I should know better. I’m a bettor, so I should know better.
You never boast after a winning week, at least not unless you want things to turn for the worse.
The comeuppance this time was immediate, as my 5-1 against the spread record in Week 3 flipped around into a 1-5 in Week 4, so my progress was not just stunted but entirely erased.
But that’s the way things go in sports betting, and we’re ready to get back on the horse and turn it around — and if it happens, I won’t say a peep if you won’t.
There are two prime candidates for the Game of the Week this Saturday. One comes again from the Southeastern Conference, where No. 7 Kentucky visits No. 14 Ole Miss looking for another SEC road scalp. The other is in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with No. 5 Clemson hosting No. 10 NC State after the Tigers survived their own trip to Wake Forest last week.
Ultimately, I went with Clemson-NC State for two reasons. One is that we went with an SEC game last week, and I’m all for spreading the love as long as it warrants being spread. The second is that the winner between the Tigers and the Wolfpack seems more likely to impact the College Football Playoff race, simply because they don’t have to beat Alabama and/or Georgia to get there.
With a clear top three of Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State heavily favored to be in the CFP conversation, there is at least one — and possibly two, if one of Alabama or Georgia knocks the other out — spot remaining.
An unbeaten ACC winner certainly would be in that conversation, along with an unbeaten Pac-12 champion (USC? Washington?) or an unbeaten Big 12 champ (Oklahoma State, which has its own showdown with Baylor, is the only unbeaten team left here except for Kansas, which has been a revelation but also is likely to be an underdog more often than not the rest of the way.)
But for those looking for SEC picks, read on. I might have included Kentucky-Ole Miss as a Best Bet, too.
(Lines from Caesars Sportsbook as of Wednesday)
Game of the Week
No. 10 NC STATE (+6.5) at No. 5 CLEMSON, 6:30 p.m., ABC: A couple of years ago, Clemson made you think of Deshaun Watson or Trevor Lawrence and one great receiver after another, piling up points with Ohio State or the great teams of the Alabama dynasty. The past couple of years, that’s shifted to the earlier days of the Dabo Swinney era: A defensive-minded, ball-control method that isn’t as pretty but has still been pretty effective.
But you may not know that NC State is also stronger on defense than offense. The Wolfpack, to the point it’s been noticed at all over the past couple of seasons, has received headlines for the prowess of quarterback Devin Leary. And Leary had a truly great season last year, throwing for 35 touchdowns against just 5 interceptions. But he averaged just 8.0 yards per attempt, a number that ranked in the middle of the country and has actually gone down thus far in 2022.
Conversely, NC State’s defense is ranked in the top 15 nationally in total yards and yards per play, so give plenty of credit to that side of the ball for a 4-0 start.
Point is, this figures to be a more defensive battle than most outsiders realize: The over/under is only 40!
As far as a pick, in a low-scoring game, and with Clemson coming off of an emotionally draining victory at Wake Forest, I’m taking the points but don’t have the gumption to take the Wolfpack straight up.
The pick: Clemson 21, NC State 20
No. 7 KENTUCKY at No. 14 OLE MISS (-6.5), 11 a.m., ESPN: At first glance, it may seem strange that the Wildcats, who beat Florida for by far the best win by either of these teams, is such a significant underdog (as of Wednesday morning, this line has already moved to -7 in some places).
But outside of that marvelous night in Gainesville, Kentucky has actually scuffled a bit against lesser opponents (and so has Florida). Meanwhile, Ole Miss has been consistently putting up great numbers — even the Rebels’ close call against Tulsa last week was basically in hand by halftime.
Furthermore, while Kentucky’s defense has been better in the national rankings, Ole Miss actually has the stronger unit on a per-play basis, and that could come up big here — while the Wildcats will have to work for their points and risk penalties and turnovers stalling drives, the Rebels should hit enough explosive plays to remain in their seat as the No. 1 contender to Alabama in the SEC West.
The pick: Ole Miss 33, Kentucky 21
IOWA STATE (-3) at KANSAS, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2: Jalon Daniels — not to be confused with LSU’s Jayden Daniels — has been outstanding for Kansas, to the point where the Jayhawks quarterback not only has the team on the brink of its first Top 25 ranking in 13 years but also is on the fringe of the Heisman Trophy race.
This pick is not to discount Daniels and KU’s stunning start. It’s more of a vote of confidence in Iowa State as by far the best team the Jayhawks have played thus far. Cyclones coach Matt Campbell has shown a knack for defensive adjustments throughout his time in Ames, and here’s guessing he’ll have a plan for the dynamic QB, who has 890 yards passing, 11 touchdowns and one interception, plus 420 yards rushing and four touchdowns through four games.
Besides, from a value perspective, it’s hard to ignore the fact that if this betting line had been available in the preseason, Iowa State would have been favored by 10 points or more. Kansas is clearly better than expected, but that’s a huge shift. We’re buying on the big movement.
The pick: Iowa State 35, Kansas 27
SOUTH ALABAMA at UL (+9), 4 p.m., ESPN+: Here’s another line that has an enormous shift from where it would have been in the preseason. Yes, the Jaguars are better than thought and the Ragin’ Cajuns are worse, but I can’t find the logic that suggests UL is nearly two touchdowns behind (adjusting for home-field advantage).
South Alabama is a bit higher in most statistical categories, and both teams have benefitted from a highly positive turnover margin thus far, but UL is coming off an ugly loss to UL-Monroe that might have pushed its betting number down farther than necessary.
I’m buying the bounce-back here with a lot of points to back me up.
The pick: UL 27, South Alabama 26
WEST VIRGINIA at TEXAS (-9½), 6:30 p.m., FS1: While we’re playing the overreaction game, the Longhorns nearly beat (should have beat) Alabama, struggled for a half against UTSA and then lost another heartbreaker in overtime against Texas Tech, costing us one of our best bets last week when the Red Raiders converted 6 of 8 fourth downs.
That hardly means you should start fading Texas. In fact, I’m doubling down.
There is a chance Quinn Ewers, who injured his collarbone/shoulder against Alabama, is back for the Longhorns. He dressed and traveled with the team to Lubbock last week but didn’t play. This big betting line might be partly in anticipation of that, but even if he doesn’t, backup Hudson Card has been fine, and Texas is the best 2-2 team in the country.
West Virginia picked up a nice Friday win against a bad Virginia Tech team and has an extra day of rest here, but the Mountaineers will lose the battle on both the offensive and defensive front, and that’ll be the difference, Ewers or not.
The pick: Texas 38, West Virginia 21
ARIZONA STATE (+25½) at No. 6 USC, 9:30 p.m., ESPN: The Trojans nearly caught the late-night madness bug last week but somehow survived a trip to Oregon State with a 17-14 victory thanks to a couple of late interceptions.
And while USC is a legitimate top 10 team and a playoff contender, it continues to get a little more credit than it deserves because of star power (Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams in Hollywood!) and because the Trojans continue to get turnovers exactly when they need them. Bill Connelly, the college football stats guru at ESPN, points out that USC has 11 interceptions and only 13 pass breakups, which is roughly four times the normal rate of INTs to PBUs. Even good defensive backs can’t sustain that.
If the turnovers dry up even a little bit, USC hasn’t been elite on a per-play basis, and this number is much too high even against a middling Arizona State team.
The pick: USC 35, Arizona State 19
LAST WEEK: 2-4 straight up, 1-5 against the spread
THIS YEAR: 15-9 straight up, 13-11 ATS