Jim Wilson / The New York Times
Friday, Nov. 27, 2020 | 2 a.m.
The Iron Bowl. The Egg Bowl. The Heroes Game. The Big Game.
In a college football season where nothing has felt normal, at least there are some traditional rivalries in their usual spots on Thanksgiving weekend. Let’s hope the rare sense of familiarity can breed profit as while diving forward into another challenging slate of games.
The plays got back on track last week — going 3-1 — but the overall record continued to plummet with a 13-22 performance. My record for the year now sits at 152-169-3 (30-32-1 on plays, 40-41 on leans and 82-96-2 on guesses).
Read below for this week’s picks, separated by conference and labeled with one of three confidence categories. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side.
SMU -11.5 at East Carolina, over/under: 67.5. SMU has one of the best vertical attacks in the country behind quarterback Shane Buechele, who led the nation in passing before last week’s game with Houston was canceled. East Carolina’s secondary has already gotten torn apart on multiple occasions earlier in the season. Play: SMU -11.5.
Tulsa +1 at Houston, over/under: 55. Houston’s offense has largely piled up its massive production against overmatched defenses. Tulsa’s defense, led by must-watch linebacker Zaven Collins, will be in no way overmatched and up to the task. Play: Tulsa +1.
UCF -24.5 at South Florida, over/under: 67. “The War on I-4” doesn’t look like it will be much of a battle this year. The Knights lead the nation in plays per game, going at a breakneck pace that will only increase their advantage against an outmatched team like the Bulls. Lean: UCF -24.5.
Memphis -13.5 at Navy, over/under: 63.5. Nothing about Navy’s statistical profile suggests it should be able to hang with Memphis in this game. And yet, over the years, these are the exact type of games Navy has found a way to hang with its opposition. Guess: Navy +13.5.
Notre Dame -5 at North Carolina, over/under: 67. The Irish have played a better schedule, but not one so much better that it can explain away their net yard per play disadvantage to the Tar Heels as the latter leads 2-1.5 on the year. North Carolina’s two losses are also overvalued considering they came by only a total of six points. Play: North Carolina +5.
Virginia -9.5 at Florida State, over/under: 59.5. Having valid reasons to cancel last Saturday’s game against Clemson or not — and count my vote against Dabo Swinney as absolutely valid — resting gives Florida State an advantage this week. This spread should come down and close near a touchdown. Lean: Florida State +9.5.
Pittsburgh +25 at Clemson, over/under: 55. Pittsburgh isn’t as mediocre as this line implies. The Panthers have an explosive offense that, at worst, could threaten a backdoor cover against Clemson. Guess: Pittsburgh +25.
Duke pick’em at Georgia Tech, over/under: 58. These two teams have two of the worst turnover margins in the country. More of the Blue Devils’ giveaways can be chalked up to bad luck, however, while the Yellow Jackets largely commit them as part of growing pains with error-prone freshman quarterback Jeff Sims. Guess: Duke pick’em.
Louisville +1 at Boston College, over/under: 55.5 Both teams are too inconsistent to trust, but Louisville’s ceiling is higher. Moving through the zero on a point spread doesn’t mean much, but Louisville deserves to be the team laying a point or two here. Guess: Louisville +1.
NC State -14.5 at Syracuse, over/under: 52.5. The Orange, or what’s left of them after injuries and positive coronavirus tests, have really struggled with six straight losses. But the Wolfpack have overachieved their talent level and shouldn’t be laying more than two touchdowns to anyone in the ACC. Guess: Syracuse +14.5.
Big Ten (16-16-1)
Nebraska +13.5 at Iowa, over/under: 53.5. Iowa belongs right in the conversation with Oklahoma and Georgia as the best 2-loss team in the nation. Solid on both sides of the ball, the Hawkeyes should be laying more than two touchdowns here. Lean: Iowa -13.5.
Rutgers +11 at Purdue, over/under: 62. Rutgers has routinely played above its expectation behind good coaching and mistake-free play, but Purdue’s talent and statistical profile are at a different level. I also like that Purdue has an extra day of rest and one less game on the year while Rutgers is playing for a sixth straight week. Lean: Purdue -11.
Penn State +2.5 at Michigan, over/under: 58.5. Insert joke regarding how disappointing both of these power programs have played with a combined 1-9 against the spread record. Only problem is, there’s nothing funny about it; they’re struggling equally to leave taking the points being the only option. Lean: Penn State +2.5.
Northwestern -13.5 at Michigan State, over/under: 41. Both of these offenses rank in the bottom 15 in the nation, combining to average 4.5 yards per play. It’s just too unlikely there are enough points scored to cover this big of a spread. Guess: Michigan State +13.5.
Ohio State -27.5 at Illinois, over/under: 71.5. Ohio State’s young defense has struggled but, with so much talent, it’s only a matter of time until it breaks out and jells. I’d rather be early in anticipating such a leap than late by betting on the Buckeyes once the market adjusts. Guess: Ohio State -27.5.
Maryland +11.5 at Indiana, over/under: 62.5. I’m beginning to believe in Maryland’s offense with Taulia Tagovailoa at quarterback, at least enough to have picked it at the opening price of +14.5. This move is too big though as the Hoosiers are better all around. Guess: Indiana -11.5.
Big 12 (16-18)
Texas Tech +11 at Oklahoma State, over/under: 54. Kansas belongs in a category of its own, but otherwise, the Red Raiders might be the worst team in the Big 12 with their two wins coming by a combined eight points in games where they were arguably outplayed. A couple weeks ago, before the Cowboys’ three straight against the spread losses, this number would have been significantly higher. Play: Oklahoma State -11.
Kansas State +5.5 at Baylor, over/under: 46. Kansas State was outclassed in last week’s 45-0 loss to Iowa State as 13.5-point underdogs, but even given the Wildcats’ injuries, the Bears have no such edge in talent. All the blowout did was give the Wildcats a couple extra points on the spread that they shouldn’t need. Play: Kansas State +5.5.
Iowa State pick’em at Texas, over/under: 56.5. Both these teams are terrific at their best, terrible at their worst. Their shared volatility makes the range of outcomes in this game too wide to bet. Guess: Texas pick’em.
TCU -24 at Kansas, over/under: 51.5. I can’t start the section by poking fun at the Jayhawks and then pick them, right? This spread looks a little rich, to be honest, but so does every spread pertaining to Kansas, which is 0-7 versus the number. Guess: TCU -24.
Florida Atlantic -6.5 at Middle Tennessee, over/under: 48.5. Might be some hidden value in Florida Atlantic now that it’s unlocked some offense behind the breakout of freshman quarterback Javion Posey. The Owls already had one of the nation’s best defense, as they’ve allowed only 4.2 yards per play. Lean: Florida Atlantic -6.5.
North Texas +3 at UTSA, over/under: 67. North Texas has surprisingly won and covered two in a row, but that might just be more reason to fade it by selling high. UTSA has a better EPA for the season despite having not played as well recently. Lean: UTSA -3.
UTEP +11.5 at Rice, over/under: 44.5. Rice is fresh off of a noncompetitive 27-17 loss to North Texas as 1.5-point underdogs and now laying as many points as it has in years. That doesn’t add up. Guess: UTEP +11.5.
Massachusetts +37.5 at Liberty, over/under: 56.5. Liberty can name its score if it so chooses in what will be a total mismatch at every position against UMass. When the only hope for a cover is a backdoor, I’d rather pick the favorite. Guess: Liberty -37.5.
Kent State +7.5 at Buffalo, over/under: 67.5. Kent State has feasted on an incredibly weak schedule, barely slipping past the only decent team its faced, 27-23 over Eastern Michigan as 4.5-point favorites. Buffalo came into the year more experienced, with higher expectations and has been more efficient despite playing a slightly tougher schedule. Play: Buffalo -7.5.
Ball State +10 at Toledo, over/under: 63.5. Ball State has underperformed on the season but has the talent to be one of the better teams in the MAC. Toledo quarterback Eli Peters hurt his knee in last week’s win over Eastern Michigan. Lean: Ball State +10.
Central Michigan -7.5 at Eastern Michigan, over/under: 59.5. The half-point is important here, as a fair number appears to be -7. The Eagles are 0-3, but two of their losses were by a touchdown or less and they aren’t far behind the Chippewas in EPA. Guess: Eastern Michigan -7.5.
Miami (Ohio) -14.5 at Akron, over/under: 54. The RedHawks’ offense has been just as bad the Zips’, and that’s with now banged-up quarterback Brett Gabbert healthy. This should be a low-scoring game where double digits are highly likely to come in handy. Guess: Akron +14.5.
Northern Illinois +19 at Western Michigan, over/under: 64.5. Northern Illinois is young and playing to build continuity for the future. Western Michigan is experienced and playing to win now. Guess: Western Michigan -19.
Bowling Green +23 at Ohio, over/under: 54.5. Not even a coronavirus outbreak that canceled Ohio’s game last week can push me to bet on Bowling Green. The Falcons are a bottom five team in the nation by any set of metrics. Guess: Ohio -23.
San Jose State +11.5 at Boise State, over/under: 58. Based on this season alone, San Jose State should be able to hang within a touchdown of Boise State. But I’m not willing to shed the Broncos’ priors yet considering how much more talent and consistency they’ve shown over the Spartans. Guess: Boise State -11.5.
Wyoming -16.5 at UNLV, over/under: 52.5. The spread is perfectly in place, but I prefer the team with the more stable infrastructure. Coach Craig Bohl’s systems are well established at Wyoming while Marcus Arroyo is rebuilding from the ground up at UNLV. Guess: Wyoming -16.5.
UNR -7 at Hawaii, over/under: 60.5. Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong should give his team a decided edge here, and in any Mountain West game. I would, however, be tempted to switch to Hawaii if the number reached 7.5. Guess: UNR -7.
Oregon -14 at Oregon State, over/under: 64. All the 14s are long gone offshore, making it a surprise that so many are still available in Las Vegas. Although the Beavers are usually outgunned from a personnel level, coach Jonathan Smith never has them outgunned from strategic or fundamental standpoints. Lean: Oregon State +14.
Colorado +11.5 at USC, over/under: 64. Colorado is 13th in the nation in EPA. I’m cautious not to overreact to two games — which the Buffaloes won by only a total of 9 points — but getting double-digits on what looks like another overblown Trojans teams provides some breathing room. Guess: Colorado +11.5.
Stanford +1.5 at California, over/under: 52.5. Both teams are yet to win again either straight-up or against the spread and have shown little reason for optimism, so I’ll revert entirely to priors. I had higher expectations for California coming into the season, and maybe it could have shown more if not for getting sidetracked by coronavirus. Guess: California -1.5.
Arizona +10.5 at UCLA, over/under: 69. Yes, I’ll find a way to praise Washington even when it currently doesn’t have a game on the board. I give Arizona a pass for its 44-27 blowout loss at Washington last week because the Huskies are among the most underrated teams in the nation. Guess: Arizona +10.5.
Georgia -21 at South Carolina, over/under: 48.5. With Georgia having finally turned to quarterback J.T. Daniels, and South Carolina losing players after the firing of Will Muschamp, this number almost can’t be high enough. Don’t let the Bulldogs’ recent struggles — three straight against the spread losses — overshadow the fact that they’re still among the most talented teams in the nation. Play: Georgia -21.
Mississippi State +9.5 at Ole Miss, over/under: 66.5. This is an awfully high number to give with one of the nation’s worst defenses. Many of the SEC’s better defenses appeared to solve Mississippi State coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, but Ole Miss is lacking the personnel to follow suit. Lean: Mississippi State +9.5.
Kentucky +24 at Florida, over/under: 58. Disregard the 63-3 loss to Alabama as 31.5-point underdogs last week because, well, it’s Alabama. Kentucky’s pass defense has played pretty well otherwise and should keep it from getting blown out at Florida. Guess: Kentucky +24.
LSU +14 at Texas A&M, over/under: 64.5. Number is in the right spot, so I’ll go with the team that’s gotten two weeks of rest because of cancelations. The Aggies also still believe they have a shot at the College Football Playoff, meaning they’ll be trying to run up scores more than drain clocks for the rest of the season. Guess: Texas A&M -14.
Auburn +24.5 at Alabama, over/under: 62. Warning: I might just be grasping at straws for a reason not to lay more than three touchdowns in what I would consider the best rivalry in college football. But Auburn’s improvement, which has come with three straight covers, appears real and it’s played Alabama as tough as anyone the last few years. Guess: Auburn +24.5.
South Alabama +6.5 at Arkansas State, over/under: 64.5. Arkansas State has bottomed out to its worst season in a decade, but still has recruited at a much higher level than South Alabama. The Jaguars’ offensive line and pass defense are broken, which is a big problem against the Red Wolves. Play: Arkansas State -6.5.
Georgia Southern -2 at Georgia State, over/under: 52.5. Georgia State has the higher EPA on the year and won’t be taken aback by Georgia Southern’s triple option attack. The Panthers are more well-rounded and placing an emphasis on beating their rival for the first time in three years. Lean: Georgia State +2.
Troy +14 at Appalachian State, over/under: 48.5. It’s fair to wonder whether the Mountaineers will be at their best following last week’s loss to Coastal Carolina that ended their conference title hopes. They’re good enough to blow out the Trojans, but this isn’t an ideal spot situationally. Guess: Troy +14.
Louisiana-Lafayette -28.5 at Louisiana-Monroe, over/under: 54. Monroe is the worst team in the nation by EPA. I’d need at least 31 points to consider picking the WarHawks. Guess: Louisiana-Lafayette -28.5.
Coastal Carolina -16.5 at Texas State, over/under: 58.5. Consider this resignation. Every week, I bet against Coastal Carolina, and every week, it covers. Time to try something new. Guess: Coastal Carolina -16.5.