USC at UTAH
USC has a talent advantage against most Pac-12 opponents, but the coaching edge usually points to the other sideline, and that will be the case in this game. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is rock solid in all areas. He went 11-3 straight up and 9-4 against the spread last season, when the Utes won the South Division. Only nine starters returned for Utah, which will be making its season debut after two games were canceled because of COVID-19. The Utes had seven players selected in the NFL draft — only Alabama, LSU, Michigan and Ohio State had more — and quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss must be replaced. Three quarterbacks competed to be No. 1, and while Whittingham has picked the starter, he has not announced it publicly to preserve the element of surprise. South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley and Texas transfer Cameron Rising were co-favorites to win the job, with Drew Lisk as the underdog. The USC coaches will be preparing for a mystery team, which should work to Utah’s advantage. The Trojans have been living on the edge, beating Arizona State and Arizona with last-minute touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis has completed 71.4% of his passes for 706 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, but the offense has been a bit disappointing. USC coach Clay Helton is 15-12 straight up and 10-17 ATS the last two-plus seasons. The Trojans were whipped 41-28 in a visit to Salt Lake City in 2018. Circa Sports opened USC -4, and the number was quickly bet to -3. Whittingham is a bet-on coach, and the Utes should be live underdogs.
SAN DIEGO STATE at NEVADA
Believe it or not, San Diego State’s Carson Baker passed for only 30 yards and threw two interceptions yet was the winning quarterback Saturday against Hawaii. Baker went 4-for-13 in the Aztecs’ 34-10 victory over the Warriors, who were defenseless against the run. Greg Bell carried 19 times for 160 yards and two touchdowns as the Aztecs totaled 326 rushing yards. San Diego State’s defense forced three turnovers and limited Hawaii to 275 total yards. The Aztecs, 3-1 straight up and ATS, must get much more from their passing attack to hang with the Wolf Pack, who have the far better quarterback named Carson. Nevada, 4-0 SU and 3-1 ATS, failed to cover as a 17½-point favorite Saturday in a 27-20 victory over New Mexico in Las Vegas. Sophomore star Carson Strong threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Wolf Pack back from a 10-0 deficit. Strong has 1,517 passing yards, 12 TDs and one interception in four games. Strong helped lead Nevada, a 17-point dog, to a 17-13 win in San Diego last year. The Wolf Pack also beat the Aztecs two years ago 28-24. This matchup in Reno is another that should go down to the wire. These are the second- and third-best teams in the Mountain West behind Boise State. San Diego State opened as a 2-point favorite. The underdog will start to attract action if the line moves to 3. The Aztecs have the slightly better defense and running attack, but Strong gives the Wolf Pack a significant edge at quarterback.
OKLAHOMA STATE at OKLAHOMA
Oklahoma State is obviously the little brother in this rivalry, and coach Mike Gundy has taken a lot of beatings. Gundy is 2-13 against Oklahoma, his last win coming in 2014 when the Cowboys were 19-point underdogs in Norman. Oklahoma was favored by 14 in its 34-16 win last year in Stillwater. The Cowboys have more hope this year, mostly because they have a veteran quarterback and the Sooners have been inconsistent with freshman QB Spencer Rattler, who’s not yet near the level of predecessors Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. Rattler has good numbers (67.8% completions, 2,018 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions), but he came up short in early-season losses to Kansas State and Iowa State. The Sooners had won four in a row before last week’s bye, scoring 62 points in two of those games, but the Cowboys will field a stronger defense than what Rattler has been seeing in Big 12 competition. Oklahoma State also has three playmakers — quarterback Spencer Sanders, running back Chuba Hubbard and wideout Tylan Wallace — who are capable of matching scores with the Sooners. It’s tough to bet on Gundy in this one-sided rivalry, yet this is one of his most talented teams. Oklahoma opened -10 at Circa Sports and the line dropped to -7, so someone is betting on Gundy. It makes sense to look Over the total, which opened 57½ and is up to 60½.
BOISE STATE at HAWAII
With sophomore Hank Bachmeier back at quarterback after a two-game absence, Boise State rolled to a 52-21 victory over Colorado State last week. Bachmeier was steady, passing for 202 yards and a touchdown, but the Broncos did their best work on defense and special teams. Boise scored two TDs on blocked punt returns, one on a blocked field goal and one on a fumble return. Boise’s offense totaled only 291 yards. It was a needed bounce-back performance after the Broncos were embarrassed 51-17 by BYU on Nov. 6, when Bachmeier sat out and No. 2 quarterback Jack Sears was knocked out with a head injury in the first quarter. Boise is 4-0 against Hawaii since 2015, winning by an average of 33.5 points. Circa Sports opened the Broncos -11 for this late-night meeting in Honolulu, and it didn’t take long for the line to hit 14. The Warriors’ run defense has been atrocious, surrendering 886 rushing yards in the last three games against San Diego State, New Mexico and Wyoming. Hawaii sophomore Chevan Cordeiro is capable of lighting up weak defenses, but he has completed only 60% of his passes and has taken 17 sacks in four games. Cordeiro struggled to make plays last week in a 34-10 loss to the Aztecs, and it might be more of the same against the Broncos. Boise should not have much trouble scoring, so it’s no surprise to see sharp money show on the road favorite. The Broncos can be expected to top 40 points, but can Hawaii’s offense do enough to get the score over the total of 62½?
WESTERN MICHIGAN at CENTRAL MICHIGAN
Western Michigan scored two touchdowns in 28 seconds to eliminate a 10-point deficit with less than three minutes to play in a 41-38 comeback victory over Toledo. The Broncos (2-0) never led until 17 seconds were left in the fourth quarter. After scoring a touchdown with 45 seconds left, Western Michigan missed the PAT. It had to execute a successful onside kick and score a touchdown with no timeouts on the clock. That is exactly what the Broncos did. After three first-down passes, quarterback Kaleb Eleby threw the easiest touchdown pass of his career as receiver Jaylen Hall stayed out wide while the Broncos were substituting. Toledo got caught up in the confusion and left the receiver uncovered for a wide-open score. Central Michigan had a much easier time going 2-0 with an easy 40-10 win at Northern Illinois. These schools first met in 1907, but in 2008 the Victory Cannon started being awarded. Western Michigan has won the last two and five of the last six meetings. Western opened as a 2-point favorite at Circa Sports, but money has come for the Chippewas, who are now 2-point favorites. Western Michigan’s miraculous win has been played all week on television and social media, so early bettors look to be anticipating a Broncos letdown off that emotional high.
IOWA at PENN STATE
Iowa has rebounded from an 0-2 start with blowout wins over Michigan State and at Minnesota, which was its sixth straight victory in the Floyd of Rosedale series. The Hawkeyes outgained Minnesota by only 34 yards yet won 35-7 because their running game carried the day. Iowa rushed for 235 yards as quarterback Spencer Petras struggled, going 9 of 18 for 111 yards. Meanwhile, Penn State has not rebounded at all, falling to 0-4 by losing 30-23 at Nebraska. It is fair to wonder if the Nittany Lions, with little to play for in terms of a bowl bid, have quit on the season. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was pulled in the second quarter after two early turnovers in favor of Will Levis. Levis did not overwhelm statistically, going 14 of 31 for 219 yards and rushing 18 times for 61 yards. But he did provide the offense a bit of a spark. The Nittany Lions have looked unprepared to play for two straight games, and James Franklin is finally starting to hear criticism. Penn State has defeated Iowa six straight times, the last three by six or fewer points. This game opened pick-’em, but the early move went to Penn State -3 before Iowa got some buyback. It has flipped back and forth a couple of times already, and now Iowa is a 2.5-point favorite. Different betting groups seem to have different opinions on this one.
INDIANA at OHIO STATE
The Indiana Hoosiers have become the “Windiana Hoosiers” with a 4-0 start and a No. 9 ranking in the AP poll. Indiana, ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 1969, seems to like its new ranking and pitched a 24-0 shutout Saturday in East Lansing against Michigan State. This is the first time Indiana has started 4-0 in the Big Ten since 1987. On the other hand, No. 3 Ohio State had an unexpected bye week when Maryland had to pause football activities due to COVID-19. The Buckeyes get an extra week to prepare for the best opponent they will face thus far. Even as Indiana blanked MSU, the Hoosiers were sloppy early, committed two first-half turnovers and struggled to run the ball, with 39 carries for 113 yards. Left tackle Caleb Jones and left guard Mike Katic were out with injuries and are listed as questionable for this game. However, the best way for Indiana to put up points at Ohio State will likely be through the air. The Hoosiers are averaging 270 passing yards, and the Buckeyes have allowed opponents to complete 68% of their passes and are allowing 224 ypg through the air compared with just 156 last season. While Indiana ranks top 20 nationally in total and scoring defense, this is obviously a different challenge altogether. Justin Fields and Ohio State have averaged 44 ppg so far and have beaten Indiana 24 consecutive times. Circa Sports opened Ohio State -21 and Indiana saw the initial move, but the early line has danced between 20 and 21 with the total at 64.5. Indiana’s improvement is legitimate, and this is an obvious step up in class, but is this your father’s same old Indiana?
WISCONSIN at NORTHWESTERN
The No. 10 Badgers and No. 19 Wildcats face off to determine the favorite in the Big Ten West. Wisconsin showed no signs of rust Saturday after not playing for three weeks because of COVID-19. The Badgers mauled Michigan 49-11 with a rushing attack that gained 341 yards on 51 carries. Quarterback Graham Mertz was not all that sharp but did throw two touchdown passes and did not turn the ball over. After pitching shutouts in the second halves of its first three games, Northwestern did allow 10 second-half points at Purdue but came out with a 27-20 victory. The Wildcats have been particularly stingy against the run and rank eighth nationally at 91.8 ypg, so Mertz will have to be better than he was in Ann Arbor. Northwestern’s offense had zero life last year but has improved with Indiana graduate transfer quarterback Peyton Ramsey running the show. However, after a 537-yard explosion in the season opener vs. Maryland, the Wildcats have gained just 273, 317 and 292 yards in their last three games. Moreover, excluding the Maryland game, Northwestern is averaging barely 3.0 ypc and facing a Wisconsin defense that allows only 89 ypg on the ground, ranking sixth nationally. The teams have split the last six meetings, but Wisconsin has won three of the last four. Circa Sports opened the Badgers -8 and Northwestern took a little early action down to 7. The low total of 42.5 saw some adjustment toward the Over and now sits at 46. Pat Fitzgerald is historically a good underdog and is accustomed to being in this spot. Wisconsin has defeated Illinois and an obviously struggling Michigan. We still likely do not know how good Wisconsin is, but this matchup should provide the answer.
CINCINNATI at UCF
American Athletic Conference insiders point to the game Oct. 4, 2019, as the night the baton was passed from the Knights to the Bearcats. The key play in Cincy’s 27-24 win was a 16-yard pick-six by CB Ahmad Gardner in the third quarter that put the Bearcats up 20-16 and was one of three interceptions suffered by UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Cincinnati had lost 13 straight games to ranked opponents, and the result broke UCF’s 31-game stretch of scoring 30 points or more, the longest streak by a major school since 1936. The Bearcats have generated even more momentum since, taking an eight-game winning streak to Orlando with four straight spread covers. Meanwhile, the offense is positively percolating, rolling up 653 yards in last week’s 55-17 beatdown of East Carolina, with versatile QB Desmond Ritter accounting for 402 yards of offense. But the difference, as it usually is with Cincy in conference games, is defense. Ballhawks in the secondary put enormous pressure on enemy passers. DE Myjai Sanders has five sacks, and the Bearcats have averaged four sacks in their last four games. That might be bad news for Gabriel, whose line has leaked the last three games while allowing 12 sacks. UCF’s old point-spread magic has disappeared, with only five spread covers in the last 17 games.
CLEMSON at FLORIDA STATE
This had been must-see stuff until the last few years, with Clemson’s series winning streak at five and cover streak at three after a succession of romps past the Seminoles. The last two seasons have been especially brutal, as Dabo Swinney has run up a combined 104-24 score. Playing barely more than one half in each of those games, Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence has thrown seven TD passes. And Lawrence is expected back this week after his recent COVID-19 diagnosis caused him to miss two games. Lawrence might need to reacquaint himself with Heisman Trophy voters who haven’t seen him in almost a month, but he should have an opportunity to put on a show against an FSU team that continues to plumb new and deeper depths of ineptitude. The defense is in a state of disrepair after NC State backup QB Bailey Hockman zipped four TD passes in the Wolfpack’s romp last week. If Hockman could do that, what damage might Lawrence wreak? The season has turned into a nightmare for new FSU coach Mike Norvell, who has used four starting quarterbacks. Moreover, across the last three games, FSU has been outscored 127-55 by a collection of middle-rung ACC foes. So one wonders what harm Clemson might inflict this week, especially since the Tigers no longer have any margin for error with the pollsters after their recent OT loss at Notre Dame.
LIBERTY at NC STATE
Perhaps undefeated Liberty ought to petition the ACC for membership. After all, the Flames might have a case for inclusion in the conference title game if they can stretch their mark to 3-0 vs. Atlantic Coast teams after earlier wins over Syracuse and Virginia Tech. This one might not come easily in Raleigh, however. NC State can make a case as the most improved team in the ACC and has been functioning just fine on offense with backup QB Bailey Hockman, in for injured starter Devin Lear. Hockman nearly led the Wolfpack to a significant upset of Miami on Nov. 6 before opening the bomb bays last week on Florida State, rifling four TD passes in a 38-22 romp that was easier than the score indicated. But this figures to be a greater challenge, especially since Liberty has been able to space its toughest tests and used last week’s 58-14 romp past FCS Western Carolina as a tuneup for NC State. Auburn transfer QB Malik Willis continues to dazzle and accounted for five TDs last week. Coach Hugh Freeze’s ability to work the weeds and bring in talent such as Willis contributed to a nice contract extension last week, which the Flames hope might dissuade potential suitors.
KENTUCKY at ALABAMA
These SEC foes share a little-known Paul Bryant link: The Bear coached at both schools, having led Kentucky to an Orange Bowl long before he arrived in Tuscaloosa. But not much of a rivalry exists, with Kentucky having won just two of the previous 40 meetings, and not since 1997. That doesn’t figure to change this week, and the bigger question is whether Alabama can handle another hefty impost as it has done in its first three games at Bryant-Denny Stadium this season. Some SEC observers think it might not be so easy for the Mac Jones-led offense to score without home run threat Jaylen Waddle, a wideout who went down in late October with an ankle injury. The Wildcats have several ballhawks in the secondary, having already taken back three picks for scores among 11 total interceptions. But make no mistake: UK is offensively challenged. On the plus side, sophomore RB Chris Rodriguez Jr. has run with flair lately, cracking the century mark against Georgia and Vanderbilt and flashing coast-to-coast speed with his 74-yard TD run vs. the Commodores. Mark Stoops’ teams have offered decent spread value lately as underdogs, going 7-3 in the last 10 in that role. And coming into this season, Nick Saban had covered only four of his last 11 laying (mostly big) points at Bryant-Denny. While Jones will want to reignite his Heisman campaign, this is far from the easiest defense he will face in 2020.
FLORIDA at VANDERBILT
Not a lot of intrigue about the outcome of this matchup, with only the margin in question. The storylines are more interesting, with Florida QB Kyle Trask making a serious Heisman push after his six TD passes last week against Arkansas. Meanwhile, questions continue at Vandy, where pro and con Derek Mason forces are lining up for a likely showdown in late December with the Commodores en route to their first winless campaign. Vandy has covered big numbers the last two weeks, but it can’t compare Mississippi State and Kentucky with Dan Mullen’s Gators, who put 63 on a capable Razorbacks defense last week. Even with future first-round draftee TE Kyle Pitts possibly sidelined again this week, Florida is unlikely to slow down after puncturing an Arkansas defense that entered last week’s game leading the nation in interceptions. While Todd Fitch’s Vandy offense has moved a bit better behind freshman QB Ken Seals the last few weeks, it has been mostly dink-and-dunk stuff, and top rusher Keyon Henry-Brooks was KO’d late in last week’s 38-35 loss at Kentucky, with his status up in the air for this week. If still tempted by the big price, keep in mind that home cooking in Nashville hasn’t much helped the Commodores, who have been outscored 136-35 in three lopsided home losses vs. SEC foes. And Mullen, who still has a path to the Final Four if his team can win out, could have won last year’s matchup by greater than the final 56-0 margin if he had pleased.