Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023 | 2 a.m.
The College Football Playoff has never commenced without at least one SEC team. It’s also never featured a single two-loss side in the four-team field.
Both trends are likely to continue this year in the final edition of the playoff in its current form, but they’re far from guaranteed. It all comes down to how the SEC plays out over the next four weeks, and there appear to be a lot of different potential outcomes — at least many more than in recent years.
The single biggest domino will fall this weekend when Alabama hosts LSU trying to lock down control of the SEC West. If the Crimson Tide prevail as 3-point favorites, they’ll almost surely compete in their third SEC Championship Game in four years.
If they lose, both LSU and Ole Miss are alive in the race. The Rebels will be the longest shot because, even if they survive Texas A&M as 3-point favorites this week, they have to go to Georgia next week.
The Bulldogs remain the class of the SEC East by the odds, but the gap is down from their back-to-back national championship teams the last two years. The Bulldogs are currently set to be less than 17-point favorites in each of their next three games — hosting Missouri this week, Ole Miss next week and at Tennessee in two weeks.
Carrying three point spreads that low in successive weeks hasn’t happened since early in the 2020 season, a year before Georgia began to rule college football. A fascinating scenario could play out if they lose one of those games and then fall to a team like LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
A cynic might say there’s never going to be a College Football Playoff without an SEC champion, but what if the SEC champion has two losses? That’s felt like a remote possibility the last few years, but it’s not too outlandish this season.
The betting market is still high on Georgia’s chances, as the Bulldogs are -220 (i.e. risking $220 to win $100) to reach the playoff. That’s slightly behind Florida State at -270 and ahead of Michigan at -175 at the top of the board as far as playoff odds.
The three teams ironically rate out in the exact opposite order by the market overall — with Michigan slightly ahead of Georgia and both teams comfortably in front of Florida State — but the Seminoles are priced as the likeliest playoff team by virtu of having the easiest remaining path. Florida State already downed LSU this year, 45-24 as 1.5-point underdogs in Week 1, and another SEC matchup seems possible for it in the playoff — if the SEC makes it there.
Find handicaps on every Week 10 game below. Picks are labeled in three separate confidence categories — plays, leans and guesses. Lines are the best currently available in Las Vegas on the chosen side at publication time. The record picking every game this season stands at 228-240-9 (58-64-1 on plays, 77-80-2 on leans, 93-96-6 on guesses).
Kansas State +4 at Texas, over/under: 52.5. Texas backup quarterback Maalik Murphy, in fairness, didn’t look great in last week’s 35-6 win over BYU as 20.5-point favorites while debuting in place of the injured Quinn Ewers. The drop-off makes this a real scare spot for the Big 12 conference favorites, but the Longhorns still hold a big talent discrepancy in totality and therefore should get more respect from the betting market on home field. Guess: Texas -4.
Notre Dame -2.5 at Clemson, over/under: 45. The surface-level statistics paint a pretty even matchup here despite Clemson’s 4-4 straight-up record but its relative ineffectiveness in creating explosive plays and havoc could be particularly troublesome here. The Irish smashed the Tigers a year ago by winning the two aforementioned categories, and they should be more lopsided this time around. Lean: Notre Dame -2.5.
Missouri +16 at Georgia, over/under: 55.5. Georgia’s slow start and recent injury to tight end Brock Bowers have conspired to make the market a little down on it, even while they’re quietly rounding into form. It was a clearer take in last week’s 43-20 victory over Florida as 14.5-point favorites but Georgia should still be able to put up enough points to pull away from Missouri. Guess: Georgia -16.
Penn State -10 at Maryland, over/under: 50. Penn State struggled in last week’s 33-24 victory over Indiana as 31-point favorites but some growing pains are necessary as coach James Franklin begins to open up the offense more with sophomore quarterback Drew Allar. They should pay off in bigger games going forward, like today’s against a flawed-but-dangerous Maryland side. Guess: Penn State -1.
Oklahoma -6 at Oklahoma State, over/under: 62. This spread has locked exactly into place, but there’s an argument to be made that maybe Boone Pickens Field should get an extra nudge for home-field advantage in what’s likely to be the last installment of the Bedlam rivalry for years. Let’s hope recency wins out as Oklahoma has been more efficient overall but Oklahoma State has been better lately behind electric running back Ollie Gordon. Guess: Oklahoma State +6.
Washington -3.5 at USC, over/under: 76. A lot of focus has fallen on how poorly USC’s defense is playing, but Washington’s hasn’t been much better. The Huskies can’t stop anyone, certainly not consistently enough to merit laying more than a field goal on the road against one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. Play: USC +3.5.
LSU +3 at Alabama, over/under: 59.5. This number is also about right — if not a bit short going strictly on performance this year — but something tells me the bye a week ago could be more beneficial to the Tigers. It’s easier to turn around an underperforming defense, LSU’s only problem, on the fly than a mediocre offense, Alabama’s handicap all year. Guess: LSU +3.
UCLA -3 at Arizona, over/under: 53. UCLA grades out as the slightly better team, but it makes a big mistake or two every game, oftentimes sabotaging its chances at covers. Arizona is the more buttoned-up side and currently operating with lethal efficiency to make this game feel like a coin flip. Lean: Arizona +3.
TCU +3 at Texas Tech, over/under: 58.5. In a battle of backup quarterbacks, the Red Raiders’ Behren Morton has proven himself more than the Horned Frogs’ Josh Hoover. Texas Tech is being dinged too harshly for a two-game losing streak where it was down to a third quarterback. Play: Texas Tech -3.
Colorado State +7 at Wyoming, over/under: 42. Wyoming’s largest margin of victory this season was nine points, as a 14.5-point favorite against New Mexico. The Cowboys simply don’t play a style that lends itself to winning by margin, and on top of that, the Rams are trending in the right direction. Play: Colorado State +7.
Virginia Tech +9 at Louisville, over/under: 48.5. Virginia Tech found something in sophomore quarterback Kyron Drones and the betting market struggled to catch up in four consecutive covers. But now the odds may have overadjusted as Virginia Tech still has a young, developing roster while Louisville coach Jeff Brohm built more of an immediate ACC contender through the transfer portal this offseason. Play: Louisville -9.
Iowa -5 vs Northwestern in Chicago, over/under: 30.5. If Northwestern hadn’t upset Maryland 33-27 as a 14-point underdog last week, this spread would have been seven or more. If Iowa’s punt-return touchdown two weeks ago was not called off for an invalid fair-catch signal in a 12-10 loss to Minnesota as 3-point favorites, this number would have been seven or more. Bet against the recency bias. Play: Iowa -5.
Charlotte +4 at Tulsa, over/under: 48. There’s only one decent unit in this game — the 49ers’ defense. That could be meaningful in a contest where there won’t be much scoring in a battle between first-year coaches Biff Poggi and Kevin Wilson. Neither Poggi nor Wilson has settled in all that smoothly but the former is getting more out of the talent around him than the latter. Play: Charlotte +4.
BYU +10.5 at West Virginia, over/under: 51. The Cougars have gotten crushed a couple times in their debut Big 12 season but it’s come against teams capable of overwhelming them with their athleticism. The Mountaineers don’t fit the bill, as the more physically-oriented like the Cougars themselves, which should make for a tight, low-scoring game. Play: BYU +10.5.
Play: SMU -11 at Rice
Play: Marshall +4 at Appalachian State
Play: Georgia Tech +2.5 at Virginia
Play: Fresno State -3 vs. Boise State
Play: Louisiana -9 at Arkansas State
Play: Memphis -13 vs. South Florida
Play: Wisconsin -9 at Indiana
Play: New Mexico State -3 vs. Middle Tennessee
Lean: Michigan -32.5 vs. Purdue
Lean: Kentucky -3.5 at Mississippi State
Lean: Arkansas +6.5 at Florida
Lean: Wake Forest +12.5 at Duke
Lean: Houston +4.5 at Baylor
Lean: Ole Miss -3 vs. Texas A&M
Lean: Utah -11 vs. Arizona State
Lean: Washington State -13 vs. Stanford
Lean: Bowling Green -5 vs. Ball State
Lean: Jacksonville State +16 at South Carolina
Lean: Akron -3.5 vs. Kent State
Lean: Navy -6.5 at Temple
Lean: Army +20 at Air Force
Lean: Coastal Carolina +1.5 at Old Dominion
Lean: East Carolina +16.5 vs. Tulane
Lean: Minnesota -2 vs. Illinois
Lean: Southern Miss -2 vs. UL Monroe
Lean: Syracuse -2.5 vs. Boston College
Lean: Iowa State -2.5 vs. Kansas
Guess: Texas State +2.5 vs. Georgia Southern
Guess: Auburn -12.5 at Vanderbilt
Guess: Western Kentucky -8.5 at UTEP
Guess: James Madison -5.5 at Georgia State
Guess: Ohio State -18.5 at Rutgers
Guess: UCF -4 at Cincinnati
Guess: UAB +2.5 vs. Florida Atlantic
Guess: Louisiana Tech +17 at Liberty
Guess: Florida State -21.5 at Pittsburgh
Guess: UNR -4 vs. Hawaii
Guess: UNLV -10 at New Mexico
Guess: Oregon -24 vs. California
Guess: Troy -6 vs. South Alabama
Guess: Connecticut +35.5 at Tennessee
Guess: Utah State -2.5 at San Diego State
Guess: Miami -4 at NC State
Guess: North Texas +8 vs. UTSA
Guess: Colorado +13.5 vs. Oregon State
Guess: Michigan State +3 vs. Nebraska