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Week 15 college capsules

By VSiN Staff  () 

NEVADA at SAN JOSE STATE

Nine undefeated teams remain in college football, and the most unlikely team of the group is San Jose State. Considering the circumstances, it can be argued Brent Brennan is doing a better coaching job this season than Alabama’s Nick Saban or Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly. It’s a daunting task to revive a dying program that lacks fan support and financial resources, yet Brennan is working a minor miracle at San Jose. In his first two years, Brennan went 3-22. The arrow started pointing up last season, when the Spartans finished 5-7, and Brennan is 5-0 headed down the stretch of this Mountain West race. The Spartans were forced to relocate last week’s game against Hawaii from San Jose to Honolulu because of COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County, Calif. Undaunted, the Spartans took a 21-0 first-quarter lead and whipped the Warriors 35-24. After the game in Hawaii, the Spartans caught a flight to Las Vegas, where they will practice this week before playing Nevada at Sam Boyd Stadium. The Wolf Pack (6-1) already have won two games in Las Vegas, beating UNLV and New Mexico. The situation is highly unusual and the stakes are high — the Nevada-San Jose State winner will play in the conference championship game Dec. 19. Spartans quarterback Nick Starkel, a graduate transfer from Arkansas, has completed 66.2% of his passes with 11 touchdowns, but San Jose’s strength has been its defense. Nevada sophomore Carson Strong, who has totaled 21 touchdown passes and four picks, passed for 354 yards and five touchdowns Saturday in a 37-26 victory over Fresno State. Circa Sports opened San Jose -3, but there’s obviously no home-field advantage factored into the line. If anything, the logistics favor the underdogs from Reno.

 

WISCONSIN at IOWA

Adversity surrounded Kirk Ferentz entering his 22nd year with the Hawkeyes, and it got uglier early when Iowa opened 0-2 with losses to Purdue and Northwestern. Still, Ferentz is the longest-tenured FBS head coach in the nation because he’s resilient and overachieves. The Hawkeyes are riding a five-game winning streak into their home finale against Wisconsin. Iowa has been winning mostly because of its defense and a running attack led by Tyler Goodson. As for the Badgers, this season has been a disappointment for various reasons. Wisconsin (2-2) had three games canceled because of COVID-19 issues, and its offense disappeared in recent losses to Indiana and Northwestern. The Badgers’ demise is no surprise to sharper bettors. The talent level in the program is down from recent seasons, especially in the area of offensive playmakers. Freshman quarterback Graham Mertz threw an interception and led only two field-goal drives Saturday when the Badgers, 14-point home favorites, were upset 14-6 by the Hoosiers. Wisconsin’s offense did outgain Indiana 342-217, but that was no consolation, and the game had other consequences. Starting center Kayden Lyles left with a leg injury, and wide receiver Kendric Pryor suffered an upper-body injury. This Big Ten blue-collar matchup in Iowa City figures to be dominated by the defenses, so the total opened low (44) with the Hawkeyes favored by 2.5 to 3 points. Wisconsin has won four in a row against Iowa. The Badgers are backed against the wall and trying to avoid their first losing season since finishing 5-7 in 2001.

 

OKLAHOMA at WEST VIRGINIA

Oklahoma has clinched a spot in the Big 12 championship game Dec. 19 opposite Iowa State, but the regular-season finale is not meaningless for the Sooners as they pursue a more prestigious bowl. This game was originally scheduled for Nov. 28 and postponed because of COVID-19 issues within the Oklahoma program. The line for the November game opened Sooners -11.5, a number that is sticking this week. West Virginia is bowl-bound with a 5-4 record but is off its most lopsided loss of the season, 42-6 at Iowa State. The trend for the Mountaineers has been to win at home (5-0) and lose on the road. Neal Brown is a tough-as-nails coach who typically thrives in the underdog role. West Virginia was a 6-point underdog in a 17-13 loss Nov. 7 at Texas, when the decision went down to the final seconds. Brown’s defense had allowed a total of 33 points over a three-game stretch before the blowout by the Cyclones. The Mountaineers are developing one of the Big 12’s best defenses, so Oklahoma freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler will feel some heat. Rattler has 24 touchdown passes and seven interceptions for the season while making steady improvement in coach Lincoln Riley’s offense. The Sooners could be on upset alert as they head to Morgantown, W.Va., to face a Mountaineers team on the rise. Oklahoma escaped with a 59-56 win at West Virginia two years ago. Looking ahead, which is never advised for a road favorite, the Sooners will be shooting for their sixth consecutive conference title.

 

SAN DIEGO STATE at BYU

The lofty postseason hopes Brigham Young had, realistic or not, were shot in a dramatic 22-17 loss at Coastal Carolina. Time expired with the Cougars at the 1-yard line. Some critics will say BYU was exposed as a phony, but credit goes to the Cougars for taking a game against an unfamiliar opponent on short notice and flying across the country to step up to the challenge. Zach Wilson was knocked out of the Heisman Trophy race after passing for 240 yards and one touchdown with one interception in BYU’s worst offensive performance of the season. The Cougars (9-1) had scored 41 points or more in eight of their previous nine games. This week’s game against San Diego State was arranged several weeks ago when both teams were seeking to fill holes in the schedule. The Aztecs of the Mountain West took on a similar game two weeks ago and fell 20-10 at Colorado. San Diego State coach Brady Hoke has played three quarterbacks this season while getting poor results across the board. As usual, the Aztecs (4-3) are surviving on defense and special-teams play. Greg Bell, who has rushed for 569 yards and six touchdowns, has been the only reliable playmaker. San Diego State’s largest margin of defeat was 11 points against San Jose State. When comparing the offenses, the talent gap is wide in favor of BYU. However, this is an obvious letdown spot for the Cougars, so handicappers can play the role of Dr. Phil when trying to project the psychology of the home team. BYU opened as a 14-point favorite, and the number would be about four points higher if the Cougars were 10-0 instead of reeling from their first loss.

 

USC at UCLA

When the abbreviated and belated Pac-12 season kicked off in early November, UCLA coach Chip Kelly resembled a washed-up loser and USC coach Clay Helton was considered an underachiever. When the Bruins host the Trojans at the Rose Bowl, the rivals will be playing for more than the Victory Bell. USC (4-0) can earn a spot in the conference title game with a win, while UCLA (3-2) can secure a winning season and a significant bowl berth. The Trojans escaped serious trouble in their first two games with last-minute comeback victories over Arizona State and Arizona. There was no drama Sunday, when sophomore Kedon Slovis passed for five touchdowns in the first half of a 38-13 win over Washington State, which was short-handed on defense and starting a freshman quarterback. Helton is nearly off the hot seat, though a loss to the Bruins is the last thing he needs in terms of job security. Kelly appeared hopeless when UCLA opened the season with an embarrassing loss at Colorado. But late in his third season, Kelly is above .500 for the first time with the Bruins, who picked up a 25-18 win at Arizona State on Saturday. UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who missed the previous two games because of COVID-19 contact tracing, accounted for two touchdowns. Kelly’s offense has finally come to life with the emergence of running backs Demetric Felton and Brittain Brown. USC rolled to a 52-35 win as a 13-point favorite in last year’s meeting, after Kelly and the Bruins won 34-27 as 3-point underdogs in 2018. Circa Sports opened the Trojans -3.5 in the rubber match between Helton and Kelly. One coach will win and both coaches will walk into the Pasadena sunset claiming the future is brighter.

UTAH at COLORADO 

With the NFL Broncos struggling, along with Colorado State, Air Force and Wyoming, Front Range football fans have found an unlikely rallying point in CU. New coach Karl Dorrell has quietly cobbled together a 4-0 record in the sort of functional way John Elway ought to preach to his Broncos coaching staff. A run-heavy look featuring jarring tailback Jarek Broussard has taken some of the pressure off senior quarterback Sam Noyer, who also can make plays with his legs when needed. The Buffs host a Utah team that is not what it was last season. South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley has posted decidedly modest numbers in his first three games, including three touchdown passes and four interceptions, while failing to pass for more than 174 yards. The Utes got their first win last week, against Oregon State, but they needed to take advantage of a quarterback making his first college start, Chance Nolan, and a team playing without its best running back, Jermar Jefferson, to do it. So this earlier near pick-’em spread seems to offer some value for the Buffs, also undefeated ATS through four games and well positioned for their first outright win over the Utes since 2016. Colorado can also win the Pac-12 South outright if USC loses to UCLA. Failing that, the Buffs can hope the conference pits them against the Trojans in the conference title game in a year when the league’s North-South designations should yield to common sense.

COASTAL CAROLINA at TROY

Troy, the poster child for bipolar football, is the last hurdle for Coastal Carolina to clear before the Sun Belt title game next week against Louisiana. Can the Trojans wreck the party and ruin the Chanticleers’ unbeaten record after Coastal’s rousing win over BYU? There’s some reason to think so as Troy has wins by 33, 20, 28 and 29 points against Middle Tennessee State, Texas State, Arkansas State and South Alabama. But there also have been five losses, some lopsided, including a 37-point bludgeoning two weeks ago from Appalachian State, and a 48-7 loss in late September against the same BYU side that Coastal just beat. Perhaps Troy has a puncher’s chance if quarterback Gunnar Watson is hot as he was last week against South Alabama, when he completed 34 of 41 passes for 297 yards with three touchdowns and zero picks. And the Chanticleers might be vulnerable this week after they celebrated the biggest win in school history on Saturday. But Coastal has been nothing if not consistent this season behind redshirt freshman quarterback Grayson McCall, who has 20 TD passes and just one pick, and running backs CJ Marable and Reese White combining for 1179 rush yards and 16 TDs. The Chants have only two spread losses in games they won with ease against Campbell and South Alabama. Troy has simply been too erratic to trust since Chip Lindsey took over last season, as his 8-14 spread mark attests. There’s no value recommending against a Chanticleers team that simply hasn’t taken its foot off of the accelerator this season. 

AKRON at BUFFALO

Akron broke its nation’s-worst 21-game losing streak with Saturday’s rousing romp over a humiliated Bowling Green, which reportedly went full Floyd Patterson-after-the-Ingemar Johansson fight, with fake beards and sunglasses available to those looking for disguises in the aftermath. The question now is if that shocking result gained the attention of a Buffalo squad that is already set for next week’s MAC title game against the winner of Saturday’s Western Michigan-Ball State showdown. The Bulls certainly could be excused for overlooking the Zips.  Buffalo, however, has been remarkably consistent, now 14-2 straight up in its last 16 at home, where it has also covered seven straight as well as 19 of its last 23, while also piling up 52 points per game in the last five of those home games. Moreover, Bulls coach Lance Leipold is 29-13-3 in his last 45 against the line, covering many hefty spreads. With star tailback Jaret Patterson running for 406 yards in the recent 70-41 mauling of capable Kent State, we’d say Buffalo can handle this. Last week’s win against lowly Bowling Green aside, Akron had failed to cover 14 of its first 16 on the line since coach Tom Arth arrived last year. Its previous results this year include losses by 45, 34 and 31 points. There’s a good chance the Zips are still drunk on the heady nectar of a rare victory, so we’ll take our chances with ultra-consistent Buffalo not overlooking an outclassed opponent.  

NAVY at ARMY

For the first time since the World War II year of 1943 when these service academies also dueled at West Point, conditions dictate there’s no neutral site this year in this old and special rivalry.  Army gets to host this 2020 renewal simply because it is designated as the home team in even-numbered years. Thankfully, there will be some atmosphere, though attendance will be limited to the Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen, making the ride from Annapolis. Not long ago, Navy had a 14-game series winning streak before Army ended that in exciting fashion with a 21-17 victory in 2016, beginning a string of three straight wins for the Black Knights over the Midshipmen. But Annapolis turned things around and then some last season in a 31-7 rout at Philadelphia when do-everything quarterback Malcolm Perry ran for 304 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. Navy threw the ball just once and ran it 55 times. The difference this year is that Navy is not running the ball nearly as well as usual, ranking 46th in the nation in rushing. It’s the Midshipmen’s most unproductive year since 2001. Coach Ken Niumatalolo also continues to juggle his quarterbacks, with Xavier Arline the latest to try to kick-start the offense, but it’s not working. Meanwhile, Army is running as effectively as ever, ranking a familiar third in the nation, but its edge this season is on defense, where it ranks fourth overall and ninth in scoring (16 ppg.). Still, all angles take a back seat to the extended Army-Navy Under trend, which has hit a remarkable 14 years in a row, not too much of a surprise given the dueling options and lack of incomplete passes that normally would stop the clock.

PURDUE at INDIANA 

It’s Old Oaken Bucket week as Purdue and No. 8 Indiana meet for the 123rd time in the history of the series. Indiana went to Wisconsin as a two-touchdown underdog Saturday won 14-6. Quarterback Jack Tuttle, starting his first game in place of the injured Michael Penix Jr., threw two touchdown passes to lead the Hoosiers. Indiana tied a program record with its sixth Big Ten win and snapped a 10-game skid in the series, beating the Badgers for the first time since 2002. The Hoosiers defense had two takeaways, giving them 20 through seven games. Nevertheless, Indiana was outgained 342-217, and the offense will need to be better against a Purdue club that can put up points. Though the Boilermakers have lost four straight, they have scored 88 points over their last three. Last week, Purdue fell into a 14-0 hole against Nebraska just five minutes into the game because of special-teams miscues that led to the Cornhuskers scoring on drives of just 1 and 17 yards. Even taking out the sack yardage lost, Purdue rushed for only 34 yards last week. Quarterback Jack Plummer, who passed for 334 yards and three touchdowns, was able to rally the Boilers within one score in the fourth quarter, but Purdue’s offense was very one-dimensional. At 2-4, Purdue is looking to pull the upset here plus win a potential makeup game Dec. 19 just to make a bowl game. Indiana has loftier goals, and a victory in the Bucket Game could put them in position to reach a New Year’s Six bowl, which was unthinkable before the season. Circa Sports opened Indiana -14, but support immediately came for the Boilermakers as Indiana is now a 9- to 10-point favorite. Indiana has handled this season very well, but this is new territory for the Hoosiers playing in a game with such high stakes, and they will get a Purdue team that is motivated after hearing all fall about how good Indiana has been. 

LSU at FLORIDA 

No. 6 Florida is on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoff. To get in, the Gators likely will have to knock off No. 1 Alabama in the SEC championship game next weekend in Atlanta. Nevertheless, they must take care of LSU, in a rescheduled game from Oct. 17, this weekend before they can think about the Crimson Tide. Florida has known for about a month that its date with Alabama is inevitable, and it has shown as the Gators are just 1-2-1 ATS in their last four games, failing to cover both at winless Vanderbilt and at struggling Tennessee. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask remains the small favorite at -125 to win the Heisman Trophy with DraftKings, just ahead of Alabama quarterback Mac Jones at even money. Trask went 35-for-49 and threw for 433 yards and four touchdowns Saturday at Tennessee. On the season, Trask has completed 71.4% of his passes and thrown for 3,243 yards and an astonishing 38-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in just nine games. He will have the opportunity to add to his stellar season marks in his final game in the Swamp when LSU visits Saturday. At 3-5, defending national champion LSU has gone from the penthouse to the outhouse and must play Florida the week after getting trounced 55-7 at home by Alabama. Adding insult to injury, the Tigers watched as Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who grew up less than an hour west of Baton Rouge, caught eight passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns. The 55 points represented the most an LSU team has allowed since 1993 against Florida. Circa Sports opened Florida at -23, and it has moved very little. However, the total has seen the most adjustment, skyrocketing from an opener of 60.5 to 68.5. Early bettors saw that LSU could not defend an elite offense against Alabama, and now the Tigers face another in Florida, which has its own Heisman candidate quarterback looking to put up numbers. Some buyback on the Under should come later in the week, though, as professional bettors will be looking to work some potential middles.

NORTH CAROLINA at MIAMI

While Notre Dame and Clemson are grabbing the headlines for their impending ACC championship game, No. 10 Miami has flown under the radar. The Hurricanes have won five straight games and should lock down a spot in the New Year’s Six with a victory over No. 17 North Carolina. They rolled to a 48-0 victory at Duke on Saturday, holding the Blue Devils to 177 total yards and forcing five turnovers. Miami had 15 players unavailable, including multiple defensive starters. Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King continued his great season, throwing for three scorers and rushing for one. North Carolina won a tune-up game Saturday against FCS Western Carolina 49-9. The Tar Heels have improved this season but probably were a bit overrated in mid-October, when they were ranked No. 5 in the country before getting upset at Florida State. North Carolina is still seeking that signature win against a top-10 team. Its last road victory against a top-10 team came at Syracuse in 1996. Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell has avoided the sophomore slump, throwing for 3,129 yards and a 26-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. However, North Carolina’s defense has been inconsistent, allowing more than 40 points to Virginia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest. The Tar Heels are likely to receive an invitation to a solid bowl game, but there is more on the line for Miami. Circa Sports opened Miami -3, and the number has danced between 3 and 3.5. The total is lined at 66 with two offenses that can be explosive.

ILLINOIS at NORTHWESTERN 

No. 14 Northwestern already has clinched its spot in the Big Ten championship game but first must face in-state rival Illinois. Northwestern was scheduled to play at Minnesota last week, but that game was canceled, so the Wildcats turned their attention to the Illini, whom they have defeated each of the last five seasons. Illinois jumped to an early 14-0 lead last week over Iowa before the Hawkeyes scored 35 unanswered points to win 35-21 in Champaign. The Illini had three defensive starters leave the game in the first half with injuries. Illinois running back Mike Epstein also missed Saturday’s game but is expected to be back for this game. The Illini will need all hands on deck offensively against one of the nation’s better defensive units. Northwestern has had two weeks to get over the sting of its first loss of the season at Michigan State. Illinois is 2-4 and will need to pull off the upset in this game and then in a potential added game Dec. 19 to qualify for a bowl. Northwestern needs to take care of business and not get caught looking ahead to the Big Ten championship game. Furthermore, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason LaCanfora reported Sunday that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald would be at the top of the Chicago Bears’ wish list if the organization parts with coach Matt Nagy at the end of the season. This could be another distraction for the Wildcats. Circa Sports opened Northwestern -15, and the action immediately came in for Illinois as early bettors see the potential flat spot and rust for Northwestern. The line fell to -12 before bouncing back to the 14.5- and 15-point range.

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