a bit, leading to a lot of questions about the job security of Ed Orgeron.
The default position will probably be to fade Kentucky. The Wildcats were a wrong-side winner per the box score and just beat Florida for the third time in 42 head-to-head meetings. It was a very emotional day in Lexington, as students rushed the field and Kentucky moved to 5-0.
Situationally, I think this spot is bad for both teams, but one team is playing with confidence and the other is not. The Wildcats have had turnover problems. Their offense has been disappointing. They’re still finding ways to win, and that speaks to the culture of the program under Mike Stoops and the strength of the defense.
LSU doesn’t seem to have a lot of redeeming qualities right now, and the program is shrouded in uncertainty. This line may look “trappy,” with Kentucky off a misleading win laying points at home, but something tells me the Wildcats are the right side here. A lot of bettors like to fade teams the first week they are ranked, but I don’t think fading Kentucky is the move.
North Texas at Missouri (-19, 67.5)
This is my favorite situational spot of the week. Missouri just got pummeled by Tennessee 62-24 on the heels of a very frustrating 41-34 overtime loss to Boston College. It seems like a weird scheduling spot to play North Texas, but this game could not come at a better time for Missouri.
The Tigers have a solid offense that ranks in the top 30 in yards per play. Missouri does not have a good defense, as the Tigers rank 125th in YPP against. But North Texas is really bad in that department as well, despite playing three Group of Five teams and an FCS team. The UNT offense also ranks 116th in YPP against the 88th-ranked schedule, per Jeff Sagarin.
This feels like a “hide the women and children” spot for Missouri. This could be a bloodbath. This could get ugly. This may look like a big favorite role to some, but I don’t think it is big enough. This is a frustration game for Missouri, a far superior team from a far superior conference. North Texas is liable to give up 50+ , and Missouri will want to use this as a get-right game before playing Texas A&M the next week.
There is no such thing as a lookahead spot when you just gave up a 60-burger. Missouri big is one of my favorite picks of the week.
No. 14 Notre Dame (-1, 47) at Virginia Tech
These are some of the most interesting spots to me. Notre Dame had College Football Playoff aspirations, and those seem to have been dashed with the loss to Cincinnati. Other teams in the CFP picture can fall back on a division title or a conference crown. The independent Fighting Irish cannot.
This team has not had an impressive body of work to begin with. Florida State isn’t very good, and that was a three-point game. Toledo is a MAC team, and that was a three-point game. The 41-13 win over Wisconsin was aided by two pick-sixes and a kick-return touchdown. We found out last week how bad the Badgers are.
Virginia Tech is off a bye in a season when Justin Fuente probably needs to win a game or two like this to get off the hot seat. On the other hand, we haven’t really seen the Hokies play anybody. They narrowly beat a North Carolina team worse than we expected and lost to West Virginia by six points in a game that was 24-7 at halftime.
I still believe Notre Dame is better than Virginia Tech, but it is fair to wonder if we will see it here. I don’t think this is a good spot for the Irish, but I’d still look their way with the line under a field goal.