Season Win Total Best Bets
ACC – Virginia OVER 7.5 (-140)
Big Ten – Maryland OVER 4 (-15)
Big 12 – Iowa State OVER 8 (-115)
SEC – Tennessee Under 6.5 (+120)
Pac-12 – UCLA Under 6 (+110)
Tennessee is 2-15 in its last 17 games against Power Five foes. The Volunteers have already lost two defensive starters — nose guard Emmit Gooden and nicklebacker Baylen Buchannan — to season-ending injuries.
I’m not sold on Jeremy Pruitt at all. After a nice home win over Kentucky last season, Tennessee lost 50-17 at Missouri and 38-13 at Vanderbilt in two chances to clinch bowl eligibility.
UT’s schedule doesn’t do it any favors. Three opponents — Mississippi State, UAB and Kentucky — get two weeks to prep for UT when it has to play the previous week. Even if the Vols are 6-5 going into the regular-season finale, bettors will be able to hedge with a bet on Vandy as an underdog. The Commodores are currently seven-point ‘dogs in Games of the Year, despite the fact that they have beaten UT by double-digit margins in three consecutive encounters.
Virginia is only a lock to be an underdog twice — at Notre Dame and at Miami. The Cavaliers finished last season 8-5 SU, but they lost two games in overtime and by just four at Indiana. They get Liberty, Old Dominion and William & Mary at home for three layup victories.
Bronco Mendenhall has one of the ACC’s top QBs in Bryce Perkins, who completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,680 yards with a 25/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2018. Perkins also rushed for 1,189 yards (before subtracting sack yardage to bring his net rushing to 923 yards) and nine TDs.
UVA returns eight starters on a defense that allowed only 20.1 PPG last year. Don’t be shocked if UVA makes its first appearance in the ACC Championship Game.
Maryland has one of the nation’s most explosive RBs in sophomore Anthony McFarland, who garnered second-team All-B10 honors as a freshman when he ran for 1,034 yards and four TDs with a 7.9 YPC average. The Terrapins landed Va. Tech transfer QB Josh Jackson, who started 16 games for the Hokies in a two-year span. Jackson threw for 3,566 yards with a 25/10 TD-INT ratio. If he falters, there’s back-up QB Tyrrell Pigrome, who is a dangerous runner that’s started four games in the past two campaigns.
Maryland finished 5-7 last year, but it lost by two at Indiana and by one vs. Ohio State in overtime. The Terps had a 542-374 advantage in total offense against the Hoosiers, who were able to win thanks to a +3 turnover margin.
I have Mike Locksley’s team capturing home wins over Howard and Indiana, in addition to a victory at Rutgers. With one game left to win for a push and two for a victory, we have these potential Ws: vs. Syracuse, at Temple, vs. Penn State, at Purdue, at Minnesota and vs. Nebraska.
The only guaranteed underdog spot for Iowa State is at Oklahoma on Nov. 9, and let’s remember how Matt Campbell’s squad won a 38-31 decision over the third-ranked Sooners in its last trip to Norman as a 31-point underdog.
There’s a lot to like about the Cyclones, who bring back 16 starters (eight on each side of the ball) from a team that finished 8-5 after dropping a 28-26 decision to Washington State at the Alamo Bowl. Iowa State returns 10 of its top 13 tacklers from a defensive unit that gave up only 22.9 PPG.
In Phil Steele’s preseason magazine, his Big 12 Unit Rankings have Iowa State at No. 1 on the defensive line and at the linebacker position. The Cyclones have the league’s second-ranked special-teams units and are third on the offensive line.
As a true freshman last year, QB Brock Purdy completed 66.4 percent of his throws for 2,250 yards with a 16/7 TD-INT ratio. He also had 451 rushing yards and five TDs.
All three non-conference games are at home against Northern Iowa, Iowa and ULM. The Cyclones get two weeks to prepare for the Hawkeyes. They might be favored in four of five Big 12 road assignments — at Baylor, at WVU, at Texas Tech and at Kansas State.
UCLA went 2-3 in one-possession games on its way to a dreadful 3-9 SU mark in Chip Kelly’s debut campaign. In other words, it wasn’t as if the Bruins were losing a slew of nail-biters and were a bounce or three away from going to a bowl game. No, they were awful. In fact, UCLA is 13-24 since the start of the 2016 season.
Kelly’s second team brings back 19 starters. The burning question is whether or not that’s a good or bad thing? The non-conference slate is brutal: at Cincinnati, vs. San Diego State and vs. Oklahoma. The Bearcats won by a 26-17 count at UCLA in last year’s opener. The Aztecs, who have won at least 10 games in three of the past four seasons, are 4-1 in their past five games against Pac-12 competition since 2016.
I’ll give UCLA home wins over Oregon State and Colorado, but it will have to play well to beat San Diego State and/or California in Pasadena. Maybe the Bruins win at Cincinnati, but they are underdogs. Their best possibility at another road win is at Arizona, but the Wildcats get two weeks to prepare and the Bruins are in Pullman the previous week. I’m not even sure UCLA wins five games.
Game of the Year Best Bets
ACC – Week 3 Virginia (Pick ‘em) over Florida State
Big 10 – Week 9, Michigan State -2.5 vs. Penn State
Big 12 – Week 14, Oklahoma State +10 vs. Oklahoma
Pac-12 – Week 8, Stanford -3 vs. UCLA
SEC – Week 4, Texas A&M -2.5 vs. Auburn
Michigan State has dominated Penn State in recent years, going 5-1 both straight up and against the spread in the past six head-to-head meetings. The Spartans are in the better spot here with two weeks to prep for the Nittany Lions, who will be playing their fifth game in five weeks and their third road assignments in five weeks. Even with five offensive starters out last year, Mark Dantonio’s team won outright at Beaver Stadium as a 13.5-point underdog.
Oklahoma State is 4-1 both SU and ATS as a home underdog since 2015. Unless Hawaii transfer Dru Brown wins the starting QB job, Mike Gundy will be going with a freshman in Spencer Sanders or Brendan Costello. Either way, I expect the Cowboys’ offense to be playing a lot better in November.
Whether it’s Bo Nix or Joey Gatewood (Nix has been named the Week 1 starter vs. Oregon), Auburn will have a freshman QB making his first career road start in front of 100,000 fans at Kyle Field. I like to fade teams in that sort of spot, and I also give the Aggies the head-coaching advantage here.